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The Longest Lend

by happyhaz


Also by 777lehuanani

Cricket calmly walked the short and very familiar route to the Neopian Pound, not knowing that today would be totally different to all his other experiences with lending. You see, Cricket was a coconut JubJub, and so his owner Larien kindly agreed to lend him out to her friends. Not that her pet minded a bit; he adored the praise that the temporary owners would give him, and enjoyed drinking the tropical cocktails they would feed him. In fact, as he walked past Dr. Death’s sneering face, he was almost looking forward to going to a new account again.

     Stepping through the dark doors, he barely had time to blink before Larien’s friend Harry was standing before him, showing that the pound lend had gone smoothly. Cricket smiled tentatively as he was introduced to the owner’s pets, not bothering to say much as he knew he would be back at Larien’s the next day. Not that he was an impolite JubJub of course, but just he saw no point in getting too attached to the pets when he had the sneaking suspicion he would never see them again. Or at least that’s what he thought.

     He spent an enjoyable night eating the plentiful omelette Harry kept, as well as the traditional pineapple and coconut blend that gave his overjoyed temporary-owner the rare avatar, and settled down to sleep for the night. After all, being transferred was a common thing for Cricket, but there was still something of an exciting risk to it, for it was well known that the pound had its surprises – as he found out the next day. There was something about Dr. Death’s maniacal grin that should have tipped him off, but he still walked briskly towards the doors, waiting to be let back into Larien’s account and her loving arms. It was only when he saw a large sign blocking the entrance that he did a double-take and stagger back with shock – THE POUND IS CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.

     Cricket was stunned. What was he to do now? How long would it be before he saw Larien again? Harry, equally shocked by the sign, immediately sent a letter to Larien, informing her of the problem, and asking her what would be best to do. Being a caring and kind owner, her reply was in Harry’s inbox within seconds, which stated that Cricket should stay with Harry until the pound was opened once more. “A good idea for now,” thought Cricket anxiously, “but what happens if it never opens again?”

     As he trudged back to the neohome, Cricket couldn’t help but feel deeply upset about what had happened. Though Harry would be a perfectly acceptable owner, he simply could not shake the feeling that he was out of place of the account. The reactions of Harry’s pets certainly did not do anything to help this as well. Audrey, the politest out of the group, stepped over and gently patted Cricket on the shoulder, saying reassuringly, “Don’t worry, pound lends often go wrong. I’m sure you can go back tomorrow.” A look from Harry told Audrey this wasn’t what was happening, at which point the Grundo gave a rather strained smile before jogging out of the room. Harry’s other pet, Gleba, was less polite, and even when he had been ushered into another room, you could still hear his complaining of “But he could be here for AGES!” echoing around the room. Cricket sighed gently and hoped that everything would be better tomorrow

     After a few boring hours that consisted of Cricket staring blankly at the unfamiliar ceiling tiles, he eventually fell asleep, and woke to find that things had changed slightly. Gleba and Audrey had talked late into the night on whether to accept him, and with a snap of her fingers, the Grundo had thought of an advantage. Now not smiling forcedly, Gleba and Audrey were leaning over his bed, their eyes wide with excitement. As it happens, ball games were banned in Harry’s neogarden because often the Faerie Wocky would get over-excited and rocket towards the ball, usually sending it flying into a window or one of the gnomes that Harry collected. However, with Cricket’s help as being the ball, they were able to play again. The JubJub loved whirling through the skies and laughing with the other two pets and if at any time Gleba sent him flying in the wrong direction, he simply unrolled his feet and came to an abrupt stop before anything could be broken. Cricket enjoyed being part of the game, but most of all he enjoyed making two new friends.

     Over time, the days passed, turning into weeks and eventually into months, with no sign of any rules being changed about the pound. Naturally things were easier on Cricket now that he had pets to play with, but he couldn’t help wondering how Larien and her pets were coming along. The Altador Cup had come around again, and he knew she would be supporting Team Krawk, but after coming down to breakfast one morning to see the living room decorated in gold and red, he knew he would not be. Harry, Gleba and Audrey greeted him and offered him a crimson scarf to wear to the big match that day, but he felt strangely numb, and was unable to reach out to take it. The sight of seeing Mirsha Grelinek beaming broadly in one of the posters was too much, and he rushed back upstairs to his bedroom, upset to feel so traitorous and left out. He could hear Audrey’s footsteps padding up the stairs after him, and it was then he felt her hand on his arm.

     “Look, Cricket,” she whispered comfortingly, “Harry supports Shenkuu, and you don’t have to support them if you don’t want to, but it would mean a lot if you did.” Cricket paused, unsure of what to do. If only there was some way for him to cheer for both teams. Audrey, almost reading his mind, broke the silence again. “We can get you a nice Krawk Island hat as well if you want.”

     Cricket sat in the stadium watching the close game between Krawk Island and Shenkuu, the crimson scarf wrapped tightly round his head and the black, skull-patterned hat snugly on his head. He seemed to enjoy it even more than before as he was able to cheer twice as often as any other spectator, and eventually when the game ended with a tie, he knew he was the happiest supporter there. In fact, it was the first time since he had been with Harry that he didn’t ache with sadness at the thought of Larien. Naturally he still missed her a lot, but it was then he realised, even if the pound didn’t ever open again, it still might not be so bad.

     As the weeks continued to fly by, Cricket enjoyed things he would have never experience at his home. In fact, the three pets had almost attempted a trick to add to their ball game, where one pet would launch him high, he would somersault in midair and then he would land perfectly on one foot. However, during one of their practices of this, he suddenly stopped frozen, and began plummeting to the ground. Gleba was able to swoop down just in time to catch him, but he still was noticeably shocked and shaken. Eventually after he had calmed down, he was able to inform them that he had realised: his birthday was coming up and this was the first time he would not be able to spend it with his family. Audrey nodded sympathetically and mailed Larien on what they should do about it, to which they received a prompt reply.

     “Cricket, you know we think of you every day, and especially on your birthday,” Harry read from her letter. “If we could be there with you, we would. The important thing is to enjoy your special day, and we will be there in spirit. Love Larien. P.S. enclosed is a petpet, just like you always wanted.”

     Cricket managed a smile as he unwrapped the Island Buzzer, but he still didn’t know how he was going to enjoy this birthday with the absence of his family. Harry said he had a surprise planned for what to do on the day, which excited him, but also meant that thousands of unusual scenarios ran through his head the night before. Would it be Pick Your Own? Hopefully not, last time someone had picked him up and put him in the basket, thinking he was a prize.

     Cricket had no idea how he managed, but somehow he got to sleep, for the next thing he knew, sunlight was pouring in through the window to wake him. Filled with elation about being another year older and to find out the surprise, he rushed downstairs where the others were. Cricket sat down to his favourite breakfast of Aisha Chocolate Cheesecake and Pineapple Breeze (Larien had mailed them what to make him the day before), before Gleba flew alongside him, barely able to contain her excitement.

     “Hope you enjoyed your breakfast! But now it’s time to get washed up, because we’ve entered you in for the Beauty Contest!” Gleba squeaked.

     Cricket was stunned. The beauty contest was a huge honour for any pet to go for, and if you won you received an amazing mini gold trophy. It was well known that only the top pets got picked for such a prize. With this thought, he imagined all the gorgeous pets he would be up against, the perfectly groomed Royal JubJubs and the exciting Maraquan varieties. “I don’t stand a chance!” he thought glumly to himself, and without saying a word, he ran upstairs to his bed. Once again he heard Audrey’s footsteps approaching, but they seemed to stop halfway, as if she had been called back. The silence hung in the air for a few seconds, when it was suddenly broken by the sound of Larien’s voice, so clear he wondered as if she was actually in the room.

     “The important thing is to enjoy your special day, and we will be there in spirit!” her voice repeated to him. And she was right. The thought of her being there with him in the contest gave him such a boost of confidence that he almost sprinted back down the stairs. “So what if I don’t win?” he thought defiantly to himself. “I’m going to enjoy my day with the people who planned this for me!”

     And so he did. He had never had so much fun in his life, standing in front of clapping voters. When it was time for him to pick a pose, he was suddenly filled with inspiration. Though he hadn’t quite perfected the move yet, he took a run up, rocketed into the air and somersaulted, before landing neatly on one foot. The crowd exploded with cheers, the hardest coming from Harry, Gleba and Audrey. By the end of the contest, Cricket was walking out with the small gold trophy balanced on his head, and a big smile on his face.

     The next day, Harry received a mail from Larien, congratulating Cricket on his Beauty Contest win, and also to tell him that (according to the Neopian Times) the pound would be reopening the day after. It was wonderful and yet bittersweet news for Harry, Gleba, Audrey and Cricket to receive, but they knew one day it would come, so they did their absolute best to enjoy the last of it. They enjoyed playing games for hours and Cricket was even able to get them a Tiki Tour from an old friend, and that night the three pets barely slept a wink, promising to meet up sometime to improve on their trick.

     It was with a sweet sense of nostalgia that Cricket walked the familiar steps towards the pound again, itching to see Larien again, but also not wanting to leave Harry so quickly. Promising to make Larien write on a regular basis to let them know how he was doing, he hugged Harry tightly and then walked towards the dark doors of the pound, before coming face to face with Larien once again. He couldn’t quite believe he’d survived that long away from her, but it made it even better to be back. As he leapt forward to hug her, he felt a strange pressing against him, and when he pulled away, he realised the gold trophy was nestled gently on him. Wiping away tears of happiness, he promised to keep the trophy in mint condition as a constant reminder of what was an ordinary... and yet also an extraordinary pound lend.

The End

Written by Happyhaz and edited by 777lehuanani – Two people who really did have a pound lend like this, and became friends because of it.

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