Happily Ever After?: Part Two
“Welcome to your new home.” The yellow Techo’s sinister smile and bad breath made Niki want to wince. He opened the door to one of the large cages and gestured for her to walk inside.
The red Zafara did so hesitantly, shivering in the chilly air. Behind her, the metal door slammed shut, making her jump in surprise. The Techo had taken away all of her belongings – her neopoints, her books, and even the two candles she had brought along.
Instantly, a curious face appeared out of the dark shadows, and a green Lupe stepped forward. “Who are you?” she asked, cocking her head to the side. “I’m Charlee. That’s short for Charlene, if you’re wondering. I’ve been here for two months already, but hey, who’s counting?”
Charlee’s personality was unlike any pet she had ever met before, but Niki liked her immediately. “I’m Niki. That’s short for Nikole.” She smiled. “I just got here.”
Charlee smiled back.
* * *
“So, you’re here to learn how to tell a story?” Charlee asked, trying to understand. “I don’t get it.”
“No, no, no. I’m just here to learn how the adoption process works, and how Neopets find families. I’ve never had a family before, so I thought I would try it out myself for a few days. Then I’ll be able to tell the village pets the proper story they asked for, since I’ll have experienced it.” Niki smiled. “It’s simple, really.”
The Lupe crinkled her brow. “N-no, Niki, I don’t think you get it. Don’t you see? You’re in the pound. Neopets don’t get out of the pound unless they’re adopted, and that could take months. Even years. And you can’t just leave after you’re adopted. It doesn’t work that way.”
Niki gave her a blank stare. “What do you mean? I don’t want to get adopted permanently. I just wanted to know how it worked, so I could go back to Meridell and tell the pets my story.”
Charlee bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Niki... Unfortunately, you’re stuck here.”
* * *
Four and a half weeks had passed since Niki had willingly handed herself over to the pound. After her arrival, she had told stories to the other pound pets, trying to help cheer them up. For a while, it worked. But in the last few weeks, Niki had become quite depressed in the dark cage, missing the sunshine and the village pets. Surprisingly enough, she even missed the scarce meals she’d once eaten in Meridell. The food served each day in the pound was anything but delicious – in fact, she wasn’t sure half of it was edible.
Charlee had been adopted just a few days before, opening a space for Niki’s new “roommate”, Dannay. The yellow Usul was pleasant enough, but clearly miserable. The only words she spoke to Niki were complaints. This put Niki into an even worse mood. Didn’t she, resident of the pound for a month and a half now, have a bigger right to complain than a pet that had been there for only two days?
“Why don’t they give us mirrors in here?” Dannay whined, smoothing down her dirty fur. “I’m sure I look awful. Don’t you think they should at least give us proper baths? My old owner used to spoil me with all sorts of grooming items. I had six different hair brushes, and more than ten sets of makeup. Not to mention clothes! I probably had more outfits than Queen Fyora...”
Niki was tired of listening. Instead, she stared beyond the cage bars, watching the eager Neopians run around, looking for pets to adopt. Most of them were looking for painted or limited edition pets. Niki sighed as she watched them, missing her tiny home in Meridell. I’ll be stuck here forever, just like Charlee said would happen, she thought miserably. I’ll never be able to get home.
Just then, someone stopped in front of their cage. A teenage boy peered in, squinting through the darkness. Startled, Dannay quickly stopped fussing over herself and struck a Beauty Queen pose, offering her most dazzling smile. But the boy wasn’t looking at her. He was looking at Niki.
* * *
Half an hour later, Niki found herself standing in front of a huge mansion in the heart of Neopia Central. Everything had gone by so fast. Niki had been released from her cage, much to Dannay’s dismay. The pink Uni at the desk had handed over some paperwork, and the boy had filled it all out and taken her away from the pound.
The teenager, who had introduced himself as James, was grinning proudly at her. “Welcome to your new home, Nikole.” He made a dramatic gesture toward the snow-white mansion, being careful not to wrinkle his freshly-pressed suit. “We also have a summer home on Mystery Island. You’ll see that in a few months.”
He led her inside, where servants immediately began waiting on her hand and foot. “I’m going to run some errands,” James said. “I’ll be back by dinner with plenty of surprises. Whitney will show you to your room and help you get settled.” Before Niki could respond, he was out the door.
A pink Pteri maid showed her upstairs, where her new bedroom was located. “This is where you’ll be staying,” the Pteri said, opening the door for her. Her name was Whitney – Niki would have to try and remember that.
The room was the most beautiful thing Niki had ever seen. The ceiling was high, and the walls were painted a deep shade of violet-red. A huge bed was placed in the center of the room, with its back up against a wall, right beneath a big glass window. The furniture was exquisite – the desk, the dresser, and the vanity were all made of cherry oak. Best of all, there was a tall bookshelf filled with brand-new books. Niki’s jaw dropped when she saw it.
It was all so wonderful. Claire didn’t tell me being adopted would be like this! Niki gasped inwardly. Before she could exclaim over anything, Whitney spoke.
“We’ve drawn a bath for you, so you can get ready for supper,” she said, pointing toward Niki’s private restroom. “You’ll find all the grooming utensils you’ll need in there. I’ll lay out some fresh clothes for you on the bed.”
“Oh – thank you!” Niki gasped, beaming at the Pteri. “Thank you so much!”
* * *
“What do I do?” Niki asked nervously, eyeing the object James held.
“It’s easy. Just hold the paint brush and step into the water. The pool will do the rest.” He handed the royal paint brush to her, a quirky smile on his face. Clearly, he was excited.
Niki did as he said, taking a hesitant step toward the water. How was she going to tell him that she didn’t know how to swim?
James had presented the paint brush to her the previous night at dinner, along with many other amazing items. He had purchased many articles of clothing and accessories from the NC Mall (of course, Niki had to ask him what that was), and even bought her a petpet: an adorable Snowbunny. (Although, it kept running away from her, and when she finally caught it, it nipped her.) He insisted on calling her by her full name, though, which she found slightly annoying.
Niki glanced back at her new owner one last time before stepping fully into the Rainbow Pool. It won’t be so bad, she told herself. It doesn’t look very deep at all. Instantly, a weird sensation gripped the red Zafara, and she squeezed her eyes shut. The next thing she knew, she had fully submerged in the water, and then came back out again.
“Oh, Nikole, you look great!” James called to her as soon as her head was out of the water. “You’ll be the envy of all the pets in Neopia Central.”
Newly transformed, Niki looked down at herself. She felt different – elegant and tall. Her fur was a creamy yellow color, and she was now wearing a long, blue-and-purple gown. A strange thought came to her, and she quickly crossed her eyes. Well, at least my nose is still the same color! she thought, feeling oddly relieved.
“Come along, Your Highness,” James teased, grinning at her. “You’ll have plenty of time to get used to your new look. For now, let’s visit some shops and show off your fancy color. I was thinking we could start training you to be in the Beauty Contest. Look, the book shop is just over there. Didn’t you tell me you like to read?”
They crossed the lane and entered the Magical Bookshop, and James told Niki to pick out whatever she liked. “Oh – but I couldn’t,” Niki answered, appalled. “My bookshelf is already filled with books, and I haven’t even looked at them yet. I couldn’t ask you to buy more.”
James considered this, and in the end, took her to the school supply shop. “Neoschool is already more than half over,” he explained. “You’ll be months behind the rest of the students, but I refuse to let you go uneducated. School is very important.”
They picked out dozens of items, including a fancy backpack. Niki didn’t know that so many supplies existed. She had never learned how to write before, so it was shocking to see so many different styles of paper, pencils, pens, and erasers – and all in one place!
For lunch, they ate from Gourmet Foods – a grand improvement from the pound’s food. For a moment, Niki almost felt bad for cocky Dannay.
To be continued...