“Want to go skim some stones?”
Kar jumped at the voice and looked around wildly. His eyes met a stocky spotted Xweetok who was standing in front of him, waving a paw in his face. Instantly he jerked away and glowered.
“What do you want?” he snarled.
The Xweetok looked surprised, then faintly hurt. But instead of flouncing off like Kar expected, the Xweetok folded his legs and sat down beside Kar. Kar inched away and turned his head so that the message was clear. He just wanted to be left alone.
“You can’t just mope about, Kar,” said the Xweetok. “You’ve been doing that all week.”
The red Gelert did not grace this with an answer, instead standing up and pacing further down the beach. The Xweetok, whose name was Filliar, stayed put and pulled a rock from the sand. Kar turned as he heard a series of soft splashes, and just managed to see the last of ten skips before the flat stone sank into the waves.
He glared, wishing he could do that. But then again, he wished he could do a lot of things. He wished he had never been adopted and brought into a family with such a pesky other pet. With a swish of his tail he trotted off, parting the sand easily under paws.
He heard Filliar following and gave a huge sigh. Why couldn’t he just be left alone? He sped up, but then so did the Xweetok, until they were racing side-by-side.
Kar skidded to a stop as he whirled to face his pursuer, spraying sand everywhere. “Just leave me alone!” he shouted angrily.
Filliar tipped his head to one side, and far from looking put out, he seemed to be studying his new brother. “Why?” he asked quietly.
“What?” Kar spluttered.
“I asked why? Why do you want to be left alone?”
Kar’s eyes narrowed. “Because,” he growled.
“That’s not an answer,” Filliar said sharply. “It’s quite fine if you want to make yourself miserable, but ever since you charged out of the room the first day, Emily’s been unhappy. She would never abandon any pet. But what you’re doing is even worse than what she would go through if she did. It’s not just you against the world.”
The Xweetok’s fur was standing on end by the time he finished his last sentence, and his eyes were smouldering. Kar pulled his eyes away. He could feel a faint tugging of guilt at his chest. Emily didn’t have to keep him, but she was. Filliar seemed to see the fading of his anger and pounced.
“Follow me,” he called as he bounded away into the trees lining the beach of Mystery Island.
Kar hesitated for a moment, wondering how Filliar could possibly be so cheerful after what he just said, but then he followed slowly.
The Xweetok led him in a winding chase through the trees, heading deeper into the centre of the Island. Soon Kar was running out of breath, but Filliar seemed fine. He could feel the ground sloping upwards as they raced, and wondered where this was leading.
Finally Filliar stopped, and grateful for the rest, Kar looked around, trying to discern the difference between this section of forest and the rest. So when Filliar began climbing one of the trees he was more than a little surprised. The stocky Xweetok stopped halfway up and looked down.
“What are you waiting for?” he asked, looking genuinely puzzled.
“I can’t climb,” Kar called in an irritated voice. Filliar could have at least asked before he started.
But Filliar tilted his head again and peered intently down at the red Gelert below him. “Can’t or won’t?” he asked.
Kar opened his mouth to retort, but then he paused.
“I’m sure you can climb,” Filliar said. “So climb.”
Kar’s eyes narrowed up at his adopted brother and he reached a paw tentatively out to touch the rough trunk of the tree. He could fill frustration welling up in his chest.
“I can’t climb because I don’t know how to,” he growled sullenly.
Filliar scrambled down, his amber eyes gleaming. “You can learn,” he said. “Once you’ve learnt, then you can tell me what you can and can’t do.”
Kar frowned at him, trying to think of an excuse to get out of it, but then he realised that there was no excuse. He reached out again with his paw, but this time he latched his claws into the soft bark. Filliar grinned.
“Excellent,” he cried. “Now your other paw.”
His encouragement lit a spark somewhere inside Kar and he placed his other paw next to the first. Filliar shook his head.
“Put it up a bit higher,” he instructed.
Kar glared at him and opened his mouth to snarl something, but suddenly he realised that Filliar wasn’t trying to make him look stupid. He was just stating facts. Just trying to help. He did as the Xweetok instructed.
“Now pull.” Filliar grinned.
Kar complied, and felt his hind paws leave the ground as he hauled himself up. He instinctively hooked them to the tree as well. Filliar was smiling as he scrabbled up to join him, and he kept pace with Kar until they were perched amongst the massive fronds of the tree. Filliar grinned.
“I was afraid of heights once. Until I saw that.” He pointed with one paw and Kar couldn’t help but gasp as he saw the view of the Island below them.
They were on one of the highest points of the Island, near the slopes of Techo Mountain, but far enough away to be safe. And the tree gave them a view of the forest below them and the beach. Kar could almost see the place where his new neohome was.
He turned to Filliar and the Xweetok smiled at him. “And who said you couldn’t climb trees?” he asked.
Kar avoided his gaze.
“Just because you were abandoned, it doesn’t mean you were abandoned because of you,” Filliar said. “There’s a dozen other factors as well.”
Kar’s anger flared. “What would you know?” he snapped, climbing slowly back down the tree. Though it would have been easy for Filliar to follow, he just sat there and watched. Then he called down to Kar.
“Look under my bed,” he shouted. “If you want me, I’m going back to the beach.”
Kar just snorted and ran away from him, crashing through the trees. But somehow he knew what he was going to find underneath Filliar’s bed. His paws took him of their own accord back to the neohome.
He charged through the door and then stopped and listened. After a moment he breathed a sigh of relief; Emily wasn’t here. He padded to Filliar’s door and pushed it slowly open. Inside it was spotless, and everything was in order, unlike his own room, which was a complete dump because he had never thought to clean it. He walked over to the bed and peered underneath it.
At first all he was confronted with was dust, but then he saw a scrap of paper and reached out to touch it. Unlike the floor it was lying on, it wasn’t coated in a thick layer of dust, but it was almost completely free of it, like it was taken out often.
Kar pulled it out and peered at the title. As he expected it was a form from the Pound, and it had Filliar’s name printed neatly on it. Underneath that was a description.
Please know that Filliar is a handful... he can become stubborn and difficult to handle at times and gets very moody. He also dislikes being forced to do things...
The list went on. Kar blinked in confusion. He realised that this sounded exactly like him. Kar dropped the paper back on the bed and leaned back against the wall. Now he wanted to talk to Filliar.
The spotted Xweetok didn’t look at all surprised when Kar came trudging towards him across the sand. He was leaning against a boulder, throwing rocks casually into the water and watching them skip six, seven, eight times or more. Kar waited until the last one had landed with a final splash and sat down next to Filliar.
“I take it you found it?” Filliar asked.
“Yes,” Kar replied, scuffing at the sand with one front paw. “But I never would have guessed. You’re just so... carefree. And you’re painted. I just thought you were another spoiled pet.”
Filliar cocked an eyebrow. “So how many times have you been adopted?”
“This would be my...” Kar paused to count in his head. “Eighteenth time,” he finished bitterly.
“Welcome to the club,” Filliar said, holding out a spotted paw to shake. Kar grasped it. “But you won’t be able to beat my record because you’ll never have a chance to.”
“Why? How many times...?” Kar began.
“Twenty-three.” Filliar glanced at the surprised Gelert. “Impressive, no?” He trailed a paw through the sand, leaving a swirly pattern behind. “But Emily was so patient.” He grinned. “She just pretended that I never snarled at her.”
“You were patient with me,” Kar said.
Filliar grinned. “True. Now do you want to skim some rocks?”
“But I can’t,” Kar protested, then he paused. “I mean, I don’t know how.”
Filliar stood up and picked up a perfectly smooth flat rock, placing it into his brother’s paws.
“Let me teach you how,” he said.