A tiny little Zafara leaned back against her locker and slumped down, careful not to let her small spikes gouge into the metal. She dropped the book in one of her paws and began to dig around in her lunch bag. She’d already been here a week, and yet another day had passed by without anybody to eat and chat with, another day with no friends.
Nobody had asked her to go and play with them, and she was far too scared to ask them. What if they rejected her? She shivered slightly. She didn’t know how she would handle that. Oh well, at least she had her petpet at home, as well as her family, who loved her unconditionally.
“Hey, are you Naqasa?” asked a big, striped Xweetok as it came into her live of vision.
She nodded hurriedly, and then had to push her sliding glasses back up her nose.
“I’m Alex, one of the pets in your first period class,” said the Xweetok. “We were just noticing how you were sitting here alone, so we were wondering if you’d like to come and sit with us at lunch?”
Naqasa almost gaped at the neopet. They were asking her to join them? Hallelujah! The feeling of loneliness had been almost overwhelming lately, and she’d began to wonder if any pet liked her. They’d all seemed to have some look of ill will in their eyes when she looked at them.
“Yes!” she said, her voice squeaky with excitement. She reached over to grab her book, only to find it missing...
A peal of laughter filled the small café across from the neoschool, startling several of the people waiting in line for their orders. The worker behind the counter, however, didn’t even blink. The source of the noise was a common occurrence in the café at around the same time every day, and now it was ignored by the people who were there all of the time, such as writers and employees.
“And then I pulled back on the neck of his shirt and dumped a stink bomb in it!” exclaimed a pretty blue Yurble called Jenny, modeling the movement with her hands. The whole group laughed, except for Naqasa, who just giggled a little to keep up appearances. Her friend was just describing a prank on somebody she was familiar with, and she guessed it was funny, but she really couldn’t find the humor in it.
Naqasa was a shy little creature, and was only hanging out with this group because they were the only ones who’d approached her and wanted to be friends with her. The yellow Zafara wasn’t the kind to blatantly walk up to a neopet and ask to hang out with them. She wasn’t charismatic like her older sister Sheijarun either, or didn’t care about what other pets thought like her brother Qintari. In fact, Naqasa didn’t believe that she was anything special at all. She was awkward and plainly clumsy, with spectacles perched on the end of her nose, and she had a knack for reading and a talent for drawing that anybody else could have.
“Hey Qasa,” said Alex, a striped Xweetok that sat across from her. She looked at her from over a Tigersquash Ice Cream. “I heard that you’ve started visiting the lab ray.”
The Zafara nodded vigorously and nearly spilled her hot chocolate.
“Ugh, that’s horrible!” exclaimed Jenny. “I mean, what if you showed up to school tomorrow as a guy?”
“Or what about snot?” asked a faerie Lenny called Leah.
“EW!” the whole table exclaimed, except for Naqasa, once again.
“I only want to be pretty...” she murmured quietly, painfully aware of her plain yellow coloring. All of her friends had such lovely, beautiful coats.
“The only thing that the lab ray’s going to do for you is to make you even more geeky,” said Alex.
That stung. Naqasa stood up, her eyes burning as she clutched her empty cup and lunch bag. As she strode over to the trashcan, she hoped that they couldn’t see the hurt they’d caused, or the tears that were threatening to spill over her cheeks. Feepits! Why couldn’t she keep her composure? Why did she have to be so overly sensitive?
...Why did they have to disapprove of everything she tried to do on her own? They were always things that she had set high hopes on, and she was starting to wonder if maybe she should just leave them for a few days to sit on her own? After all, she was starting to feel like a scapegoat. The only thing about her that they seemed to care about was her pink Slorg.
“So how’s Candy doing?” asked Alex eagerly as Naqasa came back, echoing her thoughts.
“Good,” the Zafara replied. “I thi—!”
The first thing she noticed was that there was no firm foundation for her hindquarters to sit on, and then a loud thud rumbled across the floor as she fell down, bruising her tail and clutching the table. Another explosion of laughter filled the air, and as Naqasa looked around she could see her friends dying of laughter, their heads thrown back with clear enjoyment at her humiliation. Jenny had pulled back the chair while she hadn’t been paying attention, and immediately Naqasa started to blame herself.
Why hadn’t she known that her friend would pull something like that? She was so unobservant!
Before the other pets could collect themselves enough to pull themselves together, the Zafara ran out of the café. She couldn’t hang around them, not when they’d see her tears as something inferior. None of them truly understood why she fell apart so easily, or why she allowed everybody’s words to hurt her so much.
She wasn’t going to sit with her friends anymore. That was for certain. She was tired of feeling as if they were constantly degrading her when she was around them. It was all they seemed to do lately, and hardly ever were one of them teased.
“Naqasa?” asked a starry Lupe as she darted across the front yard of the school, her vision blurry even through her glasses.
She ignored him. No doubt word of her humiliation would spread and soon she’d be the point of humor throughout the school, and then he would be teasing her as well.
The spot behind the bleachers near the yooyuball field became her sanctuary as she hid in it and cried. It was dark and slightly damp, and as she huddled there, clutching her purple coat tightly. Nobody would find her here, because nobody ever came this way unless it was for sports practice. It was because these seats were so moldy... Her only companions were Moaches and Moffits.
When the bell for class rang, she didn’t go in, but stayed there and shivered. She shared her next period with those ’friends’, and her face was still blotchy and red, not to mention the fact that somehow she’d managed to get the hiccups. For several minutes she wallowed in despair with a stuffy nose, and blew the gunk out onto a huge leaf.
What if she did come to school tomorrow painted Snot?
“Naqasa, where are you?” asked a familiar voice, and she turned her head to see the starry Lupe from before, squinting as he looked around, a paw over his eyes to block the sun from reaching them. “Naqasa?”
The Zafara shuffled backwards, clutching her knees close to her chest. It was Brian, one of the more popular pets, and there was no way she’d let him find her like this! She already knew that she was plain and ordinary, but with her eyes bloodshot and her nose running she looked even worse!
The Lupe was one of the sweetest pets at school, and before she’d found friends in the trio she’d just ran away from, he’d been one of the few who had actually talked to her. No invitations of friendship had come from his mouth, but he’d been kind, and he’d actually been pretty interesting to talk to. None of their conversations had been completely boring, at least in her opinion. However, they had mostly talked about books, and she was sure he’d just been talking just to amuse her.
A sniffle from her nose betrayed her, and Brian’s head turned slightly, catching the noise. Before she could do anything to hide further, his big, golden eyes found her, staring at her shivering, still hiccupping form. Naqasa wished fervently that she could turn invisible at that very moment...
“What’s wrong?” he asked, worry flooding his gaze.
She shook her head. Anything that she had to talk about was surely trivial to him! Especially when she was a girl, and all boys their age thought that anything girls were troubled by was silly.
“Come on, I can’t help you out until I know. Tell me!”
“Jenny, A-alex, and Leah,” Naqasa said, and to her surprise, he snorted!
“Those bullies?” he asked. “They’re always making somebody feel unwelcome. Just yesterday I think they ganged up on some Cybunny and stole his lunch.”
Naqasa’s eyes widened. So that was where those extra ummagines had come from! That was also probably why they’d been extra grumpy this morning, having received detentions for ‘no apparent reason’. The fact that her friends had done something like that didn’t surprise her. In fact, she’d been thinking that if they didn’t bully some smaller kids already, they would soon.
“So, why are you hanging out with them anyway?” he asked, helping her to stand up.
“They were... ah, nice?” she said uncertainly, scratching the back of her head. “They were the only ones who were friendly to me... I thought you all hated me.”
“Really?” asked Brian, his tall ears shooting up with interest. “We all thought you hated us. You seemed a little bit arrogant, with that nose of yours in a book all the time.”
“I—I just didn’t want to impose...”
“Impose on our conversations all you like!” he said, grinning. The air was silent for a moment, but for some reason, she noticed that the tension that’d previously flooding the air was beginning to slowly melt away. She relaxed, enjoying it, because she knew that if she faced her ‘friends’ anytime soon, tension would be a kind way to describe the feelings in the air. “Hey, some of the pets are going to go to the arcade after school today. Do you want to come with us? I can introduce you to some people you’re probably going to like.”
“Um...” she said, pausing for a moment to think. Was he just being kind to her, or was he inviting her because he thought she would have fun? After all, she wasn’t known to have prowess in the gaming field. “Sure!”
As they walked back into the school, Naqasa’s thoughts began to wander away from her worries about what was going to happen later that evening, and over to what Jenny, Alex and Leah were going to do to her. How were they going to react when they discovered that she wasn’t going to be hanging out with them anymore? Would they bully her, like they did to some of the other pets?
But then she discovered that it didn’t matter. After all, if she played her cards right, they wouldn’t even get the chance to hurt her. Plus, if her new friendship with Brian actually lasted longer than tonight, she’d have new friends who’d keep her old friends away.
As Brian turned his head to grin at her, she realized something. She was Naqasa the Zafara, and there was no way that anybody was going to make her believe that she was less than that ever again.