Just One Thing: Part Two
Also by kittykatluver4ever
10th Day of Celebrating, Y11,
Kai and Daphne accompanied me to Neopia Central today. Apparently, I had to stay in the hospital for a whole night. There was a lot of complaining from me, but I couldn't do anything about it. I stood in Neopia Central alongside Daphne and Kai, thinking about how warm the climate was here compared to Terror Mountain and finding that I didn’t really care.
I disliked the hospital as soon as I stepped inside of it. A Green Gelert with a serious expression surveyed me from behind his glasses and then escorted the three of us up to where I would be staying. He was obviously the one in charge.
“This will be your room,” he said as he pointed to a door with a large number 12 over it. “You'll only be staying here for one night, but we will see if we can make your NeoBlues better. Of course, the only cure is the Tasty Pie, but we can try to make the symptoms not as severe.” With that, he left. I stared after him, annoyed and bewildered.
Throughout the whole day, the Green Gelert and several other Neopians came in and out of my room, examining me and forcing me to eat and drink all sorts of things.
“This is special tea from Shenkuu,” the Gelert told me once as he handed me a cup of... something... that smelled particularly foul. “Drink it and maybe you'll have your old appetite back.” After gulping down the last of the concoction with a shudder, I admitted that I did feel a little hungry, but eating food was still not the same as eating before I had come down with the wretched NeoBlues.
That night, as I stared up at the ceiling, I felt as if all of this was for nothing. Sure, some of my symptoms weren't as bad as before, but my mood stayed the same. I think I'd completely forgotten what it felt like to be happy. All of those things were in the past now. I tried for a moment to smile, but it felt wrong. My smile felt unreal, as if it was just glued onto my face. I sighed, feeling utterly silly as I practiced my smiles again. The endless stream of negative thoughts continued; some even managed to penetrate my dreams as I finally fell asleep.
13th Day of Celebrating, Y11,
Jerome was sick, and quite frankly, I was tired of it. I knew he had the NeoBlues and everything, but did he have to act like such a grouch? He could have at least tried to smile once or twice... I was visiting him daily, wasting time that could be spent on the project he’d abandoned. I was trying very hard to be nice to him... but he didn’t care about news anymore. I had been telling him yesterday how much I missed having him around to work with me, and he didn’t even answer, didn’t so much as look my way.
Kai too looked severely depressed as we trudged through the snow after visiting the Advent Calendar, though, as I reminded her, it was Jerome who had the NeoBlues.
“Perhaps it’s contagious?” I suggested, only the faintest note of sarcasm in my voice. I felt almost as if I was siphoning off my own frustrations into my owner. She told me very sharply to shut my mouth, and sensing that she was tense, I made to take a detour as we neared the peak. Kai, however, had a different idea. As I turned left, she grabbed my shoulders and hauled me around so that I faced her.
“Look...” she began. I cut her off before she could continue.
“Kai, I’m sorry, it was just a joke, and Taelia forbid I try to lighten the mood.”
I was annoyed that she was trying to keep me from my research; it had been she, after all, who had requested that I look into the Advent Calendar in the first place.
“That’s not what I was going to say,” she told me, a slight edge to her voice. I tried to turn around, but she held firm.
“Listen to me, Daphne. You’re not the same anymore... Before this hunt for the Site Theme, nothing would have seemed more important to you than curing Jerome. Maybe... you should just lay off the Advent Calendar thing for a while. I think it’s getting to you,” she said, staring directly at me and forbidding me to look away. When she had finished, I nudged her hands forcefully off my shoulders with my nose.
“Kai, I can’t believe you... You’re the one who wanted me to do the stupid thing in the first place. Are you telling me that you’re no longer interested in finding the secrets of the Winter Site Theme?”
She shook her head. “I care about your brother; he’s so much more important than that. Daph, face it, you’re becoming kind of ob—”
“Don’t tell me I’m obsessed!” I yelled. Kai jumped back, alarmed by the sudden flare of my temper.
“You should see yourself, Kai, the way you look when you watch them! It’s like nothing else matters, and nothing does for you. Don’t deny it.” I glared at her, daring her to contradict me. Her eyes were closed for a moment, while she gathered herself. When she spoke again, her voice was strained.
“I would give nearly anything for that Site Theme, as you very well know... but there are some things that are just so much more important than that. I know it, and no matter how much I want it, I know that I care more about you, and about Jerome. I hate to see you like this, Daph. You’re not the way you used to be.”
She was looking down at her feet now, silent tears welling up in the corners of her big, green eyes. Kai began to walk away, and I couldn’t bring myself to fire back the retort on the tip of my tongue. Before long she was merely a grey speck in the distance, hardly distinguishable from the mountain itself. I sighed, inwardly cursing myself, and made my way in the opposite direction, alone in the snow with only hostile thoughts for company.
When I arrived at the cabin after a long walk, Kai was up in her room. I gave a soft knock, and whispered hoarsely, “Kai, let me in!” but she wouldn’t answer.
“Fine!” I grumbled. My temper got the better of me and I stormed off, slamming the door. Unable to rest, I paced in endless circles, battling with myself. It was long after midnight before I finally retired this exercise, too exhausted to continue. As I drifted off to sleep, I imagined that I could hear Kai in the next room, crying softly to herself. There was a hard lump in my throat, and my stomach felt uneasy. Kai and Jerome wove in and out of my dreams and I was, at one point, jolted out of my dozing, having dreamt of being blasted by the Snowager. After that, I lay awake, unable to sleep, until the lights of dawn had stretched over the horizon, reaching shafts of light into my room through the open window.
14th Day of Celebrating, Y11,
Kai still refused to talk to me today—she hadn’t spoken a word to me since our argument several days before. I thought she was being rather ridiculous, but I still planned to forgive her once she apologized. Until she did, she was welcome to act so childish. I supposed it made her feel better. This morning, she didn’t even look at me when she poured her hot chocolate. When I asked her for a mug, she ignored me and walked out of the kitchen. I honestly didn’t know what went through her head sometimes. She could pretend like I didn’t exist, but she couldn’t expect me to just disappear.
As we lived on the very top of the mountain, I decided I’d check out the Mystery Shop, hoping that perhaps Tarla would have some information regarding the Winter Site Theme, but the Ixi wasn’t there. Mumbling angrily to myself, I trudged back to the cabin, anticipating Kai’s cold glances, but she was out. Relishing the time I could spend alone, I went up to my room and curled up with a blanket, going over my various notes and wishing I had been more meticulous in my scrawling. Random words such as ‘Borovan’ and ‘snigger’ were not at all helpful; nevertheless, I spent the day scouring my comments, searching for some minute detail Jerome and I had missed.
At around 3 in the morning, it all made sense.
“I got it!” I shouted, and I raced over to Kai’s room, all thoughts of our petty little argument long gone in my excitement. I didn’t knock. Instead, I threw open her door and tore into the room, jumping on her bed.
“Kai! Kai, wake up! It’s important!”
She sat up immediately, blinking groggily.
“What’s the matter?!” she yawned, startled. Seeing my exhilaration and mistaking it for fear, she jumped out of bed.
“What is it, Daph? Is Jerome okay? Is there a fire? Should we be getting out?!”
In too good a mood to be annoyed (as I usually would have been) by these ridiculous assumptions, I just laughed.
“No, silly! Guess what!” I exclaimed with glee, waiting for her to guess. Confused and still a little flustered, Kai threw herself back on the bed and shrugged at me.
“Can it wait? What?”
I smiled mischievously and shook my head.
“No, you have to guess,” I told her in a somewhat taunting manner. She frowned at me, her bewilderment replaced by exasperation.
“Daph, if you expect me to care about something so important that you just had to get me up in the middle of the night to tell me, then you had better just spit it out, or I’m going back to bed.”
Inwardly sighing at her refusal to humor me, I explained.
“Kai, I’ve figured out how to get the Winter Site Theme.”
“What?” she yelped. I smiled. Finally, the enthusiasm I was looking for. Wanting to heighten the suspension, I pretended to lose interest.
“Oh, well, if you don’t want to know, I guess I could just tell you in the morning, you know, if you care... In fact, why don’t you just go back to sleep?”
She stared at me, frowning.
“Just tell me,” she snapped. Unable to wait any longer, I began to expound upon my genius theory.
“Kai, the skits, you know those little acts before you get the gift? Guess what: they’re really hiding clues, instructions! We’re supposed to have been following them from day one! Every day, we get closer to the solution, and each skit is a piece of the puzzle!”
Kai’s animation was fading fast. “Uh... Daph?” I ignored her, and kept talking.
“So that means that yesterday’s sketch about the Snuffly visiting Taelia is actually directing us to Taelia!”
“I don’t know, do you think we should bring a Snuffly with us? Maybe we should, just to—“
“DAPH!” She yelled to catch my attention. I broke off and looked at her, puckering my brow.
“What? Kai, don’t you see? I’ve finally figured it out! You can get that Site Theme, Kai! Isn’t that what you always wanted?” She just stared blankly at me for a bit. I gazed back, mystified by her expression, which was growing more and more... sympathetic?
“Daphne... doesn’t that seem a bit odd? I mean... if it took you this long to comprehend, would so many other Neopians have already received the Site Theme?” She spoke slowly and deliberately. I gawked at her in astonishment. Was she really trying to find something wrong with the answer to the most vexing of all her problems?
She went on, ignoring my silent disbelief. “Daph, it just seems like you’re trying... almost too hard. Isn’t it just too convenient?”
I opened and closed my mouth, at a complete loss for words. She plowed on, seemingly determined to finish before I could comment.
“You’ve been up half the night thinking about this... it just seems like you’re willing to believe anything just to get an answer. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked you to do this... it’s messing with your head.” Finished, she took a deep breath, anticipating my reaction. I didn’t speak immediately, and when I did, I chose my words carefully.
“I thought that you... of all people... would be ready to accept any possible answer. You’re so... in love with that Site Theme. Isn’t it worth a try?”
She shook her head sadly at me with pity in her eyes. “Daphne, you’re getting so into this, and I appreciate that you’re trying this hard to make me happy... but maybe you really should just give it a rest. Take a few days off... you need to clear your mind.”
I gave her a scandalized look, and sprinted out of the room, fuming. She didn’t have to believe it. Perhaps it would be better if I went ahead and carried out my plans to visit Taelia without her. I would relish the look on her face once she saw that I was right, and she would alternate between maudlin apologies and thanks once she had that Site Theme. Dwelling on these happy, vindictive thoughts, I drifted off to sleep. My dreams were filled with multiple Kais, all begging my forgiveness; Jerome was there too, cured, praising my spirit and applauding my ingenuity. Before this assignment, and maybe, although it was less likely, before my discovery, I would have sickened myself.
15th Day of Celebrating, Y11,
Kai was very cheerful this morning, and I was at first quite confused. We had quarreled again last night, so where was that cold shoulder she had given me after the first argument? Unnerved though I was by her lack of standoffish behavior, I gratefully returned her friendliness, assuming that she’d accepted my theory and planned to accompany me on my trip to Taelia’s. But as I was wrapping my scarf around my neck and heading towards the door, she stopped me.
“Just where do you think you’re going, Daphne?”
Turning warily to look at her, I answered, “I’m off to see Taelia, of course, like I was telling you last night!” Kai’s eyes narrowed, and she grimaced at the memory of our squabble.
“Actually, Daph, I told Mr. Chipper you’d go and help him today... you know, because Jerome isn’t around to help anymore. I was going to tell you last night, but you seemed kind of... upset.”
I laughed derisively. “Upset, really?” She frowned, clearly not in the mood for my sarcasm. I found I didn’t care.
“Yes, Daphne, upset,” she went on, trying hard to ignore my disdain. “Maybe helping Mr. Chipper would be good for you; it would put you in a better mood. You should probably get ready; he’s expecting you in about a half hour.” I stared at her, incredulity flooding my insides.
“I have to go to Taelia, don’t you get it?”
She shook her head, her eyes cold. “You’re going to assist Mr. Chipper today and you’re going to be polite, Daphne. Do you understand?”
“No!” I ran to my room and slammed the door. “You can’t make me go!”
Fifteen minutes later, I was reluctantly trudging down the mountain with Kai, who was looking very sour, by my side. Neither of us spoke until we’d reached the valley, by which time many angry, hurtful thoughts were buzzing around in my head. If she had spoken, I might have had a chance to say some of the nasty words I was longing to speak. However, I did not, and instead I donned a rather fixed smile. Kai forced a grin herself as we approached the Lutari standing at his cart.
“Hello there!” Mr. Chipper was very cheerful, an attitude of which I was immediately resentful.
“Mr. Chipper, I wonder, could I talk to you for a moment?” Kai asked warmly. I was suspicious already.
“Why, of course, Kai! What is it that you need?”
She drew him a few yards away from me, muttering something. I heard my name, and knew it did not bode well for my plans to see the Snow Faerie. The Lutari walked back over to me, while Kai walked away, giving me a jovial and, in my opinion, somewhat sardonic wave and a wink.
“Well!” he exclaimed, beaming. “Kai has just informed me that you’re available up until the Day of Giving, and she said you’d be happy to come up every day to come and help out!”
I tried to return his smile, but I ended up simply baring my teeth and curling my upper lip. He didn’t seem to notice my lack of enthusiasm, the bitter note in my voice, or my tail lashing side to side as I responded.
“Oh, did she? Wonderful.”
He clapped his hands together excitedly, evidently mistaking my contempt for genuine pleasure. “Wonderful! Yes, wonderful indeed! Okay, now I don’t suppose Jerome had explained this process to you before he went to the hospital?” I shook my head mechanically.
“Well, the concept is simple enough: All you have to do is give ice cream to those with Ice Cream Coupons. No treats for those without them!” And without another word, he bustled off.
At the sight of his retreating back, the smile slid off my face. Muttering angrily, I went to stand next to the cart, pawing the ground.
Several hours later, Mr. Chipper returned, for some odd reason carrying large quantities of snow, and relieved me of my duties. With my muzzle aching with the effort to smile at so many customers, I headed back up the mountain. My hopes of sneaking off to see Taelia were dashed, for Kai was waiting for me when I reached the Ice Caves.
“Well, how was it?” she asked waspishly, pursing her lips. I rounded on her, the fur on the back of my neck rising.
“Would you like to tell me why you volunteered me to go back to that infernal cart every day until the 25th?” I snarled. She stuck out her lip and assumed an expression of mock innocence.
“Well, Daphne, it’s always a good idea to help others.” Her voice was falsely sweet, and rather aggravating.
“So why couldn’t you do it?” I countered through clenched, razor sharp teeth. “What else have you got to do all day?”
Her face went bright red, a response I wasn’t expecting. “I... well, if you must know, I’ve been looking for Job Coupons.”
“Why? We get along pretty well; we don’t need extra money...” I tilted my head to one side, puzzled. Kai stared at her feet, and spoke her next words very quickly, as though embarrassed to be saying them.
“Well, the cure for Jerome’s illness isn’t exactly cheap, and we can’t afford it, okay?”
Taken aback, I didn’t speak for a moment.
I was suddenly uncomfortable myself. We walked home in silence, avoiding each other’s gazes. She was oddly formal when she wished me good night, and that night I lay awake, contemplating not the Advent Calendar, but the awkward note on which our confrontation had ended.
To be continued...