It had been a nice dream, filled with overly wordy things and the sorts of creatures you recognized but couldn't find names for. There were quills and spices and blackness and kiwi for some reason, but all of it was quickly forgotten when a thick strip of light assaulted his face. Elio growled and dove deeper under his patchwork quilt, ignoring the intrusion and scrabbling at the back of his mind for the remnants of the dream. It was no use.
“I'm telling you, sleeping on the couch isn't good for you. You have a bed, you know.”
“If I used it,” Elio sneered, his voice muffled by the quilt, “would you stop waking me up at unholy hours? It's my weekend, Jokke.”
“Our weekend. And it's a long weekend at that.”
More light filtered into the apartment until hiding became useless. Elio grumbled and tossed off his quilt, making sure it landed on the unwelcome intruder. He could feel his charcoal hair sticking up in all the wrong places and the chill biting at his ears, but he was too sleep-heavy and ornery to care.
As his luck would have it, the quilt fell limply to the ground, entirely missing its intended target. Jokke took a good look at it, then turned his gaze to Elio. “That,” he said with mock concern, “was pitiful. I do believe you're losing your touch as a cranky bedhead. You threw a shoe last time. A particularly heavy shoe. And here I thought I had it in for me.”
Elio scowled and bit his tongue, wanting to spout a slew of nasty words. He glared at Jokke, the spry, thin Bori dressed uncommonly well, donning his typical winter wear suited for outings. Such wear consisted of a cozy-looking overcoat and scarf, as well as a brown paperboy cap to top it off. As put-together as he seemed, the cloth didn't work well with his rusty orange fur. Either way, Elio was envious of how warm he looked, shivering in nothing but a nightshirt. “What do you want?”
Jokke took a jaunty stance, propping his hands up on his hips and leaning back as he sucked in the morning air. “I want you to get your lazy rear out of bed for once. We're going somewhere!”
Elio already saw him during the week at the office, toiling at the same workplace for hours on end. But he just had to invade weekends, too. Always. “Why?”
Jokke blinked, as if wondering why he was being asked such a thing. “Because,” he said, “today is special.”
In response, the Kougra curled back up in his sheets. “Today is not special. Today is so insignificant that you should wander off and let me sleep through it in blissful ignorance.”
“Don't you give me that,” Jokke said cheerfully, tugging the sheet off. “C'mon, it really is worth going outside for. Honest.”
Elio thought about this. “And you promise it isn't some time-wasting thing of trivialness, in which sleep would be the more desirable thing to do?”
“And you won't say where we're going?”
Muttering angrily under his breath, Elio slumped off the couch, staggering away to change into something decent.
The two walked down to the Deep Catacombs, the slight drizzle dappling the pavement with dark raindrops. Elio hunched his shoulders, drawing his woolen overcoat closer to keep out the chill. Spring was a truly disgusting time of year, when it insisted on being all miserable and wet and winter-like. The pre-summer weather insisted on being impeccably late, as usual. Or maybe the Catacombs were simply always this frigid, what with all of the stone and little sunlight.
The other passersby had the mind to bring umbrellas and gloves and such, but it apparently hadn't crossed a certain Bori's mind. Elio scowled, rubbing his hands together. “And how would you say that this is better than sleeping?”
The Bori in question grinned. “Because you're awake and alive. Look at you, all bright-eyed and moving on a weekend! What a rare sight the world is allowed to see today.”
Elio glowered, choosing not to say something sarcastic. In truth, there was an inch of his being that was glad to be among the waking world, even if he wasn't doing anything particularly productive. The Catacombs was one of his favorite places, what with all of its ancient history and modern culture all clashing at once. It was a fantastic, warm place, and the people who flocked there always seemed to be considerably polite and intelligent. Elio was normally considered one of those people, but it was his day off and he wasn't sleeping and it was ruddy morning.
“Aw, liven up a bit, you old fart,” Jokke teased, shouldering him roughly. It hardly had any effect, with his small build.
Elio grunted. “Three years' difference doesn't mean you can call me an old fart. If that's how it is, you're a dumb kid.”
Jokke laughed and sauntered about, his hands shoved in his pockets. “Ah, but to be young and stupid! Isn't it so much more fun than sitting there till you rot?”
“At least the elderly have some sense.”
“Yes, but they got it when they were just younglings,” the Bori said, tapping his head knowingly.
“You're considered an adult these days, you know,” Elio retorted blandly, “so it would help if you acted like one.”
Ignoring this, Jokke paused, turning to his right and grinning widely. “Here we are.”
It was a quaint little cafe, and a favored meeting spot of theirs. Tuesday's News, it was called, or simply Tuesday's. Racks of damp newspapers and potted plants lined the outer walls, the soft, orange glow from inside brushing their surfaces. The air was bloated with the strong aroma of coffee beans and vanilla, drawing in hungry passersby. The warmth the building emanated was enticing in such dreary surroundings.
“Tuesdays?” Elio's brow furrowed. “Why Tuesday's?”
“Because it's a charming little place we've made several memories in, is it not?”
“That's not the reason.”
Jokke clapped his hands together and inhaled, caught. “You're absolutely correct. I'm nigh to broke, and this is about the nicest thing I can treat you to.”
“Treat me? Are you going to tell me why we're here, or are you just going to marvel in the capricious nature of this whole thing?”
The Bori simply remained grinning, opening the cafe door wide. “Elderly first.”
Sighing, Elio chose to go along with whatever Jokke had set up, too weary to protest at the absurdity of it all. It was warmer inside, at least. The Kougra loosened his scarf, the toasty air making it the slightest bit uncomfortable. Jokke picked their usual table, one with the tall swivel chairs that succeeded in looking classy while being simultaneously amusing. Not that Elio would think of doing something like that. Ever.
Their waitress approached the table, smiling a smile that meant they were regulars at the cafe, and she already had an idea of what they wanted. She always was charming in that aspect, Elio admitted. Still, she asked, “What could I get for the two of you? The spiced pumpkin coffee is popular, even though it's not really in season. Strawberry spice is a favorite, too.”
“The usual will do,” Elio replied, shutting the menu he had been languidly browsing. “Black, of course.”
The waitress nodded, then took Jokke's order. “Don't mind him—not an early bird is all,” he teased, whispering loudly to her behind his hand. She smiled as she turned to leave.
“The coffee isn't all you like here, apparently.”
“Oh, come now, you really were being impolite, and she's always been such a nice lady.” Jokke wriggled in his seat, getting comfortable. “So, tell me how life is treating you. Anything big on the horizon? Any frightful beasts in need of conquering?”
Elio's glum expression remained. “You know how it is. Work, sleep, more work. Nothing eventful, unless you count monthly letters from an impatient mother. She's set on having me in a proper house. Frankly, it's wretched.”
“I'm sure she means well. That apartment of yours is an awfully tight fit. Say, why do they call it Tuesday's News? The news isn't released on Tuesday. By Tuesday, everyone knows the news. News is for Friday.”
Elio rolled his eyes. “Maybe you should ask our lovely waitress.”
“I just might—ah, and here are the refreshments.”
Elio felt considerably better once he had something to fill his stomach. Mornings were always so terrible in the way they brought hunger pangs, or just queasy feelings in general. Having a fresh cup of Earl Grey steaming in between his hands smoothed things out, as it was his favorite. Jokke, of course, insisted that he fancied nothing in particular, and always tried something different. This time is was azzle coffee, raspberry kolache, and a plate of cinnamon spice scones.
“These scones,” he said, holding one up, “were imported all the way from Neovia.”
Elio eyed him, uninterested. “How would you know?”
“I don't. I've never been to Neovia, come to think of it. But I will! Let's go next weekend.”
“No. Besides, Neovia is bloomin' hard to reach. And you're broke, remember?”
“Ah, yes. Hard to reach is right. Have to tiptoe around the Woods and slip past the gypsies before they can nab you. Which is a pity, because it is such a nice town.”
Elio was tiring of this. “Back to the point. Was there any reason for this, besides irritating me?”
“You always were persistent when you wanted to be.” Jokke reached into his coat pocket, taking out a rolled-up newspaper and setting it in the center of the table. “This is why.”
Elio frowned, sensing his intentions. “This is a copy of the Neopian Times.”
“Yes, and no.” Jokke stared at him, looking about as serious as he could manage to be. “This is not just any copy of the Times. It's the 543rd issue.”
“And,” the Bori said, “you know what that means. The next big issue is just around the bend. Over half a thousand issues, Elio. Wouldn't it be something if you managed to—”
“No.” The Kougra glared, a wave of aggravation rising in his chest. So this little treat had been bribery all along. It wasn't quite like Jokke to do something like this.
“And I'll tell you why. For one, you're trying to bribe me into it, and that's stupid. Secondly, we've been over this. I don't write for an audience. As big of a fan as you may be of my notes, they're not fit for the paper. I've tried, haven't I? The NT apparently has no need of me, what with all of those vague rejection letters. You know how it went with the 500th issue.”
“The worst thing an artist can do,” Jokke said, a small edge creeping into his tone, “is sell himself short. You have to keep at it! Honestly, I'm not the only one who thinks you're—” He stopped abruptly, catching himself.
“...What? Thinks I'm what?”
The Bori fidgeted, suddenly fascinated with picking at his claws. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”
Elio's jaw clenched. “You didn't.”
Jokke shrugged innocently. “So what if I showed it to a few people around the office? It's to prove a point, and you said you could care less who saw it.”
“You misunderstood me.” Elio rubbed his forehead in irritation. Of course Jokke would chose a calming atmosphere to break the news to him, persuading him with breakfast. “I'm no famous author. I work a desk job and can hardly pay the rent, for Fyora's sake.”
“So? Plenty of writers work part time.”
“You aren't forcing me into a career, are you? I've given up on this.”
Jokke sighed, a strange look of sadness in his eyes. “I just don't want you to close the door on it forever. You enjoy writing, don't you? This is an opportunity among opportunities, and you have people who are here to see you through. Your coworkers loved it, and they'd like to see more from you. Would you at least think about it, please?”
Elio was silent, sipping at his tea, his eyes downcast. It really wasn't such an unthinkable idea. The thought of publication was still in the back of his mind, even after all this time. Heck, if he was as good as Jokke thought he was, he could even get a few readers and hear what they had to say. At the same time, the publicity of it all put him off. There was something about being undiscovered, something about keeping it all to himself, that just felt right. Could that possibly be considered as selfishness? No, that would be ridiculous. But the thought of being published, the thrill of it all, remained as fresh and enticing as ever...
Elio set his teacup back on its saucer. “Maybe.”
Jokke grinned. “That's what I want to hear. You never know how far you'll go until you try.”
“But...” The Kougra stirred his tea, his eyes unfocused. “Isn't that the frightening part of it all?”
“It may end up being a big responsibility, but I know you. You can tough it out. 'Specially with me here for pointers. I've been preparing for this, you know.”
“Pointers?” Elio chuckled, shaking his head. “Then tell me: what does one do if the fans plead for a sequel that will never be? What if they despise my work?”
“The answer to that is simple, but oftentimes, most writers miss it. Life is short, and you'll only have time to craft so many stories. Write whatever you please, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.”
“You've been thinking,” Elio mocked. “We should celebrate.”
Jokke laughed. “I would punch you, if it would make a difference. You truly wound me, even when I attempt to be insightful.”
“Especially when you're trying to be insightful. You're so sickeningly optimistic.” Elio stood and shrugged his coat back on, fishing the coins from his pockets to leave a tip for the waitress. “Well, we'd best be off, if we plan to get into that next historic issue. There isn't much time.”
“'We'?” Jokke stood tentatively. “A collaboration?”
Elio patted the Bori on the back, a small almost-smirk on his face. “Isn't that what it is already? It was your idea to write the ruddy thing, so you might as well pitch in.”
Jokke's face lit up with childlike enthusiasm. “Yes! You have plenty of suitable stories—we'll just spruce one up. Or we could start from scratch, but that would be a mite difficult. Will it be an epic tale or a thoughtful slice-of-life? We'll have to start straightaway!”
Elio stretched and stifled a yawn. “Mmm. No.”
“What? Why not?”
“I have a nap to get back to. It was so rudely interrupted.”