Noel was sitting in his favorite armchair, sipping a steaming cup of borovan, and reading the latest issue of the Neopian Times, when Faye burst into his home. The yellow Bruce stumbled inside and closed the door quickly behind her, but she was not quick enough to prevent a chilly breeze from rushing inside with her, scattering the vapor above Noel’s warm mug. The Christmas Bori heard his friend stomping her snowy feet on the carpet in the front hall.
“Noel!” cried Faye. The Bruce hurried into the room and planted herself promptly in front of the fireplace. She was holding a rolled up newspaper, the edge of which was still coated in powdery snow. “I’ve brought you something,” she said, smiling and holding out the paper.
The Bori lifted his own newspaper off his lap to show her. “I picked up the Neopian Times this morning,” said Noel. “I was just reading it.”
“Oh, this isn’t the Neopian Times,” said Faye briskly, stepping away from the fireplace and dropping the cold paper into Noel’s lap. “It’s the Happy Valley Herald. Look.”
Noel put his borovan down on an end table and folded his edition of the Neopian Times. The snow that had lingered on the latest Happy Valley Herald had melted in his lap, and the Bori gingerly unrolled the cold periodical. Immediately, a large bold headline jumped out at him: Local Duo Wins Happy Valley Talent Contest. “Is this the one you tried out for?” asked Noel, scanning the text.
Faye beamed. “You bet,” she said. “I auditioned with a guy that I know, sort of. He and I have the same vocal coach, and she suggested that we try out for the competition as a pair. His name is Chase, and he’s pretty nice, I guess. But we won!”
“Wow, congratulations, Faye!” said Noel warmly, reading some of the article quickly. “It says here you won the grand prize. What’s that?”
Faye could barely contain her excitement. “Chase and I are going to Neopia Central,” she said breathlessly. “We’re participating in the Neopia Singing Search! Anyone who wins a regional contest is automatically put in the competition. The winners receive a contract and a one month tour of Neopia!”
“That’s incredible,” said Noel, shaking his head and smiling. “I always knew you could do it, Faye.” The Christmas Bori had been friends with the yellow Bruce as long as they had known each other, all the way back to when they were very young. She had always had a beautiful voice.
“Thanks,” said Faye. “You’re the first person I told. I’m so excited. Chase and I are leaving tomorrow! I need to start packing right away.”
“You should probably get home, then,” laughed Noel. “You have a lot to do.”
“Yeah,” said Faye, biting her lip. “I’m so nervous.”
“Don’t be,” said Noel. “I’m sure you’ll do great. I’ll see you off tomorrow, all right?”
“Okay,” said Faye, and the Bruce hurried to the door. “Thanks for being a great best friend,” she added before throwing open the door and rushing out into the wintery air. With a slam, she was gone, and Noel couldn’t contain a small smile as he took another sip of borovan.
* * * * *
“Good luck.” Noel tugged at his green and red scarf, pulling it more closely around his neck to protect himself from the biting wind. Faye was standing next to a brown sleigh attached to two Eyries, stretching their wings for the flight. “You deserve it,” said the Bori, smiling at his friend.
“It’s a weird feeling,” admitted Faye. The Bruce looked into Noel’s eyes. “I don’t really know what’s going on inside me right now. It’s all happening a little bit fast.” She paused.
“We’re taking off in two minutes,” said one of the Eyries. Chase, a green Xweetok, had already climbed into the sleigh.
“Don’t worry about anything,” said Noel. “This is what you’ve always wanted.”
“I kind of feel like... I don’t know,” said Faye, looking down. “Like it’s my destiny to be a singer, you know?” She looked back up and gave Noel a small smile. “Like it’s my fate.”
“You have a beautiful voice,” said Noel. “Now go share it.” He nodded at the sleigh. “They’re waiting.”
Faye nodded quickly. She puffed out her chest and stepped into the sleigh, sitting down next to Chase. “Goodbye!” she called as the Eyries began running down the snow-covered slope, gaining speed. “I’ll be thinking of you!” The yellow Bruce turned in her seat so that she could continue to wave at her best friend, who watched with a smile as she took off into the air and disappeared into the snowy sky above.
* * * * *
Noel was sitting in his favorite armchair, sipping a steaming cup of borovan, and reading the latest issue of the Neopian Times, which was headlined: Happy Valley Pair Win Neopia Singing Search. The article explained briefly that Faye and Chase had taken the grand prize after three rounds of competition, earning the contract and one month tour, which would begin in a week and end on Christmas Eve.
Noel couldn’t help but feel a rush of pride. Faye had achieved her dream. She was going to be a singer. It was what she had always wanted, and the Bori couldn’t think of anyone more deserving. Faye was committed, and she would do anything for the sake of her art.
Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise when Faye arrived the next day in poor spirits. She had arrived during the night, but had immediately returned home and did not visit Noel until the next afternoon. The yellow Bruce joined her friend in the parlor, where the fireplace was burning warmly and two cups of borovan were sitting on a coffee table. Faye collapsed into her armchair and said, “Please don’t hate me for this.”
Noel was taken aback. “What do you mean?” he asked, leaning forward.
Faye’s face was the picture of agony. “Let me explain,” she said. The Bruce took a deep breath. “After we won the contest, Chase and I were immediately taken to see our new manager. He told us that we would be starting our tour in a week, but we were going to have to completely change our image. When he heard our names, he immediately wanted to choose new ones to form the name of our music group. That wasn’t so bad, I guess. He said we were going to be known as ‘Fate and Choice’ instead of our real names.”
“That’s clever,” said Noel. “Although I can see how that might upset you. I know you wouldn’t want to sing under a false name.”
“That’s not even the problem,” said Faye, covering her face in her short wings. She shook her head and let her wings fall into her lap, and continued. “He said... he said that my body wasn’t what he wanted.”
“What?” asked Noel, stiffening. He tried not to overreact, as Faye was already shuddering, but her statement caught him off guard. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t look good enough to be a pop star, apparently,” said Faye, her eyes glistening with tears. She was obviously trying very hard to remain calm, but she continued to shake. “Anyway, so my manager said that he could fix it. He said... that all I need to do is... change species.” With that, Faye completely broke down, and Noel leapt out of his chair and ran over to her.
The Bori wrapped his friend in a warm hug. “Then don’t do it,” he said soothingly. “Don’t do it. It’s not worth it, Faye.”
Faye heaved a shuddering breath and pushed him away. “But it is,” she said quietly, and Noel just stood there. Faye took a few seconds to regain her composure, but when she did, Noel could see that she had gained a new resolve. “It is,” she repeated. “This is my one chance to live my dream, Noel. If I have to change into a different species, then so be it. My voice will remain the same, and that’s all that matters.” She hesitated. “It’s not like I’ll be a different person or anything.”
“No, of course not,” said Noel, putting his arm on his friend’s shoulder. “You’ll always be Faye, no matter what you look like.”
Faye reached up and grabbed his hand. “Thank you,” she said, forcing a smile but staring straight ahead, out the window at the falling snow. The Bruce stood up and faced Noel. “I’m leaving with Chase at the end of the week,” she said. “He’s being painted shadow. I’m going to become a pink Xweetok to match.” Faye walked through the room to the front hall and stood before the door. “I’ll be gone for a month,” she said. “But I’ll come back for Christmas, okay?”
“I’ll be waiting,” said Noel, smiling. “And I’ll be thinking about you. You’re my best friend after all.” He gave her a final squeeze. “You enjoy yourself, all right? This is your dream.”
“Yes,” said Faye, nodding. “This is my destiny,” she said slowly, as if convincing herself of this fact by stating it. “My fate.”
“That’s fitting,” Noel said with a laugh. “I’ll be sure to read about Fate and Choice every day in the paper.” He looked his friend in the eye. “You have a beautiful voice, Faye. And you’re a beautiful Neopet. Don’t forget.”
“Goodbye, Noel,” said Faye. She turned away and opened the door. A gust of cold air swept inside, and the yellow Bruce hurried out, walking quickly away through the falling snow.
* * * * *
Noel spent every day in his armchair with a cup of hot borovan, reading the latest issue of the Neopian Times. Never did the headline fail to bear news of his friend, Faye, one half of the hottest new singing act in Neopia.
As the winter weather rolled by and the snow fell in heavy blankets over Happy Valley, Noel read every article that was published about his friend. Each day brought new headlines, such as: Singers Fate and Choice Debut Big and Tickets to Fate and Choice Concert Sell Out in Ten Minutes and Fate and Choice Shatter Records.
The pink and shadow Xweetok duo was a smash success. Almost overnight, Fate and Choice were the biggest names in Neopia, and they were appearing everywhere. Noel couldn’t help but be proud for his friend, although sometimes it seemed like he was reading a bit more about Fate than he was about Faye.
As the days became weeks, and Christmas approached, Noel opened his copy of the Neopian Times to find a headline that left him feeling as if the floor had dropped out from under him: Fate and Choice Extend Tour. After living out her dream, after all of the success that she had experienced, Faye had apparently forgotten the promise that she had made to her best friend to visit him as soon as her one month tour ended on Christmas Eve. Noel did not read the article; he didn’t need to.
He had been reading about Faye’s rise to fame from his humble parlor in Happy Valley, still thinking of his friend as the yellow Bruce who sang Christmas carols outside every year and always chatted about one day becoming a star. Now that she had finally gotten her big break, Noel realized, she had changed. She wasn’t a yellow Bruce anymore. Maybe she wasn’t the same friend anymore either.
Noel spent Christmas alone. He stopped reading the paper for a while, after that. Instead, he immersed himself in other activities, taking trips to the Ice Caves, playing Snow Wars, and going out for slushies with some of his other neighbors. However, one day when he arrived home from a hike up Terror Mountain, he saw the Neopian Times rolled up on his porch with a bold headline that read: Pop Star Fate Launches Solo Career, and he knew that he couldn’t avoid the news any longer.
Noel brought the paper inside with him. He put the copy of the Neopian Times on a table next to his favorite armchair and prepared a cup of borovan before sitting down to read the article. When he did, the Bori found himself feeling incredibly alone.
“Pink Xweetok Fate, of the immensely popular ‘Fate and Choice,’ announced today her plans to set out on her own. After an incredibly popular tour of Neopia and several major endorsement contracts, Fate has decided that it would be in her best personal interest to launch a solo career. The singer officially severed legal ties yesterday with childhood best friend Choice, her counterpart in the smash hit pop group that skyrocketed to fame earlier this year...”
Noel put down the paper. Several thoughts clouded his mind that the Bori could barely think straight. Childhood best friend... If that was what Faye considered Choice to be, then what was Noel? Just someone she had known once, in another life? She had changed. Noel could see it clearly, now. Faye had changed and left everything behind in order to pursue her dream. She had made it official by leaving Chase, the one remaining connection between her and Happy Valley. Now, it was if she had become someone entirely different, entirely separated from the small snowy village which she had once called home.
Faye had skipped Christmas to extend her singing tour. Of all the things that she had done, this one hurt Noel the most, cut him the deepest. The one holiday that the two had shared together every year, Faye had disregarded. She had broken her promise, and she had hurt her friend.
Noel still loved Faye. But as for Fate... he did not even know her. Faye had allowed what she thought was her destiny—her fate—to take over... how fitting. Yes, Fate had taken over. Faye was no more.
But, looking back on everything that had happened, Noel realized that it had not been inevitable.
In the end, only one fact boiled down to true fate: Faye had a beautiful voice. (Everything else had been a choice.)