Show, Don't Tell
It had been a great day and Neevit didn’t think anything could spoil it. Lots of sunshine, fresh air, and best of all, chases galore! The cheery blue Xweetok loved the thrill of it. He and the three other neopets in his family had had a great time exploring the tree line behind their cozy neohome on Mystery Island; and though Randy (their owner) had been away for the day, it was all right to let them run free.
Neevit was the oldest pet in the household and had a remarkable mix of responsibility and energy, acting more like a petpet herder than anything else as he made sure that Brombulbie, Thwiggin, and Rhooni didn’t get into too much trouble. Randy had always looked to him when he needed help with something important, and Neevit had recently begun to act almost as a second father to his three brothers. Theirs was a happy home whose tranquility was broken only by the occasional sibling argument over a toy or the last bite of a sausage omelet. With plenty of neopoints in the bank and lots of food on the table, Randy always made sure that his beloved pets had all they needed and plenty of nice things to play with.
And now at the end of another great day, Randy had come back from his trip and greeted everyone with his usual smile and hugs all around. Dinner followed as usual, and Neevit had grinned at his place at the kitchen table and nudged Brombulbie the yellow Ogrin as Thwiggin had gushed about the Caesar Salad had picked up at the market place (the innocent little Kacheek always had a way of making dinner into a party). Meanwhile the petpets begged for table scraps; Rhooni, the blue Ruki, was giving his warf “Tumbles” an extra scratch behind the ear (he suspected the little guy had a mootix making a home in his fur).
At last, after all the games had been played, all the stories of the day were told, all the luxuriant grooming was done, and the last book had been read (Neevit really loved books), Randy tucked them into their soft beds and gave them all a final pat and wishes for sweet dreams. One by one, with smiles on each face, the Neopets drifted into a blissful slumber filled with dreams almost as fun as the real events of the day.
All slept. All except Neevit. He could not sleep, because there had been something behind the usual happiness today. Something he couldn’t see but knew was there. Something was wrong, but what?
The sudden bump from upstairs made him sit bolt upright in bed. Rhooni, with whom he shared the double bed, stirred a bit but didn’t wake. But Poofi, Neevit’s magaral, did shake a little in his petpet bed and looked up at him with curious eyes. Neevit put a paw to his lips. “Sshh,” he whispered. “Go back to sleep, little buddy.”
After Poofi closed his eyes again, Neevit got up and padded down the hall to the common room of the neohome with its antique sofa and cozy fireplace. As he walked, he couldn’t help but notice the time: two-thirty in the morning! It sure was late.
A feeling of quiet dread washed over him and he felt the thick hair of his tail start to bristle. He hoped that dratted Pant Devil wasn’t back for more; that nasty pest had stolen his favorite brush the last time. Xweetoks did, after all, need their grooming!
Sure enough, a light was shining from upstairs, cascading down the wooden stairs and making alternating patterns of light and shadow that flickered eerily, making the stairway look like sharp teeth. He gulped as he tiptoed up the stairs.
There was a light coming from under the door of Randy’s study. But there was no sound. Maybe the robber (or whoever it was) had gone? Neevit suddenly wished he had a piece of his Battledome gear with him.
Turning the knob on the door ever so gently, he poked his nose across the threshold and sniffed. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, so he dared to peek around the door with one eye.
No robber. But Randy was there. He sat at his desk, an open book before him, the small desk lamp making the yellow light that streamed from under the door. Neevit was relieved. His owner was just up late, that was all. He heaved a silent sigh and was about to leave when he heard the sob.
He looked back and saw that Randy had placed his head in his hands. Thin streams of tears trickled between his fingers and dripped down onto the pages of the book.
Neevit was stunned. Randy was always so happy, so reliable and strong. Everyone else in the house always expected him to take care of everything. As long as he was around, everything was fine. But this? This was the first time Neevit had ever seen his owner so vulnerable.
For a moment, the Xweetok was confused and unsure what to do. He stood, staring, as each sob sounded softly in the quiet room. But at last, he decided he had to do something. Randy counted on him to be responsible while he was away. Maybe it was time to do the same thing while he was still here.
Neevit quietly walked over to Randy’s chair and tapped him on the leg with one tentative paw. Immediately Randy’s head came up and Neevit saw, to his distress, that his owner’s eyes were red from crying. But then the smile came as it had come so many times before and the Xweetok felt a little better.
“Oh. Hi Neevit,” Randy said. “Can’t sleep?”
Neevit swallowed, but he nodded. “I heard you moving around and... I was wondering if you were okay.”
Randy put a hand down to pet Neevit affectionately. “Sure. If you’re here, I’m okay.”
“But... you were crying,” Neevit said, his voice wavering a little.
Randy laughed quietly. “You weren’t supposed to see that. Sorry.”
“Nothing. Well, almost nothing. I...”
Neevit saw his owner’s eyes starting to well up with tears as Randy’s voice cracked a little. Neevit was astonished, but he said, “Please tell me, Randy. Maybe I can help.”
“You are helping,” Randy replied, wiping his eyes with tissue and patting him. “You took good care of your brothers today. I was very proud of you.”
Normally Neevit took great pleasure at his owner’s praise, but it was different this time. “That’s not what I meant,” he said. “I mean, I can help you with whatever’s making you sad. Please tell me what’s wrong.”
Randy leaned one arm on the desk and pushed the book away. “Oh, I was just thinking about something that’s been happening. I work hard to make sure you and Brombulbie, Thwiggin and Rhooni get everything you need. You guys come to me when you need anything, and I love helping you out. Everything from giving you baths to listening to what worries you to hugging you when you’re sad or sick. I guess...”
Neevit waited for him to go on.
“This is going to sound awfully selfish. I make sure you can all lean on me when you need to. I guess that I just started to wonder recently who I can lean on when I’m the one that’s tired. You could say that it’s lonely at the top. It just got to me all at once, I suppose.”
All at once Neevit, in true Xweetok fashion, wanted to run his mouth at lightning speed and talk about all the things he could do to help. After all, that’s how he spent his time when Randy was away: keeping everything in order, making sure that no one got into trouble, and even running errands.
He wanted to say, “Is that all?”
He wanted to say, “But I can help. Let’s make a plan. Let’s take a vacation. Let’s...”
Thank goodness he didn’t say anything. He stopped himself, knowing that anything he said right now would be the wrong thing. Sure, he could help out, but it wasn’t great deeds or wise words that Randy needed right now. Muscles, energy and book smarts weren’t very good at drying tears.
Neevit knew what his owner needed: something every pet was good at.
With one agile leap, Neevit leaped into Randy’s lap, curled into a ball and nuzzled against his owner’s hand. No words. Just a lot of love.
Randy hugged Neevit to him and the Xweetok felt his fur get a little wet as the tears came again and made his side slightly damp. Neevit cried a little himself as he shared his owner’s sadness for a while. For a long time they stayed like that, neither saying a word.
“I love you, Neevit,” Randy said at last. “I love all you guys.”
Later as Neevit was once again tucked into his bed beside his brother, he felt the kind hand of his owner on his head one last time before his eyes closed with sleep.