One Usuki Fanatic, One Important Lesson: Part Two
The next day, after Neoschool, Tallie started for the Usukiland store. Seven million Neopoints made her backpack unbearably heavy. She pushed the doors of the pink store open and stepped inside.
“I love the smell of new Usukis in the afternoon,” said Tallie as she sighed happily.
“Oh! Oh my! Nataaaaalliaaa!” came a shrill voice, and the owner of the Usuki store rushed over. “Our best customer! Where have you been? We haven’t seen you since Thursday!”
“I know, Mimi, and I’m so sorry,” apologized Tallie sincerely. “You won’t believe what my owner did! While I was asleep, she redecorated my room and sold all my Usukis! Every last one, except for Yolanda, but she doesn’t count. And THEN, as if that wasn’t bad enough, she tried to force regular toys on me! None of that primitive workmanship even compares to Usukis! Yo-yos, jump ropes, puzzles? Please!”
“You poor, poor Zafara!” shrieked Mimi. “Robbed of your famed Usuki collection. Why, you were on our wall of top collectors! What are you going to do, Miss Natallia?”
“Well, I got half the money Emmy got for my Usuki dolls,” Tallie said. “I came here to treat myself to a very special toy.”
“You can’t mean...!” Mimi didn’t finish her sentence.
“Yes, Mimi.” Tallie nodded firmly. “Give me your newest, most perfectly designed Summer Fun Usuki.”
Tallie was feeling very proud of herself as she walked home. She was cradling her new Summer Fun Usuki doll, mint condition, and running her fingers along its fake fur. Such perfection, thought Tallie, has never been witnessed before.
Tallie’s route home from Usukiland always included walking past the Pound. Not because she liked the Pound - what pet does? - but because it was the fastest way home. She rarely even glanced at the dismal building where so many pets went in and didn’t come out for days, sometimes even months. Tallie usually put the Pound out of her mind. Emilia had told her that she would never have to worry about going to the Pound, and so she didn’t even think about it.
And so Tallie wouldn’t have noticed the Pound at all if that wail hadn’t called her eyes instinctively towards its gray doors.
An owner and her Uni were standing there, the Uni quite small indeed, barely Neoschool age, so Tallie guessed. The owner, a rough-looking, average-height girl with strawberry hair, was trying to drag her pet into the Pound, but the Uni was resisting with all the strength in her tiny body. The owner also held a battered blue Flotsam plushie in one hand, that the Uni appeared to be whining for.
“I want Klaus back!” cried the Uni. “Pleeease, Mama! Pleeease!”
“No.” The girl gritted her teeth. “Klaus CAN’T come with you where WE’RE going.”
“Mama, I don’t want to go,” persisted the tiny pet.
“Stop it!” yelled the girl. “Come ON, you little BRAT!”
“No, no,” sobbed the Uni. “I don’t want to go in there. That mean Techo is s-stawing at me.”
“I don’t care WHO’S staring at you,” the strawberry-haired girl growled. “Stop RESISTING and let’s go IN.”
Something was oddly familiar to Tallie about both the owner’s speech patterns and the appearance of both the girl and the Uni. She was certain she had recently seen them. They didn’t place at Neoschool, she hadn’t spotted them at Usukiland, and they weren’t any neighbors of hers, Tallie was sure...
Then the girl shouted something that brought back a memory, a very recent one.
“LILANI! Come ON!”
It was that little pink Uni from the park! The one who had wanted to touch Tallie’s Usuki, the one Tallie had called a toddler, the one who had started crying...
And her owner was trying to abandon her!
Tallie disliked the Uni because she had almost had to give Yolanda away to her. But something didn’t seem right about the pet being abandoned. She could only be a preschooler, after all, and what could she have done that was abandoning-worthy? As much as Tallie wasn’t fond of Lilani, she was even less fond of her owner, and that was why Tallie’s cold heart went out the Uni.
By this time Lilani’s owner had picked up the screaming pet and carried her into the dark building. A green Gnorbu accepted Lilani from her owner; Tallie could see this as the front room had walls of glass. A white Xweetok assistant was offering the owner a clipboard, where hastily Lilani’s owner scribbled something. Tallie was horrified as the poor little Uni was taken into a room marked ‘Abandoned’.
Though unsure of what she would do once inside, Tallie rushed towards the doors and they slid open automatically. Lilani’s owner brushed past her and left.
The Xweetok assistant was just writing her signature at the bottom of the form on the clipboard when Tallie burst in. She dropped her pencil in surprise and watched Tallie, blinking, as the Zafara panted.
“Wait! Y-You can’t do that!” Tallie cried, pointing to the door into which the Gnorbu had carried Lilani. “Please! She’s just a little kid!”
The Xweetok recovered from her shock and retrieved her pencil. Understandingly she looked at Tallie.
“I know it’s hard,” she said, melancholy. “My own little sister was abandoned years ago. It was tough for me. I was abandoned a while later, but Miss Roberta, the Gnorbu you just saw, let me try out for assistant here. Don’t worry, your sister is going to find just the right home.”
Tallie stood there, staring.
“That Uni IS your sister, right?” The Xweetok asked, brow furrowed. Tallie shook her head.
“No,” she sighed. “She’s just... some kid I was mean to in the park a few days ago. I guess I just didn’t think before coming here. There’s nothing I can do for her now, is there?”
The Gnorbu came out just as Tallie said this, and smiled sadly at her.
“I’m afraid there’s only one option, dear,” said Miss Roberta. “You could adopt her. Or... hey, you know, you could donate your toy there. That always helps to calm the little ones down.”
Miss Roberta was pointing to Tallie’s new Summer Fun Usuki.
“This?” Tallie looked shakily down at her new doll. “B-But this is a very rare and highly valued collector’s item...”
“Looks like a doll to me.” Miss Roberta shrugged. “But that’s alright. I’m not saying you have to give it away, just that it’d be nice of you. Poor dear’s really upset.”
Miss Roberta turned to her assistant. “Theresa, do you mind going to the Money Tree and finding a Mechafish or a reject plushie for that Uni?”
Theresa nodded and started for the door.
“Um, wait, please!” Tallie called. She was trembling. She’d never seen a pet abandoned before, never even thought of what they might play with in their cages. That plushie Lilani’s owner had taken from her, Klaus the Flotsam, was obviously very dear to the girl. What would Tallie do if Yolanda was taken by force from her? What if Emilia turned on her one day and abandoned her? What would Tallie do? How could she even believe what was going on? She’d be inconsolable.
“Yes?” Theresa faced Tallie. “Did you say something?”
“You don’t h-have to go to the Money Tree.” Tallie squeezed her eyes shut. I can’t believe I’m doing this, she thought painfully. So much saving up, and now this. “Here. Just take her, okay? Don’t make me change my mind, got it?”
Theresa, surprised, walked back over to the Zafara and accepted the seven-million-Neopoint Usuki gingerly from her.
“Wow,” she breathed. “This must be worth a whole lot. Are you sure, miss?”
“Please just give it to the Uni now,” Tallie still had her eyes closed. “Don’t make me look at it.”
“You got it,” Theresa bounded to the room of abandoned pets and Tallie let out a deep breath. She opened her eyes.
“That was real nice of you, honey.” Miss Roberta smiled. “That feel good?”
“...Yeah,” Tallie realized. “Yeah, it did. In a painful sort of way.”
“We could use a lot more toys around here than what we get,” continued the Gnorbu. “But hardly anybody ever donates them. That’s why most of the pets just linger around their cages. Toys help them keep their minds off what their owner did to them, and some have been abandoned more than once. What you did today, missy, made a confused Uni feel loved.”
Tallie felt happier than she ever remembered feeling. But it seemed a shame that all those pets spent days and weeks just sitting in their cages. Suddenly an idea came to her mind: she had spent seven million Neopoints on that Summer Fun Usuki. Emmy had given Tallie eight million. Combined with the one million Tallie already had saved up before this whole affair... well, that equaled a whole lot of toys! And a whole lot of toys plus a whole lot of bored pets equaled - something good, Tallie was sure.
“Miss Roberta,” Tallie said firmly. “How would you like it if a wealthy donor took a trip to the Toy Store and spent her fortune on toys for the pets here?”
Miss Roberta was taken aback. “Well, that’d be a dream come true, to be sure! Do you know anybody like that?”
“You’re looking at her.” Tallie grinned. “Let me go make a withdrawal and take a quick trip to the Bazaar. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
Miss Roberta looked ready to faint. “I’ll get Theresa!” she cried. “She’ll go with you! Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you so much, you little darling!”
“There’s Theresa,” said Tallie quickly. “Come on, let’s go.”
Really, though, Tallie wanted to get a move on before she thought better of her decision. The two million remaining Neopoints weighed heavily in her bag.
Emilia Armstrong was actually a very reasonable person. Upon entering Neopia, she’d saved and saved Neopoints until that big, Brightvale-style house was hers. It was then that she decided to create a pet: a tiny baby blue Zafara to which she gave the name Natallia. She hadn’t known caring for a pet would be so hard! Emilia just couldn’t resist every chance to spoil the girl, and that had made Tallie into the snobby pet she was at the time of this story.
But what Emilia considered the biggest mistake of her life was not Natallia’s creation - Kreludor, no! Tallie, however she had turned out, was her pet, and Emilia loved her. No, what Emilia considered her biggest mistake was on the 20th day of the Month of Hiding, a couple of weeks before Tallie’s fourth birthday. Tallie had been crying and whining and wailing because Emilia had accidentally dropped her ice cream cone while she held it for the girl. It was then that Emilia passed by a store so flooded with pets that she couldn’t tell which shop it was. But how all the pets were dressed gave it away - it was Usukiland, and the 20th was none other than Usukicon. There were stalls outside the store selling all numbers of Usuki merchandise, since not everybody could get into the swamped store. Emilia stopped by and hastily bought a 200-Neopoint Magical Hair Usuki for Natallia.
That was her biggest mistake.
Now, Emilia sat in the living room, and checked the time on her watch. A quarter to four. Natallia was supposed to be home a half hour ago. Emilia allowed thirty minutes after Neoschool for Tallie to get a snack from one of the shops and peruse Usukiland. But today, Tallie wasn’t allowed to look at the Usukis! So where was she? Emilia was getting worried.
She got up at last, pulled on a jacket and clogs, and started out the door towards the Bazaar. Somehow, Emilia knew she would find Tallie there.
And she did.
Standing at a short distance from Usukiland, Emilia spotted Natallia, holding two bulging pink shopping bags. They were full to the brim with dolls, Emilia could tell, since the contents almost spilled over. Tallie was with a friend (Tallie’s version of friend was a Neoschool acquaintance that she bragged to about her doll collection); she was a white Xweetok, kind of pretty. The Xweetok held two shopping bags also, one from the toy store and one from the plushie palace. They looked like they were having a good time. But Emilia was in no mood to care about who the Xweetok was. She was frothing mad.
“NATALLIA!” Emilia threw back her head and screamed as loud as she could. “GET OVER HERE NOW!”
Tallie and the Xweetok froze, and the Zafara wheeled around to face her owner. She did not looked afraid as she strode coolly over, the Xweetok at her heels like a trained Puppyblew.
“You splurged on USUKIS?!” Emilia flailed her arms about. “Like I told you NOT to?!” She was beginning to feel like that loud owner she and Tallie had met in the park.
“Emmy, listen,” Tallie said, so softly that Emilia had to. “These aren’t for me. These are for the Pound pets.”
“Nice try.” Emilia glared at her pet.
“No, I’m serious!” protested Tallie. Gesturing to the Xweetok, she said, “This is Theresa; she is an assistant at the Pound. That Uni we bumped into at the park on Friday, she was being abandoned. So I gave her my Summer Fun Usuki.”
“She was... that owner was abandoning her?” Emilia felt her heart breaking. “That sweet little thing? But, Natallia, where did you get a Summer Fun Usuki?”
“Oops.” Tallie shuffled her feet. “Okay, that one I bought for me. Sorry. But I gave it to the Uni! So... it’s not mine anymore. All these bags are for the Pound pets. Emmy, why don’t you come with us? Please?”
Emilia’s eyes filled with tears and she pulled Tallie close.
“Oh, Natallia...” she choked. “I am so proud of you.”
“You’ve never said that to me before.” Tallie wrinkled her forehead. “I don’t think.”
“Sure I have.” Emilia smiled down at her only pet. "But Tallie, I've never been MORE proud of you than I am today."
"Hey! You! Yeah, you!"
The red Lupe whirled around, backpack bouncing against his spine. It was weighed down with an insane amount of science homework. In fact, he had just been discussing with his small group of pals as they walked down the hall how unfair the assignments were. Now he turned to face the casually-dressed Zafara at the folding table. She had her hands folded in front of her, and the posterboard sign taped to her table read 'Usukis and Toys for Girls and Boys: Help Cure Boredom' in flashy pink and blue marker.
"What?" asked the Lupe, slightly ticked off that the Zafara had interrupted his not-so-important conversation. He recognized her as the baby that was always toting around a bookbag of Usukis. What business did she have talking to him, and what was this "Help Cure Boredom" thing about? A big cardboard box labeled "Tallie's Toys" sat next to her, half-filled with unwanted playthings. Perhaps she wanted more Usukis for her dumb collection, thought the Lupe.
"I'm Tallie Armstrong and I'm collecting toys for the Pound," announced Tallie proudly. "Did you know only one in six abandoned pets has something to do while in the Pound? Most of them just hand around all day doing nothing!"
"Yeah?" The Lupe didn't like this. It sounded like a potential guilt trip. "They have to do something. My brother's friend got abandoned and my brother says he stayed there for three months before he got adopted. He couldn't have just stayed in his cage waiting all that time."
"Unless he got a puzzle or action figure donated to him, then I'm afraid he did just loiter around," Tallie said sadly. "We complain of being bored one afternoon, and they're bored all the time! 24/7! All day long, all week, all month if it comes to that!"
"Well, what're you doing about it, Usuki girl?" asked one of the red Lupe's friends.
"I'm collecting toys," replied the girl named Tallie. "And if you've got any you don't want, I'd be glad to take them to the Pound, and I guarantee those pets will be glad to have them."
"I've got a dumb ol' set of Neopian Heroes action figures,” the Lupe said. “I’ve had them forever, but I haven’t touched them in years.”
“Yeah, I have a plushie or five that need to be used,” called a girl.
Her friend piped up, also, saying, “I have a whole load of toys at my Neohome that my owner wants me to discard. Some of them might be a little broken, though...”
“That’s okay!” Tallie interjected quickly. “The Pound needs all the toys they can get. Everything’s accepted!”
“Really?” asked one boy. “Because my owner’s been begging me to trash this magic set for a long time.”
More offers sprang up from pets that had heard Tallie’s request. Old Fuzzles, teddy bears, puzzles, squirt guns and many more kinds of toys were all ready to be given to the Pound.
“Thank you, everyone!” Tallie was near tears, she was so happy. “Please bring them all in tomorrow and put them in the box!”
The pets began to disperse, chatting excitedly about which toys they would donate. One girl who had offered toys lingered behind.
“Hey,” she said. “This is a little awkward, but are you that girl who was, like, completely and thoroughly obsessed with Usukis a while back ago?”
“That was me,” Tallie didn’t appear embarrassed at all. “I don’t play with them anymore. I had way too many of them when I did, and I’m a little old for them now. This project had kept me so busy, I have barely any free time at all to play anyhow. Problem is,” now Tallie blushed. “I don’t know sure how to use half of the regular toys my owner bought me.”
“What do you mean?” asked the Wocky. “What toys do you have a hard time with?”
“The worst is the jump rope I got,” admitted Tallie. “I see girls using them at recess all the time, but I just can’t manage it!”
“Oh, once you get a feel for it, it gets easier,” the Wocky explained. “My friends and I, we’re trying to learn how to jump two ropes at once! If you want, you can find us at recess and we can teach you how to use the rope.”
“That’d be perfect!” Tallie grinned broadly. “Thanks so much!”
“After lunch period, look for me and my friends on the basketball court,” said the Wocky. “I’m Amy, by the way, and my friends are Jill and Terry.”
“Nice to meet you.” Tallie stuck out her hand for Amy to shake. She did. “I’m Tallie.”
“Well, see you at recess, Tallie,” Amy said as she started down the hall for her classroom. “Bye!”
“Bye, Amy!” Tallie waved. She decided it was time for her to go, or she’d be late for her language arts class. As Tallie unzipped her backpack to put her list of donated toys in, she spotted Yolanda the Usuki nearly buried under textbooks.
“I guess I should make a small donation of my own,” she said decidedly. Tallie tugged Yolanda out and looked at her. “Yolanda, for the past few weeks, I’ve been rushing around to get the project going. I’d almost forgotten about you. After ten years, I believe it’s time you get a new owner, one to love you all over again like I have. So... this is goodbye, Yolanda Madeline Jessica Tamara. Thanks for everything.”
Tallie placed Yolanda gingerly on top of the toys in the box, blew her a kiss, and started down the hall feeling so light she could fly.