Perfect: Part One
Until the moment she pounded me, I thought my first owner was absolutely perfect.
I was born into a family with three brothers who, like me, were Lupes. I, xxLayn0004, was the youngest of the lot. My brothers were xxLayn0001, xxLayn0002, and xxLayn0003. Our names were really similar, but we were all very different, and when our owner called out for one of us in particular – "Four, come here for a moment!" – it would make the one in question nothing short of ecstatic. We – or at least, I - never thought that she had difficulty telling us apart. After all, we were different colours – red, blue, yellow, and me at the end in green – but some people scoffed at us because of our names, and it was always reassuring to hear her call out one of our numbers. It was an indication that we were different.
My brothers and I hung together, reluctant to venture out to where Other People were. We instead doted on our owner, and in our minds, she doted on us in return. When we were hungry, she would usually remember to feed us. Every once in a while she came back from the Money Tree with a toy that was only slightly used, and she would leave it out for us so that we could take turns playing with it. When it was cold at night, we all curled up in our small but safe home, cuddled up together on the bed to share the warmth and murmur about how glad we were that there were no leaks in the roof. When we were sick, she would pat us once or twice before making a note on her calendar to bring us to the Healing Springs sometime in the next few weeks. Once she even took Three to Roo Island and let him go on the Merry-Go-Round, and he told us about it so well that the rest of us could pretend that we had gone, too.
We had what we needed. We all did. Sure, we weren't spoiled rotten like some Neopets out there, but we had a roof over our heads and somewhat regular meals and each other, and we adored our owner for it. We didn't know anything else, and so we thought she was perfect.
I was the first to go.
I still remember the day very clearly. It was a warm spring day, a little breezy, but the sun was dazzling in the sky. She called out very clearly, "Four! Come with me!" My brothers all crooned a little, torn between curiosity and jealousy and happiness for me, and I trotted to the other side of the room, where my owner looked at me with a smile. I could hardly stand still after that, because I had never, ever seen her wear a smile like that before.
"I'm going out with Four for a while. I'll be back later." With that short explanation to my brothers, she beckoned to me and went out the door, and I bounded alongside her, too excited to contain my enthusiasm.
"Where are we going? Are we doing something fun?"
She gave me one of those half-glances, and I grinned up at her. "We're going to Neopia Central," she finally replied.
"Really? Wow! I've only been there once or twice! Are we really?" I clamped my mouth shut after a few moments, guessing from her expression that my babbling was getting on her nerves, but I practically bounced as we made our way to Neopia Central.
It probably took much longer than it did, but I was so thrilled that the time seemed to fly by. It seemed that we were suddenly walking down the streets and weaving our way through shops, and I felt that I couldn't turn my head fast enough. There was too much to see, too many interesting things to look at, too many fun places to go. But my owner walked with a brisk, certain pace, inexorably bringing me along with her to whatever destination she had in mind. I didn't even notice where we were going; I only saw the countless Neopets go by with their owners, in every species, size and colour. I had never seen so much before in my life.
We finally entered a cold cement building, and I finally had the presence of mind to look around and actually think about what I was seeing. For the first time, I felt a chill of dread, and I paused a couple of steps in the doorway. My owner ignored me and went up to the desk, talking quietly with the pair of Neopets seated behind. Attached to the front of the desk were several signs. I wasn't very good at reading back then, and I squinted at the centre poster as I made out the letters one by one.
"Ne-o-pi-an... A – adoption.... Centre." I mouthed the words silently, and I could feel myself beginning to frown. I didn't understand yet. I looked over at the sign on the left, in front of the Pink Uni. "Adopt... to-day." The third and final sign. "Don't.... di – dis-own... your... poor... Ne-o-pet." I didn't know the meaning of the word "disown," but it made me feel sick. Suddenly, very suddenly, I wanted to be out of that place.
"You will be pounding xxLayn0004. Is that correct?"
I froze at those words, then bolted up to my owner and yanked at her pant leg. "You – you what?" My mind flashed to the word "disown." That's what it meant – to pound. "You're throwing me away?"
"Yes," my owner said calmly, not even sparing a glance in my direction.
"Are you sure?"
"Sure?!" I cried out, echoing the Techo behind the desk. I could tell that I would start panicking soon, but pushed the emotion down. No. I thought – no, I was sure that I could still talk her out of it then, that I could go home like normal and laugh about it with my brothers. But she would not be deterred, and I could not help but be terrified.
The same question came multiple times, almost as if the Techo was trying to talk my owner out of it. I desperately hoped she would change her mind, but her answered remained the same.
"Yes, I'm sure."
This time she said it with so much certainty that the Techo nodded grudgingly. And with that, I was suddenly torn away from my owner. "Please, nooooo!" I wailed, clawing at the air. I looked frantically at my owner – my former owner – but she was already walking out the door, her expression placid and calm – as though she didn't care.
It hit me hard, and I went limp, stunned by the very thought. It was an unwelcome realisation, a devastating epiphany. She didn't care. She had been able to bring me to the pound wearing a smile like that and abandon me there without a moment's hesitation because she didn't care, and worse, she never had.
"I'm sorry, kid," the Techo said gruffly, leading me down a hallway lined with cages. Neopets peered up at me as we passed, going deeper and deeper into the maze of corridors and cages, and the one thing I noticed through my haze was the way they looked at me – like my arrival was one more reminder to them. At some point, I realised, every Neopet in the pound that I saw had nothing but defeat in their eyes.
I barely even noticed when I was put in an empty cage and the door was locked behind me. I stood, staring blankly at the concrete floor. There was a bowl of water in the corner but, other than that, it was empty. There were faint whispers coming from the cage on my right, but I ignored them. I had no interest in conversing with another pounded Neopet. Doing that would mean recognising the fact that I was in the pound. Doing that would mean accepting the fact that my owner had abandoned me, and that was impossible, because she was perfect. After the longest time, I heaved a sigh to keep myself from crying and curled up in the far corner, flicking my tail over my nose. I stared into the darkness and at some point fell asleep.
From then out on, my time in the pound was a blur. Every day countless prospective owners would walk by, even this deep in the pound. They would look at some Neopets, ask about their names, their ages, their statistics, their abilities, occasionally poke and prod through the bars, and once in a while a cage door would unlock, and a Neopet would be home free. At sundown, someone would come around with bowls of food – sometimes gruel, sometimes cereal, sometimes fish, sometimes just a loaf of bread – and put one in each cage. I dozed most of the time, waking up when I heard the telltale sound of footsteps, gazing up hopefully at each possible owner, and turning away when they passed by my cage without a second glance. I missed my brothers terribly; I missed my owner more. It felt ridiculous – after all, what greater betrayal is there than this? But still, I missed her, because I had spent my entire life looking up to her, admiring her, thinking she was perfect. It was crushing to realise that she wasn't, and I realised it anew every day. I could only hope that my next owner would really be perfect.
But until the moment he pounded me, I thought that my second owner was anything but perfect.
To be continued...