Zeke's Gift: Part Two
“Is she here yet, Zar?!” Zeke, an eleven-year-old Starry Xweetok, bounced up and down excitedly beside his older brother, Zaraneeta the blue Bori, who was staring intently through a window, from which he had a clear view of the front lawn of the Terror Mountain neohome as well as the street that ran right by it. “Is she, is she, is she? I can’t believe she’s going to be a foster parent! You know, I was thinking about it earlier and I thought, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, ‘cause I mean, after all it’s not like they’re staying with us forever and...”
Zaraneeta rolled his brown eyes as his younger sibling ranted on and on about foster pets and the like, the young Xweetok’s words quickly becoming a muted buzzing sound in the blue Bori’s ears. Zaraneeta continued to watch the road in front of the neohome. A male human walked by with a blue Eyrie at his side and a purple Uni soared a few feet over the road in the opposite direction. And still Zeke continued to talk. Zaraneeta pulled his black stocking cap down over his ears. Curse the day he learned to talk without lisping! he thought, annoyed. When he had the lisp, it was cute. Now, he’s just annoying!
Suddenly, Zaraneeta’s young human owner could be seen strolling towards their house from down the road. “Corrie’s back!” he exclaimed, happily causing Zeke’s words to come to an abrupt halt. And with Corrie, comes the foster pet. He wasn’t sure whether to be glad or anxious. “She’ll be here in a few minutes.”
“Does she have the new foster pet with her?!” Zeke inquired, trying to jump up so that he could see through the window. “What does it look like? Is it a Kougra? Oh, please don’t tell me that it’s a Kougra! I hate Kougras, they pick on me, they’re so...”
Zaraneeta leaned forward, trying to get a better view of the Neopet who was walking beside his owner, though because of the distance and his limited view through the window, he was unable to make out any important details. It’s... yellow. A yellow Xweetok. Older than Zeke. Younger than me. Zaraneeta grinned. That’s good. Undersized in height. Punk-Goth. Eep. The Bori shuddered, then reported his findings to his younger brother. Zeke was happy to hear that the newcomer was of the same species as himself and that set him off into another ramble.
Zaraneeta watched as Corrie and the Xweetok drew nearer and he suddenly gasped, leaning forward even more so that his nose pressed against the windowpane. Oh no, it can’t be! he thought anxiously. Not him, Corrie! Anyone but him! Please tell me that I’m going nearsighted or something! Please tell me that she didn’t bring home...
The two drew even closer. There was no doubt about it now.
“Awtchey?!” Zaraneeta cried, clutching his head in frustration. Zeke jumped back in surprise.
“What happened, Zar? Did you get hurt?” Zeke patted his brother’s back in an attempt to calm him, though it didn’t seem to be working. Zaraneeta‘s face grew pale and Zeke furrowed his brow. “Did I accidentally step on your tail? I’m sorry. Do you have a headache? I can get you a smoothie, if you want it-”
“No, my head doesn’t hurt,” Zaraneeta replied. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the window. I can’t believe she brought him home! I thought she had forgotten all about him! He was still in the Pound?! How did he become so... so punk-ish?! Why does he look so sick? What has happened to him these past years?! “Though a smoothie would be nice now.”
“Why did you say, ‘Ouch’ then?” Zeke wanted to know. Zaraneeta was amazed that his brother had only said one sentence without going into a whole other rant about something completely random that only he would understand.
“I didn’t.” The blue Bori sighed and rubbed his forehead in his own attempt to calm himself. “I said, ‘Awtchey’. It’s the name of the Neopet that Corrie’s bringing home.” Why would she foster him? Does she even remember who he is? Does he remember her? Is he mad at her for what she did to him? He must not be, if he consented to be fostered by her.
Zeke beamed. “Really?! How did you know that?!”
Suddenly, the front door burst open and Corrie stepped in with the punk Xweetok following behind, his paws tucked into the pockets of his baggy denim jeans. Sharp, golden eyes darted around the neohome and his jaw line visibly tensed. Zaraneeta gritted his teeth as he stared at Awtchey, amazed by how much he had changed. Zeke stared at him too, but with a sort of dazed awe, his mouth open as the neohome was filled with very rare silence.
Corrie hastily did the introductions as Awtchey slipped off sneakers that looked like they were about to fall apart and set them by the door. He took off his black jacket and hung it up on the tall coat-rack that stood by the doorway. Then, he slowly walked into the living room, his head swiveling back and forth as he took in everything about the quaint neohome. Zeke followed him, obviously in admiration and respect for the older Xweetok. Zaraneeta hastily approached his owner.
“Corrie, are you nuts?!” the Bori hissed quietly in his owner’s ear. Corrie gave her Bori an annoyed glance as she took off her own shoes and hung her coat up. Zaraneeta followed her into the kitchen, where she took out a small packet and started preparing hot chocolate.
“I shouldn’t have to answer that question, Zar,” she told her Bori somewhat sternly. Zaraneeta could hear the tension in her voice. “You know I am quite eccentric and proud to be.” She tore open the packet and dumped a bit of the powder within into three mugs.
“Okay, fine.” Zaraneeta took one of the mugs and filled it with hot water from the sink. “I’ll just get to the point. Why did you bring him here?! Don’t you remember how we talked about this, after you... well, you know! You said that you put him and all this behind you! We vowed not to speak of it again! Remember?! And suddenly, you decide to foster him! What’s with that?!”
Corrie turned and put both of her hands on Zaraneeta’s shoulders, looking him straight in the eye so that her urgency was clear. “Zar,” she said matter-of-factly, “in case you haven’t noticed, Awtchey has been completely messed up since he was last with us! I don’t want him to be like this, so I’m hoping I can change him. It’s for his own good, Zar. So, please cooperate and work with me, okay?”
“How do you plan to change him?” Zaraneeta wanted to know. “You’ve never done this sort of thing before.”
“I don’t know!” Corrie heaved a sigh. “I was hoping maybe just being with a normal family and getting away from the Pound would play a major part.”
“We’re not exactly a normal family, Corrie.”
“He’s already lived with me before, so I think he knows that. We’ll send him to your school, give him one of those petpets from the SDB... you know, just treat him like he’s really a part of our family. He can even participate in the card games before bed!”
Zaraneeta cocked an eyebrow. “You sure you want to do this? Because, if he really gets to like us and we get to like him, he’ll be heartbroken when you send him back to the Pound. He might turn rogue again.”
“Oh, I doubt he’ll ever really get to like us,” Corrie replied. “He hates me, remember? And, no offense, but he might not be too fond of you either, because I gave him up and kept you all these years.” She began to walk towards the kitchen with the two mugs of hot chocolate, when she turned back and said, “Oh, and don’t tell Zeke about all this. You know how he can’t keep secrets.”
Zaraneeta rolled his eyes. “Oh yeah. I know.”
Zeke sat on the floor in front of the sofa that Awtchey was lounging upon. He ignored the fact that the punk Xweetok that Corrie was fostering looked tired enough to fall asleep. “Did you know that Zar knew your name even before you came here? How cool is that? He can probably read minds or something, I wish I could do that, don’t you? Do you know Zar’s name? Were you two, like, friends or something? Do you like black? ‘Cause you seem to wear a lot of it and-”
Awtchey scowled. “Go away, kid. I don’t have time for this.”
Zeke didn’t seem to be listening. He just kept rambling on and on. “That’s what Corrie always says, but I know she doesn’t mean it, ‘cause she says she has all the time in the world because she doesn’t have to go to school and because her only job is to write stories for the Neopian Times. Do you read the Neopian Times? Corrie’s been in it twice, did you know that? One of her stories was about me and the other one was about Zar and a friend of his. She lives in Mystery Island. Corrie and Zar used to live on Mystery Island, but then they moved here. I’ve never been to Mystery Island and I don’t want to. Corrie says it’s real hot there and I like the cold. And the snow. And snow cones. Oh yeah, I love snow cones! But I love chocolate better. Corrie loves chips and Zar loves smoothies. He used to keep them under his bed, but Corrie didn’t like that, so-”
Something in Awtchey finally snapped. “Listen, kid! Zach, whatever your name is! I’m not feeling too well right now and I hate hearing about your owner, so just get lost, ‘kay?!” The yellow Xweetok instantly regretted these words because Zeke’s large eyes suddenly began filling up with tears. These pitiful eyes broke straight through the cold shell that surrounded Awtchey’s heart and he suddenly felt bad for being so harsh to the eleven-year-old.
Awtchey reached down and patted Zeke on the forehead. “Sorry, kid. Didn’t mean to be so harsh, though you really need to stop talking.”
Zeke nodded. He remembered Zaraneeta and Corrie always telling him that he talked too much, but until now, he had never taken these comments seriously. He intended to keep his mouth shut, but then decided that one little question wouldn’t hurt. “Do you really hate Corrie, Mr. Awtchey?”
Awtchey eyed the Starry Xweetok before him before replying curtly, “A little. Why?”
“But you shouldn’t!” Zeke burst out and was unable to stop the flow of words, even though Awtchey’s glare towards him darkened. “She’s the nicest owner in the whole world! She’s always loved me, ever since I hatched and she’s promised that she’d never get rid of me even if the fate of the planet depended on it! She did, she really did, Mr. Awtchey! And she makes us the best hot chocolate and sometimes, when it rains and thunders, she lets me sleep in bed with her. And she buys me toys and she even lets me take drum lessons and...”
Neither Xweetok was aware of Corrie, lurking in the doorway with two mugs of hot chocolate, listening in on their conversation. A beaming smile spread across her face as Zeke continued to name nearly every single little thing that she had ever done for him and she was surprised that he had actually managed to keep track. Her eyes teared up as Zeke continued to brag on her and though she felt like rushing in and hugging him, she stifled the urge because she was afraid of how Awtchey would react. This means now, that Awtchey is going to be expecting more of me now that he’s heard about all the good things I’ve done for Zeke. I have an enormous reputation now and I have to live up to it.
A determined expression dominated her features. And I will too. No matter what it takes, I have to prove to Awtchey that I really have changed! I have to try, for his own sake.
Awtchey sighed, rolling over on the bed in the guest room of Corrie’s neohome, trying to get comfortable. He couldn’t seem to get over how amazingly soft it was, compared to the beds back at the Neopian Pound, which didn’t have any spring or bounce to it. Awtchey had reported this to Zeke when Corrie had first shown him the room and the young Starry Xweetok had been speechless with shock. The memory made a smile spread across the punk Xweetok’s face.
He then sighed again, his shoulders heaving. It was apparent to him now that people really could change. At least Corrie had. Awtchey shook his head, barely able to believe how much the young human girl’s personality had altered since she had abandoned him years ago. Back then, she would have fed him omelettes or other cheap foods. Now that she made enough income to live comfortably, she seemed set on giving her pets the best that she had. The meal that night had been delicious and Awtchey’s stomach was more satisfied than it had been in a long time.
A lump formed in the Xweetok’s throat when he thought back on what had occurred after dinner. Corrie had brought out a deck of cards and she, Zeke, and Zaraneeta had played all evening by their fireplace in the living room, filling the neohome’s interior with pleasant laughter, mingled with the smell of the hot chocolate that they had drunk. The three had offered their new foster pet to join them, but Awtchey had refused, content to watch.
He had observed the entire evening, spread across one of the sofas with his mug of hot chocolate, something the TwoHundreds seem to greatly enjoy, considering how much they drank it. He had watched as Corrie bickered playfully with Zaraneeta over little things that were normally of no concern. Zeke had just watched them, surprisingly silent. Later, Zaraneeta had told Awtchey that for some reason, Zeke became calmer as the sun went down, which he suspected had something to do with his Starry coat. Awtchey also noticed that Zeke’s star-sprinkled pelt had glowed slightly when the fire faltered.
And while his brother grew less boisterous at night, the darkness seemed to have the opposite effect on Zaraneeta. He talked and joked merrily all throughout the evening and Awtchey was surprised to find out that the blue Bori was actually quite a good singer, becoming even more surprised when he found out that he had started his own band. Awtchey, having lived with Zaraneeta before, was quite comfortable talking to him and the two had had a few brief exchanges of words throughout the card games.
And then there was Corrie. Awtchey didn’t even know what to think about his former owner. She had changed, that much was certain. Though whether it was for the better or the worse, was debatable. She was definitely just as eccentric as she had been when he had last lived with her, if not more, and much more cleverer with her speech. Awtchey didn’t think he had ever heard anyone use as many exotic words as she did. She had obviously progressed in her writing career as well, judging by the ink stains on the tips of her fingers, made visible by the light of the fire, and the two golden Neopian Times trophies that sat on a shelf above the fireplace.
Her personality was also changed. She had grown more mature, though she was still crazy all the same, and less stern and commanding. The human girl had seemed very comfortable, much more at home than she had before, and she seemed to have lost her over-protectiveness over her pets, though she still held an undeniable authoritative position over Zaraneeta and Zeke.
Though he wouldn’t admit it, Awtchey knew that there was now a chink in his aversion towards his former owner. But he had only been with her for one night. There were still two more nights to go. Awtchey just hoped that it would be enough to determine whether or not Corrie had really changed. A sly grin spread across his face. He knew exactly how he was going to do it.
A soft knock on the bedroom caused Awtchey to jerk upright in surprise. Furrowing his brow, he got out of bed and quietly opened the door.
A gentle ray of light stood on the other side of the bedroom door, though with a closer look, Awtchey saw that it was Zeke, the stars on his fur glowing brightly in the dark night. The Xweetok just stood there, looking innocent and hopeful, his large eyes gazing up at the older Neopet. Awtchey gave a heaving sigh, leaning against the door frame.
“Um, Zeke, what are you doing?” he demanded in a whisper.
“I want to ask you some questions,” came the whispered reply. “I couldn’t earlier, ‘cause Corrie an’ Zar were around and I knew you wouldn’t want to answer them if they could hear, so I decided to wait. But then I couldn’t get you after dinner and then Corrie doesn’t usually let me out of bed so late. But now she’s asleep, so... can I come in?”
Awtchey cocked an eyebrow, though it was almost too dark to see. Questions? he wondered suspiciously. What kind of questions? Should I let him in? The kid may want to know about things that I don’t want to tell him. I’ll tell him about my past with Corrie, but nothing about what happened to me during the Pound years. Those are private.
“Alright,” he said finally, holding the door open farther to let the young Xweetok into the room. Zeke skipped into the room and hopped onto the bed. “Make yourself comfortable. I have a sinking feeling that this is gonna take a while.”
Zeke ignored the comment and began, his voice an eager whisper. “Okay. Do you still hate Corrie?”
Awtchey hesitated, then sighed. “Yes... maybe... I dunno.”
The glowing on Zeke’s fur brightened, enough so that the punk Xweetok could see the younger Neopet’s beaming smile. “You’re getting over it? Good. That’s the way things should be. Second question. Why do you hate Corrie? What did she ever do to you?”
Awtchey rolled his eyes. How’d I know that was coming? Finally, he replied, “Okay, I’ll tell you. But not a word of this to Corrie or Zar, got it? She’d kill me if she found out that I told you about this. But you’re in her family; you have a right to know, I guess.” That and I just need to tell someone. Been keeping it a secret way too long now. It’s time to let it out.
To be continued...