A Chance Friendship
“I love you, Coincidence,” Buffy had whispered in my ear. She hugged me closely, the screen of her dirty-blond hair cascading over my shoulders.
And I smiled because I knew it was true. We sat in our dusty booth in the Coffee Shoppe - the booth furthest from the entrance - making sculptures out of disposable spoons. Owners walked past with steaming coffees and pets with flashy dye-jobs. Sometimes I would wonder if they even noticed the red Blumaroo and blond adolescent, but mostly I didn’t reflect on this, because I had all I needed right there.
We sighed happily in unison and took a long sip of our weevil coffee. The bitter aftertaste had made me wince at that young age but I never mentioned it. It was so important to me to like the same things as Buffy.
Suddenly my owner sat up straight, her eyes widening. “Is that the time? Coincidence, I have to go.”
I looked at the pink usuki clock on the wall, so out of place from the earthy colours of the wallpaper and rough wooden tables. I turned back with my mouth open, useless words escaping my lips. She wasn’t there.
And like so many times, I was left alone to pick up the pieces. I drank the pungent dregs and paid the bill with the few neopoints I had. I walked home, alone, and suddenly the world wasn’t as bright as it had been an hour before.
* * * * *
She didn't appear again for a week. Her disappearing acts had been getting progressively more frequent and her visits rarer. I didn't know what she was doing when she wasn't with me, but there was one terrifying thought that haunted me throughout that time: that she would leave me for good one day.
So I did everything in my power to ensure that she stayed. I cleaned our small one-room home each morning, making my bed and checking that the kitchen cupboard was always well-stocked. On the occasions that she was there, I did everything I could to please her. I was obedient and polite, I never asked for anything. If she had ever stopped to think about it, Buffy would have realised that a sibling or a petpet would have been the best thing she could do for me, but the idea never seemed to occur to her. It often seemed like her mind was somewhere else; an alternate reality, where I could never follow.
I learnt how to support myself and be independent. I was just a little Blumaroo, and I had a whole household to run by myself. There was only one neopet that I was acquainted with, one that passed our house every morning.
Everybody who knew Darkspiritlost knew that her name did not suit her. She was the most innocent and kind-hearted silver Zafara that you could find. So they simply called her Spirit, and Spirit only saw the good in the world.
The first time I spoke to her, she was wandering idly along the concrete pavement outside my home, looking at the trees planted beside the path and smiling her strange smile. If it had been any other neopet, they would only have seen the cracked sidewalk and the ugly weeds. Those pets were preoccupied—their thoughts were on the stockmarket, Chet Flash, their new neohome extensions. But Spirit saw the world for what it was: beautiful. Those pets did not notice the warm sun on their fur the way that Spirit did. Spirit saw the Batterflies flutter past her face.
There were some withered looking feather weeds at her feet, and she knelt down and picked a disorganised bouquet. She sniffed them passionately. There was no scent, but that hardly mattered.
“Hello!” I said softly from my doorstep. I had been watching this Zafara walk by my lonely neohome for a week and I thought today I would try to make contact. I hadn't seen Buffy in over a fortnight, but this Zafara's genuine smile always bought one to my own lips.
“Hello,” Spirit sang as she skipped up my path. She thrust out a feather weed-filled paw, pollen dust flying through the air. “Would you like some pretty flowers?”
“Why, thank you,” I said, examining the 'flowers' in her silver paw. They were pretty, in their own way. "Where are you off to today? My name's Coincidence."
"That's a coincidence, Coincidence!" Spirit giggled. "I'm Spirit, and I'm off to wherever my heart guides me today."
I loved to hear her speak. She had a slight lisp and a breathless quality to her sentences. "Would you like to come over one day?" I asked shyly. Is this how it was done? Is this how friendships were made?
"Okay, Coincidence!” she said, surprising me by grasping my paw and approaching my front door.
I opened the door for the silver Zafara, a gesture that I had never performed for anyone beside Buffy before. Something warm and almost upsetting was growing in my chest, some feeling edging its way up into my throat. I tried to remember what I was supposed to do in these situations, these social encounters. "I’ll just put these in some water. Would you like some coffee, Spirit?"
"No thank you, Coincidence," she said politely. "I don't like coffee."
"Neither do I..." I said, but I put the kettle on out of habit. "Um, have a seat, please!"
She sat on a wooden stool and watched me with interest. I felt very self-conscious under her stare. Taking a seat next to her, I poured myself a cup and watched the steam rise from the mug in smoky tendrils. We sat in silence; Spirit’s eyes were still on me and she was still smiling.
And that’s how we spent the morning. We watched the sun finish rising as best we could through the stained-glass windows over the kitchen sink. By the quiet hum of the snow fridge, my nervous excitement subsided and we started to talk. Gradually, I felt more at peace with this odd little Zafara than I ever had in the company of Buffy.
Spirit came over twice more that week, bringing pop-up books that she thought would make me laugh (they did) and sweet things for midnight picnics. When we had sleepovers, her curled-up body next to mine radiated a comforting heat, and I thought maybe this is what it would have been like to have a sister.
“Do you have a petpet, Spirit? You should bring it over sometime!” I said one day, as I watched her stop to pet a stray Kadoatie sitting on the path outside my house. It was sheltering form the rain under my heart-fruit tree but Spirit didn’t seem to notice the wet.
She frowned to consider. “I think I must have had a petpet, once. You should come over and help me look for it!”
Invitations to her house had been politely declined in the past. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to meet her owner or see her home; I was just afraid that Buffy might show up to an empty house.
Seeming not to notice my hesitation, the Zafara beamed at me and stepped inside. She began to sing a little tune, just low enough for me not to be able to decipher the words. I smiled inwardly and shut the door, wondering what we would play today.
Spirit shook so little drops of rain flew from her silver fur. Her hair stuck out so much that she resembled a fuzzle that had been spin-dried. “What?” she said, looking up at me with eyes almost hidden in her now-fluffy face, so innocently that I burst out laughing.
I heard the door click open and I turned. My laugh caught in my throat, so I greeted Buffy with a strange gurgle.
“Coincidence! You’ve made a friend!” She sounded surprised. Her blonde hair was plastered down, showing the shape of her head.
“This is Spirit,” I said. I didn’t know why I couldn’t meet her eyes. I felt inexplicably guilty at Spirit’s presence.
“Pleased to meet you,” Spirit said politely. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
Buffy bit her lip and looked at me. “I’m glad, ‘Cidence. Come sit down.”
I sat, still unable to shake the feeling that I was about to be scolded for some act of defiance. There was a bitter taste in my mouth. This wasn’t how it was supposed to feel when Buffy came home.
I looked around and Spirit was gone. Outside to play in the mud, most probably.
“I’m going away, ‘Cidence.”
I said nothing, but nestled into her sweater. Buffy never told me when she was going away.
She placed her hand gently on my head. “I don’t know when I’m coming back. I might not come back.”
“Oh,” I said.
And that was it. It never even occurred to me to object. In the years that have passed since, I’ve thought of so much I could have said to her, so many things I needed to say. But all my lips formed was that vowel, “o,” and she was gone.
I felt something tear in my chest. Slowly, I stood up and walked into my back garden. I couldn’t see Spirit through the downpour.
“Are you okay?” said her voice nearby.
“I can’t feel the difference between the rain and the air.” My voice was hollow and sounded foreign to me.
“She must have her reasons, Coincidence.”
“How do you know?”
“Because she said goodbye. She must love you, truly.”
There was a silence. I could hear nothing but the raindrops and the rushing in my head.
“My owner never said goodbye.”
I opened my eyes and stared at the mud streaked Zafara. Her face was full of concern. I suddenly realised that I had never heard her speak of her owner except in past tense.
“How long ago?” I asked softly.
“Oh,” I said simply.
“You’ll always have me as a friend.” I felt a silver paw on my back.
I was afraid to show how much this meant, so I just said “thanks.” But I hoped she could tell.
A/N: This is my first story published since issue 195. I hope you liked it :)