Trading Up: Part One
DarlingFuzz13_78 was reading in his room when his owner knocked on the door. He glanced up from his copy of Nomi the Grey Faerie and sighed. He didn’t have to answer to know it was her; no one else ever came to see him. He loved his owner, but still, this was one of his favorite books and he had been looking forward to a lazy afternoon of reading and listening to the rain.
“Darling?” came the inevitable call. For some reason it annoyed him the way she pronounced his nickname, like it was a question. He shook his head to get rid of that thought and got up to answer the door.
“Hi, Sweetheart. I have something very important to talk to you about.” Immediately, Darling’s stomach started to feel heavy. Later he would wonder why, but he would never be able to explain the premonition. There was nothing strange about what his owner had said, or even the way she had said it, but Darling had a very bad feeling. And not just because he was a grey Yurble.
“Should I... do you want to talk right now?”
“Yes, I think it would be best to do this right away. Can we sit down?” If Darling hadn’t quite been panicked before, he was after that. He walked very slowly towards the bed, making the seven-step trip take about as long as it possibly could, and perched on the edge. He tried to relax, sit back, but he just couldn’t. He fidgeted for a bit while he tried to decide what to do with his paws, but in the end he put them in his lap and clenched them. He hoped Molly wouldn’t see.
“Darling, I... well, I love you very much. You know that, right?” Darling tried to answer but couldn’t squeeze the words out. He swallowed and nodded carefully. He wouldn’t look his owner in the eye.
“I do. I love you. And you also know that I’ve always wanted a Draik, right?” This time she didn’t even wait for him to answer. “I’ve always loved Draiks. And the thing is, I’ve finally got a chance to adopt a Draik. I’ve found another person who has a Draik egg and is willing to hatch it for me. I’ll get to name the Draik and everything. She’ll be the one who’s there when the baby hatches, but it will be my pet from the beginning, really. It’s called a custom.” Love tried to concentrate on what he was hearing. Was this really all? Was this whole thing just because he was going to get a new brother or sister? That would be fine. Maybe even fun! And yet, the way Molly looked away from him when she was talking, avoiding his eyes... it seemed like there was more to this speech. Darling looked up and saw Molly’s lips moving. He realized he had drifted off and failed to listen.
“I hope you’re not mad at me. This was a hard decision. But I know that it’s right.”
“Err... what? Why would I be mad at you? I don’t understand.”
“Sweetie... oh, please don’t be mad... a custom is part of a trade. She’s going to give me the Draik I always wanted, and then you’ll go live with a new owner. You’re a special Yurble. You were painted Grey a long time ago. New Grey Yurbles don’t look like you, and that makes you unique. A lot of people want you. Some people might not want you because of, well... it doesn’t matter.” Darling looked directly into her face for the first time, but she still avoided his eyes. “This girl wants you very much and I know you’ll be happy. We’re lucky to get this trade.”
Darling didn’t react right away. He heard the words, but he couldn’t understand them. She had said it like it was an order- ‘you’ll be happy’. But how could she know? For several seconds he just looked at his owner, the only one he’d ever known, and tried to understand.
“You... you are... trading me?” Darling couldn’t get his mind around it. How dare she ask him not to be mad? How could she take everything away form him and ask him not to be mad at her, as though he should be tiptoeing around her feelings? He jumped down from the bed and looked right at her. “What do you mean, ‘we’re lucky to get this trade’? Why are ‘we’ lucky?”
“Darling, stop. Don’t look at me like that!” Molly sighed, closed her eyes, put a hand to her forehead and collected herself. “I’m sorry. I just mean that I’ve been trying to get a Draik for a while and a lot of owners weren’t interested.”
The shocked Yurble was aware that his mouth was hanging open but he didn’t bother closing it. He just shook his head from side to side while he tried to figure out just what he was hearing. “You mean... you’re telling me that you’ve been trying to trade me for a while. You’ve been trying to get rid of me, planning out the rest of my life, and you haven’t bothered telling me a thing about it.” Molly turned red and opened her mouth but Darling put a paw up to stop her. “No, don’t say anything. I can think this through on my own. You’ve been trying to trade me but you couldn’t. You don’t want me, and no one else did either. Because of my name, I’m sure.”
Deep down, he still expected his owner to comfort him. He felt that at any moment she would tell him he had it all wrong. She would rush to his side, and put her arms around him, and whisper that he had a beautiful name, that she loved his name, and him...
“Yes. I’m sorry.” She just looked at him. He looked back and knew that was the end of them as a family. Whatever happened, she would never feel like his owner again.
Molly reached out a hand but he pushed it away and rolled onto the bed, his face in a pillow. He half listened as she explained the logistics of the trade. He heard that it would take place in a week; he’d have to wake up early. He slumped down on the bed and lay very, very still. He pushed the corners of his pillow up around his ears until Molly’s voice became a monotone buzz, and eventually a comforting hum. He couldn’t fall asleep, but he didn’t let himself move a muscle until long after Molly had left and the sun had gone down.
The day before the trade Darling reached the peak of his uneasiness. He was walking around his room, lifting books off the shelves and flipping through the pages, patting his old toys, trying to decide what to take with him. Six days ago, before his owner had told him that he was being traded, he would have said that he loved all his things, especially his books. Now that he knew he was going to have to uproot his life and go to a completely new home, he felt unsure. He questioned whether he really wanted to drag the remains of his old life into his new one. Maybe, he thought, it would be better to make a clean break.
He stood in front of his bookshelf and ran his paw along the spine of Keeping The Peace. He smiled. It was soft from being creased in so many places, the sign of a well-loved book. ‘Who knows how many nights I’ve stayed up with a flashlight under the covers re-reading this?’ he thought. He tipped it towards him, planning to add it to the stack of books to be packed, but all of a sudden he was struck by a memory. He recalled what the book had felt like when it was new. He had grabbed it in Brightvale Books, his first and only visit to that incredible store. He remembered that special trip, the vacation to Meridell. He had begged Molly to take a day and visit Brightvale. He had always wanted to go, to be in a place that valued books and learning as much as he did. He knew without ever having set foot there that he would feel at home. And oh, he had.
At first Molly hadn’t wanted to go, he recalled. He had kept pleading anyway because he couldn’t stand to be so close and not get to see it. She had been annoyed at his insistence and was grumpy when she finally gave in. Maybe she had even seemed distracted with whatever business had brought her to Meridell. Molly seemed to have fun with him once they were there, though, and he had put her resistance down to travel weariness. Now he wondered– had there been something else to it? Why had she planned a tour of Meridell, anyway? Was that whole trip about trying to find a Draik?
He let go of the book and it fell back into place. He didn’t need this one, he decided. He already knew what it said.
Darling continued along the shelves that lined the longest wall of his room and considered things one at a time. He rejected most of them for one reason or another and in the end he chose very little. There was only a small stack of books, a baby blanket, and a Grey Faerie Snowglobe on his bed when he finally sat down to pack. He started dumping books into the bag and tossed the snowglobe in after them. He winced at the clanging sound of its impact but didn’t slow down. He just kept flinging until he was out of things to throw. Without even looking into the duffel he zipped it shut and pitched it over his shoulder. He wasn’t watching when it hit the door and slid to the floor, but he heard the sound and realized he wasn’t being very careful with his favorite things. He thought maybe he should feel guilty, but instead he was only relieved to have them away and out of sight.
Always when Darling felt drained he turned to books, so with his last real chore out of the way he opened a book of short stories and tried to concentrate.
He couldn’t. Over and over he found himself flipping pages without reading anything. Questions passed in front of him like ants marching across his desk, coming from nowhere and disappearing at the edge of his vision. One at a time he examined them as they passed in front of his nose. He asked himself ‘who is this new person?’ and ‘why is this happening to me?’, but each question moved on before he could really grapple with it. There were no answers. When trying to silence his doubts had tired him out completely, he gave up and got into bed so that he could let his thoughts take over.
During the day it had been surprisingly easy to be distracted. He just focused himself on the present moment as well as he could, often burying himself in mundane tasks. As the day wore on and he ran out of busy work he would have to slow down. He felt as though he were trying to outrun his own mind but somehow it got ahead of him and was waiting, every single night, on his pillow. He would look for things to do, try to put off going to bed, but he couldn’t help getting tired. Eventually he would have to give in and the questions were always waiting.
He had tried to ask Molly about the new owner, during those first few days, but she hadn’t known any of the things he was interested in. Molly knew that she was well off and had purchased the Draik Egg especially for her. Darling wanted to know if she was funny. Molly knew that she lived in a very large neohome, with lots of rooms and Satellite Security, but Darling wanted to know if her house had a lot of books.
These were the thoughts that he had fallen asleep with every night since he’d gotten the news, but tonight was a little different. Tomorrow was the big day, so Molly had told him exactly what to expect. Apparently the arrangements had been sewn up with the other owner. He finally had something other than questions to ruminate on. He shifted under the covers and tried to picture this new owner as she woke up early and went to the Draik’s nest. He imagined the ice egg breaking as a new pet was born. He pictured her walking into the pound and picking up the paperwork. He pictured Dr. Death’s newest assistant, a robot Hissi, and imagined his new owner getting the safe transfer agreement officially stamped. He imagined meeting her for the first time, and tried to imagine saying goodbye to Molly. Would he hug her? Reach his paw out for a shake? Walk away without saying anything? He tried out different scenarios in his mind, seeing himself happy then sad and then indifferent. Sleep found him before he could settle on a plan, but the next day continued to unfold in his dreams.
To be continued...