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Clara: Part One


by katiesheffield

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A lady with long brown hair entered through the front door. Clara watched her disinterestedly; she wasn't accompanied by a tearful pet, or any pet for that matter, so she was probably going to adopt. Clara knew she didn't have a very good chance.

     Clara was a blue Xweetok who had once looked quite pretty, but after spending nearly a month locked up in a dirty, cold, spyder-infested cell in the Neopian Pound, her coat had lost its shine and her usually lively eyes had become dull. Food there was disgusting and scarce, and her bones were showing through her coat. She was no longer looking her best, and so other, newer Xweetoks had a much higher chance of attracting attention.

     Unfortunately, as soon as she came in through the door the lady turned around and hurried out again. Clara frowned; that was unusual.

     What was even more unusual was the lady came back in after a moment or two, with a martyr-like expression on her face.

     She took a step towards the adoption desk and stopped, her face turning very pale very quickly. Clara saw her clench her teeth and close her eyes as she tried for another step. She only managed to shift her foot about two inches.

     With a slightly puzzled look at the Techo, who shrugged, the Uni smiled at the lady and said, "Can I help you?"

     It was obviously the wrong thing to do, because the lady's eyes went wide with terror and she turned and fled back out the door.

     Clara's long disused cheek muscles moved and she found herself smiling. The whole world's mad except for me and thee. And I'm not even sure about thee. It had been one of her old owner's sayings, Clara thought grimly. When he had been in a good mood. Before...

     Her thoughts were interrupted as the mysterious lady entered again, this time with a large red Eyrie. Clara sat up to watch; she had a feeling this would be interesting.

     The Eyrie whispered something to the lady who nodded, took a step towards the adoption counter, and stopped. The Eyrie gave her a gentle prod, but she didn't move.

     "Sauna..." he started.

     "I can't do it!" She turned and tried to run for the door again, but the Eyrie leapt in her way and crash-tackled her to the ground.

     "We decided we'd do this, and we will," he said practically, pinning her to the floor. "The only question left is; do I have to sit on you to keep you here, or not?"

     Rather cautiously, the adoption Uni approached. "Can I help you?" she asked, unsure of who to address.

     The lady whimpered slightly and turned red. Seeing his owner wasn't going to do anything productive, the Eyrie turned to the adoption Uni.

     "Yes, thank you. My owner would like to adopt a pet."

     "Certainly. Right this way." Casting them another curious glance, she walked towards the isle of caged pets.

     The Eyrie stood up and helped his trembling owner to her feet. "There. That wasn't so hard, now was it?" Mumbling something unidentifiable, the lady followed the Uni, making sure her pet stood between them.

     To Clara's surprise the lady stopped outside her cage and smiled at her, and despite her odd behavior, Clara felt she was a nice person.

     The Eyrie looked at his owner, and she whispered something in his ear. Heaving a sigh, he looked to the Uni.

     "My owner would like to know her name, please." The lady nodded encouragingly.

     The Uni checked some notes. "Clara. Three months old. Level one. She likes searching for treasure, and when she meets a new Neopet, she would try to make friends."

     The lady looked at the Eyrie, and the Eyrie looked at the lady, and they both nodded.

     "We'll have her, please," the Eyrie said. The mysterious lady handed the Eyrie a bag of Neopoints, which he then handed to the Uni, who unlocked the door.

     Clara was having trouble comprehending what had just happened. "You-you want me?" she asked incredulously. At last the lady spoke.

     "Of course we do, sweetie, if you want to come with us. I'm not like this normally," she said with a smile and a fearful glance at the Uni.

     Clara's mind whirled with this new twist of fate, and she bit her bottom lip to stop herself from saying anything stupid. The lady bent down, and ignoring the protests of 'but I'll get your nice jacket dirty!' she picked Clara up and hugged her.

     Clara bit her lip again, this time to stop herself from crying. The feeling of being wanted and loved was overwhelming for her, and she buried her face in the lady's jacket. It felt like a dream, but if it was one, she didn't want to wake up.

     The lady carried her through the doors of the pound with the Eyrie close behind. As soon as they were out the lady heaved a sigh and the tension in her face disappeared.

     "Thank goodness that's over!" She looked down at the Xweetok and smiled proudly. "Well, Clara, welcome to your new family."

     Clara looked up, and with some humiliation realized her face was wet with tears. "I'm sorry!" she gasped. "I'm not usually like this. I'm making a fool of myself and-"

     "You'll fit right in, then!" the lady said brightly. "I'm Sauna, and this is Jordie." She motioned to the red Eyrie. "We've wanted to adopt a pet for ages, and it was only this morning I was able to get enough courage... I have a chronic fear of shopkeepers, you see." She blushed quickly. "I don't know if it's curable, though, because I won't go near that Gelert monster of a doctor." She grinned.

     The Eyrie, Jordie, looked Clara up and down. "You look hungry. We should stop off for some lunch before going home."

     Clara was very hungry, but Sauna frowned. "That green Quiggle in the health food store smells like carrots, and everyone else eats petpets. Can't we get some food at home?"

     "It's a long walk, Sauna. Clara's hungry." There was a slight note of warning in his voice, and sensing an argument coming on Clara quickly averted it.

     "Oh, I'm fine. I can wait a while." She smiled quickly. Jordie didn't look entirely satisfied, but Sauna was relieved.

     "Home it is, then! Free of food derived from petpets! Hoorah!"

     As they walked home, Clara cuddled up in her new owner's arms. It felt good. Better than anything before. Someone cared for her. And she was sure she could get on with Jordie. He seemed nice.

     Would she fit in? Clara could see her life was completely different than that of her new family. What if they didn't like her? What if she wasn't good enough? She pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind. She would be good enough. She could be, if she tried really, really hard.

     It was a long walk, and she must have eventually dozed off. Sauna stroked her gently. "Wake up, honey. Have a look at your new home."

     Clara looked up and gasped. It was her image of what home should be. A comfortable two-story house surrounded by thriving gardens, and a white picket fence. Clara had always wanted to live in a house with a white picket fence.

     The house was white with blue borders. It looked neat and comfortable, with windows with red or green curtains. The garden around, though growing as many weeds as plants, was cheerful and colorful. A fountain bubbled lazily in one corner.

     "Oh, it's gorgeous!" Clara sighed.

     Sauna smiled and took her inside. "The house may seem a bit empty at the moment, but we hope to get some more pets in the future. Jordie suggested I start with one and see how I cope." She winked.

     Inside was made of wood, with lovely plush carpet. Clara glanced through the doorways as they passed. The living room... the games room... the library... her head was soon spinning.

     Sauna took her into the dining room. Up one end was a roaring fire. Clara was pleased her new family liked fires. Sauna set her down in a chair.

     "What would you like to eat, Clara?"

     In an instant the happy feeling vanished, and Clara was reminded how different she was to her new family. How in Neopia could she tell them she had never eaten anything but omelette?

     "Oh, umm... I really don't mind."

     "Surely you have a favorite food? What did you usually eat?" Sauna was oblivious to the discomfort she was causing her new pet.

     "Omelette," Clara said truthfully, blushing.

     Jordie shot her a curious glance but didn't say anything. Clara was relieved. Sauna didn't seem to notice.

     "Hmm... we don't have any omelette, I'm sorry. You'll have to make do without for now, but if you like it I can get Jordie to get you some next time he's-"

     "Oh, no," she said quickly. "I'm happy with anything."

     "Surely you have a favorite food, though?"

     Clara was spared another difficult answer by Jordie, who seemed much more subtle than his owner. "Sauna, how about you get Clara some of your pie? I'm sure she'll love it."

     "Good idea! We can have fruit and hot borovan too, and potato with gravy and faerie cakes for dessert, and..."

     "Slow down, Sauna! You'll need help getting all that lot as it is. Any more and we'll have to hire the staff from Kelp. And I don't like that Uni one bit. She always looks down her nose at me."

     Clara felt a withering sensation inside. They dined at Kelp. Just another obvious difference.

     Jordie followed Sauna into the kitchen after instructing Clara to make herself at home. Soon a heated argument began to issue forth from the kitchen about the food, and what Clara would and wouldn't like to eat.

     Clara pinched herself to make sure it was all real, and smiling despite her bruised arm, stood up to have a look around.

     Over the mantle a group of family photos were hanging. Clara looked at them with interest. They were very informal photos. Sauna and Jordie were usually mucking around or at least grinning. In one photo they were on Mystery Island, both wearing huge floppy hats. In another they were in Maraqua, and had somehow convinced a local Koi Warrior to stand still so they could have a photo with him. Clara smiled. This family seemed to be fun. Unlike her old one, where...

     "Lunch!" Sauna entered the room heavily laden with plates and trays, followed by Jordie who was desperately trying to make sure nothing got broken.

     "Tuck in!"

     The meal was wonderful. Clara was starving, and ate two pieces of pie and a muffin without tasting them. After that she slowed down and enjoyed her first proper meal immensely. Obviously they hadn't decided what to give her to eat, and had settled on a bit of everything.

     When she couldn't eat anything else Sauna took her off and washed her. After that she spent a painful but rewarding half hour getting the knots out of Clara's long fur, which was starting to go back to the beautiful browns and blues it had been.

     When she had finally finished she looked at Clara proudly. Clara smiled. It felt good to look nice.

     "Well, how about a look around the house? It's all open to you, except the West Wing."

     Clara had to ask. "Why not the West Wing?"

     Jordie chuckled as Sauna tried to remain composed. "It's- it's off limits." She grinned awkwardly. "In other words, the door's locked and we can't find the key."

     Clara had by now seen most of the bottom floor. Sauna took her out the back where there was what she called a garden and Jordie called a jungle. Clara fell in love with it instantly. It was big and full of corners and nooks beckoning to be explored. In one side was a pond surrounded by trees, and in another was a patch of turned ground.

     "That's the garden bed," Sauna explained proudly. "You can help us in it if you like. We're hoping to grow our own food, but so far only Cheery Plants have survived, and you can't eat them anyway."

     They then led Clara up the back, where there was something like a small barn hidden behind a tangle of vines.

     "This can be yours," Sauna said. "I never come here, and Jordie doesn't care for it, so you can pretty much do what you like with it. There are some bales of hay in it; they make good chairs. And it has a nice view."

     "Wow," Clara breathed as she looked into it. It was dry and comfortable, and looked like a good place to think. "Will I be sleeping here?"

     Sauna laughed. "Not unless you really, really want to. We already have a room prepared for you." Her eyes sparkled. "Do you want to see it?"

     They raced upstairs and flung open the door. Clara looked around in amazement. It was more than she had ever hoped or dreamt. The room, like most of the house, was white with blue borders. Inside was a bed with a bedside table, a desk for her homework, a bookcase, (as of yet empty) and sitting in the middle of the room was a small animal with white spots called a Feepit. It may not sound like much to you, but to Clara it was luxury.

     Mistaking her silence for disappointment, Sauna moved into the room.

     "Don't you like it, honey? I told Jordie you probably wouldn't like the Feepit; we can sell it and get you something else if you'd-"

     She was cut short as Clara swung around and hugged her tightly.

     "Thank you! It's wonderful! It's perfect!"

     The rest of the afternoon was spent sitting in front of the fireplace in the games room and twisting the rules of the game Hungry Skeith. Jordie and Clara ended up joining forces to defeat the standing champion in the form of Sauna.

     That night Sauna tucked her into bed. "If I sleepwalk into your room, just poke me and I'll go back to bed," she advised. "Jordie says I'm terrible when it comes to sleepwalking. Good night, sweetie. Sleep tight."

     "Don't let the Moaches bite," Clara replied with a smile as Sauna slipped out of the room.

     * * *

     "CLARA!" The voice was angry. That wasn't good. Clara was hiding. She was dirty, she was hungry and she was cold. This was Clara before...

     She watched helplessly as the familiar nightmare was played out in front of her. "CLARA!" He was called Shadows of Fear. He had never told her his real name. Slowly she crept out of the cupboard that was her bed. Hidden in amongst the rags was a book. She hadn't even opened it yet. She had been too afraid. She had taken it while he was out. She so desperately wanted to read it. She loved stories. Loved listening to people telling them. Now she wanted to read one.

     She entered the kitchen where her furious owner stood.

     "Where is my book?"

     Clara cowered and closed her eyes. Why had she taken it? It wasn't worth it.

     "Did you hear me, or are you stupid?" he yelled. "Where is my book?" Clara ran back to her cupboard and grabbed the book to take back to him.

     "So you stole it?" He snatched it from her hands. "You're worthless, useless and stupid. You can't read!"

     "How do you know? I've never tried," she whispered.

     "Stupid!" he yelled. "Useless! I don't know why I didn't get rid of you before! All you do is laze around and eat up my hard earned food!"

     That wasn't true. Clara worked very hard. So hard she never had time to go to neoschool. But she couldn't say that. He would just call her a liar.

     "Idiot!" he yelled. "Stole my book, eh? I'll teach you a lesson or two!"

     * * *

     Clara woke with a start, gasping. She was in her room. Memories came back about where she was. She could hear sounds in the hallway, and her door opened suddenly.

     It was Sauna dressed in a dressing gown and slippers. "What's the matter, honey?" She turned on the light and walked over to the bed and sat down on it. "I heard you crying. Is anything wrong?"

     Clara realized her cheeks were wet with tears. She tried to slow down her breathing. No owner would want a pet that had nightmares every night. "I'm alright. Just a nightmare."

     "Oh, honey." Sauna gave her a hug. "You wanna talk about it?"

     Clara closed her eyes and shook her head. She didn't want to remember her past life. She was with a good family now.

     Sauna smiled and stroked her fur. "I have nightmares all the time. Mainly about shopkeepers." She grimaced. "Do you know what the best cure is?"

     "No."

     "Hot chocolate. Jordie?"

     A bedraggled red Eyrie appeared in the doorway. "Let me guess; hot chocolate?"

     "Yup. You can join us if you like." Jordie disappeared downstairs into the kitchen.

     "I really don't want to disturb you all." Clara apologized meekly. "It's only a dream. I'm sure you'd rather go back to bed."

     "Why would you think that?" Sauna asked briskly, turning the lights on. "You're my pet, and more important than an hour or so of sleep. I'm not tired anyway."

     Jordie entered carrying three mugs of hot chocolate, and nearly spilt them as Clara's Feepit ran around him in excited circles.

     Handing one to Clara and one to Sauna, he sat on the floor and they stayed there and talked well into the night.

     * * *

     Clara woke up slowly. Opening her eyes she saw dappled light playing over the form of a red Eyrie lying asleep on the floor. Looking around, she saw her owner had fallen asleep curled up on her bed. Clara smiled and looked at the time on a clock on her bedside table. Seven thirty. Stifling a yawn she got up silently and collected the three empty hot chocolate mugs and stepped over her brother to take them downstairs.

     It was a friendly kitchen, and Clara was able to locate the sink and some washing up liquid reasonably easily. A dishcloth was soon found as well, and afterwards the cupboard where the mugs were kept.

     Feeling pleased, Clara wondered what her family usually ate for breakfast. On the fridge she spied a menu plan and discovered pancakes were in order for today. She grinned as an excellent plan popped into her head. She knew how to cook pancakes. Her old owner used to demand them most mornings; so, even though she had never been allowed to try them, she assumed they were edible.

     After some searching she found flour and sugar in the cupboards, and the fridge yielded eggs and milk. On the table was a bowl of fruit and as the pancakes were cooking she chopped it up. Just as she was wondering if she should wake her family up, Jordie appeared in the doorway, stifling a yawn. "Good morning."

     "Good morning," she replied. He sniffed the air.

     "What's that?"

     "Pancakes."

     Jordie opened his eyes properly. "Good morning!" he said far more enthusiastically than before. "Is it ready?"

     "Just about."

     He shook himself to wake up. "I'll get Sauna." He opened a cupboard and pulled on a cord that was hanging there. Somewhere upstairs a gong chimed loudly, closely followed by a muffled scream.

     "We don't know where the gong actually is," Jordie explained, settling into a chair at the bench. "We've never found it, so we assume it's in the West Wing. It's good at waking Sauna up, though."

     A disgruntled Sauna appeared in the doorway.

     "Jordie, for the last time- mmm... what's that?" She sniffed the air.

     "Breakfast!"

     * * *

     Clara had never been so happy. The pancakes were a success with her family, and everyone went back for seconds. Over washing up Jordie, ever practical, briefed her on the usual family routine.

     "Sauna usually goes and works in the mornings and early afternoon. That way we have late afternoon and evening to do what we want. It's the holidays at the moment, so Neoschool won't start for another fortnight. You can spend that time getting used to life around here. Trust me, it's never boring."

     "And if it is," Sauna chimed in, waving a dish cloth enthusiastically, "We'll make it interesting!"

     "Hmm. Yes, well, in the holidays we can pretty much do what we want while Sauna's working. It should be more interesting now there are two of us. I'll be going shopping today, so you can either come with me or stay and learn your way around the house."

     Not wanting to display her ignorance of the outside world so early in their friendship, Clara opted for staying at home.

     "Right. If you want anything bought at the shops, you should tell me. Sauna will forget, and anyway I'm the one who does the shopping, for obvious reasons." Jordie finished wiping up a dish and put it into the cupboard. "That's done. Sauna, it's time you headed off for work. I'd better get shopping. We'll be back by lunchtime. If you get hungry just help yourself to anything in the fridge."

     Clara waved them out of the door. "Have a good time!" she called. Turning around she surveyed the house. It seemed a bit daunting now it was empty. Unsure of what to do, she wandered upstairs to sit on her bed, and found she hadn't made it. After straightening it and her room, she walked down the hall to Sauna's room. It was almost chaos inside, and instinctively she began cleaning.

     By the time Jordie came home she had cleaned most of the house and made lunch. If she had learnt anything from her old owner, it was how to tidy and how to be efficient.

     She had just finished helping Jordie pack away the shopping when Sauna burst in through the door.

     "I did it!" she yelled almost hysterically.

     "Is that a confession?" Jordie asked, guiding her to a chair.

     "No, no no no! Clara, come here, I have something for you."

     Clara approached her owner, who brought out a book she had been hiding under her jacket. "This is for you," she said breathlessly.

     "Well done, Sauna!" Jordie cried excitedly. It was only then Clara realized her owner must have faced a shopkeeper to buy the book. Understanding it must have been a huge sacrifice on her owner's part, Clara gushed over it.

     Sauna sat down and told her story. "I was coming home as usual, and had to pass through the shops. I was just going past the book store when I saw this book in the window, and I knew Clara would love it, so without thinking about how afraid I was, I went in and bought it. I did it!" She clapped her hands. "Now, Clara, I'll have lunch, and then I'm going out again. Jordie needs to clean his room, and so you can go and read it now, if you like."

     Thanking her again, Clara went out the back of the house and headed towards the barn. She didn't want to be within thanking distance when Jordie discovered she had made his bed and cleaned his room. She'd rather just have peace and quiet.

     Getting into the barn, she climbed on top of one of the haystacks that was standing there, and looked at the book. Taking a deep breath, she opened it.

     She recognized some of the letters, and a few of the simpler words, but as she gazed over the page it became obvious. She couldn't read. She had hoped it would be natural, but obviously it wasn't. She turned the page, but didn't get any results.

     Taking another deep breath she snapped the book shut and thought about what she could do. Tell Sauna she couldn't read? She flinched instinctively. A normal Neopet might have told her without any misgivings, but Clara had come from a life where she didn't tell anyone anything if she could help it. From experience, the only thing that achieved was a good yelling at and another night without any food.

     She looked at the book and stroked it tenderly. Maybe if she had enough time she could learn to read by herself. She would give it a try. And anyway, surely she couldn't put a damper on her owner's spirits just after she had braved one of the dreaded shopkeepers to get this book for her? No. She wouldn't say anything just yet.

     What should she do with the book, though? She couldn't take it into the house, where her owner would find out she hadn't read it. Clara glanced around the barn. It was dry in here. There were bales of hay along one side, and Clara found a good-sized nook to keep her book in. Placing it in there, she turned and went back to the house.

     Already guilt was settling in her stomach like a cold weight.

To be continued...

 
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