I Heart You Too
When I sit alone, hidden by the shadows, the world comes rushing in but I push it out. The Past knocks on the back door and I invite it in. It was New Year’s Day. The year, I forget, but I was standing on Sixth and Powell. I pulled my coat tighter around myself and started walking around. It was a mothball jacket day; Neopians would dig deep in their closets to look for anything that would keep them warm. It reminded me of time I spent on Terror Mountain. I had found the Jinjah Factory of childhood fantasy, but a blizzard caught me on my way down. The top of my igloo fell in during the night. I tried in vain to patch the hole, but that only worsened the situation. When efforts to deter the cold fail, some Scorchios endure to the point of absurdity. I lay there, up against a wall and watched the snowfall before my eyes. They say you never truly miss anything until it was gone. My mind was fixated on a bowl of hot soup I had refused after running two miles through heavy rain to deliver a package to a friend. “A mile for a friend, two for family,” my father used to say. I ran regardless. To any end, she was family. She was also the reason I was waiting on the corner of Sixth and Powell.
The streets smelt of boiled asparagus and old snot rags. On the other side, a wanted poster too faded to be read, had been tacked to a tree. It depicted a blonde-haired Neopian in a blue pinstriped suit. In the bottom right corner was a lavender mark. Prisoners of Darigan were not to be trifled with.
A blue Bruce approached. I bade him good day, but he ambled by with his chin tucked into his jacket. He turned and disappeared into the building behind me. I was alone again.
A white, feathered head appeared around the corner of Seventh and Powell. Maybe it was me, maybe it was my expectations, but I was disappointed when I saw her. She was dressed in a Taelia Style Coat with a blue scarf wrapped twice around her neck. Her feathers were a little ruffled. In her right hand was a rumpled blue tissue. She half-smiled when she saw me.
I pulled my hands out of my coat to greet her. She wiped her eyes and replied that she had Watery Eyes.
“Still won’t miss you when you’re around, bud,” she added with a smile.
I replied, “Why else would I be here? Trest hates the big cities.”
We found ourselves walking along the promenade. A horn from the morning ferry sounded. The smell of sea salt combined with the cold air was refreshing. Along with the sea salt was a hint of another familiar smell, the smell fresh scones from the incoming ferry. Somewhere beyond the horizon was Roo Island. When we were young, our parents would take us on the morning ferry to spend a day on Roo Island. They would first take us to Grandma Roo’s Café in Blumaria, where the ferry stopped. Grandma Roo always made the best pancakes and scones, always the way you wanted them. I ordered Thornberry pancakes and they were served with a red star made with the thornberry juice. Arromi ordered “merr berr” pancakes. Her father corrected her saying, “No sweetie, merryberry.” She tried her hardest, but all she could ever say was “merr berr.” I laughed and she wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the day, only stick her tongue out at me every so often and call me a big meanie.
The wind picked up, masking the sounds around us as we stopped to look out over the ocean.
“How’s Kopren?” I whispered, knowing that her ears would catch it.
She continued staring out across the ocean. “Hey, bud, when was the last time we had pancakes?”
“Early morning on the 4th day of Eating,” I replied casually.
She wiped her eyes.
“His wings are still bothering him,” she replied softly. “Everyday he would go out into the backyard and try his wings, but he would be tough and pretend that he’s not in pain.”
She wiped her eyes again and stared at me for a moment, wondering if I knew that she did not have Watery Eyes. It was, in part, my fault Kopren’s wings were damaged. If I weren’t his friend, if I had never met him, if I had never saved his life, he would have been better off. It sounds contradictory, but I wasn’t the only one who could have saved him.
“It’s not your fault,” she said. “He doesn’t blame you, bud.”
I scoffed and replied, “But Darigan is still after him and that is my fault.”
I looked out over the ocean again. It was a blue-sky day, not a spring-blue-sky day or a summer-blue-sky day but a blue-sky day nonetheless. It was like a doglefox day of summer, except it was cold. The temperatures and humidity were unbearable, but then you wonder where it went when it left and reminisce of the fond memories of spending time sitting there with friends and family cooling off or warming up.
“It’s a beautiful day,” I commented. “Don’t let it go to waste.”
“Every day is a beautiful day. Isn’t that what you always used to say?” she asked with a smile drawing across her face.
We walked back into the city, but we weren’t going anywhere in particular. I found myself in a familiar neighborhood. The street signs had fallen off on the intersection we were walking, but I knew where we were. Some years ago late October, these streets were filled with Neopians from our neighborhood dressed jovial and dark. I don’t remember what the occasion was, but I don’t think it mattered. Colors red and black, green, blue, orange and purple, white and yellow, and everything imaginable moved about toting bags and JubJub buckets, but the strangest thing that I had ever seen brushed past me. Covered in white was a baby fireball. I reached out to touch its flames, but they were cold. It brought about awe at the magnificence of the world of Neopia and how very little I knew. I dared to be an adventurer and seek out the secrets of Neopia, but I was one Neopian in a large world bound to get into trouble.
“What are you thinking?” she asked with childish inflection.
“What a wonderful friend you are,” I replied in the same way I had replied the last time I saw her.
Toward the end of the block was a bright orange house that stuck out amongst the pale tones.
“It’s still there?” I motioned toward the house.
She looked down the street. “It’s a little odd, but they can’t help but let it stay.”
I grew up in that house for much of my later childhood. My brother had chosen the color when we were repainting. It was an eyesore, but at the same time, it was beautiful. It was my brother’s house after I left for Tyrannia.
“My brother’s a little sentimental,” I replied. I wiped away the tear that had pooled at the corner of eye.
We turned the corner around the orange house down another familiar street. Somewhere beyond the planted trees was the park where we used to played gormball. YEAH! The days were long and the summers endless. Cool breezes were welcome, but we were having too much fun to enjoy them. I could still feel the wetness of my cotton piles when the gormball exploded on me.
We turned another corner to a street that was dreamlike. I recognized it, but only barely.
“Around the corner. Two blocks. Turn left,” she recited quietly to herself.
“Over the hill,” I continued. “And past the yellow eesa tree! Where did that lead?”
“Home, silly!” she replied.
The two of us walked along over the hill and past the yellow eesa tree. She forgot whether it was one or two houses past the tree, but decided it didn’t matter.
On the Tyrannian Plateau, it was easy to get lost. Every stone, every rock face, every cavern, every building looked like the last one you just passed. Being a Scorchio I thought it would be easy to live in Tyrannia. In my first year, I could find neither my house nor the general store. If it weren’t for Trest, I would have been another white stick on the desert plains, as she put it.
I sat under the eesa tree.
“Kopren doesn’t want to see anyone,” she said taking a seat beside me.
A red Acara in a leather jacket and jeans walked by us, heading down the hill.
“We’re both snorkleheaded,” I replied. “Stick a fork in us and get a lavatory.”
The Acara turned her head, apparently hearing what I had said. She squinted at me, then at Arromi.
“Drehen, is that you?” she asked.
“Mrs. Halves, no, no. Drinking coffee on stilts, it’s a mallard,” I answered.
Mrs. Halves smiled thoughtfully and waved. “Joking, I see, still. To the neighborhood, welcome back.”
“Have a good day, Mrs. Halves,” I said.
Mrs. Halves was my next-door neighbor. Mrs. Halves wasn’t her real name, but that’s what I called her. She was always eccentric and would often split her sentences in an odd fashion to see if I still understood her. Most of the time it was no trouble, but sometimes there was ambiguity.
I watched as Mrs. Halves disappeared behind a tree below us. The day before I first left Neopia Central, I sat on a hill not unlike the one I sat on with Arromi. Atop that hill, Turdle Hill, you could see everything as it stretched out toward the misty horizon. To the north, was downtown Neopia Central full of shops strung along a necklace of paths. The west was the continued expanse of the marketplace crowned by the Soup Kitchen. To the south and across a sliver of the west and up against the eastern coast, collaring the hill was a bib of residential neighborhoods, the bit of peace to be found in the rush of the metropolis. Along the east, the ocean cradled the hushed city, gently stroking it with white-crested waves as the everlasting rainbow smiled above.
“You know, it only takes a second to say goodbye,” I commented.
Arromi sat up straighter. “Why? Where are you going?” she asked with concern in her voice.
“Trest and I have a boat now,” I said. “You and Kopren should go down to the docks tomorrow.”
She kept a close ear to the semantics. “Where are you going?” she repeated.
“Somewhere,” I replied.
Pretending that I was not going to say goodbye she smiled and said, “I got that box you sent me. You’re the best.”
“I’ll be here until Siyana comes,” I said as the sun began to set, and I headed for my boat.
That was the last time I saw her. As I sit alone, hidden by the shadows, I think of that moment under the eesa tree and hope for the best. The world sneaks in but I don’t mind anymore. I have all of eternity to entertain The Past, but as to why, I will only tell my son. I hope he never hears it within these dank cells of the Darigan Citadel.