Hearth and Home
"Sparkle, Sparkle, Sparkle. No one celebrates Christmas at home anymore."
Sparkle, a Snow Aisha, was sitting with her best friend Saffron, a Pink Cybunny, outside their favorite little cafe. It was only a week before Neoschool would be let out for winter break and both girls felt too lazy and giddy to start their homework.
"What are you talking about, Saffron?" Sparkle asked, confused.
"I mean no one spends Christmas Day stuffed in their Neohome," Saffron said dismissively with a little wave of her paw. "They spend it on Terror Mountain, whizzing down the slopes on skis or in the Astrovilla Hotel, eating top-notch room service. Or like I will, sunbathing on Mystery Island, sipping gooseberry juice and reading wonderfully dishy romance novels."
Sparkle sighed. Saffron was always larger than life; that was why Sparkle liked her and why they were best friends. "I've always spent Christmases at home. Saf, I've been to Terror Mountain too many times to count. And we make it down Kiko Lake at least once a month for some sun and R and R. I don't need to do those things on Christmas to be fashionable."
"But look, Sparkle!" Saffron said, leaning across the table. "Bay, that Cloud Acara from our dance class, she's going snorkeling above Maraqua! And Torlie from Neopian History, that Camouflage Ixi, she and her family are leaving for the Lost Desert tomorrow morning! Not to mention, Amy, Lyra, and yours truly and all our other friends are going to be gone during the break. Who will you hang out with? Most importantly, who will tell you what looks cute on you during an after Christmas shopping sale?! We can't go post-Christmas shopping if I'm on Mystery Island and you're here!" Saffron snapped her fingers, a bright idea settling itself in her mind. "Sparkle, you should come me to the Island for Christmas!"
"No, no. Christmas is a family thing," Sparkle said, as kindly as she could.
Saffron's eyes widened dramatically and she waved her arms around head, gesticulating grandly. "You'll be all alone!"
Sparkle laughed again. "Saffron, I'll live. It's just two weeks. Now..." Sparkle sipped her cup of cocoa and allowed Saffron to calm down a bit. "Tell about this big beach vacation you're going on."
"Well..." Saffron started. "I don't want to bore you with the details."
"Come on, Saffron! You love all little itty-bitty details and you love making me listen to you recount them. Good thing you're a great storyteller or I'd be so bored." Sparkle and Saffron both laughed this time.
"Oh, alright then!" Saffron took a deep breath. "My older brother Brid, you know him, he's a Shadow Ruki now, after that stint as Pirate Moehog. Do you remember?"
Sparkle opened her mouth to reply but Saffron cut her off. "Anyhow, him and my older sister, Yollie, she's painted Christmas now, isn't that lovely? Just in time for the holidays! But, yes, she and Brid are coming down to pick me up from the Kiko Lake docks in our lovely new yacht. And then we'll cruise down to Mystery Island and spend the rest of the break there, sunbathing and playing Mynci Beach Volleyball and eating all of the island's fresh fruits. Then we'll zip back to Neopia Central and they'll drop me off in time for Neoschool, right on schedule. Of course, Yollie and Brid have to get back to their jobs right after the holidays. They have such important jobs now!"
Saffron paused and then continued, her voice tinged with pride, "I'm so proud of them. Yollie's the manager of the Twisted Roses, and Brid's the head stylist for Princess Lunara of Shenkuu. Fabulous! And they're still making time for their little sister!"
Saffron sighed in contentment, placing a paw over her heart. "I must be the luckiest Neopet in all of Neopia."
"Or the cheesiest," Sparkle said, giggling. "Saffron, you talk a mile a minute. Want a refill on your borovan? My treat."
Christmas morning in Neopia. In Neopia Central it was snowing heavily, the snow swirling in the sky, turning regular front yards into winter wonderlands straight out of Christmas greeting cards scenes.
Sparkle and her family were nice and snug inside their Neohome. Her three older sisters were sitting in front of the crackling fire, comparing gifts. As Sparkle ripped the shiny wrapping paper off her last present (a large box containing a very nice hat) she heard a knock at the door.
"I'll get it!" she said bounding towards the door in her Snowbunny slippers.
It took a while to get the door open; it was still snowing heavily and the wind was growing fierce.
When she finally got the door open, Sparkle was genuinely surprised at who her visitor was. "Saffron?"
It was indeed Saffron, dragging a large silver suitcase, snow in her pink fur, her clothes damp and ragged. But definitely still Saffron.
Saffron smiled sweetly at her friend. "Sparkle, sweetie, are you going to let me in? I'm freezing and I smell like a wet petpet!"
Sparkle stepped aside, letting Saffron in. Saffron sighed with relief and shook the snow out of her fur.
"I thought you were supposed to be on Mystery Island during Christmas. Saf, are you okay?" Sparkle said.
"Well duh, Sparkle! I'm fine!" Saffron replied distractedly. "Sparkle, deary, where's your bathroom? I stink."
Sensing her friend's distress, Sparkle grabbed her Saffron's cold pink paw. "What's up, Saffron? Why aren't you with your brother and sister?"
Saffron sighed. "Alrighty then. You were always one to appreciate a good story. Two days ago, Yollie found out that the Twisted Roses were able to take Jazzmosis' place on stage during the Christmas concert, so she sailed back to Tyrannia ASAP to make sure the Roses got the gig. And I was okay with spending Christmas with just my brother, but apparently Her Highness, Princess Lunara was invited to be the grand marshal of some dinky parade in Shenkuu, and she needed her best stylist helping her, so Brid took the first ship back there. But before he left, Brid decided I'd be better off at home, so he sent me back via yacht. But all the servants were gone when I finally got home. I'd forgotten that I'd given the whole of winter break off, since I'd be on Mystery Island," Saffron stopped, her face reddening. "I don't have a key to my house, since usually a servant would let me in. So I came here."
Saffron paused to catch her breath. Then she sighed deeply. "But Sparkle, don't worry about me. I'll be fine. Can I just wash up here? Then I'll check into a the Neolodge and be out of your fur."
But, Sparkle noticed, her friend wasn't being her usual dramatic, flamboyant self. Saffron seemed genuinely hurt.
Sparkle knew her Saffron's brother and sister had very high profile jobs and all the stress that came with them. She knew they often had to be away from their little sister for months at a time. But to abandon her on Christmas?
"Saffron," Sparkle said gently. "It's okay, if you're not okay."
Saffron leaned into her friend's shoulder. "Sparky, I'm so totally not okay. I know my brother and sister are friends to the famous and they have high priority jobs but," she paused, rubbing her eyes, "it's Christmas. Our Christmas."
Sparkle pulled her friend into a tight hug. "Saffron, I won't tell you what I think about family and the true meaning of Christmas and all that jazz, but you can spend Christmas with my family, here, if you want. I know it's not as fancy as you're used to, but we're cozy."
Saffron pulled away from Sparkle, drying her eyes unsteadily as she did so. "Really? But I gave you a hard time about not going on a big Christmas vacation like everyone else."
"Oh, you. You were just being you," Sparkle said.. She grinned and wiped a stray tear from Saffron's cheek. "I could never blame you for being you."
"Actually, I wished I had stayed home for the holidays. Would have saved me the tears," Saffron mused aloud, smiling just a bit. "I'm sorry for interrupting your Christmas. I'm such a mess. What would the girls at school say if they saw me? They'd be terrible!"
"Now, that's starting to sound like the old Saffron!" Sparkle said. She smiled and Saffron grinned back.
"Come on, let's get you cleaned up. You really do smell gross," Sparkle said.
Saffron reached over and enveloped Sparkle in another hug.
Sparkle just smiled.