Table for Three: Part Five
The next morning I woke up to the sound of a shovel scraping against a snow-covered walkway. Sun streamed in through the closed window at the other end of the guest room, and I sighed and groaned as I rolled out of bed, my fur messy from a night of tossing and turning, and then threw on a long-sleeved shirt and jeans. I stretched, yawned, and then felt a pain in the right side of my face. I rubbed it gingerly, but I could still feel it burning, hurting. And then I remembered the events of the night before, and I remembered stumbling through the door in a stupor, immediately climbing into bed.
My eyes widened. I needed to talk to Salba. Her room was right across from mine, so I walked up to it and knocked on the door. “Salba,” I called, “are you in there? I really think I need to talk to you, so please let me come in.”
There was no answer, but I went in anyway. Her room was sunnier than mine, and the bed was left unmade. Obviously, the Quiggle had left in a hurry, as some papers were spread out across the floor, and one of her stuffed animals was lying down in front of her bed, on its side. I sighed, noting the strange chilliness of the house, and walked down the stairs. “Salba,” I called again, hoping that, after having a good night’s sleep, she would forgive me of everything. After all, it was my last day, and I was leaving for Neopia Central at noon sharp. “Salba, come on. It’s my last day, remember? The day before Christmas?”
I searched through the whole house, which was absolutely massive, but I couldn’t find her anywhere. I doubted she was childish enough to hide in a closet or under a table, so when my search came up fruitless, I assumed she had left the house to run an errand or buy an early-morning cup of borovan. Walking up to my room slowly, I again noted on the strangely cold temperature of the house, and then noticed the door was open a crack. Being a warm-loving Neopian myself, I went over and closed it, just so there wouldn’t be a draft. I was about to turn away and go upstairs to wait for Salba to come back when I noticed something tacked to the door. I figured it was a note for Alana, but I pulled it off the door and read it anyway, to see if there was an explanation as to why Salba wasn’t at the house.
I know you are probably surprised to read this note, and I hope you found it before... say... 9:00 this morning. You’re probably wondering where I am right now, and I can tell you that I’m not at the house. In fact, I’m at a very special place, a place that I wish we could be right now, together, having a good time. I’m sorry that your vacation up here turned out to be such a disaster, and I can only hope that the next time we see each other, everything will go better. Have a very Merry Christmas, and tell your family I give them the best wishes for the new year.
I frowned, noticing that she had not addressed her farewell ‘your friend,’ and then wondered where she could have possibly run off to. There were so many places in Faerieland she probably wanted to take me that I had no idea where to start. It was such a big city, and I ran a high risk of getting lost if I started randomly searching for her. No, I had to start with places I knew, and then go from there, and see if there was any possible way I could discern where the Quiggle had run off to. It was a place she wanted me to be at, having a good time. Where could it be? It was probably too early for the park, and I doubted she would want me to go to The Breakfast Place twice in a row. So where could she have gone?
And then I knew. It was right under my nose, a perfect hiding place and shelter from me. My eyes narrowed, and for a couple of seconds I considered not even looking for her at all. But I knew I had to resolve everything, to make everything better again, so I decided to seek her out. It wouldn’t take too long to get there; after all, it was less than walking distance away, and it was pretty conspicuous, considering the place was massive. I looked at the house forlornly, one last time, hoping that this wouldn’t be the last time I would ever see it, and then I stepped outside. Upon stepping out onto the front porch, I turned to my left, and there it was, my destination, and Salba’s ingenious hiding place.
I sighed, knowing that I would have to get it over with sooner or later, and stepped into the snow on Salba’s front lawn. I would have to make the visit as quick as possible, and try to avoid Ellie. Had Ellie told her owner about me? Was there some sort of security system she had that would prevent me from even stepping onto her property? I didn’t really know, but I doubted it. Salba wanted me there, after all, wished I could be there, and if Ellie was nice enough to shelter the Quiggle, she would be nice enough to let me in too.
I walked up to the door (silently thanking Fyora that I hadn’t been blown to ashes by some sort of protective laser beam developed by Sloth himself) and knocked on it, waiting for an answer. I could hear footsteps within the house, and I knew someone was coming, so I silently hoped that it wasn’t Ellie. Maybe it was Salba, or Ellie’s sibling, or owner. Somebody other than...
... Ellie. It was Ellie.
I could feel the heat of her glare as she realized who it was that was standing on her front porch. “What do you want?” she asked bitterly, resisting the temptation to slam the door on my face.
“Is Salba here?” I asked in the politest voice possible. I wasn’t going to be rude to the Bruce if I wanted to be welcomed into her house. Besides, if I wanted to settle things, I was going to have to be nicer to Ellie sooner or later, so I was going to start sooner, and hopefully get used to it.
“No, she’s not. Is this some sort of trick?” Ellie asked suspiciously.
“She’s not? Well, if she’s not here, where is she? Here, this might be confusing, but, Salba’s missing.” I waited there a few seconds in silence, and then remembered the note that was nestled comfortably in my pants pocket. Fidgeting around for a second, I was able to fish it out. Although it was crumpled, Ellie seemed to be able to read it just fine when I gave it to her. When she finished, she looked up into my eyes. She seemed to be worried, the first caring feeling I had seen from her from the first time I laid eyes on her.
“Where do you think she could be?” Ellie asked in a softer and less outspoken voice than just a few seconds earlier. My heart dropped. Maybe Ellie was a truly caring person, and I was too judgmental to see that. Maybe she was nice, a good friend. Was it I who caused her to be that way? Was it I who was being spoiled and one-sided, bratty and close-minded? I didn’t know, but I wanted to forgive the Bruce then and there. The only problem was, she probably wouldn’t forgive me.
“We have to find her. You know Faerieland better than I do, so do you have any idea of where she could have gone?” I asked, concern immanent in my voice. We both stared blankly at each other for a few seconds, racking our brains for potential places that Salba could be hiding, waiting for us to appear.
“I have a few ideas. She said she was planning to take you to three more places that she never actually got around to, so we’ll look there. We can walk to all three, because they’re pretty close by.” Ellie stepped out onto the porch beside me and looked out into the sunny sky. The snow on the ground was glistening in the morning light, and with her sparkling wings, I could have mistaken her for a Faerie, just for a second.
I sighed. I knew I had to apologize. “Listen, I—”
“No time, Jhinni. We have to find her. Follow me.” Ellie jumped out into the snow and started quickly walking on to the road. “We don’t have much time, I don’t think.”
I smiled. The forgiving would have to wait. “You’re right, we can’t waste time!” I agreed, and I trotted after her on our search for Salba.
Both of us trekked on into the late morning, but we both felt slightly hopeless. Even though we determinedly walked through the snow on the streets, silent because we were so focused and concentrated on our tasks, we both felt like we would never find her in time. We had already thoroughly searched two of Ellie’s suggestions, and it turned out Salba wasn’t in those places. I sighed as we approached the final location, a nice little book store that was one of Salba’s favorite hangouts.
We walked in, a little bell tinkling as the door opened. “Salba?” Ellie immediately called. The bookstore was kind of cozy. A fireplace was roaring in the far corner of the store, and right in front of us was the owner of the shop, a kindly-looking Techo with a beard. “Hello, sir,” Ellie greeted him politely as she walked up to him. “Do you know of Salba’s whereabouts? Is she here?”
The Techo smiled. “Ah, Miss Salba said that if you arrived with the Ixi girl, that I should give you this note. I have not read it, so I do not know what it says.” He pulled a similar-looking note to the first one, and he handed it over to the Bruce in front of him. She eagerly opened it up, read it, and nodded. Before she did anything else, she thrust the paper into my hands, so that I could read it.
Dear Jhinni (and probably Ellie),
So, you finally found your way here. I hope it’s before 11:00, because Jhinni needs some time to pack her stuff up and leave. Either way, I’m afraid that I’m not going to see either of you until much later. I’m hiding in a place that neither of you will suspect, so don’t try to find me. Just follow my instructions, please, and have a Merry Christmas.
If you go up to the owner of the bookstore and ask him, he will give you two things. One is a return ticket to Neopia Central for Jhinni. Your flight by Eyrie leaves at 12:30, so you’d better pack up and get over to the station. As for Ellie, there is a scarf that you gave to me as an early-winter gift. I want you to have it back, because I think that if we’re not friends anymore, you shouldn’t be wasting any Neopoints on me. I’m awfully sorry I can’t keep such a lovely scarf, but it wouldn’t be right if I did.
Either way, to the both of you, I’ll see or write to you again soon.
I looked over at Ellie. And she nodded. She seemed extremely sad, almost to tears now, as if she had no idea what was going on, and she didn’t know what to do. I sighed deeply, trying to hold in tears myself, and I walked up to the Bruce. We looked into each others’ eyes for a few seconds, and we knew that there was only one way everything could turn out right. I could feel my breath slowing down, knowing that I was guilty of everything, and yet, I felt a little empowered, relieved, that finally something was off my chest.
Ellie and I put our arms around each other and walked up to the storeowner. “Hello, sir,” I said softly. “Could we have the things that Salba requested you give to us?”
He nodded knowingly and reached under the counter he was standing behind. Out came what Salba said would come, a return ticket for me, and a beautiful purple scarf with silver snowflakes for Ellie. We took our respective items and walked to the back of the bookstore, near the fireplace.
“Listen, Ellie, I’m terribly sorry things turned out this way. I know we got off to an incredibly rough start, but I know that you’re a good person. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be friends with Salba. So, I would like to give you my sincerest apologies, and I hope that you can forgive me.” I looked solemnly at the carpet, knowing that I had done the right thing in finally forgiving her. She really was a good person, and she really did care, deep down. It took a smart person to see that, and I hadn’t been very smart lately.
She put her hand on my shoulder. “You’re forgiven. I apologize as well, for being such a jerk. I don’t know why, but I act differently around people I’m jealous of.” We stood there in peaceful silence for a few seconds, taking in all that had just happened, and then Ellie spoke again. “Well, we’d better get you packed and off to Neopia Central.”
“We’d better,” I agreed, and we walked out of the bookstore with our arms around each other.
At 12:25 P.M. that afternoon, Ellie and I were waiting at the station for the Eyrie-driven carriage to pull in. It was pretty cold outside, but it had lost that horribly bitter quality it had the days before. Ellie and I were silent, but we were smiling, happy that we were finally friends and happy that we were just standing there, together, without any tension between us.
As expected, a yellow Eyrie pulled in to the station, calling out my name. I stepped forward, picking up my bag, which Ellie had helped me pack, and I was finally ready to go home. “Bye Ellie. Say bye to Salba for me. I wish she was here to say goodbye.”
“Me too,” Ellie replied, and she hugged me. I dropped my bag and exchanged the gesture, and we finally let go after a few seconds. “See you soon. Have a Merry Christmas.”
“I wish she was here to say goodbye,” I whispered to myself, climbing into the carriage slowly but steadily. The Eyrie nodded, spread his wings, and flew off into the early afternoon sun.
Unbeknownst to us, however, a mutant Quiggle not too far from Ellie smiled as I flew off, homebound, and silently wished me a Merry Christmas, and a happy new year.