Friendship is Cheesy
Ander sat at the kitchen table of his Neohome, watching the clock tick and tapping his feet with impatience. The Elephante wrapped his trunk around the empty glass of orange juice in front of him and banged it against the wooden table rhythmically.
“Where... is... my... grilled... cheese... sandwich?” Ander cried out loud in frustration. His owner, Kangaruth, had disappeared hours ago to buy Ander’s favorite food.
To say that Ander loved grilled cheese sandwiches was an understatement. Ander was infatuated -- obsessed -- with grilled cheese. That crispy bread buttered and baked to a golden sheen... That sweet, salty molten cheese oozing out of every bite... Ander had never tasted a more delicious food. He insisted on grilled cheese for his breakfast, brunch, lunch, four-o-clock snack, dinner, and midnight meal. Kangaruth said it wasn’t healthy, but Ander simply would refused to eat anything else. He had never had to wait this long for Kangaruth to come back from the store.
He wondered what could have happened. Maybe the Pant Devil stole the sandwich out of Kangaruth’s unsuspecting hands. Maybe a rogue Skeith had furtively devoured it while Kangaruth was looking in the opposite direction. Maybe Kangaruth had gotten hopelessly lost...
Finally, there was a knock at the door. Ander jumped out of his seat and ran to open it, ready to berate his owner for her late appearance. When the door swung open, there Kangaruth was, her hair disheveled as usual and a foolish smile on her face. She stepped inside their Neohome. But something was dreadfully amiss: where was the paper bag in her hand, turned almost translucent from that divine cheesy grease? Where was the heavenly aroma of sandwich?
Kangaruth didn’t seem to notice Ander’s distress. She said, “I have a big surprise for you!”
Ander looked his owner up and down hopefully, to see if Kangaruth were perhaps concealing a hundred grilled cheese sandwiches in one of her many overflowing pockets.
“Morinaba!” Kangaruth called. “Come over here!”
Ander turned in confusion to see a tiny red Bori approaching bashfully from the left. She was so small that it was no wonder Ander had missed her. She stepped inside and hid partially behind Kangaruth.
“This is Morinaba,” Kangaruth explained. “Isn’t she adorable? I adopted her from the Pound just an hour ago!”
Morinaba smiled shyly at Ander. “H-hi,” she stammered.
Ander looked at Morinaba and then turned back to Kangaruth. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
Kangaruth said, “Um... sure. Morinaba, I’m sorry, would you mind waiting here for just a second?”
Morinaba looked terrified. Her round eyes shone with the threat of tears.
Kangaruth hesitated and then said, “I’ll be right back, I promise!” Ander stomped down the hallway to the kitchen and Kangaruth followed.
“What’s up?” Kangaruth said brightly, brushing her bangs out of her face and further messing up her hair.
“When you asked me what I wanted you to bring back from Neopia Central, I said 'sandwich,' not 'sister.' Now, I know these words sound kind of similar -- they both start with s, and have two syllables,” Ander began. “However, there is a crucial distinction between these two concepts that seems to have escaped you. A sandwich is edible. Not only is it edible, it is a thing of beauty, an object of unrivaled glory, without which I experience painful longings in my stomach. Conversely, a sister is a totally useless addition to this Neohome. What am I going to do with a sister? Why would you think--”
“Stop being ridiculous,” Kangaruth interrupted. “Mori needs a home, and she’s super cute, and frankly, I’m looking forward to living with someone whose life doesn’t consist of just sitting around and demanding I bring him food.”
“Speaking of food,” said Ander with mounting indignation, “did you bring any lunch at all? Brunch time is over, it’s lunch time now -- there’s absolutely nothing to eat and I’m starving!”
“It’s only eleven!” Kangaruth said. “I thought we could go to the Food Shop and choose something that Mori wants to eat.”
Ander turned to the little Bori in the corner of the hallway and glowered at her ferociously. Mori missed Ander’s glare because she was looking down at the floor.
“Mori,” Kangaruth said, “how does lunch sound to you?”
Mori looked up with disbelief as though Kangaruth had offered her a million Neopoints and a chocolate fudge sundae.
“Let’s go!” said Kangaruth. She walked toward the door and Ander followed his owner grudgingly.
It was an undeniably beautiful day out, Ander thought as the three approached the Food Shop. The sun shone over Neopia Central as golden as grilled cheese. The Food Shop itself had never seemed quite so hamburger-like. Watching the shimmering rainbow stretching into the Rainbow Pool, Ander forgot his bitterness -- and even smiled at Mori when he noticed she was looking at him.
“Okay,” said Kangaruth, “we’re here.” She reached deep into her jeans pocket and pulled out a ball of string, a couple marbles, a carton of mints, and assorted debris until she finally retrieved a drawstring bag. She opened the bag and counted out a thousand Neopoints.
“Mori,” she said, “hold out your hand.”
Mori stretched out her hand and Kangaruth dropped the money inside. The Bori’s eyes widened as though she had never seen so much money before. “Now go choose something you like to eat for us to have for lunch,” Kangaruth instructed.
Mori walked toward the door of the Food Shop and then looked back uncertainly at Kangaruth. Kangaruth nodded at her encouragingly and Mori stepped inside. Kangaruth and Ander sat down on the grass outside the shop.
“Mori’s not so bad, I guess,” Ander said. He picked a blade of grass and twirled it around in his trunk. “But that’s not to say I’m willing to let other Neopets decide my meals in the future. This is a one-time event.”
“You’re going to have to learn to compromise,” Kangaruth said firmly. “It’s good for your character -- and your stomach too. Five grilled cheese sandwiches a day is not healthy. You need to exercise some prudence and self-control.”
Ander frowned. The two sat there for a few minutes in quiet contemplation.
Finally Kangaruth broke the silence. “What could be taking her so long? It’s been ten minutes!”
As if on cue, Mori walked out of the Food Shop carrying two bulging shopping bags. They were almost as big as she was. Ander eyed them hungrily, wondering what could be inside. You could, he reflected, judge a lot about someone from his or her groceries.
“Great! We were just starting to worry about you,” said Kangaruth with a broad smile. She stood up: she was more than twice Mori’s height. Kangaruth took the bags from Mori’s hands and looked inside. Her face fell.
“Oh... you really like -- cabbage, don’t you?” Kangaruth reached inside the bag and pulled out three heads of cabbage.
“What!” Ander exclaimed. The day felt colder all of a sudden. The faint stirrings of friendliness he had felt toward Mori minutes earlier evaporated. “This is insanity! Am I supposed to just sit by while this -- this intruder, this usurper -- dictates that I eat a raw moldering cabbage for lunch? I mean, I expected a least something that resembled a meal. But no, somewhere out there a grilled cheese sandwich is calling my name and I’m supposed to sit idly and chew on this tasteless vegetable. This is, it’s criminal!”
Mori blinked at Ander in frightened confusion.
“Hey,” protested Kangaruth weakly. “The cabbage isn’t moldering. It’s perfectly fresh. And, isn’t cabbage very good for you? It contains lots of... fiber, isn’t that right? Although I have to say Mori, it is a bit of an unorthodox lunch choice. I thought you were going to choose sandwiches, or soup, or at least some salads...”
“What -- what’s a sandwich?” Mori asked.
“What?” said Ander. He looked at his new sister as if seeing her for the first time. “Is that a real question? You don’t know what a sandwich is?”
“Is it like a fork?” asked Mori.
“Wow,” said Kangaruth. “Do you know what soup is?”
“Of course I know what soup is,” said Mori. “It’s cabbage cooked in water.”
“Is cabbage the only food you’ve ever eaten?” asked Ander in bafflement.
“Oh no!” Mori said. “Some days we had parsnips, but only if we were really good. And on our birthdays sometimes we were allowed to have a single bright red radish. I used to look forward to those radishes all year long...” Mori trailed off, gazing into the distance.
Kangaruth and Ander gazed at Mori with compassion.
“This can’t go on,” said Kangaruth. “You two just wait out here for a couple of minutes. I’ll be right back.” Kangaruth shoved the cabbages into Ander’s hands and walked into the Food Shop.
Now Ander and Mori sat on the grass together. Mori sat self-consciously still. Ander sniffed the cabbages in disgust and irritation.
“Here, give those to me,” said Mori. Surprised by Mori’s assertiveness, Ander placed the cabbages inside Mori’s lap. She picked them up and began to juggle them. Ander watched, startled. Mori laughed at his evident surprise.
Mori blushed once more. “I used to get in trouble for playing with my food when I did this,” she said.
“I’ve never seen anyone juggle as well as you,” said Ander. “Can you teach me?”
Mori began to teach Ander how to juggle. Ander was almost getting the hang of it when Kangaruth walked out of the Food Shop carrying a package wrapped in crinkly brown paper and tied with a string. It was so enormous she was having difficulty walking.
“Mori is never going to be able to say she doesn’t know what a sandwich is after today,” Kangaruth declared. She dropped the package on the ground and sat down next to Ander and Mori. “We’re going to have a picnic.” Kangaruth untied the knot of the string and tore open the brown paper to reveal three warm tigersquash sandwiches, three mega pipper sandwiches, three extra meaty sandwiches, three thistleberry sandwiches, three cartons of fizzy apple juice, and three chocolate chip cookies with melting chocolate.
“I bought all the sandwiches they had,” Kangaruth said proudly. “And all the freshly baked bread.”
Ander looked at the food before them. “Twelve sandwiches,” he said. “Weren’t you just giving me a lecture on-- what was it now? Prudence? Self-control?”
Kangaruth looked archly at Ander. “What are you complaining about? And only twelve sandwiches? Can’t you count?”
Kangaruth moved aside some of the crinkly brown paper on the grass and to Ander’s unspeakable delight, there were three ultimate double-decker grilled cheese sandwiches, straight off the Food Shop grill and still sizzling fragrantly.
“You have to try one of those first,” Ander said to Mori.
Mori and Ander each picked up a grilled cheese sandwich and bit in simultaneously.
Mori looked like she was about to cry. “This is the best thing I have ever eaten,” she said.
Ander had to admit she was right. This was the best sandwich that had ever entered his mouth. He and Mori were going to get along well.