To Be A Big Girl
The rainbow water still rippled from the painting that had happened just moments ago. Either the owner or the Neopet could hold the chosen paint brush. Then, the rainbow water would take on the color of the paint brush, absorbing the brush. The pet would step into the pool, and, a few moments later, the pet would step out in their new paint brush color. The newly painted pet would be so happy, a look of fulfillment on their faces (grey pets excluded, of course).
That's what Lillian Grace wanted. Lillian Grace was a baby Kougress. She had been OK with that; even a year ago it had been just fine. Recently, however, that had changed. She was going to be ten years old in a month and she no longer wanted to be called a baby.
Lillian Grace wanted to grow up. She knew that other pets were OK with being painted baby their entire lives but she wasn't one of them. Her mother had already told her she could be painted another color but therein lay her problem. What color did she wish to be painted? She had been mulling that question over in her mind for months now and still didn't have a satisfactory answer.
With only one month left, it was getting down to crunch time. A soft touch to the nape of her neck got Lillian Grace's attention.
"Lil' Grace, we've been here for an hour. Its time we got back," X said.
A pair of large golden eyes looked pleadingly back at the spotted Gelert. His ice blue eyes looked back calmly.
"That doesn't work with me, Lil' Grace. It never has," X said, raising his eyebrows at his charge.
"Yeah, I know. Its just, X, Kougras can be painted fifty-seven different colors! How am I supposed to choose," Lillian Grace wailed.
"It's a big decision. You'll know it when that color says, 'Hiya, my name is Lillian Grace.' Just like baby does for you now."
The baby Kougress still looked unhappy as she took the Gelert's hand as they walked away from the Rainbow Pool. On the way back, they got caught up in a snowball fight. It was a long battle and they ended up tired, cold, wet and satisfied at a game well played. For the time being, Lillian Grace seemed to have forgotten her paint color dilemma. Thankfully, Aaren didn't live too far away.
The Royalboy Usul opened the door, a look of surprise on his face. "Snowball fight, huh? Did you win?"
"We held our own," X said with a grin.
"Have any hot chocolate," Lillian Grace asked her best friend.
"Always. I'll serve us up some cups. Take a seat in front of the fire. I'll be right back," Aaren said.
Once the mugs of hot chocolate were in their hands, the three pets caught up with each other. Then, the inevitable question came from Aaren.
"So, have you picked a color you want to be painted, yet, Lil," the Usul asked.
X winced mentally as he saw the girl flatten her ears. She swallowed the gulp of hot chocolate she had just taken and then her large golden eyes fixed on Aaren. The happy atmosphere was gone. Aaren set down his mug on the coffee table.
"That means no," Aaren said slowly.
"Yup," X muttered, tapping his long fingers on the table.
Lillian Grace looked away from them. Aaren cleared his throat. He glanced at X and tilted his head towards the Kougress. X flicked his ears and rubbed his chin. Well, since the boy had caused the problem, then he had to fix it.
X gathered the empty cups and made an exit to the kitchen. The Usul and the Kougress sat on the couch, facing each other in the same position: arms wrapped around their legs, chins resting on their knees.
"So, it's bothering you that much, huh," Aaren asked.
"Yes," Lillian Grace exclaimed.
"You shouldn't stress so much over it. This isn't a decision that should be made under pressure."
"How can I not? My birthday is in one month! This is a life changing decision, Aaren!"
"OK, have you ever tried pulling a color out of a hat? It really does work, you know."
"I can't depend on a random method to choose for me! What if I pull out something horrid, like 8-bit?"
"Then we would still love all eight bits of you."
"X, that isn't funny!"
Lillian Grace threw a pillow at the Gelert, who stood in the living room entrance. He grinned as he caught the pillow.
"Nice throw, Lillian Grace. Now, I think its time I took you home," X said, placing the pillow back in its place on the couch.
"Aw, I thought I was going to see the twins," Lillian Grace exclaimed.
"OK. I'll see you later, Aaren."
"Bye, Lil, X," Aaren nodded his head to first one, then the other, watching them walk away.
Later that evening, shortly before Lillian Grace went to bed, she sat cross-legged on her bed, Baby Cupcake Hat, cupcake side down on her lap. A few moments earlier, she had written fifty-seven paint brush colors on scraps of paper and then put them in her hat. Was this random method really going to choose her paint brush color? Lillian Grace took a deep breath, reached into her hat, grasped a piece of paper and pulled it out.
"Invisible! I don't want to be invisible! I should have known that this wouldn't work." the baby Kougress moaned, flopping facedown on her bed.
Lillian Grace's cupcake hat and the scraps of paper fell to her bedroom floor. The Kougress felt tears prickle at her eyes but before they could fall, a light tug at her dark brown hair drew her attention. She half rolled over and saw Aileen, her Tasu, sitting with her tail curled over her paws. Lillian Grace reached out a hand to scoop up her Petpet, holding her Tasu close as she purred. Lillian Grace fell asleep to the comforting sound.
The next day, the baby Kougress peered over the edge of the crib, golden eyes wide with wonder. She stepped back and looked at X.
"They're so cute," Lillian Grace whispered.
The two pets exited the bedroom. Nisha was perched on the couch, reading a book. Lillian Grace sat beside the eventide Aisha.
"Will you read to me, Nisha," Lillian Grace asked.
"Of course I will, Lillian Grace," Nisha said with a smile.
The Aisha put down her book and headed for the bookshelf. She glanced back at the little Kougress, who had paused to read the title.
"Blumaroo Love Stories," Lillian Grace read, glancing at Nisha.
"Not something I usually read but my sister recommended it to me," Nisha explained.
"Yes, she can't refuse Amorine," X said with a smile.
"Amor is a hopeless romantic. I humor her when I can. Lillian Grace, feel free to choose any book you like."
The Gelert and Aisha watched as the Kougress looked at the rows of books. Both of them enjoyed reading when they had time. There certainly was no lack of material.
"This one," Lillian Grace said, handing a slim green volume to Nisha.
"Bori and the Rainy Day," Nisha began.
"Bori hate rain," X said with a laugh.
"Yes, they don't like liquid water. They much prefer it frozen."
Nisha read the book out loud to her rapt audience. The time didn't seem to pass slowly enough. As Nisha closed the book with a snap she glanced at the clock.
"Excuse me, I have to feed the twins," Nisha said, returning the book to its shelf before exiting the room.
"The Bori were unhappy, X. They only had to deal with it for one day but being painted is far more serious than that! What if I make a mistake?" Lillian Grace said.
"Lil' Grace, you need to relax. Here, lets make that list. Instead of asking yourself what you want to be painted, ask yourself what you don't want to be painted. I know you have some idea of that, from what you said yesterday," X said.
The two moved to the dining room table. X wrote in his narrow curving script all fifty-seven colors that Kougras could be painted. He slid the list across to Lillian Grace.
"OK, get to crossing off colors," X said.
Lillian Grace did so. X was amused watching her. For some colors, she didn't hesitate in drawing a thick black line through them. For others, she had to deliberate a little more. After a few moments, she finished.
"Well, let's see that short list," X said.
Lillian Grace pushed the notepad across to the spotted Gelert. He smiled at the many black lines.
"Fifty-seven narrowed down to nine. Well done. You really do know your own mind, Lil' Grace. You should learn to trust your judgment more. Now, tell me why you have the colors that you didn't cross off the list," X said, ice blue eyes focused on his charge.
"Well, I chose most of them because I'm used to a lighter color. I'd like to stay in that same range. My favorite color is pink so I want to keep it in mind," Lillian Grace said.
"Good girl. This makes it easier, doesn't it? You feel the pressure lifting, right?"
"Yeah, thanks, X. You're the best."
"Don't tell him that too often, Lillian Grace. It might go to his head."
A woodland Uni came in just then and took a seat at the table. He glanced at the list between them.
"Deciding on a color to be painted, Lillian Grace," Legend asked casually.
Lillian Grace nodded her head and suddenly turned to face the older Uni, "How did you choose which color you wanted to be painted, Legend?"
"For me, the choice was easy. Woodland was made for me. Gardening is only a hobby but woodland works for me."
"So, I need a color that works for me."
"I thought I heard a familiar tread. Legend, you've come to see the twins."
Nisha stood in the doorway of the dining room, the twins nestled in her arms. The group looked at them.
"Of course. it's the only reason I came," Legend said with a broad smile.
The woodland Uni stood up, moved forward and scooped Yekaterina into his arms. X did the same with Zachary. There seemed to be no more time for questions. More relatives arrived to visit the twins and choosing a paint brush color was forgotten.
~ ~ ~
"You know what, Lil? Why don't you just get painted royal," Aaren said.
The two friends were working on a puzzle of Brightvale castle. The baby Kougress glanced at the royal Usul.
"You're only saying that 'cause you want us to be the same color," Lillian Grace said.
Aaren's cheeky grin said it all.
"Aaren, that can't be the only reason to choose a color!"
"Why not? We're best friends, aren't we?"
"Yeah but that doesn't mean we should have to be the same color."
"What's wrong with being royal?"
"I mean, Aaren, you weren't the nicest pet in Neopia. Face it, when most pets meet you now they still think you're a snob."
"Hey, they judge me before they know me! That's not my problem."
"Precisely! I don't want that."
"Yeah, I guess you're right... So, royal's out then, huh?"
Lillian Grace nodded her head. She pulled the paper out of her pocket and crossed out royal. Eight to go.
~ ~ ~
The spotted Gelert leaned against the doorframe, looking at the baby Kougress sitting at her desk chair. She was looking down, her golden eyes focused on a familiar paper. Something rubbing against his legs made the Gelert look down . He smiled and scooped up Aileen, who began to purr. Love, his spotted Puppyblew walked into Lillian Grace's bedroom and nudged the girl's hand.
Lillian Grace smiled and rubbed the Puppyblew's head. Love's tail wagged rapidly as she suddenly lunged, grabbed the paper and made a mad dash out the door. Aileen, startled, leapt out of X's arms and raced after Love. X glanced down the hall to see the tip of a speckled tail going down the stairs before he went to Lillian Grace's side. She had fallen out of her chair.
"Lil' Grace, are you alright?" X asked.
"Fine, X. Why did Love do that?" Lillian Grace asked, voice filled with shock; the Puppyblew was usually quite gentle.
"You know she can't stand to see anyone unhappy. She wanted to make you feel better. Come on, let's go get her and Aileen back."
The two pets clabbered down the stairs and out the door. Love was at the park, having a grand ole time dodging children trying to catch her. Aileen was the Puppyblew's shadow. X and Lillian Grace joined in on the chase. Love and Aileen outwitted them all, time and time again for an entire hour!
Finally, Love walked calmly over to X and let him take the paper, now very soggy. X and Lillian Grace couldn't help but laugh at her antics. They went back to Lillian Grace's Neohome to dry off and warm up.
"Well, I'll just toss this, Lil' Grace," X said, talking about the ruined, soggy mess that had been the Kougress' paint list.
Lillian Grace looked unhappily back at her babysitter.
"Lil' Grace, we can always make a new list."
X did just that. The new list was much shorter than the first. Much less intimidating, in his opinion. He glanced at his charge.
"You've kept these colors because you like them for their lighter shades. What about fire? You'll be mostly black with new powers," X said casually.
"I thought the bright orange stripes were cool. I never thought about having fire powers," Lillian Grace said.
"Do you think you could handle it?"
Lillian Grace was about to answer positively and then she had a sudden image of her burning something or someone. Her gaze darkened and she crossed fire off her list.
"Now, do you want the hassle of paint brush clothing," X asked, raising his eyebrows.
Lillian Grace thought of her best friend, Aaren. He was painted Royalboy and he wore the exact same outfit every day. Aaren may be OK with that but Lillian Grace knew she never could be. She crossed off two more colors from her list. Five colors left...
It was one week before her birthday and Lillian Grace couldn't shorten her paint list any further. She didn't want to struggle with the decision anymore. She had hoped that she would just know one day but that hadn't happened. So, she would just choose one and be content with it. She would be painted pink, which was her favorite color.
The Kougress hesitated only because she loved pink but she hoped actually being pink would not wear out fast. She could change her clothes if she didn't like them but she couldn't change her color so easily. Decision made, Lillian Grace crumpled up the paper and tossed it in the garbage. She smiled, decision over with but she wished she could actually feel happy about it.
~ ~ ~
It was Lillian Grace's birthday! Her family and her friends would gather at the park that afternoon to celebrate and Lillian Grace couldn't wait! She had resigned herself to being pink and was ready to take that next step in her life. She bounced out of bed to be greeted downstairs by a big breakfast.
"Happy birthday, my precious baby," Lillian Grace's mother hugged her child close and kissed her head.
"Mother! I won't be a baby anymore after my party," Lillian Grace exclaimed.
"You'll always be my baby, Lillian Grace. Always. What have I told you about talking with your mouth full?"
Lillian Grace smiled as her mother bustled about the kitchen. Breakfast was soon over with and she washed her dishes. Her ears flicked as she heard the doorbell ring. She raced out of the kitchen to see X and his family.
"Happy birthday, Lillian Grace," X said, hugging the little girl close.
Lillian Grace looked at the package that X had set down on the living room table.
"Presents are for later, Lillian Grace," X said with a laugh.
"Yeah, I know," Lillian Grace sighed.
The Kougress raced to the couch where Nisha had settled with the twins. She glanced at the eventide Aisha.
"Can I hold one of the twins, Nisha? Please? I'll be really careful," Lillian Grace begged.
"OK but you have to sit very still," Nisha conceded, scooping up Yekaterina and setting her carefully in Lillian Grace's arms.
The young Kougress hardly dared breathe as the infant yawned and then gazed up at her with eyes the same color as her own. The infant Gelert's ears tickled Lillian Grace's chin. Having been born snow, Yekaterina's body was cool but not unpleasantly so. Nisha got up to help Lillian Grace's mother and X decorate for the party. After ten minutes, X glanced Lillian Grace's way.
"Here, I'll set her down for you. I'm sure you're more than ready to stretch your legs," X said, taking his daughter into his arms for a moment.
"Thanks, X," Lillian Grace said, relieved that she could stand up, again.
The spotted Gelert set his daughter down on the couch next to her brother, who had fallen sound asleep. AS soon as he left their side, Love moved to lay beside the couch, every sense intent on the infants. Fluffy, Nisha's eventide Walking Carpet, was constantly underfoot of the adults, not a help in the least. Fluffy began yapping his head off as Aaren walked in the door, waking the twins. Aaren scooped up the nuisance as X helped Nisha feed Yekaterina and Zachary.
Lillian Grace collapsed at Aaren's feet in a fit of laughter at the chaos that Fluffy had caused. Then, it hit her. She stopped laughing and sat up abruptly, looking at the scene before her. Why had she not thought of this before? Who had always been there for her?
Who had always helped and guided her when she needed it? Not just for her, for everyone he met and came across. Who was sitting there now, busy with his own family but never hesitating to aid others? Lillian Grace could only hope to be like him someday: selfless and caring for others around her. She knew exactly what color she wished to be painted!
After blowing out her birthday candles, her family and friends looked at Lillian Grace attentively.
"So, Lillian Grace, what color would you like to be painted?" Lillian Grace's mother asked.