Happily Ever After?: Part Three
“What are you working on, Nikole?” James asked, knocking lightly on the royal Zafara’s bedroom door. “Finishing up your school project?”
Niki glanced up from the story she was writing. She had only been living with James for two weeks now, and had already learned how to write in Neoschool. She had been very eager to learn, and because of it, practiced her letters and spelling for hours every day. Her handwriting wasn’t too bad; it was quite legible. “No,” she answered. “I finished the project last night. This is just a story I’m working on.”
James looked surprised. “I didn’t know you liked to write stories,” he said, approaching the desk to get a better look.
Niki smiled, embarrassed. “I’ve always loved making up stories. When I lived in Meridell, I used to tell the village pets all sorts of stories during the day, while their owners were busy. Lately I’ve been writing them all down in notebooks.” She pointed toward her bookshelf, where three empty notebooks stood proudly among the other books, waiting to be filled with her words. “Whitney told me that I could try submitting stories into the Neopian Times.”
James’s smile wavered slightly, but he quickly regained his composure. “I’m headed to the auction house now. I could swing by the Neopian Times office for you on my way, if you want, and submit one for you.”
Niki jumped up. “I have one that’s finished,” she said, hurrying over to the bookshelf and pulling out a small red notebook. She fingered the pages carefully. It was one of her old stories, one that a little blue Kougra in Meridell had favored. This one’s for you, Rascal, she thought faithfully. I’m sorry I haven’t finished yours yet, Claire. “Here it is. It’s called Toby the Brave. It’s a story about a Warf named Toby, who overcomes his fears and saves his friends. In the end, he becomes a petpet hero.”
James took the notebook from her and quickly flipped through the pages. “This is rather long,” he said, when he found that the story ended after ten pages. “It would probably be better to submit it as a series.”
Niki nodded in agreement. “Okay. Whatever you think is best.”
“Alright. I’m on my way out now. After the auction house I’ll be checking my stocks. I should be back before dinner.” James carefully tucked the small notebook into the pocket of his suit. “Whitney has lunch waiting for you downstairs.”
* * *
“Niki, a neomail just arrived!” Whitney’s sweet, chirpy voice rang out from the kitchen. The pink Pteri had become a close friend to Niki, even though she was hired to work in James’s house. “It’s from the Neopian Times headquarters!”
The royal Zafara (who often forgot she was a royal, and was constantly dirtying and ruining her dresses) flew down the hallway, nearly tripping over herself. “Really? What does it say?”
James had submitted the three-part series for her just two weeks before. Whitney, brimming with excitement, quickly handed Niki the envelope.
Niki hastily ripped it open, her eyes scanning the black-printed words. Then she let out a shriek. “It’s accepted! The first part of Toby the Brave will appear in this week’s issue!” She glanced at the calendar on the wall. “That’s only two days away! I have to tell James. Do you know where he is?”
Whitney gave her a sympathetic smile. “He’s at the auction house, selling a few things he bought the other day.”
Working. Of course, thought Niki. James was always busy restocking, buying stocks, and reselling at the auction house. “Oh well. I’ll tell him at dinner, then.”
A few hours later, James came home with a gold Neopian Times trophy in his arms, the letter ‘3’ engraved in the gold. “Look at this!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t it great? It’ll look fabulous in my trophy case.”
* * *
Dear James, the letter began, my pets and I just finished reading the first part of Toby the Brave, and we all loved it! Please, please, please – will you give us a hint about the next part? Your biggest fans, Carla, Millie, and Diego.
The three other neomails were similar, and all of them were addressed to James. At first Niki was confused; then Whitney reminded her that James had been the one to send in the series, which made them under his name. “Oh, well,” Niki mumbled to herself. “Maybe James will reply and tell them that I was the one to write it.”
She neatly stacked the neomails and left them on the kitchen counter, where James was sure to see them when he got home.
* * *
As the weeks went by, more and more letters filtered in – and all of them were addressed to James. He even got a few from his friends, saying things like, “James, I didn’t know you could write! Why were you keeping such a talent hidden? Keep up the good work, buddy.”
Niki gave up asking him to tell the people that she wrote the story. “It would just confuse them, Nikole,” James had told her firmly. “You don’t want that, do you?”
She didn’t feel right about it, but chose not say anything more. Instead, she continued to write, and every few weeks James would come in and ask her for a new series to submit. Niki couldn’t figure out why he was so eager to get her stories into the Neopian Times. He must like getting fan mail, she decided. Before Toby the Brave, the letters that came for James were few.
Niki ended each of her stories with “happily ever after”, and it became a sort of “secret” signature for her. Besides, all of them had happy endings. She didn’t know how to write any other type. After a while, Niki began to feel like James was clogging up the Neopian Times. Maybe I should take a break from writing, she wondered. To give someone else a chance to get their story in.
It wasn’t until Whitney informed her one afternoon that the Neopian Times trophy, which was kept securely in a locked glass case, had been updated to the number 47. “If this keeps up, he’ll have 100 Neopian Times issues,” she said, making a tsk-tsk noise with her tongue and shaking her head.
Niki stared at her. “Whitney... do you think James is using me to get those trophies? I mean, he always says he’s only submitting them to support me and my writing... Lately he hasn’t even let me read the letters he gets. And you know how much he loves collecting trophies.”
Whitney glanced at her briefly and went back to the food she was working on. “Do you want some soup?” she asked, cheerfully changing the subject. “It’s Soup Faerie Soup. I personally asked the Soup Faerie for the recipe. It took a little while for me to convince her to let me have it, but I think she liked me. She came up with it herself, you know. It’s exquisite.”
Niki’s stomach grumbled at the smell of the soup, but she shook her head. “No thanks. I’m not hungry; maybe later. I think I’ll go for a walk. The weather is really nice today.”
The days were getting warmer as summer approached, so Niki didn’t bother to take a jacket. She did, however, take a bundle of neopoints with her. She had been saving her allowance during the months she’d lived with James.
Niki strolled along the market, enjoying the different user-owned shops. She loved seeing quaint little boutiques run by families. In one of them, she discovered a Meridellian potato for sale. It made her homesick, thinking of the Meri Acres Farm where she used to work so many months before.
Maybe that’s what I need, she thought. I need to visit home again. To go back to the village and see everything. Niki looked down at her royal-painted self. I definitely can’t show up in the village like this! They’ll think I belong in the castle. No one will recognize me.
Niki visited multiple shops until she finally found what she was looking for: a simple red paint brush. It cost most of her allowance, and with the rest, Niki purchased a long blue dress. She trekked down to the Rainbow Pool, where a crowd watched in surprise as the royal Zafara painted herself plain.
Less than an hour later, she had a small bag packed and was working on a note to James. He wasn’t due back for a few more hours, and Niki didn’t have any time to waste if she wanted to reach Meridell before dark. Since she didn’t know how James would feel about her “taking a vacation”, she constructed the letter with great care.
I’ve decided to take a trip back to Meridell, where I’m from. I’ve been feeling very homesick lately, and I think it will be good to get back for a while. I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone. It could be a few days, or possibly even a few weeks. No need to worry about me; I know Meridell like the back of my paw.
It will be nice to visit the Meri Acres Farm again, and maybe count some potatoes. Did you know that we haven’t eaten a single potato in the three months I’ve been here? I know it sounds strange, but I miss them a lot.
To be continued...