“Hey, want to play 20 Questions?”
The rain streams down 42 Neopia Crescent Lane in streams and torrents, utterly drenching any poor Neopian who happens to be caught in this horrid storm. The voice in question comes from the third house on the left, from a very small Cybunny with fur that is cherry-red and white.
The Halloween Lupe shuffles around so he can peer at his adopted little sister from over the top of his copy of Neopian Times. “Fine,” he sighs, knowing that she can defeat him in an argument any day, despite her snuggly looks. Folding up his newspaper in resignation, he asks, “How do you play?”
Her nose twitches. “I ask you... 20 questions. And you... answer.”
He snorts. “I would never have guessed. So it’s truth or dare, without the dare?”
“Yep,” she chirps, beaming. “Okay, first question...”
“I don’t want to play.”
“Got something to hide?” she taunts, her eyes glittering with mischief.
“No,” he says irritably, “but we’ve been living together for a month, and if there’s something about me I haven’t told you yet, then there’s a --”
“Don’t be a wuss,” she scoffs.
“-- then there’s a reason!” he finishes, rolling his eyes skyward in exasperation.
“There’s a reason you haven’t told me what your favorite flower is?” she says, feigning innocence. Her big blue eyes could have had Lord Kass cooing with delight.
“Yes,” he says grumpily. “I don’t have one.”
“Sure you don’t,” she says skeptically.
“I’m serious. Men don’t have flower preferences.”
He gives her a stern expression before relenting. “Okay, I kind of like white orchids. Well, what about you, then?”
“I don’t have one,” she says innocently.
“Are you kidding me? I must have a favorite flower, but you are exempt? What is this nonsense?” he demands, throwing his paws into the air.
There is a contemplative look in the Cybunny’s eyes, a kind of wisdom that is not usually seen in one so youthful and child-like. “Flowers make me sad,” she sighs dramatically, adopting what is supposed to be a grave expression but looks instead as if she is in pain. Despite any childish light in her eyes, her voice is grave when she speaks next.
“Flowers live short, insignificant lives. They live only to beautify the lives of others, but they do not live long enough to enjoy the effect. Flowers remind me of the fragility of life; and how quickly it can end.”
He is caught off guard by this astute statement. He has never thought of it this way, he muses.
“I thought we were playing this game so the day wouldn’t seem as dreary,” he snorts, but there is a glint of appreciation in his dark eyes.
“Haha, very funny,” she retorts wittily. “If you must know, I like tulips.”
He is caught off guard. He was so sure she would have said roses. His new-found little sister seems like a rose type of girl. “Why?”
“They’re nice,” she says dismissively. “Bright. Vibrant. Full of life and light and goodness.”
He raises a sarcastic eyebrow. “Tulips.”
Over the course of the afternoon, she learns his favorite tea (green tea -- “How boring!” she exclaims), least favorite food (all spicy foods -- “Well, you’re not very adventurous,” she chides), and finds out that he actually needs his spectacles, or he can’t see anything. (“Well, I knew that, you’re as blind as a bat!” she snorts).
Then she speaks of a different subject; a tender subject. By this time, she has flopped onto her furry white stomach, her pretty, attentive face propped up by her forepaws.
“Do you ever wonder why Elise abandoned you?”
He jumps up all of a sudden, absolutely enraged. He should have known they were slowly making their way toward this subject. He whirls toward her, expecting the little Cybunny to cringe in fear; his Halloween Lupe looks have that effect on some people. On the contrary, she sits placidly, with a calm, steely sort of look in her eyes. There is also a mild inquisitiveness that infuriates him. He should have known. She always has an ulterior motive in doing things. He should have known that this isn’t an innocent game of 20 Questions.
He opens his mouth angrily, and is startled by a sudden warm saltiness. It appears to be coming from his eyes.
She is now looking at him with a sort of pity. No - not pity...a sort of sweet compassion. There are tears in her eyes too.
It is a long time before he can talk, but when he does so, he finds that the words came steadily.
“I don’t think about it,” he says finally, tonelessly. “I know that if I do, it’ll drive me mad. But it’s always there on the back of my mind. And when my mind is empty, it comes back to me... it torments me.”
This is why he likes math and science. He could fill up his brain with Geometry postulates, Trigonometric ratios, and figure out how to balance Tyrannium with Neopium... he can fill his brain with these cold facts and drive out any thoughts of his old life with Elise.
He supposes he had been happy there. How many Neopians really contemplate their happiness when they still have it? Only when his happiness had fled had he realized how cold and lost he felt without it.
His sister sits in quiet, contemplative silence. “You could look for her, you know.”
Passion is burning in his eyes. “You’ve never been in the Pound before. You could not even understand it. You’d have to be evil to put a pet in there. Evil. Or desperate. I don’t want to know which Elise was. Please, let me harbor the delusion that she cared about me. That she wasn’t evil or desperate, and there is some inexplicable reason she chose to throw me into the Pound and leave me behind! Let me believe, for one instant, that she abandoned me because she didn’t have a choice.”
There is a long silence, in which the fire crackles inappropriately cheerfully in the background.
“You’ll never know why she abandoned you unless you ask.”
“I don’t want to know.”
“Not knowing is cowardice.”
“What do you want from me?” he says wearily. He suddenly looks very old, despite the fact that he is barely fifteen.
“I want you to know,” the little Cybunny whispers innocently, her eyes full of hesitation. “I want you to be able to know that Elise wasn’t evil. She didn’t know what she was doing when she put you in the Pound; she was young, and she couldn’t handle --”
“How would you know that?” he growls. “You weren’t there! You’ve never known anything but love, so I wouldn’t be talking.”
Suddenly, a light comes into his dark-colored eyes, and his expression is filled with horrified realization. He surveys his little sister with a newfound attitude; slightly hesitant, slightly... afraid. “It’s... you who wants to know why she abandoned me,” he says suddenly, wonderingly. “It’s you who needs to know.”
She has always been insatiably curious; he knows this. For all the time they have found each other and lived as a family, he has grudgingly yet lovingly put up with her enthusiasm and desire for knowledge. But would she really go this far, just for an answer?
Brother and sister sit there in terrible silence, just sitting in the aftermath of the storm, not wanting to break the spell. He quietly folds his newspaper, gets to his paws, and leaves.
Without another word.
She stares after him, watching him with the same compassion in her eyes. She had wanted to help him; she truly did. They have only been in each other’s lives for a month, yet he has been to her the elder brother she had never had; the guardian and mentor she had never known. Despite his often capricious nature, she loves him more than she ever loved anything or anyone before.
She lies there in quiet contemplation, wondering how things could have gone so wrong. How could she have ended up hurting him when all she had wanted to do was help? She has read all those books about how the healing process begins with more hurt.
And then she begins to understand. Slowly, like the feeble rays of a sunbeam struggling through a cloud, she begins to understand the complexities of life. Sometimes, some people don’t want help. Sometimes they don’t want what’s best for them, and that must be accepted, no matter how hard it is to look on while they suffer. They’ll heal on their own, or they won’t. For better or for worse, they’ll be their own person.
And in the end, that’s all anyone really needs to be.