The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...?: Part Two
Jingle Bells played softly from somewhere inside the Music Store as Phersephi passed it. The holiday music which usually put a spring in her step now haunted her, asking her with its rhythmic whispering, “Why, Phersephi? Why? Juan needs you. Juan doesn’t care if you don’t get him a toy. Juan loves you, and you love him. Why, Phersephi? Why?”
Phersephi shook her head, forcing more tears to fall. She just moved on.
From the Bazaar’s Bakery the familiar scent of Strawberry Techo Cookies wafted towards the upset Phersephi. They were Juan’s favorites. And as she passed the Gift Shop, that teddy bear with the beady eyes watched her disapprovingly. 8000 Neopoints, it taunted.
“Is there no place to hide?!” Phersephi screamed, and ran aimlessly away. She wiped her blinding tears as she ran, remembering things she didn’t want to remember at the time. You really mean it, Phersephi? You’ll take Juan for me? Really? Oh Phersephi, you’re such a lifesaver! I know you’ll love him. He’ll be the best pet in the world for you, I promise.
The day she’d gotten Juan.
What would her friend say now? So you saved him from the Pound, only to, not even a year and a half later, dump him there yourself? I trusted you with him, Phersephi!
“No, no, no!” Phersephi kept running, but it did her no good. You can’t run from regret.
“Ow! My tail!” A voice suddenly cried. In an instant, Phersephi had become aware of her surroundings. Her bloodshot eyes needed a moment to adjust to the dark of the winter afternoon, and soon she realized she had wandered into a dismal alley. But what had spoken? Phersephi looked around, and discovered a very young, pale green Kacheek sitting on the ground, clutching the tail Phersephi had so carelessly stepped on.
“Oh!” Phersephi said. “I’m... I’m sorry. You startled me.”
“It’s alright,” the Kacheek said so softly it was barely audible. “But if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way...”
A miniature red Kacheek that only reached the green Kacheek’s waist came up behind her.
“What’s wrong, Bay?” the tiny thing asked in an adorable voice.
She can only be five or six years old, Phersephi thought.
“Nothing is wrong,” the green Kacheek replied instantly. “But we have to keep moving.”
She stood up, trying to ignore the pain in her tail. She took the red Kacheek’s paw and walked past Phersephi, the green Kacheek limply dragging her tail behind her.
“Where are we going, now, Bay?” the little red Kacheek whispered to the other, but it was loud enough for Phersephi to hear.
“Yes, where are you going?” Phersephi asked. The green Kacheek stopped and turned.
“Just... I don’t know,” Bay sighed. “I’ll figure it out.”
She was turning to leave again when Phersephi inquired, “How come you don’t know? Where is your owner? Is he or she, well, taking good care of you?”
Bay winced. She slowly shook her head, and the little red Kacheek looked up at her.
“What is an owner, Bay?” she asked.
“Somebody who is supposed to take care of pets like us,” Bay replied, with a touch of cold bitterness in her tone. “But most of the time, they treat you like a toy, and then they get rid of you. They are terrible people. They will abandon you.”
“What does ‘abandon’ mean?” the little Kacheek asked with a shiver running through her at the word.
“It’s an awful word,” Bay explained. “You don’t want to know what it means.”
Phersephi piped up. “Not all owners are like you say,” she said. “Some of them - most of them, in fact - keep you forever and love you and never abandon you.”
Phersephi felt horrible, like a hypocrite. Had she not even returned home from abandoning her own pet, who she had told over and over that she loved? Phersephi felt sick at herself.
“Well, maybe,” Bay said, her eyes narrowing. She obviously didn’t believe a word Phersephi was saying. “But if you’ve ever met one of those people, I envy you. Thanks for the nice fairy tale, but we have to go now.”
Bay turned and the tiny Kacheek tried to catch up.
“Wait,” Phersephi called. She couldn’t believe what she was going to say. “You can... you can come home with me. I’ll take care of you for a little while, and then you can be ‘on your way’ to wherever you are deciding to go. But let me show you that some owners can be like I said. Some owners never abandon you.”
The red Kacheek’s eyes lit up and shone. “Oh, please, Bay, please can we?” she begged. The green Kacheek was firm in her answer. “No.”
“But you look so hungry!” Phersephi countered. “You look like you haven’t slept in ages.”
You can’t afford to feed them! a voice in the back of Phersephi’s mind protested. If you could, wouldn’t you have kept Juan? You abandoned him because it was absolutely necessary!
Phersephi ignored the voice and continued to talk. “It would just be for one or two nights,” she said. “Come on. You could both use a good night’s sleep and a few decent meals.”
Bay was about to protest when she heard a light rumbling noise. She looked down at the little creature by her side. The red Kacheek looked up at her. “I’m hungry, Bay,” she whispered.
How can you do this to us? What am I going to do?
You’ll fend for yourself fine. You’re... creative. You’ll get by.
And what about her? She’s just a toddler, Nick!
You’ll be taking care of her, of course.
Nick, why are you doing this?
Look, I can’t exactly get rich - fast - when I’ve got two pets to feed. Maybe someday when I have a huge house I’ll find you.
...That’s it, then? You won’t even take us to the Pound?
Who wants to be dumped in there? You’ll be better off on your own.
The words of Bay’s previous owner whispered to her as she looked down at her little sister. You’ll be better off on your own. She had been a fool for ever trusting Nick the traitor. He had created her and her sister, only to unexpectedly turn on them and throw them out on the streets. ‘Don’t trust a human’ had been Bay’s motto for a long time, though it had taken her even longer to accept that Nick had rejected them.
But her sister.... She was supposed to take care of her. Things had not been going especially well in that department. With not a Neopoint in her name, Bay had tried the Money Tree (and gotten trampled mercilessly countless times), begging the Shopkeepers (with no result), and pretty much anything else you could think of. Could Phersephi’s offer turn out to be a good decision? Bay decided to go against her motto for just this one time.
“Alright,” Bay sighed. “Thank you.”
“Great!” Phersephi chirped. She planned to take the sisters to the Food Shop, where the Shopkeeper (who she knew well) might possibly give them one free meal. “So, what are your names?” she asked. “I’m Phersephi.”
“My name is Baylie and this is my sister, Pepper,” Bay said. “But Pepper likes the idea of nicknames, so she probably wants you to call her Eppa.”
“Nice to meet you, Baylie and Eppa!” Phersephi smiled.
She walked them to the Food Shop, where the Shopkeeper reluctantly made them fried chicken breasts with carrots and orange juice. Phersephi then led them to her house, where the girl gave Baylie her bed and Eppa Juan’s. Late in the night Eppa crept upstairs to sleep with her sister after having a nightmare, and so Phersephi got off the floor and into Juan’s bed.
That night, she cried into his pillow.
Extremely early the next morning, Phersephi took the girls out to the Bakery, where she proceeded to distract the girls so she could talk with the Breadmaster. She managed to get a free breakfast from him without the girls ever knowing she’d begged. Afterwards Phersephi took the Kacheeks down to the park and played games like hopscotch and catch with them. The day went well, and Phersephi fed them another begged-for dinner at Pizzaroo.
The girls, even though the deal was that they would stay two nights with Phersephi, stayed longer. They had such a wonderful time that all forgot about the deal. They had stayed a week or more when Phersephi heard them whispering in the room where they shared Phersephi’s bed.
The owner looked through the keyhole at the Kacheeks. Baylie and Eppa were sitting cross-legged on the bed, whispering.
“Pepper, we have to leave tomorrow,” Baylie murmured. Eppa teared up.
“But why?” she asked.
“Eppa, Phersephi is obviously broke. We can’t let her take care of us like this.”
“What’s ‘broke’, Bay?” Eppa inquired.
“It means she doesn’t have any Neopoints,” Baylie patiently explained.
“We could give her some of ours!” Eppa suggested with a wide grin.
“We don’t have any,” Bay sighed.
“But what about the ones you said you went to get?” Eppa asked, confused.
“Remember when you told me to wait in that alley while you went to that building?” Eppa recalled. “It was only a little while ago, silly! How can you not remember? You said they had lots and lots of Neopoints there.”
“Oh, Pepper...” Tears were suddenly streaming down Bay’s face. “I really wasn’t supposed to do that. That building is called a bank and lots of people store their Neopoints there. A person who takes things from a bank is called a... a robber.”
“Are you a robber?” Eppa asked, frightened to know the answer.
“Yes. Yes, Eppa, I am a robber. But it was wrong of me, Pepper - so, so wrong. I can never do that again.”
Phersephi couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Baylie, the bank robber from last week?! The very Kacheek she had taken into her house had stolen all of her Neopoints? Most importantly: Baylie was the reason she had given Juan to the Pound?
Unsure of what else to do, and boiling with rage and a feeling of betrayal, Phersephi threw open the door and leapt into the room.
“You!” she shouted, pointing an accusing finger at Baylie. “You are the thief!”
Eppa cowered and started to cry. Phersephi wished she weren’t so mad so she could scoop up and comfort the little Kacheek. But she could not get over that Bay had taken all of her Neopoints.
“Phersephi,” Baylie said, her eyes wide with shock. “I... you don’t understand, Phersephi. Eppa was so hungry and so cold. You have no idea how long she has to go without food! Ever since Nick dumped us out on the streets, we...”
“You stole all of my Neopoints!” Phersephi raged, ignoring Baylie’s pleas. “You...you are the reason I couldn’t take care of my own pet anymore!”
Baylie and Eppa grew quiet. “Phersephi...” Baylie whispered. Tears were still rushing from her eyes. “I had no idea that I--”
“Stop!” Phersephi said. “You should have thought of that. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to abandon the pets that they love because of you. You had no right to those Neopoints! You had no right to take Juan from me.”
“I’m sorry, Phersephi, I’m so, so sorry!” Baylie apologized, hysterical with guilt and sorrow. “Please, please forgive me!”
“Where are the Neopoints you stole?” Phersephi demanded. “Where, so I can give them back to the owners who need them? So they can have their pets back!”
“I don’t have them,” Baylie confessed, and was practically screaming with sobs. “We found out after getting away that a big group of Jetsams had been watching us. They took all of the Neopoints from us. Every last one.”
Phersephi was angrier than ever. “So first you take all the Neopoints, then you lose them? Go, get out! Get out of here!”
She pointed to the open door which still groaned on its hinges from the force with which Phersephi had flung it open.
Baylie, still crying herself, scooped up her sobbing little sister who didn’t understand what was going on and why Phersephi, who had been playing with them just an hour ago, was shouting at them now. Baylie hurriedly scuttled out the bedroom door, down the uncarpeted stairs, and out the front entrance.
Phersephi remained in the room a while longer, trying in vain to accept what had just happened. She’d lost Juan, and now she’d lost Baylie and Eppa, too. Some happy holiday season this was turning out to be.
To be continued...