Six Names, Six Lives, Six Owners, One Terrible Tale: Part Five
A few hours later, I was stuck in a stuffy hospital bed in a room where everything was plain old white. The sheets, the wall, and even the nightstand. Sometimes, I would hear Reijo in the next room, often shouting angrily at one nurse or another.
No one would or could tell me anything about the rest of my family, though I nearly panicked when a voice came over a speaker.
“Emergency for an Ogrin in room 305,” it said. I was almost ready to leap out of bed and demand to know how Oliver was, but the next message helped me relax again. “Emergency for green Ogrin in room 305, 305.”
It wasn't much, but seeing as Oliver was yellow, I decided that I could safely assume that he was all right, but what about Annie? What about Marilyn? I hadn't seen or heard anything about them, and as the sun slowly sank down, I became more and more worried.
Once in a while, a nurse would come into my room and do whatever. Check my heart rate or one of those other dumb things. Eventually, though, they finally realized that there was nothing wrong with me (which I had known all along) and allowed me to visit Reijo.
Due to him being inside the burning house longer, Reijo was not completely out of the danger zone yet, but one of the doctors assured me that he was doing all right and would probably make a full recovery.
The day passed slowly. I spent most of my day in Reijo's room, and I still saw neither hide or tail of the rest of my family, and I continued to worry.
Finally, a nurse came into Reijo's room. “Honey,” she said to me with one of those fake-o nurse smiles. “Your other brother would like to see you.”
Finally! I followed the nurse down the halls, and could not believe, how slowly she walked. When we reached the room, which was, if possible, even more white then mine, Oliver was still coughing from the inhaled smoke.
“Are you okay?” I asked, worried. He coughed again before replying.
“I'll live,” he said. “How about you?”
“I'm all right,” I said with a shrug. “And Reijo's almost ready to go too. Have you heard anything about Annie?” Oliver hung his head.
“She's not doing so good,” Oliver said. “The doctors... well, let's not get into that. I haven't actually seen her, but...” He trailed off, his eyes betraying his worry for his sister.
“I'll go visit her,” I promised. “Have you heard anything about Marilyn?”
“No, nothing,” Oliver said.
“Well, no news is good news, right?” I tried to smile hopefully as I left.
“Excuse me?” I said, approaching one of the nurses. “Can you tell me which room my sister is in?”
“She's all the way down in 219,” she said. “but I'm not sure that the doctors are allowing visit-”
“They'll allow me.” I stalked away.
As I approached room 219, I noticed more and more nurses and doctors. This wasn't the wing for those with sniffles and headaches; this was far more serious. I kept track of numbers on doors as I passed, so as not to miss 219.
“217, 218, 219,” I counted under my breath. The door to my sister's room was shut, and I nervously reached up to knock. Before I could, I heard someone behind me.
“You lost, son?” asked a green Gelert doctor with tiny spectacles and a white coat.
“No, I'm looking for a patient,” I explained. “One of the nurses said that she was in there.”
“We're only allowing family visitors at the moment,” the Gelert said curtly, clearly trying to keep me out.
“I'm her brother,” I protested. The Gelert sighed.
“Oh,” he said, and, seeming to have run out of excuses, opened the door.
Inside was a room not to different from my own. Inside were the two people I wanted to see more than almost any other.
The first one, of course, was Annie. She was either asleep or unconscious, and dressed in a simple white hospital gown. One of her paws was attached to a long wire, which led to a machine that continued to beep rhythmically throughout my time in the room.
The other person was Marilyn, who was sitting next to Annie's bed, gently stroking her pet's ears with one hand and holding her pet's paw in the other.
“Conner!” she said suddenly, standing up and flinging her arms around me. “Are you okay? I heard that you actually went inside the house and-”
“Yeah, yeah, I'm okay,” I said. “How's Annie?”
Marilyn sighed “She's not so good. What about Oliver and Reijo? I heard that they were doing all right, and that's why I haven't gone to see them.”
“They're both all right,” I reassured her, sitting down next to Annie's bed. “Do you think she'll be okay?”
“The doctors are doing everything they can,” Marilyn said. “but right now, most of that is just waiting to see what happens.”
I held my sister's hand, and she moved, ever so slightly, and then sank into sleep once more. I dared not think what would happen if she didn't heal
“Conner? Conner?” I felt someone shaking my shoulder, and realized that I must have fallen asleep next to Annie's bed. Rubbing my eyes with the heels of my paws, I stretched and shook my head.
Next to me, in a wheelchair, was Oliver.
“What's up?” I asked, worried. “Why are you in that chair?” Surely Oliver hadn't lost use of his legs!
“Don't worry,” Oliver said, wiggling his toes. “They're pretty sure it's just some temporary damage to my ankle. I'll heal eventually. What about you? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I'm okay,” I said, stretching again. “Where's Marilyn?”
“She's with Reijo now,” Oliver explained. “but she'll be back soon. Reijo will be checking out later today, and I'll probably do the same since all I have to do is wait for my leg to heal.”
“What then?” I asked. Oliver clasped his hands nervously.
“I don't know,” he said. “Maybe we'll just wait here until Annie heals.”
“We can't stay at the hospital forever, Oliver.”
“No.... no, we can't.”
Three days passed in the hospital. Reijo, Marilyn and I made complete recoveries, and Oliver got used getting around in his chair. The source of the fire, a problem with our oven, was eventually found. The only thing we had left to worry about was Annie. I had heard Marilyn speaking to the doctors, or even crying, more than once, and I knew that our situation was getting grim. One night, however, I almost cried along with Marilyn when I heard her talking to a doctor in the hall.
“What are her chances?” That was Marilyn. She sounded worried, and I perked up my ears.
“We still can't be sure,” the doctor said soothingly, “but it really depends on what you mean by chances.”
“I mean, what are her chances of ever going home?”
“Those chances are improving every day,” the doctor reassured her. “but I must tell you, something probably fell on her when she was inside. Her backbone snapped, and it is totally possible that she'll never walk again. I'm very sorry.”
There was silence in the hall a few moments, but then I started hearing Marilyn's tears. I could imagine the doctor looking very sympathetic, maybe even patting her shoulder.
Nearby, on the floor (which I could have eaten off of, by the way), Reijo was chewing a toy one of the nurses had found for him.
Suddenly, fear rushed though me. Could we really get through this? We had lost almost everything we had in the fire, including our home. What would happen to us? More specifically, what would happen to Reijo? Or Annie? Or even me?
Would we even be able to stay together?
I'm very sorry to tell you this, but even though I didn't know it at the time, the answer was no.
Two weeks later, with Annie still unconscious most of the time, Marilyn removed what neopoints she had in the bank and bought the cheapest neohome she could (seeing as our old one was hardly more than a pile of rubble). Some of our old neighbors or neofriends were kind enough to donate food, blankets, and even toys for us, just to help us get by.
The house was one story, which was good for Oliver, who was still confined to a wheelchair, or crutches if the ground was particularly rough.
Marilyn spent most of her time in the hospital with Annie, so we were left at home alone a lot, with me in charge most of the time.
The new house was hazardous for both of my brothers, so I had to keep an eye on both of them. Reijo didn't understand the danger of unstable tables or other dangers, so I had to keep him busy with the few toys we had.
Oliver, while he could usually take care of himself and didn't bite dangerous objects, couldn't reach anything high up, and sometimes had trouble opening doors, meaning that I had to help him.
Every evening, Marilyn would come home, always trying to keep a positive smile on her face, but one day, Marilyn came home looking utterly defeated.
“What is it?” Oliver asked worriedly, hobbling into the room on crutches as he tried to wean himself from the chair.
“I just received the hospital bill,” Marilyn said. “It's... it's a lot.”
Oliver and I exchanged worried looks.
“So, how's Annie?” I asked, hoping to change the subject.
“Better,” Marilyn said. “Though she won't be coming home for a while yet.” She had never mentioned Annie's broken backbone to me or Oliver.
After that, in an attempt to keep up with the hospital bills, we hardly saw our owner. When she wasn't with Annie, she was doing whatever she could to make money. Oliver was the one who came up with a suggestion to help her.
“We should start a petpet sitting service!” he suggested. “Then we could give the money we earn to Marilyn!”
That was how, another week later, we had set up the living room so that it was safe for petpets. We covered the dangerous items, and taken breakable things out of the room.
After a month, it was likely that Annie would come home any day, and Oliver and I had made nearly seven hundred neopoints for petpetsitting. By that time, Oliver never used his crutches, and a cane was all he really needed, even though it led to much teasing from his friends for looking like an 'old fart'.
One night, I was laying in my sleeping bag (seeing as we couldn't afford beds yet.) when I heard the door slam. Looking up from my place on the living room floor, I saw Marilyn entering the house, with a huge smile on her face.
“Guess what?” she said, seeing I was awake.
“What?” I murmured blearily.
“Annie can come home tomorrow!”
“She can?” Oliver sat up. I hadn't known that he was awake.
“Yes,” Marilyn said. “But there's something I need to tell you...” And that was how Marilyn finally broke down and told us about Annie's backbone injury, though she wasn't telling the full truth. She made it sound like it was no more permanent that Oliver's broken ankle.
I knew better.
The day Annie came home, in a wheelchair, was the first really happy day for our family since the fire. Annie was surprisingly optimistic about the whole thing, though I was sure Marilyn had talked to her about her condition.
Oliver and I, using the last of our petpetsitting money, had bought Annie a new usuki doll, which she accepted gratefully. Even Reijo, who still couldn't fully understand what was going on, giggled and nibbled his own feet happily.
Again, I started feeling that maybe there was some hope left for us. Yeah, yeah, we had a lame house with almost no furniture. Yeah, we were living off of omelette and jelly. Yeah, Annie couldn't even walk, but we were all together, we were all okay.
However, after a few days, the strain on everyone became evident. Marilyn was still struggling financially just to feed us, and it slowly dawned on Annie that she might never walk properly again. Oliver and I, despite our good intentions, often quarreled over silly, unimportant things, such as whose day it was to do the chores.
I felt that all our problems would be solved if only we had more money, but for a four-neopet family, making enough money isn't easy, especially if two younger members have no way of helping earn it.
Maybe, I thought, If it was just Oliver and Annie again, plus Reijo, there would be enough food and money to go around. Maybe there would even be enough to buy a bigger house, and a trip to the healing springs for Annie. For several days, I thought about that, and I soon reached a conclusion.
I prepared to leave in secret.
If Marilyn could stop wasting money on me and focus her resources on Reijo and Annie, who actually needed them, maybe there wouldn't be such a shortage. I considered asking Oliver to leave with me, but this family was all he'd ever known, and I knew he couldn't, wouldn't leave.
I had written a long note to Marilyn, explaining what I had done, and waited for the right time to leave it and sneak away.
Finally, one night, I decided to stop procrastinating. I wanted to stay, yes. I wanted to remain with the best family I'd ever had, yes. But leaving would help them, that I knew.
As I crept towards the door, I felt something bump my foot. Looking down, I saw Reijo clinging to my paw, as if insisting I stay. I pulled him off.
“No, you can't come with me,” I said. “You can't. I have to do this alone. You coming with me would defeat the whole purpose.” He stuck out his lip and blinked silently a few times. The message was clear: “Don't leave me!” Ignoring him, I stalked toward the door, and discovered him following me. He peeped quietly. I sighed and reached down to pick him up, one last time.
“Listen, Reijo,” I said quietly. “I have to go. I don't want to, because you're the best brother any neopet ever had, and Marilyn is the best owner, and Oliver and Annie are...” Reijo continued to look up at me pitifully.
“Reijo, you don't belong where I'm going,” I insisted. “I'm going to the pound. That's no place for you. There would be nothing to play with, nothing to chew, and nothing to do. Only a crazy pet would give up his family just for the sake of his brothe-” Then I stopped. That was exactly what I was doing. I was giving up my family, probably forever, just for the sake of my siblings.
“I guess we're both a little crazy, huh?” I asked. Reijo climbed over my shoulder and held on firmly. “Okay,” I said. “I get the message. If I go, you go, huh?”
Reijo kind of smiled and hugged my back. I took a deep breath. “Whatever happens, we stick together, right?” He nodded.
I don't know if this story would be different if I had left Reijo behind. Maybe I wouldn't be writing this. Maybe I wouldn't be where I am today. Maybe maybe maybe. I suppose we'll never know.
When we reached the pound, Reijo (who was still piggy-backing on me) gave my neck a little squeeze. That little guy was clearly willing to follow me wherever I went, even if it was into the depths of the most dangerous place in Neopia, which was exactly where we were headed.
Magenta was sitting at the desk as we entered, even though it was late at night. She looked up briefly, clearly hoping I was a potential adopter, and then looked back down.
“Oh,” she muttered. “You again.”
“Yeah, me,” I said. “Problem?”
Magenta looked behind me, as if expecting someone else. “Where's your owner?” she asked.
“She... she doesn't know we're here.”
I placed Reijo on the ground, where he looked around in curiosity. Magenta softened instantly, and let out and involuntary 'awwwwww'. (That is hard to resist when there's a baby of any species around.)
“He has to stay with me, though.” I crossed my arms and planted my feet. “I don't care what you think, but we share a cage, and eventually an owner.”
“I think we can do that,” Magenta said, picking up Reijo and nuzzling him. “Oh, aren't you the sweetest thing! Yes, you are! Yes, you are! Meredith, come and see this little bundle of joy!”
“I've told you again and again,” Dr. Death said angrily as he slithered into the room. “Don't call me by my first....” He broke off when he saw Reijo. “Awwwwww....” he said. “Isn't that just the cutest!”
My jaw hurt for hours afterward due to the momentum with which it made contact with the floor. Dr. Death? Cooing over a baby? Either the world had gone crazy, or Reijo was magic.
Oh well, it didn't matter. His cuteness didn't prevent us from being shoved in a cage.
I wasn't in the corner this time. I wasn't forced in by a rude owner this time. I wasn't alone this time. So why did I feel worse than ever?
To be continued...