Life of a Lab Rat: Part Three
“It’s just not fair,” Flint sighed, shaking his head. “I mean, you guys are having a feast over there, and meanwhile I’m munching on an omelette.”
I rolled my eyes. Yeah, Flint was still upset about the food thing. “Oh, grow up, Flint. Some of us are just luckier than others.” And yeah, I was turning into one of the clique. I ignored basic, unpopular pets and took every opportunity to make a sarcastic remark.
Flint was the new lab rat of the family, and Teri had been zapping him every day for a week. So far, he’d gained a level, lost some defense, and turned into a Yellow Ogrin.
Teri sighed. “Oh, Flint. If you get a good zap, I’ll treat us all to some gourmet ice cream.”
“All over a color? Wow. I wouldn’t mind a moldy hot dog, to tell you the truth. I just hate these omelettes.” With that, he tossed his in the trash and wandered off into the living room.
“Is that your BROTHER?” Mindy asked in a horrified voice. Scout and Nina snickered.
I looked up from my plate of delicious chicken taquitos and craned my neck. I spotted a Yellow Ogrin headed toward our table, flanked by a Green Kyrii and a Blue Hissi sporting thick glasses. “No,” I replied out of the corner of my mouth, wishing it was true.
“Hey, Smoky,” Flint greeted as he approached us. “Oh, uh.” He looked slightly embarrassed as he eyed the crowd. “Um.” He shifted his paws.
“Oh, that’s right. Where are my manners?” I rolled my eyes. “Guys, this is Flint, Raina”—I nodded at the Hissi—“and Kyle.” I nodded at the Kyrii. “Flint... he’s just a... oh, he’s two grades below us, but actually, he’s pretty smart. He does my homework for me.” That was only half a lie. “Flint, this is Mindy, Sweetie Pie, Scout, Nina, Reggie, Alex, Reed, Milki, Lori, Kudos, and Wonky.”
Flint nodded, looking utterly confused. “But Smoky, I’m your—” He saw the look on my face and shook it off. “Anyway, I had a question.” He pointed at something across the cafeteria. “That’s the popular clique in our grade. And you see, the three of us, we really want to get in. Any tips?”
Mindy laughed and, like the evil little witch she was, jumped into the conversation. “First, you need to get rid of that ugly color of yours... wait, no. First, change your species to, I don’t know, a Uni or something, and THEN change your ugly color. You’ll fit in just fine.”
Flint looked hurt. “Are you saying I’m ugly?” he murmured.
“Ugly as a bowl of toenail soup,” Mindy confirmed.
Flint hid his face, but I could tell he was on the verge of crying. “Come on, Raina and Kyle. Let’s go.”
My shoulders sagged. Whatever happened to my old, amiable friends? Oh, right. They never left me—I left them.
I turned and looked at Gretchen and Don. They appeared to be in an argument. Gretchen, whose face was bright red, was leaning over the table and shouting something at Don. Don was cringing and tried to ignore her.
Just then, Gretchen met my eyes. A strange, unfamiliar hostility crackled between us like lightning. The anger only fueled her fire. She broke away from my gaze and turned back to Donald.
“What’s wrong?” Sweetie Pie asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t feel so well.” Leaving the crowd behind, I stumbled out of the cafeteria.
After school that day, I didn’t run home, eager to eat some more gourmet food. Instead, I stopped at the Uni’s Clothing Shop, relieved to get out of the rain. I had a thought, a thought that bloomed into an idea, and an idea that bloomed into a life-or-death mission.
“That’ll be 5,000 Neopoints, please,” the Uni at the counter drawled in an unfamiliar accent.
I dished out the moolah and placed it in her outstretched hoof. Then I took my new Blue Wocky Costume and stuffed it into a paper bag.
On the way to my Neohome, I stopped somewhere in the shadows to put on my new costume. It was a tight squeeze, but I managed to zip it up all the way. I peered at my reflection in a puddle. Yeah, it looked pretty realistic, only I was still standing on two feet, and my red snout was sticking out. I got onto four paws, wincing. My wings felt... crushed. I hoped no one would notice my red snout. Oh, well—I’d try not to look at people when I talked to them.
“Oh, Smoky, you look... different.” Teri frowned. “How’d that happen?”
“Some bullies came by and shoved a morphing potion into my mouth,” I sobbed. Over time, I had learned (from the clique, of course) how to come up with lies in a matter of milliseconds.
“Huh. Well, you’re late for dinner. There’s some leftover rotten omelette in the fridge. Flint already ate.”
My shoulders slumped as I stepped into the kitchen. My suspicions had been confirmed—Teri only cared about looks. She actually didn’t care about me—just ME—at all. Not until I became a Draik had she ever hugged me, much less said she loved me. The disappointment etched on her face was too easy to read. And of course, I had to eat rotten omelette again. I tried denying it, dismissing the thoughts from my mind, but they stuck like glue. A little voice in my head wouldn’t stop taunting, “Teri doesn’t love you! Teri doesn’t love you!”
“Well?” Flint’s voice demanded. “What do you think?”
“Huh?” I looked up absentmindedly. The familiar Yellow Ogrin was replaced with a Yellow Krawk.
“Aren’t I gorgeous?” he bragged. Then, for the first time, he noticed my costume. “What—you’re a Blue Wocky again—but how—” He shook his head. “Ah, never mind that. I’m gonna go out and show off my new species. Have a rotten dinner!” he laughed.
An awful stench wafted from the fridge. Hopeful, I opened the door, only to find out that it was, in fact, a two-month-old rotten omelette. Sighing, I plunked down and dug in.
Teri came in. I glared at her. “Dear, I know how you feel,” she said.
“Yeah, right,” I retorted. “Ever been zapped five thousand times?”
“No, but...” She trailed off. “Smoky, I want you to know that I love you the way you are.”
I shook my head in disbelief.
“But if you want to leave, that’s perfectly fine,” she added quickly.
“Well, if you’re so eager for me to leave...” I set down my fork and stood up.
Teri didn’t say anything.
I unzipped my costume.
Teri laughed. “Oh, Smoky! You’re back!” She grinned and hugged me.
“No, I’m not,” I muttered flatly, walking out the door.
Back in my costume, I smiled at Mindy and her friends as I made my way toward their table. “Hi,” I said, plopping down. “What’s new?”
Reed stared at me. “Don’t you think we should be the ones asking the question?” He surveyed my new look, grimacing.
I tried to ignore him, but it wasn’t as easy ignoring eleven pairs of bewildered eyes.
“Gosh, Smoky,” Alex muttered. “What happened?” It was as if a tragedy had occurred. Well, maybe to them, losing your good looks WAS a tragedy.
Once again, a lie worked its way out of my mouth. “Ah. Teri decided to zap me again,” I sniffled. “She’s so mean.” Half of that was true, at least.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lori murmured.
Sweetie Pie stole a nervous glance at Mindy. “I hate to break this to you, Smoky, but I’m afraid you can’t be around us any longer.”
I looked over at Mindy, who was staring at her lunchbox. “What, can’t your master tell me herself?” I whispered back.
Sweetie Pie sighed and closed her eyes. “I hate doing this, you know. I really do. But who else is going to do it?”
“You’re kicking me out,” I said in disbelief. Not that I should’ve been surprised. All people seemed to care about nowadays was LOOKS. I sighed audibly and pushed out my chair.
Then I stood on the table, and—slowly—I unzipped my costume a second time. All of the pets at the table gasped.
“Okay, okay,” Mindy caved. “You’re back in!”
Suddenly, the group was smiling at me again—laughing, grinning, and obsessing over my food.
“Awesome!” Scout said. “I was afraid I would have to untack the sandwich from my wall!”
I was the only person who wasn’t happy. Everyone else was high-fiving each other, excited to have a Draik in their group again. Everyone except Kudos.
Kudos approached me. “Smoky,” she whispered. “I can’t take this group anymore.” Her eyes were bright and pleading.
I smiled widely at her. “Want to be friends with me?” I offered.
She nodded in acceptance, smiling back. Linking elbows, we walked over to my old-old table.
“Oh, the princess has returned.” Gretchen rolled her eyes. “And she brought her royal maid. How nice.”
Don frowned at her. “Hey, lay off, Gretch.” I grimaced at the new nickname. “Let her speak.”
“Gretchen, Don,” I said with a deep breath, “this is Kudos. I would like to apologize for the way I treated you.” I blinked back tears. “I was awful. Life has been terrible without you guys. Please accept my apology. All I want is to be friends with you again—if you’ll accept me. And if you’ll accept Kudos.”
Gretchen and Don exchanged a glance. “Well, I SUPPOSE we can make some room,” Gretchen replied, no twinge of reluctance in her voice. She openly grinned. “Welcome back.”
Forcing a bit of omelette down my throat, I said, “I left Teri.”
“Aw,” Don said sympathetically.
Gretchen looked up. “Let me guess. She only cared about your species.” When I nodded, she continued, “I’m so sorry, Smoky. But you know what? My owner doesn’t care about looks. I mean, look at me!” She smiled. “She is actually searching for a pet to adopt, and you know how much she loves you. I was thinking maybe...”
“Are you serious, Gretchen?”
Unable to wipe the smile off my face, I threw my arms around her. “Thank you, Gretchen! I would love it!”
Donald and Kudos laughed along with us. I was in a group and happy again. Sure, it was a group of nobodies, but it was better than being miserable in a group of snobby somebodies.
Walking to my new home that day, I was a little nervous, because I had to pass Teri and Flint’s Neohome to get there.
Gretchen and I approached the edge of my house. I peered in the windows and saw a Yellow Krawk. He waved, smiling. At least Flint looked happy, now that he had all the gourmet food to himself. Then Teri appeared in the window, purple hair and all. Frowning at me, she dragged Flint out of view.
“That went well,” Gretchen muttered. We crossed a few streets and eventually reached a medium-sized, pale red Neohome. The lawn was dotted with hedges and lawn gnomes. We walked up to the porch. Then, with a deep breath, I entered my new home.