A Victim of Circumstance: Part Two
Weeks passed and still Balfair remained in the pound. Pets came and went, and occasionally, came again. The cycle of the pound continued on, but Balfair was left behind. Rarely, a painted pet would appear, but they were just like Jak described, snobby and arrogant. Yet it seemed that the Gnorbu wasn’t terribly popular at the moment so it was in the pound that Balfair remained. But for how long? How much longer could Balfair stand to live in this oppressive place without ending up like that crazy old Gelert who muttered to himself throughout all hours of the night and day? Jak was the only one who kept him sane, but even Jak’s endless supply of energy was beginning to grate on Balfair’s nerves. Something had to happen, and soon.
One stormy morning, not unlike that dreadful morning on which he had been abandoned, Balfair woke up with a feeling of premonition. It was not the sick, foreboding feeling that he’d felt last time, just the feeling that something was about to change. The day began normally, with the pets being woken up at the usual early hour to be fed breakfast by the Soup Faerie who did her rounds of the pound every Sunday.
After breakfast there was an hour of recreation, and then it was visiting time. This was when prospective owners came to the pound to see what was available. Jak usually stood against the back wall to make way for the other pets who liked to make a show. An owner had never shown any interest in him before, so he didn’t expect them to in the future. After his first few weeks Balfair had learnt to do this too, partially just to keep Jak company. Today was no different from any other in this respect either. Owners came in, showy pets did their thing, singing, dancing or feats of acrobatics and the older, bitter pets scorned their antics and envied their youth.
Balfair could feel a pair of eyes on him as he stood rear end to the wall. His fur prickled, standing on end as he searched for the owner of the pair of eyes. He located him. By the door was a boy of about seventeen, scruffily clad with eyes that radiated vibrancy and adventure, and lips that turned up at the corners, making him look like he was always smiling. The Uni from the adoption desk was talking quietly in his ear but Balfair was too far away to hear what she was saying. The Uni turned to look at him and gave him a kindly, gentle smile. Jak gave Balfair a friendly nudge.
“You know she only gives that smile to pets who are about to be adopted? It’s your break, kiddo!”
“Hey, don’t tease me like that. You almost had me believing it was true,” Balfair replied. It couldn’t possibly be true... could it? The boy and the Uni began walking towards the two pets and Balfair’s heart skipped a beat. Jak was right; this was his chance to get out of this place!
But then doubts filled Balfair’s mind. What if the boy turned him into another lab pet? Or maybe he would just be cruel and neglectful. Balfair had become comfortable in the pound and truth be told, he’d become scared of the wide world of Neopia. In the pound, things were set by routine, you always knew what to expect. No nasty surprises, no pain, no fear. The people were kind (excepting that nasty Techo, of course) but you couldn’t get those kinds of guarantees out in Neopia. Balfair turned to Jak with fear in his eyes.
“Jak, I’m scared, I don’t think I want to be adopted anymore. What if he’s terrible to me? Will you take my place?” Balfair blurted out.
“Balfair, I know you want this. This is an opportunity some of the folk in here would give their right paw, hoof or flipper for. And as for your new owner, well, you have nothing to worry about it that department. The kind of people who want to adopt a pet instead of creating a new one are a decent sort, and besides, they’re tested to see whether they’ll be an appropriate owner before any pets are adopted. The people who run this place know what they’re doing, trust me,” said Jak reassuringly.
Balfair nodded shakily.
“Now c’mon, put that chin up and show that kid just how great you are!”
But Balfair was out of time for hesitation. He took Jak’s advice and looked at his future owner in his eyes, mustering as much confidence as he could. The boy answered with a radiant smile and Balfair realised that he had nothing to worry about. He’d be happy in his new home, wherever it might be.
“Hi, the name’s Rupert. What’s your name?” the boy asked.
“I-I’m Ba-Balfair,” he stammered in reply. ‘Great, way to make a pathetic first impression,’ Balfair thought to himself.
“Balfair, I’d like you to meet you new owner.” The Uni gave another one of her smiles to Balfair and began to lead him away to the adoption desk so forms could be filled out.
The moment Balfair stepped outside the doors of the pound, he leapt in the air and bounced around like a newly born Lupe. A loud whoop of joy escaped his mouth and he couldn’t contain his laughter. Rupert laughed with him and together they ran through the streets of Neopia Central, not headed anywhere in particular but running because they could. All of Balfair’s apprehensions and fears disappeared in the sunshine and open air and he couldn’t imagine ever wanting to go back to the pound. His only regret was that he mightn’t ever see Jak again. This thought slowly brought Balfair back from his moment of mad joy and he came to a standstill, causing Rupert to stop beside him.
“Feeling better?” Rupert asked, panting slightly with exertion. Balfair nodded and gave his new owner a smile. Rupert grinned in return. “Alright, let’s go. I’ll show you your new home and introduce you to your sister. She’s been crazy with excitement, just waiting to meet you.”
“Waiting to meet me? So... how long have you known you were going to adopt me?” Balfair asked curiously. If Rupert had been meaning to adopt him for a while, why hadn’t he done it earlier?
“Well, not you specifically,” Rupert replied, “I’ve been going to the pound frequently to try and find the perfect pet and when I saw you, I knew you were it.” Balfair blushed crimson under his fur. He, the perfect pet? Never! Well, not since his transformation, at least. They began to head out of the gates of Neopia Central and Balfair looked up to Rupert inquisitively. Where exactly was his new Neohome going to be anyway?
“We’re headed for Terror Mountain. It’s the best place in Neopia, if you ask me. You don’t mind a bit of fresh mountain air, do you?” Rupert asked.
“I don’t know, I’ve never been to the mountains.” Rupert looked down at Balfair in shock.
“Never been to the mountains?! But you have been out of Neopia Central before, haven’t you?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes, but not often. Usually it was just to visit the Healing Springs or to watch my brother’s Battledome fights. What’s it like up there?” said Balfair with curiosity.
“It would take weeks to do its beauty and wonder full justice, but I’ll do my best with what time we have.” And Rupert began to explain how wonderful Terror Mountain really was while Balfair listened with admiration.
By the time they’d reached the foot of the mountain, Balfair was in love with it already.
“My home is about halfway up,” Rupert explained. “It’s a bit of a hike, which is why I don’t come down to Neopia Central often. Do you feel up to it?” he asked.
Balfair nodded eagerly. Gnorbus were made for the mountains, after all, and it would be good to get a chance to stretch his legs. They reached the house a while later and Balfair began to feel like he had faellies fluttering about inside his stomach. He was about to meet his new sister whom he would be living with for who-knows-how-long and doubts began to enter his mind.
It suddenly struck him that he hadn’t even thought to ask Rupert anything about her. What type of pet was she? What if she didn’t like him? Rupert had told him she’d been so excited to meet her new brother, maybe Balfair wouldn’t meet her expectations. He had to take a few deep breaths to calm himself. He never used to be this nervous and lacking in self confidence before becoming a Gnorbu. This was just something he had to get used to. Clearly Gnorbus weren’t that unloved if Rupert had chosen to adopt Balfair from the pound above all the pets.
Now that he had composed himself, Balfair was ready to enter the house. Rupert had been waiting patiently all the time that Balfair had been fighting his internal struggle but now he saw that he was ready.
He opened the door and was at once bombarded by a yellow ball of fluff. A yellow Aisha had leapt first on Rupert then Balfair, yelling excitedly “Welcome home!” as if she were greeting an old friend, instead of someone she had just met for the first time. Balfair smiled to himself. Life with his new family looked set to be better than ever before.
To be continued...