The Day After Lutari Day: Part Three
It was getting dark by the time we arrived home, and Bannok was nearly dead on his feet. I half thought he might lie down on the front door step and go to sleep in the time it took me to unlock the door.
"Come on, sleepy head," I said fondly. "Let's get some tea in you, then I think it's off to bed."
"But Muuum," Bannok protested. He managed to avoid the classic 'I'm not sleepy,' lie interrupted midway by a yawn, but just barely. I dumped the beach bag by the door and headed straight to the fridge; it wasn't the time for cooking, but I had some alphabet soup in there that would do nicely. I'd eat my own dinner a bit later on.
"No buts," I said firmly, pouring the soup into a pan on the hob. An inquisitive mreep from my shoulder reminded me that I had an extra mouth to feed tonight. "I'm out of soup," I told my passenger, not sure whether my words were understood or not, "but there's plenty of omelette in the deposit box if you'd like?" It snuffled hopefully, leaning down to sniff the heating soup. I laughed, and went to get another plate and some omelette. "I hope you like eggs," I told it. "Bannok hates them, so there's always plenty going spare."
There was something very comforting about having a warm weight on my shoulder as I busied myself putting tea together; kettle on for a cuppa, buttering some bread for Bannok to dip into his soup, giving the omelette a quick once over in the frying pan to perk it up, scattering some bomberries into Callum's bowl of petpet food. I had to prod Bannok a few times before he noticed that his bowl was in front of him, but the little red thing (who really needed a name – or at least a gender – if it was going to stay) needed no prompting, practically leaping down onto the table to devour its omelette.
"Hungry, were we?" I asked it. Its head was too far buried in its dish to answer, but I could just hear it purring. I smiled into my cup of tea, noting that I'd need to add a high chair of some sort to my shopping list – it couldn't keep eating on the table like that...
"Whoa, slow down," I told myself, shaking my head. I still didn't know if we were keeping it – and besides, if it was a petpet then it was only fair that it ate on the floor with Callum. If I found a way around that Petpet Protection League rule, that was, though I knew it was there for a good reason. Still, I wasn't convinced that it was a petpet – but on the other hand, who ever heard of just finding a pet abandoned on a beach? And such a young pet as well!
The curiosity was too much – I had to know. I looked over my shoulder at the neighbour's house, and nodded in satisfaction when I saw that their lights were on. Two pets lived there, and though their owner was rarely around they were friendly and usually happy to babysit Bannok for an evening.
"I'm just going next door," I told Bannok. "Keep an eye on everyone for me?" He nodded into his soup without looking up. I ruffled his hair as I passed him on the way to the door, but he was too tired to do more than shake me off with an annoyed squeak. The other two were both too engrossed in their food to acknowledge me leaving.
It was getting a bit chilly outside, and I hesitated for a second before deciding against taking a jacket. I was just heading next door, after all. But after a few minutes wait on their doorstep I began to regret my decision.
"Come on," I muttered, ringing the doorbell again. "I know you're in..." Sure enough, there was a clattering of feet on the stairs and then the door swung open.
"Hello!" Paddy, the spotted Zafara who was the younger of the two living there greeted me. "Sorry, had my music on. What's up?"
"Hey, Paddy," I said. "How're things going?"
He grimaced. "Not too bad. I've got a fifteen thousand word paper due in next Thursday which... well, I'll get it done."
"Paddy," I admonished. "Have you at least got a plan for it?"
"Yeah no, it's fine. I've got like half the introduction written, and 15 thousand is more like an upper limit than a target, so it'll all be good." He nodded along to his words as if by being positive he would make them true. I shook my head disapprovingly, but I was grinning as I did so.
"And you'll do it the night before but get an amazing grade and make the rest of your class jealous, as usual," I predicted. He grinned roguishly back at me.
"Anyway, what did you come round for?" he asked.
"I was wondering if you'd be able to look after Bannok for a couple of hours, but if you're busy with your paper then I can ask Rob?" I said, referring to the faerie Xweetok that Paddy lived with.
Paddy hesitated. "Rob's like completely shut himself in his room working on stuff," he said. "I'm not even sure he comes down to eat or anything, so he's probably a no."
"Oh, that's a shame," I said, frowning and trying to think of anyone else in the neighbourhood who I knew well enough to leave with Bannok.
"And, like, I should be working too but I kinda need a break..." Paddy continued.
"You'd babysit Bannok?" I asked hopefully.
"There's an Altadorian sun cheese in the fridge, and a bag of chips in the freezer," I wheedled.
"Ack, no one can ever turn down cheesy chips," Paddy relented, and I cheered inwardly. "When do you want me to come over?"
"Thanks Paddy!" I said happily. "He's just finishing up dinner at the moment, so maybe ten minutes or so? Oh, also – I'm headed to the Library, do you want me to pick up any books for your paper?"
"Nah, but thanks for the offer," he declined. "I've got like loads out but I'm still reading through them at the moment." He stepped back into the house and lifted a hand to close the door. "Be round in a bit then for babysitting."
"See you then!" I said cheerfully. I practically skipped the few steps back to my house I was so excited to find out what species of pet or petpet the little red creature was. "Shoot!" I said, coming to a halt. "I forgot to tell Paddy that it wasn't just Bannok to babysit." I deliberated momentarily about going back to let him know, then shrugged – it wouldn't make much of a difference.
As I approached the front door I heard yelling and a high pitched squealing coming from inside. My heart leapt to my throat – I'd left them alone for less than five minutes, surely nothing could have happened? I fumbled with the key in the lock in my hurry to open the door, and nearly slammed it off its hinges in my panic.
"Bannok!" I called. "What's happen – ack!" The little red creature practically flew at me, latching itself onto my shirt in a single leap and chattering angrily at me. "Hey, calm down," I tried to say soothingly, but it only squawked loudly and scampered up to my shoulder to hide its head under my hair.
"Mummy!" Bannok said in relief when he saw me. "I didn't do it, I swear!"
"I – what – " I paused, trying to collect myself and slow my heartbeat. "Didn't do what, love?" I asked in as calm a voice as possible. "And why are you holding the broom?"
Bannok blushed, and immediately dropped his broom. "It was the petpet!" he explained hurriedly as I closed the front door behind me. "She noticed you were gone, and, and, she was crying – and then she went mental! And, and she was jumping everywhere and I tried to stop her but she threw the plate at me!"
"She threw the plate at you?" I asked incredulously. Bannok toed the floor guiltily.
"Well, not quite – but she made me knock it off, it's not my fault. I promise!"
"Look," I said, crouching to be eye level with Bannok. "I'm not angry about the plate, and I know it's not your fault. I just want to make sure you're alright, and no one got hurt, okay?"
Bannok nodded soberly. Over his shoulder I could see the pieces of broken plate gathered into a somewhat haphazard pile, and Callum sat in his basket with his head under the pillow trying determinedly to ignore the world. That at least was fairly normal.
"Right then, let's clear up. Did you manage to finish your tea?" I asked Bannok. He nodded. "That's good then. Run upstairs and get ready for bed; Paddy's coming over in a bit, so I'm going to put on some food for him."
"Paddy's coming?" Bannok said, perking up considerably. "Do I have to go bed, Mummy? Can't I stay up with him for a bit?"
"We'll see," I said. "It depends how good you are – he's got a lot of work to do, so you'd best be quiet if you are going to stay up."
"I'll be good!" Bannok promised, heading up the stairs to do his teeth. I smiled fondly after him, and set to cleaning up the kitchen.
"Oh, and you," I said to the ball of red fur on my shoulder, "You're going to be coming with me if you make this much of a fuss by yourself." It meeped sleepily and yawned at me, curling up almost completely hidden under my hair with its tail slung across the back of my neck. Somehow I don't think it minded that much.
To be continued...