"Gross. Mutants are SO ugly!" I said loudly to my friend Piliah as we passed a mutant Elephante in the hallway.
"I know, right? What an awful color," the Uni replied with the same exaggerated tone, so that the Elephante would hear.
Piliah tossed her pink mane as we passed the Elephante, who looked embarrassed and hurt. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her devastated face. I recognized her as one of the pets that admired my crowd, and wanted to be popular with us. She was being zapped by the lab in hopes of turning into something beautiful so she could join us. She had been orange the other day, but now that she was mutant, we would never let her in.
I didn't really care. She wasn't my problem; I didn't even know her name. She was just another face in the crowd that constantly surrounded me in neoschool. Me? I'm a maractite Usul, one of the most popular pets in the middle school. Everyone knows who I am, and they all envy me, because I'm beautiful.
Well, on the outside. Inside, I'm not so sure. I try not to think about it too much. It doesn't matter anyways, because inner beauty doesn't get you respect. I learned that a long time ago.
I'll admit it, I'm a bully. I push other neopets down to put myself higher. I have to, or my status would go down. There was a time when I was the one being bullied, and I can't afford to go back there again.
Anyway, it was a usual Tuesday morning. Piliah and I always walked to the first period together, since we were both in the same class. We made snide comments to the unpopular pets as we passed, as usual. It's our way of reminding them of their place in this school.
"Ugh, I can't believe pets like that have the decency to show their deformed faces in public. I would never become a mutant. If I did, I wouldn't leave my mansion until my owner bought me a Uni Morphing Potion," Piliah ranted as we made our way to math.
"Oh, I know. Being basic is at least better than having three eyes," I replied snobbishly.
We stopped in front of the classroom, as the bell hadn't rung yet. I stuck out my foot to trip a red Yurble that passed by me. She tripped and landed on her face on the dirty tile floor. Piliah and I guffawed obnoxiously at her as she struggled to get up. She had been carrying several textbooks, and was now having trouble rolling over with her arms trapped beneath the heavy books. Our mocking laughter was joined by several others who'd witnessed the incident.
"Nice one, Jewel." I was high-fived by a white Poogle named Corey.
"Thanks," I replied with a smirk.
I glanced back down at the Yurble, who had managed to break her right arm free from beneath her, and was using it to push herself up again. Her brown eyes were locked on the ground, ignoring the mocking laughter that was still echoing the hallway.
It looked like she was fighting back tears, but I couldn't tell for sure. When she got herself up again, her scared eyes locked on mine for a moment. I could see now there were tears, and I was momentarily hit by a small wave of guilt. Something in the back of my mind stirred as I recalled what it felt like to be in her place, but I quickly shoved it away by forcing a sneer onto my face.
The Yurble walked away briskly before I could tease her for crying. The bell suddenly rang, and I had to go into class.
As I sat down at my desk in the back row, Piliah leaned over and whispered to me.
"I think that Yurble you tripped was crying. Too bad we didn't notice quickly enough; we could've called her out on that," she said to me.
"Yeah, too bad," I responded half-heartedly.
When I couldn't get the Yurble off my mind, I was suddenly hit with a flashback.
* * *
The small blue Usul was quickly making her way through the hallway, keeping her eyes focused on the floor. She was praying with all her might that she would be left alone today. She'd had a rough morning, and wasn't in the mood for more torment. Five minutes until the bell. She was going to make it on time today! Just as she was starting to feel relieved, she turned a corner and there, waiting for her, were two large pirate Jetsams.
Nine-year-old Jewel froze, her heart sinking. They had waited for her.
"Well, look who's late again," one of them, the taller one, said.
"Trying to avoid us?" the other accused with a menacing grin.
"Where's our neopoints for lunch?" the tall Jetsam asked, his eyes narrowing.
"I-I-I d-do not h-have- I b-brought lunch today..." Jewel squeaked; her paws were trembling as she tightened her grip on the paper bag with her lunch inside.
The shorter Jetsam shook his head.
"Well, that's really too bad; we could really use some extra neopoints for a snack later," he said, crossing his arms.
"Not to worry, Tumano. She said she brought a lunch. Surely she must've brought something good for our snack," the tall one replied with a toothy grin.
Jewel didn't say anything as he snatched the bag from her. Her ears folded back as she tried not to cry, and failed.
"Aw, is the little Usul gonna cry because we took her lunch?" Tumano mocked.
She didn't reply. She simply averted her eyes, hoping they would just leave. Of course she's never that lucky. She bit her lip as she was shoved to the ground, the two Jetsams guffawing as she let out a small grunt when her back hit the cold ground. The bell rang, and the two bullies left her alone. She winced as the piercing sound echoed through the hall. She was going to be late again.
* * *
"She looked so proud, so over confident in her new starry coat. Starry isn't even that pretty! Not to mention how cheap it is. The Aisha was waltzing around with such an undeserved sense of accomplishment that I just HAD to tell her off. I walked up to her and was like: 'Look, girl, this is neoschool, not a beauty contest. Starry is uglier than green, first of all. It's cheap, it's old, and nobody cares about it. If you're going to walk around like you own the place, at least stop by the grooming parlor or the NC Mall first; I mean, who wears a Turtleneck Jumper with a Khaki Skirt?' Now Eventide, THAT'S a nice color. It's new, appealing, and doesn't make you look like a joke." Piliah was ranting to the entire lunch table about the Aisha that sat in front of her in math.
I was hardly listening. I was picking at my food mindlessly, barely eating it. I had maybe eaten two spoonfuls of the yogurt in front of me, and had been simply stirring it for the last fifteen minutes.
"What's with you?" Corey asked from beside me.
I glanced up at him. He was looking skeptically at me, as though I had no right to be grumpy.
"I just don't feel too well," I said, shrugging.
"Oh. Well, go to the nurse then; don't drain the excitement from our table by looking all bored and uninterested," he remarked, taking my Lime Cupcake.
"You're not going to eat this, are you?" he asked.
I shook my head, and he took a bite. Sighing, I stood up.
"I'm going to run to the bathroom," I told Corey.
"Okay," he replied, not even looking at me.
* * *
After school, I went shopping with Piliah and our friend Ayucia, an island Lutari. We were in Uni's Clothing, and Piliah was complaining about how awful half the clothes in the store were.
"I'm telling you, girls, we should just go to the NC Mall instead. This stuff is all plain and boring," Piliah complained, throwing aside several violet dresses.
"Piliah, I told you I can't afford neocash right now. Besides, I need new boots, and the NC Mall doesn't sell very many nice shoes," Ayucia shot back.
Piliah let out a huff.
"Well, these dresses are all ugly," she muttered, throwing the two dresses she'd been looking at carelessly back on the rack.
I wasn't talking much. I wasn't in the mood to shop, and I'd never really liked it much to begin with. Although all my rich friends loved new clothes and makeup, I didn't care much for clothes. But of course I had to pretend that I did in order to fit in with them.
Ayucia suddenly caught my attention as she turned to me.
"Hey, Jewel, look- it's that Mynci from lunch. Remember he wanted to sit at our table?" she whispered, pointing to a camouflage Mynci across the store.
I didn't remember anyone unpopular coming to our table asking to sit with us, but I hadn't been paying attention that day, so I acted like I knew what she was talking about.
"Oh yeah, it is," I said, unsure of what the Lutari's intentions towards him were.
"Can you believe he's shopping here? We have to tell everyone tomorrow!" She snickered.
"Tell everybody what?" Piliah asked.
Ayucia pointed to the Mynci, and Piliah smirked.
"Wow, what a loser, shopping at Uni's Clothing by himself," she remarked, mainly to us, but loud enough that he might hear.
When the Mynci didn't acknowledge us, Piliah and Ayucia sauntered over to him, and I followed. Upon spotting us, the Mynci went pale, and turned to rush out the door. We caught up to him, though, and the teasing began.
"What's a male Mynci doing at Uni's Clothing? Buying dresses for your mommy?" Piliah mocked, snickering.
His cheeks flushed as he looked down at the girly white blouse in his hands.
"It's actually for my sister-" he began to say.
Ayucia cut him off with her obnoxious reply.
"Aw, he's buying a little blouse for his sister! How pathetic." She snorted.
I didn't say anything the entire time. Ayucia and Cammie had drawn the attention of several pets in the store. I suddenly felt embarrassed myself that we were causing a scene, and I slowly back away from my friends and out the door. Once outside, I turned and sprinted away. I'm not sure what came over me, but I suddenly felt angry at myself and my so-called friends for all of this. I had been with the popular crowd for over three years now. Why did it suddenly feel so wrong?
* * *
Tears in her eyes, her are paws trembling, and she's pushed into the dirt a second time. Laughter is surrounding her; all the students are mocking her. All of the pets are bigger than her, even the younger ones. A shadow Lupe takes her backpack and heaves it into the nearby trees. It lands in a prickly-looking bush.
Krawk Island is no place for a little Usul like her, and the other students loved reminding her. Jewel stands up again, and eludes the Lupe as she tries to grab her by the tail. She weaves her way through the crowd of students and hops over the bush she'd seen her backpack land. She quickly reaches through the branches, even though the thorns hurt her arm terribly. She rips the backpack out of the bush and sprints away, disappearing into the thicket.
Why was she always the victim?
* * *
I tried to shake the memory away by running faster, but I ended up tripping and landing face first in the dirt. I was near the park now. The impact had pulled me back into reality, and I stood up slowly, brushing the dust from my dark teal fur.
The park was very crowded today, and there were no free benches or tables to sit at. I finally came across a bench with only one pet seated on it. As I approached it, I realized it was the Yurble I had tripped this morning. Reluctantly, I approached her.
"Okay if I sit here?" I asked uncertainly. "There're no more free benches."
She glared at me, but eventually nodded. Sighing, I sat at the opposite end of the short bench, and stared out at the families enjoying the sunny day. I glanced at the Yurble, who had a book. As I watched her, I realized her eyes weren't focused on the book, but the families that were eating lunch and enjoying the spring weather.
I thought back to this morning when I had tripped her. Nobody had come to help her up, I had noticed. Most pets usually had a friend help them when my group was bullying them; sometimes we even had their friends come tell us off, even if it had no effect.
The Yurble caught me staring, and stopped her people-watching and looked at me with irritation.
"What?" she asked me icily.
"Uh... what's your name?" I asked. I don't know why I asked.
She eyed me skeptically. "What do you care?" she asked flatly.
"I..." I really didn't know. Maybe I was just feeling lonely.
"Shouldn't you be shopping with your friends or something?" she asked, turning away.
For some reason, I scoffed.
"Yeah, right. They're not my friends. And I hate shopping," I replied.
"Seriously?" the Yurble asked, looking back at me with a raised eyebrow.
"Yes. I always have. I just... act like I do to fit it, I guess," I muttered.
"Huh. I never expected that from you. Why pretend? Why would anyone even want to fit in with those bullies?" she replied.
"I don't know. I just... feel like I have to," I replied honestly.
Why was I telling this Yurble all my problems? I still didn't even know her name, but I needed to talk to somebody, and she seemed like the only one who would listen. I wondered for a moment if my other friends would ever listen if I needed to talk to them. Most likely not, I figured.
"Why?" the Yurble asked. Her eyes were now wide with curiosity.
I sighed, closing my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I let it all out.
"Because... it's the only way I can feel powerful," I admitted. "I'm finally looked up to, instead of down on. At this school, I'm important. I'm admired. I felt like if I made others feel bad about who they are, I would feel better about myself. And it worked, for a little while. Until I started to remember what it felt like to be the victim... and now I just wish I could be myself," I explained.
The Yurble looked shocked, and she told me to go on. So I did. I explained my past in full detail. I told her that I had spent my childhood living on Krawk Island, and I had gone to elementary school there, and had been bullied because I was small, weak, and afraid of everything. My experience had made me bitter, and when I moved to Neopia Central with my owner, and was painted, I turned into the kind of pet that I had used to fear.
Being painted mattered much more in the neoschool here in Neopia Central than on Krawk Island, and my color gave me something that others didn't have. It brought me up on the social ladder, and now that I was on top, I suddenly didn't want it anymore. I was admired for being somebody that I'm just not.
When I finished talking, all signs of anger and blame had vanished from the Yurble's eyes, and had been replaced with sympathy and understanding.
"Wow... I never imagined anything like that..." she said quietly, staring out at the park before us.
We sat there for several minutes, not saying a word. Finally, I spoke.
She looked at me, surprised.
"Sorry for what?" she asked.
"This morning, and anything else I did to you," I said.
"I forgive you."
I was silent for a few moments, then continued.
"I wish I could start over. Just forget about Piliah, Ayucia, Corey, and everyone else I called my friends, and make real friends who'd care about me," I said to her.
"Why can't you?" she asked.
"I think it's too late," I answered.
"Says who?" the Yurble said.
"Well... everyone at neoschool probably thinks I'm a jerk. Who would want to be friends with me?" I explained.
"Maybe I would," she said.
My eyes widened.
"Really?" I asked.
The Yurble grinned and shrugged. "Sure. I don't have any friends, so you'd be a first," she admitted.
"That'd be great," I said finally.
"But if we're going to be friends, I'm going to need to know your name," I added.
The Yurble laughed. "I'm Cammie."