Zeke's Gift: Part One
Awtchey shivered and curled himself into a tighter ball under the quilt that was spread over his body. His round ears lay flat against his head and his brown, furry complexion was flushed. A green Gelert doctor was bent over him, with Pound Keepers Dr. Death and his Uni assistant watching over his shoulders. The Doctor took Awtchey’s temperature, felt his pulse, and did a few other things, all the while jotting down notes onto his clipboard. Finally, he straightened and turned to the two Pound Keepers.
“He’s stricken ill with Neo Flu... again.” The Doctor heaved a sigh, casting a pitying glance towards Awtchey. “Poor thing. Happens every year. Once again, you’ll have to treat him with Neo Flu Jelly Pills. It’s either that or get him adopted, though considering how long he’s been here, I doubt that’ll happen. No, I suggest that you put him into Foster Care... before his condition becomes serious.” The Gelert pulled on his white coat and nodded to Dr. Death and his assistant. “Good day.”
Dr. Death turned towards his assistant the moment he was gone, his brow furrowed and a concerned look spread across his features. “My good lady, is there any chance that we could pull together enough savings to pay for his-”
The pink Uni shook her head, running a hoof through her mane in desperation. “No sir, I don’t believe that we could manage it. What with funds so low this year and so few volunteers.” She glanced back at Awtchey, who had drifted into a feverish sleep. “I put an ad into the Neopian Times quite a while ago, asking for possible foster parents, but no one has showed up yet.” She forced a weak smile. “But we can’t lose hope yet. Someone may turn up...” But her face still held a doubtful expression as she turned and left the room.
The yellow Techo placed one hand on Awtchey’s forehead and the blast of heat radiating from the yellow Xweetok’s fur astonished him. Yet, he ignored it and stroked Awtchey’s long fur gently. “That’s right, little guy. Don’t lose hope yet, even though you‘ve been here for about three years, your stats aren‘t... as high as one would hope, and you are of a plain color. Who knows? A kind human with enough love in his or her heart could be walking here at this very moment...
“...ready to take you home.”
Corrie, a young human girl with brown hair and dark eyes, inhaled the fresh, warm air of Neopia Central as she slid off of her Eyrie, who had just flown her from her home in Terror Mountain to the bustling metropolis that is the heart of the entire planet. Skipping lightly down the busy streets, she maneuvered her way through the crowds towards the one quaint little building that nearly all Neopians visit at least once in their Neopian lifetime.
The Neopian Pound.
Corrie had been here many times before, simply out of boredom, but this time she had come on a very important mission. A three-week-old issue of the Neopian Times was clutched in her right hand and anyone walking by close enough could see a small article on the front page had been circled with a thick red marker. Corrie glanced at it again and her smile widened when she read the ad asking for foster parents. Whoever had written the article had written it well, for every time Corrie simply looked at it, she was filled with that tender-hearted, caring spirit that invigorated her and motivated her enough to actually entered the foster system, despite the protests of her two Neopets - Zaraneeta, a teenage blue Bori, and his younger brother Zeke, a preteen Xweetok who had recently been painted Starry.
Corrie burst ostentatiously through the doors of the Pound, causing every head in the entrance lobby to automatically swivel round to gape at her. She flushed and then approached the front desk, where Dr. Death’s pink Uni assistant was scrawling something down on a piece of paper. The human girl cleared her throat expectantly and the Uni looked up in surprise.
“Oh, hello, miss!” The pink Neopet quickly rearranged her mane in a flustered matter. “Sorry for not seeing you; I was preoccupied. Welcome to the Neopian Pound, where anyone can find their perfect pet! We now have a new available feature called Transferring and it enables you to-”
Corrie waved a hand absentmindedly. “Yeah, whatever. I know what it does. ANYWAYS...” The girl slammed the newspaper down onto the desk with the circled article facing up at the Uni, who eyed it warily. “I’m here about a call for foster parents. I’m interested in taking the job. Is there any particular pets that you would have me-”
The Uni surprised Corrie by brightening instantly and straightening in her seat, a beaming smile spread across her pink face. “Why, yes! Yes, I believe we do have someone. If you’ll just follow me...” The Uni stood up and trotted briskly down a long hall at a stately pace, which Corrie struggling to keep up. “We have a yellow Xweetok, the poor dear; he is almost fourteen and he has been with us since he was eight years old! He is quite a fine young man, very educated indeed!” They stopped before a door, which the Uni quickly opened and they went inside.
It was a small, cozy room, with a quilted bed in one corner, another bed in the other, and a nightstand with a small lamp leaning against the wall, between the two. A Neovision set faced the beds from the opposite wall and the entire interior of the room reminded Corrie of a room in one of the Neolodges that she and her pets had stayed at once while on vacation. And on one of the beds, a yellow Xweetok slouched against the wall behind him, staring blearily at the Neovision screen and chewing bubble gum.
Corrie glanced warily at the Uni and cocked one eyebrow. Very educated, huh? she thought dryly as she examined the Neopet before her. He looked anything but educated. A black stocking cap hung lopsided over his forehead and one ear, with the wispy, unevenly cut bangs of his messy, blonde hair peeking out and hanging over his forehead at eye-level. He was dressed in clothes of black hue, the back of his hair had been dyed black, and he wore a small, silver earring on one ear, giving him a punk-Goth sort of look. Despite all that, he was wrapped up in a thick blanket, his face was extremely flushed, and he looked very sick.
At first, Corrie didn’t know what to think of the Xweetok. No wonder the Uni brightened so quickly! She probably can’t get anyone to adopt him, though I can’t say that I blame her. The guy’s all messed- Her train of thought came to an abrupt halt when she saw it. A hint, the slightest glimmer of familiarity in the Xweetok’s cold, golden eyes. It was then that the Neopet noticed her, though he obviously didn’t think much of her as he continued to stare at the Neovision screen. But the glimmer that she had seen was enough for Corrie.
“A-Awtchey?” Corrie spluttered. The Xweetok glanced at her briefly, then turned back to the Neovision set. Suddenly, his eyes widened and he whipped around to stare at the human girl before. His expression read pure surprise.
“It’s... you!” he gasped, then gagged slightly as he had apparently choked on his bubble gum. Corrie put her hands on her hips and stared back at him.
“Now, is that any way to treat a former owner of yours?” she asked.
“Okay!” exclaimed the Uni and Corrie rotated to see that she was backing away towards the door. “I’ll just leave you two alone for a while! Um... if you decide that you would like to foster him, you come to the front desk and I’ll have you fill out some paper-”
“WHAT?!” The Xweetok jumped to his feet abruptly, then swayed unsteadily, clutching his head as though it hurt. “B-But... you said you wouldn’t put me into the foster system! You promised!” He pointed an accusing finger at Corrie. “And I most certainly don’t want to be fostered by her! Do you have any idea what she did to me?!”
The pink Uni shook her head. “I’m sorry, Awtchey, love. But what with Pound funds so low this year, we can’t afford to pay for your treatment this year. It’s either get adopted or go into foster care. Don’t take this the wrong way, but no one wants to adopt you, sweetie. I believe you’re a great kid, deep down, but the humans, they just can’t see it in you. You must go into the foster system with this nice young lady. She’ll take care of you and being with her might do a little good.”
“A little good?!” Awtchey repeated, enraged. “If you knew what she did to me-”
“Now hold on!” Corrie cut in, not caring if she interrupted. “I never said for sure that I wanted to-”
“Come to the front desk and you can fill out your paperwork there!” the Uni exclaimed and with that she left the room with the door banging shut behind her. Corrie started for the door, when she popped her head in and said, “Oh, and work out your differences before you leave, hmm? Wouldn’t want to make enemies with your new foster pet!” Then she left.
Corrie turned slowly on her heel to face Awtchey, who stood at the far end of the room with his arms folded across his chest in a defiant manner. The two stared at each other intensely.
Corrie finally sighed. I can’t believe this is the way he turned out! It’s like someone replaced the darling little child I knew with a rebellious teen. What happened, Awtchey? I can’t foster him. He’ll have a totally bad influence on my pets, especially Zeke, because he’s younger. Maybe he and Zar were right. Maybe I’m just not one to foster. I should just turn around now and go home. And she almost did that, except for one thought that nagged at the back of her mind. But what about Awtchey? Sure he hates me, but maybe... maybe I could change him. Make him a better person.
The human girl gave another heaving sigh and took a step towards Awtchey, who flinched, but didn’t take his burning gaze off of her. “Awtchey, I know that I’ve done something very wrong to you. I was naïve and cocky back then, new to this world. I’m sorry that I mistreated you. I’m sorry you ended up like this and if you want to come home with me, I would be happy to foster you.” It took all of her will-power to say, but once she had, she felt very relieved. But can I do it?
Awtchey scowled. “You can say sorry, but how do I know that you really mean it? And besides, you can’t give me back the years of my life, years I wasted rotting here in this prison. Prove to me that you truly regret what you did to me and I might consider going with you. But that’s only because I want to be healed and because I hate it here. So tell me. Prove that you’re really sorry.”
Corrie spread out her arms with the palms up. “I told you! I’m really sorry! I wasn’t too smart back then! People change! You have to believe me, Awtchey, when I tell you that I really am sorry! How can I make you believe me? What do you want me to do, jump off a cliff?!”
A faint smile crossed Awtchey’s face as his glare faltered. He stroked his chin. “No, though that is a really good idea-”
Corrie rolled her eyes and gave him an annoyed look. “Awtchey...”
The yellow Xweetok grinned. “Fine, I’ll let you foster me. You may have changed, we’ll see. I’ll stay with you for three days, at the most. And I hope you have enough money for my treatment, because that’s the only reason I’m in the foster service in the first place.” He coughed. “I come down with the Neo Flu every year. Hope you feel really guilty about what you’ve done.”
Corrie nodded. Believe me, Awtchey, she thought sadly, I do. I really do.
To be continued...