Green With Envy
Reggie grimaced. The White Kougra standing in front of him grimaced back at him. Grumbling under his breath, he turned away from the mirror (sticking his tongue out at his reflection in the process) and threw himself down on his bed, head filled with thoughts about the unfairness of life. His life, in particular.
Nobody else knew how hard it was to walk around all day long, surrounded by other Neopets, more beautiful Neopets, Neopets whose owners cared about them enough to make them beautiful. But those pets were lucky. Their owners didn’t care how much money they spent to make their Neopets happy. Those pets walked around with delicate fluttering faerie wings, glimmering scales, and long luxurious fur that turned Reggie green with envy. And then there were other pets, trapped in basic colors, like Red and Green and Yellow... and White... the most boring color of them all!
At first, Reggie hadn’t minded being painted White. Well... it hadn’t been his first choice of pet colors, but it was the only choice that his owner could afford at the time. Being painted pure white had been okay for a month or so. But then it began to seem pretty dull. What pet ever wanted to be stuck permanently wearing a basic color like White? Nobody--- Reggie had decided this long ago---they just wouldn’t admit it. Sure, some pets would protest that all they ever wanted from life was the chance to be painted Brown, or Purple, or Grey, but Reggie always noticed the envious glances that they would give when walking past a beautiful Faerie or dashing Pirate Neopet.
Of course, nobody else ever agreed with him about this---especially his family. He only brought the subject up one time at dinnertime a few weeks ago, and the cold response he received ended any further discussion of the subject.
“I’ve been thinking,” Reggie said that night as he used his fork to push his vegetables around his plate. “I don’t want to be painted White anymore; it’s too boring and I think I deserve to be painted a new color. Camouflage would be nice, or maybe Maraquan.”
His owner Tina paused in mid-bite, and put her fork down. “Do you know how much Maraquan paint brushes cost? Our family doesn’t have that kind of money just lying around. I can’t afford to buy you a new paint brush simply because you’ve gotten tired of your current color.”
She gave him a stern look, and then said in an offended tone of voice, “There are a lot of Neopets out there who would have been very happy to have received that White Paint Brush that I bought for you. I saved up for a very long time to buy it, but you don’t seem to appreciate all of the effort that I’ve gone through for you. If you want to be repainted so badly, you are going to have to earn the Neopoints for a new paint brush on your own. And eat your carrots; they’re good for your eyesight.”
“It’s not even like Reggie’s pure white,” his older sister Maximia added, with a sidelong glance across the kitchen table. The Starry Eyrie continued to speak, using what Reggie called her ‘lecturing to younger siblings’ tone of voice. It was all he could do to sit still and listen to her patronizing away at him without rolling his eyes. “He’s got blue stripes, so he shouldn’t be complaining that he’s only got one color. Reggie, stop making faces at me, and finish your veggies like Mom told you to. Pushing them around your plate won’t make them disappear.” Maximia finished her admonishment with a self-satisfied smile and leaned back in her chair, pushing her immaculately-clean plate towards the center of the table.
Reggie glared at her; he couldn’t stand it when she lectured to him like that, and the fact that she was painted Starry didn’t help him feel any extra kindness towards his older sister. Being painted with an eye-catching Starry paint brush was so much cooler than a boring old White paint brush. Navy blue... hah! They might as well have been black stripes, for all the good that it did him. White and black was sooo monochromatic. Monochromatic was one of those words that dull old Neopets liked to pretend had come back in style, but to Reggie it had only one meaning: boring.
So the next day, as he lay flopped over on his bed thinking about the unfairness in his life, Reggie had made his decision; if he wanted to get a new look, he would have to do it on his own. Since Tina had emphatically denied any possibility buying a new paint brush, and because Reggie had decided that earning up the Neopoints to purchase one on his own sounded like too much hard work, he settled on a temporary solution.
He found an old bucket of ordinary green house paint in the garden shed, and a ragged old paint brush, and set them aside. On a nice quiet day when both Tina and Maximia were not paying attention to the sort of trouble a restless young Kougra like himself could get into, Reggie would cover his boring old white coat with a fresh coat of green paint (leaving a few spots of coat unpainted—after all, he wanted to have a fancy new color like Speckled and not a boring color like Green, which only poor and unloved pets wore), and spend the rest of the day parading around Neopia Central, impressing everybody with his snazzy new look.
Then, at the end of the day, he would sneak back home and slip past his family to quickly wash the paint off before either of them noticed. The next day, when people asked what happened to his new paint job (and they would---Reggie thought to himself smugly---he’d make sure that they noticed his snazzy new look!) he’d tell everybody that his new color had clashed with his wardrobe, and he just happened to have a spare paint brush lying around... The White Kougra arrogantly decided that he had come up with the most perfect plan ever created, which was guaranteed to draw all of the attention that Reggie had ever wanted.
Finally, after an anxious week spent waiting for the perfect day in which to use his hidden supplies, Tina declared that she would be spending the next day cleaning the house top-to-bottom, and unless Reggie and Maximia planned on helping her, they were going to stay out of her way. The White Kougra was too excited to sleep that night, and it seemed to him like the sun took forever to rise. He ate a quick breakfast of cereal and milk, and waited with barely-concealed impatience as his owner and older sister rolled out of bed and ate a leisurely breakfast. After a half-hour of relaxing, Tina cleared the table and announced that the great-house cleaning would begin. The two Neopets beat a hasty retreat from the house. Maximia declared that she was spending the day at the park, and set off with a dry, boring old history text tucked underneath her arm.
At last, Reggie was free! The promise of a full day of flaunting off his new color to the admiration of all of his onlookers was enough to make him forget about all of the potential problems which could get him into trouble. But after all, once his fake coat of paint had been washed off, no one would ever learn of the deception that he had played on everyone... right? It was definitely a foolproof plan. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
* * * * *
“Good morning, ladies,” Reggie breezed as he sauntered down the street. The incoming Neopets, a Golden Kau and a Split Uni, goggled at him (in admiration, he assured himself). He paused a moment, and tried not to preen as they stared at him. It took the girls a moment to work the courage up to speak to him, so he casually ran a hand through his hair (after all, he didn’t want to appear too obvious!).
“Hey, Reggie, you look different today. Have you been working out?” The Kau tittered, and then turned towards her friend, blushing furiously.
“Why yes, Patricia, I have been working out,” Reggie agreed smoothly. “But perhaps you’re looking at my new color?”
“Of course,” Patricia quickly agreed. “Speckled is such a nice color for a Kougra.” She said that phrase with a wide grin, and it looked as if she was going to add something else, but was interrupted by her friend, who covered her mouth with her hooves and giggled. Since there didn’t seem to be much chance in getting any more compliments from the two girls, who by now were doubled over with a sudden fit of the giggles (a phenomenon which only affected girls in the sight of a handsome Kougra, he concluded) Reggie moved on down the street, inwardly gloating at all of the attention he was getting. It seemed like everyone he saw was either staring or pointing at him. They must really like my new look, the temporarily-Speckled Kougra thought to himself.
Reggie continued down the street and soon saw a familiar Gelert leaning against a wall with a skateboard in hand. The Kougra called out “Hey, Tesler!” and waved.
“Yo, dude!” the Spotted Gelert replied automatically, and then let out a whistle as he turned his head toward his approaching friend. “Whoa!” he breathed in admiration.
“Nice, isn’t it?” the temporarily-Speckled Kougra answered back nonchalantly. He pretended to admire his nails and continued, “Just got a new paint brush this morning. It was expensive, but it’s not like my family doesn’t have enough money to spare.” Without any warning, Tesler let out a bark of laughter, and Reggie turned and glanced suspiciously at the other Neopet. Had his friend suddenly gone mad? It was more than the Kougra could take. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Is something funny?”
“Nah, man, I just remembered a funny joke that I heard yesterday.”
“Oh. Okay,” Reggie replied, and waited to hear the joke, but Tesler simply stared back at him, snickering at some humor that only he could see. “Well, all right then, I’ll see you around,” Reggie said and walked away.
Now he was in the center of the shopping district. But where to go to next? The book shop was the closest store, but books were boring, and were read only by boring people like his boring sister (and why did a Starry Paint Brush have to be wasted on somebody who would willingly bury herself in a book all day long?). Reggie also crossed the stamp shop off of his list, since nobody stylish ever hung out there.
Kauvara’s shop was the best choice, since so many Neopets gathered in there, and they were the ones with the best sense in fashion and an appreciation for the finer aesthetics of life. The bell over the door jingled merrily as Reggie pushed it open and stepped onto the pristine white tiled floor. The other customers watched him with growing interest as he crossed the floor towards where the shopkeeper stood behind the register. Reggie pretended not to hear the excited whispers behind his back. As casually as he could, he leaned against the counter, and drawled, “Morning, Kauvara. Anything special come in today?”
The shopkeeper, who was carefully checking off an inventory list, looked up at him and did a double-take. “Reginald! What?...” Her voice trailed off in confusion, and she stared at him intently, the list in her hoof forgotten completely.
“Got a new paint job,” Reggie bragged, and pretended to nonchalantly study his hand. “I think Speckled suits me... don’t you agree?”
Kauvara goggled at him for a long moment. Then slowly, deliberately, she dropped her gaze to the counter, and her face clouded with anger. “You are such a fool, Reginald,” she said coldly. “Get out of my store.”
Reggie was struck speechless by the random command. All he could manage was a croaked “What?” that came out much more high-pitched than he had intended.
Kauvara snorted. “I know perfectly well that there’s no such thing as a Speckled Kougra. Your new paint job is a deliberate hoax.”
“How do you know?” Reggie almost howled in dismay.
“Because you’re dripping paint all over my shop.”
With a jolt of horror, Reggie looked down at the counter, which was smeared with green paint where he had leaned against it. He whirled around and saw a set of green paw prints leading from the door to where he was standing. The patrons in the store were covering their faces with paws and wings and fins, hooting with laughter and pointing at him with trembling fingers as their shoulders shook. Reggie stood rooted to the spot for a moment, paralyzed with embarrassment, and then fled the store with a whimper of shame.
Green paw prints stretched as far as his eyes could see, and curious passersby were clustered around the trail, gesturing to them and laughing. The White Kougra, dripping green paint, whirled and ran away from the pointing fingers and laughter. But no matter how fast he ran, the painted footprints followed him as the evidence of his shame, always a stride’s length behind him. With a cry of relief, he rounded a building and saw a familiar shape seated upon a bench in the shade; a pair of navy blue ear tufts, sticking up behind a worn leather book. “Maximia!” he yelled as he ran, and had never before in his life been so relieved to see his older sister.
The Starry Eyrie lowered her book in annoyance, but her grumpiness quickly turned to astonishment as she took in the stranger barreling towards her. “Who....” she began to ask, and then her eyes widened. “Reginald!” she gasped. “What happened to you?”
“I... I didn’t want to be White anymore.” Reggie panted. “I thought... maybe I could paint myself Speckled, just for a day, you see, and then everybody was watching me and I thought they were admiring me, only they were watching me and laughing because I was tracking paint everywhere, and I feel like such a fool, and you can fix it, right? Can’t you?” he pleaded, misery evident in every part of his slumped frame. Maximia stared at him for a long time before answering.
“Little brother, this is more than I can fix. At least you have the common sense to realize that you’ve made a huge mess out of this whole situation.” She sighed, and dropped the book into her canvas tote bag. “C’mon, we’re going home.”
“Oh no, there’s no way that I’m going to let Mom see me like this,” Reggie replied as he turned to bolt away... except Maximia had anticipated his next action and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. “Hey! Hey! That hurts!” He whimpered. Maximia opened her hand, and Reggie rubbed the back of his neck.
“This is not a problem that you can fix by running away.” The Starry Eyrie said, and without looking to see if her Kougra brother was following, began walking on the pathway towards their home. Humiliated and miserable, Reggie followed her the whole way home, without another word exchanged between the two siblings.
* * * * *
“Mom! You come out here and deal with Reggie!” Maximia yelled as Reggie shuffled into the house behind her. He cringed as he looked down to the floor by his feet, as the green pawprint trail from the door to where he stood would have to be laboriously scrubbed off of the wooden floor of the entryway. He resolved not to take one step farther into the house from where he stood, preventing one less mess that had to be cleaned up.
A muffled banging came from the direction of the kitchen. “What is it?” Tina replied, clearly annoyed. “I’m in the middle of scrubbing pots right now.”
Maximia turned and gave her little brother a stern glare before she tucked her book underneath her arm and climbed the stairs to her second-floor bedroom. The unspoken message of the look was You got yourself into this mess, now you have to take responsibility for yourself.
Reggie swallowed and then called out, “Mom?” His voice came out all quavery.
The noise from the kitchen stopped abruptly. Then Tina replied, “I’m coming, sweetheart, just hold on.” Something in the tone of his voice must have activated his mother’s instincts that her youngest child was in trouble. The dejected would-be-Speckled Kougra tried to stand up straight, but inwardly he cringed. How would his mother react? He closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see the look on her face when she saw how much trouble he had gotten himself into.
Footsteps echoed on the wooden floor, growing louder as his mother stepped from the kitchen into the hallway, and then there was a hiss of indrawn breath. “Reginald! What have you done to yourself?” He couldn’t help himself; he had to open his eyes. His mother stood in front of him, hands on her hips, her eyes burning with parental fury.
Reggie almost wilted in the face of his mother’s anger. He opened his mouth, and spewed out the entire story, starting from his dissatisfaction of his appearance and the hatching of his foolproof plan, all the way up to his ultimate humiliation in Kauvara’s magic shop. All the while his mother stood there, silent, her piercing eyes never leaving his face. At the end of his confession, all he could manage was a humble whisper: “I’m sorry.”
“You are in so much trouble, young man,” Tina said flatly. “Now come on, we’re going back outside before you track any more paint around in the house.” With his tail dragging on the grass (oh no, not another paint trail!), Reggie followed his mother as she went to the side of the house and hooked up a garden hose and then fetched a scrubbing brush from the same storage shed that he had painted himself in this morning. Reggie yelped in surprise when the water hit him. Why did it have to feel so cold?
With the garden hose in her left hand and the brush in her right, Tina scrubbed and scrubbed at the paint embedded in his fur, mindless of the water and paint splashing onto her own clothing. At least the speckles of green paint didn’t make the scuffed old pair of shorts that she wore for house-cleaning days any worse... one less thing for Reggie to feel embarrassed about. Finally, with a harrrph of frustration, Tina turned the hose off, and the Kougra was able to take a look at himself without the distraction of flying water droplets. The garden hose water hadn’t washed out all of the green paint, restoring him to his pristine former appearance. Instead, it had caused the paint to run through his fur, covering up the white polka dots so now Reggie was a uniform green.
“Well, that didn’t have much of an effect.” Tina sighed and tapped her finger against her chin, deep in thought. “It seems like ordinary water isn’t going to remove the paint from your coat. We’ll have to try the Rainbow Pool. If anything can change your appearance, it certainly can.” Reggie hung his head as his mother went back indoors to grab a towel, and then wordlessly followed her through the streets of Neopia Central to the Rainbow Pool. A few people stopped to stare at the mother and her errant son, but Reggie paid no notice of them, trapped in his own little world of humiliation. Tina laid the towel on the low stone retaining wall of the pool, and then sat on the wall right next to it, dangling her bare legs in the water. She gestured towards the pool with her brush, and Reggie climbed in and stood in front of her.
The magical waters of the Rainbow Pool certainly had more effect than the garden hose had. The surrounding water began to turn green as Tina scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed until it felt like she had scrubbed off all Reggie’s fur. While his mother scoured his coat, he stared down at the water surrounding him, watching the way that the green color diffused through the clear water until it magically disappeared. Gradually the patch of discolored water grew smaller and smaller, until it only extended a few inches beyond his body. Then it was gone. Reggie looked down at the surface of the water, waiting for the ripples to clear so that he could see his reflection. To think that only a few days ago, he had been staring at the mirror, wishing to be any color other than White. But now, after all that he had gone through today, he just wanted to look normal again. The surface grew calm, and Reggie’s reflection stared back at him.
He was GREEN!
How could he still be GREEN?
Slowly, he shuffled back to the retaining wall, where his mother waited with a towel that she draped over his shoulders as he climbed out. He sat down beside her, and slumped forward to rest his chin on his paws. “I really messed up, didn’t I?” he sighed, more of a statement than a question. Tina waited patiently, and Reggie continued, “I should have been happy with what I had, but I wanted to show off. I wanted to look rich and important like the other Neopets. But I just ended up making a fool out of myself in front of everyone, and I don’t even have a special color anymore. Now I’m just Green, and I don’t have anybody to blame but myself.”
“Oh sweetheart,” Tina sighed, and wrapped her arms around the Kougra, heedless of the water seeping through the cotton towel. “You just learned a very important lesson. I was very angry at you for not appreciating the good things that you had and for making a foolish decision without thinking through the consequences, but now I know that you’ll act differently in the future. Now what are you going to do next?”
He paused for a moment before speaking. “I think I’m going to earn up some neopoints and buy a new paintbrush. I won’t be able to buy a fancy one right away, but maybe I can work hard and save a little money each week and then someday, I’ll be able to afford it.” He drummed his heels against the stone wall for a moment, and then looked his mother in the face for the first time all afternoon. “Mom, do you know anyplace where I could get a job?”
Tina laughed, and with genuine warmth in her voice replied, “That’s my boy!” and without removing her arm from the Green Kougra’s shoulders, gently helped him stand. They walked home together. And Reggie scrubbed the green paw prints off of the wooden floor until the only trace of his misadventure could be seen in the mirror, looking back at him.
From the Author: I would like to give a shout-out to my friend Shelley (no1dale) for her willingness to proofread this story. Her keen eyes found all of the places that were missing little words like “for” and “the”. I hope that she believed me when I told her I did that on purpose... just to test her proofreading skills... since there’s no possibility that I would ever make a silly mistake like that... Anyways, thanks Shelley!