My Zebie: Part Three
I spotted the Zebie instantly. She was a golden cream color, unpainted but beautiful. Her fur shone and her eyes sparkled. I reached through the bars of her cage to scratch behind her horns. "Maaaa," she bleated in a musical voice.
"How much is she?" I asked the person at that lot.
"Two million neopoints," he replied, sneering down at me as if he doubted I had that much money.
He was right.
"Would you accept an offer of 800,000 NP and a baby paint brush?" Lina asked hopefully. The man's grin grew wider as he shook his head. I wanted to claw him.
"Okay, thanks anyway," Lina said politely, walking quickly out of earshot. I followed close behind her, gazing long fully at the Zebie doe.
"What a jerk," I said. "That was a beautiful doe, too."
"Let's try the next one," Lina offered. We strolled past the ever-busy trading post lots until we came to a second Zebie. This one was a buck, a darker cream color than the first doe, but still unpainted. He snorted at my paw and tried to head butt my hand playfully. He was undoubtedly handsome. He was grouped together with a few other petpets, and they rolled and tackled each other in their cage. I laughed as I watched the Zebie chase and play with a Quilin. The owner of the lot was not present, so we left a note with our offer and continued on.
The third Zebie we saw was painted cloud, and smaller than the first two. He was all by himself and looked lost in the huge cage. He had two white blotches above his eyes that looked comically like eyebrows. His was young, too young to be away from his mother. His fur was dull and his ribs showed. He was not handsome and obviously sick. I didn't like the color cloud, and I would have much preferred to have the beautiful doe or the handsome buck, but I reached through the bars of the cage and scratched behind his ears. He leaned into my touch for a brief moment before letting his head droop again. I wished him luck, and we left a note with our offer on the table.
The last Zebie in the trading post was also unpainted. This one was a buck as well. He was old, and his huge, majestic horns towered over his head. His eyes had a wide, understanding look and a powerful disposition, and he reminded me of Brandon. His owner was standing proudly next to him.
"How much are you looking to get for him?" I asked.
"Four million neopoints," he replied.
I sighed and rubbed the buck's back. "Are you willing to haggle?"
"No, I'm sorry."
"That's okay." I flashed a brief smile at him before going back to Lina.
"No luck?" Lina asked. I shook my head.
"We'll just have to hope that the owner of the other unpainted buck or the cloud Zebie accepts our offer," I said.
Lina nodded, concentrating hard. "That cloud Zebie, what do you think of him?"
We were heading back towards the boat that would take us home, and I paused, considering on the best way to respond.
"He's... not handsome. Nothing like the gorgeous petpets that Victorie has. Part of it is his health, and I'm sure he'd look better if he felt better. Part of it is also his colour, but I suppose we could always repaint him."
"Which one would you prefer? The unpainted buck or the cloud buck?"
That one was harder to answer. "Well, the unpainted Zebie was definitely healthier, and he was very handsome. He had a bit of an attitude, though. I suppose if I had to choose, I would take the cloud Zebie, but we'll see."
The ride home was quick and quiet. I fell asleep dreaming about Zebies bouncing from one cloud to another, and somehow the two mixed and became the Cloud Zebie. I turned in my sleep and the dream ended.
The next day, I got a neomail about my offer. I gasped; which Zebie was it? And more importantly, was my offer accepted? I carefully peeled the envelope apart
Thank you for your offer on my Zebie, but I'm looking for at least two million neopoints. Good luck."
I let my breath out slowly; I had not been aware that I was holding it. It was from the owner of the unpainted Zebie. Now I could only hope for the cloud buck.
I did not receive any more neomails that day. Or the next day. Or the day after that. I waited impatiently, walking restlessly around the house and jumping every time the mail came.
Finally, five days later, I got another neomail.
I accept your offer of 800,000 NP and 1 baby paint brush on my Cloud Zebie. You may pick him up immediately."
I read it once, twice, a third time. I was finally going to get a Zebie! Part of me was disappointed, though. I had wanted one of the magnificent Zebies that Victorie had, not a sick, tiny petpet. Not one that was painted cloud, anyway. But I pushed that thought out of my head; under my care, he would get better soon, and I could always repaint him.
I bounded down the stairs, neomail in hand. Lina smiled as she saw my expression and grabbed her coat without even asking why. Together, we raced through Neopia Central. I glanced about, and almost tripped when I saw a Cloud Zebie poster. Line skidded to stop a few paces ahead of me.
I studied the picture, trying to figure out if it was the cloud Zebie from the trading post, my cloud Zebie. But no, this one did not have the white cloud eyebrows. I read the text below the picture.
"The Cloud Zebie won the PPL this week," Lina said from behind me. She glanced down further. "There were only two winners."
For a few minutes, I didn't think about anything. And then I started to laugh. "If our offer had been accepted just a few hours earlier, we would have received a PPL award too." There was something comical about the situation. Lina smiled uncertainly at me, and we continued towards our destination.
This trip to Mystery Island seemed to take unusually long, but I waited patiently with my paws in my lap.
We arrived at the dock and made our way to the lot we had offered on. The cloud Zebie was there, in the exact same position as last time. Lina signed the transfer document as I carefully opened his cage and scooped him into my arms. He was so light.
"Hi, little guy," I crooned at him. He lifted his head, and blinked, as if surprised he was out of his cage. "Maaa," he responded. I smiled, suddenly in love with the ugly little Zebie.
I didn't want some beautiful, well groomed, glorious petpet. I wanted this little Cloud Zebie, with his ungainly white eyebrows.
I beamed at him and studied his face the whole trip home. Lina sensed my happiness and smiled too. At our Neohome, Lina ran a bath while I held him. She mixed in some Petpetpet-B-Gone Shampoo and tested the water to make sure it was the correct temperature. We carefully put the buck in the tub. He seemed to enjoy the warmth of the bath water, and observed us with large, watchful eyes.
Later, as I was feeding him a bottle of milk, I was surprised by how that little bath cleaned him up so much. It would be many more weeks until his fur shone, but by removing the dust, dandruff, and petpetpets, he already appeared healthier. He sucked the milk down greedily, and my heart ached as I realized he was younger than I thought. "Why were you separated from your Momma so early, little guy?" I whispered in his ear.
"What are you going to name him?" Lina asked as she watched me feed him.
"I want to name him something special. He's been through so much, and he's still so young. He's a tough little guy, but he's also full of love." I paused, trying to sort my thoughts. "I want his name to be tough, too, but full of character." I paused again, and then inspiration hit me. "His name is Vladimir."
Vlad finished his milk and burped, causing both Lina and I to laugh. He sighed and snuggled closer to me, closing his eyes and sighing contently. I gently brushed his blue fur and smiled.
I rubbed one of his white eyebrows with my thumb, and smiled again at the thought that I had been so close to winning the PPL award. I liked Vlad this way, I realized. Cloud was cute. I would not repaint him, and he would be the best Zebie ever.
I pressed my lips to his forehead and whispered, "I love you, Vladimir."