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The Road Home


by playmobil_is_my_life

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I waited patiently behind the wall that separated the show tank from the regular tank. My heart was racing-my big moment was coming. Even though I had rehearsed for weeks and performed on a regular basis, my stomach still churned with nerves and excitement. The sound of applause broke the silence as two blue Flotsams, Macy and Sammy swam into the cove I waited in. They were grinning and giddy knowing that their performance was successful.

     I loved to perform. I loved to see the audience's excitement and hear their praise. Although I was completely submerged underwater, the announcer's voice could still be heard booming over the hushed audience,

     "Please welcome our final performer and star of the show, Brady the Maraquan Lupe!"

     I took a deep breath and swam out into the performance tank. My fins propelled me effortlessly through the salty water and I hopped out onto the stage, facing the audience. There were lots of Neopets of all shapes and sizes, seated on the bleachers. The sunlight was strong on my face. I smiled at the spectators.

     There was a loud "oooooh" coming from the audience, partly because I was so rare and different. For a Lupe, I really did look strange. I no longer had fur, but a sleek brown body, two brown fins protruded from my sides and my tail was no longer bushy, but short and flat.

     I started my performance with an array of tricks-balancing beach balls, flipping through the air and catching Gummy Fish in my mouth: stuff that the audience adored. But the finale was coming up… I glanced upwards from in the tank. A silver hoop was being lowered from the ceiling. It stopped at about twenty feet above the surface and dangled.

     "Ladies and gentlemen!" the announcer began. "For our final act, Brady will jump through the silver hoop above and land with a flip into the water."

     This only caused more murmuring in the crowd. A hushed excitement fell over the stand. I could see the blurry silver hoop from under the water. I swam to the deepest part of the tank to gain speed. Taking a deep breath, my tailfin pumped furiously and my sleek body shot out of the air like a torpedo. I curved into an arch so my body wouldn't touch the sides and swiftly completed the dive with a flip.

     As I hit the water, curling my tail up from the dive, I heard the audience burst into applause and cheers.

     Yes! I thought, nailed it!

     My head broke the surface of the water and I hoisted myself back onto the stage to take a bow. The other performers, two Flotsams, four Kikos and a Tuskaninny came out of the door behind me. I stood in the center of the stage and took a bow with everyone else, soaking up the applause.

     Since the show was over, the seven other performers and I swam into the back tank while the announcer wrapped up the performance.

     "Great job, Brady!" Sammy the Flotsam exclaimed, whizzing by me.

     "Thanks!" I called back, grinning, "you too."

     I exited the show tank and started back into the regular one that the seven of us share. It's actually a really cool place-there are large purple rocks covered with algae, lots of seaweed growing and a filter to keep the water clean. It reminded me of the ocean, except without all of the fierce creatures, like Maraquan Grarrls, Krawks and Jetsams.

     A snack was waiting for us at the edge of the tank. Mr. Nelson, the owner of the Kiko Lake Water Show, emerged from the door in the back with a big smile plastered onto his chubby face. The Chia looked down in the tank at us and said,

     "Another great performance, everyone. Keep up the good work," he turned to me, "especially you, Brady."

     "Thank you, sir," I said quietly, a little embarrassed from all the attention. The green Chia nodded and left.

     I took a bite out of a Sea Pineapple and listened to the others talk about the show. The Kiko Lake Water Show was a new attraction that had been running for almost a month now. It started as a new gig just to get more tourists, but turned into a very popular event.

     Kiko Lake was a nice place; it was small and quaint with a few buildings and attractions. Everyone was friendly and the Kikos stayed here year-round. Perhaps if the show stayed as popular as it was now, the performers and I would stay here year-round as well.

     "Hey, Brady," someone called from the gate.

     I looked up. A red Lupe was standing at the white gate, beckoning to me. I climbed out of the water and hobbled over to him.

     "Zi, hey!" I called.

     My older brother Ziarre smiled, his toothy grin. Usually he came to see me on the weekends. "Great show, that jump and flip was pretty awesome."

     "You were watching? Cool, thanks," that meant a lot to me. "Do you want a bite?" I offered him some of my Sea Pineapple.

     "No thanks, I don't really like the taste of them-too salty. Maybe that's because I'm not a Maraquan." We laughed.

      "Listen…" Zi continued, "I was wondering if we could talk about something," he tried to sound cheerful, but there was a noticeable drop in his tone. Before Zi could speak again, someone was calling me over,

     "Brady-Mr. Nelson wants to talk to us," it was Clyde, the blue Tuskaninny.

     I turned back to my brother, "Can it wait?"

     "Yeah, I guess. I mean, sure," Zi said, unable to hide his disappointment, "tomorrow?"

     "Great, but it will have to be early, we have a show at noon."

     "Okay, thanks. Bye." The red Lupe turned and started towards the Kiko Lake dock and back to Neopia Central, his bushy tail wagging dejectedly. I didn't mean to cut him off, but our boss Mr. Nelson was a little more important than just chatting with my brother. Though I felt kind of bad for Zi-every time he wanted to see me he had to take the ferry to get over here. Well, that couldn't be helped. Zi couldn't swim or fly, so his only option was the ferry.

     Not thinking much about it, I waddled back to the tank and dove into the water to meet Mr. Nelson and the others. Little did I know, this was going to be a bigger deal than I thought.

     ***

     The next morning dawned bright and early. I woke up and floated on my back for a while; looking up at the clear, blue sky. At the other side of the tank, the two Flotsams Macy and Sammy were practicing their flips and jumps. Clyde, the Tuskaninny was tossing a ball into the air and catching it with his fins. We were just hanging out and having a good time before the 12 o'clock show.

     Every now and then, I would glance towards the gate, expecting to see Zi standing there with that important thing he wanted to talk about. At eleven thirty, Zi appeared at the white gate, and I jumped up out of the water, on the concrete to meet him.

     "Sorry I'm late," he said, panting, "I missed the ten o'clock ferry and had to catch the next one."

     "That's okay," I said, "I have thirty minutes, and you wanted to tell me something?" Zi nodded slowly. "Great," I replied casually, "Shoot."

     "Well," he began, shuffling his feet, "I just wanted to know if you thought about taking the road back home."

     My eyes narrowed in confusion, "The road home?" I echoed, "Honestly, I haven't thought about it. Why would I?"

     "It's just that you've been here for a month doing shows every day. Don't you miss chasing Greebles out of the yard and walking to the park?"

     "A little," I said truthfully, "but I like it here better. Is that all you wanted to ask?"

     "No," said Zi, his tone turning bitter, "I also wanted to know if you want to go back to the Lab Ray and get zapped back into a real Lupe."

     I took a step back and looked at Zi seriously, "A real Lupe? With lots of fur, a long bushy tail and four paws?" His comment stung like a bite from a Wadjet, "Maybe you haven't realized it Zi, but I happen to like it here. I like performing, I like the kind of Lupe the Lab Ray made me."

     "You shouldn't be here, Brady," Zi echoed, "Come on, let's just go back to the Lab Ray. Maybe you'll get zapped into a Fire Kougra or something."

     "Zi, I'm not going back to the Lab Ray. I don't want to be another painted Neopet-I want to stay what I am-Maraquan. Zi, I can swim and dive, flip through hoops and live in the water. A Maraquan Lupe is the best thing that I've become. This is what I love to do; you can't take it away from me. Everyone loves me here!"

      "I'm just telling you because it's different not having you around."

      "Ziarre, I know, and I miss you. I'm sorry, but this is what I love. I can't quit the show." Leaving it at that, I slowly waddled back to the tank and dove in. A moment later, I surface and turned towards the gate…

      Zi was gone.

     ***

     A week or two passed, and Zi hadn't been around. Neopia entered the month of Relaxing. By now, another Kiko was asked to join the team, and we gave her a warm welcome. Things were about the same, show after show had passed, I had grown to be close friends with Sammy, Macy, Clyde and the few other performers at the Kiko Lake Water Show.

     Since Zi left, the shows had felt a little different. My mind was so filled with what Zi had said that sometimes it was hard to concentrate on performing. Each show, I put on a fake smile and inside I was always thinking about my older brother. By the end of the month of Relaxing, I almost forgot about him.

     Until Saturday morning when I saw something tied to the fencepost where Zi and I used to meet-it was a piece of paper folded in half, hanging by a red ribbon. I climbed out of the water and started over towards it. Untying the ribbon and opening the paper, I read:

      Brady-

     First off, I just want to apologize for what I said about you being a different Lupe. Secondly, I want to apologize for telling you to go back to the Lab Ray. If you're happy with what you are, then I'm happy for you. I respect your decision of wanting to stay and continue performing, and I promise to be around in the future.

     Keep up the awesome work, after all, it wouldn't be a show without you.

Love,

Zi

     A warm feeling spread through me. I grinned and hurried back into the tank-a show was about to start.

     ***

     There was something different about this performance. It seemed more enjoyable knowing that I had heard from Zi and that he was doing okay. I was finishing up my jumping routine, and I heard the audience cheer. The next thing was the hoop jump, and I was ready to go!

     Right before submerging into the water, I took a quick look at the audience-some of them were familiar, Neopets who had come to the show multiple times, there were a group of Neopets painted Desert in the front row, and in the very top row, in the corner, sat a red Lupe.

     Zi?

     It was him! Zi slowly grinned when our eyes met and he winked. Almost forgetting about the finale, I dove underwater, ready to complete the hoop jump. Was it just me, or did the hoop seem higher? Whatever the case, I was ready. I torpedoed through the clear water and my head broke the surface.

     This if for you, Zi.

     It seemed as though everything was in slow motion. I tucked my fins close to my body and arched my back just as I started through the hoop. I went through it so swiftly that it didn't even move. My nose was the first thing to hit the water and when it did, I pulled out of my dive. Another successful jump!

     The audience burst into applause. I hopped out of the water and onto the stage, as the other performers appeared on my sides to take a bow. Zi was probably the most enthusiastic. He was on his feet, grinning from ear to ear and clapping harder than anyone else.

     The seven performers and I smiled and we took a bow.

      At that moment I wanted to shout for joy because of another successful show. This is how I wanted to live my life. Since the applause was tremendous, we took a second bow. When we came back up and I was level with the audience, I winked at Zi. He acknowledged me by nodding his head and I was glad he knew and understood that I was not coming home.

      After all, I thought to myself, this is home.

The End

Author's Note: Well, thank you so much for reading! Please feel free to Neomail me with comments or feedback. A special thanks goes to beewitched2 for title help and editing.

 
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