Table for Three: Part Four
Salba and I didn’t say a word on the way home from the park. There was no need to. Each of us knew that it was a total disaster, that Ellie and I had ruined any chances of friendship. Salba was stuck in the middle of everything. Her two best friends were battling it out, and all she could do was stay on the sidelines and hopelessly watch as the battle grew more intense and both sides grew more ruthless.
Then, the snow started falling. I hadn’t seen snow in a while, because it rarely snowed in Neopia Central. The white crystals fell slowly, carefree, as if there was nothing in the world to worry about, and they could just fall to the ground. It didn’t matter that they would get trampled on, or that they might be packed into spheres and thrown at innocent Neopets, it just mattered that they were there. It was a little magical. I looked over to Salba, who didn’t seem to be enjoying the snow as much as I was. Maybe it was just the predicament she was caught in. I really hated to put her in that kind of situation, but it wasn’t entirely my fault. Ellie was the one who had proposed the whole thing, who had concocted such a horrible dilemma. If anything was going to convince Salba to stop being friends with that wretched witch, it was what happened at the park.
“Salba, I know this is hard, this is really hard. I never wanted it to turn out this way. I’m really sorry it did.” I felt I needed to say something, give her some sort of comfort. I could see it in her eyes, the inner turmoil, the two sides pulling at her heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought both of our hearts were encased in ice, and that we were totally wrong about the whole thing. But it wasn’t like that. I felt like my eyes were open, but Salba had been deceived. I felt that I knew the truth about Ellie, and that Salba was being hazed, her friend masking the absolute truth. And I knew, even though Salba had known the Bruce for much longer than I had, that Ellie was not a friend worth Salba’s time. I wished the Quiggle would realize it soon, that the whole revelation would dawn on her, that hopefully my visit would help her out in the long run.
“You’re wrong. You’re both wrong.” Her voice was shaky, and it was the first time I had heard her speak in a while. “You can still be friends. Look past your differences, you two. You guys have to make sacrifices. With every fight, you’re making everything worse.” It was as if Ellie was walking with us, as if she was talking to both of us, like she was a grown-up and we were little kids, fighting over a toy or something. We were fighting over Salba’s friendship, after all, and I couldn’t stand the Quiggle being so unhappy, but it seemed that, with every step we took away from the park and away from Ellie, Salba became more and more unhappy. It was like she was dependent on the Bruce’s friendship.
“Ellie won’t listen,” I argued as we reached her house and stepped onto her front porch, wiping the snow off our feet and walking inside. “She’s too stubborn. You’ll never convince her to forgive you, because she’s not that type of person. Listen, she’s done something that’s unforgivable, and the worst part is, you’re going to have to accept it. She won’t be your friend if I am. So, the fact of the matter is, even though I hate to say it, you’re going to have to choose between the two of us.” It hurt to tell her the truth, but she had to know. I hated to break up her friendship with someone, but deep down in my heart, I felt it was the right thing to do. I felt that she needed to be cured of her blindness towards the Faerie Bruce. Maybe if they weren’t friends, she would see the true personality of Ellie.
“No, that’s wrong. I shouldn’t have to choose. You should both be my best friends. I’m going to make you see.” Salba’s tone was determined now, and it almost scared me. It was almost as if her personality had hardened, that she had turned into a fierce predator, ready to pounce on any opportunity she had. “You know what, Jhinni? I’ll give you a treat. I’ll make plans for dinner, just you and me, okay? We’ll go to a really nice restaurant, my treat. There’ll be no Ellie. Sound good?” It still didn’t sound like Salba, like modest and honest Salba, but it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I felt as if I had spent every waking moment of my vacation with Ellie, and just some time alone with Salba, my best friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, would be so great. I nodded. “Good, and thanks. Dry yourself off and take a shower. I’ll make reservations for 7:00.”
I immediately complied. It was all coming too fast for me to say no, so I kind of shook some of the snow off, and walked up the stairs and into the guest bathroom. There seemed to be a catch, though. What if Salba was pulling one of those cliché tricks, like most friends did? All of a sudden, a haunting suspicion washed over me, as I turned the hot water on and stepped into the shower. I knew, that instead of making nice, peaceful reservations for two, she was making reservations for three, and secretly inviting Ellie, convincing her that the two of them would be alone. I knew she couldn’t decide, that she wouldn’t be able to see through Ellie’s deception, past her fake demeanor. I knew that. Salba wasn’t the one who could possibly abandon someone like she’d been abandoned so many times before. But there was nothing I could do. If Salba wanted it that way, she was just going to have to survive another hour and a half of glares and cold words, arguments and harsh treatment. But there was something neither of us knew. There was something that neither of us could have possibly guessed was going to happen, that was unpredictable. When I was taking a shower, and Salba was writing her neomail (or neomails, as I suspected, though I didn’t know for sure), Ellie was having doubts of her own. And knowing her, she was probably already planning her revenge.
It was still lightly snowing by the time we got to the restaurant, a fancy one simply called Faerie, five minutes early. Salba sure had picked out a nice restaurant. It was packed, and the décor was casual yet fancy at the same time. It had a homely feel, and I could tell that the food was going to be absolutely delicious. We sat down on a cushion in the waiting room, and I smiled at her. She seemed a bit worried, but she had calmed down after the scene at the park. I patted her on the shoulder, and she smiled. Maybe we were finally going to get some peace, and maybe we were finally going to get to talk about what was going on without getting interrupted or shot icy glances. Maybe there would finally be alone time, what I’d wanted in the first place, and maybe there would be no spoiled Faerie Bruce to order the waiters around like her personal slaves. I sighed deeply, knowing that this was shaping up to be one of the best hours of my whole vacation (probably the best).
“Salba, party of... er... two,” a Scorchio at the front desk called. The two of us got up and followed him to a table kind of at the corner of the restaurant. Although there was obviously space for one or two more people, he still sat us down. “Hello, I will be your waiter tonight. Do you know what you would like to drink?”
I smiled. There was no Ellie there to decide what we wanted to drink, it would just be us and us alone. “I’ll have just water please,” I decided immediately.
“Um, could I please have orange juice, with no pulp?” Salba asked. There seemed to be something else on her mind, but I decided not to worry about it. Of course she was still thinking about Ellie, about how that horrible friend ditched her because she was jealous that Salba had more than one friend. How I despised that Faerie Bruce. I wondered how Salba was still sad about her.
“You’re not still thinking about Ellie, are you?” I asked, and Salba didn’t respond. “Look, Ellie wasn’t nice enough to look past our differences, and then she went off and put you in one of the toughest spots possible. Are you still sad about that kind of person, that that kind of mean person won’t be your friend? I can’t believe that. You’re too smart for that, Salba. She’s just trying to make you feel bad because she doesn’t want you to have me as a friend. You’ve got to try to see what that Bruce is trying to make you do. See, she’s even making you sad now, when you’re supposed to be happy, carefree, not worrying about me for anything. It’s almost Christmas, for Fyora’s sake, and here you are, sad and worried over something you shouldn’t even have your mind on. Come on, just try and let it go. Trust me, I know it’s hard when a friend leaves you, but you shouldn’t even consider her a friend. If she was a true friend, she wouldn’t have done this to you. She wouldn’t have forced you to make this decision.”
Salba didn’t seem to be taking any of it in. She was still thinking about everything. “Can’t you just say sorry?” she asked, very quietly. I considered answering, but my thought was cut short when the waiter came over with our drinks. I nodded, said thank you, and took a sip of my water.
After that, things were pretty nice and serene. We talked about friends back at Neopia Central, and how things were going down there, and we talked about life up in Faerieland, normal friend stuff. I told her how I was going to get her the best present for her birthday in January, and how I was going to send up the other best present for Christmas, and she assured me the same. Things were going so well, and I was really glad that my suspicions were wrong. She hadn’t invited Ellie to crash our dinner, to totally ruin everything and make us both a little more sad. There was no Faerie Bruce in sight, and I was smiling the whole time. I could tell Salba was still worried, but she was trying to mask it as best as possible, which showed me she really cared. I was so happy that things were going so well. It was almost like a dream come true, and it was turning out the way I had imagined it. I had imagined us laughing and playing, hanging out and just being ourselves, and not having to worry about everything. I laughed and smiled and grinned, because there was nothing more to worry about. And, as I got up to go wash my hands before dinner (Salba had already done so), I thought there was nothing that could possibly make our dinner at Faerie go wrong.
But then, when I was in the bathroom, I could sense a strange disturbance. It was almost like we were back to worrying again, as if Ellie was with us and there was nothing I could do about it. I was surprised that Ellie could cause so much tension and fighting, and, as I ran the hot water through my hooves one last time, I doubted Salba’s judgment. Was she really right? Had she changed over the time that I hadn’t seen her, so much that she had totally changed her persona and friendships? Was she still the soft-spoken, caring friend I used to have, or was she really just as bad as Ellie herself? I shook the thoughts from my mind, because they couldn’t possibly be true, but I couldn’t stop thinking about them on my way back to the table. I felt as though Salba was past me now, or I was past her, that we were on different rungs of the ladder. It was as if she had undergone a total transformation while I wasn’t looking, as if when the Quiggle moved to Faerieland, she had exchanged her old personality with a new one. I knew it couldn’t be true, but I still thought it, I still continually thought it.
But all thoughts vanished from my mind when I laid eyes on the table again. Because it wasn’t solely a mutant Quiggle there, sipping quietly at her orange juice and picking at her salad, it was also a Faerie Bruce, who didn’t look at all happy. My eyes narrowed, and I stomped over there, ready to show the both of them that I wasn’t going to stand for it. It was time to lay down the law again, to make sure that that evil Bruce wasn’t going to take another step near my best friend. “Well, look who decided to crash our reservation,” I spat, ready to physically force Ellie out of the restaurant.
“What are you talking about?” Ellie asked knowingly, looking back at Salba. “She invited me, I was just fashionably late. Didn’t you hear? The reservation was for three.”
I glared. “Liar. Even the Scorchio said the reservation was for two. Right, Salba? You were the one who booked the reservation, so you should know. Besides, Ellie, no one is an hour late for a dinner reservation, especially at such a fancy restaurant.”
“Stop. No more fighting. Jhinni, I cannot lie. The reservation was for three, but I told the Scorchio that there would be a surprise guest, so he was to pretend that it was only for two. But this was good. I want you two to say sorry to each other and make up, right now. I won’t have you two fighting, because I know you’re both splendid people, and it’s a shame to see you two fight, so please, just apologize and shake hands, and we can have a peaceful dinner with each other.” Salba looked hopeful, for a second, but I knew, and Ellie knew, that it would never happen.
“No,” I refused, “not until she changes her ways, and stops being a stuck-up brat who always has to get her way!”
“There’s a negative from me too,” Ellie agreed, “because if there’s anything that that so-called friend of yours deserves, it’s not an apology, it’s THIS!” And before I could react, she reached over, reared back, and slapped me right in the face.
Everything went silent. The echo of the slap rang through the whole restaurant. Almost everybody stared at us. Ellie ran off immediately after, having done what she had intended to do the whole time. I was red with anger, and tears ran down Salba’s face, which was now a bright-red from embarrassment.
The Quiggle got up. “No more. This is both your faults. Don’t even try to argue, because you won’t be seeing my face for a long time, Jhinni.”
In desperate rage, Salba walked off. Now everyone’s eyes were on me, and there was nothing left to do but to pay the bill. Luckily, Salba had left some money on the table. Quietly and as inconspicuously as possible, I paid the bill and left the restaurant. It was still silent as I walked out the door.
It had stopped snowing, but it was still bitterly cold. I felt a warm tear run down my face, only to freeze in its tracks on the bottom of my cheek. There was nothing I could do except walk to Salba’s house, alone, in the darkness of the night.
To be continued...