Rose vs. Rosie
The pink Uni was awoken with a jolt by the cries of her name. She whipped her head from side to side frantically, taking a moment to get her bearings. She had fallen asleep at her desk, the reception desk of the Neopian Pound. And the person who had awoken her, a young red Quiggle, was looking at her expectantly, pressed up on her tiptoes so that she could see the Uni over the tall desk.
"Yes, Leah?" Rose asked, recognizing the girl. She was one of the Pound's several occupants, and she often volunteered to help with morning chores, such as sweeping the lobby or picking up the newspaper in front of the building.
Sure enough, she held a copy of The Neopian Times in her hand, and she was waving it in front of Rose's face. "Dr. Death didn't retire!" the Quiggle exclaimed. "It was all an April Fool's joke!"
"What... what?" Rose's eyes widened as her brain finally caught up. "You mean, yesterday... was fake?" She had spent the entirety of April 1st trapped in a logistical nightmare. After receiving a memo in the morning saying that there was going to be a new "foster system" set in place for pounded pets, she had spent most of the day sending pets to their new—and frankly, completely random—owners. The day had been rough enough, filled with tearful goodbyes as she had bid the many children she had grown to know goodbye, but it had gotten even more complicated when all of the "fosters" arrived back at the Pound a few hours later. She had spent most of her night calming down small children, several of them hysterical at the thought that they had found a home only to have it snatched away. Rose had only managed a single hour of sleep.
Thankfully, Leah didn't seem too upset. "Yeah. I had figured it was a joke, being April 1st and all. You always need to be careful that day." She slipped her hands into her pockets just as the front door to the Pound opened and in walked a skinny yellow Techo in a lab coat. "Good morning, Dr. Death!" Leah greeted brightly when she spotted the doctor. "I'm happy you didn't retire!"
Dr. Death chuckled. "I'm happy too." He held a copy of The Neopian Times in his hands as well. "Now Leah, could you run along back to your room? I have something I need to discuss with Rose."
"Of course, sir. Have a good day!" And then the Quiggle ran off through a set of doors into the back of the Pound.
Dr. Death grinned. "She is a ball of energy, that one is."
"So are several others, particularly at 4am," Rose said, rubbing at her eyes. "What was it you wanted to tell me?"
"Well." The Techo sat down at the desk next to her. "Did you read The Neopian Times yesterday?"
"Of course," Rose answered, gesturing to the day-old paper on her desk. "That's why I thought you retired! There was a rather convincing article. And of course, there was that poll to figure out who would get your job." She eased her head into her hooves. "I thought HR had lost it, letting the citizens of Neopia vote for your replacement."
"About that..." Dr. Death said, waving the current issue. "The results are in, and it seems that Neopia has voted for Rosie."
"You mean the Negg obsessed Grarrl?" Rose paused for a moment, thinking. "Well, that makes sense, considering the other choices were a robot, a vampire, and a pirate."
"Anyway," Dr. Death continued, looking at Rose meaningfully, "the response was so overwhelmingly positive, HR figured we should give her a chance at the job. Not as my replacement, per se, but as a helper. And it will make for some good publicity; we need to counteract all those depressing Pound stories in the NT."
He was right about the bad PR. Every exposé in The Neopian Times had dusted the Pound in a rather negative light, rambling about Neopets kept in cages and starved. The articles—though untrue—sometimes prompted Neopians to come to the Pound and adopt. But most of the time, it just made people angry. Rose and Dr. Death spent a lot of their time dealing with legal accusations, time that Rose knew could be better spent trying to find these Neopets home. And yet, she was not sure if Rosie would help their publicity enough. "Sir," Rose hedged, "do you really think that having her here will be a good idea? After all, isn't she a bit—"
Suddenly, the front door to the Pound swung open, accompanied by the tinkling of a bell, a high-pitched squeal, and a burst of glitter. "Oh darlings!" trilled a voice in high falsetto as the flakes of glitter swirled down to settle on the linoleum floor. "I'm so utterly, indescribably, positively thrilled to be here!"
A tall green Grarrl wearing a frilly pink dress and fake Cybunny ears skipped into the Pound. Looped over her arm was a woven basket, which seemed to be the source of the glitter. The Grarrl had apparently thought it was a good idea to make a grand entrance; Rose, meanwhile, made a mental note to sweep later.
"Hello there, Rosie," Dr. Death greeted, leaning over his large desk to shake the Grarrl's hand. "It's very nice to meet you."
"And I'm so very happy to finally meet you, Doctor... er..." She paused for a moment, looking sheepish. "I'm sorry, I don't quite like to say... er, your last name. It's a little morbid."
"That's all right," Dr. Death said with a shrug. "You can just call me Doc—"
"Doc! I love it!" Rosie squealed, clapping her small hands together quickly. And then her eyes fell on Rose. "And you are...?"
"Rose," the pink Uni introduced with a smile, holding out her hoof.
Rosie, however, ignored her hand and vehemently shook her head. "Oh no. Oh no no no! That will not do!" She looked at Dr. Death with a shake of her head, disapproval clear on her face. "We can't have two people working here with such similar names!" When she turned back to Rose, she was tapping her finger against her cheek. "How about I call you... Petunia!"
"P-Petunia?" Rose repeated, taken aback.
"It's a flower, too," Rosie explained. "So it's like the same thing."
"I mean, I'd prefer if you just called me—"
"Perfect! Petunia it is!" Rosie grinned, her large Grarrl teeth glinting. For a moment, Rose was fixated on just how pointed they were.
"Anyway," Dr. Death butted in, "you should get started on the tour. Ro—er, I mean, Petunia, will you show Rosie around?"
Rose stared at the Techo in disbelief. But when he shot her a look, she nodded dutifully. "Of course, Dr. Death." She stood up from her desk and held open the door to the back hallway. "Follow me."
Rosie gleefully skipped through the doorway. The Grarrl was surprisingly light on her feet, though the ground shook as she landed on the wooden floor.
When the door shut behind her, Rose was painfully aware that she was alone with the Grarrl. She had thought Dr. Death would accompany them, but he had stayed in the lobby.
No big deal, Rose thought to herself. It's a simple, short tour. You can do this. "All right," she said finally, gesturing to the long hallway lined with doors. "This is the back of the Pound—"
"Oh no no no," Rosie said shaking her head. "I do not like that name! Pound! It sounds so... painful." She laced her claws together. "As my first proclamation, I shall rename this miserable place. Rehoming and Transition Station has a much nicer ring to it, don't you think?"
"Er... I guess," Rose said uncomfortably. "Though I don't know if you have the authority—"
"Everyone will love it," Rosie said, ignoring Rose's protests. The Grarrl adjusted the bow on the back of her dress, making sure that the tails of the ribbons were even. "Now can we please continue with this tour? I feel like you're getting distracted, Petunia."
Rose could feel a trickle of annoyance slip through her veins, but she did her best to remain professional. "Of course. As I was saying." She gestured to the hallway again. "Each door leads to a dormitory for the pounded pets."
"Rehomed and Transitioning," Rosie corrected.
"Sure." When Rosie just continued to stare at her expectantly, blinking her large fuchsia eyes, the Uni walked up to the first door. "Would you like to go inside and see where the Neopets stay?"
"Ooh yes yes yes!"
Rose rapped on the door with her hooves. A moment later, it was answered by a blue Tuskaninny. "Yes, Rose?" the boy asked, smiling when he recognized the pink Uni.
"GAAAAAHHHH!" Rosie squealed suddenly, grabbing the Tuskaninny's face before he could move away and pinching his cheeks forcefully. "He... is... adorable!" she shouted, shaking his head from side to side. "Though," she said lowering her voice and leaning in, "her name is no longer Rose; it's Petunia."
"Pi-toon-ya?" the Tuskaninny gasped out through pinched cheeks.
"Rosie," Rose said quickly, placing an arm on the Grarrl in panic, "please don't manhandle Fred..."
"Oh, I'm sure he likes it!" Rosie cooed, finally letting go. "After all, he has no one to love him. I'm sure this show of affection made his day."
Rose's jaw dropped, and she was about to admonish Rosie for her incorrect preconceived notions when the Grarrl reached into her basket and pulled out a Negg. "Now here," she said, pressing the Negg up against Fred's face. "Have this! You must be starving!"
Immediately the Tuskaninny began to sneeze, loud and forceful snorts that shook his whole body. Rose had to yank the Negg out of the Grarrl's hand. "Rosie!" she yelled, throwing the Negg into a nearby wastebasket. "You can't bring unchecked food back here! Fred is allergic to Neggs!"
"What?" Rosie gasped, her mouth opening into a wide O. "Who in their right mind is allergic to Neggs?! That is unthinkable, intolerable, a pity, a crime, a—"
You can leave, Rose mouthed to Fred, and the Tuskaninny quickly disappeared behind his door. Rose heard the lock click a second later.
"—disgrace, an outrage, an atrocity, and an absolute calamity!"
"Okay, Rosie," Rose said, carefully drawing the Grarrl away from the room. "Why don't we move on with our tour?"
Rosie sighed, looking resigned. "Very well then."
After Rosie's display of ignorance, Rose decided that she needed to show the Grarrl just how progressive the Pound had become in the past few years. And so, the pink Uni lead Rosie all the way down the hallway to a set of double doors. When she pushed past them, Rosie gasped loudly. They had entered a very large outdoor area enclosed by a tall white fence. It was a beautiful day outside, and so several of the pounded Neopets were out in the fresh air; there were Neopets playing on the swing set, digging in the sand box, and even tending a small garden in the eastern corner.
"It's... It's..." Rosie gasped.
Rose smiled proudly. She had been the one to convince Dr. Death to purchase the adjacent lot and turn it into a playground. "It's beautiful, right?"
Rose wheeled around, convinced she had misheard the Grarrl. "Excuse me?"
"It's barbaric," Rosie repeated in a choked whisper. Her eyes glinted with tears. "You... you force them to live outside like animals!"
"We do not!" Rose protested. "I was going to show you where the children sleep, but you nearly poisoned Fred! This is a play area for when they want to go outside—"
"And then you make them do your dirty work!" the Grarrl continued, drowning Rose out with an anguished squeal. She pointed to a small Zafara playing in the sand box. "You have that one child digging for treasure!" She then gestured to a green Buzz watering the plants. "And another tending your garden! Heavens! This is child labor! This is inhumane! This is terrible!" She took a deep breath. "It's a good thing I'm here."
And before Rose could stop her, the green Grarrl had run into the center of the playground, throwing glitter into the air like an oversized faerie. "Be free!" she shouted, sprinkling glitter onto nearby pets and chucking Neggs across the lawn. "Break from your chains! Fear no more! The days of tyranny are over, for I shall take care of you! I will show you the love that none of you have ever received!"
Rosie's manic proclamations caught the attention of every child in the playground. The children on the swings froze, slowing down in the arcs through the air. A girl in the sandbox rubbed at her eyes, trying to remove the glitter that had been thrust onto her face. A baby Tonu that had been toddling through the grass began to cry.
Rose ran into the garden and immediately picked up the baby. "Shh, Anthony," she said, bouncing him on her shoulder. His tears wet her shirt. "Shh, it's fine. It's fine..."
Rosie gasped when she saw Rose holding the child. She pointed a talon at the pink Uni, her eyes wide and manic. "Unhand that child, Petunia!" she shouted. "Give him to me!"
"You're frightening him," Rose said, pulling the child closer to her chest.
"I could never frighten a babe!" Rosie replied indignantly. "Children love me."
"How can they love you if they hardly know y—?"
"Because I would never mistreat them like you do!" Rosie shouted, her voice slicing through the air like a knife.
A silence fell over the playground, as all the children stared up at Rosie in disbelief. Even the child in Rose's arms seemed stunned and stopped crying.
Rose could feel a pain piercing her chest at the accusation, and after a moment, she passed the baby Tonu down to Leah; the red Quiggle took the child without a word, staring up at Rosie in a state of shock.
Rose too was shocked, but at the hurt and anger that had welled up in her chest. "How dare you," the pink Uni whispered; her body was trembling. "I have never mistreated a single Neopet in this Pound. I love these children with all my heart, and don't you dare think that flouncing around here with glitter and Neggs will make these Neopets love you. You can't win love with gifts. You need to get to know these children, to care for them when they're sick, and listen to them when they're sad, and try your hardest to find them a loving home even after countless years of heartache..." She felt her eyes well with tears, and she fought to keep herself contained though her voice was quivering. "I do my best for these guys. I try my hardest. And that is why I work here. Not because someone voted me in, but because I love these guys and want the best for them."
Rosie stared at her for a moment in stunned silence, but then the Grarrl smoothed down her skirt with her claws. "Well," she said, her tone surprisingly sharp, "none of that matters because I was voted into this position, and I am here to stay." Her fuchsia eyes swept over the crowd of young Neopets. "And they will learn to love me. I will see to that."
Rose was about to object when a small voice from the crowd shouted, "How?"
Rose turned and saw that it was Leah who had spoken. The young Quiggle was staring hard at Rosie, her eyes narrowed suspiciously as she cradled Anthony in her arms.
"By giving you gifts and—"
"We don't want gifts," another voice shouted, a Gelert named Phil. He crossed his arms, and Rose remember how shy he had been when he had first arrived at the Pound almost two years ago. "And we don't want you. We want Rose."
Rosie sighed dramatically. "How many times must I tell you children, her name is now, Petun—"
"Leave us alone," a Ruki demanded. Rose had watched this girl grow from a scrawny child into a tall teenager over the course of several years. "We've been made fools of enough by people who come here and gawk at us. We don't need another person to pity us. We need someone who cares. And from what I see, that person is not you."
"Yeah!" shouted another voice, and soon there was a cacophony of impassioned cries throughout the playground, filling the air with protests against the green Grarrl and accolades for the pink Uni who had raised them.
Rosie's jaw dropped, and then her eyes narrowed. "How dare you!" she shouted over the cries, her voice sharp and piercing. "You rude, insolent brats!" She pulled her basket to her chest and collected some of the Neggs she had dropped. "If this is the way you treat me, then fine. I will leave. But I will not leave silently." Her eyes swept over the crowd of children darkly. "The Neopian Times will hear about this. I will make sure that none of you will ever be adopted! Ever."
And with that, the green Grarrl turned on her heels and stormed out of the playground.
Rose felt a wave of relief wash over her as the Grarrl disappeared from sight, and yet Rosie's threat hung in the air like a dark cloud. The pink Uni looked at the children around her, and could see the mix of emotions in their little faces: fading anger from being subjected to Rosie's tirade, lingering sadness at having been reminded of their bleak situation, and the stark fear of possibly never finding a family.
"Don't listen to her," Rose said finally. "People will still come to the Pound."
"But if she writes in The Neopian Times..." a small Koi voiced.
Rose knelt down and placed a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Then I will write in The Faerieland Gazette," she said with a quiet fierceness. "And The Neovian Chronicle, and News in Space... all of them. I will reach every corner of the globe and beyond to let people know just how amazing you guys are."
Rose didn't know who initiated it, but a moment later she was surrounded by children, the center of a large, suffocating, and sweet hug. She felt the tears she'd been holding back finally spill out onto her cheeks, and yet she was happy. These Neopets were her family, and she hoped that they felt the same about her.
"We love you, Rose," Leah murmured against her leg.
Rose smiled. "And I love you. But now, we have some work to do." She peeled away from the group hug and looked at the gaggle of children surrounding her. "Since I need to get started on all those letters, who wants to help Dr. Death sweep up the glitter in the front lobby?"