Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 193,052,220 Issue: 677 | 23rd day of Sleeping, Y17
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Crossword Puzzle

by psychedelicreature


for aperkins2189 and azienskieth

A Pink Zafara was sitting in a small café restaurant, with a magazine spread out in front of her, pen in hand, though she was currently chewing the cap in frustration. While other neopets were basking under the sun, doing things in the heat (whatever they did) she sat in a black iron table, brain in pain, doing a crossword puzzle.

     "Number twenty-seven down is 'Sakhmet'," said a voice from over her shoulder. Spinning her head around, she found herself nose-to-nose with a very familiar Blue Zafara, who seemed taken aback at their close proximity.

     Obviously, he had not been expecting it.

     "Thank you," Ayla grumbled, realizing that the seven-letter word actually fit. She never much liked accepting help from David, as it only inflated his already large ego.

     Her rival sat himself down at the seat across from her, uninvited, and leaned over the table for a better look at her crossword puzzle. Ayla frowned. Not only was she annoyed that he wouldn't leave her alone, he was waving the fact that he can solve her puzzle faster than her. She hated his guts. And his brain.

     "So..." he started, interlocking his fingers together in a businesslike manner. "What's a girl like you, all alone in a local café, doing a crossword puzzle that she wouldn't finish?"

     "Why are you still here?" she snapped when David showed no intention of leaving. She looked up to see him snapping a waitress over and ordering a mocha latte with extra whipped cream. When he faced her again, she had her arms folded and waiting for an answer.

     "Keeping you company. Nobody should be alone on a day nice as this," David said simply, a genuine smile plastered on his face. Ayla was taken aback at his thoughtfulness. "It's common courtesy for someone like me."

     "Well... thank you," she said quietly. He probably didn't hear it, since the waitress came with his drink in hand. He sipped gingerly at it, hummed in contentment, and busied himself with her half-finished crossword puzzle.

     "Number eighteen across is 'Kikoughela'." David pointed at the row, and Ayla scribbled it down. A small gap of silence followed his remark, and then, quite suddenly, "Would you like to go on a walk instead?" Ayla stared. This was so rather unlike David, in many ways.

     "You have whipped cream on the edge of the edge of your nose," she pointed out. He flicked it off with his finger.

     "You avoided the question."

     "I was contributing to your personal hygiene. For someone who participates in beauty contests, you're not very mindful of your looks. You're welcome." Ayla sniffed and gathered her things, standing from the table and making her way to the gate that led to the beach. David got up and followed her.

     "At least I win," he scoffed. He was back to his usual self. "Unlike a certain someone."

     Ayla made her annoyance known by flopping down on the sand unceremoniously. Not that she was put off by his arrogance, but of his constant demeaning of her. It was hard enough that she lost in the most recent beauty contest, as well as the many others that she had lost to him.

     "Still bitter about that, eh?" he asked in the tense silence that followed, and together they watched the horizon as the sun, ever so slowly, began sinking into the water. "I wouldn't blame you. Losing makes anyone bitter."

     "Why do you hang around like this? We're rivals; we're not supposed to like each other," Ayla said, never removing her eyes from the fiery inferno that was the sun. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw David's head turn towards her.

     "Just because we're rivals doesn't mean that we have to hate each other," he said quietly. "I always think of you as a driving force, but I don't hate you."

     An unfamiliar feeling fluttered inside her chest. There was this knowing look in his eyes that hinted at something, as they did every time they talk to each other. Her paws sunk deeper into the sand. "Really..."

     "Really," he reiterated. "Do you hate me?"

     "Not at all," she answered automatically, despite her reminder to act cool around him. "You're conceited and annoying, but I don't hate you."

     "Thank you for the compliment," he said. He was sardonic, but rightfully so. "Sometimes I wish that you'll win, so I can work harder."

     She laughed, light and tinkling like glass. "That, on the other hand, is not a compliment." She leaned closer and her eyes narrowed. "But thanks, nonetheless."

     "You're welcome," he replied with a smirk. Ayla's eyes trailed on his hands as he removed the cap of his latte and stirred it with the straw languidly, mixing what's left of the whipped cream with the coffee.

     They sat comfortably in the silence, until the sun sank completely and the stars came out. At this time David had finished his drink and was preparing himself for departure.

     "Hey," he called, standing up and brushing a paw across his shorts. "I heard you're not competing in the next beauty contest."


     "So can I borrow your crossword puzzle?"


     He smirked. "Unlike you, I finish what I started."

     When she handed it to him, asking what he meant, David only said with as much gusto as he could, "You're my rival; it's my job to make you work hard."

      The next beauty contest came in a blur. David outperformed the others as usual, with the runner-up miles away from being crowned champion. Ayla watched enviously as he waved at the crowd, oblivious to the stares of her own fans wondering why she didn't compete.

     There is a reason as why she didn't. David is a great performer, always winning by a landslide while she, though almost on par with him, wins by only a fraction. She didn't give up hope to beat him, until the next contest knocked her out from second place to third. It was a spur of the moment, a slip of the hand that made her lose points with the judges. Knowing that Keero was finally miles ahead of her, it frustrated her completely

     "Hey, Ayla!" one of her staring fans called. The Pink Zafara paused as she was greeted with the smiling face of a Green Kacheek, whose wondering eyes didn't escape her inquisitive brown ones. "I'm a huge fan!"

     "That's... great!" she exclaimed awkwardly. "Wh-what do you want with me?"

     "Why didn't you compete?"

     At this question, Ayla was caught in a standstill. What is the real reason why she didn't participate this week? She had yet to find out.

     "I don't know." It was partly the truth. "I found it pointless, but now that I thought more about it, it's because I know I'll lose to him again." She looked at David, who was enjoying the attention. "He's a good rival; it's time that he won against me."

     "But isn't he your rival whom you hate to lose against?" the Kacheek asked, disappointedly. "I'm a huge fan of yours, because no matter how you always lose to him, you fight 'til the end." she turned and walked back to her seat, saying, "You gave up just like that. It frustrates me."

     Ayla never felt disheartened before.

      "Congratulations," she greeted when David turned up in the coffee shop the next day. She was answering another crossword puzzle with her favorite chewed pen between her teeth.

     Like last time, he sat himself across from her and ordered his mocha latte with extra whipped cream. The waitress, a pretty Spotted Gelert, wasted no time in bringing his order to the table, grinning widely at recognizing him as the winner of yesterday's beauty contest.

     "Are you possibly David?" she gushed, hugging a tray close to her chest. "Congratulations!"

     And she sauntered back to catering the other tables, while Keero lifted the lid of his drink and took a sip. Like before, white froth stuck to his lips and nose.

     "The contest went well," Ayla remarked as she watched the waitress' retreating form. "And you should go wipe that stuff off your face. It's unbecoming."

     David grabbed a tissue from its holder and wiped his mouth with it. He missed the spot on his nose though, so Ayla made herself useful by flicking it away.

     "Thanks," he muttered, voice muffled against the tissue. When he finally got rid of the whipped cream, he faced her. "Did you watch the contest?"

     She never took her eyes off her puzzle. "Yeah."

     "What did you think of my performance?"

     "It was like you."

     "Number sixteen across is 'Xandra'," he said, pointing at the row. "And thirty down is 'Rochester'."

     Ayla wrote the answers down in the boxes and thanked him silently. Her pen cap was almost reduced to mush from all her biting and thinking, but she didn't say that out loud in fear of being teased by her rival.

     Former rival, she reminded herself.

     "Are you participating in next week's beauty contest?" he asked when she finally closed her crossword puzzle. "I heard that personalities are watching. Ah, I want to shake hands with Captain Brynn."

     She focused on her own drink (a cup of Borovan with extra chocolate) and fiddled with her thumbs. "No," she said simply. If David was surprised, he didn't show. "I figure that it's time for me to quit. I've competed in so many contests, I've lost count." She smiled sadly in her cup. "You win."

     He suddenly stood, rattling their table. Numerous curious eyes swiveled in his direction as he did so, and eventually the waitress was there in case something happened. "I don't want you to quit," he exclaimed. "Don't say that you'll quit. It makes this rivalry pointless."

     She met his hardened stare. "Isn't this what it's all about? Winning?"

     "Yes, it's about winning!" He passed a paw across his face and breathed deeply. To control his anger, no doubt. Ayla leaned back when his eyes flickered back to her, aware of the penetrating gaze that he reserved only for her. "But it's also about giving your all. To win. Your quitting makes this rivalry pointless."

     "Why do you care so much?"

     "It's because you're my rival!" he yelled. David reached behind him and slapped the item on the table. Her old crossword puzzle. "Here, I finished it." He glared at her new one. "It's time you finished yours."

     That day, when David stormed out of the cafe, Ayla realized something.

     "Hey, miss!" she told the receptionist that day, after this morning's conversation, pen in hand and finished puzzle in the other. "Where do I register for the next beauty contest?"

     David is like a crossword puzzle – very hard to beat, but when you do, it's the best accomplishment in the world.

The End

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