Ember and the Chocolate Ball: Part One
It was about midday in the Neopian Marketplace, and business was booming for the Cocoa Shop run by Zafara owner Jimm and his employees. Customers were buzzing in and out like honey bees, for the weather was pleasant and the restaurant’s patrons were more than eager to satisfy their cravings for chocolate cake and freshly baked cinnamon buns. The service in the restaurant was running quite smoothly despite the fact that it had recently lost one of its most coveted waitresses. While this disappointed Jimm at first, he was satisfied with the reason for her departure and decided to run business as usual. Despite the loss, things were going quite well for them all, as they were scheduled to cater to the biggest dessert related event of the year.
“Oooh, I can’t until this weekend!” shrieked Pandora the cloud Aisha. “It’s going to be a blast! But it’s too bad that Ember’s going to miss it. She would have loved this!”
“Now, now,” said Jimm, “Even though Ember may have left us, she has moved on to bigger and brighter things, and she has better things to do than hang around here anymore. She’s certainly deserved it, I think, and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see the likes of her around here again.” As soon as Jimm finished his statement, however, the door to the Cocoa Shop opened and in walked a chocolate Usul wearing a flowery yellow dress with pink polka dots and a sunny disposition. The entire establishment seemed to perk up as soon as she entered, and she was immediately greeted with hugs and excited chattering from Pandora.
“Ember!” shrieked Pandora as she ran for the door to meet her old friend and former coworker.
“Hi Pandora! Ahhh!” The two of them then began jumping up and down while screaming wildly, acting like they hadn’t seen each other in years. This was met with puzzled and annoyed looks from nearby patrons, but neither of them seemed to care. Jimm walked over to meet them and he too greeted Ember warmly, if also with a hint roughness.
“Well, look who it is,” he said with a slight smile. “How have you been, Ember? Fame treating you well?”
“Hi, Mr. Jimm!” she said excitedly. “I’ve been wonderful! I received so much fan mail after I won the pet spotlight I barely had the chance to read it all! It was so exciting! How have things been here?”
“Oh, same as always,” said Jimm in a bored tone. “Business has been as busy as ever. We’re still looking to replace you though, as we haven’t found anyone suitable yet. We do have an exciting bit of news though, if you’re interested.” Ember’s ears seemed to perk up at this.
“Really?” she asked excitedly. “That’s awesome, because I have some news too!” She then pulled out a shiny gold invitation with fancy brown ink carefully printed on it. “I’ve been invited to the Chocolate Ball!”
“Really?!” chimed Pandora. “That’s wonderful, since we’re going to be at the Chocolate Ball too!”
“What?” questioned Ember as she looked at her friend with both excitement and confusion.
“That was what I wanted to tell you,” said Jimm. “Your spotlight win put my restaurant here on the map, and we’ve been given the opportunity to cater at the Chocolate Ball this year.”
“It’s going to be so great!” cheered Pandora. “I was worried that you were going to miss the chance of a lifetime, but you’ve actually been invited! I’m so happy for you! You really deserve it! Ahh!” She and Ember began shouting again, and nearby customers resumed staring at them. In an attempt to quiet them down, Jimm asked, “Ember, may I see your invitation more closely?”
“Sure, go ahead,” she said sweetly. She handed him the invitation and he began to read it aloud.
“Greetings to you, the lucky recipient of this invitation, from the Chocolate Factory owner. I shake you warmly by the paw. I invite you and all other lucky recipients of this golden invitation to be a guest at my factory for an entire evening. There, you will be treated to the most delicious and delectable event in Neopian history. There will be dinner, dancing, and of course – all the chocolate you could possibly desire. All of these wonderful things await you, and much much more. And when you leave my factory, you shall not exit empty handed. You have been chosen to attend my ball, for I have deemed you to be part of Neopia’s elite and notable. As such, formal attire is acquired and is of the utmost importance. Please come to the Chocolate Factory on the 15th day of Gathering. The festivities begin promptly at 5pm.
The Chocolate Factory Kiko”
After finishing the invitation, Jimm decided it was time to get the girls’ attention. “Uh, Ember? Have you read what this says?”
“Oh yeah!” she said, nodding her head fervently. “I’ve read every line... twice! The ball is on the 15th, there will be lots of chocolate...”
“And you must be dressed in formal attire,” finished Jimm. Ember gave him a puzzled look.
“Oh yeah, I remember now,” she said looking to the floor. “I guess I could just wear this,” she said ruffling her summer dress.
“Oh no, you can’t!” exclaimed Jimm. “I’m surprised at you, Ember! I figured you of all people would know that the Chocolate Ball is the most prestigious event in all of Neopia. It practically says so right on the invitation! You only get invited if you are seen as worthy by the owner of the factory, and since you not only won the Pet Spotlight, but won it with your own hand-written entry AND just happen to have done so while working at a restaurant that serves nothing but desserts, I’m guessing that he thinks you’re pretty special. You don’t want to make him second guess himself by showing up there in a second-hand dress purchased from the thrift shoppe, do you?”
Ember looked down at her dress sadly. “But, you can’t even tell it used to belong to someone else! The owner told me it had never been worn!”
“That doesn’t matter,” countered Jimm. “The fact is even though your sudden burst of ambition spurred you to become famous overnight that doesn’t change the fact that you are still the same Usul you always have been. You have the attitude and disposition of a celebrity, but you have the heart of a small-town dreamer. And you will never become anything more until you are able to act – and dress – the part. Understand?” He gave Ember a serious look verging on the realm of parental concern.
“He’s right,” agreed Pandora solemnly. “Your spotlight win got you noticed, but if you want to stay in the spotlight, you’re going to have to keep up appearances.”
“But I won because of the line of work I’m in and because I’m not like all the other winners out there – I’m a waitress, for goodness sake! How do they expect a waitress from a family with moderate income to dress like Queen Fyora?”
“I don’t know,” said Jimm honestly. “But it is what they’ll be expecting, and it is what you must do if you even want to think about being invited back next year.” Ember bowed her head in silence.
“Well, I must have something suitable to wear to the ball. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.”
“Well, you better make it quick,” warned Jimm. “The ball is this weekend, and your outfit will mean the difference between being a guest and serving them instead. And I know how much you’d hate going back to doing that.” Ember cringed at the thought. It was true; she never wanted to have to go back to waitressing again, no matter what the occasion.
“Well, I better get home,” she said briskly. “I need to rummage through my wardrobe and find something to wear, and quick!” Ember then waved goodbye to both Pandora and Jimm and quickly headed out the door.
“We’ll see you there!” called Pandora as she went. She then turned back to Jimm. “I sure hope she can find something nice to wear this weekend.”
“Don’t worry, Pandora,” said Jimm consolingly, “If there’s anyone in all of Neopia you can count on to astound and amaze a crowd of chocolate enthusiasts, it's Ember. She’s done it before, after all.” Pandora nodded in agreement.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Too bad she wasn’t here to hear you say it.”
“That doesn’t matter. She’ll find a way.” The two began to clean up shop for the night as Ember walked home and thought about her predicament. On the one hand she was thrilled that her effort in winning the Pet Spotlight had earned her an invitation to the Chocolate Ball, but on the other she was frightened that she would make a fool out of herself in front of a congregation of rich and influential Neopians from across the globe.
“Oh well,” she thought to herself as she entered her neohome and quietly walked upstairs to her room to contemplate what she was going to do next. She opened the door, however, to find that her room was not empty.
“Greetings! My, you have a nice room up here,” said the stranger.
To be continued...