Three Red Roses, Times a Hundred
Author’s Note: This story takes place after the seventh chapter of Journey to the Lost Isle, assuming that the plot continues after the Altador Cup is over. Hint hint, TNT!
Roxton put down his book, Wonderful World of Gardening, just before it disappeared in a puff of purple smoke, and smirked. He was ready.
He had been planning his next brilliantly wonderful feat for at least a few days now, which was a rather long period of time for him, but if it all worked out right (and he didn’t see why it wouldn’t), his present for Lilian’s birthday that afternoon would be perfect. And all that it required was a bit of hard work and maybe some assistance from an unwitting helper. Luckily, he knew exactly who to go to for help.
Unfortunately, that person turned out to not be available.
“What do you mean, you don’t do flowers?” Roxton yelled at Captain Rourke, causing the many other patrons of the Golden Dubloon to turn around and shush him.
The Captain shrugged indifferently, taking a swig from his mug (Roxton didn’t want to think about what that strange blue liquid was). “Not in my line of work, boy. You sail the seas your whole life, you don’t learn much about planting stuff. Get someone else to help you.”
Roxton sighed, leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes. “That’s the problem. There isn’t anyone else.”
The Captain raised a bushy eyebrow and gave Roxton a knowing look. “Why not the girl? Seemed like you two got pretty close during that infernal trip we all took.”
“Please, don’t start complaining again. Your boat-”
“- made it out of there just fine. I don’t want to hear another rant.”
The Ogrin made a grumbling noise. “I wouldn’t call two weeks worth of repairs ‘just fine’.”
“Anyway, like I told you- not that you were listening, I see- it’s a surprise. And, tell me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that she’d figure out what was going on if I asked her to help.”
“You shouldn’t be doing something so ridiculous. I just got her an old pile of kelp that had washed up on deck while we were out at sea, and she started raving about its medical and magical properties as soon as she saw it. Girl should’ve been a botanist. Ever think that she might not want you messing around in her gardens?”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll be fine with it.”
He shrugged indifferently. “Not my problem. Well, now, look who’s back.”
Scrap was weaving his way through the tables in the dimly lit room, occasionally bumping into people and dodging their shouted insults as he made his way along. He skidded to a stop in front of the Captain, wearing his usual infectious grin. “Reporting for duty, Captain Boss Sir! Hey there, Mr. Colchester!”
Roxton nodded his own greeting, finding himself grinning as well, as the Captain glared down at the boy (he still managed to be taller than the Gnorbu, despite the fact that he was sitting). “You finished with the chart room?”
Scrap nodded overeagerly. “Aye aye, sir! Am I discharged for the afternoon?”
Then, Roxton got an idea.
“Wait a moment now, Rourke, Cappy, my fine old friend,” he commented cheerfully, ignoring the death-glare that the older pet was giving him. “Perhaps I could borrow the lad for my little project?”
The Ogrin snorted. “It’s your funeral.”
“Fantastic! I knew you’d warm up to me eventually. It’s my irresistible charm, isn’t it?”
“... right.” Captain Rourke gave Roxton a warning look, then turned back to Scrap. “Help him for the rest of the day if you want, but you better be back here good and prompt by tomorrow morning.”
“Can do, will do, done!” Scrap dodged the cuff that the Captain attempted to give him around his ears with the ease of much practice and dashed over to where Roxton was sitting. “Nice to see you again, Mr. Colchester! Mind if I call ya Mr. Roxton? Or Roxy? Mr. Roxy has a nice ring to it!”
“Eh... sure, kid, that sounds fine.” Had the young Gnorbu really been that hyper just the few weeks before that they had all spent together? If so, he had forgotten. “Alright. Thanks for your help, Cappy!”
“I’ve told you, don’t call me that!”
Roxton smiled innocently. “Whatever you say, Cap.”
“How long are you gonna be in there?” Scrap asked impatiently, swinging his feet as he sat on the bench outside Gifts Galore.
“As long as it takes.” Roxton looked around carefully, making sure that Lilian wasn’t randomly lurking around anywhere nearby. Not that he knew why she would be. “Now, just sit still and don’t get abducted, alright?”
“But I’m bored already!”
Ignoring him, Roxton opened the door of the shop and stepped inside. A little bell that was attached to the door jingled, and the shopkeeper, a middle-aged red Scorchio, quickly looked up.
“What about one of our lovely gifts?” the pet instantly jabbered, putting down the wrapped box he had been examining. “Great for birthdays and other special occasions. If I am-”
“Okay, that’s great, thanks,” Roxton interrupted, offhandedly thinking that the Scorchio sounded like a recording. “Would you happen to have Three Red Roses in stock?”
“Not at the moment,” now the Scorchio sounded much more natural, he thought, “though I do have some in the back. If you wait around for a while, I’ll be sure to put them out.”
“Ah, but I’m short on time, dear fellow,” Roxton said with his best smile, leaning on the counter. “Perhaps I could ask you to let me see your stock... before you put it out?” He casually dropped a small bag of Neopoints onto the counter. The Scorchio’s eyes widened when it landed with a promising thunk.
“Well,” the Scorchio kept his eyes trained on the bag, “there’s no harm in that. Would you care to come into the storeroom with me?”
Once in the storeroom, the bargaining grew more intense.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” the shopkeeper said, his mouth hanging open a bit.
“Actually, I’m not. Come on, old chap, I bet you do have enough in stock. Just go and look for me, will you?”
“But it’s out of the question!” the Scorchio spluttered, leaning against a box. “I can’t sell you that many at once! It would- It would-”
“I’m no reseller. These would be a gift for a friend of mine, and the economy wouldn’t be hurt at all. Come on. I bet you have them.”
“Really, sir, this is ridiculous!”
Roxton smiled. “In my line of work, ‘ridiculous’ is not a word to be used lightly. What are oversized orders when compared to oversized bugs?”
Unfortunately, the witty comparison was completely lost on the shopkeeper.
Five minutes later, Roxton was out of the shop, staggering under the weight of two large boxes. The shopkeeper followed him outside, dropped two other large boxes at Scrap’s feet, and stalked back inside.
Roxton tipped his hat cheerfully to the shopkeeper, who glared at him through the glass doorway. Seeing Scrap’s questioning look, he shrugged. “Well, I got it for a very good price. Now. To Mystery Island!”
“Awesome!” Scrap jumped up off of the bench and started running down the street.
“Hey- HEY! You’re carrying these boxes too, you know!”
Amazingly enough, they made it to Mystery Island on the ferry with no further mishaps. Well, there was the issue with the Pawkeet and Roxton’s mustache, but that would be another story.
So now, Roxton and Scrap were hiding in the backyard of the house next to the Fairweather home and effectively spying on the family.
“I could just go and ring the doorbell to see if they’re in, honest,” Scrap said, tapping his feet impatiently.
“They’d guess something was up,” Roxton replied, wondering which of the gardens he could use for his project. Surprisingly enough (or perhaps not, considering the source), the Fairweather’s backyard was full of many gardens. One section of the ground had been cut down to a rocky plateau, with tools and brushes strewn around. Well, Roxton thought, Lilian was an archaeologist first. Many other sections had been fenced off. Some contained plants which he knew from his travels were rare; some only housed well-tended flowers. But the plot in the corner which held only a few tangled patches of kelp seemed to hold the best odds for him.
“Hey, Mr. Roxy,” Scrap whispered suddenly, nudging him with his elbow. “Looks like they’re leaving.”
Roxton looked towards the front door, instinctively crouching so that he was better hidden behind the fence. Yes, the Professor and Lilian were talking quietly as they locked their front door and started walking down the road. Success!
“Alright,” he whispered to Scrap, “now we can make our move.”
He waited until the Professor and Lilian had disappeared around the corner, then tensed his leg muscles. A few years of training in Shenkuu in his younger days had given him some ninja-like skills; for example, the ability to leap over tall fences in a single bound.
“Mr. Roxy? What’re you doing?”
“Getting over the fence,” he replied, annoyed, since that fact was obvious.
“Well, why don’t you just use the gate?”
Roxton looked over. Scrap was standing on the other side of the fence with his boxes, holding the gate open and barely restraining his giggles. Roxton scowled, relaxed his legs, and dragged his two boxes across, into the yard.
Scrap closed the gate, then paused. “Um, what now?”
“That one,” Roxton said, pointing to the garden in the far corner. “Well, come on!”
Scrap dragged his own boxes behind Roxton, looking confused. “No offense meant or anything, sir, but are you sure this will work?”
“Oh, it will work.”
“But- but, I mean, I just gave her this old shovel that I used to play with when I was younger, and she got all excited about how it was the perfect type for her digs. So don’t you think your idea sounds just a bit, y’know, exaggerated?”
Roxton paused, then turned his head to give Scrap one of his most dazzling smiles. “Not for me!”
Scrap rolled his eyes once Roxton had turned back around and followed the Lutari to the mostly-empty garden. Once the two had gotten there and dropped their boxes, Roxton picked up the two shovels that were leaning against the garden gate and tossed one to Scrap. “Well, let’s get digging!”
“Um, Mr. Roxy, you’ve got the wrong plot. We’re not Tale of Woe, we’re Journey to-”
“Scrap, please. Just dig.”
“For your birthday, Lilian; three hundred roses!”
Nope. That sounded too dull. Roxton rubbed his chin as he surveyed the newly planted garden, trying to think up a better way of phrasing it.
“You may have liked three red roses, but how do you like them in the triple digits!”
Nah. That sounded too overdone.
“Brought to you courtesy of the Neopian Times 300th issue, here’s Three Red Roses, Times a Hundred!”
“That last one didn’t make any sense,” Scrap, sitting on the fencepost, complained. “And what’re we gonna do about that hose?”
Roxton glanced over to the gardening tool in question, still trying to figure out why he had dragged Neopia’s newspaper into the matter. They had found an old hose attached to the back of the house and tried to turn it on, thinking that it could be used to water the new garden, but the knob had broken off when they tried to turn it. It was now spouting water into one of the other flower gardens. “What about it?”
“Um, shouldn’t we figure out how to turn it off?”
“And why would we do that?” Roxton questioned, frowning at the young pet. “Isn’t water good for plants?”
“Don’t you want to help Lilian’s gardens?”
“I guess so, but-”
“Good. Then we can leave the hose alone.” Roxton nodded. He really didn’t see why Scrap seemed so unsure.
“Anyway, shouldn’t we be figuring out how to get in the house?”
“All in good time, dear boy,” Roxton murmured. “Besides, there shouldn’t be a problem, as no one’s inside.”
“But Mr. Werther just walked in through the front door.”
“What?” Roxton quickly turned around, looking at the windows of the house. He couldn’t see anyone inside, but Scrap kept talking.
“Yeah, I saw him walking towards the house from that side on the street, but then he didn’t keep walking past on the other side. So he must’ve gone inside. Duh.”
“But- then- we’ll have to figure out some other way to get in.” Roxton growled, turning towards Scrap with a frown.
“Well, can’t we just kind of, you know, walk inside? He knows us, it’s not like he’s going to call the Defenders of Neopia on us or somethin’.”
“But then he’d see us, and he’d tell Lilian, and that would ruin the surprise,” Roxton said with a sigh, wondering why Scrap never seemed to follow his logic.
“But he couldn’t tell Miss Lilian.”
“And why not?”
“Well, Werther is mute.”
Roxton opened his mouth to form a witty remark, then closed it. He quickly turned around to look at Scrap. “What?”
Scrap gave him his best how-dense-can-you-be-for-Fyora’s-sake look. “Come on, Mr. Roxy, you went on that voyage too. Didn’t you notice that he never talked?”
Scrap continued to look at him pityingly.
“But that doesn’t matter,” Roxton hastily continued, “we still have to make sure he doesn’t see us.”
Scrap smiled slyly. “Oh, I can take care of that...”
As Werther carefully placed the pile of papers on the Professor’s desk, he heard a strange noise.
The JubJub whirled around. There was no one else there, of course; he was the only pet in the Fairweather house at the time. The Professor had asked him to bring over a pile of his notes while he and Lilian went out to check on the latest Altador Cup standings at the news station, and he had been more than willing to oblige. It was in his nature; Werther had always been the sort to do whatever favors were asked of him. That was how he had become the Professor’s assistant in the first place.
(Not to mention that he had had a good deal of luck when the Professor looked among the many students to choose his assistant; but then, Werther had always been lucky. Like when he had given Lilian that book he had fished up in the Underwater Cavern just that morning for her birthday. She had started reading it right away and had told him that it was exactly what she had been looking for.)
After confirming that there was no one else in the room, Werther turned back around. As long as he was there, he wanted to look up something in the Professor’s lab journal. He located the book on the Professor’s desk, picked it up with his toes, and settled down in the study’s rolling chair to read it, his back to the door.
But then, his glasses always bothered his eyes when he tried to read things up close, even if they were essential for his long-distance sight (which started at about a meter away). With a shake of his head the glasses were balanced precariously above his eyebrows, ready to be pulled down when he needed them again.
He never saw the small Neopet with a shock of orange hair tip-toe in and out of the study.
He never felt his glasses being carefully lifted off of his head.
Everything was ready, Roxton thought with some relief. Werther had been... distracted, Scrap was in the backyard (making sure that his flowers were doing all right), and Lilian had just walked in through the front door. Roxton was, at the moment, hiding away in the family’s small library. All he had to do now was wait for Lilian to walk in.
As if by a cue, the Xweetok in question walked into the library, her nose stuck in a small book, in her own little world. Still, she happened to notice him standing there when she tried to put the book back on the shelf which his head was right in front of.
“Ow,” he said quietly, stifling the urge to rub his nose, which she had just banged with her book.
“Oh, hello! Sorry for that. I haven’t seen you in a while; you should really inform us all about what’s going on before you go on secret expeditions. So, what exactly are you doing in my house?”
It was just like her to get straight to the point when he didn’t have an answer, he thought wryly. Instead of speaking, he offered her the gift he had hidden behind his back with one of his dazzling smiles.
Lilian gave a little gasp and took the flowers from him, gently fingering the petals and examining each rose independently. He smiled proudly to himself; the project had taken forever, but if this was her reaction to only three, then when she saw her garden...
“Wow, Roxton, these are exquisite,” she said, smiling hugely. That was another win for him; it had taken him weeks to get her to call him by his first name on a kind-of regular basis. “Rosa Rugosa, it seems, though it might be a variation on Rosa Gallica, and these have been treated extremely well; the epidermis of each is completely free from prickles. There are no thorns to speak of, and the stems have been cut with amazing precision, not to mention the care that must have been taken in developing the petals, and-”
He cleared his throat pointedly, and she blushed. “Oh, I’m sorry. I got carried away. They are beautiful to observe!”
“Only the best for your birthday,” he said with a grin, slightly bowing to her.
And, of course, Lilian didn’t see. She was already moving around the room, rummaging around on top of tables and drawers. Roxton watched with dry amusement as she continued to talk absent-mindedly. “Now I’ll have to figure out where to put these. Father does get particular about where his papers are kept; he acts like I’ve hidden them away if I even put them in a pile. Maybe on the bookshelf...”
He was growing more and more uneasy as she moved around. Maybe he didn’t know as much about plants as she did, but he thought he knew the basics. “Hmm, shouldn’t you put those in a glass or something?” he questioned hesitantly, eyeing the flowers with suspicion.
She turned towards him, confused. “Why? They’re from the Neopian Gift Shop, aren’t they? Very nicely done, too, I haven’t seen enchanted roses kept as real as these in years.”
He was starting to feel a bit sick to his stomach. “Enchanted?”
She was now looking at him as she would Scrap at his most ignorant. “Yes, enchanted. The shopkeeper gets Kauvara to fix all of his flowers so that they’ll stay fresh without water or nutrients. It means they can’t be planted like ordinary flowers, but they’re still good for show, and- Mr. Colchester? Are you feeling all right?”
Darn it, he thought, there she goes with names again.
More important on his mind was the fact that the flowers, apparently, couldn’t grow in gardens. So all of those roses out in the garden should be, well-
“Honestly, Roxton, you’re looking rather green. Maybe you should sit down.” Lilian sounded anxious as she dropped the roses on a table and went looking for a chair among the heaps of books and free-floating papers.
Then Scrap, with a small pair of glasses perched on top of his head, stuck his upper body through the open window, located him, and, leaning against the windowsill, shouted, “Hey, Mr. Roxy! You’ll wanna come and look at your, um, project, it isn’t exactly working out.” He looked around conspiratorially, then loudly whispered, “There’s a bunch of Slorgs, and they seem kinda angry.”
(Roxton thought it was rather miraculous that Lilian didn’t seem to notice the Gnorbu).
Then the Professor’s voice, from right outside the back door; “Lilian, dear? Are you home? The garden hose is on, and I can’t get the knob to turn right, it’s stuck and the water is flooding your tulips. Oh, and Werther seems to be missing his glasses. He’s making a bit of a fuss.”
From somewhere else inside the house, Roxton could hear objects being thrown around. It seemed like Werther had finally figured out what had happened to his glasses- and he didn’t seem happy.
Roxton put his head in his hands, a headache already starting. He knew he should have stuck with chocolates.