Teaching the Soup Faerie
"Sorry. Layla can’t come out to play today…she’s a dirty little thief!”
Little brothers were the worst sometimes (okay, most of the time). Layla the Pink Acara clenched her teeth together as she trudged through a thick patch of shrubbery beyond the outskirts of Neopia Central. On a normal weekend morning, you could usually find her strolling around to the different shops with her best friends from school, Trevor and Maxine. They would often go pick out smoothies to sip as they leisurely continued on with their window shopping throughout the afternoon. Today, however, was not a normal day. When Trevor and Maxine arrived to her front door as expected, Layla couldn’t bear to answer the door.
“Just tell them I’ve left to do some errands for Mom,” she had instructed her little brother, Jay.
She had witnessed the hesitation in the Baby Gelert’s movement to answer the door, and she knew immediately that he had something else in mind, something terrible.
The word brought with it a mixture of emotions: embarrassment, sadness, anger. Most of all, she felt a desperate need to prove herself so that everyone knew she was the furthest thing from a thief you could imagine.
Layla was almost to her destination now. As she drew closer, the buzz of hundreds of other Neopians grew louder in her ear. She thought the central shops were busy on the weekend, but that was nothing compared to the raucous yells and shrieks she was hearing as she approached the edge of the marketplace. She stepped off the unkempt grass and onto a neat cobblestone path.
She paused for a moment behind a Blue Kacheek and stood on her tiptoes, gazing ahead over the tops of hundreds of other heads, patiently waiting in a line that seemed to stretch on for eternity. She had reached the end of the line for the Soup Kitchen. It wasn’t a place Layla had ever expected to visit. Her family had always been fairly well off, as far as she knew.
She attempted to maneuver around the Kacheek in front of her, but he flung his arm up lightning fast, blocking her way.
“Hey! There’s no cutting in line at the Soup Kitchen. Some of us have been here since before sunrise,” the Kacheek screeched at her, both offended and taken aback by her movement to pass in front of him.
“Oh…um…terribly sorry. I’m actually not even here for soup.” Layla blushed violently (something that’s not so easy to see on a Neopian already so pink).
“Well if you’re not here for food, then shove off! The Soup Faerie already has her work cut out for her. Why else would you be here, anyways?” The Kacheek squinted at her suspiciously.
Layla struggled to find the right words. “I’m…well…it’s like…a school project I’m doing!” she managed to squeak out.
The Kacheek didn’t look convinced, but he slowly lowered his arm down from in front of Layla’s chest.
“If I were you, I would try to go around to the back side of the kitchen. If you keep walking this way next to the line, everyone is going to yell at you like I did.”
“That’s a good point. Thank you so much for the help!”
The Kacheek gave a curt nod. It wasn’t until then that Layla noticed his dirty ears and the holes in his clothes. She wanted to offer him some encouraging words, but wasn’t sure what she could say without sounding condescending.
She retreated from the cobblestone path and into the trees so as to put more of a distance between herself and the line of hungry, misfortunate Neopians.
When Layla finally made her way to the back entrance of the Soup Kitchen, she found a dilapidated wooden door hanging open, smoke billowing out from within. She wandered inside, scrunching her eyes together and covering her mouth with her paw. As she fought back a cough, she collided with another body and ended up in a pile on the dirt floor.
“Oh my. I’m SO sorry, I—“
Layla opened her eyes abruptly to see a slender female body struggling to stand back up.
“—Miss Soup Faerie! I can’t believe I ran into you like this. Are you okay? I really didn’t see you there…it’s so smoky!”
The Soup Faerie grimaced as she brushed the dirt from her pants and apron.
“Yes, well. Harold burnt the potatoes for the potato and sweetcorn soup again, just like he’s done for the past three days!” The Soup Faerie glared over her shoulder at a Green Skeith that was cackling behind her. Dark black smoke poured over the edges of the large pot that he was bent over.
The Soup Faerie finished dusting the soot off the front of her apron. Her polka-dotted red bandanna was all askew on her head. A piece of it had slipped down to cover her left eye. She sighed heavily as she simultaneously wiped a sleeve on her sweaty brow with one arm and adjusted her bandanna with the other. Layla had never met a real live faerie before, but she had never expected that one would be so dirty and…plain looking. All the faeries in the books she bought were so sparkly and well put together and magical! There was nothing magical about the woman standing before her.
The Soup Faerie knelt down and offered a hand toward Layla.
“So, first things first. What’s your name and what did they get you for?”
“My name is Layla. I’m not really sure what you mean by that other question,” Layla trailed off as she averted her eyes from the faerie’s.
“Don’t play around with me, kid. No one comes here to volunteer at my soup kitchen on their own free will anymore. What did you do to end up here? Throw too many dung piles at the Money Tree? Cover your grouchy neighbor’s yard in confetti? Try to rob the bank using a Chia Bubble Gun?” The Soup Faerie gestured at the other Neopians in the kitchen as she listed their misdemeanors.
“Wait. They did those things?” Layla was in disbelief. “I’m just uhhh…writing a paper for a class at school.”
The Soup Faerie guffawed. She drew a pink slip of paper out of her apron pocket and ran her finger down a list.
“Layla…Layla…oh! Here you are. Hmmm. It looks like we have a thief on our hands, everybody!”
Layla’s ears sagged to the ground and she shrunk down into what seemed like half her normal size. The entire kitchen had burst out laughing, and the Soup Faerie was laughing the hardest of them all. How could she do this? She’s supposed to be one of the nicest, kindest faeries in Neopia, isn’t she? Layla’s rosy pink cheeks turned a bright red and she puffed out her chest with pride.
“For your information, Mistress Soup Faerie, I did NOT steal from the book store. I honestly just walked out with a book that I really liked and I forgot to pay for it. It was all a big misunderstanding, which I’ve explained to the shopkeeper.”
There was more laughter throughout the kitchen, only quieter this time.
“Sure, kid. Whatever you say.” The Soup Faerie shrugged.
“Well, get back to work, everyone! We’ve got a lot of hungry mouths to feed and this soup isn’t going to cook itself. Layla, you can help Harold with the potatoes. We’re going to need to peel a new batch of them now. Maybe you can oversee the cooking this time?”
Layla felt defeated for a moment. How was she supposed to stand in this kitchen all day and work for someone who thought she was a common thief? The Soup Faerie’s complete lack of trust in her was almost too much for her to bear. However, her mom had always pushed her to be the best version of herself, even when those around her might not believe she was up to the task. Layla decided all she could do was her best at this point. After all, she only had to work in this kitchen for one day.
Harold led Layla back into a supply room where they grabbed a few more potatoes to carry out to the chopping board.
“So what book did you steal, anyway?” Harold queried after they had peeled in silence for awhile.
She wanted to scream at him that she hadn’t stolen anything, but she decided it was better to just go along with it (even though she was embarrassed by the answer).
“It was called Acara Cool…” Harold raised an eyebrow. “It has tips and things you should say if you want to be cooler.”
“Huh. Well. Good luck with that.” Harold snorted as he honed back in on his stack of potatoes.
Just then, the Soup Faerie passed behind them, glancing over their shoulders to check their progress.
“Come on, you two. I’ve seen Snailiens peel and chop potatoes faster than you!”
“But Snailiens don’t have hands, Miss Soup Faerie!”
“Right you are, Harold!”
The Soup Faerie was barely out of earshot now, but Layla turned quickly to Harold and whispered, “we can’t let her talk down to us like that! Let’s show her how fast we can be at getting these potatoes cooked.” Harold didn’t seem too convinced. “Okay, I have an idea. How about, the person who finishes peeling and cutting up their potatoes first wins! And the loser has to do the cooking.”
A slow little grin spread across Harold’s face. “You mean, like a race?”
“Yes! A race, Harold. Ready...Set…Go!”
It was the fastest Layla had ever seen any Skeith move in her life. She could see the Soup Faerie watching them covertly from the other side of the room. Layla purposely moved just a bit slower than Harold as she peeled her own potatoes, and the Soup Faerie nodded her approval.
In less than three minutes, Harold had finished. He looked to his side to check Layla’s progress, noticed he had won the race, and threw his arms up in the air victoriously.
“Bravo, Harold!” The Soup Faerie approached them, lightly clapping her hands together. “It looks like Layla will be taking over from here. How about you go and take a break outside for a bit? The weather looks fine.”
He wasted no time clamoring over to the back door, leaving Layla to answer to the Soup Faerie on her own. The faerie smiled serenely and said, “Thank you, Layla. This is probably the highest amount of productivity I’ve ever seen from these kids. Especially Harold.” Layla beamed at her, eager to please.
“Now, please do your best to not burn the potatoes.” Layla held her breath for a second, and then they both burst out laughing.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let you down.”
The next morning, Layla was making her way out the front door when Jay’s shouts from the second floor made her pause.
“Where are you going? It’s so early right now!”
“To the Soup Kitchen. Tell Mom I’ll be back for dinner!”
“But you said you only had to do your community service thing for one day!”
“This isn’t about that. Mind your own business, Jay.”
“Huh? You make no sense,” and then in a mumble, “girls make no sense.”
Layla chuckled as she shut the door behind her.
When she arrived at the Soup Kitchen for the second day in a row, she wasn’t nearly prepared enough for the reactions she would get from everyone inside. A few of the other Neopians turned to each other and started high-fiving, and Harold started cheering her on loudly as if she were a Poogle contestant in the Poogle Races. He then made his way over to her and gave her a big hug.
“Hey, you know how you said you were reading that book that could teach you how to be cooler? Well…I just wanted you to know that I think you’re already really cool. And a lot of the other guys think so, too.”
Layla fought to keep the tears out of her eyes.
Then, the Soup Faerie herself approached her and held out her hand.
“Layla, please come with me over here for a moment.”
And she led a tearful Layla into the supply room with her and turned around. She looked very confused all of a sudden, and Layla couldn’t understand why.
“What are you doing here? My list doesn’t show you on it today.”
“I’m here to help, Miss. You said no one comes here on their own free will anymore. Well, I am here to prove you wrong! Yesterday made me realize that I need to get out into the community more and help those less fortunate than me. I can’t just have my nose stuck in a book all the time.”
The Soup Faerie stared at her in amazement. She couldn’t remember the last time a young Neopian had actually volunteered in her kitchen.
“Layla, can I just say two things?” Layla nodded.
“One, Harold is right. You don’t need some book telling you how to be cool. You’re already pretty cool…if I’m even understanding what the word means…I’m too old for this stuff.” Layla giggled.
“And two, you are truly one of my kind, my dear, and you are always welcome in my kitchen...book thief or not.”