I don't like my paint color. I don't like being plain brown with a thick green mane and eyes. My hair is thick and unruly, AKA not something you'd want to deal with at 6 AM when getting up for work.
Yet another morning I pulled myself out of bed. Careful not to wake my sisters and mom, I tiptoed out of my room and into the bathroom. Sticking a brush into my tangled mane, I yanked it into a presentable position and slipped into a plain black shirt and blue jeans.
My day had the same routine- get up early, dress and be ready, leave our small home, and make my way into Neopia Central for my early-morning shift at the Smoothie Store. Why exactly it opened at 7:30 I had no idea, so I usually just sat there and moped while my co-workers tried to get the broken machine working again.
I hated my job.
It also sucked, because on the occasion someone would wander into the store, they were usually painted something beautiful like Faerie or Royal, but I had seen Darigan, Ghost, and Island wander in.
In Neopia today, there wasn't anything special about being a green Xweetok. Sure, Xwees weren't too common, but walking around and being the only basic pet in a sea of expensively painted Neopets wasn't exactly the best feeling.
I locked the door to our house and walked the fifteen minutes to the Smoothie Store. This was my favorite part of the day. No one is out this early besides the occasional runner, and it was nice to have some time to myself. With three sisters and a mom who makes nearly nothing for the family, it's hard to grow up this quickly.
I like remembering before my sisters came into the picture. When it was just me and Mom. We traveled a lot, and she was saving up to paint me some exotic color. That shot down the drain when she decided to go to the Pound, just to see, she said. She adopted my sister Eve, a snarky Ogrin.
I unlocked the Smoothie Store and flicked on the lights, then snatched the note on the smoothie machine.
Anna- This is your manager, Ted. You'll be the only one in today, Robin and Tony couldn't make it.
I internally groaned. My co-workers could be annoying, but they were all I had.
I began wandering around and setting up the shop. I set down tables and chairs, beat the broken smoothie machine with a pole and tried to get it to turn on, and set out the menus.
Flipping the CLOSED sign to OPEN I leaned against the wall and whacked the smoothie machine again.
Somebody opened the door. My head snapped up to see a red Lupe with a tool box and a blue flannel button up shirt.
"Hey," he said. "I'm the guy whose going to fix the smoothie machine."
"Oh, okay. My manager didn't mention it." I opened up the door to let him behind the bar. He set down his box and turned the machine around.
"I'm Hayden, by the way," he told me.
"Anna," I replied and shook his extended paw. I sat on the counter as he opened up the back of the machine and peered inside.
"So, Anna, how long have you worked here?"
I gulped. "Nearly two years. It's for my family."
He nodded and motioned for me to continue.
"I have three sisters and my mom is a writer trying to be published. She doesn't make much, so I help out," I finished.
"I'm from Brightvale," he said. "I wanted to be on the guard, but came here for work instead. Dreams, huh? You've ever had one?"
I nodded. "Yeah. It's stupid, though."
He fiddled with some of the screws on the smoothie machine and snatched something from his tool box. "I'm sure it isn't," he prompted.
"You would think so if you heard it."
He laughed and didn't reply.
I shrugged myself off the counter. "Hey, do you want anything to eat or drink?"
He waved me off. "No thanks, but thanks."
I nodded and resumed my position on the counter. Swinging my feet back and forth, I laced my paws together and frowned at the plain brown color.
I wanted to be an Eventide Xweetok. I'd never told anyone, and I couldn't save up since all my money went to my family.
I don't know how long we sat there, Hayden and I. When he was about to finish up, I asked him a question.
"Hayden, why didn't you chase your dream?"
He sighed. "My family needed me. Call me selfish, but once I'm done with this job, I'm going back to Brightvale to be on the guard."
"That's really great. I think you should."
Hayden cleared his throat. "Hey, Anna? What's your dream?"
I stopped. "I want to be painted."
"I don't know. Anything. I don't want to be plain green and average anymore. I want to be special."
Hayden looked me dead in the eye. "Anna. Being green never stopped anyone from being special. And you are special. You just don't realize it. How old are you?"
"I'm nineteen," I whispered.
"You should be out of the house and doing what you want. You shouldn't worry about a paint color. You should go live on Mystery Island or Maraqua or somewhere abroad and live out your life and not be stuck where you grew up in. You can be special if you make enough experiences to make your life worth writing about. That story would be published. Because anyone who can go from a dead end job to having their life read aloud to kids at bedtime is special. You're special, Anna. You just don't realize it. A paint color doesn't define worth. Personality does."
Hayden stared at me, his wide eyes boring into mine. "You can be special without being Faerie or Royalgirl."
He began packing up. I stayed in the same position, my head tipped. As he was about to leave, I called out to him.
"Hayden? Wait!" I ran up to the doorway. "I hope you follow your dream and go on the Brightvale Guard and live a life worth writing about. I hope you can be special, Hayden."
He smiled widely, the only smile I had seen out of him all day. "Thanks, Anna."
I never saw him again.
When I walked home, I stepped in to an insanely messy home. My sisters had played dress-up with the pointless stuff my mother had insisted on purchasing to 'make them happy', when in reality it just zapped my paycheck and they used them once a year.
I cleaned up the house and thought about my day at work. Hayden's words kept sprinting through my head- go to Mystery Island and be special without being painted.
But isn't everyone special painted?
I shook the thought out of my head. I wandered to my mother's room and entered. She was hurriedly writing on her worn notebook.
She looked up. "Anna."
No smile. No hug.
I gave an uneasy smile. "I want to talk to you about something."
She raised her eyebrows.
I stuttered briefly. "I want to move out."
Hey eyebrows went up even higher, then lowered. "That's funny, Anna. But I don't have time for joking around."
I looked down at my feet. "No, Mom. I'm serious."
She turned back around from her work. "Anna, I don't think you understand-"
"No! Mom! I'm nineteen years old. I can make decisions for myself. And I'm moving out. You should be the one providing for this family, not a teenager! I'm moving out, and you better be fine with it because it's happening. I'm sorry, but I don't want to be stuck in this job and life anymore. I want to travel and live a life worth writing about."
She looked shellshocked. "Okay."
I turned around and walked out the door.
It surprised me that four months later my room was completely cleaned out. None of my possessions were left in the house. I stared at my sisters and mother as we prepared to part ways.
"So, this is it, I guess." I shoved my hands it my pockets and stared at the four of them. My sisters were a little sad but more excited for my room to be used for their loads of stuff. My mother had begun a suitable job again. I had quit mine, and begun applying for new ones in Mystery Island.
"This is it," my mother agreed. We stared at each other for a little longer before my mother rushed forward and hugged me tightly.
I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her even tighter.
I said goodbye to my sisters and looked at the backpack and two suitcases I was bringing with me. Throwing them in the back of the Eyrie Taxi I smiled at my family.
"I'll write you!" I yelled as the Eyrie rose into the sky. "I'll miss you all!"
They said something back, but it was near impossible to make out.
Then I turned around, facing the blinding sun. Leaving felt good.
Leaving felt special.