Just Cookies: Part One
Ress had done it. She'd finally done it. She'd perfected her Pumpkin Cookies. The sugar was perfectly measured, she'd added just enough chocolate chips, and the homemade frosting was ready to go once the cookies had cooled down. And no negative chemical reactions had caused another goo monster to trample through her kitchen!
White, the white Usul, was busy setting out orange and red tissue paper and ribbons to wrap the cookies in once they were frosted. She stood by the dining room table, counting the wrappings to make sure they had enough.
"Is this going to be enough?" she asked, watching as her owner set the dough cut-outs on the baking sheets.
"That should be enough. If not, I know I've got more in the craft room." She opened the oven door and popped the tray in after it was full.
"These are going to be the best ones yet, White," Ress said, wiping her hands on her apron as she leaned against the counter. "We're going to sell more than Stephanie this year. I can feel it!"
"I thought this bake sale was about getting enough donations to buy some warm clothes for the Neopets in the pound?" White asked, pulling on her own apron to help her owner get the next tray ready.
Ress waved her hand flippantly at her pet.
"Of course it is." She trailed off, handing her Usul the pumpkin shaped cookie cutter so she could begin pressing it into the flattened dough.
"But if we sell more cookies than Stephanie, we'll be helping out even more!"
White rolled her eyes.
"I think you're taking this a little too seriously, Mom."
Ress ignored her and began covering two empty baking sheets with more cookies.
For the past three years Ress and her friend Stephanie had participated in the Soup Faerie's Autumn Charity Drive. Each year they both participated in the bake sale at the Neopia Central Daycare, and every year Stephanie's Pecan Biscotti's sold out and brought in the most profit.
But not this year. Ho-No! She was going to make the most Neopoints or die trying!
Ress paused and took a deep breath.
Okay, maybe 'die trying' was a bit extreme. But she was going to work super hard. Every year something bad happened, and she'd be cursed by Meepits if this year wasn't going to be perfect.
She grimaced again. Okay, maybe cursed by Meepits was just as extreme as 'die trying'.
By the end of the afternoon they'd made over five hundred cookies, and both Ress and White were exhausted.
Wiping her hands on her apron, the Usul sighed.
"I can't make any more cookies," she said, trying to brush some flower off her white fur, which was proving more difficult than she'd thought. "I'm covered in flour and I can't even see it!"
Ress nodded her head, brushing her own blonde hair out of her face only for it to flop forward again. Useless hair ties.
"I agree. Hey, let's clean up and go get some lunch before we pick up the twins from daycare. You've earned it," she said, smiling proudly at all the cookie covered surfaces in the room. "We'll clean this up when we get home, and then we'll have your brothers help us wrap them when they get back from their game."
White nodded in agreement, and they washed up before heading out to Neopia Central. They stopped off for iced borovans after a pleasant lunch at the Food Shop, before swinging by the Daycare Center for the twins.
Before they left, Ress caught up with their caretaker, Mrs. Lola, a tall pink Lenny who always wore funky skirts and chunky jewelry.
"Mrs. Lola, do you have a minute?" she asked, leaving the twins to jump on White excitedly as they both talked over one another about their day.
"Oh, Ress... What can I do for you?" the Lenny asked, setting down the pile of picture books in her hands. She gave Ress and suspicious look, but not without reason.
"I was just curious how early we could be here to get set up for the bake sale tomorrow?" Ress asked sheepishly, wondering if she could get the jump on Stephanie by being here early. Mrs. Lola reminded her all too well of a teacher she'd had when she was younger, and the look the Lenny was giving her made Ress wonder if she wasn't actually a carbon copy of sorts.
"Oh, well, let's see. We'll be setting out tables in the morning, so I guess as early as eight," she said, then she sighed. "I suppose I should save two tables by the front doors for you and your friend?"
Ress grinned. "If you don't mind. Those are the lucky spots."
"Not a problem... I'm assuming we won't have another... incident like last year?"
Ress nodded, clasping her hands together and tucking them under her chin.
"I promise. There will not be any pie throwing, and Alednys is at a training boot camp until next week," Ress explained with a guilty smile.
Last year's, 'all in good fun profit tally', had enraged her Kacheek, Alednys, enough to start throwing the leftover pies Ress had made. Her anger was a problem. They'd been working on it.
Needless to say Ress shelled out more Neopoints for the repairs than she'd actually made in the sales themselves.
"Alright... Well, if I have your word..." Mrs. Lola trailed off, and Ress saluted smartly.
"You have my word. Everything is going to be perfect. Thank you letting us take part this year and uhmm... We'll see you in the morning, bright and early." She turned sharply and marched away. She quickly pushed her pets out the door and through the stampede of owners picking up their younger pets.
Stardalea and Loleun were her twin, baby Yurbles, and both bounced excitedly as the four of them headed back to the house.
"So guys, what'd you do with Mrs. Lola today?" Ress asked, and she pulled her folded up umbrella from her purse as it started drizzling. She held it over her and White, but didn't worry too much about the twins. They were running around her legs and talking in unison.
"I got to see a bug today!"
"We got to pick up leaves from Lurch the Birch!"
"Who's Lurch the Birch?" White asked, holding her tail close to her chest in trying to keep from getting wet.
"Lurch is the big tree by the play ground! We're not supposed to mess with him 'cause he makes a home for the beekadoodles in the spring," Stardalea explained as she pulled on the brim of her hat.
"But today we got to go outside and pick up his leaves! Then we washed 'em off, dried 'em, and made pictures!" Loleun said excitedly before taking off to jump in a small puddle. It wasn't big enough to splash everywhere, but it still soaked the tops of his sneakers.
"Well, where are your pictures?" Ress asked, and that's when she noticed the Caprior attached to the rope in Star's hand. It had been ambling along with the group quietly, not even letting out a sound as Star led it in circles.
"Star..." she said slowly, watching the baby Yurble use her other hand to whip her Usuki doll around in the air like it was flying. "Where did you get that petpet?"
"I found 'im," she said simply. Ress touched her shoulder gently and made her stop and turn around.
"What do you mean you found him?"
"I found 'im. He was tied up outside the school, and so I untied 'im to bring 'im home."
"Where outside the school?" Ress asked, already knowing the answer. She'd seen this Caprior before, and already it was scowling at her in a way that made her knee caps tingle.
"Tied to Mr. Leonard's red wagon."
Ress groaned, her head drooping as she realized her daughter had stolen someone's petpet. She now would have to Neomail Leonard and tell him that they had his baby Scorchio's petpet. Star had done this before, but never with a petpet that hated her guts.
The Caprior grunted as it pulled at the rope and ran into Ress' legs. She'd been crouching down to talk to Star, and after squeaking in both pain and shock, she fell back off of the curb and into the road.
"Mom!" White yelled, and she rushed forward to grab her owner's hand and help her up. "Are you okay?"
Ress stood up, dusting off her backside and scowling at the tiny creature.
"You!" She pointed at it, scowling as she shook her finger. She took a deep breath, acknowledging that she wasn't just with White, but her youngest two, and that any curses she could say under her breath were still a no-no.
"I don't like you."
She herded her Neopets back on the sidewalk and walked a couple of feet behind them to avoid getting any closer to the petpet.
They made it to their Neohome in one piece only to find the front lawn covered in many bikes. Each one was covered in mud from the rain. Her other Neopets' baseball game must have ended early because of the rain, and already she could see a multitude of muddy foot prints leading up the walkway to her front door. Her Mutant Mynci, Bredoc, and Glowing Skeith, Achendro, had probably invited the team over since their house was the closest to the soccer field by the school.
Ress groaned inwardly. The soccer team was known for attacking food like a swarm of hungry Veespa. She'd just gone shopping the other day too, and probably would never get a single piece of that Pirate Pizza she'd gotten on sale for 'Talk Like a Pirate Day'. Her floors were probably ruined, and now she had an angry Caprior to put up for the night.
"Dear Adam, why today?..." she said out loud, and she quickly pushed the front door open. The twins took off through the house, their own little shoes leaving muddy prints over the trail that was already there. The Caprior bleated loudly as it tore across the hard wood floors behind them.
Ress could hear loud conversations from the kitchen, and she rubbed her temples as she stormed into the room. Nevermind the muddy babies and petpet in the nursery. She had an entire baseball team to deal with.
"Achendro, Bredoc, I have told you a million and one times to-" She froze, watching as fifteen sets of eyes turned towards her. The room was dead silent, and White had to squeeze past her owner with a squeak of discomfort. She held her tail and gasped.
Every single face other than Ress and White's was covered in cookie crumbs, and the remaining pile was a mere handful compared to what it was earlier. The muddy Neopets in her kitchen eyed one another warily, until her Skeith shuffled forward.
"Hey, mom..." he said, suddenly hiding the half eaten cookie in his hand behind his back.
"The game was cut short so we came back to snack. Hope you don't... mind." He flinched as both Usul and human twitched. They'd spent all morning making those cookies, and both were holding back barely contained rage.
Finally, Ress spoke, and her two Neopets quickly slipped away from the group.
"All of you boys, head on home. Achendro and Bredoc have some chores to do," she said, and there was a stampede as the Neopets quickly rushed out.
"Sorry we ate all your cookies, Ms. Ress!"
"Erm, and for the floors!"
"I'll see you later, Bredoc!"
"Sorry, Ms. Ress."
Ress followed them to the door, watching as they all grabbed their bikes and dispersed down the street.
A small blue Lupe hovered near the door, clutching the hem of his jersey as he looked sheepishly at her.
"Is there anything we can do to help?" he asked, and Ress released a tight sigh.
"No, sweetie, don't worry about it. Run on home; you're not in trouble."
The Lupe released a thankful sigh and took off down the road after his friends. Ress closed her front door and leaned her forehead against it. Five hundred cookies, GONE! Just like that! They'd worked all day on those! In fact, all the dough had been made the night before! A full days work down the drain! And the bake sale was tomorrow morning.
How was she going to win if she had no cookies to sell!?
She returned to the kitchen. Achendro and Bredoc were standing nervously by the table, both of them watching her anxiously. She opened her mouth to say something, but her Skeith, Achendro, spoke up first.
"I'm sorry, Mom. White just told us. We didn't know they were for the bake sale tomorrow." He hastily brushed a few remaining crumbs off his shirt.
"Honest," Bredoc said, and the way his eyes widened caused Ress' anger to slowly diminish.
"It's really okay, boys," she said, pulling out a chair so she could slump into it. White was scurrying around the kitchen, pulling together the few remaining cookies left and piling them on a plate. She set it in the middle of the table amid the wreck of tissue paper and ribbons and smiled weakly.
"One hundred cookies are left," she said, and Ress noticed she'd put her red apron back on. "How could you eat four hundred cookies in one sitting?"
Bredoc nervously rubbed his horns. "We built up an appetite on the field."
White bristled. "A four hundred cookie appetite?"
Achendro glared at her. "You once ate an entire quart of acorn ice cream to yourself!"
"So? At least I didn't eat Dr. Gregor's stethoscope!"
"That's not fair! You know I eat when I get nervous! And hospitals make me nervous!" Achendro wailed.
White rolled her eyes. "We didn't even go because of you! We were there for the twins' shots!"
Ress threw up her hands before her two Neopets before the argument could continue.
"I've had just about enough. Look, we are all old enough... Well, none of us present are painted baby. Now let's act like it!"
She pointed to the boys, and they flinched back at the maniacal look on her face.
"You two are going to help us. We're going to make four hundred cookies tonight, and they're going to be the best darn cookies at the bake sale. And we're gonna beat Stephanie!"
She'd shoved her chair back and stood, her hands fisted in front of her.
"Uhmm... I thought the point of the bake sale was to make some points for the Soup Faerie's autumn thing..." Bredoc said softly, breaking Ress from her trance.
"Heh. Right, of course. But we still want to win."
"Is this a contest?..." Achendro asked, and Ress waved her hands at them in irritation.
"No, no. It's not. Whatever. The point is. We need to get to work."
"I don't know how to bake," Bredoc said, and Achendro shook his head in agreement.
Ress gave them a stern look. "Well, for now you won't be doing any baking." She turned and left the room. Reappearing, she held out two mops and a bucket.
"You two get to clean the floors, first. Then report back for further orders."
Her Neopets groaned in unison, but took the supplies and headed from the front room.
"Since when do we report for orders?" Bredoc asked.
"I think we sealed the deal the day we went out in public with her."
"I can still hear you two!" Ress shouted before turning back to White. The Usul stood at attention, her tail pressed against her chest as she buried her face in the fluff.
"Are you ready?" Ress asked, poking her Usul's forehead to draw her attention. White sighed dramatically before lifting her face.
"I'm ready. Let's do this."
They began salvaging paper and ribbons and pushing crumbs and chunks of half eaten cookies on the floor. White swept, Ress scrubbed their cookie sheets, and once the kitchen was clean they started pulling out ingredients again. It didn't take very long to mix the dough, and they set it in the fridge to cool before using it.
While White greased the cookie sheets and hunted down the cookie cutters, Ress finally popped in to check on her little ones.
She was proud to find her babies had taken their shoes off right in the door, and she scooped them up to wash off for the next day. While the Caprior was sound asleep on one of their pillows, the twins played quietly in the center of the room.
Star was the first to notice Ress, and she placed her small blue finger against her lips to shush her owner. She then pointed to the sleeping petpet before returning her attention to the puzzle they were working on.
It sometimes unnerved Ress how old they could act. Star was known to be bossy and opinionated, and Leu was quiet and tended to follow her lead. But when someone bullied his sister he was the first to say something, and always carried around an extra pacifier in his pocket for her. Ress wasn't sure if he'd seen an adult do this before, or if he'd just learned it on his own. But she was sure that any minute now they'd be skipping into the kitchen demanding food, acting like the tiny tots that they were.
She dropped their shoes off in the laundry room before returning to the kitchen to whip something for dinner up fast. She ended up making grilled cheese sandwiches, and she sent White to get the twins while she grabbed the boys. They'd just finished the floors, and she beamed at them.
"Good job, soldiers! Now report for grub!"
They put away their mops and tiptoed around her.
"You're so weird sometimes," Bredoc said, and Ress' grin just widened.
"You'll appreciate it when you're older. Now scootch."
The twins snuck off with their sandwiches and sippy cups back to the nursery, and Ress sent off a Neomail to the Caprior's owner before sitting down with her oldest three at the table.
"Alright, privates, here's the deal-" Ress started to say, but White held her paw up.
"Enough of the soldier thing, Mom. We get it." She sighed, and Ress scowled at her.
"Fine... Spoil sports. But I have a plan. We're going to do this like an assembly line. It'll be easy, we'll get everything set up so that all we have to do is pop the cookies into the oven and wait for them to bake. Then, when each batch is done, we fan them with those palm fans we got from Mystery Island. Then we sit down and frost them, and wrap them." Ress shrugged and bit off a chunk of her sandwich. "Piece of cake."
White nodded her agreement. "Shouldn't take more than a couple of hours. Then we can sleep while you take the cookies to the bake sale."
Ress frowned. "You're not going to come with me tomorrow?"
White gave her an incredulous look. "Not if we're up till three in the morning making cookies. I'm barely four feet tall, I need to sleep."
"You'll be fine," Ress insisted. "Now, finish up, and let's get to work."
Achendro belched, and the table stared at him.
"What?" he asked, eyeballing Ress' sandwich. "Are you gonna eat that?"
"Here." She handed over the rest of her sandwich and stood.
"Alright. Let's get to work!"
The assembly line method had worked. But their two rack oven could only work so fast, and it was well past midnight before the three pets trudged to bed.
Ress had put the twins to bed hours ago. She was sad that it hadn't been their usual routine but just a quick tuck in and kisses on the forehead. She'd wanted to sit down and read them a story, but just didn't have the time.
Leonard, the owner of the Caprior, had messaged her back. He'd said it was no big deal and that he'd save her from the petpet in the morning.
Well, really he'd said he'd see her at the bake sale, and he'd take the little critter back then.
But in a way it was a rescue for Ress. Right?
She had only twenty more cookies to wrap up, and it only took her a couple minutes to tie off the ribbons on the four treat bags. Spread on the table was her work, and she beamed proudly. She never would have gotten all this done if it wasn't for her pets, and she decided they'd earned themselves a treat tomorrow. She wasn't sure what, but she'd figure it out.
Before heading off to her room, she checked on the twins once more. Both were sound asleep and curled up under warm blankets. The Caprior, who she'd found out was named Monty, bleated softly from the pillow he slept on in the middle of the room.
Ress smiled at the small petpet, realizing it wasn't so bad. It was probably just scared and missing its owners. She wiggled her finger at him to say goodnight, and she practically knocked over a lamp while jumping back in the hall as it suddenly sprang up and jerked threateningly towards her. She steadied the lamb and glared at it, trying to stay quiet as it settled back on its pillow.
Oooh, she couldn't wait to ditch that nasty little thing in the morning! She left the door cracked and tip toed back to her room, fuming over all the ways to make Caprior themed dishes. There she threw off her apron and fell face first into her Tyrannian Fur Bed. It didn't take her long to fall asleep.
To be continued...