July's new library was, without a doubt, awesome. Rows of elegant wooden bookshelves lined the walls, each filled with the books her owner Candace had collected over the years, many of which July had read and some of which she had not. A couple of blue velvet chairs July had helped pick out were by the windows, through which sunlight streamed in, filling the whole room with a warm yellow glow.
July's owner really appreciated the things that made her an individual; that was one of the things that made her so great. She had only brought her to the battledome once, agreeing that if July didn't like it she wouldn't have to go to Training School. Anytime they traveled outside of Altador, Candace was sure to stop at the local bookshop to find something new for the yellow Xweetok. And now, she even had her own library.
Today Candace had gone into Neopia Central to get some goods to restock their shop with. July had preferred to stay home in her new library, having been to Neopia Central plenty of times. However, as the evening wore on, she began to worry. The sun was setting and Candace still wasn't home. Eventually July couldn't even focus on her book, Adventure Bound Xweetok, a story about a much braver Xweetok than herself. She was about to check her neomail to see if Candace had sent word when she heard her owner come through the door.
"Candace, you're home! Did you--" July cut herself off when she saw what Candace was holding. Not a big bundle of goods for selling, but a little bundle of something wrapped in a blanket. "What's that?"
Candace wordlessly hurried over to the table and set the bundle down gingerly, pulling back the blanket to reveal a little ball of yellow fur. With some gentle prodding, it came to, revealing itself to be a little baby Gelert.
Candace smiled with relief when he opened his eyes and blinked at her a few times. "I'm calling him Tommy."
"Ugga! Ugga!" Tommy said, squirming in his blanket.
"What's wrong with him?"
"He seems to have a severe case of Ugga-Ugga," Candace said sadly. "I can only assume that's why he was abandoned. I found him wandering around near the pharmacy rubbing his sore throat."
"They couldn't do anything for him?" said July.
"Well, I wanted to help," said Candace, biting her lip. "I couldn't afford a cure, though. That's why I plan to head to Faerieland tomorrow to take him to the Healing Springs. There's no telling how long that could take, days maybe. That's why I wanted to come home first and let you know. You'll be fine on your own a couple of days, right? I could check you in at the Neolodge, but that's another cost, and we just spent all our savings on that library, plus then--"
"Candace, calm down. I can watch the house for a few days. I'll even run the shop."
"Oh, thank you," said Candace, visibly relieved. "I'm going to to put Tommy here to bed on the sofa, maybe try and get him to eat some soup. You can get dinner yourself, right?"
Candace didn't wait for an answer, already returning her attention back to the baby Gelert.
Candace returned a full week later looking more frazzled than July had ever seen her. She was still carrying Tommy, and had even gotten him a little blue collar.
"About time! What happened? And--why do you still have him? I mean, now that he's cured, surely plenty of people want to adopt him, right?" said July. Even she had to admit the little Gelert was cute; she had no concerns about him finding a home.
"Well... he's not exactly cured," said Candace.
"Ugga!" said Tommy to confirm. He jumped out of Candace's arms and came over to July, who backed away a few feet, not wanting to catch the disease. "Ugga?"
"Don't worry; it's not contagious," said Candace. "He probably got it from eating a rotten omelette, poor thing."
"Why isn't he cured? Are the springs not working?"
"Well, sometimes it takes several tries, and there are many sick Neopians that need to use it. I waited in line every day, but it just wasn't working. I simply couldn't afford to stay in Faerieland any longer."
"So what are we going to do about him?" July refrained from pointing out that this was not technically their problem. If Candace just took him to the pound, surely someone would eventually come along and cure him as well as adopt him.
"For now, we'll just take care of him until I have enough money for some Sporkle Syrup. Then we'll find a nice new owner for him, isn't that right, Tommy?"
Tommy frowned and stood closer to Candace. "Ugga."
The next week passed even slower than the last. A corner of the living room was converted to a temporary room for Tommy, with a sofa for a bed and some of July's old plushies for toys. July had to take care of him when her owner was out. This mainly involved bringing him mugs of tea, which, although they didn't prevent him from making ugga noises, did seem to ease the pain. Certainly his face brightened every time he saw July making a new pot of it. Candace, meanwhile, spent her days running her shop, taking very little time off, and her evenings tending to Tommy. One night she even came home with a new Gallion Colouring Book and spent the next hour getting way too excited about how great Tommy was at staying inside the lines.
"I thought we were supposed to be saving our money," July pointed out.
"Oh, I got it for free at Petpet Park," said Candace brightly. "It's not really worth anything."
July decided not to remind her that it was their game night. Instead she retreated to her room, closing the door behind her. Once she was gone Tommy looked up from the table, a red crayon still clasped between his teeth. "Ugga?"
The next evening, about an hour after dinner, Candace called July into the dining room. "Bring Tommy with you!" she added.
July sighed and put down her book. She was never going to finish at this rate. Every time she tried to read for the past few days, Tommy had come up to her and started making incomprehensible noises to distract her. Only when Candace was home and he had someone else to annoy could she focus on her reading. Except now, when Candace probably just wanted her to make him some more tea or something.
"Come on," she said, glancing at the Gelert as she passed through the living room. "Candace wants us."
Tommy hopped to his feet and followed at July's heels. "Ugga ugga!" he said.
"Ugga indeed," said July.
To her surprised, Candace was waiting with a stack of board games and July's Altador Cup Chess Set. It was one of her prized possessions, and she was pretty proud of how good she'd gotten at it. "I guess we didn't have time last night, so I thought we could have our game night tonight!" she said. "It's a tradition we have every week," she explained to Tommy.
Tommy nodded seriously and hopped onto the chair next to July. He pointed to the Kiko Board Game.
"Good choice!" said Candace, beginning to set up the game already.
"Oh come on! That one's so boring."
"Just one or two games," said Candace.
One or two games quickly became three, then four. Tommy delighted in winning three out of four of the games.
"Alright, July, we can play chess now if you want. I don't think Tommy's ever played, so you'll have to explain it."
"It's a two person game," July pointed out.
"Good point. Well, I need to get started on the dishes anyway, but you two have fun."
"Actually... I'm not feeling well. I think I'll just turn in early." She swept from the room before Candace could protest.
Tommy pointed to the chess set. "Ugga?"
"Maybe another time, Tommy," said Candace with a sigh.
July took to retreating to her room more and more often. As much as she loved her library, Tommy often found her there and started poking around her books. The door to her room locked, so at least she could keep him out. She barely spoke to Candace, only bothering to inquire every few days how much money they had saved. Candace's answer was always the same: "Not quite enough yet, but we're getting there! Isn't that great, Tommy?"
Before she knew it it had been another week. Their once-perfect neohome seemed to have been taken over by the baby Gelert. All of July's old toys had been dragged out of the attic and given to Tommy by then, and they were now scattered about the floor. Tommy's drawings hung on the wall next to July's Booktastic Book Award.
Worst of all, she overheard Candace talking to one of her friends one day, about how proud she was of her "pets". That was pets, plural. July had always been her only pet! "You're all I need," Candace would always say. Now, that no longer seemed true.
That evening July retreated to her room quickly after dinner. "Where are you going?" Candace asked. "It's game night!"
"I... uhh..." July struggled to come up with an excuse. She could only say she wasn't feeling well so many times before Candace dragged her to the doctor.
"Tommy, how's your throat? Need some more tea?"
Tommy shook his head. "Ugga." He picked up July's chess set and heaved it to the middle of the table. "Ugga!"
"Hey! Get your paws off that!"
"July!" Candace scolded. "He just wants to play with it. I explained some of the rules to him yesterday, and I think he really wants to play it with you."
"He won't understand it," July insisted, snatching the chess set away from him. "He's too little."
Candace frowned. "Fine, we'll just find something we can all play, then."
"Well, I am NOT playing that stupid Kiko game again."
"Ugga..." said Tommy.
"Well, with that attitude you won't be playing any games. You can go do the dishes, and Tommy and I will play."
Typical! thought July as she headed to the kitchen. Candace gave all his attention to Tommy, while July had to scrub plates. A little voice in the back of her head pointed out that she'd been given the option of playing a game, but for the time being she ignored it, just like she ignored Candace's laughter and Tommy's excited "Ugga!" from the other room.
The next morning Tommy knocked on Candace's door at what felt like the crack of dawn. "What do you want?" she groaned.
He was holding her chess set in his paws, which had been left out from the night before.
"I already said I don't want to play with you!" she said. "Go away!"
She shut the door in his face before he could even get out a strained "Ugga."
That morning turned out to be pretty relaxing, that incident aside. Tommy didn't bug her for the rest of the day, and July stayed curled up in bed reading until her growling stomach prompted her to get up and wander into the kitchen. She walked through the whole house before realizing something was wrong. She spun around and instantly saw what it was. All of Tommy's toys--well, July's toys technically--were gone. The area where he'd been sleeping had been straightened up, too.
"Tommy?" she said nervously. "Did you do some cleaning?"
There was no reply. She surveyed the house and found a box with all the toys next to the steps to the attic, as well as her chess set. That was when she realized Tommy had only been trying to return it to her earlier.
But the baby Gelert himself was nowhere to be seen. July searched the house frantically now, and outside in the backyard, but he was gone. He had left behind everything Candace gave him, too, except the collar. Even the little blue blanket he carried all the time was folded and placed on the couch.
"Tommy!" she called. "This isn't funny anymore! Please come out! I'll even play with you!"
Never had she thought she'd long to hear one of his pitiful Ugga noises, but the house was silent. Knowing she could waste no time, the Xweetok dashed out of the house and started running down the streets calling out his name. She zipped about at random, looking for any sign of him.
Occasionally she would stop a random passerby. "Hello, have you seen a little baby Gelert around?" she asked a green Buzz. He only shrugged.
"Excuse me, have you seen a baby Gelert? He wears a blue collar," she asked a yellow Kau.
"Sorry, haven't seen him."
The streets began to get more crowded now as the day wore on. July stopped more and more pets at random, but hardly listened to their responses before moving on to the next person, only long enough to know no one had seen him.
It was getting late in the afternoon, and July was getting desperate. She knew she should return home before Candace so her owner wouldn't worry, but she kept searching at random anyway. Where would an runaway pet in Altador go? She couldn't stand to think of him on his own. His throat must be so sore by now! He hadn't eaten lunch, and come to think of it he might not have gotten breakfast either. It was almost dinner now and he must be getting hungry. He was so small, too; who knew how he would be handling these crowds? On top of that, he couldn't communicate with anyone because of his sickness.
"Tommy, where are you?" she shouted, her voice now strained from calling out so much. She turned down another street of shops.
"Err--are you alright, miss?" asked a random Kacheek, seeing her distressed state. "Are you lost or something?"
"No, I'm just looking for someone who is," said July sadly. "I don't suppose you've seen him, though. No one has."
"Who is he?" asked the Kacheek.
"He's..." July paused. "My brother."
The Kacheek nodded. "Well, what's he look like?"
"He's a baby Gelert," she said. "He's got brown eyes and a blue collar and..."
"Oh! I saw a baby Gelert just a minute ago in that medicine shop. I didn't think he was lost, thought. He was with his owner."
"What? Medicine... Oh, thank you!" said July, dashing off before the Kacheek could get out another word. She reached the steps of the medicine shop just as Candace and Tommy were leaving.
"...and my throat doesn't hurt now and I can talk and everything!" Tommy was saying. "I am never saying Ugga again! Except just now! Oh my word, I have so much to tell you. And thank you for--July?"
"You're okay!" July exclaimed, throwing her arms around her baby brother. He seemed taken aback, but returned the hug.
"What's gotten into you?" said Candace.
"Tommy... everything was packed up... and he was just gone and I thought..."
"Did you not read the note on the fridge?" said Candace.
"I told you we should have just told her where we were going!" said Tommy. "Well, I tried to tell you anyway."
"Note... fridge... that's the one place I didn't look," said July.
"Well, if you had, you would have found a note," said Candace, chuckling. "One that said I thought we might make enough at the shop today to get the Sporkle Syrup, and he wanted to come along. I didn't want to wake you."
"Oh," said July. "But how come everything was all packed up? I thought he ran away!"
"Candace asked me to put away my toys before we left," said Tommy with a shrug.
It was still weird to hear him talking, but July thought it might be a nice change. "Hey, shouldn't we be getting home?"
The next morning July woke up early, before even Tommy and Candace, who was taking a day off after all she'd been working lately. Several of Tommy's toys were already littering the hallway again. July shook her head, but grinned to herself as she headed to the library.
On the way home last night Tommy had told her and Candace about his last owner, who had painted him about a month before he caught Ugga-Ugga, which he contracted, as Candace suspected, from a rotten omelette. He hadn't had much of a choice, as his owner wasn't around much and omelettes that eventually went bad were the only thing left in the house. When his owner came home and found him speaking only in Uggas, he had been sure it was some horrific contagious disease and kicked him out of the house. It was just a day later that Candace found him.
July thought about this while she sorted through her books. They went into three separate piles: keep, donate, and sell. She put the donatable ones in boxes and left them by the door; Candace could take them to the Money Tree on her next trip to Neopia Central. Then she did likewise with the sellable ones. The ones she wanted to keep--a few old favorites, and the ones she still had to read--fit onto two shelves, one of which she dragged across the hall to her room and other other of which fit in the living room.
She wasn't sure what they'd do about the chairs; she'd have to ask Candace. She might want one in the living room, or Tommy might like to keep one.
"July?" said a tired voice, as Tommy stumbled into the hallway from the living room. "What's with all the noise?"
"Just clearing up some space," she said, pointing toward the library.
Tommy followed her in. "Wow, with it all emptied out, this room is pretty big!"
"It sure is," said a voice behind them. Candace yawned. "Though, may I ask why it's being emptied?"
"Oh, come on, Candace," said July. "Are you really going to make my brother sleep in the living room forever? It's about time he got his own room."
Tommy looked at his sister in disbelief for several seconds, then grinned. "I've never had my own room before. Awesome!" He dashed into the room and started surveying every corner, planning where his bed and toybox would go.
"I was going to talk to both of you about that today," Candace admitted. "I know I never planned on having more than one pet, but..."
"You don't have to explain," said July. "Tommy's family now. I just didn't realize it until I thought he ran away."
"You know it doesn't mean I love you any less," said Candace.
"I know," said July. "It just means both of us have someone new to love. And if you ask me, that's kind of awesome."