Stand By Me
Inspired by and dedicated to a good friend of mine; don't ever let the opinions of others change who you are.
Sylvia sighed tiredly as she leaned against the plaster wall of the National Neopian Bank. Her brother Cev was withdrawing neopoints so they could purchase more gifts, and it was finally their turn at the teller.
The lines were ridiculously long; they'd been waiting nearly fifteen minutes just for one small transaction. She raised an eyebrow at the neopets waiting in line behind her and Cev as they glared bitterly at her and her brother as the minutes passed.
"I just need 20,000 more neopoints, come on!" the green Ogrin argued with the teller.
The Skeith behind the counter was looking extremely agitated.
"You've made enough withdrawals today," he growled. "I'm sure you have plenty of neopoints on hand. In case you haven't noticed, there are many other pets who would like to make a transaction."
Cev closed his eyes in frustration and ran his fingers through his mane, a sign that he was losing his patience.
"I promise this will be the last time I come here today. I really just need a few more neopoints to finish buying some gifts!" Cev said.
At this, several customers behind the two pets snapped at him to get out of line.
The bank teller growled, but finally obliged, if for no reason other than to keep the line moving. Cev let out a sigh of relief, and, taking the bag of neopoints, quickly grabbed his sister's arm and they briskly exited the Bank.
"I can't believe how long that line was," Sylvia stated as they made their way to the marketplace.
Cev scoffed at her remark.
"Please; it's always like this during the Month of Celebrating. Everybody needs to rush at the same time to buy presents for their family and friends for the Day of Giving. It's a great holiday, but the rush is awful," he replied.
Sylvia cocked her head at his bitterness towards the Day of Giving. Christmastime was the Kacheek's favorite time of year, how could anyone not adore the season? Painted Christmas herself, she absolutely adored every aspect of the Christmas season. Sure, the lines were long, but that was all part of the Christmas shopping experience!
"I don't think it's bad! I like shopping during the holidays. The stores are always decorated beautifully, there are pets that hand out free cookies and candy canes, it smells like pine wherever you go, and everyone around is so cheerful and kind!" the 11-year-old exclaimed.
Cev gave his sister an odd look.
"What land are you living in, Happy Valley? Neopia Central is the worst place to be for the Month of Celebrating, for sure. I, for one, have not come across a single cheerful, kind Neopian since this stressful month began." Cev replied, rolling his eyes at his sister's ignorance.
At this, Sylvia's eyes widened. She never understood why her older brother was so stingy about the most wonderful holiday of the year, and his words never failed to shock her. It was only her second year of shopping for her own gifts for her family, but she hadn't remembered Neopians being rude the previous year.
The Kacheek followed her older brother into a large, heavily decorated shop that smelled of spice and gingerbread. The atmosphere immediately brightened her mood, and she ignored her grumpy brother's stinginess as she looked at all the Christmas merchandise.
Sylvia had bought a gift for almost everyone in her family except her owner, and she knew exactly why Cev had come in here. Their owner loved Christmas almost as much has Sylvia did, and Cev usually got her something Christmassy as a gift- often an ornament or other decoration for her bedroom. Several parts of their neohome stayed decorated year-round.
Sylvia was focused on a cute little snow globe that featured an abominable snowball surrounded by tiny pine trees. She shook it, watching the fake glittery snowflakes inside swirl around the tiny petpet replica.
She smiled and lifted it up to look at it more closely. It was a beautiful decoration, and Sylvia was sure her owner would absolutely love it. The base was colored a light pastel blue, with glistening white snowflakes carved onto the side, along with swirling patterns that were meant to represent wind. Written on the front was the words "Happy Day of Giving" in glittering white paint.
Content that this would be the perfect gift, Sylvia turned to find Cev. Unfortunately she hadn't been paying attention, and she bumped into another customer as she walked into the aisle.
She let out an "oomph" as she was knocked onto her back, and the snow globe slipped from her paws and onto the marble floor, where it shattered.
"Oh my goodness, I am so sorry, I-" Before Sylvia could finished her sentence, she was rudely cut off.
"Ugh, watch where you're going, you klutz! You made such a mess, nice going," a haughty voice snapped irritably.
Sylvia looked up in shock at the cloud Peophin who'd yelled at her.
"I- I said I was sorry..." Sylvia stammered.
The Peophin just whipped her head away and continued on, ignoring the young Kacheek on the floor.
Sylvia's shoulders slumped. Why had that girl been so rude to her? She was the one who had knocked Sylvia over, after all. She knew sometimes people could be unreasonably rude for no reason, but it was the Month of Celebrating! It just didn't seem right to her.
Sylvia stood up and tried to wipe the liquid from the shattered snow globe off her coat and fur, slightly upset she was wet. Before she could find an employee to clean the mess, one strode over to her and glared down at her.
"Were you planning to actually tell someone about this mess before a customer slipped? You know, if somebody hurt themselves this shop would be shut down!" the Krawk snapped.
Sylvia jumped at the accusation, looking up at the shopkeeper.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I was going to, but I got my fur wet and I was just-" She was cut off again.
"Oh, your perfect little painted fur got a little wet, how awful!" he said sarcastically. His eyes were filled with contempt.
"You painted ones are all the same. Just get away from me, you useless little Kacheek. I have a mess to clean up," he muttered, shoving her aside.
Sylvia's eyes focused for a moment on the Krawk's basic yellow coloring. She'd hardly noticed his paint job, or lack thereof. She opened her mouth to argue for his harsh judgment of her, but decided better of it and called out a half-hearted "Merry Christmas!" before scampering away.
Even as she briskly walked away from the disgruntled shopkeeper, she could hear him snarl unpleasantly at the words, and she shrank back.
'Cev was right,' she thought. 'Some Neopians can be extremely impolite and unkind even during the Christmas season.'
She only wondered why.
It didn't make sense to her. Why were Neopians so cold and unfriendly during the holiday season? It made Sylvia constantly cheerful and optimistic, why not everybody else? If anything, it only made them more irritable and unfriendly.
In the stories her owner always read her when she was little, Christmastime was a magical season of kindness and prosperity. Neopians were generous and happy all the time and nobody was ever left out.
In the real world, this was far from the truth. She had never quite thought about it, but unless it was the Day of Giving itself, it was barely acknowledged as a time to be kind and generous until the day before, at least. It would be another two weeks until then.
Looking around, Sylvia could see the many customers in the crowded shop, and the expressions on many of their faces.
They were anything but cheerful.
Most pets appeared impatient, tired, or annoyed, unless they were children. And even then, Sylvia spotted more than one young child crying and whining for their owners to buy them something, and she was stung at the thought. Where was the joy?
Sylvia spotted Cev near a display of holiday scented candles, and she approached him with a saddened expression on her face.
The Ogrin didn't seem to notice, and Sylvia finally spoke to him.
"Cev, why do you think people aren't happy and kind in the Month of Celebrating anymore? You know, like they are in stories?" Sylvia asked.
Cev hardly spared his sister a glance.
"Sylvia, it's not like it was ever like that in the first place. That's why they're called stories; they aren't realistic. In reality, the Day of Giving is a nice holiday where Neopians express kindness and gratitude to their friends and families, and that's pretty much it. All the hype about 'Christmas miracles' and 'endless joy and cheer for all' just aren't realistic. Sorry," he explained, but it was half-hearted, like it was something she should have already known.
"Oh," Sylvia replied.
Her spirits were crushed even more.
The Christmas Kacheek was lost in thought for a while as her brother decided on a cinnamon scented candle for their owner, and they made their way to the checkout. Cev wasn't paying his sister much attention, though he noted she was being unusually quiet for once, until she told him that she wanted to wait outside since she had nothing to buy. Cev nodded, and Sylvia exited the shop and sat on a bench outside.
She watched the pets and owners as they all shuffled back and forth from one shop to another. They all looked stressed, and Sylvia suddenly felt as though something were missing.
"There are decorations, and snow, and shopping, for sure... but this place needs a little something extra to bring back the joy," Sylvia mused, thinking deeply.
Surely there was a way to bring the holiday spirit back into the souls of these Neopians; all those stories couldn't have been completely fictional, right?
Sylvia smiled, knowing exactly what would bring the Christmas spirit back to this city. The Christmas Kacheek stood up on the bench, took a deep breath, and sang.
She projected her voice as best she could; she sang an old fashioned Day of Giving song, hoping that maybe others would join in. Most of her friends always told her she had a nice voice, and Sylvia suddenly hoped it was good enough for all these Neopians to appreciate as well. She sang loudly and clearly, a jolly smile on her chestnut face.
"Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way!
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh!
Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells..."
Somehow, she just wasn't getting the reaction she'd hoped for.
Instead of smiles, she received stares. Nobody stopped to listen, let alone join in. They looked at her as though she were crazy. Maybe she was.
Inside the shop, Cev heard his sister's voice travelling through the glass doors that led to the marketplace.
Puzzled, he collected his things and wandered outside. He nearly dropped his shopping bags at the sight of his younger sister standing on a wooden bench, singing Christmas songs to an oblivious crowd.
"Sylvia, what in Neopia are you doing?" he asked, bringing his palm to his forehead.
She didn't answer right away; instead she worked her response into her singing.
"I'm singing, dear brother of mine, to this crowd of Neopians,
That need the magic of song to lift their moods into the spirit of Christmas!"
Cev blushed in embarrassment as a small group of faces glanced at him and snickered.
"Okay, Sylvia, let's go now. It's obviously not working," he said.
The Kacheek ignored him, though, and continued singing, moving onto another traditional song in hopes of getting the passers-by to join in.
Her attempts were in vain, and accomplished nothing but drawing the critical eyes of more Neopians.
The stares were beginning to get to him, so instead of standing next to her awkwardly, Cev muttered that he'd be waiting for her at home when she was done embarrassing herself, and turned to walk away.
As he did, he heard an obnoxious, taunting voice yell out from behind him.
"Oh, dear Fyora, make it STOP! My ears are bleeding!"
Cev turned to see a group of older neopets laughing and pointing at the lone singing Kacheek. The one who'd yelled out- a scrawny blue Hissi- high-fived the Lenny beside him. Several other pets joined in the snickering as they walked by, and the Hissi and his group of friends continued to mock Cev's sister as they passed.
He glanced at Sylvia, who had not once faltered in her singing, but her cheeks had flushed bright red, and he could see in her eyes she was rapidly losing confidence.
Cev suddenly felt pity for his sister. He knew how much she loved the Day of Giving, and she was still young enough to believe that the season held some magical essence. She didn't really know better; she was rather naïve, and Cev knew that this experience was only going to leave her crushed.
He didn't want his little sister to lose her faith in her favorite holiday, but how could he help? Nobody was going to join her in song, and nobody cared besides her.
Cev shook his head at the idea that suddenly popped into his head. He couldn't leave his sister here to sing alone to a cold, uncompassionate crowd of Neopians. He had to do something, and there was only one thing he could do.
Though it was against his pragmatic nature, Cev figured that if there were perhaps more neopets singing along, then the strangers in the crowd would be more inclined to join in, or maybe appreciate the attempt at making Neopia Central's marketplace more festive.
Or, if nothing else, at least Sylvia wouldn't be singing alone.
The logical side of his mind told him to turn and walk away, leaving Sylvia to realize that things like this just didn't happen in life, but he ignored it and stepped up onto the bench.
Sylvia glanced at him quickly, and he could see the light in her eyes return as the teenage Ogrin began to sing with her.
"Oh, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas..."
Cev felt extremely self-conscious as their song continued to draw little attention, other than the odd looks and stares. He knew he wasn't the best singer either, but he only hoped Sylvia's rhythmic voice would complement his at least a little. He kept his eyes open in case he spotted somebody he knew, but after a while he stopped caring.
His insecurity slowly died away as they moved on to a different song. Nobody joined in, no one even stopped to listen. But somehow, Cev didn't care. He was standing by his sister, supporting her. Even if nobody appreciated their attempt at bringing joy to the hustle and bustle marketplace- and no one really did, it appeared- at least neither of them was alone, and that's all that mattered to the siblings.
They sang a few more songs until their throats were dry, and the wind picked up as the sun lowered in the sky, making the air colder. Finally, as the large number of Neopians walking back and forth dwindled, the two neopets stopped singing and hopped off the bench.
"Thank you, Cev," Sylvia whispered hoarsely.
The Ogrin smiled.
No, their song had not brought any miracles to the marketplace that day, but it did bring two siblings closer. It instilled a deeper understanding between them that had made the loss of their voice worth the hassle, even though it didn't cause the hearts of a crowd of irritable neopets to fill with happiness and prosperity.
Sylvia was fully aware that Christmas may not have been magical or the perfect time of the year, but she wasn't going to stop loving it. She still believed that enough kindness and compassion could bring good things, and she had been right. She had managed to melt the stiff heart of her teenage brother, and that, she felt, was an accomplishment.
"Let's go get some hot chocolate," Cev suggested as they collected their bags.
Sylvia only smiled and nodded in agreement, since her voice was completely worn out.