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Pet Name: luptionater
Pet Name: luptionater
Breed: Fire Lupe
Jack the blue Kacheek scowled, angrily sweeping at the scuffed linoleum floor, sending dust motes swirling through the air under the harsh glow of the flickering florescent-track lighting above. He was already in a foul mood and his extra cleaning chores definitely weren’t improving his disposition. Dr_Death and Rose had “volunteered” him to “help” Slim_G9825, a particularly rotund yellow Skeith, adjust as one of the most recently “disowned” Neopets to come to the Pound - which really meant that Jack had to sweep the floors because “Slim” had a habit of eating the brooms.
It was absolutely pouring outside, which always made his tail frizz, and as if to just make things even worse, today was Jack’s third year that he had yet to be adopted. His scowl deepened as his blue brows furrowed together like a ‘v’, as he grumbled under his breath. The silently fuming Kacheek clenched the wooden broom handle tighter as he swept, violently sweeping as if to erase the dark memories that swelled up unbidden within him and made it difficult for him to swallow.
He could feel the piercing eyes of the outside world watching him toil, mocking him: Jack_Blue240 the blue Kacheek, only 82 NP to adopt; Jack wanted nothing more than to wipe that cruel smile from its ugly face once and for all! That smile like the one his former owner had worn whenever they had taken him to the unfamiliar plain wooden building in the corner of the Neopian Plaza, and had left him behind that quaint red wooden door, betraying eyes masked with false pity--oh, if Jack could’ve--!
A branch suddenly rapped against the window, caught in the whistling breeze, startling him from his brooding thoughts. Looking up at the noise, Jack’s black eyes narrowed. He seethed inwardly as he found himself staring back into the eyes of the strange Neopet, who had been standing across the street from the Pound for hours. Between the rain-splattered window-pane that separated them, the Lupe hadn’t the faintest idea that he was suddenly the center of all of Jack’s pent up frustration.
He wasn’t particularly note-worthy, just another one of the lucky Neopians who had no idea how good he had it. Lupishly aloof and tall, with sharp, alert eyes that seemed to take in everything around him, well-groomed and fed, handsome even. The Lupe had been watching Jack clean the deserted lobby through the large window that faced the road, not even moving, apparently oblivious to the torrential downpour that cascaded in thunderous booms around him.
Most of the other citizens had long since hurried home to their comfortable abodes, pulling up plush chairs to roaring fireplaces and cradling steaming cups of Borovan, relaxing after a long day of shopping with their owners. Sitting down to eat a delicious dinner of Potato and Leek Soup and Hot Cakes and Homemade Gooseberry Jam, having seconds and thirds before afterwards hurrying to play with their newest charm toy or Bouncy Ball--which would be tossed aside for the latest present their owner would bring home for them. The thoughts of a warm meal and a soft bed and doting, loving owners made Jack sick, and more painfully hungry, but worst of all: alone.
If it wasn’t enough for the lone Lupe to be smugly free from the depressing rows and rows of cages that awaited Jack whenever Dr_Death returned from the back to lock up, he was painted Fire and wore expensive NC Mall clothing--clearly he had been blessed by Fyora and had a very rich owner. Jack would’ve bet a hundred Neopoints--if he had a point to his name--that he lived in a huge lavishly furnished mansion Neohome, made of Faerieland Clouds with his own Kau Print Bed, and probably had a White Weewoo for a Petpet, kept snug at home in a Luxury Castle Petpet Bed so that its precious white feathers wouldn’t get dirty...
Oddly, the thing that made Jack turn livid at the sight of this grey-eyed Lupe wasn’t his fancy Moltara Inventor Coat and Black Utility Trousers clothing that he wore or his expensive fiery paint job, but the Folded Paper Hat that he wore, low over his brow. That stupid paper hat incensed Jack to no end, and he found himself gritting his teeth, the wooden broom handle twisting roughly in his white-knuckled grip. He wanted so much to knock the stupid thing from his head--how dare he!
How dare he wear such a gaudy thing, pretending to be poor, like he couldn’t have bought that Moltara Inventor Hat and Goggles if he had wanted, it tore Jack up... it was one thing to be rich and another to act “less fortunate” just for show! He’d show him a thing or two, Jack thought viciously, maybe he’d like to spend a day in the Pound for once--see how long that spoiled Lupe would last without a Chia Treat or a spa treatment at the Deluxe Hotel! He didn’t even try to hide his smirk as he turned away, raising his chin a little higher as he returned to his work, imagining himself in the Lupe’s place and the fire Lupe the one, instead, dejectedly sweeping the corners of the Pound that he knew too well, forever waiting for the chance to stand out there--free.
He nearly jumped out of his fur when Dr_Death’s gravelly voice suddenly barked from behind him, reverberating throughout the too-quiet room as the back door swung open, “Hey, you’re going to sweep a hole to Shenkuu if you keep it up!”
The old Techo sighed wearily, leaning against the counter for support as Rose, the cheery pink Uni, helped him set down the heavy box they had carried in with them. She beamed down at Jack from behind the counter, admiring the spotlessly swept floor. Shading her deep blue eyes with her hoof she peered out at the storm. “Whew, that’s the last of them. What a storm! How many Cheery Blossoms do you think will pop up tomorrow, Jack?”
“I dunno...” Jack muttered grumpily, the floor squeaking as he rocked back on his heels. It was hard to stay in a bad mood around Rose and he was about to ask if he was officially done when the red door chimed softly--opening in a swirl of blustered leaves and rain before clicking shut once more.
Dr_Death glanced up at the sudden visitor, awkwardly acknowledging him with a harsh harrumph while Rose hurriedly tried to welcome him. “I’m so sorry sir, but I’m afraid that the Pound is about to close...”
“I see...” His voice was low and gentle, carefully trying to hide his disappointment and seemingly unused to conversation, coltishly glancing from Dr_Death to Rose and back uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, Rose, Dr_Death, I um.... maybe another time....” The young fire Lupe turned back to the door, making to go but his yellow paw remained on the handle, unmoved.
Hearing him speak, Jack finally lost it, throwing the broom handle onto the ground, as the oblivious Lupe fumbled over his words! The floor was ruined: mud, debris and pooling puddles were everywhere! Bitterly adding his own encouragement for him to leave, Jack snapped, “Yeah--the Pound’s closed, can’t you read or does your owner buy you those high-tech Kreludan books so you don’t have to actually turn a page!”
Dr_Death frowned at Jack, as the Lupe turned to face the angry Kacheek, taken back by the sudden vehemence. Attempting to intervene, the old Techo made to pick up the broom where it had clattered noisily to the floor, but the agile Lupe was already gingerly holding it out for him. “Don’t I know you? Is there something we can help you with?”
“It’s been a while... perhaps you’d recognize me if I was still red,” the Lupe slowly began, carefully removing his newspaper hat and bowing his head slightly, a lopsided grin momentarily crossing his features. Adding by means of an introduction, “I’m Luptionater. I was adopted about seven years ago...”
“Luptionater!” Rose exclaimed excitedly, suddenly enveloping the lanky Lupe in a Bearog-hug, lifting him off his feet in her unbridled enthusiasm. “Is that really you! Oh my goodness--look at you! You’ve grown! How are you? How’s midnight_fox7--where is she? What level are you? How many Battledome fights have you won? What’s your intelligence? Do you have a Petpet?”
“Calm down, Rose,” Dr_Death snorted with a toss of his white head disapprovingly, shaking Luptionater’s hand nevertheless. “How you’ve been, pup?”
“Good, good, midnight_fox7 is a great owner. I’m not really a Battledomer, I’ve always been more of a reader than a fighter as you know...” Luptionater sheepishly rubbed at the back of his neck, running his yellow paw through his dark locks.
“I remember, of course! My, my, you must have read hundreds of books by now!” Rose interjected, whickering merrily, “I remember when Dr_Death used to read to you that old newspaper; you never got bored with it even though he’d read it to you so many times you could recite it in your sleep!”
“Yep, yep, and yer reading on yer own now I see!” Dr_Death nodded as Luptionater looked down at his worn Wellington Boots, ear-tips burning with embarrassment.
“Speaking of books... that’s why I came to visit actually. I’m sorry--it took me a while to work up the nerve to come back in here. I haven’t forgotten... I, um, I th-thought that maybe I could come read here to some of the pets at the Pound, if that’s o-okay,” Luptionater stuttered nervously as he pulled an old copy of the Neopian Times from where he had tucked it safely inside his coat--it was yellowed and tattered but otherwise dry.
Jack couldn’t help but scoff from the other side of the room, crossing his arms petulantly, “Read what? An old Neopian Times Issue 3 copy--and all of us abandoned Pets are suddenly going to be 'Ultimate Geniuses'!” He didn’t want to admit that this was the first time he had ever actually seen an issue of the Neopian Times in his life...
“Jack,” Rose warned, but Luptionater shook his head slowly. “Not just the Neopian Times, other books too, from all over Neopia!”
Jack met Luptionater’s eyes, about to shoot back some nasty retort, except for the briefest moment he beheld the utter sincerity and honesty behind his halting awe-filled words as the Kacheek’s bitter resentment vanished instantly. “I... I just thought--this was the first book that was ever read it me--and ever since I’ve had a thirst for knowledge, but more than that, these stories helped make those long nights in the Pound just a bit more bearable... they gave me hope! Part of the reason why midnight_fox7 picked me wasn’t because of strength or level or even color, but because she could see that I had a fire in me... something burning in my soul--books helped rekindle that sense of freedom that I’d lost, that love for life--that flame that is too often snuffed out in here!”
He swallowed hard, twisting the newspaper in his hands as he turned to the old Techo, “I’d like to try and return the favor, Dr_Death... Maybe a book or two might help bring some joy to some Pet and perhaps some kind Neopian would decide that they’d want to adopt him or her because there’s that 'something' in them too... but what do I know, I’m just a book-learned adopted Lupe right?-with his nose too pressed between parchment and ink to know where it belongs... maybe I’m just behind on the times.”
“No.” Jack shook his head quickly, pulling up an overturned box as a makeshift seat for him, no longer caring about his once clean floor. “No... that sounds like a wonderful idea, sir. I’m sorry I was so rude before, it’s just...”
“I understand.” Luptionater smiled, relieved, as Dr_Death nodded approvingly, winking down at the once lowly red Lupe. “I think we can arrange something like that...” Jack and Luptionator exchanged a knowing look, once upon a time he too had been frustrated whenever Dr_Death brought in anything from the outside world--too caught up in his own misery and misfortune.
“...You wouldn’t happen to have any articles about Kacheeks, would you?” Jack tentatively inquired, scooting closer as Luptionater opened to the first page of the Neopian Times.
The relentless patter of rain against the corrugated roof of the Neopian Pound faded into the background, as with a rustle of paper the hundreds of abandoned Pets listened with rapt attention as the soft-spoken fire Lupe’s voice rose--taking them far away from their cold metal cells to places beyond Neopia’s wildest imaginations...
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