I was used to it, but the truth of the matter still hurt. I watched enviously as Eocura, better known as Dawn, and Leotide, swam around the vast expanse of water, darkened by late time of day. Settling myself down around a patch of kelp, I let it brush against me as I watched bubbles created from the swift movements of my friends flutter around them for seconds and then pop. I sighed, and then felt horrible for looking down at my friends' jubilance. I kept telling myself to simply accept it, but deep inside, I always burned with the knowledge that I would never be fully accepted or wanted by anyone: I was an outsider.
Then Dawn looked back at me, finally noticing after a full quarter of an hour that I was not present and enjoying myself as her and everyone else was. She swam closer towards me, the edge of her tail flicking in the way it always did when she was scared, worried, or concerned. I wanted to look down, but her overpowering gaze forced me to look at her in the eyes.
"Deura," she said my name with a beautiful softness, "what's wrong? Why aren't you joining us?" I knew Dawn was easily upset, so I couldn't tell her I felt left out from all of our friends. But what else could I say? I couldn't lie. Not to one of my best friends.
I took a deep breath. How long could I go on like this? Pretending as though I enjoyed myself when in their company? I took a deep breath and replied, "I don't know, Dawn. I just don't feel good these days."
Dawn's eyes clouded with sincere concern. "What do you mean? Are you sick, hurt? What happened? Do you need us to help you to go home?"
Us. I was one of them. "No, Dawn. That's not what I mean. I mean... Well, I'm feeling not so good about... about..."
Leo had already approached behind Dawn's shoulder, and he raised his eyebrows as if to indicate to me that I needed to start telling them what was really going on.
"Well, I've been feeling excluded for some while now," I blurted.
Dawn's eyes widened. "Oh! I'm sorry, why though? Have I done something wrong? Did someone else do or say anything?"
I shook my head. "No, no one said anything... It's just, I'm slow. Different. The rest of you can do anything – swim fast, do cool tricks. But I'm the only one left here. Alone."
Leo spoke up, "Aw, come on Deura. Why would you feel like that? We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Me, I always lose the games you may be good at!"
Dawn smiled warmly. "Cheer up! That's nothing to be sad about."
My friends' kind words filled me up with a great feeling inside, but I still felt sad. Their optimism made me feel uncomfortable and left out. I felt restless, like a Pteri, just waiting every day to be able to fly freely among her friends. "I'm surprised any owner would ever want me. Or that anyone would even like to play with me – I can't take part in any of the games everyone else enjoys because I was zapped Shoyru."
Frustrated, I turned away from my friends, my mind racing with thoughts from over four months ago. My old owner, Leah, had just discovered the Lab Ray, and she chose me to zap because of my weak beginnings. It took nearly two weeks for her to be satisfied with any of the zaps. The same day I was zapped into a Shoyru, she bought a Maraquan Paint Brush and I knew this was it – the day I would be fancily painted like all my other friends!
I was so excited until I came away from the Rainbow Pool. I realized, once I started swimming in the depths of the water in Maraqua, that I was the slowest pet ever. Every day, I pestered Leah to help me train in movement, but no matter how hard she tried, I rarely felt any improvement.
But the biggest heartbreak of all was about a couple months later, when she put me up for adoption. She said she couldn't handle having six pets at once, and though she loved me, I was forced to leave her house within a week after she found a new owner.
Ever since then, I've felt scared of other pet owners; my new mother, Ally, was the only person I trusted. She actually cared for what happened to me, and ever since I entered her home, I was able to play with other pets, and she actually raised my self-esteem a little. But I was never fully content – I never really belonged. And I still felt slow and measly compared to all my other friends.
Friends. At the thought of the word, I turned back to Dawn and Leo. I remembered from two days ago, Leo had swam over to my home and it was just me and him, Ally was out at the bank, and him and I were making jokes about how girly Dawn could be. And then I thought about how Dawn might be talking to her friends about how Leo and I might act so silly when we're always trying to act manly, like we should?
Didn't everyone have their faults, their weaknesses? They were silly things about them that were fun to talk and joke about, nothing to take seriously at all. Of course, I couldn't count how many times I was called 'slowpoke' even if I wanted to, but those jokes always hurt because I knew how painfully true they were.
I sighed, just as Leo said, "Please, Deura. Listen to me. Ally is your owner and appreciates you for who you are. That's why she adopted you. And we, Dawn, I, and the rest of us, all play and care for you because you're our friend. And we'll stick with you the whole way through your problems, but you just have to tell us what's going on whenever you're feeling down."
Dawn nodded. "C'mon, how about we gather up the rest of the crew and head to my home? Mom said she'd be making a really nice dinner, and I don't think she'd mind feeding a few more pets, it's just me and her anyway. And then we'll talk about your movement – have you asked Ally yet to train you?"
I shook my head, my lip trembling as a rush of affection for Dawn and Leo ran through me.
"Well then," Dawn continued loudly, "what are you waiting for? We'll make sure you're the fastest pet there is when you're done with all your training! How 'bout it?" She turns to Leo for some look of approval and encouragement.
Leo nodded. "Of course! He nudges me and grins. Come on Mr. Gloomy. If we hurry, we might even be able to sneak a cookie from Dawn's cookie jar without her noticing..." His voice trailed off. He didn't even need to finish his sentence; I was already beaming with joy. Leo and I had plenty of inside jokes that Dawn knew little about, but our favorite thing to do was to exchange our oatmeal cookies for her chocolaty ones, hidden in a jar in the kitchen. Dawn didn't notice, being too busy gathering all of our friends to visit her home for dinner. It was already pretty dark, so I knew we'd have to swim as fast as we could to get there. But for once, the idea wasn't daunting.
I laughed and smiled to the rest of my friends. "Race you there!" And I was the first one to zoom away from our starting point.