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MaxKanine’s Rowze


by tdyans

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MaxKanine sat down to rest in the shade of the heart fruit tree, the thick, cool grass beneath him blending almost perfectly with his green fur. He sighed and leaned back against the trunk of the tree, enjoying the quiet of the lazy summer afternoon and the sense of contentment that always settled over him after a day of hard work.

      Moeioe and Rooruon had gone to the park for the day, and Achilles81 was out running errands in the Bazaar, so the Lupe had taken advantage of the time alone to do some long overdue gardening. He'd bought pots of colour lilies, lazydels and Mordongos at the start of spring, and now, finally, he'd been able to plant them in the garden. They lined the front of the Neohome, a beautiful tableau of colors and shapes, swaying gently in the breeze that was helping to lighten the sun's hot blows.

      Max smiled in satisfaction as he surveyed the new additions. He was sweaty, his paws were dirty, and his legs ached from kneeling over as he had gently placed each flower into the ground. And to him, this was the best feeling in the world.

      "Max!" A voice broke through the peace of the afternoon, and MaxKanine looked up to see a cloud Gelert coming up the driveway. "Maxi, you'll never guess what I found. You're gonna love it."

      Max sat up a little straighter, undeniably curious about his brother's enthusiasm. Achilles, he saw, was holding a piece of paper in his paw. He waved it in the air excitedly and then held it out toward Max as he approached. The Lupe reached out his own paw to take it.

      "I saw it on the Noticeboard when I was passing by this morning," Achilles said as Max tried to focus on the words on the paper that he now held before his nose.

     

GARDENING COMPETITION
THIS SATURDAY!
Are your flowers the envy of the neighborhood? Are your pruning skills top notch? Do you grow the most oddly-shaped marrows? Think you're the greatest gardener in Neopia? Come and prove it!

      Max stopped there. "Oh… I don't know, Achilles…."

      "Oh, come on, Maxi. At least read the rest of it before you decide."

      The Lupe sighed and read on, muttering snippets from the announcement as his eyes moved over the words. "Many areas in which to compete…. Arrangement… Topiary… Tastiest Turnips…." Then he paused, and his eyes stopped their restless scanning. "Best Rowze."

      "Ha, I knew you'd like that one," Achilles grinned. "You've got the best Rowzes in the neighborhood, Max-the best in Neopia Central, too, I'm sure of it! You'd win that contest paws down!"

      Max glanced sideways at his brother, still uncertain. "You really think so?"

      "Of course I do! You'll blow 'em out of the water-just look at those Rowzes"

      Max turned his head, following the gesture of Achilles' paw to the most prized part of his beloved garden: his Rowze bush. He'd planted it just days after Tdyans had brought him home from the pound. It had been the first thing to really cement in his mind that he was home now, that he was putting down roots just like that little bush and wasn't going anywhere. And like the Rowze bush, he'd grown and blossomed here.

      Brilliant pink buds poked their way through the thick green leaves to embrace the warm sunlight. It really was the delight of the neighborhood, especially now when the flowers were just preparing to come into full bloom all at once. People and pets walked by and admired Max's garden every day, and they inevitably spent the most time looking at the Rowze bush, checking anxiously to see if the flowers were open yet and wondering aloud when they would be.

      "It'll be this week, won't it?" Achilles interrupted Max's thoughts. "The buds have to open soon."

      Max smiled at his brother, who didn't know much about gardening but was certainly putting forth an earnest effort now that a prize was at stake. "Yes," he answered, "most of them should."

      "Then that's perfect! You'll have a winner ready by Saturday. You are going to do it, aren't you, Max? This is too good of an opportunity to pass up-a chance for you to show everyone how great a gardener you are."

      Max's smile grew. He couldn't help but get caught up in Achilles' love of competition… and he was a good gardener, so why not show off his skills a bit? It was all well and good to have the neighbors come by and smile politely and say "What lovely flowers," but if some real judges in a real contest were to say his flowers were the best-- that would really be something, wouldn't it? And it might be nice to be in the spotlight just this once, like Achilles always was….

      "All right," he said to the Gelert's waiting stare. "I'll do it."

     

***

Max found himself getting more and more caught up in Achilles' competitive spirit as the week went on. He nurtured and babied his Rowzes even more than usual, delicately pruning the bush, watering it carefully with only the finest bottled water, adding extra fertilizer, checking the buds over with a diligent eye for any harmful insects and shading them at the height of the afternoon heat. When he could find nothing else to occupy his need to care for the blooming flowers, he simply sat in the garden, talking to them in a quiet and soothing voice. He even sang once or twice, when he was sure that no one else was around. But that wasn't all too often, for Achilles was constantly hanging over his shoulder, checking on how things were going, asking him questions, trying to give him advice from what he'd read in books. Max might have been a bit annoyed by this normally, but he knew that Achilles was well-intentioned and the Gelert's excitement only fed his own now that he'd given in to the idea of the contest.

      Finally, on Friday morning, Max walked outside in the early morning light to find that the Rowzes were opening, slowly spreading their petals wide as if to greet the fingers of the sun that were beginning to reach out over the eastern horizon. The Lupe smiled sleepily, a sense of quiet joy and awe washing over him as it always did at the sight of this small miracle, the climax of all his work and care. The contest and anything else in the busy world were forgotten as he sat down gently on the grass before his Rowze bush and simply stayed there, admiring his flowers, wondering at the way that each one was different in some small way or another, and just enjoying the quiet of the dawn, when time seemed to move more slowly and carefully than at any other hour of the day.

      "Wow, they look great, Max!" The Lupe was broken out of his reverie by the voice of Achilles, and he spun his head around to see the Gelert standing behind him and the sun now well-risen in the sky. He hadn't even noticed the passage of time, nor the sound of his brother coming out of the house. Achilles continued, "Especially that one there-it's fantastic!"

      Max turned his attention back toward the Rowze bush and the particular flower at which Achilles was pointing. The Gelert was right; it was the most beautiful Rowze that Max could ever remember seeing. It was bigger than all of the other blossoms-nearly twice the size of one of his paws! Its petals were the color of a sunset after rain, when the fading sunlight reflects off of the waning clouds in vibrant scarlet hues. He ran the tip of his paw gently over one of its smooth, velvety petals and bent his snout down to inhale its gentle, sweet scent. All of the Lupe's pampering seemed to have paid off.

      "You're sure to win with that one, Max," Achilles interrupted the silence again.

      Max could not hide a proud smile at his brother's admiration. "You really think so?"

      "Of course I do," the Gelert answered with a wave of his paw. "Now, I've got something for you…." Before Max could ask anything more, Achilles bounded back into the house. When he emerged again a few moments later, a secretive smirk lined his muzzle and his paws held something behind his back. "I bought it yesterday," he said, bringing his paws around to the front so that Max could see the object that was cradled in them: a clear glass vase.

      At an expectant look from the Gelert, Max held out his own paws to receive the gift. He held the vase delicately between his roughened paws and turned it about, admiring the ornate designs of flowers and leaves that were skilfully etched into the glass. But he was puzzled. "It's beautiful, Achi," he said. "But… what's it for?"

      Achilles seemed to lose his voice to disbelief for a moment, his mouth hanging slightly open. But then his eyes flashed with laughter. "Ha, good one, Maxi!" He slapped a paw on his brother's shoulder, but Max just continued to stare at him questioningly. Achilles' laughter died off as he realized that there was no joke. "You really don't--? Well, I-- Max, it's for your Rowze, of course! So that you can take it to the contest and display it for the judges. I mean, not that your Rowze needs any help or anything, but I still thought that a nice vase couldn't hurt…."

      Achilles kept talking, but Max had ceased listening as it had dawned on him-how could he not have realized it before? "Put it in a vase… take it to the contest… and that means I have to cut it…."

      Achilles stopped and gave him another odd look as if wondering whether he'd been spending too much time in the sun lately. "Well, of course, Maxi…. You didn't expect the judges to come here, did you?"

      Max's brow creased. "No, I suppose not," he said quietly. "I just hadn't thought much about it at all."

      "Ha, well, I know how that is-getting caught up in the competition and forgetting about the details," Achilles said, sounding happy at the thought that Max seemed to be once again on ground that he could understand. "But that's what you've got me for, right?" He tapped the vase with a claw and winked.

      "Anyway," he continued, "I'll get out of your fur now. I'm sure you know the right way to do the cutting and arranging and whatever else needs doing, and I'd just be in the way. See you tomorrow bright and early, Max!" And with that, he headed back into the house, leaving Max alone with the vase and his Rowzes

      Max turned toward the Rowze bush and his ears drooped. Slowly, he set down the delicate vase and picked up his shears. He'd brought them out with him that morning expecting to do some light pruning, but now…. Why hadn't he thought of this before? A heavy weight seemed to settle in his chest as he chided himself mentally. He'd never cut one of his Rowzes from the bush before, but of course Achilles was right-he had to for the contest.

      The contest. The idea of it had excited him all week. Now it made him feel sick and miserable. But, thinking of the anticipation in Achilles' face, the enthusiasm that he had never quite shown for Max's gardening before… the Lupe brought the shears up, positioning one blade on either side of the Rowze's stem. He struggled to steady his shaking paws, took a deep breath, and at the last minute turned his eyes away, unable to bear watching what he was about to do….

     

***

      The day of the gardening competition was as beautiful as anyone could have hoped. The park had been divided into several sections, with a different contest taking place in each one, and humans and pets wandered about, enjoying the warm sunshine and admiring the entrants.

      It was at the center of the park that the Rowze contest was to take place. A group of long tables had been set up in the shape of a rather imperfect circle. The contestants each took a space on the outside of this circle, setting up their Rowzes on the tables, while the judges walked slowly around the inside of the circle, examining them one by one.

      The judges weren't the only ones giving each of the Rowzes a good look over, though. Achilles ignored the glares and coughs of the other contestants as he sniffed at their Rowzes and asked them questions and peered over their shoulders while they arranged the flowers to face exactly the direction that they wanted and brushed away any stray insects or drops of dew.

      Finally, he wandered back toward Max, not bothering to hide his triumphant grin, or to stifle his pronouncement: "I knew it, Max! You're a sh-" He stopped abruptly, noticing something amiss. The table before his brother was bare. "Maxi, where's the Rowze?!"

      Max retained the same calm and confident air that he had kept all day as he reached under the table. Achilles breathed a sigh of relief, assuming that the Lupe was bringing out the flower now, and that perhaps he had just been keeping it in the shade. But his relief was tragically short-lived, for a moment later Max pulled out from under the table not the intricate vase that Achilles had given him the day before, but something much… flatter.

      Max coolly set the object on the table and said nothing more. Achilles stared down at it, his jaw hanging open. It was a photograph-a picture of the Rowze from Max's garden. Achilles worked his mouth, but could get little more out than, "Max… Max…?" before someone else spoke for him.

      "What is that?" Achilles and Max both looked up to see the three judges standing before them-a stern-looking yellow Lenny, a twitchy red Yurble whose head seemed to be permanently craned upward to look at the much taller Lenny, and a motherly-looking blue Tonu. It was obviously the Lenny who had spoken, for his face displayed the same distaste that had dripped from the voice.

      Achilles just stared at the judges in wide-eyed horror. But Max remained impassive. "It's my entry into the contest," he said calmly, pushing the photo toward them. The Tonu. leaned over a little to see. The Yurble couldn't see over the edge of the table anyway. The Lenny would not even deign to look down.

      "It's a picture," he said, wrinkling his beak.

      "Yes. A picture of my Rowze"

      "This is a Rowze competition-- not a picture competition."

      "I read through all of the rules for this contest very carefully yesterday," Max stated evenly, crossing his arms over his chest, "and there was nothing in them saying that you couldn't enter a picture of a Rowze instead of the Rowze itself."

      "There's nothing in the rules saying that you can't enter a pink Puppyblew instead of a Rowze, but that doesn't mean it's allowed!" the Lenny's voice rose in exasperation.

      "Get many interested pink Puppyblews, do you?" Achilles muttered, finally finding his voice, but the Lenny's glare did not waver from MaxKanine, who just stared back, jaw set, refusing to back down.

      The Tonu. coughed as if trying to disrupt the tension and then shuffled over to the table, clumsily picking up the photograph in her hooves. "Well, it really does look like quite a nice Rowze," she said placatingly. "Perhaps we--"

      "It's a nice picture," the Lenny snapped, cutting her off. "It doesn't matter. We don't know anything about the real Rowze, like... like how sweet does it smell?"

      "Too sweet to let die," Max answered quickly and defiantly.

      The Lenny gritted his beak, refusing as staunchly as the Lupe to back down. "How soft are the petals?" he challenged.

      "Too soft to let wilt," was the Lupe's simple answer.

      "The color?"

      "Too bright to let fade."

      "And what about--?"

      "It's too beautiful to destroy," a different voice than Max's controlled tone broke in loudly and resolutely, and everyone's attention snapped to Achilles as he took a step forward to stand beside his brother. In the course of the exchange, his expression had gone from bewildered to resigned and now to determined. Max gave Achilles a grateful look as the Gelert stared the Lenny down, daring him to challenge his brother any more, strange contest entry or no.

      The Lenny scowled back at the pair for a few moments longer before growling out, "Well, I suppose we can't disqualify you from the contest altogether… but I wouldn't expect anything beyond that if I were you." He walked on to the next contestant with a parting smirk. The Yurble shook his head emphatically and skittered after him. The Tonu. lingered for a few moments, looking down at the photograph, and she offered a kindly look to the two brothers before finally following after her fellow judges.

      Max watched them go and then turned to Achilles again with gratitude shining in his eyes. But with the immediate threat to his brother gone, Achilles had reverted back to looking puzzled and disappointed. Max sighed and scooped the picture up from the table, holding it in his paws and looking down at it, not sure how to feel himself now.

     

***

      Max and Achilles walked down Neopia Avenue quietly, headed toward home. Max had not won the contest, of course, nor even placed for that matter, though the Tonu. had given him high marks despite the glares from her fellow judges. She'd caught Max privately before he could leave and whispered to him, "Well, I think it's all very romantic-an artist refusing to show his art if it means destroying it…." And then with a sigh she had drifted back into the crowd of pets who were thronging around the winners and offering their congratulations, leaving the brothers to go on their way.

      "Thanks for backing me up," Max finally spoke quietly.

      Achilles startled a little out of whatever thoughts had been stirring in his head since the failed contest. "Wha-Oh, well… that's what brothers are for, right?"

      "But?" Max prodded.

      Achilles pretended not to understand the question only for a moment; the look on Max's face made it clear that he knew all too well what was going through his brother's head and the Gelert had best just get it out. "But… I guess I still just don't understand, Maxi. None of those other Rowzes would have stood a chance against yours, and all you had to do was cut it. I just… don't get it."

      Max sighed and searched for the words to help his brother understand. "Achilles… I know you love to compete-to go up against others and do your best to win. I understood the way that feels a little better for a while with this Rowze contest. It was fun to think of the glory of winning for a while. But… that's just not why I grow my flowers, or do anything for that matter."

      "Then why do you?"

      "Because I love it." Max shrugged.

      "Well, I love all of the things that I do, too," Achilles said. "But that doesn't mean you can't be rewarded for doing them sometimes as well."

      By now they had reached the Neohome, and they paused on the sidewalk in front of the house, watching a blue Draik and red Aisha who had wandered up to Max's garden during an evening stroll. The two pointed with interest at the various flowers that dotted the garden, spending a particularly long moment marveling at the large Rowze nestled in the frame of the leaves and petals of the other Rowzes Finally, they turned away and continued on their walk, smiles of simple contentment on their faces. They both offered a friendly nod to Max and Achilles as they passed, and the Draik murmured-to his companion or the Lupe and Gelert or simply to the world in general it was impossible to tell-"Lovely evening."

      Max's eyes followed the pair for a moment more before he turned back to Achilles with a small smile of his own. "That's my reward, Achilles. That's why I garden-not just because I love it, but because others do too. Seeing my family and my friends and my neighbors enjoy the fruits-or should I say flowers-of my labor…. That makes me proud."

      He looked at his brother again, but Achilles had fallen silent, a thoughtful look in his eyes. Max left the sidewalk and walked slowly up to stand before the Rowze bush, Achilles following along by his side. "You remember when I planted this bush?" Achilles simply nodded, and Max continued, "I guess, unconsciously, part of the reason I started gardening was as a way to thank you and Tdyans for taking me in-for giving me a family and a real home for the first time in my life. I wanted some way to reflect back the happiness that you guys had given me.

      "That's why I couldn't cut the Rowze, Achilles. I couldn't take it away from where it belongs-- from those I really care about-- just to show it to some judges who would look it over for a minute and then forget about it… even if it meant taking home some trophy or ribbon for myself."

      Achilles' had kept his head bowed, staring down at the Rowze, throughout Max's speech. He stayed silent for a few moments more before finally turning his head to look up apprehensively into his brother's face. "I'm sorry, Maxi," the Gelert said quietly. "I didn't mean to try to force you to… me and my stupid contests…."

      But the Lupe held no look of accusation in his face. "I know, Achi. Hey, I got as caught up in it as you did for a while there." He gave a little laugh.

      Achilles smiled back. "But just for the record, you would have won."

      "You really think so?"

      "Of course I do, Max."

      Max grinned and slung a paw around his brother's shoulder as they both turned their eyes back to the Rowze, its petals spread wide as if to welcome them home. "Then that's all that matters to me."

The End

 
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