What Am I?: Part Eight
“Texra?” Kelenria echoed in surprise. “What’s wrong with her?”
“She’s really angry. She’s talking about wanting to leave.”
Kelenria stared at him, stunned. She had known that Texra was discontent- no amount of blindness on her own part could have hidden that- but to take it this far?...
When she finally found a whispering shadow of her voice, the young Xweetok managed, “Is this because of me?”
Jack hesitated, which in itself was answer enough. “Yes and no,” he replied finally. “Yes, she is pretty upset that you were hiding Kitron. But that’s not your fault,” he added hastily. “Trying to help someone who needs you isn’t a crime, and she has no right to get mad at you for it. And it’s not just that- she’s also angry about... well, everything. She’s mad because I can’t buy her everything she wants, so she feels she isn’t as ‘fashionable’ as some of the other girls at school. She’s mad because I sometimes call her on it when she cops an attitude. And...” he hesitated, as if gathering himself, then forced a weak smile and concluded, “she’s mad because I’m not ‘cool’ like her friends’ owners.”
Kelenria stared at him in dismay. “But you are cool,” she protested. “How many other owners could have found out about Kitron without freaking out?”
Jack’s smile seemed slightly less forced. “Thanks, Kel,” he said, gathering the Xweetok into his arms. Yet another shuddering sigh. “I guess Texra just really knows how to hit me where it hurts.”
“Well, you have had her ever since you were a newbie.”
Jack nodded, holding Kelenria tight. “I hope you never end up like that.”
“I won’t,” Kelenria promised firmly. Even as she spoke, though, her own sister’s promises rang in her ears: promises of love and sisterhood and lasting friendship. Promises that now lay in pieces on the floor.
Is it possible that I could become what she is?
No. I refuse to believe that. And if I come close, I will always have this to warn me against it.
Jack gave the Xweetok a final tight squeeze, then set her gently on the floor. “Well, I guess we’d better hurry up and get back before Talrin and Kyle confirm Texra’s decision.”
* * * * *
“I have HAD IT! I HAVE HAD IT!” Texra’s shout rang through the house as she flung Kyle off of her lap. The tiny Gelert let out a yelp of surprise and alarm as he sailed through the air, and everyone within earshot grimaced as he crashed into the large building-block castle which he and Talrin had spent most of the day creating. The devastated structure collapsed, and the air was filled with Kyle’s equally devastated howls as the puppy dissolved into tears.
Racing over to comfort his youngest pet, Jack glared at Texra and said, “Tex, that was completely unnecessary.”
Texra sprang to her feet, bristling. “I TOLD you not to call me ‘Tex’! And that little twerp has been annoying me all day while Kelenria was busy playing with her pet freak and you-”
“He is NOT a freak!” Kelenria yelled, cutting her sister off in mid-sentence. “And I don’t see why you have to hate him so much! He never did anything to you!”
“Because he is a freak,” Texra snapped, “and that’s enough for me. Blast it, you’re ALL freaks- you’ve just got different styles of annoying me with it. And I’ve had enough! There is no way I am going to stay in a house with two maniacs, a geek and a mutant magnet! Shenya and I have already talked it over at school- her owner has a spot open, and tomorrow I want to meet them at the pound and get you losers out of my life!”
The room fell deathly silent. All eyes were fixed on Texra, round and blank with shock. Scanning her owner and siblings with a look of resolute tight-jawed disdain, Texra stated simply, “I’m going to go and pack my bags.”
* * * * *
“She can’t actually do that, can she?” Kelenria asked as she helped Jack to prepare supper. “I mean, it’s technically your call, isn’t it?”
“Technically, yes. I guess the question we have to ask ourselves is: do we want to force her to stay?” Jack sighed, his grey-blue eyes hollow. “I don’t want to lose her. But if I force her to stay against her will, she’s just going to make us all miserable, and be miserable herself. You know what they say: If you love someone...”
“Set them free, and only if they come back was it ever meant to be.”
Jack nodded, his lips pressed tightly together. Drawing a shaky breath, he added, “Although in this case, I’m afraid she won’t be coming back.”
* * * * *
“Your sister is disconnecting herself from your family?” Kitron had just gotten the news, and was now staring at Kelenria in surprise.
Kelenria gave him a trembling nod. “Yeah. But I guess... I guess a part of me knew long ago that something was going to happen. Texra isn’t like she used to be- she’s gotten all stuck-up and bossy, and she doesn’t really care about people- not like she used to. I don’t even know when it happened, or how, or why. But now she’s leaving, probably forever.”
Kitron’s searching gaze was distorted by a sudden blur of tears. Through the haze, Kelenria heard the Shadow Zafara’s quiet voice say softly, “You are crying.”
Struggling to keep her voice from breaking and swiftly losing the battle, Kelenria choked, “I want my sister back- the way she used to be. I miss her already and she hasn’t even left yet! She wanted to leave today, but we needed time to make the arrangements- but tomorrow she‘s gonna be gone!”
“Is she leaving because of me?” Kitron asked quietly, and Kelenria shook her head.
“No- not really. She’s leaving because of everything. She doesn’t like me, or Jack, or Talrin and Kyle. She doesn’t like you either, but... I don’t think she really likes anybody, except for her snooty friends.” As she uttered this last sentence, Kelenria dissolved into tears, interspersed with frequent hiccupping sobs.
Kitron, whose unnatural strength had by now been reduced enough that the Defenders had felt that it was safe to unchain his arms, placed a tentative hand on Kelenria’s quaking shoulder. The suffering Xweetok shifted closer and Kitron pulled her onto his lap, burying his fingers in her velvet fur and pressing her close while she cried.
“I’m really glad I found you,” Kelenria managed between sobs. “It’s good to have someone to talk to about this.”
“You could talk to Jack,” Kitron reminded her softly, and Kelenria shook her head.
“He wants to be there for me, but he’s busy with Talrin and Kyle and making the arrangements.” Kelenria drew a deep, choking, shuddering breath. “Talrin and Kyle have always had each other- they’re almost never apart. You never hear anyone say ‘Where’s Talrin?’ or ‘Where’s Kyle’; it’s always ‘Where are Talrin and Kyle?’. And it used to always be ‘Where are Texra and Kelenria?’. But now... It’s like half of me’s being taken away.”
As Kelenria trailed off, frustration sought a hold in Kitron’s stoic heart. Problem-solving was supposed to be a forte of his. He was supposed to be able to make any analysis, conquer any difficulty, perform any calculation that he needed to in order to achieve his objective. Instead, now when those skills were needed most for the sake of someone he cared about, he found himself at a loss.
And so he simply held Kelenria, listening to her cry.
* * * * *
“Are you sure you want to leave?” Kelenria asked quietly, staring pleadingly up into her older sister’s eyes.
Texra rolled her eyes in exaggerated disgust. “Totally. You’ve become such a dweeb, and I’m sick of you.”
“Texra,” Jack’s quiet warning drifted back from the desk where he was filling out the paperwork to finalize Texra’s abandonment. A few feet away, Shenya the Faerie Acara stood beside her owner, watching the proceedings with visible delight as she waited for her owner to adopt her future sister.
Texra ignored Jack, fixing Kelenria with a scathing glare. “Why don’t you just go back to the prison and play with your pet mutant? He’s a perfect match for you- you’re both freaks.”
“Texra!” Jack turned away from the desk, and was silent for the brief moment it took him to find Texra’s gaze and fix it with his own. “Tex,” he said quietly, his voice low and hard as he very deliberately used the nickname Texra hated, “it’s bad enough that you’re leaving your sister. I’m letting you do that, because I want you to be happy; but I’m not going to let you tear a chunk out of Kelenria while you’re at it.” Texra opened her mouth to contest this, but something about Jack’s quiet repetition of “Tex,” make her think better of it.
As Jack returned to the desk and filled out the last few spaces, Kelenria met her sister’s gaze quietly and said in a soft whisper, “You say I’ve become a dweeb, but I’m not the one who’s changed. I’m the same Xweetok you always knew. You’re the one who isn’t what you used to be. I miss who you were, but I won’t miss what you’ve become.”
“Whatever.” Texra turned away and folded her arms rather childishly across her chest, ignoring her former family as Jack surrendered the desk to Shenya’s owner, who quickly filled out the forms and beckoned to Texra. With a final bitter glare in Kelenria’s direction, the Striped Zafara stalked away, striding silently out of Kelenria’s life. The door closed behind her and her new family with a quiet thump, a tangible barrier between the young Xweetok and the Zafara who had once been her closest friend.
A long moment of silence lingered in the office, as if the still, sunlit air itself were grieving with the forsaken family. Then Talrin challenged Kyle to a mortal duel with pieces of rolled-up paper from the wastebasket, and the moment was shattered, falling away as if a coating of ice that had held the room and its occupants motionless had been struck with a hammer and was now raining silently down onto the floor. Talrin knocked Kyle onto his back, Kyle bit Talrin on the paw, Jack went to separate them, and Dr. Death and his Uni associate watched the spectacle with their respective frown and amused smile.
But all the while an island of silence lingered, as if the mournful stillness that had briefly enveloped the room had taken refuge around the small, forlorn figure that crouched forgotten in a corner, wrapping itself around her like a cold cloak, falling over her thin, hunched shoulders and clouding her liquid eyes like the descent of lifeless winter over a forsaken land.
Jack, pausing in his struggles to restore two mini mortal enemies to their natural state of lifelong friends, felt his heart sink as his gaze alighted on the huddled figure of Kelenria, wrapped in grieving silence as she stared hollowly at the door through which her former sister had vanished. Committing Kyle and Talrin to the tolerant care of the smiling Uni, Jack slipped over to Kelenria, placing a gentle hand over her slumped shoulders. “Kel,” he said quietly, and the Xweetok lifted her head slowly to stare at him searchingly with her big, desolate eyes. Jack’s heart twisted at the sight of his young pet’s pain, and gathering her into his arms he murmured, “Kel, it’s going to be all right. Someday we’ll find someone to take Texra’s place. I know that nobody can replace her, but...” he offered a gentle smile, “you’re an amazing Neopet, and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding a new best friend.”
Kelenria sniffled quietly. “The kids at school think I’m really weird after all that happened with Kitron. I don’t think they’re going to want to hang out with me. And even if they do, it’ll just be so that I can tell them about Kitron.” A frown crossed her face. “What IS going to happen to Kitron, anyway? I mean, they aren’t just going to turn him out on the streets, are they?”
Before Jack could answer, Kyle’s piercing voice filled the room, sounding like an air raid siren in the enclosed space. “Ja-a-ack? When’s our new brother gonna get here?”
Kelenria’s head snapped around. “What?!” she exclaimed, her eyes round as her mind went barrelling into overdrive. “New brother? Jack, are you adopting-” At that moment the door at the back of the office opened, and Kelenria’s voice rose to a delighted shriek. “Kitron!”
The massive Shadow Zafara looked incongruously shy as he stepped into the room. “Kelenria,” he greeted her. “I...”
“Is Jack going to adopt you?”
Kitron stared at Jack blankly, blinking. “I had been led to believe that it was meant to be a surprise.”
“It is!” Kelenria squealed, flying into Kitron’s arms. “Oh, Kitron, I’m so happy to see you!”
The Zafara looked mildly surprised as the impact which in the past would have had no effect knocked him backward, but he regained his footing and said solemnly, “I am equally pleased that we are reunited. The modifications that were performed on my body have been almost completely undone, so there will now be no reason for us to be separated again.”
“That’s wonderful!” Kelenria cried, squeezing him with all the strength in her body. Kitron squeezed back cautiously, clearly fearful of exerting too much pressure on the diminutive body that was cradled in his still-powerful arms.
Jack grinned at the delighted pair, not even noticing the renewal of the wastepaper war that took the opportunity to ensue behind him. Kelenria looked happier than she had since Texra’s inward deterioration had first become apparent; and as he cradled his new sister Kitron seemed no different from any other Neopet, except for his lingering scar: a scar that no longer mattered, hidden as it was by the bundle of green-and-brown fur which he held in his arms; a scar that had been stripped of its importance by the love of that same little furball.
Unable to contain his grin and not really wanting to, Jack picked up his still-duelling puppies and said, “Ki, Kel, Tornado One and Tornado Two, let’s go home. It’s just about time for lunch- at the table, for a change,” he added, tossing a playful smirk in Kitron and Kelenria’s direction.
There was a moment of cheerful silence as the delighted quintet strode out of the office; then suddenly the neighbourhood reverberated with a high-pitched howl of, “I call Tomato One!”
“No way! I wanna be Number One!”
This time, nobody tried to stop it. Jack simply threw back his head and laughed, while Kelenria, still in the arms of her newly adopted brother, grinned as she met Kitron’s mildly bewildered gaze.
Texra was out of the picture. Let Talrin and Kyle do what they want. From now on Kitron and Kelenria would be something else apart, both of them whole and happy as they had thought they might never be.