Trading Up: Part Two
Clearly excited but trying to suppress it, Molly started banging on Darling’s door first thing in the morning.
“Darling? Are you awake yet? We really need to get going, or.... uh, lines will get long.” He knew this wasn’t true, the lines at the pound were outrageous no matter when you got there, but he supposed he didn’t want to hang around with someone who was so ready to get rid of him. He grunted his assent and climbed out of bed. He ran a paw quickly through his fur and walked out of the room with his grubby old duffel bag.
He hustled down the hallway to the kitchen. He assumed that his owner would want him to make his breakfast quickly so they could be on their way, but when he got there he found that she had already heated up a buttered negg waffle and wrapped it. He felt a little spasm of churning feelings as he looked at his favorite breakfast packaged to go. He picked it up and heard Molly shuffling behind him. He glanced at her and saw that she had her arms folded in front of her chest, looking a little awkward. She appeared to be examining the Altadorian mosaic floor tiles extremely closely. He realized just how soon she wanted him to get going.
As they made their way to the pound Molly walked much more briskly than usual and Darling felt he should try to keep up without complaint. He ate the waffle as they walked. Mixed feelings aside, he did love neggs. As a result of Molly’s excitement they got to the pound very promptly, and encountered only a very short line at the receptionist’s desk. Well, a few dozen people– short by pound standards. When it was finally their turn, Molly explained their business and received a grey numbered ticket. At first Darling thought the ticket was grey because of him, but he looked around and realized that there were three different screens displaying numbers to show who was next in each of three queues. One was pink, one was blue, and one was grey. The grey screen said 53, and the ticket in his owner’s hand said 75. It was apparent he had some time to kill. He briefly considered sitting down with Molly, but she was twisting her head around, thoroughly occupied by trying to spot her new Draik. He didn’t try to get her attention and she didn’t notice as he wandered off.
He forgot about his owner soon enough, and lost himself in the pleasant bustle. The waiting room at the pound was a fascinating cross section of Neopia. People mingled with pets of all different species, some of them talking and some of them intent on tasks Darling could only guess at. He saw a cluster of nice looking people having a lively conversation about something and moved toward them to see if he could catch what they were saying.
“Are you here to adopt another foster already?” said the one closest to Darling, to a girl on her right.
“Yeah, Mattie zapped chocolate almost right away. I had no trouble finding her a perfect home.”
“Oh, that’s so exciting! I love lab only colors. Sometimes I worry about trying to place them, though. I don’t want to put them with an owner who’s only interested in their rarity, you know?”
“Definitely, I’ve been there. I always want to know that the owner I choose for a foster pet is going to be a good one, loving and caring. It’s hard to tell sometimes. I still think about when I placed Jael up for adoption, I just...” The girl’s face scrunched up and Darling was sure she would cry. Her friend placed a hand on her knee and spoke firmly.
“That wasn’t your fault.”
“She just seemed so... so... nice! I talked with her for ages about Jael and her other pets. I felt like I knew her. I can’t believe she would just abandon her family like she did.” The owner near Darling sighed and nodded.
“I know. I wish it were easier. Every time a foster pet is ready to move on I agonize over it. But in the end, I know I have to trust my gut, and so do you.” The poor foster owner was crying openly now, and Darling wanted to reach out a paw, but her friend had already pulled her in for a hug. “Listen, you do the best anyone can, and you do help those pets. You do!” She patted her friend’s back gently. “And hey, I brought some Scarab cookies with me today. Do you want some? You can give them to the pets you visit with. I know you think they don’t feed them enough here.” She grinned at her friend, who sniffled but smiled back.
The voices trailed off as Darling walked on, but he could hear that the worried owner’s mood was lifting. He smiled to himself and ambled through the rows of uncomfortable plastic seating.
He turned to avoid a big plaster column and saw that he was approaching a corner. A cluster of tearful pets stood out like an island, no one coming near them. A red Gelert, a pink Buzz and a rather sickly looking yellow Tuskaninny were shuffling around with their owners standing far enough away that Darling couldn’t spot them. They weren’t looking at each other, but they seemed drawn together anyway. Darling didn’t have to look at the color of their tickets to know they were there to be abandoned, so he backed up a few steps and then walked back in the direction he’d come from.
He felt bad, turning his back on them, even though he really had nothing to say that would help. He decided to walk long enough to shake that guilty feeling, but he hadn’t gotten more than a few yards away when he was attracted by another animated exchange. Two people were sitting next to each other, gesturing and talking loudly. They seemed to be discussing a trade. They were so deep in intense conversation that they didn’t even notice their weary pets flop down on the floor behind them. Darling felt confident they wouldn’t notice him either, so he moved right behind them to listen. He got so engrossed that he didn’t hear one of the pets approaching him, and he was startled when he heard a chirping voice in his ear.
“So, what are you here for?” asked a tired looking faerie Pteri.
“Uh... um,” Darling stammered while he tried to compose himself. “My owner is trading me. For a Draik. It’s a dream pet trade, I guess- she’s getting a new permanent pet and I’m going to live with someone else.”
“Oh, who’s the Draik? I bet I know him.”
“Um, it was a...” Darling tried to remember the word Emily had used. “It was a custom.”
“Well, welcome to the trading circuit,” yawned a royal Kougra. “We’ll probably be seeing each other again.”
“The trading circuit? No, sorry. My new owner won’t trade me again. I’m her dream pet. She wanted me so badly she hatched a Draik to trade.” Darling wasn’t sure why he felt compelled to defend a person he had never met- maybe it was his own vision of the future he was defending. He hadn’t meant to let himself hope for a happy ending, but apparently the idea had wormed its way into his mind anyway.
“Ha!” snapped the Pteri. His voice was shrill, and his laugh sounded like a sneeze. “Every first timer thinks that. And hey, maybe a couple of them are right. But you’re BN, and UC or no, that’s not going to get you anywhere.” Darling didn’t know what those things meant, but he knew enough to be offended.
“I’m not either of those things!” He couldn’t stop his voice from rising. “And you have no idea what’s going to happen to me!”
The Kougra giggled and said, “You most certainly are unconverted, and that’s a good thing.” She added more gently, “And, well, the quality of a name is subjective. I certainly hope you have better luck than we’ve had.” The Pteri narrowed his eyes and started to open his beak like he was going to say something nasty, but before he could, his owner scooped him up and stormed off. The Kougra’s owner grabbed her paw and stalked away in the other direction. Apparently, the trade had gone bad. Darling stood where he was for a few very long seconds, breathing heavily, trying to stop himself from crying. What if those pets were right? What if this was just the beginning? What if he never felt at home again? He looked up and through his foggy vision he could make out a new person sitting very near where the Pteri’s owner had been, in the adjoining row of seats. This person’s back was to him, but he could clearly see the pet with her – a very young looking ice Draik.
To be continued...