Caution: Quills may be sharp Circulation: 193,552,674 Issue: 697 | 3rd day of Gathering, Y17
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The Gallant Return of Kathryn and Tobin: Part Two

by fields_of_gold


      & Finally the morning of the trip arrived. Tobin and I ran home from school as fast as we could, I because I was excited, my brother because he wanted to check for the eight millionth time that he had everything he needed packed.

      When we burst through the door, we found David and Gina standing in the kitchen with Mom. David had a large red suitcase on wheels resting at his feet, and Gina was playing with Gil, tickling him under the chin as he swished his tail through the air with delight.

      “Good, you're here,” Tobin said to Gina, “Wait here, I have a document I need you to read and sign.” He went upstairs to get his list of instructions, and Mom smiled apologetically at Gina.

      “He's extremely attached to Gil,” she explained, “And, well, you know how he can be sometimes, he just wants to make sure everything is in order.”

      Gina smiled, she was indeed well aware of my brother's idiosyncrasies, and was, oddly enough, quite charmed by them.

      Tobin returned with his document clamped in his teeth. “Here, read this,” he said, thrusting it at Gina, “I'll find you a pen so you can sign it.” He disappeared into the living room as Gina read the title aloud.

      David shot me an amused expression, and I could tell he was trying hard not to smile.

      We waited patiently until Gina had dutifully read through all five pages with as much seriousness and solemnity as she could muster, and when she was through, Tobin asked, “Are you sure you understand the significance of your task, and all the rights and responsibilities accompanying it?”

      Gina smiled and took the pen from him, “Oh yes, don't worry, I'll follow your instructions to the letter, after all, I'd hate to have my temporary rights of ownership rendered null and void.”

      David clapped a hand over his mouth and snorted, disappearing into the next room where he could go and die of laughter without hurting Tobin's feelings. I followed him.

      “Poor Gina!” David laughed, trying to catch his breath, “I'd crack under the responsibility of caring for your brother's nuranna! I'd rather take a pride of angry noils over Gil any day!”

      I had to agree; if there was one thing I never wanted to experience, it was the wrath of Tobin.

      Finally we were ready to get things under way. I hauled my suitcase down the stairs into the kitchen, and heard Tobin clunking along behind me.

      As we came downstairs, I heard Mom laugh, and turned around to see what was so funny.

      Tobin was struggling to lug three full-sized suitcases and an overstuffed backpack down the stairs.

      I gaped, “Tobin, what on earth did you do?”

      Tobin stood panting at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by his heap of luggage. “What do you mean?” he asked.

      “I mean, we're going for a week at Kiko Lake, not a year-long expedition to Terror Mountain! You don't need all that stuff!”

      “You don't even know what I packed,” Tobin said reproachfully, “You can't know I don't need it all until you see what it is.”

      “Well, what did you bring?” Mom chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief.

      Tobin sat back on his haunches and unzipped each suitcase. “Here I have all of my meteorological equipment,” he said. “You remember you got me that weather sensor last Christmas?” he indicated a large, heavy-looking electronic box with a screen and several protruding cables, along with a miniature seismograph and a thick reel of white tracer paper. “I want to keep track of the weather, in part so we can plan our activities accordingly, and in part in case there's a natural disaster; Kiko Lake is only five kilometres from the ocean, if there's an earthquake under the water, it could cause a tsunami, and I want to know about it in case we need to evacuate.”

      He turned to the next suitcase and said, “Here I've packed emergency rations. I have enough food for the four of us to last us at least five days should the aforementioned tsunami hit, or if all the food at Kiko Lake is gross. And over here,” he showed us the last suitcase, “I have basic essentials; beach towel, money, my beach ball, a map of the lake, the extended text edition of my Guide to Petpets of Kiko Lake... and a flare gun.”

      I stared at him. “What?” I asked, “Why do you have a flare gun? And where did you get that thing anyway?”

      “Seriously?” David laughed, “He's got a seismograph and a suitcase full of emergency rations and your question is 'what's with the flare gun?'”

      “I bought it in town last week,” Tobin said, “I knew we'd need it for the trip.”

      “Um, why?” I repeated.

      Tobin rolled his eyes at me as if I were stupid. “In case one of us decides to go on the glass bottom boat tours and falls in the lake,” he said. “You need a flare gun to signal your location so people can rescue you, it's in every novel about every sinking ship they ever printed, don't you read?”

      Mom, who was still trying not to laugh at the result that came of my brother trying to pack for himself, interjected and said, “You know sweetie, I checked the weather forecast for this week, it's going to be sunny the whole time, I think maybe you can leave the weather sensor and the seismograph at home.”

      “But what about tsunamis?” Tobin asked.

      “There hasn't been a tsunami in Neopia for five hundred years,” Mom said, “I highly doubt one is going to hit us in the week we're on vacation.”

      Tobin looked at his equipment and sighed. “Fine,” he said, “But when we get to the cabin, I'm holding a safety drill to be sure everyone knows what to do in the event of a natural disaster-related emergency.”

      I sighed; I knew he wasn't lying.

      Mom continued, “And I really don't think you're going to need all that food; Kiko Lake's cuisine is identical to what we have here, it is right next door after all, and if there's not going to be a tsunami, dragging all that food around all week seems like a lot of effort.”

      Tobin studied his suitcase for a moment, then pulled four boxes of instant macaroni and cheese out and replaced them in his last bag, “There,” he said, “Just in case. Can I keep everything else?”

      “Sure,” Mom replied, “Although, I really don't think the flare gun will be necessary; if anyone falls overboard on the glass bottom boat tours, it's going to be in the middle of the day; nobody would be able to see the flare.”

      Tobin sighed heavily, I could tell he was getting frustrated.

      “It's okay Tobe,” I said, “Just keep the flare gun, I'm sure we'll find some use for it.”

      Tobin replaced it in his bag without speaking, evidently satisfied that at least something was going his way.

      “Um, I'm not sure I want to know, but what do you have in the backpack Tobin?” David asked slowly.

      Tobin tipped out its contents, and out tumbled his stuffed nuranna Gil – after whom his real nuranna was named – a pair of binoculars, two bags of neo-crackers, a bar of chocolate, and a packet of marshmallows. “I'm given to understand that “s'mores” are appropriate vacation food when one is residing in a forest,” he explained.

      “Why didn't you keep it with your emergency food?” David laughed.

      “Because one does not eat s'mores in an emergency,” Tobin said flatly, looking at him as if it were obvious with such an expression of exasperation as to incur more laughter from our friend.

      “Come on guys,” I said, “If we don't get going, it's going to be midnight by the time we get there!”

      “No it's not,” Tobin said, packing his things back into his backpack, “It's barely six o'clock now, and it only takes two hours to – ”

      “Oh forget it!” I cried, throwing up my hands in defeat.

      After returning Tobin's excess baggage to his room, things got under way and ran relatively smoothly for the rest of the trip – apart from a minor incident at the airport where Tobin, unconvinced of the weight-carrying capacity of the Eyrie we would be taking, demanded to see documented proof of her ability, to be sure that our pilot, a grouchy old Scorchio, was not, “Pulling the babaa's pelt over our faces,” as my brother not-so-eloquently put it. For a kid with such a sophisticated vocabulary, Tobin was laughably bad at using idiomatic expressions.

      After having secured the necessary evidence that our Eyrie was as strong as our pilot said she was, we were back in business, and landed less than half a kilometre from Kiko Lake's beach at eight o'clock.

      We dragged our bags into our cabin and I collapsed on the sofa, taking in the surroundings. It was a nice place, small, but roomy enough for the four of us. The kitchen looked out over the beach-front and I could see the glass-bottom boats bobbing in the dimly lit harbour in the distance. There was only one floor, and a long hallway led from the living room to the rest of the place, where I presumed our rooms were. I hoped there were four of them; I was not about to share living quarters with my brother!

      No sooner had I sat down when Tobin declared, “Alright everyone, line up, it's time for our natural disaster drill!”

      I groaned, I had been hoping he'd forgotten about that stupid thing, but I'd forgotten who I was dealing with; Tobin never forgot anything.

      “Tobin,” I grunted, burying my face in the nearest sofa cushion, “It's dark, and we're tired, can't we do your disaster drill tomorrow? There's not gonna be any tsunamis or earthquakes or tornadoes or hurricanes tonight, I promise.”

      Tobin was about to reply when David interjected, sensing another argument brewing, “Hey guys look, I got you both something for the trip.”

      I looked up and David pulled two thin black objects from behind his back, handing one to each of us. “They're disposable cameras,” he explained, “You can use them to take photos of all the cool stuff you see.”

      “Gee thanks!” I exclaimed, squinting through the eyepiece.

      “That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard,” Tobin said, “What in Neopia is the point of making a camera that you're just going to throw away?”

      I laughed and rose from the sofa to inspect the bedrooms; I'd let David handle this one.

      I wandered down the hall and found Mom unpacking her suitcase in a small, brightly lit room. The double bed took up so much space that the dresser and the night stand had been wedged into their respective corners with apparent difficulty, and it made manoeuvring in the small space a challenge.

      Mom smiled when she saw me, “Your room is down the hall,” she said.

      “I don't have to share with Tobin do I?” I asked tentatively.

      Mom chuckled, “No, I made sure there were enough rooms for everyone; you two are going to be getting more than enough of each other's company without having to share your living space on top of everything.”

      I sighed with relief as I left Mom to her unpacking and went to find my room. It was smaller than Mom's, but the bed was half the size as well, freeing up a lot of floor space. There was a small bedside table in the corner, its white paint flaking off, leaving the dark wood exposed. I dared not touch it, because the rickety legs looked like they would collapse under the weight of the antique china lamp they were supporting any minute.

      I made to leap onto the bed, then thought better of it, afraid that the supporting slats under the mattress were as frail as the old night stand and would snap under my weight. I eased my way slowly onto the thick floral-patterned duvet and listened uncertainly for the sound of creaking wood. Hearing none, I lay back and closed my eyes.

      Moments later it seemed, I awoke under the thick blankets with bright sunlight streaming in through the window. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and sat up; I could hear banging and clattering down the hall. Slowly I got up and made my way to the living room.

      “Morning Kathryn,” David said brightly from the kitchen, “You're just in time for breakfast.”

      I went to inspect the kitchen table and raised an impressed eyebrow at the wide array of food spread out on the table cloth. I turned to David, “This looks great,” I said, “I didn't know you could cook.”

      “I'm full of surprises,” David winked.

      At that moment, Tobin appeared, limping along on three paws as he tried to keep a grip on the jar of grape jelly he was carrying to the table.

      “Here Tobe, lemme help,” I said, taking it from him. I watched as he sat down and reached for the toast rack, pulling out the centre slice and dropping it on his plate. “Really?” I asked, “We're on vacation and you've got all this amazing food to choose from, and you’re eating the same thing you have every day at home?”

      “Yes,” Tobin said, regarding it as a simple question rather than an expression of incredulity.

      I sighed, but David smiled and said, “It's okay, he can have his toast, it just means more eggs, bacon and pancakes for the rest of us, you'd better get started before they go cold.”

      Over breakfast we discussed the day's plans; of course all Tobin was interested in was the petpet shop and the nature walk, and kept interjecting that we had to budget our time carefully to be sure we weren't late for the tour.

      Finally I snapped at him, “We get it Tobin, you don't want to miss your stupid petpet tour, you don't have to keep going on about it! Remember when I said this was my vacation too? Just can it about your stupid petpets already!”

      Tobin shrunk back, surprised and hurt; he hadn't meant to be a nuisance, and he didn't understand what he'd done to provoke my anger.

      I sighed, frustrated with my lack of patience, and his lack of understanding. “I'm sorry,” I said, “I didn't mean to snap, but you know, you've been talking about the same thing over and over again all morning, maybe you could find a new subject. Remember what Mom said last week? Most people get bored of listening to someone talk about the exact same thing all the time, so now I'm going to pick a topic, and I don't want to hear about your petpets for the next hour.”

      Tobin opened his mouth to protest, but I glared at him, and he relented. “Okay,” he sighed.

      Mom and David glanced at each other, clearly surprised that what I'd said had worked. I smiled to myself; handling my brother was easy once you knew how.

      The morning schedule finally organised, the four of us gathered our beach essentials and headed for the lake.

      I immediately lay my towel down in the shade of a looming pine tree and went off in search of interesting rocks and shells to bring home. Thinking I could encourage my brother to do something at least halfway normal at some point during this trip, I called, “Hey Tobe, come help me look for seashells!”

      Tobin regarded me skeptically. “We're at a lake Kathryn, there are no seashells here, the best you're likely to find is shiny tumbled rocks. However, I do want to see if I can find any turdle nests.”

      I rolled my eyes but didn't object; anything to get him to find something that constituted both fun and normal, which for Tobin was a rare combination. He could do “fun” and he could do normal – sometimes – but not at the same time it seemed.

      Tobin picked his way down the beach, clearly uncomfortable with the rough texture of the sand on his feet, which was grittier than the sand at the park we visited at home. When he reached the wet mud at the water's edge, he scrambled back, looking disgusted. “It's sticky!” he cried.

      “Of course it is,” I replied, “It's wet sand, what did you expect? C'mon, those turdle nests aren't going to find themselves.”

      Tobin shook his head and backed up farther, “No,” he said, “I'm not stepping in that mush! I'll use my binoculars, maybe I can find the nests from a distance. If you find any, let me know.”

      I sighed. Along with a severe sensitivity to noise, my brother was tactilely uncomfortable with a wide range of textures, from slimy foods like jelly to things that were too rough, like dead grass, or too gritty, like gravel, and now apparently things that were sticky, like wet sand. This tactile defensiveness was also the reason my brother hated people touching him, and his strong aversion to so many things in his surroundings made situations like the one we were in now difficult.

      I moved farther into the water until I was ankle-deep. “Alright,” I said, “I'll let you know if I see anything that looks nest-like.”

      Tobin returned to his towel and took up a sentry position, scanning the shoreline with his binoculars for any sign of petpet activity.

      We spent the next hour at the lake, and by the time we were ready to leave, I had almost half a bucket full of shiny rocks to show off to my friends when I got home.

      After dropping all of our beach essentials back at the cabin, it was time to set out for Tobin's nature tour, and, his designated 'hour of silence' up, he talked about it nonstop.

      “This is going to be great!” he cried, his camera swinging on its strap around his neck, “I bet we'll see all kinds of petpets! Urchulls are very common for this area, they're slow-moving and like to build log dams over rivers, but we'll have to keep a sharp eye out, they have two sets of ears which means their hearing is very acute, and any loud noise will startle them.”

      “Sounds like somebody else I know,” I murmured, earning me a surreptitious grin from Mom and David.

      “Hornsbies are also common for this region,” Tobin continued, “They're shy creatures, but we might be in luck, spring is the rutting season for the males, who can get quite aggressive when fighting for mates; we might get to see them fighting over territory, that would be really exciting!”

      Eventually we reached a small group of people clustered around a sign that read “Petpet Nature Tour”. A yellow Mynci in a tour guide's vest approached us, “You folks here for the nature walk?” he asked.

      “Yes,” Tobin said flatly, “That's why we're standing next to the sign that says 'nature tour.'”

      I slapped a palm to my forehead, and behind me I could hear Mom clear her throat uncomfortably. The Mynci just studied us all for a moment, then turned and moved back toward the front of the group.

      “Tobin, you don't say things like that!” I rebuked, but my brother wasn't listening. He was staring at the people in front of us.

      Over the shoulder of the woman ahead of us, a tiny baby Shoyru peered at Tobin, seemingly fascinated. It smiled and babbled, reaching for him.

      Tobin stepped back uneasily. “Excuse me,” he said loudly to the woman, who turned and looked at him, “Perhaps you should leave that infant behind, if it cries on the walk, it could scare away the petpets, who are all very skittish in this region.”

      “Tobin!” I seethed through clenched teeth, “That's not polite! You can't say that to people! Say you're sorry!”

      “Why?” Tobin asked, bewildered.

      “Because that woman and her baby have as much right to be here as we do,” Mom said sternly, shooting the affronted woman an apologetic look, “How would you like it if you had brought Gil to something you both enjoyed and someone told you to take him home because he might disrupt things?”

      “First of all, I wouldn't bring Gil to something like this, because, given the intellectual capacity of the average nuranna, he wouldn't understand, and only I would be enjoying it, just as that child will have no recollection nor appreciation of this tour as it is too young to understand its significance. Second, even supposing Gil had the intellectual capacity to appreciate something of this nature, I still wouldn't bring him because, as you said, he would be a disturbance, and I would just as soon do something with him where we would both be welcome, so your comparison is flawed,” Tobin said, sliding into his overtly analytical mind-set.

      Mom ground her teeth, and I could see her jaw clenching with frustration, but David put a hand on her shoulder and looked at my brother. “Well Tobe, it might not make sense to you, but can you at least acknowledge the fact that what you said to that woman upset her, even if you don't understand why?”

      “I suppose,” Tobin replied slowly.

      “Okay, so what should you do to rectify it?” David asked pointedly.

      Tobin sighed and turned back to the woman. “I'm sorry I told you to leave your baby behind,” he said, “Even though it is highly probable that it will disturb the natural wildlife, apparently I hurt your feelings, this was unintentional.”

      I groaned inwardly; my brother had come a long way since his younger years, but he still had a whole lot farther to go.

      To be continued…

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