A Strange Necessity
It was altogether a rather strange experience.
Addie couldn’t have foreseen it. Nobody could’ve. She was altogether very average, very plain, easily missed. She volunteered for the Soup Faerie, she donated her unused belongings to the Money Tree, and was sure to thank anyone for their kindness. Nothing remarkable, or noteworthy. She could—and did—live with that. It was fulfilling, and the kindness she received in turn made it worth all her while.
Which made the golden ticket in her paws all the more strange.
Addie stared. A ticket to the Annual Chocolate Ball, her full name written in a neat cursive script. The enclosed ticket came separate from her regular mail, someone presumably had knocked on her door and left the ticket waiting on her doorstep to find late on Sunday evening.
It was something right out of a faerie tale, something she might’ve been inclined to read to her long gone brother Enzi, back when he still lived with her. Addie would’ve said he moved on to greener pastures, but his recent Neomail suggested that he was in the Lost Desert for some reason or another. She had already sent him a baffled Neomail with a picture of the ticket as an attachment, but it would be a few hours yet before he got back to her.
In the meantime she wasn’t sure what to make of the invite. It was most definitely a prank, although she wasn’t sure who would bother to prank her as only a pawful of people knew where she lived and had her full name, and all of those people knew her only on a strictly professional level. And she certainly could not see any of them—the Soup Faerie for one—going through the effort of writing up a fancy looking ticket when there was so much to be done, like feeding the starving hordes of Neopets lined up outside her door, for example.
The ticket proclaimed that the event was a week today, and that it would be held in none other but the Chocolate Factory. It had no dress code, but it would be foolish to go in anything but her Sunday best. It was one of the most anticipated events of the year, despite how few were actually invited. She was to RSVP at her earliest convenience, which Addie knew to mean as soon as possible.
Being the homebody she was, Addie didn’t have any plans for next Sunday, or really any plans beyond the hour long newscast on the weekdays. She might as well go even if it was fake. It was something to get her out of the house beyond her regular routine, and she needed something like that every so often. It would be fun, and if it was real then it would be something to write to her brother about. He deserved something more exciting than the routine that kept her sane for their weekly chats. No doubt he only chatted with her out of obligation now.~*~
Enzi sent her a request for a live chat over Neomail less than four hours later. Her Petpet Slinky gave a start at the noise and started to fret, so as Addie pulled up her sleep mask she gave the distressed brown Kadoatie a scratch behind her ears as she accepted the invitation, blinking blearily.
“It’s not fake, is it?” Enzi asked, foregoing their usual pleasantries. His voice was a hush, little more than a whisper, and he’d wrapped himself in protective desert garb, even though from what Addie could see in the background he was well on his way to Haunted Woods. But Enzi did what Enzi did. She didn’t doubt he’d donned the garb to create an impression on the residents of the Haunted Woods, for all that they would care.
Slinky butted her head into the screen, whining loudly. Addie let her skulk up to rest on her shoulder as she replied, “Your guess is as good as mine.” She rubbed at her eyes, dearly wishing her brother was a little more considerate of the fact that most Neopians needed sleep. She slept more than most to be fair, but the sentiment remained.
“Well not really. Annual Chocolate Ball tickets are very distinctive in feel! They aren’t made out of gold leaf, for one.” Her brother babbled, and he either didn’t care that Addie had no interest in hearing about this at two in the morning, or he didn’t realize. Well, perhaps she wasn’t giving him credit. She rarely wanted or cared to know much of went on outside her well fitted routine even if the knowledge was advantageous to her. The effort required to apply the knowledge was often beyond her. It was easier to be ignorant, rather than have such expectations weighing down on her. “They’re fairly rigid in spite of not being made out of gold leaf, so there’s probably Petpet saliva that keeps it stiff—”
“It felt stiff,” Addie interrupted, knowing her brother wouldn’t take offense. He had a tendency to babble and she a tendency to not say much of anything at all. “Crisp, I guess. Fresh off…wherever they print those things.” With Slinky’s warm weight on her shoulder, it was becoming harder and harder to stay awake. She fought it as best she could, but sleep would triumph in the end.
Enzi considered that, if only for a moment. “Hm,” he said, which wasn’t very telling. “…You’re going, aren’t you?”
Rather than answer, she pretended to look as if sleep lined every muscle in her body, and didn’t respond. Enzi only waited a beat or two before he whispered good night and signed off, an odd look on his face. She couldn’t tell if he’d fallen for her ruse or not.
She stayed awake for hours after, thinking about everything and nothing at all.~*~
She didn’t want to go.
Six hours before the Chocolate Ball was due to start and Addie could not shake the crushing feeling that dragged her under. She couldn’t decide on the reason. Perhaps it was that her Sunday best looked awful. Or that she hadn’t slept well in the last week, if at all. Who would take care of Slinky while she was gone? She could take her to the Kadoatery she supposed, but then she’d have to explain why she was dropping her off and that was more social energy than she was willing to commit to. Not to mention Slinky hated that place.
Slinky ran figure eights through her feet, rubbing her head comfortingly against Addie’s leg as if sensing her owner’s mood. Slinky meowed at her and Addie decided to feed the Kadoatie before making any decisions. And if feeding Slinky took an hour, there wasn’t anyone to complain about it.
Addie closed her eyes and tried to imagine the Ball. Perhaps she could convince herself to go if she made the Ball out to be something fantastic. Something she’d never seen before and would never see again if she didn’t take this chance…
All she could muster up was a bland looking room filled with Chocolate Chias in tuxedos, which didn’t seem all that appealing. And her faded periwinkle blue dress looked bad with her Speckled colouring, if she went to the Chocolate Ball (real or not) she’d walk away a laughingstock for sure.
Five hours away and she sat dejectedly on the floor of her Neohome , looking miserably at the dress she’d laid out on the couch as she pet Slinky. An hour passed that way, and she was no closer to deciding than she was before. Her eyes felt hot and her throat tight, she didn’t know why. Slinky curled up in her lap and purred, and so it went. She laid down beside Slinky and closed her eyes. She’d RSVP’d, but surely they wouldn’t mind if she didn’t show up? There was no way she had actually been invited outside of being pitied—she was hardly anyone at all.
Her deadbolt lock turned, and without looking she knew who it was. “H-hey,” she croaked, voice hoarse from disuse. She hadn’t said much of anything since they’d spoken a week ago. There hadn’t been anyone to speak to. She stayed home, and she and Slinky required no words to communicate.
Enzi didn’t say anything as he swayed in the doorway, but his long Kacheek tail was still and his face was grave. Addie thought about how he differed when he was young, he’d been born with the Royal colouring, a dark everglade green. Addie always knew he’d go far, that he would be something far greater than she. That he came back for her only spoke to that sentiment.
But he hadn’t said anything, and she hadn’t moved from the floor. Slinky went to run circles through his feet. The carpet was itchy. She finally dared to add, “…Haunted Woods wasn’t up to snuff?”
Enzi didn’t look amused. “…It’ll be good for you, Ade. You know it will.” He said quietly. He closed the door and sat down next to her, propping his face in his hands.
Addie didn’t turn away but she didn’t meet his beseeching gaze. “They wouldn’t want me there. I’d ruin it, you know I would.” She mumbled, swallowing thickly as she told herself that she would not cry. Her throat was still hot and her eyes stung. She tried not to think about why.
Enzi cast his gaze towards the door and watched it for an odd long moment, and she couldn’t read his expression. “…I didn’t come straight here from the Haunted Woods,” he admitted quietly. “I was pretty hungry. The Food Shop was out of the way and I didn’t have any Neopoints on hand, so I went to the Soup Faerie. It was crazy, she recognized me. I’ve been gone three years and she recognized me on sight. I didn’t think she’d ask where I’d been, and I was right. She asked about you. Said you hadn’t been by to volunteer in a week. She wanted to know if you were alright.
“She wasn’t the only one. Nearly everyone in line wanted to know too. Anxious too, there was an orange Eyrie who was worried you’d fallen ill, he said he’d been sick with Floppy Tongue last time he saw you. The Soup Faerie offered to bring you soup. A red Shoyru wanted to know if you needed to go to the Hospital. At least three others volunteered to care for you.” Enzi took a breath, exhaling loudly. “They were all worried. I didn’t know what to tell them. …I still don’t really know what to tell them. But. I can tell you this. …You’re worth more to this community than you think you are. A lot more. And maybe they don’t know what you’re going through, but I think they’d want you to be happy. I want you to be happy.” He said firmly, nodding to himself as if confirming that yes, he absolutely truly believed what he was saying.
Her eyes and throat burned. She hiccupped and Enzi made a comforting noise at the back of his throat. “It’s hard,” she said, and no she was not crying she would not—
“It’s okay Ade,” Enzi said and he laid on the floor with her.
Her composure broke, and she cried into her little brother’s shoulder.~*~
“Adeukia Milling?” The usher was a Desert Blumaroo who gave her a brief onceover—looking for what, Addie didn’t know—before he marked up the ticket, and handed it back. This. This was it. Addie held her breath and willed the queasy feeling in her stomach to go away, and waited for him to send her packing. That was what they did to those with fake tickets, didn’t they?
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Go on in. Your seat number is C-352. Have a nice night.”
She nodded politely at him and told him she hoped he had a nice night too, and that was all she could do as she walked into the Ball.
It was something out of a faerie tale, it really was. Plumes of pink sugar shot up from the entryway as she walked past, and the hall took her breath away—streamers of strawberry twirl hung from a brilliantly orange and yellow lollipop chandelier, and she descended a grand staircase with a vanilla twirl bannister, and the steps were twinkling with glass spun with sugar. There was a fountain of glossy chocolate pouring out in front of her, and there were Neopians who let the chocolate fall like a waterfall into their glass, and there were those that simply jumped in headfirst, clothes and all.
There was a long white cloth table filled with chocolate assortments in all flavours imaginable—white truffle, orange crème, raspberry vanilla—and the white Acara tending to the refreshments smiled gently at her.
She very nearly cried.
Addie watched the party proceedings contently, she did not reach out to socialize but there were no expectations here. There were some who were outrageous in their mannerisms (a crazed looking Jubjub tried to eat the staircase before he was asked to leave) and others who like her, were happy to simply be there.
It was altogether rather strange, but as the night wore on, she felt lighter somehow, and not nearly as tired. She wasn’t sure what that meant, but it was enough, for now. It was all she could ask for.