The School Dance
The flyer on the wall stared at me like an accusing eye that could see into my mind and read all of my innermost secrets as if they were printed over my face.
It was an advertisement for the upcoming school dance.
"School Valentines Dance!" the poster said in a flashy heading. "This Friday. 6 to 9 PM in the cafeteria. Bring your Valentine!" Some eye-catching music notes and hearts lined the corners.
The buildup of Neopets behind me grew into a tidal wave. "Come on, Skeith, move it! You're taking up the whole hallway!" someone yelled. There were several shouts of agreement. I mumbled an apology and moved on to my class.
I sat in the back row, as I always do. People could never see the board if I didn't. The professor, a male Gelert, was already beginning today's lesson, but I wasn't paying any attention. I was still thinking about the school dance.
It would be easier to just ignore it. Easier for me, for everybody. And it would be much less embarrassing if I just ignored the dance. But I didn't want to ignore it. I wanted to go to the dance. And I wanted to ask her to go with me.
She walked into class now, blushing politely and excusing herself for being late. She handed the teacher a pass and he waved her towards her desk. She sat down and began organizing her books, her Faerie wings waving mildly. Oh, how I could get lost in those beautiful, intricate designs on her wings. I imagined us flying together in the moonlight, her on her Faerie wings and me on my Skeith wings. I chose to forget the fact that I weighed so much my wings were useless and couldn't lift me up the ground an inch.
Her name was Sairena, a beautifully unique and valued name in itself, but everyone just called her Sara. Or, at least, her friends did. I would have died to be given the chance to call her Sara. She was the most gorgeous Faerie Usul that has ever walked Neopia.
I wanted to ask her to the dance, but I knew she would never go with me. My nickname was Ben, and my real name was Ben with a jumble of numbers and letters afterward. As if that weren't bad enough, I was a Skeith, perhaps the most undesirable species of Neopet discovered so far. And I was painted Blue, the most basic and boring color imaginable. Maybe if I were a rare species and an expensive color, Sara could overlook my horrible name and we could be together.
Sara wasn't snobby like the other well named painted pets; on the contrary, she was perhaps the nicest person at Brightvale Academy. She tutored younger Neopets, always did her homework, and gave Christmas and Valentines cards to everyone in her class. I had several myself, which I kept in a shoebox underneath my bed. I looked at them every once in a while, rejoicing in the fact that someone like Sara thought fit to give a card to someone like me. They were simple and generic: "To Ben, From Sara," but they were my most prized possessions.
If I could have, I would have bought a morphing potion or a paint brush. But my owner, Jake, was rather poor. He saved diligently to pay for my education at Brightvale Academy, the most prestigious learning institution in Neopia. He was adamant that my education was far more important than my looks, and although I disagreed with him, I didn't complain. After all, if I had never gone to Brightvale Academy, I would never have met Sara.
She was in my Neopian History class next period too, and I suddenly vowed to myself that I would ask her. I would ask her to go to the dance with me. I would go up to her and say, "Sara, will you go to the dance with me? Even though I'm a badly named basic colored Skeith and you're the most beautiful, majestic creature I've ever seen?"
Okay, maybe I wouldn't say that last sentence, but I would ask her all the same.
The bell rang, signaling the end of first period. Regretfully, I realized I had not taken any notes. Hopefully there wouldn't be a test.
I gave myself a silent prep talk all the way to class. The teacher wasn't in the room yet, but Sara was. She was sitting next to her friend, a Starry Kougra, laughing and talking animatedly. I lost my nerve and made my way to the back row. I would ask her after class, I decided.
An Elderlygirl Ixi walked into class then. Everyone quieted down immediately, staring at the newcomer.
"Hello class," the Ixi began in a wheezy voice. "My name is Miss Hooverly, and I will be your substitute teacher for today." She made a clucking sound with her tongue, then took out an attendance sheet.
"Here." The woodland Bori raised his paw.
I listened in horror as she continued to read every number in my full name. Frantically, I raised my hand, waving it back and forth.
The Ixi paused then, staring up at me through her bifocals. "Yes?"
"I'm here, Miss Hooverly. And people just call me Ben."
She made that clucking sound again, then said, "It is impolite to interrupt someone when she's speaking, Ben. Especially if she is the teacher."
"I'm sorry, Miss Hooverly."
She continued taking attendance, but I heard the snickers and felt the glances that continued to head my way. Blood rushed to my cheeks so that my normally Blue skin appeared Purple. That earned me even more laughs.
After class I rushed to my locker. I didn't want to embarrass myself further after Miss Hooverly called attention to my extraordinarily long name.
"Hiya, Ben! What's up?" I glanced down the hallway to see Zach, my one and only friend. Zach had a rather unfortunate full name, like me, although it wasn't as long and therefore wasn't as bad. He was a basic Red Kyrii, and the fact that we were both unpainted with bad names was one of the reasons why we became friends.
"Hey, Zach," I mumbled, grabbing different books out of my locker.
"What's wrong?" he asked, leaning against the wall. He smiled at a couple of Pteris, who giggled and waved shyly before continuing on to class. The major difference between Zach and me was that Zach was handsome and had a great personality.
"Nothing. Just me being stupid, as usual."
"Come on, you can tell me."
I glanced sideways at him, before saying, "Well, I want to ask Sara to go to the dance with me –"
"—but a substitute teacher read my full name in class, and, well, it was really uncomfortable."
Zach sighed and rubbed his head. "Just go for it, man. Ask her to go to the dance with you. She'll either say yes, which would be awesome, or she'll say no, which would have the same result anyway as not asking her, so you might as well ask."
"It's not that simple, Zach," I protested. "I mean, she's amazing and I'm... well, I'm nothing."
"Just try, Ben. If you don't ask her, you'll never know and you'll be kicking yourself for the rest of your life." He looked at his watch. "Hey, I got to go or I'll be late for class. Today is Wednesday, and if you don't ask her to the dance by Friday, I'm going to tell her that you like her."
"Zach, no!" I shouted, but he was already scampering off. I grumbled to myself; knowing Zach, the threat was most likely serious.
I kept on trying to convince myself to just talk to her, but the day was slipping by and I still hadn't done it. Finally at lunch time, I walked over to her table.
"Hi," I said nervously. She was with all of her friends. I suddenly blushed; I should have waited until she was alone.
"Oh, hi, Ben." Sara smiled at me. I blushed deeper; after this morning, of course the whole school would know my name.
"Well, I was wondering if...," I trailed off as Kieyl, a Shadow Eyrie, walked closer. He put his arm around Sara.
"Hi, Ben," he said, emphasizing my name. "That was pretty embarrassing this morning. I think I would die if I were you," he said, laughing.
"Kieyl, stop it," Sara said, frowning and squirming out from under his arm. I blushed deeper.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled, before walking quickly out of the cafeteria.
I didn't look at anyone for the rest of the day. After school, I got my bookbag and started walking quickly home.
I paused and turned around. Kieyl was flying toward me, holding something in his paws.
"Hey," he greeted me, landing delicately. "Listen, I'm sorry about earlier."
"It's fine," I said quietly.
"No, it's not," he insisted. "I know you like Sara—"
I began to protest and insist that I didn't, but he waved me quiet. "Come on, man, it was obvious. Anyway, I know you like her, and I have something that might help." He showed me what was in his claws; a paint brush! It was black and white and tantalizing.
"It's for you," he said, "So that you can ask Sara to the dance. I know she would never go with a basic pet like you, but just maybe she would go if you were painted."
I picked it up gingerly. "Wow, Kieyl, thanks!"
"Don't mention it," he said, shrugging. "Hey, I'll see you tomorrow."
I rushed home and hid the paint brush under my bed. Tomorrow I would wake up extra early so that I could get to Neopia Central and make it to school in time.
My owner, Jake, was making dinner. "Hello, Ben. How was school?" he asked as he chopped up an onion.
"It was fine," I replied. After a second, I added, "There's a school dance on Friday."
"That's cool. Are you planning on going with someone?"
"Maybe," I relented. "I'm going to ask her tomorrow."
"Well, I wish you the best of luck. I'm sure she'll say yes," Jake smiled at me, before asking "When will I get to meet this girl?"
"Jake!" I shouted, embarrassed.
He just chuckled, before adding, "Well, I'd like to meet her sometime. You know, make sure she's good enough for my Ben."
I grunted and picked up a Tchea fruit from the basket on the table. I took a bite and pushed it around my mouth. I swallowed, then said, "I'm going to leave early for Neoschool tomorrow, because I'm preparing a special way to ask her and I want it to be ready."
"All right. How are you going to ask her?"
I smiled at him, before saying "I can't tell you! It's a secret."
In truth, I was worried about what Jake would say when I came home painted. He never expressed much interest in rare colors, and I wondered what he would think about the fact that I accepted such an expensive gift from a Neopet I barely knew. But I tried to chase all those thoughts out of my mind and just concentrate on how I would ask Sara.
My alarm bleeped annoyingly at 4:30 AM the next morning. I groaned and sleepily turned it off. The darkness in the room was warm and calming, and my bed willed me to go back to sleep. Fighting against my instincts, I stumbled out of bed and turned on the light.
After a quick breakfast, I slipped out of the house and went to the Carriage House. I paid for a Uni-pulled carriage to Neopia Central and settled down for the hour-long trip. The landscape was dark and blurry and looked completely alien. I tried to start up a conversation with the two Unis pulling the carriage, but their only reply was a few tired grunts.
A little before six o'clock, Neopia Central rolled into view. The Unis brought me to my destination: the Rainbow Pool. I walked slowly towards it, clutching my paint brush. How many times had I dreamed of going to the Rainbow Pool to get painted?
I slipped into the water and shivered; it was freezing this early in the morning. I laid back and let the water cover my head, before coming up for air. Gripping the handle, I slipped the brush over my arms, my stomach, my legs. The paint trickled out and eventually disappeared completely. I took a deep breath, then looked at my reflection.
A black shadow stared back at me, interrupted by an amazing blaze of white. Black as coal, white as snow. My breath caught; I was painted. I was not a boring, basic color any longer.
The carriage took me back to Brightvale, and as the sun slowly peeked over the horizon, I examined my skin in the soft light. I knew the name for this color, but I could not remember it.
The carriage dropped me off at Brightvale Academy just as the other students were getting there. I received a few glances, but no one really recognized me.
My first class. In slow motion I felt myself walking towards it. I was going to do it. In my gut, I could feel that I was going to do it. I saw Sara walk in through the door. She didn't see me yet. My palms started to sweat and my heart thudded dramatically. I was still walking towards her. Suddenly, her beautiful, delicate nose wrinkled, marring her otherwise perfect face. Something smelled bad?
I sniffed the air and gagged. Something did smell bad!
"Hey, Skunky, stop stinking up the place!" someone yelled.
With horror, I realized that I was the one who smelled!
Skunk! I was painted Skunk!
I dashed down the hallway before Sara realized that it was me. People parted for me, horrified that my stench would get on them if we touched.
I almost ran into Principal Millis. She had her sleeve up to her face, breathing in the scent of fabric softener.
"Mr. Ben, please come with me," she choked out. I followed her to her office, a stink cloud growing ominously from my back.
"There is no need to be nervous, Ben," she said sympathetically. I took a deep breath and let it out. Slowly, the stink cloud dissipated.
I sat down in a chair across from her desk and waited while she sent my owner a quick neomail. Principal Millis was a yellow Ogrin, and some of the kids called her the Ogrin Ogre. I've always liked Principal Millis though.
She offered me a glass of water, which I declined, and we waited until Jake walked through the door. He sniffed at the air, cringing at the lingering odor, before he stared at me.
"Ben! What happened to you?"
And so I told them about the dance, and how I wanted to ask Sara, and how Kieyl had given me a paint brush. Principal Millis sighed and mumbled something about Kieyl being a trouble maker. Jake was looking at me, even though I wouldn't meet his eyes.
"Ben, what have I always told you? If something is too good to be true..."
"It probably is," I finished for him.
Principal Millis slid the Student Handbook over to me so that I could read section B part 7.
Brightvale Academy is meant to be a distraction-free environment designed to nurture the naturally curious Neopet into the educated future citizens of Neopia. In order to achieve this environment, we require that Neopets take care of their hygiene so as to not disturb others. This includes (but is not limited to) Durian Chias, Garlic Neopets, Skunk Neopets, Swamp Gas Neopets, and Zombie Neopets. If these pets cannot control their odor they will be asked to be repainted or leave the Academy.
"Skunk Neopets stink when they're nervous," Principal Millis said. "I think it would be best to repaint Ben."
"Don't worry, Ms. Millis," Jake said. "I have a Starter Paint Brush I can use."
I was dismissed from school early and the short walk home was quiet. Jake and I searched the basement until we found the old blue Paint Brush from when Jake first came to Neopia. We took a trip to Neopia, and I was painted Blue, the boring color covering up the odorous, yet beautiful black and white.
"Ben," Jake began, "If you ever decide to get painted, or to change species, do it because you want to. Don't do it because you think it'll make someone like you more. Trust me, you don't want to be friends with someone who likes you only for your color."
I nodded, trying to ignore the tears welling up in my eyes. Ugh, I was such a failure.
I didn't want to go to school the next day, Friday, but Jake made me. I stumbled into class, trying to not look at Sara. Through the rest of the day I argued with myself, blamed myself, and generally wished that I had been born a better-looking Neopet.
Finally, I realized something. I didn't care anymore! I was feeling horrible, and if Sara rejected me, I would still feel horrible. But, if by some chance, she did go to the dance with me...
The last period bell rang, and I ran out of class to find Sara. I caught her by the front door.
"Sara!" I yelled, just as she was about to fly off. She came back to the ground and smiled at me.
"SaraIwaswonderingifyouwouldbemyvalentine? Andwoudlyouliketogotothedancetonightwithme?" I gasped.
She looked uncertain. "What was that?"
I took a deep breath and tried again. "Would you like to be my valentine and go to the dance with me?"
Her eyes light up and she literally flew a few feet up into the air. "Oh, Ben, I was hoping you would ask! Of course I will!"
And then she flew down and kissed me on the cheek, before doing a somersault and taking off towards her Neohome.
I stood there, stunned. One hand automatically placed itself on my cheek, on the spot where she kissed me. She kissed me! I grinned from ear to ear and let out a yell! Sairena, the most beautiful Neopet in the school, kissed me! I ran all the way home and yelled the good news to Jake. I was going to the dance with Sara!
I tugged at the jacket of my suit, slightly uncomfortable. Jake said I looked handsome, but I wasn't sure. How could I be anything close to handsome next to Sara?
I clutched the bouquet of flowers I had gotten for her as I waited next to the school. Would she come?
Someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned to see a blue Usul.
And then I did a double take. Not just any blue Usul. It was Sara!
"Sara," I gasped. "What happened?"
"Ben, I knew you were intimidated by me because I was painted an expensive color. I really like you and want you to be comfortable, so I painted myself blue." Suddenly she was uncertain. "You still like me, don't you?"
Her blue eyes were like crystal sapphires, pools of the deepest blue. She was wearing a lighter teal dress which sparkled magnificently and made her look like a princess. I smiled and took her hand. "Sara, you are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."