It was our first day of sixth grade. A new year fresh in school, a year to make good friendships and a year to renew old ones. I myself had many friends and was quite happy. I got a steady average of As and Bs, so I wasn’t worried about grades, and I made the Yooyuball team every year. As a red Ixi, I wasn’t the worst color in the world either. Although I was jealous of my Faerie friends, I was content.
Of course, there were some new students too. They all looked nice enough, and some were awfully shy. But one stood out from the rest. And that was Salba.
Salba was about as ugly as you can get. She had three eyes, was the most puke-like shade of purple possible, and had drool dripping from the corner of her mouth. She was a mutant Quiggle, and a female one at that. Let’s just say no one wanted to meet her in a dark alley at night.
For the first week or so of school, people avoided her entirely, not wanting to come in contact with such a “hideous creature.” I couldn’t help but feel pity for the poor girl. I was, after all, popular, and I didn’t really know what it was like to be all alone like that. We had no other mutant-colored pets in our grade, so we didn’t know what it was like. It was all new to us, and I’ll say that we didn’t like the change. I had one class with her, and she sat alone at a table in the back. Surprisingly, the teacher didn’t seem to notice that the other tables were a little overcrowded.
Time went on, and all of the new students seemed to find their way into the school system. Some turned out to become my friends, and others drifted off so that I didn’t see much of them anymore. But Salba seemed to be stuck in the same place as in the beginning of the school year. She had no friends, and every day was the same, walking to her locker, gathering her books solemnly, and heading off for class. My locker was only a few spaces from hers, and every time she came near, the area seemed to clear a little bit.
Soon, people started to make fun of her. People called her “three-eyes,” and the “three-eyed no horned drooling purple meatloaf eater” (she ate meatloaf for lunch every day). All the time I sat there, watching them, thinking of how mean it was to be teasing her, but doing nothing about it anyway.
One of my best friends, Ary, loved to tease Salba. She was a royal Cybunny, and she was very spoiled. She was so spoiled, in fact, that if her water wasn’t room temperature, she would order the cafeteria ladies to warm it up on the stove, or cool it down in the refrigerator, depending on the situation.
Every day, Ary and Salba met once in the hall, just before the last period of the day. I was with them on most occasions, standing next to Ary, holding my books and gleefully chattering. Every day, Ary would call Salba a name or play a trick on her, and Salba would look down at the floor and walk past. Ary normally laughed hysterically, and just so I wouldn’t look suspicious, I laughed with her.
One day, as I was walking down the hall, something piqued my curiosity. What exactly did Salba do after she walked past us every day? Normally, I would see her go to her locker and get her books, but that was the only part of the day that I didn’t see what happened. I don’t know why I thought that it was something different than normal, but I wanted to see anyway. I formed a simple but flawless plan.
It was the normal routine that day, same as always. Ary and I were walking down the hall with my other friend, Brigget, a white Uni, when we saw Salba clutching her books and hurrying to her locker. “Hey, three-eyes,” Ary called, smiling and looking at Salba like she was some sort of hunting Pteri, “You’re wet. Did you go swimming? Oh wait, that’s your drool!” She broke out in laughter along with Brigget, and, just to play it safe, I giggled a little too. It bothered me how they were so mean to her, but it didn’t bother me so much that I had to oppose it.
“I have to go to the bathroom; I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Sure, Jhinni, see you later,” Ary called back, still chuckling with Brigget.
I jogged off in the other direction, making sure to stay a safe enough distance from Salba so that she wouldn’t notice I was following her. As we came up near our section of lockers, I was surprised to watch her fly past on the way down the hall. I stuck to her intently, making sharp turns and zigzags with ease. Eventually, she turned into the girls’ bathroom. It was ironic how my excuse would actually come true: I was going to the bathroom. I waited a few seconds for good measure, and then went in, making sure not to make any noise with a creaky door.
The bathroom was empty except for Salba and me. I slowly walked in, and I heard what I thought was the pulling of toilet paper, but what was actually muffled sobs. She was crying. I hadn’t realized that she even had feelings, only because she never showed them to anyone else.
For the next week or so, I followed Salba to the bathroom every day. She cried there every day. I started to become sick of Ary insulting her, and even lightly suggested that she stop. Sadly enough, Ary thought I was joking.
I wasn’t going to stand for it, I decided at the end of the week. I talked to my owner about the problem. “Hey, Sam?”
“What is it, Jhinni?”
“I have this problem. There’s this girl named Salba. She’s a mutant Quiggle, and everyone makes fun of her. But I don’t like it, not one bit.” I shook my head. “What should I do?”
“That’s my girl,” Sam said as he ruffled my hair. “Well, if you give me until the end of the day, I think I can come up with something.”
I skipped off, unsatisfied, to come up with a plan of my own.
* * * * *
“Sam, I think I’ve got it,” I called excitedly later that day.
“Oh really, got what?” my nosy little brother Arrozo asked.
“None of your business,” I replied as my owner entered the room.
“So, what’s the idea?” Sam asked me, sincerely curious.
“It’s going to take a little ‘cha-ching,’ if you know what I mean,” I informed him.
“How much ‘cha-ching?’” he asked, knowing how much I would be willing to spend.
I whispered it in his ear. His eyes went wide. “Well, that’ll put a dent in my bank account for sure. Alright, what’s your plan?” I whispered that into his ear too. “That’s a risk,” he warned me.
“It’s one that I’m willing to take,” I responded, and looked down at the tile floor. I smiled. “It’ll be a true test of friendship,” I said to Sam, but more to myself.
* * * * *
The next Monday was another day of school. I walked in the doors early that morning and headed straight for my locker. As I walked by, people started to snicker. I didn’t even look at them. Brigget saw that I was opening my locker, and her jaw dropped. “Jhinni?” she asked incredulously, motioning for Ary to come over.
“Yeah, how do I look?” I asked her.
“Absolutely horrible!” Ary exclaimed as she quickly walked over. “How could your owner do this to you? That’s Neopet abuse for sure. Call the DoN! We have a case--”
“Ary, Ary, calm down,” I said in a hushed voice, “This was by choice; no one forced me to do this.”
“Have you looked in a mirror this morning?” Brigget asked.
I barely saw Salba looking at me from her locker out of the corner of my eye. “Sure, I even did my hair so it looked a little nicer. See?” I ran a hand through the spikes that used to be my hair.
“I can’t believe this. Change back!” Ary commanded. “Or I won’t be your friend.”
I paused a second, considered what I wanted, and then answered. “I guess you’re not my friend anymore, if that’s the way you want it. I’m going to the bathroom. If you change your mind, tell me.” I walked off to the bathroom.
When I entered, I looked at myself in the mirror. I was startled for a second. I was still getting used to seeing the new me.
I heard the door creak open behind me, and turned around to find Salba standing there, speechless as she had been for the whole year. I looked back to the mirror and turned on the sink. After a few seconds of washing my face, I heard Salba speak. “Did you—did you really do that by choice?” she asked, as shocked as the others.
“Sure,” I responded, turning the sink off and taking a paper towel from the dispenser. “Why do you ask?”
“It seems so strange,” she replied, looking down at the floor. “You always used to laugh with them—you know, when they made fun of me.”
“I guess I realized my mistake.” I looked at my face in the mirror one last time. “So... what do you do in your spare time?” I asked.
“I—I guess I like Yooyuball,” Salba answered, and I could see that she was slowly coming out of her shell.
“Really? Me too!” I yelled excitedly. I put my arm around her shoulders, and we walked out of the bathroom together.
And we’ve been best friends ever since.
Editor’s Note: If you want to see what happened to Jhinni, go to my User Lookup. Feel free to Neomail me with comments. Thanks so much!