Hot Snow Soup
”How is your friendship with Aaren going, Lillian Grace?” X asked.
Lillian Grace, the six year old baby Kougress, smiled broadly. “Great! Aaren is learning how to be a good friend…but he still isn’t comfortable around others.”
“It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, you know.”
“He also knows nothing about caring about others. If he did care, I think it would help him.”
“I believe the best way to get Aaren to care is to volunteer at the Soup Kitchen.”
~ ~ ~
“The Soup Kitchen? Isn’t that where poor, dirty ‘pets go?” Aaren asked, screwing up his face in disgust.
“Yes, they’re poor but that doesn’t mean they’re dirty!” Lillian Grace protested.
“Well we’re not poor so why should we go?”
“The Soup Faerie feeds all of the hungry ‘pets in Neopia Central. It is a HUGE job so she loves when ‘pets volunteer to help her.”
“Can’t someone else do it? That sounds like a LOT of work.”
“The more help she has, the less work the Soup Faerie has to do.”
That Saturday, the two friends arrived for their first day of volunteering. Aaren was not pleased to be waking up before noon and worse that he wasn’t in his royal clothes. He was dressed all in black.
“What, are you going to steal from the Soup Faerie? Or are you trying to become the Shadow Usul?” Lillian Grace teased.
“No! Black is the best color to wear. This way, if my clothes get dirty, no one will be able to tell,” Aaren said.
X was waiting for them when they went inside. The Soup Kitchen was bustling.
“We always need ‘pets to serve. Some help in the kitchen: washing, cutting, cooking, stirring and the hundreds of other things that go on there. The two of you will be servers. It is the easiest job. All you have to do is ladle soup into bowls,” X explained, leading the way to the large pots lined up against the wall that was the partition between the kitchen and dining areas.
So, their day began. Lillian Grace stood between X and Aaren. She loved learning from X. The spotted Gelert was warm and friendly to the regulars and accommodating to those that were new to the entire experience. She emulated him and chatted pleasantly with the ‘pets that came for the Apple Soup that she served.
Aaren did his part, serving Beef and Veggie Soup but he made no effort to reach out to the other Neopets. Lillian Grace was disappointed but there was nothing she could do because there was rarely a lull in the lines of hungry ‘pets. They worked steadily for five hours.
“If the two of you need to take a break, feel free. Lexi and Robby are here now and can take over,” X said, flicking his ear to indicate a teenaged cloud Acara and brown Gelert.
Lillian Grace was more than relieved and gladly gave over her post. Aaren followed the baby Kougress.
“I’m so hungry!” Lillian Grace exclaimed.
“Me too! Just not for soup,” Aaren said.
“How ‘bout some burgers?”
The two friends went to a nearby burger join and then headed back to the Soup Kitchen. They managed to find seats near the entrance. Aaren sat at the end of the long bench, unwilling to brush elbows with a stranger. Lillian Grace didn’t mind in the least. She sat beside a HUGE camouflage Grarrl’ she was about the size of his head.
Across the table was a family of a dozen Cybunnies. Lillian Grace struck up a conversation with the Grarrl and was kept amused by the antics of the ten Cybunny children. Aaren made no effort to interact with the others at the table. As they finished their meal, X came to sit across from Aaren and Lillian Grace. He had a bowl of chili fries and spiced it up even more with a bottle of hot sauce he always carried.
The spotted Gelert ate in silence for a few moments, relishing his break. Then, he smiled at Lillian Grace and Aaren.
“Well, how did you like volunteering?” X asked.
“I loved it! I didn’t know that it would be so much fun! I met all these great ‘pets!” Lillian Grace said, waving her hands in her excitement.
Aaren looked sullen. “It wasn’t all that. What’s so great about serving soup?”
“Aaren, without the Soup Kitchen, most of these ‘pets wouldn’t get to eat. You’ve never felt hunger until you don’t know when you’ll be eating next,” X said.
Aaren looked doubtful.
“You can stay or you can go home now.”
“We’ll stay!” Lillian Grace said, rising to her feet.
Aaren groaned and rolled his eyes but followed his younger friend as she returned to the soup stations. X chuckled as he watched them. He felt sure that the young royal Usul would come around. One did not spend any amount of time with Lillian Grace and remain the same. X rose to his feet, ready to continue working, when he suddenly froze.
An eventide Aisha had just entered the Soup Kitchen. She took in the bustling scene with calm blue eyes. She caught and held X’s gaze for a moment. Embarrassed to have been caught staring, the spotted Gelert quickly turned to head for the kitchen, swerving his way expertly through the crowd.
X only paused when he felt a cool, light touch on his arm. “Excuse me?”
The teenage Gelert turned to see the eventide Aisha. “Yes?”
“I was told to ask you because you’re a senior volunteer here at the kitchen. I’m from Terror Mountain and I was wondering if you made Hot Snow Soup.”
“Hot Snow Soup? No, I’ve never even heard of that soup.”
The eventide Aisha looked disappointed.
“Let’s ask the Soup Faerie. She is the expert, you know,” X said, in a rush to reassure the pretty Aisha.
As if it were the most natural thing in the world, X grasped the Aisha’s hand in his and drew her along through the crowd. If anything, the activity got worse in the kitchen. Thankfully, the Soup Faerie was easy to spot.
“Adina, this is-“ X began.
“Nisha,” the Aisha provided.
“Nisha. She comes from Terror Mountain. She asked if you made Hot Snow Soup. I’ve never heard of it.”
Adina smiled and nodded. “Yes, Taelia’s specialty. I do not know how to make that soup and even if I did, I could not keep the ingredients here.”
Nisha’s long ears drooped. “I understand. I am still adjusting to Neopia Central. It is as far from Terror Mountain as a Neopet could possibly get.”
“That’s what my brother says,” X commented.
“I’m not otherwise a fan of soup. Too hot for my taste.”
“I understand, Nisha. Taelia has said that before,” Adina said with her typical warm smile.
“Thank you for inquiring for me, -“
“X. My name is X,” X said.
“X marks the spot.”
“So everyone tells me.”
Nisha smiled broadly. X returned her grin and wagged his tail.
“X, since Nisha is new here, why don’t you take her out to eat?” Adina suggested.
X looked to the Soup Faerie with surprise. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I managed without you once. I will do so again.”
“Alright, since you’re sure. Nisha, are you alright with that?”
“Yes, I would love that!” Nisha exclaimed.
The two ‘pets left the Soup Kitchen. X led the way to a nearby noodle shop.
“Noodles,” Nisha said.
“Yes, noodles. They are just as well hot as cold,” X said.
Having already eaten, X waited for Nisha to order Icy Snowager Noodles. Then, they headed back to the Soup Kitchen. X didn’t want to leave Nisha but he didn’t want to leave his work for too long. So, he left the eventide Aisha to her own devices and got back to it. By the time he got his next break, Nisha had gone.
Over the next month, Nisha continued to return to the Soup Kitchen, even though she did not eat the soup. Lillian Grace and Aaren also returned, even though Lillian Grace had to drag Aaren. The group got to know each other better. Aaren continued to make no effort to get to know anyone at the Soup Kitchen: volunteers and regular visitors alike. Lillian Grace was at a loss how to get Aaren to open up.
Until Nisha opened up to them about her history.
“I was born into royalty,” Nisha said, her blue gaze pinning Aaren.
“You were?” three voices exclaimed at once.
“There is a difference between being born into royalty and being painted royal. Though, that is far behind me now.”
“How do we know you’re not just making that up?” Aaren asked suspiciously.
“Nisha wouldn’t lie, Aaren!” Lillian Grace protested, glowering fiercely at the royal Usul.
“I have no proof. Nothing is left of my home or my family. I am all that remains,” Nisha said slowly.
The three Neopets at the table were silent for a long moment.
“I can’t imagine what that was like, Nisha. My family abandoned me. Yours didn’t have a choice,” X said.
Aaren was silent, deep in thought. Nisha left and the next day, Lillian Grace was surprised to see a change in Aaren. The royal Usul was no longer wearing black. He was wearing a plaid mint green shirt with blue jean shorts. He was smiling pleasantly and holding a bunch of cake pops in his clasped hands.
“Here, Lil, one of these is for you,” Aaren said, extending a cake pop to the baby Kougress.
“Thanks, Aaren! These are so good! Who are the rest for?” Lillian Grace asked, beginning to eat hers.
“Well, who doesn’t like cake pops? I thought I would give them out to the ‘pets that came to my soup station.”
“That is very nice of you.”
The two ‘pets soon reached the Soup Kitchen, having gotten into the habit of walking there, rather than taking a cab. They were assigned to their stations and their work began. Aaren had alphabet soup to serve and so the majority of the ‘pets that came for his soup were children. Needless to say, the cake pops were a huge hit. Lillian Grace was delighted to see the effort that Aaren made.
Shortly after lunch, Aaren excused himself from the front end and headed for the kitchen. Three hours later, the royal Usul came out of the kitchen and scanned the dining area, His blue eyes lit up when he saw Nisha, who was chatting with other ‘pets at the table. Then, he walked over to Lillian Grace.
“I’m going to get Nisha and X and then meet us in the kitchen, OK?” Aaren said.
“OK, sure! Why, though?” Lillian Grace asked.
Moments later, Aaren opened the kitchen door and let his friends inside first before following suit. Adina had left one small corner of the kitchen free and clear and this was where Aaren took his friends. Four metal bowls were lined up on the wooden table. Their lids were tightly sealed. The Usul walked to the bowls and removed the lids.
“I made Hot Snow Soup. I got the recipe from Taelia and Adina helped me. Nisha, you gave me a new understanding of Neopets that are less fortunate than myself. This was the only way I could think of to do something for you in return,” Aaren said, flicking his tail; a nervous tick, Lillian Grace noted.
Nisha’s eyes glistened with unshed tears. She moved to a bowl, picked up the spoon next to it and took her first taste. She savored that bite and then turned to Aaren.
“Thank you, Aaren. I didn’t know if I would ever taste Hot Snow Soup again,” the eventide Aisha said.
Aaren beamed and it was clear how pleased he was at the simple praise. The others dug into their soup with gusto, each exclaiming over how it tasted.
“You know, this isn’t so bad,” Lillian Grace said, taking the last bite of her soup.
“No. Not bad. Not bad at all,” Aaren said.