Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 91,084,854 Issue: 175 | 28th day of Sleeping, Y7
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Loretta: Part One

by blizzard_rose


I first saw her in Neopia Central. It was a clear, sunny day, with a few white hazy clouds scattered high across the sky. I was making my way through the bustling crowd towards the bakery, where I hoped to get a loaf of bread for under seventy Neopoints. Finally, I reached the doors and burst through them - barging straight into someone.

     We both ended up in a dazed and blinking heap on the floor. Quickly, I scrambled to my feet with a stammered apology, extending a paw to help the stunned Neopet up. Decidedly ignoring my paw, the Neopet stood, gathering an armful of items from the floor. And I got a first look at her.

     She was the most beautiful creature I had even seen. That's what sprung into my mind, and it didn't even do her justice. Her soft lilac-coloured fur gleamed in the overhead lights, and a faint perfumed fragrance hovered like a veil around her body. She was decorated in various items of jewellery, from a thin silver necklace to an anklet around her hind leg. From her back sprouted two delicate faerie wings, patterned in elaborate swirls of blue and purple. For a moment, I stared at them longingly, before tearing my gaze away to meet her narrowed blue eyes.

     "Are you all right?" I stuttered.

     "Yes," she replied coldly. 'No thanks to you,' I could hear her adding silently in her head. My tail twitched nervously.

     "Sorry," I repeated. "Well, uh, I'd better get going." I attempted a smile, and turned to go towards the counter of the Bakery.

     "Wait," I was astonished to hear her say. I obediently halted, and waited with a pounding heart as she looked me up and down. I was agonisingly aware of my mussed-up fur and simple colouring. What did she want with me, a plain red female Kougra coming from a poor family? This faerie Cybunny looked like she had just stepped ally from her world of scented soap and gourmet food into mine. Which, I realise now, in a way she had.

     "What is your name?" she asked me.

     "Sorelle," I answered, trying unsuccessfully to echo the faint lilt in her voice that indicated being raised 'good and proper'. "And you?"

     "I am Loretta. You have a nice name," she added.

     "Thanks," I said in surprise. I was pleased that she had complimented my name, because it was pretty much the one thing I had to be proud of. My owner gave all three of us sophisticated names; just before she adopted my sister, she told me that that was the only delicacy she could give us. She sounded sad. We know she's trying her best to get Neopoints for us, and we still love her very much, even though perhaps she can't provide us with anything but the basic necessities. In fact, the only one that seems to mind that we're so hard off is her.

     "You too," I added timidly, lowering my eyes. There was a short awkward silence.

     I went over to the counter, and Loretta followed me. "Um, I'm just going to buy some bread," I explained to her, as if she couldn't figure it out herself.

     "Oh, let me," she replied eagerly. I stared at her as she ordered two whole loaves of different types of bread and a pie without even bothering to haggle down the prices. As the shopkeeper cheerfully placed a large paper bag on the counter, he announced,

     "Two thousand, three hundred and sixty five Neopoints."

     My jaw dropped. "I… I think I'll have to select," I told Loretta ashamedly. "My family just doesn't have enough Neopoints to go spending them like that."

     "Don't be silly," she retorted, handing over the Neopoints to the shopkeeper and thrusting the bag of breads at me. Stunned, I took it.

     "Thank you," I breathed incredulously.

     "You're welcome," she said. She hesitated a second, then said all in a rush, "Hey, um, why don't you come over to my house some time? I'll write down the address for you."

     Leaning on the counter, she looped and flourished her pen along some paper in a notepad for a moment, then ripped off the page and handed it to me. I peered at it, barely able to read the elegant script. The paper was thin and silky, and had a very elaborate flower printed faintly at the bottom. It even smelled slightly perfumed.

     I looked up again, wondering what on Neopia I could possibly say to her kindness - however, it turned out I needn't have worried, because she was nowhere to be seen.

      "Mu-um! I'm home!"

     I burst in through the door of our Neohome. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom inside, they picked out a green Usul and a yellow Wocky lying on the floor. I knelt beside them, eager to reveal the loot I had managed to get at the shops.

     "Hi, Ellie!" giggled the Usul, Maeya. I gave her a quick smile.

     "Raine, Where's Mum?" I asked the Wocky.

     He glanced up at me from the floorboard he was examining. "Dunno," he grunted. He trailed a finger through the dust on the floor, then inspected it sceptically.

     "Look what I got!" I proudly showed him what was inside the brown paper bag.

     Now I had his full attention. "Where did you get them all, Sorelle?" he breathed. He looked suspiciously at my beaming face. "You didn't steal them, did you?"

     "Of course not!" I exclaimed indignantly. "Someone gave them to me, as a matter of fact."

     "Oh yeah? Sounds really likely," he replied sarcastically. "I'll tell Mum!"

     "Her name was Loretta," I insisted. "And look what else she gave me!"

     Fumbling down the bottom of the brown paper bag, I drew out the piece of paper that she had written her address on. Triumphantly, I displayed it to him. "See?"

     He looked it over slowly. Eventually, he said, "Hmmm," in a thoughtful sort of way, and resumed to scrutinizing the dirt on our floor.

     Maeya was playing with some twigs she had found outside. Seeing me watching her, she promptly introduced me to the family.

     "This is Kirsty, the owner," she announced importantly. "And Lila, and Billy, and… um… who are you again?" Maeya asked the smallest twig, her forehead creased in thought. Eventually, upon getting no reply, she decided cheerfully, "You can be Maeya," she giggled. "Like me!"

     "Where do they live?" I asked her.

     "They don't have a house," Maeya said bluntly. "They live anywhere they want in Neopia! They don't need a house." She smiled happily.

     "But don't they feel sad, not belonging anywhere?"

     She frowned at me. Apparently logic did not play a part in this game. "Wherever they put their beds is where they belong," she told me, speaking as if it was obvious. She proceeded to show me their beds; some leaves that had fallen from the old tree outside.

     "There's only three leaves," I said. "What about the fourth member of the family?"

     "Maeya doesn't have a bed yet," she said, slightly dismayed. "She misses out cuz she's smallest."

     "Does Maeya mind that others sleep in a better place than her?"

     Maeya's bright young eyes met mine. "Which Maeya are you talking about?" she asked me, and her voice was filled with dawning understanding.

     "Both of them," I replied slowly.

     Maeya hesitated, thinking the matter over. "That Maeya," she said, pointing to the twig lying deserted on the floor, "She is a bit sad because she doesn't have a bed and everyone else does."

     Suddenly, she seemed to finally take in that other Neopets had proper toys to play with, and she was forced to imagine sticks were dolls. Tears started rolling down her cheeks.

     I immediately gathered her into a hug. She buried her face in my fur. Muffled sobs echoed around the room. I cradled her body against mine, feeling the fragility of her little limbs and delicate bones. It seemed to me in that instant that she would crumple up and disappear, like paper in a fire. I held her tighter, and began rocking slowly back and forth. There was a song, a song that our owner had taught us by singing it to us when we were feeling sad. We all knew it off by heart.

     It wouldn't sound as good as it did in my owner's angelic voice, but all the same, I started to hum quietly. The words were trickling past inside my head in time to the melody; I knew that they were doing so in Maeya and Raine's heads as well.

     Tentatively at first, then stronger and more sturdily, Maeya joined in. Encouraged, I started to voice the words.

     "It's all right, it's okay

     Don't cry, don't cry

     It's all right, it's okay,

     There's no need to feel sad

     It's all right, it's okay,

     Your heart knows the way

     At the end of the day

     It'll all be okay

     Yes, your heart knows the way

     It's okay."

     When we finished the song, a comfortable silence set into the room. I let Maeya stay in my arms, felt the beating of her heart echoing my own. Your heart knows the way…

     "You never told me about the other Maeya," I said softly after some time had passed. "Is she okay?"

     Maeya considered. "Yes," she said eventually, and my worry lifted. "She has Sorelle and Raine and Mummy. That is enough."

     I hugged her even tighter. Then, in a flash of remembrance, I lifted my head with a slight, "Oh!"

     "What?" she asked me.

     "I have something for you."

     I grabbed the paper bag, and dug down inside it. She watched me with wide eyes as I slowly drew out something wrapped in newspaper.

     "But… but it's not the Season of Celebration," she said, gingerly taking the bundle from my outstretched hand. She stared at it for a moment, then at me, as if asking permission.

     "Go ahead," I urged her, laughing. "Open it."

     Maeya's eyes returned to the package. Cautiously, she pulled at the string tied around it. It came undone, and the old Neopian Times I had found blowing around the Bazaar unfurled like a flower.

     Her eyes grew even wider, and her mouth opened in a silent circle. With immense caution, she lifted from the newspaper a wooden doll.

     "It's not very much," I said, beginning to rant as you do when someone is opening a gift you have given them, "But I thought you might like it, you know, to play with instead of sticks."

     "She's beautiful," Maeya breathed. "Thank you so much, Sorelle!" She gently cradled the doll, still watching it in wonder.

     "Where did you get it?" asked Raine, but his tone of voice was curious, not accusing.

     "Her, not it," corrected Maeya. "And her name is Mimi."

     "Whatever," replied Raine.

     "With the original 70 Neopoints," I answered. "Because they were left over after Loretta bought the bread, I thought I'd get Maeya a treat."

     "What have you got there, Maeya?"

     We all looked up to find our owner, Tina, standing in the doorway.

     "Mummy! Look, look!" squealed Maeya. She rushed over to Tina, proudly showing her Mimi. "It was Sorelle! She got her for me!"

     Tina 'ooh'ed and 'aah'ed sufficiently, then turned to me with a raised eyebrow. "Sorelle, how did you find enough Neopoints for this? Did you get the bread?"

     I leapt to my feet, and showed her the bag of bread, explaining my short tale of meeting Loretta. She seemed satisfied, and took out the loaves of bread and the pie. The only thing left in my once full bag was the piece of paper, lurking in the depths.

     In our run-down home, the paper was a scrap of luxury. I felt like it was a thread, however thin, connecting me to another, completely different way of life. Perhaps that's why all through the long, cold night, I clung to it, even in my dreams.

To be continued...

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