Trading Up: Part Three
Inadvertently, he took a step back. Was this her? He could hear her speaking to the Draik, but he couldn’t make out the words over the hum of waiting room conversation. He wanted to scoot closer but was afraid she would notice him. He didn’t want anyone to see how upset he’d let himself get. He rubbed his paws along his ears to calm himself. Once he started thinking more clearly he remembered that most people couldn’t tell when a Grey pet was actually upset. Bolstered by this, he inched closer.
“Aren’t you excited, Jayax? You’re about to meet your owner!”
“Yeah! Well... I’m nervous too.”
“Why would you be nervous?” The question was gentle, not demanding.
Jayax fidgeted for a moment before answering. “What if she doesn’t like me? What if she isn’t nice?”
The girl put her arm around the nervous Draik and hugged him close. “She will like you. She’s very, very excited to meet you. She promised me that you are her dream pet, and that she will never, ever trade you. I believe her.” Darling wasn’t as stung by this as he would have thought.
“And you’re going to get a new pet too?”
“Yep, an unconverted Grey Yurble. I’m excited to meet him.” She looked down at the basket of cookie neggs in her lap and smiled to herself. “I’m going to try very hard to make him feel at home. I think he’ll fit right in to my family.”
Darling turned and walked away. She seemed nice, they both did, but he wasn’t sure how much he wanted to hear. How could he know what was true? He walked with his head down, his arms swinging slowly by his sides, not lifting his feet all the way off the ground. He didn’t think about where he was going but somehow his feet took him right back to Molly. She saw him when he was still a few feet away and she ran forward to grab his shoulders.
“DarlingFuzz13_78! Where the heck have you been?” She never used his whole name. Darling knew she was mad. “I was afraid you’d run away, you know, because... ugh, never mind, it doesn’t matter now. Just come with me. I’ve already gotten and signed the papers, now we just need to find Haley and have everything endorsed by Dr. Death.” Molly took Darling’s paw and he became aware, very suddenly, that it might be for the last time. He also became aware of a new feeling, something he hadn’t experienced for a long time... could it be that he was excited?
Molly jerked hard on his paw. He looked up and saw her smiling and waving to the girl he’d seen earlier. Together, they all walked into Dr. Death’s office. Darling and Jayax looked at each other intently while their owners got the paperwork signed and stamped in all the appropriate places.
“So.” Darling didn’t actually know what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t stop his outburst and knew he had to say something more than that. He continued in a low voice, “Are you excited?”
“Yeah, I am.” Jayax couldn’t read the Yurble’s expression.
“Me too.” Darling didn’t know if he was lying or not. He hesitated, then decided to be completely honest. “I really hope this all works out for the best.” He could see the Draik relax.
“Yeah, I do too.” Jayax was glad to finally loosen up. He confessed some of his fears to Darling, and they talked quietly while the paperwork was being finished. They were starting to warm up to each other when a thick stack of papers was suddenly dropped onto the desk with a thud. Everything was finished.
Dr. Death shooed them all out the back exit of his office and they found themselves on a small side street off the Neopian Plaza. The two owners stood back while Darling and Jayax said an awkward goodbye. As Jayax turned away from his new friend, Molly reached out a hand and he leapt into her arms. His new owner hugged him tightly and it felt good to him.
Darling watched and felt a rush of emotions, but they weren’t at all the emotions he would have expected. He felt more wistful than really sad, and he also felt happy for the new family forming in front of him. He looked away to give them their privacy and he could see Haley standing just a foot away, reaching a hand out for him. Somehow his heart seemed to be pounding in his throat instead of his chest, but he just gripped the strap of his duffel more tightly. He took one deep breath, closed his eyes, and stepped forward.
Haley led him by the paw as they walked up the driveway to her house.
“I know you must be nervous. I do have three other pets, so there will be a lot to get used to. You have your own room, though, and I’ve let everyone know that you’ll probably need some privacy while you adjust. Just take all the time you need.” Darling nodded while she was talking, but only mumbled in response. She really sounded like she understood, but it was still a lot to take in. He looked at the flowers along the walkway and saw some pretty trees. His eyes widened a bit when he saw the huge, Nova shaped pool next to the house.
“Oh, do you like swimming?” Haley smiled down at him. “Oni, one of my pets, is a Maraquan Uni. She can’t get enough of swimming. She loves to play with the others in the pool. Maybe you’d like that too, when you’re comfortable.” Darling couldn’t stop a little smile as they walked in the front door. They made their way down a softly lit hallway and entered a large room on the right. It had bookshelves lining two of the walls, partly filled with books, and a huge picture window. “Molly told me that you like to watch the rain. I wanted to make sure you’d have a room with a window.”
Darling looked out the window across the big lawn full of autumn birch trees and rainbow morning flowers. He imagined the rain falling, and knew he would have a beautiful view. He was surprised, but not unhappy, to find out that Molly had shared this with Haley. He walked along the bookshelves and craned his neck to look up. These shelves were much bigger than his old ones. Who knows how many books they would hold. He wondered if he should have brought more stuff after all while he skimmed the titles. He saw books he’d always wanted to read, like Shades of Grey and Greyed Expectations. There were also books he’d never even heard of, let alone seen on one of his many trips to the bookstore. He couldn’t wait to crack open 1052 Sakhmetian Tales and Secrets of Maraqua.
“I hope you’ll like some of these. Of course, we can go shopping any time you feel up to it, but I wanted to make the room a little hospitable before you got here. Anyway, I also got you a little friend, to help you settle in. You go ahead and get unpacked and just come out when you’re ready for dinner, ok? I’ll keep your food warm for you so don’t rush yourself.” Darling turned and gave Haley a slow, shy look as she eased the door closed. He carefully lifted Shades of Grey from the shelf and carried it to the bed. He saw a big, soft grey Yurble plushie and flopped down next to it. He assumed that was the ‘little friend’ Haley had mentioned, so he snuggled up with it and opened his book.
He’d had an incredibly long day. Molly had woken him much earlier than he was used to and then he’d been stuck waiting in the pound all day while lunchtime came and went. He’d hardly known what to do with himself during the leisurely, awkward walk home with Haley. She’d tried to get to know him but he couldn’t bring himself to speak more than a few words.
Only when he was sitting on a soft, slightly fuzzy bedspread surrounded by the gentle quiet of a comfortable house did he realize how tense he had been. All at once his muscles relaxed and he heard a little sigh that could only have come from him as he sank into the bed. The plushie squished satisfyingly beneath his weight and suddenly he heard it snuffle. He sat straight up and spun to stare at the plushie.
He held his breath.
He swallowed the rising lump in his throat, leaned forward and yanked the plush toy off the bed. Instantly, he saw a pair of eyes, but for several seconds the eyes just stared into his and he couldn’t see anything else. A few heartbeats later the eyes blinked, and it dawned on him that he was looking down at a very startled grey Faellie. The little petpet seemed to be shrinking as he watched, dwarfed by the size of its own tail with all the long hairs standing on end. It opened its eyes wider than Darling would have thought possible and started to shake.
“Oh!” cried Darling, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you.” He carefully put his paw out for the Faellie to sniff. Gradually, the cautious little petpet inched closer. After a few minutes Darling was petting him, and not too long after that the Faellie was curled up in his lap and gurgling happily at having its ears scratched. Darling gazed down and whispered, “You were scared at first, huh? I understand, it’s a strange new place. You must have just wanted to hide. I know what that’s like.”
Darling closed his eyes and remembered how he had felt when Molly first told him that she wanted to send him away. It was a painful memory, but at least it was starting to feel a little less fresh.
“I’m going to take good care of you, though,” he heard himself promising, his eyes still shut. “I’ll love you and protect you and never forget how special you are.” The Faellie flapped its ears and started making a noise that sounded very much like purring. Darling took a moment to reflect on how similar the petpet’s situation was to his own. Suddenly he felt more optimistic than he had in a long time.
He sat and thought for a long while. Eventually, when the windows were thoroughly darkened and he could hear Haley’s hesitant footsteps in the hall outside his door, he knew that she was worried about him. He whispered to his petpet again.
“You know, I was scared to leave my old owner and my old life because I thought I was happy, but I wasn’t- at least not as happy as I could be. Change is scary, but it’s the only way things can get better. We’re going to make a new start together.
“I’m going to call you Felix, because it means lucky, and that’s what we are. Now, how about dinner?”