One Bite Won't Hurt
Art by nut862
Ricky didn’t notice the cold as he went barreling down the hill with his stomach for a sled. The snowy slope flew away behind him as the blue Bruce slid down, rushing over the ground that the morning’s snowfall had paved in glittering white. Moving too fast to appreciate his surroundings, though keeping his eyes glued on the scenery ahead all the same, Ricky started as a tree stump suddenly rose out of the snow in front of him. He rolled to the side and tumbled over himself, stopping facedown in the snow. The Bruce pulled his head up and shook the white out of his eyes in time to see his sister go gliding smoothly past and gradually slow to a stop at the bottom of the hill.
Pushing himself up with his front flippers, Ricky eased himself to his feet, his snow-covered round belly wobbling as he stood. He looked down and grinned at the Bruce-shaped print he had left in the fresh snow. The sun reflected sharply off the white, and when he looked up again, there were dark spots flashing in the clear cold sky. Not caring about his temporarily impaired vision, Ricky went waddling awkwardly down the hill, nearly tumbling over himself again as he hurried on his stubby flippers.
“Laike! Did you see how far down the hill I got?” Ricky shouted when he was still some distance from his sister, waddling faster to catch up to his voice.
The green Bruce turned and smiled at him. “If you’d just take a moment to think about where you’re going before you start sliding down the hill, you’d be able to find a path without any obstacles and make it all the way down with no problem.”
“But that takes all the excitement out.” Besides, it was fun to fall over in the snow. And maybe one day he’d actually manage to dodge an obstacle, and then he could compete in the slalom races that the older kids had sometimes. Ricky looked back up at the hill and watched admiringly as a pair of Bruces went skimming down the slopes, curving smoothly around the trees in their path.
The hill was covered in Bruces sliding and playing in the snow. A new snowfall like this was not to be wasted. Winter was the best time of year, when every day brought a new sledding course and the ice-skating pond froze again as soon as the warmth of sliding flippers melted it. And then there were the holidays. Ricky grinned as he thought of the rich cakes he would enjoy at their table together on Christmas evening. It would be a joyful celebration, and several of the neighbors would be coming. The little village in the north of Happy Valley was a close-knit community. All the Bruces who lived there knew one another.
Perhaps that was why Ricky noticed that there was a stranger in the midst of the laughing Bruces, or perhaps it was simply because the red Aisha stood out like a sore thumb. She stood alone under a tree at the bottom of the rise, watching the Bruces soaring down the hill and laughing and pitching snow at each other. Her bright red face was stark against the white snow, and she was made even more conspicuous by the thick bright blue coat wrapped around her, which contrasted strongly against both her skin and the snow. She was the only pet there who wasn’t a Bruce, and the only one not taking part in the fun.
“Who’s that?” Ricky asked his sister.
Laike glanced towards the tree. “I heard she just moved into town today.” News traveled fast in their secluded area.
“She looks bored. I’ll get her to come sliding with us.” Ricky turned and waddled off, dragging himself through the snow towards the bright red Aisha under the tree.
She watched him steadily as he pulled himself towards her, but didn’t say a word. So he spoke first: “Hi. Why aren’t you playing with everyone else?”
The Aisha shrugged. Instead of answering, she introduced herself. “I’m Atiea. I used to live in the Lost Desert, until today.”
“I’m Ricky. Do you like sliding down hills in the snow?”
“We don’t have snowy hills in the Lost Desert. Just sand dunes.”
“Do you like sliding down sand dunes?”
Atiea blinked. “I’ve never tried it.”
“I’ll show you how we do it here,” Ricky said. “Come on.”
The Aisha stayed glued to the trunk of the tree, her hands in the pockets of her enormous bulky coat. “It’s too cold.”
“Cold?” Ricky said in surprise. “It’s not cold. You’ll warm up as soon as you start moving.”
Atiea glanced toward the Bruces on the hill and gave a little shiver. “Sliding down on my chest? I’d freeze.”
Ricky considered how to solve this obvious impediment to his plan to get her to go sliding. “What if you came to my house and got warm by our fire? Would you go after that?”
Atiea gave a small smile and glanced out at the white horizon. “Where is your house?”
“I’ll take you to it. Come on; I bet Mama has lunch ready.” Ricky went waddling determinedly off through the snow, his blubber swaying. Atiea came behind, her paws leaving a trail of delicate footprints, spaced close together as evidence of her efforts to follow her slow new friend.
* * * * *
Ricky’s mama did have lunch ready. The big red Bruce came into the warm kitchen with two steaming bowls of hot snow soup balanced on her flippers and set them on the table. Ricky grabbed a spoon and dug in eagerly, looking to replenish his energy after the day spent sliding on the snow. He dipped a flipper in the large bowl of snow-covered nachos that stood on the table and stuffed a handful into his mouth. “Have you ever tasted this, Atiea?”
“No.” The red Aisha, stripped of her bulky coat and looking small and skinny in her large-backed chair, was staring into the bowl of soup in front of her. She was studying the snow it contained and the steam rising from it, seeming to be trying to figure out how this phenomenon worked, and whether the cause of it might be reason to avoid eating the soup. Eventually she put an experimental spoonful of soup into her mouth, swallowed slowly, and then nodded her head in approval.
“Try the nachos,” Ricky said. “We’ve got tons of them.”
Atiea glanced at the snow melting off of the soggy nachos. “I shouldn’t. Nachos aren’t really healthy, you know.”
Ricky stopped his loud chewing. “They won’t hurt you. They’re just nachos.”
“They’ll make you fat.” Atiea took her gaze away from the snow-covered nachos and went back to slowly eating her soup.
Ricky had never thought of this. “Well... well, so?”
“It’s not good to be fat.”
“It’s not?” The Bruce glanced down at his enormous protruding belly.
“No. You can get sick from it.” Atiea sipped her soup. “Mm, that’s good.”
Ricky had never thought of himself as fat. He looked about the same as everyone else in town. But as he looked at the slim little Aisha sitting across from him, his rolls of flab felt strangely wide and bulky.
“How do you keep from getting fat?” Ricky asked.
“Well, you can eat healthily.” Atiea paused. “You can stay away from stuff like nachos and ice cream and eat things that are good for you. Then you won’t get sick.”
“I don’t want to get sick,” Ricky said anxiously, and pushed the bowl of nachos away from him.
* * * * *
“Don’t you want a scoop of ice cream for dessert?” Ricky’s mama had already scooped it out; drips of double chocolate ice cream were melting down the sides of the spoon.
Ricky tried not to drool at the sight of it. “No, I... I don’t feel like it.”
“You didn’t finish your frozen meaty sandwich, either.” She looked accusingly at the ice melting around the soggy meat on Ricky’s plate.
“Yeah, uh... I think the meat was going bad.”
“Do you want a new sandwich?”
“Actually... could I be excused now? I’m done.” Ricky jumped down from his chair and scurried out of the kitchen, his blubber thudding against the floor in his hurry to get away.
His family stared after him, mystified. Laike glanced at the luscious iced cake sitting in the middle of the table. “Did he even notice his favorite dessert?”
* * * * *
Ricky stared into the mirror miserably, gazing in remorse at the results of years of gobbling down bowls of snow-covered nachos at lunchtime. He had never known. All everyone ate in this village was ice cream and ice pops, because that was what the local food store sold; none of them knew it was bad for them. Ricky wondered if he’d ever be able to eat again.
Ricky tugged on the ends of the tape measure he was wrapping around his waist, trying to get it as tight as possible before he dared to look at it. Fat spilled over the top of the tape cutting into his skin.
“Ricky?” The door swung open, and in walked Laike, carrying a cake with pink icing and a lovely arrangement of orange and green decorations blooming on top. It was Ricky’s favorite dessert this time of year.
No doubt it was bad for him, too.
“What’s wrong with you tonight, Ricky? You couldn’t have missed seeing this cake. We make it every winter because you like it, remember?”
Ricky shook his head mournfully. “I can’t eat it anymore. It’ll make me sick. I’m already in horrible danger.”
Laike looked at him quizzically. Her eyes fell on the tape measure in his fins. “You’re not trying to lose weight, are you?”
“Of course I am,” Ricky said. “Look how fat I am!” He pinched his blubber, which was bulging out unnaturally thanks to the tape measure squeezing his waist.
Laike stared at him. “You’re not fat. You’re completely normal. Where did you ever get that idea?”
“But I’m only normal here because everybody here is fat,” Ricky said with a tone of forlorn resignation. “Everyone’s always eating ice cream and nachos. It’s terrible. Look at Atiea; she’s like the pets in the rest of Neopia, and she’s not fat at all.”
Laike looked at him, seeming to begin to understand. “But Ricky, this isn’t the rest of Neopia. This is Happy Valley, and it’s so cold here that you have to be a little fat. Haven’t you seen how Atiea has to bundle up in that coat, and doesn’t want to go sliding in the snow? She’ll get sick if she gets too cold, because she doesn’t have any fat to keep her warm. She’s built for staying cool in the Lost Desert. We’re built for this weather, Ricky. It won’t hurt us.” Laike smiled and held out the cake. “And one bite won’t hurt you, either.”
Ricky glanced down at the cake, and grinned in spite of himself. It looked delicious, one of the best he’d seen. “Well, maybe just one bite wouldn’t make much difference,” he agreed. He dropped the tape measure and let it fall to the floor as he took the plate from his sister. He broke off a large chunk of cake and stuffed the whole thing into his mouth. “We’ve got to invite Atiea over for Christmas dinner,” he said between chewing. “We need to show her how to stay healthy here.”
* * * * *
“I really shouldn’t.” Atiea looked warily at the slice of iced Christmas cake Ricky was pushing in front of her.
“Eat it,” the Bruce said with a wide grin. “You’ll get sick if you don’t. You need to get fat so you can go sliding with us.”
“Come on,” Ricky wheedled. “One bite won’t hurt.”
Atiea gave in and took a small bite of the cake.
This was followed by another, and another. When her plate was empty, the skinny Aisha glanced up at the Bruce and smiled.
“Can I have seconds?”