Flight: Part Three
It'd been about a month since I had left Neopia, and my dreaded "family," and settled in Altador, when a knock came at my door. Now, normally I did have visitors, but usually I knew before they came that they were, indeed, coming. But here was an unannounced knock, so I opened the door with a good level of curiosity. There stood Khai, his lovely blue eyes sparkling softly.
"So look what I found." He stepped to the side to reveal the Royal Acara that I once knew as my bratty little sister, Mindi. She wore a large teal backpack -Teal? Since when did she like teal?- and had traded her Royal skirts and princessy hat for a white and airy dress, much more suited for the Altadorian climate, though I could see the rich and silky fabric of the ditched dress peeking out of her backpack. The look she wore was tired but happy. Happy to see me? Not possible.
But her eyes lit up when she saw me. "Lo!"
She looked like she was about to rush me for a hug, but then seemed to remember that we were never really the hugging type. Her face fell, just a bit.
"Um, hi Mindi. What're you doing here?" My face, I'm sure, wore a look of confusion and interest.
"Lo," Khai cut in, "maybe you should invite her in and let her have a glass of water or something. She's come a long way."
I stood back and motioned for them to come in. Mindi smiled again and stepped into the middle of the room, and Khai closed the door behind her. I pulled out chairs for the Acara and Krawk, but the latter chose one more recessed. I just want to be here without intruding, his kind look said.
Mindi sat down happily, setting her backpack on the floor. I handed her a glass of water, and she took a deep drink before clearing her throat. I spoke first.
"So," she responded softly with a smile.
Softly?! Mindi did not do softly. But it was quite obvious, as it had been since the moment I'd laid eyes on her, that something was incredibly different about the Acara.
She continued without further prompting.
"So after you left, Mother threw a huge hissy fit and bustled around the house for about a week being super flustered."
"Since when do you say 'flustered?'" I asked, my eyebrows knitted. Mindi just smiled again.
"Since you left. I've sort of taken to a lot of neat words you used to use. But that comes later in my story."
I was taken aback. Mindi had just closed my question and redirected the attention to her story, but politely. Taken aback, and impressed.
"So she went completely banshee for a while, right? It was pathetic. Halfway through the next week... oh wait. This needs explanation and back story."
"Back story?" I raised my eyebrow. But then it took me a moment to realize the things that had happened on her birthday, and then the day that I had left. Her reaction, or non-reaction, rather, to the present, and the way she hadn't tattled on me when she'd seen me sneaking down the side of the trellis. Even the way she'd seemed to not act when I left. I would've expected her to look annoyed that I was getting attention and that I was leaving, but instead she just looked... she'd looked far away.
Mindi seemed to notice the realization. There was that smile again.
"My birthday, and your present, and you leaving and everything. It needs explaining.
"I'd gone to Annabelle's house a couple of days before my birthday, and I had a fun time and all, but for about the millionth time, I realized something that I didn't really know if I liked or not. Annabelle and her sister, they get along great. Looking back from right now, I mean, they're kinda prissy, I guess, but at least they're prissy together, you know?"
A laugh sprang its way from my mouth. I covered it quickly, stifling the chuckle behind my hand.
Mindi smiled again.
"Anyway, I thought about it, and I was kind of comparing how they are as sisters to how we are. Or, well, were. And we weren't friends. We never really were friends. I was always really prissy and into getting what I wanted, and you never were. And we fought a lot. I remember you trying to be nice for a while at the beginning, but, well, I always thought that I had to decide that I wanted something that I thought was specifically the best and that I should never accept anything less, or even just different. The things you tried to give me were always really awesome, but they were different, you know? Different from the pink stuff and the plushies and the glitter and the ribbons that Mother always showered me with."
I paid a quick glance at Khai.
Told you so, dear, his smile and eyes whispered. I just smiled back, then looked back at Mindi as she continued.
"I felt bad that we weren't friends like Annabelle and her sister. I thought about it for a while, for the next few days, you know, into my birthday and all, and I realized that we weren't friends because we weren't alike, and we didn't like and want and think the same things. When you gave me that Luxury Acara Plushie, I dunno, I kinda figured out why you did, that maybe you just didn't care anymore about being sisters and giving me what I said I wanted, like I'd told you with actions for years that I didn't care about being sisters or taking the great things you gave me. That I finally made you give up trying and just do what you wanted. It made me feel bad, that things had turned out this way.
"But I thought about it, and I realized that I don't want to be the way I am. I want to have fun with you, but we can't do that if we're both different. I don't want you to become prissy just so we can be friends. I figured out that I don't want to be prissy either, I just thought that it was the way things were. Mother always told me so, that I should have the prettiest and most expensive and the best things, because if people aren't envying you, you're not doing it right. But then how come she's never happy? I don't want to be like that. I want to be like you."
No one said anything for a while, and the only sound in the room was from the waves rumbling and crashing distantly against a cliff. There was something inexplicable rising in me. Mindi finally cleared her throat and began again.
"So yeah, anyway, Mother. After you left, she went blustering and yelling around the house at nobody in particular but herself, and I retreated into her library. I know you spent a lot of time there, and I was sort of surprised, but mostly happy, to find that you hadn't taken her books with you, because I wanted to read them now too. It's not like Mother ever reads: she just has all the books to show off how smart she supposedly is."
I smiled widely. This was both funny and utterly true.
"I read and I read and I read some more," Mindi recounted. "I wanted to be smart like you, I wanted to know some of the things that you knew. I buried my face in books for an entire week and spent all the time between chapters and books thinking about what I should do. I didn't want to stay, because that meant listening to Mother continue to yell and lecture and criticize nobody at all in particular. Nobody who was there, at least."
Mindi gave me a silly look, her smile cocked to one side and her eyebrow raised. It was the funniest look, in a good way, that I'd ever seen her make, and I couldn't remember ever thinking she could have this much character.
"I don't blame you," she laughed. "I couldn't blame you. You did the smartest thing there was to do: you left before the fights could get really destructive, before, oh I don't know, things in the house got torn down. I didn't want to stay in that kind of place. I didn't want to stay where money, being better, and always being right no matter what were the only things that mattered. After a few days of reading and listening to the verbal storms Mother was spouting to herself, I decided I wanted to leave like you did. Not only that, but I wanted to leave and I wanted to find you and I wanted to make everything up to you.
"I didn't know how, though," she said with a slight sigh. "I don't have the courage you do, to just blow out of there and only give the person that was horrible to you a smirk. But at the end of the week, it seemed that I didn't have to come up with a plan: Mother announced that 'we' were going to move. She said we didn't need you 'dirtying up our image' and that everything would be just fine without you."
My eyes widened, if only just a little. It was a surprise that Mother would ever think of leaving the place she'd thought of as her "glorious palace." Mindi seemed to understand the look, and she continued.
"That's exactly what I thought. Mother practically identifies herself with the house, right? Well, I didn't even think, the words just started coming out of my mouth. I got mad and stood up and said, 'No way am I leaving!' and 'What in Neopia are you talking about?!' You know what she said to me?"
I shook my head briskly and Mindi continued with practically no hesitation.
"She told me that the faeries were going to come and make the house lift up from the ground and fly it away to Faerieland."
Silence. Dead silence.
And then hysterical laughter roared through the room. Even Khai was wiping tears from his eyes, he was laughing so hard.
"SHE WENT MAD!" Mindi and I yelled in unison, which only set off for more laughter.
Finally we all calmed down enough for our breathing to slow down so that Mindi could finish her story, which was now drawing to a close.
"So," she said around the slowly subsiding giggles, "I packed up my favorite things and gave the rest to charity so that some poor Neopets can have some nice things too. Then I went and talked to Annabelle's nanny and asked if she could send someone to our house every so often, to make sure Mother was okay and hadn't rambled herself into a closet. That all took about another week, since there were a lot of things that I had to make sure went to good homes, and Annabelle's nanny took some convincing. Well, then I took a ferry to Altador, which was a really, really long trip. Not only was it around the world, as you already know, but the ferry broke down a few times on the way over. I think it was one of the old ones.
"Anyway, I finally got to Altador, and man! I didn't know this place was so huge! I went wandering around knocking on doors and asking strangers if they knew you, and for a while I thought you'd disappeared forever!"
"Oh Mindi, you didn't!" I hugged my little sister. "It must've been scary not knowing where you were going and talking to people you didn't know like that." But Mindi shook her head.
"Not really, I just really wanted to find you, and everyone here is really nice."
"And that," Khai chimed in as he stood and walked over to Mindi's chair to ruffle her hair, "is how I found Miss Mindi, wandering around the marketplace asking people if anyone knew her big sister. I thought you wouldn't mind if I brought her up to see you," he said with a smile and a twinkle in his eyes for me. I smiled back.
"Not at all."
I insisted that Mindi stay with me. She said she could've gone back to Neopia Central, that she just wanted me to know the truth about her, but I couldn't let her do that. We unpacked Mindi's things into one of the guest rooms, rechristening it as hers. I watched with a smile whose warmth seemed to come from inside my chest as Mindi placed the Luxury Acara Plushie on one of the shelves.
"I really do like her," she said with a happy whisper. "She's so different, and I think that's what makes her so pretty."
It seems like it's a fact that siblings tend to get along when they grow up, even if they fought badly when they were younger. In just a month, it seemed that both Mindi and I had grown up. She'd realized what was truly important, and I'd thrown away grudges I could have very well kept. Mindi, Khai, and I sat at the cliff near my house that evening and watched the sun set over the glimmering Altadorian waters...
...and I knew in my heart that this was what "family" was.