No Good Deed
“Good morning, Mr. Mendell!” I greeted brightly, as an elderly brown Bori cracked open his door.
“Who’s there?” he grunted, peering at me through the crack. I could see my reflection—a short purple Acara—in one of his bulging eyes.
“It’s Belle!” I responded. He stared. I tried to keep my voice cheery as I continued, “You know me! I’ve stopped by every week since my mom and I moved here.” Still nothing. “I brought cookies?” Whenever I feel uncomfortable, my statements always start sounding like questions.
I held out a plate of chocolate chip cookies that my mom baked that morning. The cookies seemed to jog Old Man Mendell’s memory. “Oh Belle, my dear, of course. I was just playing a joke on you!” I don’t think Mr. Mendell really understands what jokes are.
“Well, don’t just stand there, my dear. Come on in, and let me get a closer look at those cookies,” he said, reaching out his hands with a greedy look in his eye.
I gave him the plate but stepped back a bit. In my experience, Old Man Mendell only invited me in when he had an agenda. Last week it was rearranging all of his lawn gnomes. “Oh, thank you, Mr. Mendell, but I really should be going. My mom is expecting me home soon.”
“Oh, now surely you have a few minutes to visit a lonely old man while he eats his cookies,” Mr. Mendell insisted. After a brief pause he went on, “And come to think of it, my dear, while you’re here, I could really use your help on just one little thing. You see, I noticed my storage shed has just become absolutely filthy...”
There it was. No good deed goes unpunished. I took another step back.
“And being an old man, I just can’t get around as well as I used to. It sure would be helpful if you could get in there and just give it a little sprucing up, my dear,” Old Man Mendell continued.
“Gosh, Mr. Mendell, I would love to help, but I really told my mom I’d come right home,” I repeated futilely. We replayed this scene about every other week. Next he would try to make me feel guilty.
“Oh, I can give her a call and let her know. Like I said, I would clean it myself, but my back aches. My youthfulness has left me, my dear. If I was lucky enough to be as young as you, I would be out there in a jiffy.”
I sighed resignedly. “Of course, Mr. Mendell. I would be happy to help.”
* * * * * * *
Two long hours later I was on my way back home, trying to shake off the feeling of the creepy crawlies that I had. I stopped in front of my Neohome and did a weird little dance, brushing off dirt, cobwebs and other suspicious debris that I didn’t really want to identify.
“Fancy feet you got there, Acara!” I heard a voice shout. I could feel my face turn red under my purple fur as I wheeled around. A fire-painted Kyrii with a mischievous smirk was leaning against the fence across the street.
You know how extreme embarrassment has the power to make you speechless? That was this moment. I immediately stopped flailing around and awkwardly stared at my fancy feet. Out of my peripheral vision I could see the Kyrii coming toward me.
“Well, don’t stop on my account. When you have the dancing fever, the only medicine is to move,” he said, still with that smirk on his face. I decided his smirk was stupid. I wanted to tell him.
“Your smirk is stupid.”
Oh, for the love of Illusen. My mouth had to pick that particular time to work again?
“I’m going to have to say the same about your dance,” the Kyrii retorted, smirking even wider now. “I’m Dex, your new neighbor.” He motioned toward his house, which I now noticed had boxes stacked everywhere on the lawn.
“Belle?” I managed.
“As in ‘ring the bell for service?’” Dex asked, because apparently no sentence he spoke could be sincere.
“As in, ‘ring the bell and let the boxing match begin,’” I responded, inwardly feeling satisfied that I strung together a sentence.
He took a slight step back and peered down at me. “Well, Belle, I know you’re auditioning for the ballet so I won’t take up any more of your time. Be careful, though. Those moves make you a slight danger to both yourself and others, you know.” He turned on his heel and strolled back across the street.
I glared behind him before letting out a huff and marching into my house. My mom was sitting at the kitchen table with a crossword.
“He is so infuriating!” I burst out, flinging myself into a chair across from her. “I have never met a ruder Neopian in my entire life. Who does he think he is?”
My mom stared at me with one eyebrow raised. “We can’t stand him,” she responded, deadpan. “Also, why are you so dusty?”
“Mom, you don’t even know who I mean. And Old Man Mendell made me clean his storage shed. Plus he forgot who I was. Again. But I don’t care about Mr. Mendell right now. I’m too angry about Dex!” I rested my head facedown on the kitchen table. The humiliation from the interaction that I had just suffered through was overcoming my anger. “I can never leave the house again,” I moaned.
“I’m going to need details before I start stocking you up with canned food and an endless supply of magazines, Belle,” my mom prodded.
I looked back up at her. “I met our new neighbor. His name is Dex. I think he’s Jhudora’s messenger. He totally embarrassed me. He kept teasing me because of this dumb dance I was doing-”
“Oh honey, you know you have no rhythm,” my mom interrupted.
“Thanks, Mom.” Nobody told me that it was Boost Belle’s Self-Esteem Day.
“Regardless, Belle, I don’t think you should judge this boy too harshly. I’m sure he’s just feeling awkward as the new kid and doesn’t know what to say. Think how you’d feel! Offer to show him around the neighborhood,” my mom encouraged cheerfully.
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea. He’s not really somebody that I would be friends with...”
“People can surprise you, Belle. End of discussion. Tomorrow you’re going to spend the day with this Dex. I’m sure he’ll really appreciate the effort,” she insisted, picking up her crossword again.
I groaned and dropped my head back down on the table. I was pretty sure that the only thing Dex would appreciate was the opportunity to make fun of me for a whole day.
* * * * * * *
The next morning I maturely got up and left my house without uttering a single word of complaint. Or I may have whined for an hour before my mother finally dragged me to the front door and locked me out. But the point is that I walked across the street and tried to keep positive. Maybe Dex really was just having a bad day yesterday.
I knocked on his front door and Dex answered after a minute. “Do I know you?” he asked, looking confused.
“You’re joking. We met yesterday.”
“Huh,” he responded, and then grinned. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”
Or maybe he was just always a jerk. “Ha-ha. So, anyway, I know you’re new in the neighborhood and so my mom thou—I mean I thought you might want to hang out and get a tour or something. Only if you’re not busy, but if you are, that’s great. I mean, great for you. I won’t be disappointed or anything, so don’t feel like you have to hang out with me. I can show you around, though, if you want.” Apparently my mouth was making up for its lack of action yesterday by making me sound like a babbling fool today.
“Wow, that is such a sincere offer,” Dex answered sarcastically. He examined me for a moment before walking out and shutting his door behind him. “Should we go then?”
As we walked down his lawn and onto the street, we faced the awkward silence that occurs between people who don’t know each other well. But to be honest, I preferred the quiet to his constant jabs or my rambling.
“So,” he started after a while. “How’s the M*YNCI audition coming?”
“That joke is so dead, Dex. If you have to know, I wasn’t trying to dance; I was getting all of this dirt and stuff off of me. I had to clean, and it was disgusting. I felt like I had Spyders crawling on me.”
“What exactly were you cleaning? The entire Lost Desert?”
“Old Man Mendell’s shed. Every week when I take him some homemade food, he usually guilts me into helping him around his house. Actually, we’re passing it right now.” I stopped in front of Mr. Mendell’s and pointed.
Dex let out a low whistle. “That is quite the lawn gnome collection he’s got.”
“Tell me about it; arranging them was last week’s project for me. This week I got to sweep out his dirt collection. All of this and the guy can’t even say thanks. Or remember my name.” Looking over at Dex, I saw a mischievous look that had quickly become familiar.
“You don’t sound too fond of Old Man Mendell,” he began slowly.
“I mean, I don’t want to bake best friend pies with him or anything,” I responded. “But he’s not malicious. He’s just sort of clueless, I think.”
“He sounds like he’s taking advantage of you,” Dex said, looking suspiciously thoughtful. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know what he was thinking. He began to walk toward one of Mr. Mendell’s gnomes.
Just then, the front door to the house swung open. I had never seen Old Man Mendell move so fast. He was marching toward Dex, waving his cane and not looking like his back ached in the slightest. “You there! Get off my lawn! What do you think you’re doing?”
I ran to stand next to Dex. My role as tour guide made me feel responsible for him, and so I jumped in before he could say a word. “Mr. Mendell, it’s me, Belle! Dex just wanted to admire your gnomes from a little closer up?”
Old Man Mendell stopped and squinted at me. “Eh? Who did you say you were again?”
I could see Dex smirking next to me as I re-explained my identity to Old Man Mendell for the hundredth time. “But anyway, sir, we were just leaving. I’m sorry if we caused you any stress.”
“You young hooligans just make sure you keep away from my gnomes, or I’ll call the Defenders! And my dear, why don’t you just go ahead and bring some more of those cookies next week. Also, come to think of it, the hedges could use a little trimming...”
“See you next week, Mr. Mendell!” I shouted while grabbing Dex’s wrist and dragging him back to the street.
“What was that about?!” I demanded. “Please tell me you were not going to do anything to that gnome. I am so embarrassed! I can never go back there again. He thinks I’m a hooligan!” Hooligan was one of those words that sounded really funny, but when you were called one, the implications of it were not funny at all.
Dex brushed my concern aside. Clearly he was used to getting into trouble. “Calm down. That guy has the memory of a plushie. He’ll forget you in an hour.” Dex began walking quickly down the street, rubbing his head distractedly and muttering.
When I asked him what he was thinking, he stopped walking and looked at me. “Somebody should play a little prank on him. Something he won’t forget.”
“Seriously, Dex. The guy is annoying and everything, but big deal. He’s old. He can’t remember to say thanks. He’s obsessed with gnomes and forgets probably the only person who visits him. But I can live with that. I’m not going to let you prank an elderly person.”
The faraway look in his eyes showed he wasn’t listening to me, though. I began pacing nervously, unsure what I should do. I didn’t know Dex well, but I certainly didn’t trust his moral compass. I was about to run home and tell my mom that she had forced me to bond with a possible lunatic when he finally spoke.
“I got it,” he said animatedly. “The plan involves gnomes and a little bit of roguery.”
“You are not going to steal his gnomes! That is so illegal, Dex. Way past harmless prank.”
Dex shrugged and responded, “The gnomes are going to take a little vacation, that’s all. Are you in or out?”
“Dex, I know you’ve only known me for approximately one hour, but it has to be obvious that there is no way I’m going to be an accomplice in this. Let’s just go. You haven’t even seen the park yet. The neighborhood chipped in and bought a slide last year, so that’s something.” I pulled on his arm.
“Belle, have you always been a goody two-shoes? You’re such a scaredy-Meowclops.”
First of all, I hate the phrase goody two-shoes. It doesn’t even make sense. Second, I was not a scaredy-Meowclops. I just liked not causing felonies. Still, nobody likes being called scared, and I could feel myself get instantly angry.
Before I could protest, though, Dex said, “You can go play on the slide if you want, Fancy Feet, but I’m going to go have a little fun with Old Man Men-dull. I can tell you, he won’t be forgetting me anytime soon.” Dex began walking back toward Mr. Mendell’s house.
I stomped my foot in frustration. The day was not supposed to go like this. I was supposed to take this rude boy around the neighborhood, feel uncomfortable and embarrass myself, and then go home and watch TV. Nowhere in my schedule did it say “witness and/or participate in a crime.”
Dex was going to have to dart right out into the open to grab the gnome, and he was bound to get caught. And then Mendell would call the Defenders of Neopia, and I’m sure Dex would drag me down with him. All of this trouble because I was trying to be nice to the new kid. Typical.
Telling myself that I would immediately return the gnome after I dropped off Dex, I started running. Mr. Mendell had a lot of gnomes; I’m sure he wouldn’t miss one for an hour or so.
I caught up to Dex just before he reached Old Man Mendell’s house. “Just so you know, this is wrong. And if we get caught, I’ll kill you,” I hissed quietly.
“So borrowing without asking is wrong, but murder is acceptable?” Dex asked, turning to look at me with a raised eyebrow. “In that case...”
“Shut it, Dex. You need a distraction for Mendell or you’ll get caught, which means I’ll be caught by association. And I’m not ruining my reputation over a stupid lawn gnome. So I’ll take Mendell back to his shed. You grab the gnome. You run away. I walk briskly away. Nobody gets caught. We go home and never speak of this again. Deal?”
“As you wish, boss,” Dex responded, adding a mock salute. “Move out!”
So as per the plan for this idiotic endeavor, I knocked on Mr. Mendell’s door. After he answered, I made up some story about how I saw a hole in the shed’s roof that he needed to see while fighting the urge to glance nervously behind me every three seconds. While we walked to the backyard, I saw Dex rustle in the hedges out of the corner of my eye, but the Old Man Mendell didn’t seem to notice a thing.
Of course, once we got into the shed, there was no hole in the roof. As Mr. Mendell looked at me confusedly, I mumbled something about how I must have confused his shed with another shed I had recently cleaned. I then apologized and awkwardly hurried out the door, hoping I had bought Dex enough time to get out.
What I was not expecting to see as I made my way around to the front of the house, however, was Dex scrambling across the lawn picking up broken gnome pieces that were scattered everywhere. Glancing up at me, he smiled sheepishly. “I tripped.”
“Vandal! Thief! Miscreant! What have you done to my gnome?!” Old Man Mendell screeched from behind us. I turned to see him racing toward us, shaking his fist. He stopped in front of me and pointed. “And you! You had a part in this, didn’t you? After I let you bake me cookies and help out around my house! What do you have to say for yourself, eh?”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Mendell?” I managed, staring shamefacedly at my feet.
As Mr. Mendell continued to yell, Dex remained uncharacteristically quiet. Although Mendell decided that he would not, in fact, call the Defenders, he did say he would call my mother. To be honest, that may have been quite a bit worse. He then left us on the lawn while he rushed inside to use his neomail.
I crossed my arms and turned to glare at Dex. “This is all your fault. I told you this was a bad idea. I can’t believe you dragged me into it with you! ”
“Nobody forced you to help, Fancy Feet.”
“Excuse me, but I don’t know who you’re calling Fancy Feet, seeing as you’re the one who tripped!” I cried out, feeling half-hysterical. “You’ve done nothing but create trouble since we met!”
“If you don’t like me, why did you even want to hang out? I wasn’t exactly crawling on my knees begging you to be my new best friend,” Dex retorted, rolling his eyes.
“You call Mr. Mendell ungrateful, but I think you’re the ungrateful one! I was welcoming you to the neighborhood and showing you around. I thought you might like a friend or something. I try to be nice and look what I get!”
Dex smirked. “Well, Belle, haven’t you heard? No good deed goes unpunished.”
Boy, didn’t I know it.