I'm Runner: Part Five
“Nice trip, eh?”
Oliver, you have the worst tact.
I nod, smoothing out the wrinkles of my dress... I mean pants... habitually, forcing a smile to play on my lips, even though it almost hurts to do so. “Yes,” I say, stiffly.
Roxanne stares nervously from the carriage and I can feel her gaze bore holes into the back of my head. Dante goes behind me to help her out, smiling in his gently easy way and taking her arm with a gray mittened hand. Today is cold and the flimsy clothes I wear now aren’t enough to defend myself from the Terror Mountain like wind. Shivering, I rub my hands on my arms, looking around dismally. Our entrance to Meridell seems disappointingly gloomy, or at least to me, from the thick gray clouds that rest on the sky and the earlier conversation. I’m not sure I trust Roxanne to keep a secret... but what can I do now?
“Something wrong?” Oliver says it too happily and I smile at him thinly.
“Nothing. Thanks for the ride.”
The Kougra smiles then falters, looking embarrassed. “Don’t thank me... I slept most of the way anyways.
I laugh with half a heart.
“C’mon.” Dante gestures us over to the motel we parked our carriage by, one called “The Knight’s Cornucopia” which sounds like a kind of wrap you’d eat for lunch... especially since I’m not really sure what an “cornucopia” is.
Just as I’m about to tap Dante’s shoulder to ask-
Eep! We all jump, eyes directed immediately to the sound of the voice involuntarily, the effect of surprise and extreme adrenaline. It is quite frightening.
A large bellied Grarrl pops out of the door, eyes closed as he gathers us all up into one, awkward, and slightly stinky, hug.
“DANTE! So good to see you, my friend!”
I wish I can tell him to use an “inside voice” remembering to my disappointment that we are, indeed, outside. The Grarrl hugs extra tight, cutting off the circulation in our faces, before letting go with a comfortable sigh.
“Hey, Gumbo.” He barely wheezes it out, his voice a strained puff. Dante smiles flimsily, panting slightly, and continues, “Same ol’, same ol’, huh?”
“Of course!” Gumbo picks up a rather tired Dante and hugs/carries him over to the motel, gesturing the confused crowd- that’s me- behind him along. I look at Oliver, who shrugs as an answer, grinning like an idiot.
“Listen to the man,” he says simply, following the pair inside.
Roxanne and I stay behind. She looks at me, only returned with a soft glare on my part, before I start walking forward. I don’t want to spend another minute with her... I can’t believe she expects me just to forget what she’s said!
I stop, the good part of me sensing the brokenness in her voice.
“I just... I don’t think Dante would mind. You should probably tell him.”
I squint ahead at the restaurant, thinking. “I don’t need your advice.” Half of me practically dies at the rudeness while the other half cackles evilly, having been released from the suppressed state that it was in for such a long time.
“Runner... I never told you that I’m sorry. I sincerely am.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean? Would you do it again? Would you pick on someone you barely knew?” Fuming, I rage on at her. I won’t feel bad! I won’t!
Roxanne swallows, brows furrowing. “I... don’t know.”
I feel bad.
I turn to look at her, slightly confused at the defeated mien she’s radiating. This is completely different than the harsh, angry person I knew before. I’m almost shocked; it’s like I’m the one who’s standing over her, rather than the other way around. I soften a bit, cocking my head at her. “Why don’t you know?”
Roxanne looks away. She’s embarrassed to be pitied, the proud thing, though I’m not sure I wouldn’t have acted the same way. I think she isn’t the only one who analyzed someone too quickly. It was also...
“I’ve had too many bad experiences. I...”
Roxanne trails off, tugging her black bangs in irritation. “I just... was using you as a venting machine. I know that’s not right. I’m not trying to defend myself.”
I look at her face. “What is it, Roxanne?”
“I’ve always been treated like dirt. People like you treat me like dirt. I ain’t dirt, you know. I wont be treated as such.” Even though she says she isn’t, her voice rises defensively, paws clenched into fists. “A while ago... this group of rich Neopians came by my café. I was playing the piano.” She gulps, looking away. “And you know what they said? They said that music was for poor neopets who don’t have anything to do. And that’s not true. They were stupid.”
“They probably didn’t think it was true either.”
Roxanne looks up at me, face screwed. “What?”
I bite my lip, hating to confront her. “Well... sometimes, when people are mad, they do stupid things. It was probably just a bad day. You were mad at me and...” I trail off, forcing myself not to continue the sentence.
Roxanne finishes it for me. “...I did stupid things. I know.”
“Why are were you so mad for something like that?”
Roxanne scuffs the ground and spits at it. “I wasn’t. Jealousy plays a part. Bullying.”
“I wasn’t treating you like that.”
Roxanne nods, looking up for the first time, directly into my eyes. The moment passes and she rubs her neck, looking at the restaurant ahead.
“Let’s go inside for now, Run- Fantasia.”
“You can stick with Runner.” Another nod.
I don’t say it in an amused tone, nor do I say it angrily. She nods sheepishly and we look at each other with a strange understanding that only enemies can feel. Old enemies. She’s not my enemy anymore, I think. I don’t say a word. I still haven’t accepted her apology. Not yet. Soon, but not yet. I want it to mean something. I’ll forgive her. She’s already halfway there.
“Typical! Girls take forever to do anything.”
I laugh airily, taking a seat daintily at the other end of the table. We’re currently in a back room of the restaurant, one that’s splayed with a large table. Gumbo was obviously expecting us, because the table is filled with food- too much for us to eat- and we’re mostly secluded from the customers in a backroom, where only a few shouts are to be heard.
Oliver is eating crazily, as if he’s been starved for weeks, while the rest of us are eating hesitantly, not sure what to pick out of the mountain of food. This leads to a very large silence; a very awkward one, to say the least, since we can’t really see each other’s faces. When I said “mountain of food” I wasn’t joking.
“So... about the music thing... when is it?”
“OH!” Oliver spews food in all directions, ignoring the fact that he just threw a half eaten bread at me. “OH!! You’re going to learn an instrument!” He says it with the glee of a child and my eyes widen as if someone just tried to stuff Kreludor in them... and did it.
“Um... I thought you were joking...”
“Joking?! JOKING?! I never joke about my music!” He looks slightly hurt, crossing his arms defiantly.
Luckily, Dante swoops in to the rescue. “Hey, she’ll do it when she’s ready, ‘kay?”
I nod enthusiastically, trying to encourage this notion for Oliver. Oliver thinks over it a bit before nodding grudgingly, smirking at his food. “Whatever you-“
It’s Gumbo, clapping his hands, which is a ridiculous gesture for one his size. We all stare at him slightly confused and I pipe softly, “Who?”
“The musicians, of course!”
Dante stands up, his chair squealing back. “But aren’t we a day early?”
Gumbo snort-laughs, a confusing sound before skipping out. “I think you misread your calendar!”
Oliver smiles wickedly at me and I shrink into a puddle in my seat. Perfect. I sincerely hope he doesn’t force me to go up there and play a banjo or something.
“What, exactly, happens now?”
“Party time,” Roxanne says, smiling slightly, a bit warily at me. I smile back and she visibly relaxes. “Ya see, there’s the pre-convention party. It’s like a bunch of musicians playing a bunch of stuff. It’s fun, I promise.”
Memories of Abbie are getting blurry.
We all get up and I instinctively push my chair in while all the rest are still pushed back at crazy angles. My fingers twitch a bit, perfectionist self wanting to push them all back in... but the perfectionist dies away quickly.
“I’m up for it.”
We walk out of the room and I am the only silent one. I didn’t push in the chairs... a strange, small victory, but it’s something. I’m moving on now, aren’t I?
To be continued...