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Raeka


by literalluau

--------

I did not like her.

      I thought she would be someone I could look up to, though only a year older than myself. She had traveled all of Neopia. I pictured her as worldly and chic, someone who would take me under her blue Shoyru wing and share her stories of the world.

      Two weeks before her arrival, I began bouncing inwardly with excitement, but as the time she would arrive grew nearer, I became increasingly nervous. What if she didn't like me? A sea of doubt would rise in my chest and threaten to drown me every time I thought about what I could do to make a good impression. And Neopia Central? Well, there was nothing I could do about its boringness compared to the exciting places she had lived, but I vowed to myself I would find ways for us to have fun.

      Though achingly slow in coming, the day finally arrived when I would meet my cousin for the first time. That morning, with a sick feeling in my stomach, I brushed my yellow fur so much my skin felt raw. Even so, the same Yellow Kacheek stared back at me as did every morning. Realizing there was nothing I could do for the moment to change how I looked, I decided my smile would have to get me through introductions.

      A loud knock on the front door startled me from my practice smiles. She was early! I put my ear to my closed door and listened carefully. Even so, I could only catch snippets of conversation as Mother opened the door.

      "Nice to see you, Raeka, please..."

      "Thank you... long journey."

      "I'll go... Zoe's been..."

      After a few seconds, I heard footsteps on the stairs. I flopped down on my bed and tried to look casual.

      "Hey, Zoe." Mother peered through my door as she opened it a crack. "Raeka's here. I know you're anxious to meet her."

      I put on my practiced smile. Trying to step gingerly in what I thought would be a fashionable walk, I descended from the landing. My heart started pounding and my stomach started churning as all my doubts came flooding in at once. I did my best to shake them away and made my smile even wider.

      Step by step, I came down the stairs and step by step Raeka came into view. As I saw more and more of her, I became confused. The figure standing at the foot of the stairs couldn't be Raeka. This pet had on a pink, ill-fitting dress featuring a high collar, yards of lace, and a skirt that stopped at her knees. She also had a dozen necklaces dangling from her neck. Upon a second look, I realized what I thought had been a fashionable new clothing item was Neopkins stuffed in her sock. I could feel the smile sliding off my face.

      But there was still hope. Maybe this gawky creature was my aunt, come to drop Raeka off. She held her hand out to me. I glanced at Mother, who nodded emphatically.

      "Hello, Zoe. I am Raeka. It is great to finally meet my only cousin." And without warning, she wrapped me in a giant hug, clanking me against the abundant jewelry around her neck. I'm sure my eyes were bugging out. I couldn't help it. Where was my sophisticated cousin that I had looked forward to meeting?

***

      I wished the racket would stop. My head throbbed with the noise that surrounded our dinner table. Raeka was telling stories of her travels, Mother and Father's faces paying rapt attention as their silverware hit their plates with small but irritating ping noises. And underneath it all, I could hear Porcelain, my overweight Harris, running around in circles in the next room.

      Before dinner, Mother had told me not to laugh at the formal way Raeka spoke, explaining that she had learned to speak that way because her parents did. They felt it helped them to be understood anywhere in Neopia. Believe me, it didn't make me want to laugh.

      "So what exactly are your parents doing?" I heard Mother ask Raeka.

      "Oh, that is something about which they are being very secretive. You know my mom and dad."

      "Your parents have always been adventurers. You're probably going to find life around here a little boring in comparison to the one you're used to."

      "Not at all." Raeka beamed. "I am ready for some relaxation. Faerieland is quite the bustling place."

      "We're just glad you could come and visit us."

      I couldn't take it. Glad? I wasn't glad. My own parents hadn't said a word to me all during dinner. I shoved my chair out forcefully and stormed into the next room with Porcelain.

      "Oh, Porcelain," I bemoaned. "I thought she would be different. Well, she is different. But I thought she would be a good different." I buried my face in his brown fur. "And now my parents barely pay attention to me. At least I still have you."

      "Hello." I only had to look across the floor from my sitting position to see the Neopkins neatly tucked in her sock.

      "Hi," I responded grumpily.

      "Awww, is that your petpet? He is so sweet! What is his name?" She flopped down on the floor across from me.

      "Porcelain." I tightened my grip around him as he started to squirm out of my arms toward the stranger.

      "There were many of those in Faerieland," Raeka told me. "He is a Harris, right? I asked for one, but my parents say having a petpet when you move so often is not very practical." She sighed. "I would really enjoy the company sometimes."

      Porcelain broke free from my arms and ran to Raeka, jumping up and down. She picked him up, giggling.

      "Why do you wear so many necklaces?" The words burst forth snottily from some jealous place as I watched her steal my last family member's attention.

      She let go of Porcelain to study her necklaces. I expected him to return to me, but instead he sat there by her side, eyeing me suspiciously as if I were the stranger. I glared at him.

      "They are all very important to me. Each was given to me as a gift and I wear them to remind me of those people and those times." She closed her hand around one in particular. Before it disappeared into the blue of her fist, I caught a glimpse of it. It was remarkably striking, something a faerie or a queen would wear.

      "What's the one in your hand for?"

      "This one," she tightened her grip, "reminds me of the best friend I ever had." She smiled distantly. "It makes me happy whenever I feel alone or upset."

      I was about to ask her about this best friend when she changed the subject.

      "So, what do you do for amusement around here?"

      "Not much. I usually hang out with my friends." I smirked, meanly, remembering how Mother had told me Raeka didn't have many friends because of the frequent moves.

      Now that I'd seen her, I had no intention of introducing her to my friends and, even if that was somehow arranged, I knew they too would look down on her odd appearance and behavior.

      "I would love to meet your friends." Her response stunned me. Didn't she know how weird she looked and spoke? She sounded like a textbook. But if she was going to stay for two months, it would be hard for me to keep coming up with excuses for her not to meet them. I chewed on my lower lip, thinking.

      "If that is all right..." She sounded a little disappointed. My silence had gone on too long. I realized with a sigh that despite the utter dislike and contempt I felt for her, I couldn't stand to make her feel badly.

      "Yeah, that's okay," I muttered.

***

      "Guys, this is Raeka. Raeka, these are my friends, Clay, Bryan, and Alexa." I made the introductions as civilly as possible, gesturing toward the Red Lenny, Green Lupe, and Faerie Acara, respectively.

      I watched my friends' eyes narrow, examining her clothes and array of necklaces. Suddenly I felt bad. Of course, I hadn't insisted she meet my friends as some kind of cruel joke, but she was my cousin.

      "Umm," I broke the uncomfortable silence, "let's play a game, guys."

      We wandered into the living room and toward the cupboard that held my family's board games.

      "She's your cousin?" Alexa whispered.

      "Yeah," I responded somewhat grumpily.

      "Wow. I expected her to be... different."

      "Me too." I hurried to the cupboard ahead of the group to cut off the conversation. I didn't want Raeka to know we were talking about her.

      I flung open the cupboard doors.

      "Kiko Board Game?" I asked as I pulled it off a shelf.

      "Four people," noted Clay. "We have five here."

      "Okay then." I set the game on the floor and pulled another box from the back of the shelf. "Skeith Board Game?"

      "Ooh, I love that game!" squealed Alexa.

      "Four players," Clay said dryly. He put his wing on Alexa's shoulder in response to her disappointed face. "Maybe some other time."

      "Indoor Gormball?" I sighed as I pulled it from the shelf.

      "That's bor--" Bryan cut himself off as he realized it was the only game we could play with five people.

      "It is all right," Raeka said, barely above a whisper, "if you want to play Skeith Board Game. I will watch."

      "You sure?" Bryan asked her, eyebrow raised.

      She nodded.

      "All right!" exclaimed Alexa.

      About halfway through the game, while Alexa's red cup was moving around the board toward victory, I felt a strange tickling in my nose. I took a few shallow breaths, knowing by the power of the tickling that if I sneezed it would be loud and gross. When it became apparent that the tickling sneeze was not going away, I jumped up from my sitting position on the floor and spun away from my friends, holding my paw over my nose.

      "Zoe, are you--" That's all Bryan got out before I sneezed so hard my feet nearly left the floor. All I can say is, when I was done, I had a mess in my paw.

      "Neopkin?" Raeka asked, reaching for her sock.

      "No!" I nearly shouted. "No." I ran to the bathroom and washed my hands extremely well for several minutes, hoping the whole time I wasn't getting D'Achoo. Before I returned to the game in the family room, I went into the kitchen to grab a few Neocolas.

      The giggling reached my ears before I entered the family room. When I got close enough to see my friends in a circle on the floor, I almost dropped the Neocolas I was cradling in my arms.

      "What's going on?"

      "Oh, hi Zoe," Bryan greeted me from his spot on the floor. "One of those for me?" I tossed him a Neocola. "Thanks."

      "Umm..." I was in shock as I looked at the scene before me.

      "We let Raeka take your spot while you were gone," Clay informed me needlessly. I could see her sitting in my spot, moving my game piece around. "She had never played before."

      "But... I'm always the yellow cup."

      "Well, yeah, but we just thought we'd let Raeka play for a while."

      "If it bothers you--" began Raeka.

      "No," Clay told her. "You've never played before and we were having a good time." He looked pointedly at me.

      "But... but..." I felt my eyes brim with tears. First my parents, then my petpet, and now my friends?

      "Listen to the joke Raeka taught me, Zoe!" Bryan had broken out of his head-to-head competition with Alexa to join the conversation.

      "Maybe later," I managed.

      "I won!" exclaimed Alexa.

      "As usual," Bryan grumped.

      "Here." Raeka motioned to her place on the floor. "You may have your spot back."

      "No." I shook my head. "I don't want to play anymore."

***

      "Zoe. Did you and Raeka have a good time with your friends today?" my mother asked me before dinner that night.

      "Oh, it was just lovely." I swung both my legs over the arm of the chair I was sitting in.

      "Great." My mother never did get sarcasm. "I've arranged a shopping trip to the marketplace for me, you, and Raeka on Wednesday, so I rescheduled you to tomorrow's flute class this week."

      "You play flute?"

      "Hey, Raeka!" my mother exclaimed. "Yup, Zoe is a talented flautist." Mother smiled and pulled a pizza out of the stove.

      "Oh my Fyora, a pizza! I have not had a pizza in ages!" Raeka was positively beaming at the thought of a pizza. I couldn't help but roll my eyes.

      "I smell pizza!" Father grinned as he came in the kitchen, rubbing his hands together.

      "Wait." Raeka held her hands up. "It will only take a minute." She raced out of the room.

      "Ooh, a surprise!" My mother had her eyebrows raised so high they almost met her ears.

      I took my seat at the table. Very slowly I inched my hand toward the pizza, all the time keeping eye contact with my parents. My mother rapped my hand with her own.

      "Ouch! Mother!"

      "Zoe, shame on you! You have to wait just like the rest of us."

      Raeka came racing back into the room. "It is not a big deal. I just made something for each of you." She handed each of us a piece of thick paper the size of a poster.

      My mother looked at hers first. "Oh!" she exclaimed, bringing her paw to her mouth. "It's gorgeous! Look, Will." She showed the paper to my father who nodded approvingly.

      "Can I see?" I was anxious to know, but I didn't want to look at mine.

      Mother held it so it faced me. The sketch was of my mother. But somehow it was more than my mother. It seemed as if I could tell every positive trait about her, honesty, understanding, compassion, just by looking at the drawing. My father's was the same way; it resembled every trait I treasured about him.

      I gulped, wondering what the drawing of me would show.

      "Let's see it," my parents prodded.

      I flipped it around and caught my breath in my throat. It was me, sure enough, but not in a way I'd ever seen myself. The Kacheek that stared me in the face was the way I had always wanted to be--she exuded an air of inner strength and confidence.

      "Thank you," I whispered.

      "You drew these yourself?" I heard my mother ask Raeka.

      "You are welcome. Yes, I had nothing to do this afternoon, so I did a few drawings to show each of you how much I appreciate being welcomed into your home."

      "They're wonderful." I noticed my mother was teary-eyed. "You have a real talent."

      "Oh." Raeka turned red in the face. "Thank you. Sh--shall we eat?"

***

      I couldn't get to sleep that night. Sure it was a nice gift, but did one drawing really make up for taking away all my family and friends? My parents barely noticed me when she was around, Porcelain wouldn't go near me if Raeka was in the room, and my friends had left without saying good-bye to me. No one even seemed to care about her weird way of speaking or the way she dressed.

      No, I decided, flopping onto my other side for the fifteenth time in as many minutes. She was taking my life away from me. She'll be gone in less than two months, I told myself.

***

      My flute teacher, Ms. Lyra, has an unusual teaching style. While most flute teachers would take their students one-on-one, Ms. Lyra feels "a group setting is necessary to experience the music properly." At least, that's what it says on her pamphlets.

      Ever since she read an article in the Neopian Times about how much crime the Neopian Bank faces every day, Mother refuses to let me walk farther than six blocks without her supervision, so she has to walk me to my flute lesson.

      After an extremely annoying brunch where Mother gushed over Raeka's talent and Porcelain danced around her chair, and an equally annoying walk where Mother and Raeka giggled behind me the whole way, I got to Ms. Lyra's.

      "Good-bye, Zoe!" my mother called as I hurried up the front walk to the studio. "We're going to do some grocery shopping. See you in an hour!" Normally she would have blown me a kiss, but today she turned back to Raeka to continue their conversation. I felt a sad pang in my heart as I stood paused at the door.

      I took a seat in the semicircle of chairs and pulled out my flute to warm it up.

      "Zoe?"

      I looked up to see Alexa hovering over me.

      "Hey, Alexa! I get to take flute lessons today instead of tomorrow this week."

      "That's great! I'll sit by you."

      She sat down and looked at me for a long moment. "So..."

      "So?" I responded.

      "How's it going with your guest?"

      "Oh, Alexa, she's awful. She's taken everyone's attention away from me, including you guys'."

      "What?"

      "You left without saying good-bye yesterday."

      "We figured you needed some time to cool off. Zoe, her appearance and way of speaking is a little strange at first, but it's cool. She's just doing her own thing. She's really funny and smart. You should just give her a chance."

      "You don't have to live with her. I hate her." The words came out more forcefully than I intended, but I didn't take them back. It felt good to say them.

      "Whatever."

      "No more talky!" called Ms. Lyra from the front of the room. I was surprised to see the chairs had all filled up during our conversation. "Please turn to page 20 in your warm-up book and we'll get started."

      After the lesson, I felt a little better. Sometimes when I'm upset it helps to just play the dung out of my flute.

      "Zoe..." Alexa looked a little red in the face.

      "What is it?"

      "I... don't mean this the way it's going to sound. But I have to say it. I think you're way too hard on others. You expect them to be perfect, but you're not perfect yourself." A little vein was pushing against the fur on her forehead. "Far from it. I think you have some work to do on your own attitude before you go around judging other people."

      "How dare you!" I wanted to smack her right across the face. "You don't have to live with the constant scenes everyone makes over her! Your parents and petpet still pay attention to you!"

      "Yours would, too," she said softly, "if you weren't being so selfish."

      "That's it!" I screamed. "You are a lousy friend! Next time you need support from me, you can just forget about it!"

      "I don't think you need to worry about that," she said calmly, but her eyes were darting around in her head.

      I was sure everyone was staring. I didn't care. I ran out the door and straight home to my room, locking the door behind me.

      I flopped face down on my bed and pulled my pillow over my head, crying so hard I could barely breathe.

***

      A soft rapping on my door woke me up. "Who is it?" I asked wearily.

      "Raeka."

      "Oh, go away," I groaned, sitting up. I could feel the puffiness of my eyes.

      "Your mom and I were worried. You were not at the studio."

      "I'm perfectly capable of walking home."

      There was a brief silence. "Yes, you are. May I come in?"

      "If you have to."

      She opened my door slowly and sat next to me on my bed. "You have a pretty bedroom," she commented. "I always wanted a pretty bedroom, but there is no reason to decorate when you know you will be moving again in a few months."

      I felt like I should say something, but I just stared at her.

      "I apologize if I made you feel left out. I never meant for you to feel like a rotten berry."

      "Well, I do."

      "I know. I have gotten used to making new friends very quickly. I just ask someone lots of questions about him or herself and that is usually enough for a half-hour conversation. I guess people like to talk about themselves. Very few listen to me when I have something to say."

      I couldn't think of how to respond.

      "You were crying."

      I self-consciously patted my blotchy face.

      "Do not worry," she laughed. "What happened?"

      "Alexa and I got in a fight." I didn't tell her what it was about. "I don't know if we'll make up or not."

      She smiled a little. "My best friend," she said, pulling at her necklaces, "is a Water Faerie."

      I felt my eyes widen, but she just nodded.

      "I have not seen her since I lived in Maraqua a year ago. We knew from the minute we met that we were meant to be best friends."

      She found the back of the necklace in her hand and unclasped it from her neck.

      "But we had a terrible fight two days before I had to leave for Mystery Island. We both said some things we did not mean. I did not know if we would make up." She looked at me and smiled. "But she gave me this on the day I left." In her hand she held the bright blue and green necklace I had noticed the day she arrived. "We hugged and cried because there was much to say and no time to say it. This necklace means more to me than all the Neopoints in Neopia. But right now I think you need it more than I." Without warning, she slipped it around my neck and fastened it.

      "No, I couldn't--"

      "Do not worry. I will be wanting it back," she laughed. "Now relax just a bit and feel how much you are loved."

      A warm sense of security fell over me like a blanket as I remembered every kind word or thoughtful act someone had sent my way. My mother blowing me kisses before flute lessons, the flowers my friends had given me for my recital two months earlier, Porcelain jumping in my lap wanting to be petted. Each memory that came into my mind left me feeling better about myself.

      When I opened my eyes again, Raeka was smiling. "Whenever you feel like no one gives a pile of sludge about you, just relax and the necklace will help remind you. After a while, you will not even need the necklace. Then I will take it back."

      Surprising her and myself, I wrapped Raeka in a giant hug. "Thank you," I whispered.

      "Thank you," she whispered back.

***

      Although I still wear the necklace, I've been using it less and less. Tonight, Alexa is coming over for dinner. We need to talk through some things. And I need to tell her she was right about Raeka--I like her.

The End

 
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