A Touch of Sunlight
Zahnkriese peered outside, sighing as she noted the sun hanging high overhead. Today the thermometer read a balmy 70 degrees. Hot enough to send her adoptive brothers and sisters dashing outside for some brisk play. Hot enough to send Riese into hiding. She watched her sisters and brothers dash around on the green lawn, playing a game of who knows what, enjoying themselves as she could not. Peering outside, she wrinkled her brown smudge of a nose and looked away towards the inner rooms of her air-conditioned neohome. It was cool in here, safe. Yet Riese wanted to go play, wanted to be outside and enjoy the harsh summer air as it ruffled her frosting. Yet already, standing by the window as she could feel her topcoat melting, the sun’s heat doing its damage. That was what she got for being a Chocolate Aisha, wasn't it?
Everyone thought chocolate pets were so amazing, so rare, but Riese would give anything to be someone else. I wouldn’t even mind being a mutant, if I could go outside. A mutant had a better life than she did, Riese thought. All she wanted to do was run on the streets and feel hot asphalt under her toes, to chase butterflies and be hugged long and hard by those she loved. But all that was denied her, unless she wanted to melt into little more then a sticky puddle. Even a basic pet has a life, she thought to herself. Why can't I? If I'm so special, how come I can't do all the things others do? Hopping from the window sill, Riese laid her ears back with aggravation. "All I do is sit inside all day. Nobody wants to play with me." Sulking, she retreated into the air conditioned sanctum of her home, glancing back at the window of open sky one more time
Heading nowhere in particular, Riese paused as she heard someone rummaging around in the kitchen. Finding herself pulled out of her depressive state, she peered within. Inside, Niki, her Lady, was busy pouring flour into a bowl, baking something no doubt. She loved to bake, making all sorts of yummy delicacies for her pets to eat. Just the other day she'd cooked up some delicious brownies. They'd been shaped like bats, just like Eishal, her brother the ghost Hissi, had wanted. Niki’s pets had happily gobbled up the treats. While they ate, Riese hadn't commented on the chocolate, or how it offended her, but she had a feeling Lady knew. Afterward, she patted Riese on the head and gently apologized. “I'm new to having you, Riese," she'd explained, her voice unhappy. Riese had felt a little better for the apology, and she was glad she had not made a fuss; Riese did not like seeing Lady sad. Besides, she had a feeling her Lady would not be making chocolate again.
Today it looked like Lady was making something from scratch. Her face was scrunched up with concentration as she examined the recipe book set out in front of her, reading over the words carefully. She was funny like that; you could tell when she felt something was really important when she scrunched up her nose just the right way. Today her nose was just so as she cracked an egg and plopped the white into a bowl, tossing aside the yolk. A trash can full of discarded flour explained her concentration; she was trying to get the recipe just right.
“What are you doing, Lady?" Riese questioned, chocolate chip claws tapping on the floor as she pawed her way into the kitchen.
“Oh hi, Riese!" Lady looked down at Riese with surprise, smiling with such warmth and happiness that, for all of a moment, Riese did not miss the sun all that much. "It's a surprise." She wiped at her forehead with the back of her hand, leaving behind a streak of flour.
“A surprise?" Riese balanced on her back paws, leaning on the counter to peer into the bowl of moist dough. Lady nodded, smiling peacefully, pouring some spices from a bottle labeled 'ginger'. With delicate hands she mixed the dough then poured it onto a sheet. Riese watched, bemused, as she grabbed a cookie cutter in the shape of a little man and pressed it into the dough.
“What's that for?" Riese questioned, curious.
Lady gave one of those sweet smiles once more. "It's a surprise," she repeated, taking the cutout shape of the little man and placing him on a cookie sheet. Gently shooing Riese away with a soft warning about the heat, she opened the oven and slid the single little man into it. Riese cocked her head to the side, peering at the window to the oven.
“He's a slow cooker," Riese commented after a few minutes of what seemed like very little progress.
“Perfection takes time. If you cook him slow, he won't burn. Just like how I found you, huh? It took a lot of time for me to find the perfect sweetheart!" Riese beamed at the praise, leaning into her Lady as they watched the dough rise. Lady always had a way of making Riese feel good, no matter her current mood.
On the oven top the timer dinged and Riese’s head jerked up to find the source of the noise. “Is he done?" she questioned, turning towards Lady as she stood up, dusting her hands.
“Almost; after he cools down there are some final touches," she explained, grabbing an oven mitt and taking the tray out. By then Riese was considering leaving Niki to her cooking, but what did she have to do? Lady was the only one in the house at the moment, the only one who ever really talked to her. She settled down to wait out the time, watching as Lady shuffled about, taking out bags of candy and little things of frosting. Finally it looked like Lady was finished. She dusted off her palms once more and stepped back, a pleased smile replacing the look of concentration on her face.
“He's done. Come look," Lady urged, beaming as she waved Riese forward. "What do you think?” she asked. On the counter-top the cookie steamed gently, smelling of warmth and ginger. Riese peered down at the little figure in silence. A hand twitched. She took a step back. Small eyes focused on her, and when he blinked, she gasped in delight. "He's alive!" she said with shock, ears perking forward, her tail swooshing with excitement. The Jinjah sat up, peering around, then gave Riese an icing filled smile.
“He won't talk much, but he's your friend, Riese..." Lady said, smiling at the look of happiness spreading across her pet's face. "So you won't be alone anymore." Riese glanced between Lady and her new friend, tears stinging her eyes.
"My friend?" she questioned, resting her head on the counter to better peer at the small gingerbread man. Her friend, her true friend that Lady had made for her with happiness and love and a silly look of concentration. "Hello, friend," she whispered. He reached out a small nub of hand and placed it on her nose. Riese closed her eyes; it was soft and warm... just like the sun.
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|Underdogs: Part Four|
He wiggled his paws experimentally, planted his feet on the ground, and tried to stand. He collapsed in a heap. "Never did understand the fuss about legs," he muttered...
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