Thank you Schefflera, for the editing help!
“So,” Sam greeted Jo brightly. “What’s your New Year’s resolution?”
The lanky Royal Draik gave her Halloween Lupe friend a long look. “You know that I never, ever make one of those. Why do you ask every single year?”
Sam grinned. “Because hope springs eternal -- and because Brian has a bet going on who is and who isn’t going to last more than the first month with their resolutions.”
“Well, you can count me out,” Jo said while tying her long black hair back into a unitail. “I don’t do that superstitious stuff.”
“You don’t do superstitious stuff, yet we live in the Haunted Woods. You do realize that every rock, building, and plant here is either undead or cursed -- don’t you read the tourist packets?”
The Royal Draik snorted. “Says the Halloween Lupe whose second job is scaring the kiddies at the Fairgrounds -- like anyone over the age of five could really confuse a Halloween Lupe and a Werelupe.”
Sam grinned. “I’ve gotta pay the rent somehow. Besides, not only is it fun, the extra money comes in handy.”
“Good morning Ladies, Gentlemen, and Neopians of Indeterminate Gender!”
“Morning, Brian!” Jo and Sam chimed in unison. “Sil’s going to be in a bit late,” Sam added. “His delivery last night took longer than he expected and he ran out to get some breakfast.”
“He can take the later runs today then.” Brian shrugged. “The Day of Giving is about to roll right over us, so we’ve got enough packages to deliver to form an army.” The Halloween Blumaroo consulted his clipboard. “We should be able to piggyback enough runs today to run pretty smoothly. The major trick is that we’ve got an insured package to deliver.”
The Royal Draik and Halloween Lupe groaned.
“Don’t complain too much. Besides, neither of you two have a history of damaging packages anyways,” the Blumaroo said. “It’s at least a small package, and it’s to a private residence in Neovia. Just deliver it last and you two can just work your way there as you deliver everything else.”
“That still means that we have to do all of our deliveries together, which will take twice the time. How much could they have insured it for?” Sam pointed out. “Enough to pay for overtime?”
“You two can do everything Eastside -- when Sil comes in, he can do Westside. It shouldn’t be too bad.” Brian tossed Jo the clipboard and unlocked the room where the packages were kept.
“Not too bad, he says,” Sam hissed sarcastically, eyeing the large pile of parcels to be delivered. “I hate holidays that involve gifts.”
“Well...” Jo hesitated, calculating where the majority of the bulk went. “We can deliver to Ghedediah's General Goods first, and that will take out a huge chunk.”
“If not in weight, then in bulk,” Sam agreed, starting to load up a wooden wagon with packages.
Being so early in the evening, the roads were still fairly quiet. Most of the tourists were safely snuggled up in their hotel rooms before twilight fell, and few of the regular businesses opened before full-dark. That was one major advantage to living in the Haunted Woods, Jo reflected. Tourists and the residents not involved in the tourism trade hardly saw each other at all, and the in-between window made for a perfect time for her to work. Empty roads meant fast travel, and the faster she could go, the happier her customers were.
“Goodness,” Gareth the Halloween Ruki said in surprise. “I didn't realize we were restocking so much that it would take two of you to deliver it all!”
“Har har.” Sam gave a dismissive snort. “The Day of Giving is coming, and none of them are for you, Jo, or me.”
“Oh, lots of them are for me. I just get to unwrap them early, put them on the shelves, and sell them,” the Ruki store clerk retorted. “Speaking of holidays, what are you two doing for your New Year’s Resolutions?”
“I’m not doing anything,” Jo grunted, lifting one of the heavier packages out of the wagon. “No one ever manages to accomplish them, and starting the New Year with a failed promise to myself seems like a bad idea.”
“Don’t mind her,” Sam chimed. “She’s a spoilsport. Mine is to take up scrimshaw.”
“Very funny.” The Halloween Lupe gave the Ruki a dirty look. “It’s a type of carving,” Sam explained. “It's usually done on small items. I need a hobby I can do while I’m out running packages that won’t weigh me down too much.”
“Well, just don’t chop your fingers off,” Gareth warned, clicking his mandibles together in warning. “That’ll make short work of your new hobby.”
“So what’s your Resolution?” Sam retorted, tossing the Ruki a package.
“Giving up coffee. I drink too much of it, and it makes me jittery.”
Watching the Ruki's constantly twitching antennae, Jo had to privately agree. Less twitching on the part of a busy store clerk could only be a good thing.
“So what,” Gareth asked Jo. “You've never managed to keep a New Year's Resolution, so you stopped making them?”
“No,” the Royal Draik responded. “I've never made one. I prefer to learn from other people's mistakes.”
“I think that about does it,” Sam observed. The pile of packages on the wagon was considerably smaller. “Just sign here for me, will you, Gareth?”
“See you guys tomorrow.” Gareth scribbled a hasty signature to the form, then retreated into the shop to begin his restocking.
“Oh good,” Jo breathed. “The wagon is much lighter now.”
“And it only gets lighter from here.” Sam grinned. The pair made their way to the next delivery. “So what do you think's in the package?”
“The special one, silly. The super secret insured package.”
Jo gave Sam a long look. “Have you been drinking Gareth's coffee?”
“Lost Desert brew,” Sam admitted. “The package is awfully long and skinny; maybe it's a Battledome weapon. Like a rod or something.”
“Oh come on, Jo. Work with me a bit.”
“What do you want me to say? There's a hundred different things that could fit in that general shape and size.”
“That's half the fun!”
Jo sighed. “Um, maybe it's art supplies?”
“What kind of supplies?”
“I don't know. I'm not Maddie; I don't do art stuff like that.”
“Oh, come on, Jo.”
“Those... wood things that she uses to hold up the boards she's painting on.”
“I think it's called an easel.” Sam pondered for a minute. “Yeah, that would be about the right size and weight.”
As they continued with their deliveries, Sam's guesses about the contents of the packages got more and more strange, much to Jo's amusement. She was the first to admit that she didn't have near Sam's imagination; something the Draik envied about her Halloween Lupe friend, even though Jo would never admit the fact. Finally, however, the mysterious package was the only one left.
“I've got it!” Sam said with glee. “It's a package of Rods of Supernovas!”
“Sam, what is a woman named Enedella Montgomary going to do with a Rod of Supernova? Have you ever met anyone under the name of seventy named Enedella?”
“Maybe she likes spoiling her grandkids?” Sam gave a wistful sigh. “I want a grandma like that. Though she's Neovian; she might only be fifty or so.”
“You don't see many fifty year old Battledomers. Though I think we're there now, so be nice.”
“I'm always nice!” Sam protested.
Enedella's house looked to be fairly typical of the Neovian houses in the neighborhood, tall and skinny, and with porches on both the first and second floors. Jo had never really seen the point in having two porches one on top of the other. Why not just wall in the bottom one and have another room in your house? Maybe it was a Neovian thing.
Picking up the slender package, Jo left the now-empty wagon and quickly crossed the porch and rapped on the front door. There was a long silence. “Maybe she's not home?” Sam suggested.
Jo knocked again, harder.
“Just a minute!” a raspy voice called. “It takes me a minute to get down the stairs.” The wooden door opened. “Sorry about that,” the elderly Aisha apologized. “I'm not as quick as I used to be.”
“Is Miss Montgomary in?” Jo asked.
“That's me,” the Aisha affirmed.
“We've got a package for you, if you'll sign for it.”
The Aisha visibly brightened. “It's here? Oh, that's wonderful. I don't suppose you two can help me set it up as well? I'm not quite sure I could manage it alone.”
“Of course we will!” Sam burst enthusiastically. “What is it?”
The Aisha paused to sign the release slip for her package. “It's a frame.”
“A frame?” Sam looked confused.
“Oh yes.” The Aisha gestured them inside. “My goal this year was to paint a landscape of the lake in the woods.”
“Your goal?” Jo asked, as the headed up the stairs of the house.
“Every January I make a goal for myself,” the Aisha explained. “I give myself one year to complete it. This year, it was to paint a painting. Last year it was to read a particular novel.”
“So it's kind of like a New Year's Resolution,” Sam said.
The Aisha gave a snort. “Nothing so vague as those tend to be. How can anyone ever achieve something like “exercise more” and keep to it?” No, I make very specific goals.” She paused as she opened a heavy wooden door. “I've found,” she concluded, “that the more specific my goal, the more likely it is that I'll achieve it.”
“It's beautiful,” Jo breathed, seeing the painting. While it wasn't particularly large, the amount of detail made it seem bigger than it really was. You could almost count the feathers on the winged petpets taking off from the surface of the lake.
The Aisha smiled. “You can see why this painting took me nearly all year.”
“I'm surprised it didn't take longer,” Jo said. “My friend Maddie paints a lot, but I've never seen her do anything with this much detail.”
Luckily constructing the frame and mounting the picture didn't take nearly so long. While Sam and Jo had never fitted a canvas painting into a frame, Enedella had clearly done it many times. With her help, the painting was soon hung in the adjoining room.
“Thank you, my dears,” Enedella called as Sam and Jo left back towards the Haunted Woods, and to pick up more packages to deliver. The pair gave a friendly wave to the Aisha before disappearing around the bend of the road.
“So are you sure you're not going to make a Resolution this year?” Sam asked, giving Jo a sly look.
“I never make Resolutions,” Jo replied. “But this year I just might make a goal.”