The Family Reunion: Part Six
I was galloping away with no sense of time, but I crashed back down to reality the moment the Cooking Pot came into sight. It was a large black cauldron sitting in a small clearing. Instead of grass in this clearing there was dirt, and a bench here and there. At the point where the path merged with the cleared space there was a sign that proclaimed boldly, “Welcome, tourists and natives alike, to the fantastic Cooking Pot!!”
At the giant cauldron, almost completely invisible because of the steam arising from the brew, was a Faerie. She had mocha-colored skin and pretty dark hair and eyes. She wielded an enormous wooden mixing spoon double her own size, with which she stirred the contents of the Cooking Pot. She had to constantly flap her wings to even stay level with the rim of the giant thing. She whisked out a smaller spoon and did a taste test on the brew. After contemplating its flavor, she called out to seemingly nobody, “It’s nice and flat.”
“Excuse me,” Delilah said loudly, approaching the hot cauldron. “Are you Jhuidah?”
The Faerie flittered down to us, propping the large wooden spoon against the Cooking Pot and offering a smile.
“The one-and-only Cooking Pot Faerie, at your service,” Jhuidah announced.
“Um, isn’t that giant spoon a little heavy?” Delilah asked, peering around the Faerie to gape at the enlarged kitchen utensil.
“At first,” Jhuidah admitted. “But after a while, you get used to it. You wouldn’t believe how much of a workout you get in just one day of stirring with that thing!”
To demonstrate all the strength stocked in her petite arms, Jhuidah hefted a boulder from the edge of the clearing clean off the ground, and set it down on the other side. We stared in shock and Jhuidah shrugged, flying back to us.
“My sisters over in Faerieland live too luxuriously,” Jhuidah said. “If a Faerie really wants to stay fit, she’s got to find a job outside of her tidy castle bedroom!”
“Uh-huh,” Delilah said slowly. “Um, I’m sure.”
“Well, if that’s all you wanted to know...” Jhuidah displayed one last smile of white teeth, and began to lift her spoon again. “I’ve got to get back to stirring. Don’t want any Zeenana peels sticking and burning on the bottom of the pot! This thing is a pain to clean. We have to get out the high-pressure hoses, and...”
“Wait!” Delilah said. “That’s not what we came for. I just got distracted, I’m sorry.”
“Oh, right, of course,” laughed the Faerie. “What items do you have for me today?”
“Actually,” I said, speaking for the first time in that conversation, “we aren’t here to mix any items, either.”
“You’re not?” Jhuidah wrinkled her brow. “I don’t sell souvenirs; that’s really the Tiki Tack Man’s area...”
“We’re here looking for a pet,” I explained. “A blue Gelert – well, maybe he’s not blue anymore, who knows – about fifteen years old; his birthday is in November, he loves Soreen, he adores the Island Tombola, he can tell you everything about Pango-Pango, he always keeps his Cherry Wish Stick with him... and his name is Parker, though maybe he changed it. Is he here?”
I felt flustered as random facts about Parker came pouring out. Jhuidah looked at me, startled, and blinked a few times.
“Aiden’s got a relative?” she said unbelievingly after a silence. “A real, living relation?”
“He’s here?!” I practically shouted and did a leap for joy, ignoring the fact that she’d called him Aiden. “He’s really here? Now?”
“Well, not right now,” Jhuidah said. “He’s out for a walk, visiting the Soreen at the Rock Pool – he loves them, like you said. How do you know him?”
“I’m his sister,” I told her, my heart beating at a new pace. “Does he work here?”
“Yes.” Jhuidah nodded. “That little vagabond came to me a couple of years ago, all thirsty and hungry and without a Neopoint on him.”
“He left them all for me,” I murmured, tears forming in my eyes. “Every penny he left so I could eat.” But Jhuidah didn’t hear me, and plowed ahead.
“Weary though he clearly was,” Jhuidah continued. “He was so excited to be at the Cooking Pot. He volunteered to help me, and I was really very surprised. But I didn’t turn him away, and I found him a small hut to live in just down that path branching to the right. He finds me ingredients I need to keep the mixture in the Cooking Pot just even enough to add items to. In return, I give him food and shelter, and he couldn’t be happier, it seems. But he’s kind of quiet, and just like you described, too. – Except, I didn’t know his birthday was in November or that he even had a name.”
“He never told you his name?” Delilah asked as I attempted to accept the fact that he was here, on this very island.
“No,” Jhuidah said. “I came to call him Aide, but that really wasn’t a proper name, so I’ve been calling him Aiden instead. You said his name is Parker? ...Yes, that seems to fit just fine. Anyway, he should be back momentarily, since he left a while ago. Always on time, Aiden – er, Parker – is. For a while I called him Justin Time, but he didn’t like that at all.”
“When is he coming back?” I asked, shaking from toe to the tip of my ear, for reasons unknown to even me. It wasn’t fear, I thought, just anticipation.
“Oh, maybe two or three minutes at the most,” Jhuidah reckoned. “Hey, do you want to surprise him?”
“How do you mean?” asked Delilah.
“Maybe you could hide in the bushes,” said the Cooking Pot Faerie. “You’d give him quite the shock!”
“That sounds great!” Delilah laughed. “What do you think, Dolce?”
“O-Okay...” I nodded, my voice catching in my dried-out throat.
Delilah and I took the cover of the bushes and jungle undergrowth on the edge of the clearing. I didn’t care that the fur on my knees was being dyed a tropical green from kneeling on a bed of moss. I didn’t care about the leaves catching anywhere they could. I didn’t even care about an obnoxious Momba (a Mynci-like petpet) started scratching itself and making “ook-ook” noises. All I cared about was watching the three paths leading to the clearing.
Suddenly, a blue speck was visible on the path farthest from us. It grew long ears and got taller as it neared the Cooking Pot. All the humidity rushed to my head, the flies’ buzzing became a roar to me, and my mouth went dry as a Lost Desert drought. For the second time that day, the world grew dim and bronze-colored, and the rainbow of Mystery Island faded. I felt my head spinning, and all at once the nervousness, anticipation, unnoticed exhaustion, dehydration, and scorching island sun became too much. I heard Delilah whisper, “Dolce?! Dolceannia!”
And then Delilah’s whisper became a shout of alarm and terrified worry as I felt her distantly shake me. I wasn’t there on Mystery Island. I was floating out at sea with the adorable Baby Blu, my favorite ocean-dwelling petpet, and the Soreen that my brother so loved.
As I swam in the ocean, all the water drained and I was left on a long stretch of wet sand. Salt from the ocean crusted on my fur and stung my eyes, and I cried for Skye like I used to when I was having a nightmare. A voice answered me, though it was not my owner. But it was another voice I’d longed for. And it seemed to be crying, too.
“Dolce?” the male voice pronounced each syllable slowly – “Dole-say.”
I felt myself lifted up and held closely by strong arms.
“What is she doing here?” the same voice asked somebody else, and then whispered hoarsely, “Is it really her?”
A silence proceeded during which I had to assume somebody nodded. The male voice asked, “Who are you?”
“Your sister,” replied a young voice that sounded much like my own. “My name is Delilah.”
“I knew it,” spat the voice bitterly. “I knew she’d created more pets.”
“I’m sorry,” Delilah apologized earnestly. “I know it’s hard. I found out she had pets other than my brother and me, and we felt the same way. But that isn’t important now! We need to get Dolceannia to a doctor.”
“No need,” a new voice said. “Parker, I need a Tagobo potion, and some Coconut Weed leaves ASAP. Delilah, run and get a bottle of water from my hut right over there.”
There was another silence after I felt myself handed to another person, with no fur on her arms. She assured me constantly that I was going to be okay and I just had gone through too much at once. An eternity later, the other two voices rejoined the figure holding me and I was propped up against the trunk of a tree. Liquids were being poured down my throat, tasteless to me. I felt anger and tension in the air.
“Why did you bring her here? Look what’s happened!” accused the male voice.
“Me?! She fainted because of me, that’s what you’re saying?” the younger female voice shouted.
“You probably brought her here!” the male voice yelled. “It was most likely your idea in the first place!”
“Well... yes,” the female voice admitted. “But if you saw how much she missed you...!”
Meanwhile, on the never-ending wasteland of sand I was stranded on, I called out for Skye again. The shouting ceased like a subsiding storm, and the water flowed smoothly from nowhere back into the ocean.
“I’m sorry,” the male voice whispered.
“Me too,” the female agreed.
Suddenly, the ocean of Baby Blu and Soreen was replaced by reality. It was dim at first, but the colors grew stronger and I squinted. The first thing I saw was my brother, a tall blue Gelert wearing khaki shorts and an aqua-colored T-shirt. I cried and flung my arms around his neck. He picked me up and hugged me much too hard. Jhuidah, smiling next to us, advised Parker to give me some breathing room.
“Dolce.” Parker shook his head with a giant grin and tears fell down his face. “I can’t believe you came.”
“Me neither,” I admitted, sobbing doubly hard, and we all laughed.
“You remember that letter I wrote you, Dolceannia?” he asked, turning solemn and making eye contact with me. “The one that I wrote when I left?”
“I read it every day,” I nodded tearfully. “Why?”
“Because I want you to shred it,” Parker instructed me. “And then I want you to burn the shreds. And then I want you to take the ashes and--”
“I get it, Parker,” I smiled. “You’re never leaving again.”
We were all sitting at an outdoor café near the base of Techo Mountain, sipping cold slushies and watching people with bags full of codestones proceed up the mountainside by way of a path. Delilah and I had taken turns telling the whole story, sheepishly admitting to Parker that we were only three of twenty pets belonging to Skye. He took the news pretty well, saying he’d expected she’d abandon more accounts. But I think he was just trying to conceal the hurt in his heart.
Jhuidah had closed the Cooking Pot for an hour to come have slushies with us and to find Bernard. She flew to the Harbor and found him there, bringing him to the café, where he listened in on the story as well. After I reached the end of my lemon-lime slushie and likewise the story, we began to make plans on what to do next.
“I’ll have to go home,” Delilah said, and we nodded. “I know you guys aren’t Skye’s biggest fans as of the moment, but I really don’t think it would be fitting for you to just go on back to your old house.” More nods.
“So,” continued Delilah, sure of every word. “I’d like it – and Pablo would, too – if you’d come home to live in Shenkuu with me, Dolce and Parker.”
I didn’t have to think. I yelled a resounding, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” But Parker seemed to have to think it over.
“What’ll we... do, though?” he asked uncertainly. “What’ll Skye say? She’s rejected us before... and she can do it all over again. I’m not sure I can go through that again.”
“Parker,” I reminded him. “You said you’d never leave me again.”
“Of course not,” he said, displaying a small smile. “I’ll never let that happen.” He sucked in a deep breath and said, “Where Dolce goes, I go, too.”
I beamed like the setting peach sun as he agreed to go to Shenkuu to meet Skye. Bernard was eager to take us, he said, and assured us another passenger was no significant burden. And so, we said goodbye to Jhuidah and thanked her for all the tremendous help she’d provided.
We were off to Shenkuu.
It was a beautiful night (cold, but beautiful anyway) as Delilah, Parker, and I sailed through the clean air on Bernard’s back. The thick layers of clouds – pale in the moonlight – drifted below us. Bernard sometime tilted his feathered wings, skimming the misty masses, to our fascination. He got so low to the clouds that at one point Delilah could safely reach down and touch them.
“Dolce, this is amazing!” she breathed. “I just reached down and grabbed a handful of cloud condensation nuclei, water vapor, and ice crystals!”
“How about just ‘cloud’, Delilah?” I laughed lightly.
“Fine,” she snorted. “I grabbed a handful of cloud. But my way sounds much smarter.”
It was about midnight when we reached Shenkuu, and to tell the truth, I was beyond exhausted from my adventure. It had been just over twenty-four hours since I left my house on Kadoatie Drive, but it felt like weeks.
Parker awoke with a start as Bernard’s feet touched the wooden planks of the pier.
“I wasn’t asleep!” he protested at once. “Oh, we’re here. This is some really nice scenery!”
He observed his surroundings as we climbed off Bernard’s back. The Eyrie gave a long yawn.
“You must be really tired,” I realized sympathetically as I paid him his Neopoints, money Delilah had brought for the trip.
“A little,” Bernard nodded. “But I got to see some amazing stuff, and it was worth it. I’ll be at Mr. Janju’s Lunar Temple for a couple more days, I think, before I set off again for Neopia Central. In case I don’t see you guys again, good luck, and thanks for the adventure! Wait till Old Jerry hears about this. It may even top his Giant Omelet story! ”
“Thank you, too, Bernard,” I said. “This wouldn’t have been possible without your help. And I’m sure it does top the Omelet story, but Jerry will never let you know THAT.”
Delilah and Parker thanked the Eyrie as well, and we started off towards Bluchard Lane. Parker enjoyed the scenery the entire time. We climbed the front steps to the porch of the mansion, and Parker gaped at the amazing house.
“Stay here,” Delilah instructed upon seeing the light on in the living room. “I’d better go in first. If Skye is still awake, which it seems like, it’d be a pretty big surprise to see you guys walk in. I’ll explain, first.”
We agreed and stayed put, shuffling our feet nervously as Delilah shut the door behind her. A moment later, we heard voices. The conversation was as follows:
“Mom! W-What are you doing with that?”
“A warm hello to you too, Delilah. You’re home from *camping* a little early.”
“Skye,” whispered Parker. “It’s really Skye?” I nodded. “She sounds different,” my brother observed. “She sounds... edgy.”
We listened further:
“Well, um, yes, the woods were very... damp,” Delilah said in a vain attempt to explain her coming home.
“I was talking with Sophie and Lula’s owners,” said Skye coldly. “The friends you claimed to be camping with?”
“Uh-oh,” I gulped.
“It turns out they’re at a slumber party tonight,” Skye informed Delilah. “And I found this on the dining room table.”
“I’m so sorry, Delilah,” a new voice apologized. It was Pablo. “I just set it down to grab some orange juice from the refrigerator, but she came in the door while I was in the kitchen, and the first thing she saw was the book.”
“It’s okay, Pablo.” Delilah, I knew, must be trembling. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“What book are they talking about?” asked Parker in a hushed tone.
“The scrapbook!” I said with a sudden dark realization clouding over me. “Skye found the scrapbook I brought from our house!”
“So where are they, then?” Skye demanded. “Where are Daisy and Peter?”
“It’s Dolce and Parker, Mom,” Delilah said, trying to gain some courage to back up her words. “And Dolce, she followed the return address on your Valentine letter all the way here. She’s really remarkable. And I’m not afraid to say this, Mom: we were out looking for Parker, not camping. He ran away two years ago. We found him, too, on Mystery Island, thanks to an Eyrie cab.”
“You what?!” Skye screeched. “Parker ran away?!”
“Yeah,” Delilah replied confidently. “Because he was tired of waiting for you.”
“Pablo, you knew about this?!” Skye asked commandingly.
“Y-Yes,” Pablo said. “I did. It was wrong, Mom, what you did to them. To all of them – all eighteen Tylers you abandoned. All you care about is the stock market and restocking your precious shop!”
“You never have time for any of your pets,” added Delilah. “Skye, I want you to be honest – do you love us, really?”
“I... I...” Skye was speechless. “I’m sorry. Do I really spend that much time trying to make Neopoints?”
“You do,” said Pablo.
“I was reading through this scrapbook,” said Skye nearly inaudibly to Parker and me. “I remember gluing each picture onto each page. I remember taking every picture. I remember all of those good times we had together, just us.”
“Mom?” asked Delilah, and one could only imagine the tears in her eyes. “I want memories like that, too.”
“Me too,” Pablo said. “I’d like to have a birthday party. They sound fun.”
“I’m so sorry,” Skye apologized. “I never thought about that. I’d like to have fun like that again, also. Do you think... that the other Tylers would like that too?”
“Yes,” Delilah said. “I think they’d love that.”
“I need to say something,” Skye told them. “But I need Dolceannia and Parker to hear it as well. Where are they?”
“On the porch,” Delilah said. We held our breath outside.
A moment later, the door opened, and a red-eyed, crying Skye was standing before us, tall and blonde as we remembered. Parker was the first to launch himself into her arms, and I followed. Pablo and Delilah were next, and we must’ve looked very odd, group-hugging and crying on our porch at midnight. But it was the best kind of odd.
“Guys.” Skye surveyed us, still sobbing with regret. “I missed you.”
“We missed you, too,” I said.
“More than you know,” said Parker.
“What did you need to say, Mom?” Pablo asked.
“I needed to ask if you would all forgive me.” Skye looked at her feet. “You don’t need to. I understand.”
“I forgive you, Mom,” Parker said, to our surprise. “You’re my mom. I’d never be able to hold a grudge against you forever. I’m sorry, too, that I didn’t see that until now.”
“I forgive her,” I chimed. Delilah and Pablo repeated me.
“Delilah and Pablo.” Skye looked at her nineteenth and twentieth pets, then turned to us, her first and second. “And Dolce and Parker make four.”
“Who’s next?” I asked Delilah as I pulled the big wagon down the sidewalk.
“CC, Jay, and Charles Tyler,” the Xweetok read their names off a list. “Oh, it’s only ten days until Jay’s birthday! We’ll have to tell Skye so she can throw them a party.”
“Make sure she knows that I’ll help, too,” I said. We continued down the sidewalk and stopped at a maroon house. “Is this the one?”
“4382.” Delilah nodded. “This is it.”
With some help from us, in the past five months Skye had transferred pets left and right so that there were four on each account. Then she’d moved each group of four into a house in a neighborhood of Shenkuu near ours. Delilah and I visited each account two times a week to bring good food, a toy or two, etc., to them. And we also just generally stayed to play games with the pets. Skye had lowered her work days to three days a week, in order to spend more time with all of her pets. And though some of the pets had been angry that she’d left them, nobody was complaining of their situation now.
Bernard put the stories of other Tylers into writing and won a few Storytelling awards. And that motivated Old Jerry to do the same for his adventures – and those were some of the Neopian Times’ biggest hits. They converted the snack hut at the Neopia Central Eyrie Cab Station into a “Meet Jerry” booth. He gives autographs and lets people admire his various writing trophies.
I was working on a piece of writing myself, about my own adventure to find my family. Delilah, Parker, and Pablo didn’t know about it, but I was planning on showing it to them once it was finished. The only problem was, I couldn’t think of a title.
Oh, look at that. It’s finished! I guess I can show it to my brothers now, only it still needs a name. Wait, I just thought of one!
How’s “The Family Reunion” sound?