I'm Runner: Part Three
Once up the stairs, I’m transported from the world of peeling wallpaper and monstrous sofas to a casual café, where the neopets around look calm and relaxed. At least they don’t make me nervous, even though they probably don’t count since they seem to forget to register my existence. Dante goes and sits by himself at a table, sipping an unidentifiable liquid. I walk over slowly to him, feeling way overdressed yet slightly dirty because I still have on the same clothes as yesterday. I’m definitely not in fashion around here, but I’ve never worn anything other than Neovian style clothes.
“Um, hey.” I cock my head slightly. “Where’s Roxanne?” I say it with less concern then I’d hoped but he doesn’t notice.
“She’s waiting for a friend. He’s on the stage right now, actually.”
I follow his gaze, spotting a blue Kougra grinning wildly as he taps away on an old style piano. He’s hard to miss actually; there’s a big spotlight on him and he looks like the musical type. He’s almost dancing as he plays, with a ratty old scarf a lot like Dante’s around his neck like a tie.
“And he is...?”
“Someone who works ‘ere. His name is Oliver, and he’s bringin’ us to our big music convention. We’re hitchin’ a ride with him. He’s real nice, so don’ worry.”
“Oh.” I watch him take another sip of his drink and sit down opposite him, wide-eyed at whatever liquid he’s swallowing. It looks brown... like tea, I guess. But it smells different. I’ve spent my life on tea and water so anything else is a shock. I think I had NeoCola once, from a girl at school... Madeline told me that NeoCola was for other, less educated and that I shouldn’t-
Nooo. I was doing it again.
“Sunflower Tea,” he says, reading my mind.
I try to think of something to say, something clever that would make him and Roxanne think more of me, although Roxanne has seemingly disappeared.
But before I can open my mouth, he slides it over for me to drink. I stare at it dully, mind blank as tissue. “Uh...”
I nod, drinking, trying not to slurp as I realize how hungry I am.
He nods distantly looking to our right with airy interest. “Haven’t seen one of those before.”
I follow his finger to a bulletin board that’s put up near the glass doorway. What’s he talking-?
There’s a picture, with a large printed “LOST” underneath, followed by words too small to read from the distance that I’m at. What really scares me, though, is the fact that the picture above the “LOST” is me.
I jump out of my seat, rushing over to the board before Dante can get a closer look, jittering nervously and overly excited. How could they have made posters already?! The board seems miles away and after about a marathon of running, I reach it, tearing off the paper ferociously.
“Oh! That’s an old poster! I’ll just throw it away since it’s so... old!”
Dante looks a little estranged, “Really? I was preeeeeetty sure that the paper you tore down wasn’t there last ni-”
“Nope! You’re wrong! I saw it!”
I’m shaking as I run back to my seat, crumpling the paper and tossing it out behind my back. They can’t find me! I have to leave... soon!
“You were asleep.”
“Your eyes were closed and you didn’t move when we picked you up.”
“A common misconception!”
“Then why’d you make us carry you?”
I realize how weird this conversation is. “I was asleep.” I hope I’m not confusing him too much...
“You’re confusing me.”
So much for that.
“Um... I’ll talk to you later. Drink as many teas as you want.”
Shaking his head, he walks off to the café’s counter, jumping into a conversation with the yellow Aisha waitress. Well, THAT could have gone better... Does he think I’m a complete drag?
I wish I wouldn’t care so much. But I couldn’t have let him know about-
Roxanne slides in the chair in front of me, snapping me out of my reverie, smug grin on her face. “Hey there.” She props her feet on the table. Her “hey there” is about as friendly as a sack of needles.
“Erm... hello?” It came out as a question more than an answer. I feel woozy from the amount of thought interruptions today. It might also be the tea.
Taking her feet down, she leans forward, eyes suddenly hissi-like slits. “I know your kind, Runner. The stuck up, bratty, snot filled kind.”
I stare at her in abashed shock. What? I blink, surprised by the randomness of this statement. This had come from completely nowhere... and I was still trying to recover from my last conversation. “What... what are you talking about?”
She rolls her eyes, leaning back, making the chair bend behind her weight. “Really, Runner? Really? Don’t act stupid with me. Just don’t get all ‘I’m better than you’ on me, ‘kay? Just ‘cuz we don’t live in the lap of lux doesn’t mean we aren’t fit for your presence. I have no idea what Dante sees in you, but I’ll let you know that the only reason I’m gonna put up with you is because of him.”
“But you don’t even know-”
She walks away as she ignores me, and I falter.
I am eating my head off.
Not literally of course but-
-you get what I mean.
And Sunflower Tea proves to be an extremely addictive substance.
I’ve never gone a night without food and I feel like I’m starved, though I really shouldn’t feel this way since it hasn’t even been that long. I’ve lived more luxuriously then I thought.
I smile warmly as Oliver comes over, displaying his words with fingers avidly, deep into conversation with Dante, who laughs and signals for him to quiet for a second. “Hey, this is Runner. You mind her comin’ along with us?”
Oliver smiles, whistling slowly. “Why not? I’m up to help any damsel in distress.” He says, eyebrows wiggling, and that sends me into a fit of giggles. If he’d known what I’d been through, maybe he’d think differently. My prior confusion about the experience with Roxanne evaporates and I don’t feel so bad. “The music convention will be fun.”
“But I don’t really know anything about music.”
Why’d you say that? Do you want them to leave you alone or not?
You don’t even know your way around!
And obviously, you have something wrong with your people skills, especially around certain purple Poogles.
I shrink to the size of a walnut in my chair.
“That’s fine,” says the Kougra, laughing slightly, batting the air. He has the mannerisms of a fast talker, I can tell. I’ve a small talent when it comes to deciphering people. It comes from being shy, and always having to watch what others do. And it’s also weird how much I’ve been talking in the last few days since I swear it’s more then I’ve ever talked before.
That’s a good thing, I think.
He almost reminds me of Reagan-
I sigh quietly, before looking at the Kougra with wide eyes.
Oliver smiles deviously, quickly adding, “So that obviously means you’ll just have to learn from us.”
But I can’t do... music!
Before I can speak he walks away, arm slung around Dante’s neck. “Come on, Runner, time to go!” he calls back, oblivious to my mortification. Everything is happening too fast and my head is reeling.
Thinking about this, I don’t really pay attention to what I’m doing and I slip-tumble out of the chair, grabbing onto the coffee table.
I hear the Sunflower Tea grate slowly across the smooth wooden surface of the table, dragging the coaster with it. And then... silence.
For a second it holds and I breathe a sigh of relief.
The sigh shakes the table. Of course this would happen to me.
It flips, tumbling over my head and onto the floor, sending one of the table’s legs flying across the room and, of course, hitting Oliver on the back of the head. Before he has time to react, the rest of my Sunflower Tea decides to join the party and spills on my hair, dripping down my face and onto my clothes, before shattering on the floor. My eyes are dinner plates and I stare in horrified embarrassment. Oliver and Dante whirl around, staring at the mess I made in the space of three seconds while the forks clatter off the table and onto my lap as a finishing touch. I close my eyes tightly. Just close your eyes and it’ll all disappear!
Wow, Fantasia, just wow.
I dare to peek, surprised to see Oliver grinning goofily, obviously amused. “I think you’ll need some new clothes.” Roxanne snickers from a corner.
This is going to be one long trip.
To be continued...