Thing: Part Three
Xana slammed the door and slid the bolt across until she heard it connect, sliding into the catch and shutting out the outside world. On a normal day, the sight of her room, her own, private space in Neopia where she was surrounded by the things she loved, calmed her. But today she felt imprisoned, shut inside the tiny room, and the bolt on the door which usually made her feel safe and secure only made her claustrophobic.
She could hear scratching at the base of the worn old door, followed by pitiful whining and quiet yelps. She could see the shadow snaking under the door, and the scratching got more urgent, more desperate, the sad yelping increasing to irritated barking. Incessant.
She kicked the door with all the force she could muster and it trembled on its hinges. "Shut up!!" she screamed as she delivered a final pound to the peeling red wood with her shaking fist.
She could hear a frightened whimper and the scuffle of paws on the carpet, then nothing.
It sounded wrong.
She put it behind her. Silence was good. It was what she wanted. She collapsed onto her Twisted Roses bedcover, trying with everything she had in her to enjoy it.
The bed groaned as she sank deeper into the cheap bedcover. It was an old bed. She had had it ever since Sango adopted her and the springs were starting to rust. Everything in her room was old. Sango had insisted on replacing some of it, but Xana had refused. The family couldn't afford it; she didn't want to be a burden.
It was the smallest room in the house; there was only enough room for her tiny bed, her desk and wardrobe, and, well, that was it, if you wanted enough space to turn around. The paint on the walls was peeling and chipped, but it was hard to notice after she had deliberately smothered it in posters. The room really was a wreck. When Sango had adopted her she had taken her out to buy paints, and they had painted the room together -- black on two of the walls, red on the other two. The carpet was the same shade of dark, blood-red, as was the door, which had black stars bordering it. They had stuck corkboards to the wardrobe doors and hung strings of Korbat lights and glow-in-the-dark stars to the ceiling. Xana had chosen the décor herself, and she was proud of it. Sango had always said Xana had an artistic touch. They had even painted and decorated the desk and the wardrobe -- grey and navy blue. She had adored it; it had been her castle, her refuge, her own private piece of Neopia she had all to herself. She had adorned its walls with everything she loved, photos of her beloved adoptive family, brothers and sisters from previous homes, and, of course, L. There were more pictures of him than anything else. She had never bonded with her old families the way she had bonded with him.
But now the room looked as if it had been decorated ten years ago, rather than ten months. When she hung her head over the edge of the bed, she could still see the scratch marks L had left on the opposite wall.
She braced herself for the tears to start all over again, but they never did.
Was she... getting over it?
No. She wasn't. She wanted to keep those memories clear in her head forever. Forgetting was the worst thing she could ever do. L had been her best friend. Sango had always told her she needed to get out, make more of an effort to make real friends rather than stay locked away in her room all day, playing with her petpet. But she never listened. The other pets didn't like her. They judged her and made fun of her and never included her in games. She was an outcast. A Goth. A loser. But L never judged her. Not once. He loved her for who she was and relied on her, and made her feel like she was worth something, like she meant something to somebody. He had followed her through every home she had been in and helped her through the darkest times in her life. She wouldn't forget.
Taped up to the corkboard were all the photos, all the drawings of him she had ever kept. The first ever photo, when she got him for her first Christmas. She was sitting under the Christmas tree in her Snowbunny pyjamas, her tiny arms wrapped around a huge box covered in tattered wrapping paper, her whole face alight with an adorable, gap-toothed grin. Looking out the box, with glowing emerald eyes and ears twice the size of his head, was L, staring up at her with a huge, absent grin on his face.
Then there was the last ever photo, taken only a week before that fateful day. Sitting on the bed, with a chewed up old Furwitch pillow in his jaws, shaking it from side to side and sending a shower of green feathers into the air. His eyes still shone with that joyful glow like he hadn't a care in the world, and his comical ears were still way out of proportion. And there was Xana, kneeling behind him with green feathers clinging to her Twisted Roses T-shirt and hiding in her hair, grinning just as widely as he was. There was a glimmer in her eyes that seemed to say everything was right in her world. She had always been happy when he was around.
Now she wouldn't be surprised if she had forgotten what it was like to laugh.
She didn't bother to eat. She wasn't hungry. Besides, she knew that, no matter how much she ate, the empty feeling would never go away. She rolled over, pulling the covers over herself and closing her eyes, drifting into a restless, dreamless sleep.
Tomorrow, this whole thing would be over. She would take It back to Hayley's and that would be it. She would never see him again. He would be out of her life and she would be more thankful for that than she had ever been for anything.
"Mum, is something wrong with Xana?"
Sango looked up from her veggie Poogle wrap into the eyes of her seven-year-old speckled Acara, Bela. The little girl's bright, coffee-coloured eyes were wide with interest as she tried to divide her attention between pulling apart her cheesy meat wrap and pronouncing her words right; a difficult task when you're only seven and have a lisp.
Sango smiled as she unrolled her own wrap to reveal the vegetables inside and began to line the onions along the edge of the plate -- she had never particularly liked wraps. There was always something in there you didn't like; onions, in her case. Disgusting things. "She's just a little upset about things, sweetie. She'll get over it," she replied.
The little Acara smiled back and stuffed a slice of cheese into her mouth.
"It's been three weeks, Sango," Tammy contradicted. The silver Peophin hadn't touched her Koi kelp wrap -- she didn't like wrap night. In fact, no one did. Why did they even have it any more? "She still hasn't gotten over it. Maybe you should step in..."
"I have!" Sango said, her head falling into her hands. The Zomutt puppy was curled up on her lap, demolishing any stray slices of lettuce that escaped the plate. "It's not working. Why am I kidding myself? She's not getting over it."
Tammy hung her head over her plate, lost for words. She began to pick a strand of kelp from the wrap, reluctantly putting it in her mouth and chewing on it so she would have an excuse not to reply. It tasted vile and the bitterness made her eyes water. Her amethyst eyes fixed on the intricate floral pattern around the border of the disgusting china plate and she traced it around the edge with her gaze, following every twist in the lime-green, garish stem and acknowledging every little pink flower with its painted-on petals that, even on china, looked as if they were wilting with age.
Quiet sobbing sounds travelled across the table to Sango's ears, and she looked up quickly, her own worries all but forgotten. Sitting on a stack of mismatched cushions was her four-year-old yellow Xweetok, Noah, his paws bunched up into fists as he furiously rubbed at his eyes, sniffling. She jumped up and ran to him, bundling him up into her arms and kissing his forehead. He looked up at her through a tangle of thick, golden hair, his hazel eyes glistening with tears. "I miss the old Xana," he mumbled as he let his head fall against her chest.
"I know, honey," she said softly as she rocked him gently in her arms. "I know."
To be continued...