“What... What's that on your face?”
Avram Beard, a sturdy, stout, and somewhat short, red Scorchio with a potbelly that he was prone to scratch in thought, pointed at his friend's face. Avram had known Nick Hayrless since his early years in Neoschool when the two had sat side by side and passed notes that contained unflattering stick-figure drawings of their teacher. Back then, Nick had been a clumsy, bumbling little yellow Kacheek with two left feet and glasses that were forever crooked on his face, which Avram had secretly believed meant that Nick's ears were crooked, a significant defect that he had been prone to gloat about when studying himself in the mirror and wishing the cowlick on the top of his head would lay flat.
He would often console himself with the thought, “At least my ears aren't crooked.”
Privately, Avram continued to find small satisfaction in this as they grew older and Nick continued to wear glasses that sat lopsided on his face, because Avram's own cowlick had never gone away either. Today, however, Nick's precariously angled glasses were not the center of his focus.
Instead, he studied Nick's upper lip with a stirring sense of curiosity. It looked as if Nick had taken a long drink of Blackberry Currant Juice and had forgotten to wipe off his mouth, except that Avram had had this happen to himself a time or two before, and he knew that the line was too dark and absent of the purple tinge that confessed to excessive Currant Juice drinking.
Nick lifted his paw, stroking the line across his face that, if not Blackberry Currant Juice, must have been some sort of petpet Nick had glued to his face as a joke. Avram, however, didn't understand the joke. Mustaches weren't funny. Were they? Not the last time he'd checked.
“I don't know,” Nick confessed. “I woke up this morning, and it was just there!”
“It looks like a mustache,” Avram noted, “and, if this is a joke, it's really a step down from your prank last year. I don't get it at all.”
Nick lifted his brows, inadvertently wiggling his mustache in the process. Avram already didn't like that mustache. He wished that Nick would just let the poor petpet go already so that they could get to the bread shop to buy a loaf for their friend, Allen's, dinner the next evening.
“It's not a joke,” Nick insisted. “It's real. See?”
He tugged it with his paw to prove it. Avram, fully expecting to see a pair of eyes wink back at him from the depths of the hair, was surprised when he didn't. There wasn't anything underneath that mustache except Nick's lip, and Avram had seen Nick's Halloween costume from the year before. He knew that there was no way that he could so perfectly apply a mustache.
“What are you going to do then?”
“What do you mean?” Nick asked.
“Well,” Avram said, “aren't you going to get rid of it?”
Nick stroked the mustache again, twirling one end like he was some sort of really smart guy trying to solve a puzzle. Avram wasn't impressed. It was just a mustache. A mustache didn't make anyone smart.
“I don't know. I kind of like it,” Nick admitted.
Avram was appalled. A mustache? Really? He didn't know anyone else that had a mustache or even wanted one. Not unless they were wearing those silly gag glasses with googly eyes and mustache attached, and that was for fun. How did Nick ever expect to be taken seriously again if he started sporting a mustache? He would become the wrong end of every joke!
Avram already had a cowlick to deal with. He didn't think that his reputation could stand a mustached friend added to the mix.
“Where are your glasses?”
Avram had realized, all of a sudden, that Nick wasn't wearing his crooked glasses today. After he'd recovered from the initial shock of Nick's mustache, his gaze had sought the glasses for reassurance, and they were nowhere to be found. Nick grinned at the question, causing his mustache to ruffle in a way that made Avram feel like it was winking at him.
“I didn't feel like I needed them today,” he confessed.
“Didn't need them?” Avram repeated, shocked. “But you're blind as an overly-salted slorg without them!”
Nick's mustache grinned again. “I know, I usually am! But today is different. I can just feel it. I can see fine today.”
“That's impossible,” Avram argued. “Your eyes can't just fix themselves. You're not a super hero.”
Nick shrugged. “I feel like a super hero.”
Avram crossed his arms over his belly, finally finding the one hitch that could catch Nick and make him realize how ridiculous this entire mustache escapade was.
Mustaches. Ha. Really.
“Everyone knows that super heroes don't have mustaches, Nick. Bad guys have mustaches. You don't want to be a bad guy, do you? I can't be friends with a bad guy.” Avram shook his head at his friend's foolishness. “You know I'm trying to get in with the Defenders. You don't really think they'll let me join them if I'm friends with the enemy, do you?”
Avram waited for his friend to realize his mistake, but the smug grin hadn't so much as reached from his left ear to his right when his victory burst like a bubble around a swarm of Buzzers. Nick took little more than two seconds to think up his response, speaking so nonchalantly that Avram was slightly offended at how lightly his friend took his serious commitment to becoming a Defender of Neopia.
“Hubrid Nox has a mustache.”
Hubrid Nox? Avram choked in disbelief. He'd known that he and Nick were somewhat outside of the central and popular social circle of Neopia, but really? Where had his friend been all of this time? With his head stuck in the sand of the Lost Desert?
“Hubrid Nox,” Avram hissed, “was a bad guy the last time I checked.”
Nick still did not seem to care. “Oh. My mistake. You know what I meant.”
It was possibly the one time that Avram had no idea what he meant. His friend was suddenly like a stranger with a large, black mustache. One that didn't wear glasses or know the difference between hero or villain. As Nick continued to stroke that mustache, carefully curling each end, Avram realized where this was going. He felt his lower lip quiver, fighting the urge to place a hand over his upper lip to conceal the fact that there was now a large divider between himself and Nick.
His face felt empty, the cowlick forgotten.
“What are you going to do then?” Avram asked, his voice weak and almost pleading.
“The right question,” Nick replied, patting Avram on the shoulder as if he understood his envy, “is, 'What can't I do'.”
Avram sucked in a breath, staring with hatred at Nick's mustache, his new closest companion. Avram saw what this meant: no more glasses for Nick or comic books or gardening. His friend was now that stranger that he had imagined. One mustache had changed everything.
“Well,” Avram said at length, “I guess I'll leave you to it.”
“Yes.” Nick nodded. “I think I'll go to Altador. Maybe I'll join some yooyuball practice. Sounds nice, right?”
The question was only vaguely directed at him, as Avram was aware that Nick had begun to stare over his head, his expression pleased and dreamy. He was probably already imagining himself on the field with his new, muscular friends that didn't have cowlicks and weren't at the end of the list for Defender recruitment. The rejection stung as Avram watched his old friend walk away, striding into the sunset with his mustache held high and his chest puffed out for display.
And Nick, Avram came to realize, wasn't the only one. As Avram made his sad way home, he spotted an alarming amount of Neopians with mustaches.
But when had this happened? And how had Avram missed this change in trend? Avram's mouth felt barer than ever, but what was he to do? By all appearances, he wasn't able to grow a mustache like Nick!
By chance, Avram happened passed the toy shop on his way home and saw, in the window display, the new selection of toys ready for the month of eating. The gag glasses with googly eyes and a mustache practically screamed his name. He moved toward the window, pressing his forehead to the glass as he mooned over the large brown mustache attached to the bottom of the glasses.
Would it be worth it? He had to wonder. Would it be worth it to become the friend with crooked glasses just to have a mustache?
The answer came to Avram very clearly as the sun continued its trail down below the horizon, and he went home that evening with significantly fewer neopoints jingling in his pocket, wondering if his ears were crooked, since his new glasses seemed to forever tilt at an angle.