Battle Quills... ready! Circulation: 117,885,008 Issue: 236 | 21st day of Eating, Y8
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What You Own


by peterpuffin1

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"I can't believe it. I truly can't believe it," Mimi was complaining to me as we walked home from school. The path to our neighbourhood was long and winding, so there was plenty of time for her to shoot off insults and rant about the way the school was structured. Sighing, I gave way to boredom again. "I mean, who does he think he is, giving me a B-minus on our history quiz!? I at least deserved a solid B! This is insane. This is nuts. This is--JoAnne, are you listening to me!?"

     "Wha?" I replied, half in a daze. It wasn't like Mimi hadn't shot her mouth off about these kinds of things before--I mean, she certainly wasn't the smartest one in the class by far. The more time she spent on shopping and makeup, the further her grades plummeted. The teachers were even thinking about putting her into a slower, special help class. "Hm? I'm listening."

     "No you weren't! Truly, JoAnne, some days I just want to smack you with a frying pan and see if you'd notice..." the blue Cybunny sighed exasperatedly and kept on, silent now. I opened my mouth to say something, but deciding it was best to leave Mimi alone at these times, fell silent as well. The rest of the walk home was made quietly.

     ---

     The next day in school started out just like any other. In the morning, the whole student body is herded into the cafeteria for thirty minutes of free time in the morning--enough time for Mimi and I to find each other and talk for a bit before heading off to our classes. As I stepped through the doors into the huge, white lunchroom, my eyes darted around, trying to find her. She was nowhere in sight.

     "Mimi," I called, walking around mobs of students sitting at tables and standing in packs around the sides of the room. She wasn't there. Finally, though, I heard her laugh somewhere in the back of the room. When I parted the massive crowd, I found Mimi, all right.

     I also found Angel.

     Standing next to Mimi in a short skirt and pink blouse was a faerie Kougra, face smeared heavily with makeup, ears each pierced three times. Her shoes were so high-heeled, they were more like stilts. Mimi and the Kougra looked up from their conversation, straight at me.

     "Oh! JoAnne!" the Cybunny smiled, "I don't think you've met my friend Angel. Angel, this is JoAnne. JoAnne, Angel. Angel just moved here from Faerieland, isn't that cool?"

     I nodded, and waved to Angel curiously.

     "Hi... JoAnne," Angel said halfheartedly, giving me a frown. She was sizing me up--a plain red Zafara in plain jeans and a plain shirt. Very plain. Raising one eyebrow, she asked, "Where do you come from? Around here?"

     "Meridell," was my response, "I used to live in the village as a child. I moved here when I was seven."

     "No wonder..." Angel muttered under her breath. I could hear every word, however, and frowned slightly. That was when Mimi made her first mistake.

     "Jo," she said hesitantly, "I know we normally talk during this time, but... can I talk to Angel today? You know, just to get her acquainted with the school and everything? I promised I'd be her guide. But only if it's okay with you."

     "Uh..." I thought a moment. At the time, though Angel wasn't the perfect playmate for my friend, this seemed like a perfectly harmless thing. Besides, it was only for one day, and I would have Mimi to talk to tomorrow morning. No harm, no foul, right? "That's fine. Go ahead--good luck in this school, Angel."

     As I turned around and headed back to the front of the lunchroom, I could hear the Kougra whisper under her breath, "Freak."

     ---

     It was the same thing during recess that day as well, which is why I was glad to get home that night.

     Being from Meridell, the land of the farmers, I had a pretty big family. Two brothers and three sisters, all younger, along with Mom and Dad. Often I had to skip after-school activities and shirk out on promises to babysit and care for my siblings. It's not that it bothered me or anything, but when I came to school the next day and a group of girls were asking me why I stood them up, I can't say I'm happy to do the chores.

     "Afternoon, Mom." I walked through the door, hung my backpack on the rack and pulled out my homework. Mom was at the kitchen table slicing potatoes, one of my sisters tucked in her arm. I sat across the table from her, pencil in one hand, and offered to take Baby Jessica from her.

     "Thank you, dear," she smiled, using the knife to brush the potatoes off the counter and into a bag. "It's so good of you to help out during this time. I'm really proud of you. You know that your father hasn't been doing very well at his workplace."

     I nodded. My father had a job at the Neopian National Bank, but since he was accustomed to the country way of living, he wasn't doing so great. To add onto that, his boss hated Meridellians. "Hillbillies," he called us. He said it was embarrassing to have one around the offices, but he had no other choice. We were constantly afraid that he'd be fired or laid off.

     "If Dad gets laid off," I said quietly, rocking Jessica while doing some math homework, "will we still have our house? Our clothes?"

     There was a long pause, as Mom dried off her hands, her expression changing to one of deep sorrow. "I... I just don't know, sweetheart," she sighed, "I just don't know."

     ---

     The next day was Friday. Things weren't any better.

     I waited for Mimi to come at our regular table the whole thirty minutes we were in the lunchroom. She didn't come--leaving me discouraged and a little angry. As I stomped back to class, I caught sight of her in the hallway, walking with Angel. They seemed happy, and blissfully unaware of my presence. I decided not to bother them.

     Recess, however, was a different story. It wasn’t like I didn’t have other friends to play with—oh, no, I had plenty—but I was more intent on finding out what was up with Mimi than playing with the rest of them. So out on the field, I stalked them like an Aisha stalks a Psimouse. Call me crazy, but I needed to know. Ducking behind a large, rolling hill of grass, I eavesdropped skillfully:

     “So how do you like Starcrest so far?” Mimi's voice floated over. "I mean, the school and stuff."

     "Eh, it's all right. The kids here aren't really cool like in my old school."

     "...Well, what about me and JoAnne?"

     "You could be cool, with the right amount of tweaking. Tell you what, why don't you come over to my house over the weekend. I'll give you some tips, and come Monday, you'll be the second-coolest girl in school. Compared to me, of course."

     "What about JoAnne?"

     "Oh, her? Uh, I'll tell her to come over too. She probably won't even show. You know those poor types. They're so wishy-washy."

     My eyes widened upon hearing the 'poor' comment. Poor!? How dare she! Of course, we had enough money to get by. Some people made that stereotype off the whole 'farmer' thing, but still, I had heard enough. Knowing that Angel probably wouldn't invite me anyway, I slinked away, enjoying the rest of recess in peace.

     ---

     It wasn't until Monday that the transformation was complete.

     At first, I didn't recognize the faerie Cybunny when she padded up to me, Angel and some other awe-struck students piled around her. She was dressed in a purple cheerleader’s uniform, pompom scrunchies tied to her long ears. Her face was smeared with makeup.

     “Hey,” she said, eyes half-closed, staring at her manicured nails. “Like the new look?”

     “I…I…” I didn’t know what to say. It was Mimi, all right, but it sure didn’t look like her. “I—”

     “She loves it,” Angel finished for me, stepping in. She, too, was wearing a cheerleader’s uniform. “Now, Mimi, you can’t waste your time talking with bystanders. You have to get ready for today’s history test, and then, for cheerleading squad tryouts! Come on, we don’t have all day!”

     Mimi nodded and began to walk away, not even casting me a side-glance. I opened my mouth to say something, but only air came out. The Cybunny and the Kougra sauntered out the door, as if they were the queens of Neopia. When other students ran up to Mimi to ask her something, she ignored them, as if they were a measly little insect not worthy of her time. In the hallways, she got other kids to carry her books for her, and in the lunchroom, other kids gave her their lunch money and groveled with her to sit at her lunch table.

     My observations continued from across the room. Had Mimi become too popular? Was that the problem? Or was it me? No, that couldn’t be. What had I done wrong? It was Angel, I was sure of it. You didn’t need to be a psychology expert to know that Angel was a bad influence. Who knew what she told Mimi about me behind my back? Sighing, I turned back to my sandwich, trying to tell myself that tomorrow would be better.

     On the way home from school that day, I walked by myself--Mimi had taken to walking to Angel’s house to do homework in the afternoon. The sky was bright, and the sun was shining warmly. The path beneath my feet felt warm. It was a beautiful day—then why was I feeling so horrible?

     My answer came when I turned the corner onto my street and saw my mother and father, crying on my front porch. Panic surged through me. Expecting the very worst, I took off in a run, skidding to a halt at our front steps and sprinting up them.

     “What’s wrong!?” I demanded. “Daddy, why are you home so early?”

     “Your father,” my mother sobbed, “has been fired from his job.”

     I could feel every muscle in my body seize up at the sound of that word. Fired? How could he be? My dad was a hard worker, so why would they fire him? And…how would we get any food then?

     “Are…are we going to be all right?” I whispered, trying hard to keep myself calm. Nevertheless, I could see in my mother’s eyes the same sadness that had been there when I’d asked before, and a tear trickled down my cheek. She shook her head. “Will we still be able to live here?” was my next question.

     “Jo, we were poor even before this happened,” my father stood up, putting his arms around me. As he held me tightly, he went on, “We’ll have to sell the house. We’ll have to move somewhere less expensive. It will still be nearby, and you’ll still go to Starcrest, but you may not be able to do as much as you used to. I hope you understand.”

     Tears rolling down my face, I stifled a sob and nuzzled myself closer into Daddy’s arms. This was awful, not only for me, but for my parents as well. Not only would my dad have to get a new job, but my Mom would have to as well. This would leave me having to baby-sit five little kids, all less than seven years old.

     Things were not going well for me.

     ---

     Tuesday morning came with a promise, but that promise was quickly shot down by Mimi and Angel approaching me from across the other side of the cafeteria. They were accompanied by a group of their lackeys, the cheerleading squad, which had taken to following them around like lost little ducklings.

     “Heard about your unfortunate dilemma,” Angel commented, her voice laced with faux-pity. She smirked and went on, “Heard your Pa got kicked out of work ‘cause he was a hillbilly.” Angel and the rest of the cheerleaders snickered under their breaths.

     “How did you find out?” was my response, astonished that it could have spread so fast. “Who told you?”

     “Heh, let’s just say that it’s nice living across the street from you,” Mimi grinned, unable to hold back her laughter anymore, “your family is so interesting!” The whole group tore out in hysterics, cackling like a bunch of old hag witches. A few of them fell to the ground, tears forming in their eyes.

     They formed in mine too.

     “That does it!” I shouted, knocking Angel away from Mimi. I grabbed the faerie Cybunny around the collar and dragged her away, into the girls’ bathroom, then locked the door behind me.

     “What is up with you!?” Mimi cried, dashing for the door. I blocked her, trying to hold fast to the door as she dug at my red fur.

     “What is up with YOU is more like it!” I growled, tossing her off. She slid to the floor quietly, an angered look on her face. “Every day you spend with that Angel girl, the worse you get!” The tears streaming down my face were now hot with anger and indignity; my eyes bore straight through Mimi’s bemused face.

     “I have no clue what you’re talking about, JoAnne,” she spat back, getting up to her feet and brushing dust off her precious cheerleader’s uniform.

     “Oh, yes, you do. It all started when Angel first moved here. You didn’t talk with me in the lunchroom or at recess. Then you broke your promise and didn’t the next day either. Over the weekend you and her had a sleepover party and didn’t invite me, and on Monday you came back a fully transformed prep and cheerleader!” I sighed, gesturing towards the thick blobs of pink that covered her cheeks.

     “Hah…I get it,” Mimi sneered, folding her pink arms against her chest. She raised an eyebrow. “You’re jealous, aren’t you? That’s it, isn’t it? You’re just jealous because I’m a cheerleader, I’m popular, and I have a great friend like Angel to help me out!”

      A look of incredulity formed on my face as Mimi stopped to catch her breath. Her lips were still curled up in a proud, simpering smile, teeth so pearly white they could blind someone. Just another trait of perfection to add to her ‘flawless’ image.

     “You’re jealous, and guess what? You’ll never, EVER get any of this stuff. Know why? Because you’re a smelly, ugly, dirt-poor farmer’s daughter who can’t even afford to feed herself!”

     Mimi laughed, looking straight into my hurt, shocked expression. I was totally taken aback—how could she be saying this to me!? Hadn’t I given her all she wanted in a friend? Hadn’t I met her needs enough? I had done all I could, and yet, she was now slamming me down—squashing me like she had so many other people in her wake of popularity.

     Putting one hand on the sink to hold myself steady, I shot back, tears blurring my vision, “I don’t care what you say to me, you hypocrite! I thought you were my friend—but now I see! You were never my friend. I was always there when you needed me, and yet, you were never there for me. Well, now, I guess you’re getting what was coming to you, pretty girl. We’re not on speaking terms anymore—in fact, we never were!” In a fit of rage, I smacked my hand into the sink, busting off the handle on one of the faucets. It didn’t even faze me as it rolled past me across the floor and landed at Mimi’s feet.

     I could see Mimi’s eyes flicker with sadness. The words that I said she really took to heart, and why shouldn’t she? I’d meant everything I’d said, hadn’t I? But as she looked up at me, I could tell that something I’d screamed in that blind fit of rage hit her hard—and for a split second, I could see the old Mimi reflected in her expression, knocked back into her like a bullet hitting her hard. She opened her mouth and began to speak,

     “I don’t know what’s wrong with me…” she whispered, her voice barely audible over the roar of the students in the cafeteria. An ashamed frown etched itself onto her pink lips, trembling. “One day, everything’s fine, and the next…Jo, please. Hear me out. At least pretend to listen.” I looked up at her, eyes stony and unmoving, and nodded bitterly.

     “In this deranged, superficial world of ours, the truth is that…you are what you own. Those people who know life better than others have to stick together, and are highly regarded in society. However, people who are less well-off, well, they seemed to be marked as poor or not wealthy. It’s cliché—a stereotype, I know. But there really does come a time in every group of friend’s life when they have to go their separate ways.

     “Now, I know that I’ve been acting horrible towards you. I can’t help it though—and you’re right. Angel really is a bad influence on me, and I just can’t see it through all the glamour and flash. I’ve made some good friends on the cheerleading squad, even if they seem to be harsh to everyone else. So please, if you stay out of the way and don’t associate with Angel or the rest of the girls again…I promise to make them stop harassing you.”

     The words that Mimi spoke plunged straight from my ears to my heart as I felt the same change in heart that she’d probably felt before. Mimi was apologizing to me. She hadn’t been doing this on her own accord—she was just following the crowd. Though her comments had been icy and cold, she could barely even hear the words that were coming out of her mouth. That was when I realized what had been wrong the whole time.

     The fact was, I was stronger than Mimi ever was. I used to admire her for the way she walked, talked, and defended herself, when really, she was too weak to stand up for what she believed in. It’s easy for those people to get swept up in the tides of popularity, sacrificing everything they once knew and loved to have someone else think for them. That’s where she and I differed. I knew that what I loved was something much less material than popularity. Perhaps it wouldn’t be until Mimi had grown more as a person that we could be friends again.

     “All right,” I finally replied after a long silence, drying my wet cheeks with the back of my hand. “Yes…I understand, Mimi. Do what you have to do. If you ever want to be friends again, though, I will be here waiting for you.” The Cybunny smiled as I stepped away from the door, letting her go through. And as the door swung shut behind her, I added, “Thank you for these seven years of happiness.”

     ---

     Time went by fast without Mimi by my side.

     Eventually, both my mother and father got jobs after we relocated closer downtown. I was stuck working a fulltime babysitting service, sometimes having to miss school to watch the kids, but it was worth it. And, as promised, Mimi convinced Angel and the rest to stop teasing me.

     How she did it, I’ll never know.

     Though my consistent absences sometimes tested the teacher’s patience, I continued to get good marks on my tests and report cards. Mimi, whose grades, from what I could see across the classroom, were not so good, but every time I was issued an A+ test, a small smile played at the corners of her mouth.

     And so it went throughout the rest of the year, while no one was looking we’d exchange knowing glances in the hallways. Never saying a word, but our expressions reflected everything that needed to be known. And, though our friendships as people had ended, and our crossing paths finally deviated, our respect for one another still held strong.

     After all, you are what you own.

     The End

 
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