The Family Reunion: Part Five
And that was how, an hour later, we’d said goodbye to Mr. Janju, been treated to some traditional Shenkuu dumplings by Bernard, and were in the air. “Woohoo!” shouted Delilah as we soared through the mist. “Mystery Island! Bring it on!”
To me, she whispered, “Skye’s never actually taken me out of Shenkuu before. I don’t know what to expect of Mystery Island.”
“Me neither,” I said. “I guess it’s a mystery!”
We laughed and I started to tell Delilah stories about the time before Skye left. She was easy to talk to, and now, on my way to finding my brother, the pangs of sadness during telling stories of my family were gone. I reached into my backpack to find my photo album, but it was gone.
“Oh, no!” I gasped. “My photo album! It must’ve fallen out of my backpack!”
Delilah thought for a second and answered, “Wait, I know where it is! You left it with Pablo when we went to the Lunar Temple. It’s in good hands, so don’t worry – he’ll keep it safe while we’re gone.”
I felt better and Delilah began to tell me stories about her, her brother, and Skye.
“There isn’t a lot to tell,” she sighed. “Like I said before, she’s never around. She’s always ‘restocking’. I’ll never understand how that works. But that’s how we have a lot of Neopoints, she says, and why I’m painted royal. I think it would’ve been more special if I hadn’t been royal my entire life. If I could remember being painted, it might be more unique to me.”
“Royal,” I whispered. Why did that sound familiar? It only took me a second to remember. “That’s the paint brush she left us for.”
“Huh?” Delilah was startled. “What do you mean?”
“The day she left, she came home with a royal paint brush,” I recollected. “The color didn’t look good to her on either of us, and that night, she left.”
Delilah looked down at her rich purple fur and tears beaded as they fell down her face.
“Oh, Dolce,” she croaked, her voice choked up. “I’m sorry. I didn’t--”
“It isn’t your fault!” I assured her, surprised that she would blame herself. “Besides, with six accounts between us, she obviously created a pet on her second account that would look good when painted royal.”
“I think I remember something about that,” said Delilah thoughtfully. “Something about a pet trade on her second account and not being able to write that pet a Valentine’s letter.”
“So she traded her royal,” I said with disgust. “And she probably traded more after that, too, and just decided after creating your account to buy another royal paint brush.”
Delilah nodded uncertainly and was then quiet for the majority of the trip.
Speaking up, I said, “I wonder if Skye still hangs on to a couple interests she had when she was our owner.”
“I doubt it,” Delilah said. “Your owner sounded kind and loving and... well, perfect. Skye isn’t like that at all now. I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes a whole day or two without so much as thinking about Pablo and me. Granted, we have a nice life, and I won’t complain. We’re not in the Pound, we have plenty of food, and we live in a giant house. But it really feels empty 24/7, you know that? With just us, it’s too quiet.”
“That’s how I felt!” I exclaimed. “After Skye left, the house seemed so colorless and bland.”
“Exactly,” Delilah agreed. I think we were both glad to find something about Skye to agree on. “So, what was she interested in while she took care of you?”
“Slymooks,” I laughed. “Skye’s room was full of everything Slymook. There was a stray Slymook in the neighborhood that Skye found. She took him in and we named him Toxic. But later, we saw lost posters with his picture on them, and Parker found the owner and gave Toxic back to them. Skye was really upset.
“And she liked spooky food,” I recalled. “She had six Haunted Woods cookbooks, and I remember helping her make the Glaring Cheesecake. She always added a little less of the secret ingredient, Evil Extract.”
“Did she like... storytelling?” asked Delilah distantly.
Surprised, I replied, “Yes! She made up tons of bedtime stories to tell us. She liked to write fantasy stories about Parker and me. Those were my favorites.”
“Fantasy stories about you?” Delilah repeated. “What kind?”
“Oh, you know,” I said with a wave of my hand. “Ones starring ‘Princess Dolceannia’ or ‘Parker the Noil-tamer’ – that kind of thing. Did Skye ever tell you guys bedtime stories?”
“Not anymore.” Delilah shook her head. “But when I was really little, before restocking took up all of Skye’s attention and time, she read me this one story that she wrote...”
Delilah unzipped her duffle bag and pulled out, after some digging, a beaten-up old book in a clear binder, like the type used for reports. A hand-drawn cover portrayed the view of a field from a back porch. There were castles in the distance and Unis grazing and Faeries fluttering around, all expertly drawn by a hand I knew well. I gasped. How long had I been looking for that book? How long had I been falling asleep to the imagination that Skye was reading that story to me? How long had I been trying to remember those familiar illustrations, and how long had I been trying to preserve them in my mind?
“I know the book!” I breathed.
“I thought you might.” Delilah looked guilty and sad. “Skye used to read this to me, and I kept telling her to try for the Neopian Times with it. She always laughed and said it wasn’t good enough.”
“The Magical Yard,” I read the recognizable calligraphy on the cover. “That was how I always imagined our backyard. That’s our back porch. So she did take that book with her! I’ve been looking for it.”
Delilah let me flip through its pages, and I felt a wave of security and comfort. I handed the book back to Delilah and Bernard loudly announced that we were about to break through the clouds over Mystery Island.
“Hang on!” Bernard called.
Bernard swooped through the clouds. We felt the moist cold on our fur and shivered. Then we forgot all about the cold as the grand island came into view. It was like a rainbow – never before had I seen so many colors in one place! There were trees of green, beaches of white, reefs of blue, marketplaces of tropical yellows, oranges, and reds, and, most spectacular of all, Jhuidah’s giant cooking pot, the liquid in which gave a purple speck to finish of the Mystery Island rainbow.
“Dolce,” said Delilah in a hushed tone. She grabbed onto my fur and pointed down, gaping. “Look at it!”
“I can’t STOP looking at it,” I answered, equally as quiet.
“There’s no reason to whisper, gals,” Bernard assured us. “Yee-haw!”
We looked at each other and grinned. “WOOHOO!” we yelled as we got closer and closer to the island. The temperature increased, and the scents of unique fruits wafted up to meet us. We heard thousands of voices below us but were undaunted. It was only February, but the weather was as hot as mid-July in Neopia Central.
When we at last landed at docks, Delilah and I couldn’t wait any longer to tear off into the crowds. We paid Bernard accordingly and he laughed when we thanked him.
“Are you kidding?” he said. “I’m getting paid to tour Neopia! The only thanking here, Delilah and Dolce, should be to you!”
We arranged for Bernard to meet us back at the pier at six in the evening, weather we found Parker or not. That gave us about four hours to look for him, and according to Bernard, “four hours to load up on Tiki Tack souvenirs”.
We rushed off the beach and into the marketplace, stopping only occasionally to catch our breath. The marketplace was huge and it was clear that with the floods of people and pets crowding it, it’d take us a while to get through. So we bought a Neocola and piece of exotic fruit each, and then pressed on.
When at last we came to the end of the shops, we found a signpost. It had arrows pointing in several different directions, all marked with the names of the locations they pointed to.
“You want to try Jhuidah’s Cooking Pot first?” asked Delilah. “You said that he might be working there.”
“Sure,” I agreed. “He always wanted to learn more about it. But remember... he might not even be on the island at all.”
“It’s worth a shot.” Delilah shrugged, and we followed the arrow for the Cooking Pot.
Walking down the stony path, I had never felt more nervous, not even when I was going to visit Skye earlier that same day. My palms were clammy, and I felt lightheaded and nervous. I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up, lest Parker wasn’t there, but I couldn’t help it.
What would I say to him? “Heya, Parker”? That would be too casual for a too-long-put-off reunion with my older brother. I’d read a book once, called Social Skills. It was an item I was supposed to be giving to the Water Faerie for a quest, but I, out of curiosity, read it on the way to the post office (so I could mail it to her. We were kind of tight on Neopoints at the time). It of course disappeared, but it was a good read nonetheless. Alas, no chapter was entitled, “What to say to Your Brother When You Haven’t Seen Him in Two Years”. I considered as I walked to the Cooking Pot writing a letter to the author of that book so he could put that chapter in somewhere. Because I really needed some advice right then.
I decided that the words would come naturally. Corny, I know, but I really didn’t have another option.
“Uh, no.” I blinked a few times and returned from my orbit around Neopia. Delilah was looking at me, puzzled and a little worried. “It’s Delilah.”
“Oh, sorry.” I shook my head, attempting to be rid of my daze. It only worked to a degree. “What is it?”
“We might need to get you out of the heat.” Delilah studied me instead of answering my question. “You don’t look so great.”
“No, no, I’m fine,” I said, becoming more aware every second. “I was just daydreaming, that’s all. A little nervous, too.”
“I sure would be,” Delilah said with a sibling’s special understanding. I’d only met her this morning, but it felt right that we were sisters. “If I ever lost Pablo... I’m not sure if I could be as strong as you’ve been.”
I felt strangely satisfied. Strong. Somebody had called me strong. After all those years trying to hold myself up, crying myself to sleep many times a week, and feeling utterly alone, I at last felt my efforts worth it, in a very unexpected way. I looked ahead and saw a sign – “Jhuidah’s Cooking Pot: Please Pango-Pango with your item combinations! 50 meters ahead.”
“Let’s go,” I said, taking a deep breath.
And I began to sprint those last fifty meters to the Cooking Pot with all my energy. Somewhat surprised, Delilah ran after me. I forgot my mission to find my brother. I was running down a stone path on Mystery Island, vegetation of various vibrant colors on either side of me. But I felt like I was flying 10,000 feet off the ground, high in the clouds, with no end to the expansive blue sky in sight.
I was free.
To be continued...