More Than Enough
Note: Taewaen is pronounced TAY-win (just thought you might want to know)
The Lupe stole silently into the shop, her presence betrayed by nothing except a shadow. And who would notice one shadow among so many, especially when its owner was so plain? A scruffy red Lupe of average size and build attracted no attention among the throngs of customers filing in and out of the doorway. All that set Taewaen apart was the adventurous glint in her eye. Invisibility and stealth were her strengths; living on the streets had made her strong. The life of a thief wasn’t easy, but she enjoyed it all the same.
Quietly, Taewaen crept up to the counter, all the while eyeing the shopkeeper standing at the other end of the room. The Mynci was engaged in a heated debate with a blonde girl and was rather preoccupied with winning the argument. Seizing the opportunity, Taewaen snatched a warm hot dog from its place. Before anyone could cry out in alarm, she was gone in a blur of red, hidden in the commotion of the streets.
In another area of Neopia Central, the summer sun beat down upon the back of a blue Uni trotting swiftly past the shop windows. A bag of groceries, clenched between her teeth, bounced with her rhythmic gait. She skirted the Rainbow Pool and jogged over toward the entrance to the catacombs, slowing only when she saw a dark-haired girl sitting against a nearby tree. “I’m back,” the Uni said, dropping the bag at her feet. The girl stood up and began fishing through its contents.
“Looks good, Aurora. Did you spend much?” she asked.
“Cheapest I could find,” Aurora said, tossing a small sack of neopoints to her owner, Blaze, who caught it deftly in one hand. Even with careful spending, the sack had grown much lighter since the Uni’s departure.
“Looks like we’ll be good for a week or two.” Blaze pulled a half-eaten apple out of the bag with a quizzical look, and then continued. “We’ll stop by the Soup Kitchen then head home.”
“Okay.” Inwardly, Aurora sighed. Although she didn’t mind their lack of fortune, eating soup almost daily did get a little irritating. Even so, she never complained.
Despite the Uni’s casual answer, Blaze caught her fleeting look of disappointment. “Fine then, have it your way.” The girl smiled and tossed the bag of neopoints back to the Aurora. “Here. Buy yourself a treat. I’ll pick up a copy of the Times and meet you outside the coffee shop.”
Aurora hid her surprise behind a skeptical look. “Are you sure? I thought you said we couldn’t afford anything extra this time.”
“Go ahead. I’ll just have to play a few extra games tonight.”
“Oh poor you.” Aurora rolled her eyes, smiling at the thought of her owner overexerting herself by pushing buttons.
“Hey, some of those games are hard,” Blaze retorted, shoving her playfully. “Now get going before I change my mind.”
“Fine then. See you in a few minutes.”
Aurora wandered casually between the stores, the light breeze ruffling her mane. She gazed longingly inside some shop windows, others she passed by without a second thought. Unlike most Unis, Aurora had never really been interested in clothing and jewelry. And she would much rather settle down in a soft chair with a good book than push through a rambunctious crowd in Usukiland. Reading had always been a favorite pastime of hers. Unfortunately, she didn’t have nearly enough leftover neopoints for a book. She would have to settle for chocolate instead.
Aurora entered the Chocolate Factory, smiled briefly at the clerk, made her selection, and began haggling. Several minutes later, she left the shop carrying her prize in a paper bag.
Taewaen strolled aimlessly through the streets, stopping occasionally to take in her surroundings. She had long since finished the meal she pilfered from the hot dog shop, and was considering which was the best shop to visit next.
Just then, the Lupe happened upon a notice board hung in front of one of the stores. The board was overflowing with leaflets of all sizes, and some had fallen to the ground like so many colorful snowflakes. What drew Taewaen’s attention, however, was one large piece of paper hung near the center. The word “Notice” sat at the top in big, bold letters, and underneath it read, “A red Lupe named Taewaen was reported missing from the Neopian Pound on Monday of the first week of the month of Swimming. She is a known thief and must be returned to the Neopian Pound as quickly as possible. If anyone has any information on her whereabouts, please inform the Defenders of Neopia immediately.”
Taewaen barely stopped herself from laughing out loud. She had escaped from the pound nearly a week ago; it was about time someone noticed. That was one advantage of being so plain. But at the same time, Taewaen wished she stood out more from other neopets, especially when she was in the pound. Few owners were interested in a common pet of a common color. Taewaen had long ago given up hope of ever finding a family, which is why she made escaping the pound a priority. Watching other pets get adopted was just a painful reminder of what she couldn’t have.
Shaking herself out of her rumination, Taewaen looked at the notice again. The message itself didn’t worry her much. The description was too vague; no one would pick her out among the hundreds of red Lupes that passed through Neopia Central every week. Even if they did, she doubted the Defenders would waste time on her. Taewaen’s stomach rumbled, and she turned her attention back to her quest for dinner.
Aurora had just carried her chocolate out of the shop when an uneasy feeling swept over her. It was a quieter part of town, and though there was no one in sight, she felt as if she was being watched. Glancing around, Aurora began walking towards the catacombs, all the while staying tense and alert.
A flash of red on the edge of her vision was all the warning she received before the Lupe jumped at her. She felt the bag holding her chocolate being torn away, and immediately spun around. The Lupe might have escaped, but she had obviously underestimated Aurora’s reaction. In one swift motion, Aurora knocked the Lupe over and pinned her to the ground.
Taewaen wasn’t quite sure what prompted her to attack the Uni, except that she had always had a weakness for chocolate. As soon as the Uni had walked out the shop door, the delicious smell had wafted over to her and made her hungrier than ever. So, acting completely on an impulse, she had darted over and plucked the bag out of the Uni’s mouth, not bothering to judge her reaction. And now, thanks to her carelessness, she was lying on her back staring into the eyes of a rather irritated blue Uni.
“Give it back,” growled Aurora.
“Make me,” Taewaen snarled around the bag, angry with herself for letting her guard down.
Aurora let out an exasperated sigh and knocked the bag out of Taewaen’s teeth. She lifted her hoof, releasing her captive, who rolled onto her feet and attempted to shake the dust out of her fur. As she picked up the bag, Aurora said, “Thank you. Now would you mind explaining what that was about?”
Taewaen growled, attempting to mask her frustration with fury. “I’m hungry.”
“So am I,” said Aurora.
The Uni’s tone was casual enough, but something about it still bothered Taewaen. “So? Buy another one.” She tried to sound sarcastic, but a note of uncertainty had crept into her voice.
“Can’t,” said Aurora.
“Too expensive,” replied Aurora.
“Oh.” For once in her life, Taewaen couldn’t find a good response. All she could manage was, “Well... well, I don’t know, at least you have something.”
Aurora looked at her curiously. “What do you mean?”
“You have a family, don’t you?” Taewaen asked quietly.
“Well, just my owner, but yeah...” Aurora shifted uncomfortably.
“That’s more than I have.”
“Oh.” It was Aurora’s turn to feel awkward. Trying to save herself embarrassment, she said a little too quickly, “Well, you know if you go to the pound they’ll feed you and find you an owner...”
Taewaen shook her head. “I’ve spent all my life going in and out of that pound. No one ever adopted me, I’m too plain. The only way I get out is to escape.”
Aurora gave her a questioning look. “But at least then you’d have food. You wouldn’t have to steal anymore.”
Taewaen only sighed. “You don’t get it, do you? Food means nothing if you have to sit there all day watching others get what you’ll never have. Besides, I can’t stand living in a cage. I’d rather have freedom than food.” Taewaen grinned. “Well, sorry I caused so much trouble.” She started to walk away.
Taewaen stopped, and slowly turned around. “What?”
Aurora looked her straight in the eye. “I know I have more than a lot of the pets out there. And I’m more thankful for that than most people guess.” The Uni smiled down at the skinny, scraggly street Lupe. She tossed the chocolate back to the other pet. “Here,” she said. “You can have it.”
Taewaen sat wide-eyed and silent for ten full seconds. Finally she asked, “What happened to give-it-back-or-else?”
Aurora shrugged. “Do you want it or not?”
Taewaen tentatively picked up the bag. “Thanks.” Aurora began to walk away. “Wait,” Taewaen called out.
Aurora stopped and looked over her shoulder. “Yeah?”
“Who are you – I mean, what’s your name?”
Aurora smiled. “Aurora.”
“Taewaen,” the Lupe said, smiling in return. “Thank you.”
“No problem. See you around.” Aurora turned and trotted away.
“Yeah,” said Taewaen, as she watched the Uni travel down the street and out of sight. “Wow.”
Down in the catacombs, Blaze sat just outside the coffee shop, sipping a Pinanna cappuccino and admiring her surroundings. The Art Centre was by far one of her favorite spots in Neopia. She scanned the crowd until she finally saw Aurora coming toward her. “Hey,” she called out as Aurora walked up. “What took you so long?”
“You probably wouldn’t believe me,” Aurora snorted, tossing her head when some hair fell in front of her eye.
“Try me,” Blaze countered.
“Fine then,” Aurora said, a teasing look on her face. “Some Lupe attacked me and tried to steal my chocolate, so I gave it to her.”
Blaze gave Aurora an odd look.
“I said you wouldn’t believe me,” Aurora said laughingly, then shook her head.
“No,” said her owner slowly, “I believe you. I know you don’t lie. It’s just kinda... random. Well, now that you’ve had your excitement for today...” she trailed off when she saw Aurora’s expression. “Is something wrong?”
Aurora snapped out of her thoughts and shook her head. “No, I’m fine.”
“Alright,” Blaze looked ready to question Aurora’s response. Instead, she gestured widely toward the coffee shop, “coffee?”
“Ugh, no thank you.” Aurora made a face.
“Oh, come on. Coffee isn’t that bad.” Blaze brushed at a spot where several drops of her drink had spilled onto her shirt. “Well, let’s go then. I want to make it to the Soup Kitchen before it gets too dark to see. Maybe we can even get home before midnight this time.”
“All the way to Meridell? Yeah right, like that’ll ever happen.”
Blaze laughed. “Hey, you never know.”
“Especially with us,” muttered Aurora.
The setting sun had transformed the towering buildings, tinting them a fiery shade of gold. Taewaen barely noticed. Instead, she wandered aimlessly through the streets, no longer concerned with finding food. The last thing she expected was for someone to show her true kindness, much less someone she had tried to steal from. Though Taewaen knew stealing was wrong, she had grown so accustomed to it that she never really thought about what she was doing. Talking to Aurora showed her just how much she could hurt others without ever knowing. It also made her realize how desperately she wanted someone to be kind to her. Normally, she could avoid thinking about how lonely she was, except when she was trapped in the pound. But now, she couldn’t hide from the fact that she was totally and completely alone. Taewaen continued on, absorbed in her thoughts, absently watching the sun dip toward the horizon.
Taewaen was so distracted she almost didn’t notice three pets that had just rounded the corner. Instinctively, Taewaen ducked behind the nearest bush. Two of the pets were obviously Defenders, but the third was partially hidden behind the others. All of them appeared to be looking for something. Or someone. Taewaen shifted uneasily. Watching the group warily, she weighed her options. They had already come too close for her to escape without drawing attention to herself, but if she stayed they would find her in a few minutes anyway. Of course, there was always the chance they weren’t looking for her.
The third pet finally turned around, and Taewaen jerked in surprise. It was the Mynci shopkeeper from the hot dog shop. She stepped back, attempting to crouch even lower. She jumped again at the sound of a snapping noise. A broken twig left a small cut on her foot, and the noise had attracted the attention of the searchers. “Run it is, then.” Taewaen sprang from hiding and sprinted away.
Taewaen managed to elude them for several blocks before her foot started aching. As the pain grew, her followers drew closer and closer. When they caught her a few minutes later, the Mynci was nowhere in sight and her other pursuers were gasping for air. With her injury holding her back, Taewaen was surprised it had taken them so long. One of the Defenders, a green Aisha, was the first to confront her. “We caught you,” she said, panting.
“I can see that,” replied Taewaen, glancing at the second Defender. The orange Kougra was busy attempting to rearrange his costume after the chase.
The Aisha was speaking again. “You’re coming back to the pound with us.” She tried to look intimidating and failed miserably.
“You’re new, aren’t you?”
The Aisha ignored the question. “Don’t even think about running off again.”
Taewaen looked down at her injured foot and gave an exasperated sigh. Getting caught was bad enough; the least they could do was pretend to be competent.
By now, a crowd had begun to gather. Taewaen sighed again. Back to the pound.
Blaze and Aurora strolled casually toward the Soup Kitchen, chatting amiably about nothing in particular. Just as they started discussing the Kadoatery and its irritating occupants, who were mewing quite loudly at the moment, a large gathering of pets caught their attention.
“What’s that?” asked Aurora.
“I have no idea,” said Blaze. “Come on, let's go see.” The two hurried over towards the commotion.
Aurora wove her way through the crowd. “Can you see anything?”
“Not yet—wait! There!” Blaze pointed towards the center of the crowd. “Looks like a couple Defenders caught some Lupe.”
A knot was forming in the pit of Aurora’s stomach. “What color is the Lupe?”
Blaze shot Aurora a questioning look. “Red. Why?”
“Oh no.” Aurora spread her wings and shot into the air, soaring over the crowd until she landed in the middle of the circle.
“Hey, wait up!” yelled Blaze as she attempted to shoulder her way through the throngs of inquisitive pets. When she reached the center of the commotion, she saw Aurora standing next to the scraggly Lupe and glaring fiercely at the two heroes. The Aisha was returning Aurora’s glare while the Kougra was busy shaking the dirt off his cape.
“Get out of the way!” The Aisha stood stubbornly with arms crossed.
Equally stubborn, Aurora stood her ground. “No,” she said. “Let her go.”
“What?” In her astonishment, the Aisha’s voice sounded much higher than normal. “We can’t do that! We have to defend justice! She’s a thief!”
“So?” Aurora looked at her calmly.
“So stealing is wrong!” The Aisha stomped her foot to emphasize her point.
“True,” said Aurora, shifting her gaze in Taewaen’s direction. The Lupe pretended not to notice. “But everyone should get a second chance, shouldn’t they?” Aurora’s gaze bored right through the Aisha.
“She’s already had her second chance. And third, and fourth,” she boasted confidently. “It’s on our records. She’s escaped from the pound more than once. And each time she was caught stealing.”
Aurora stepped forward menacingly. “Then maybe you should try something different, instead of just throwing her back in the pound whenever you find her.”
The Aisha suddenly realized how small she was compared to Aurora. “But – but we have to take her somewhere until she finds a suitable home that can take care of her...”
“I’ll take her.” Murmurs ran through the crowd as all eyes turned to Blaze, who until then had gone completely unnoticed.
“What?” The Aisha stared at her incredulously. “But—but she’s a thief! Why would you want a thief in your house?”
“Actually, it sounds like a good plan to me.” Everyone started when the Kougra spoke for the first time.
“Kyle!” The Aisha looked ready to explode.
“What?” asked the Kougra. “I’m just saying. Lighten up, Rae.”
Rae was completely flustered, “But – but she can’t–”
“Who says?” Blaze asked dryly. She looked straight at the Aisha, daring her to challenge her decision. After a moment, Rae averted her eyes. “Well,” said Blaze, “what do I need to do?”
“The adoption probably won’t be official until you fill out some paperwork,” said Aurora.
Taewaen, who had finally recovered from her initial shock, said, “You can find all the stuff at the pound, I think.” Aurora glanced at the other pet, who managed to look stunned and confused and reluctant and happy all at the same time.
“Well then, let’s go.” The crowd parted and Blaze marched determinedly in the direction of the pound. She burst through the doors and strode purposefully up to the pink Uni sitting at the front desk. “Hello, I’m here to adopt.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed the Uni. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where all the pets are kept, and you can make your choice.”
Blaze shook her head. “I already have a pet,” she said, pointing to Taewaen.
The Uni looked confused for a moment, then her face lit up with recognition. “You!”
“Me,” said Taewaen, who was looking happier by the minute, even though she still didn’t quite believe she was really being adopted.
“Well then,” said the Uni, regaining her composure. “If you’ll just fill out these forms and sign at the bottom, we’ll have everything settled.”
“Okay,” said Blaze. She picked up a pen and started reading the form. When she reached the first blank, she paused, blushed slightly, then looked at Taewaen. “Um, what’s your name?”
“Taewaen,” said Taewaen.
“How do you spell that?” Taewaen obligingly spelled her name. Blaze quickly scribbled out the rest of the information and pushed the form back to the Uni.
“Well then,” said the Uni cheerfully, “you’re all set. You can take her home right away.”
“Thank you,” said Blaze. “Alright guys, we’ll head over to the Soup Kitchen, then hopefully we’ll make it home before it gets too dark.”
Taewaen stood silently for a moment. “Did that just happen?”
“Afraid so,” said Aurora. “Like it or not, you’re stuck with us now.”
“Yep,” said Blaze. “So I take it you’re the Lupe who tried to steal Aurora’s snack.”
Taewaen grinned. “Yeah. Funny, isn’t it? None of this would have happened if she hadn’t given me that stupid chocolate.”
Aurora raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” said Taewaen sheepishly. “If I hadn’t been thinking about what happened, I would’ve been paying attention and they probably wouldn’t have caught me and most likely we wouldn’t have run into each other again.”
Blaze laughed. “Never underestimate the power of a simple gift.” They walked in silence for a moment, then Blaze said, “Are you sure you want to come with us, though? We really don’t have much to give.”
The Lupe smiled. “It will be more than enough.”
Blaze looked down at Taewaen’s foot with a worried look. “Are you sure you should be walking on that?”
“I’ll be fine. Where do you live?”
“In Meridell,” said Aurora. She too watched Taewaen’s slight limp. Turning to Blaze, she asked, “Do you think we could get something to bandage her foot?”
“Thanks,” said Taewaen. “You don’t have to do this.”
“I know,” said Blaze.
Taewaen smiled again. “So what’s your house like?”
“I’m afraid the house only has one room.” Blaze grinned sheepishly.
“Made of silver.” Aurora rolled her eyes.
“What?” said Taewaen skeptically. “I thought you guys were poor.”
Aurora laughed. “And now you know why.”
“That’s okay,” Taewaen said. “None of that stuff really matters, anyway. It’ll be nice having a family. And a home.”
“Maybe,” said Aurora, “but it can’t be as exciting as what you’re used to.”
“Hey,” said Taewaen wryly. “You never know.”
Blaze laughed. “That’s for sure.”
Five and a half rewrites later, my story FINALLY makes it into the NT! (Well, I hope it does... if you’re reading this I suppose it has...) Feel free to neomail me with any comments.