How to Make Friends
X took a seat on the park bench full in the shade. The sun was already beating down at eleven in the morning. On such a day, the spotted Gelert would love to be surfing but today, he had a job to do. Lillian Grace, the baby Kougress was six years old and full of energy. Understanding her need to play, X had brought her to the park before it got too unbearably hot.
The teenaged Gelert smiled as he watched his young charge tear around on the playground.
"What are you smiling about?"
X flicked his ears and looked at the glowing Buzz sitting next to him, "Vicki, hey. I'm smiling because I'm happy. Lillian Grace is easy to love and even easier to baby-sit."
"Lucky! Lillian Grace is the easiest kid in Neopia to watch. Speaking of watching kids... would you mind helping me?"
X sat upright, face filled with shock. Vicki was an associate, not a friend. He would never have conceived that the Buzz would ever ask for a favor, least of all of him. Yet, there she sat, looking for all the world like nothing unusual was going on.
"What do you need help with, Vicki," X asked, a little warily; he had no idea what she would ask.
"I've been babysitting a ten year old Royalboy Usul named Aaren. He is quite obedient but..." Vicki trailed off.
"But he has social issues. He is a very spoiled little boy and has no friends."
X frowned, that didn't sound good. He crossed his arms over his chest. Vicki still hadn't told him what she needed help with.
"I was wondering if you would baby-sit Aaren in my place. I need a break and you're great with kids," Vicki said with a smile.
Oh, oh, Vicki had complimented X. What exactly was she trying to pull? Well, he was a curious Gelert.
"Fine, I'll do it," X said.
A broad grin to match X's own appeared on Vicki's face, "Good."
The glowing Buzz left just then and X called Lillian Grace to give her water.
~ ~ ~
X took in the exquisite Neohome. It was a little large for a single Neopet but he supposed it was none of his business. It was Monday, the first day that X would baby-sit Aaren. If he did well today, the Usul boy's mother would surely keep him through the rest of the week. The Gelert put a smile on his face and knocked on the door.
A pleasant looking plump, middle aged woman greeted X, "Welcome, welcome! You must be X. Please, come in. Aaren is still sleeping. He sleeps in late every day. I asked you to come early because I would like to speak with you about what I would like you to do in concern to Aaren."
X stepped inside, which was as spacious and open as he imagined. The woman, Cassie, spoke quickly but at least he could understand her. She led him into the kitchen, having walked through the living and dining rooms to get there. A bowl of fruit lay on the island in the center of the kitchen.
Cassie waved a hand to the bowl of fruit. "Help yourself. It's a struggle to get Aaren to eat anything healthy."
"He sounds like a strong willed child," X offered.
"Oh, he is."
There was a short pause. X had taken a seat on a stool at the island, while Cassie leaned against the sink, hands placed behind her on the stainless steel, the island and it's bowl of fruit their only barrier.
"So, what, exactly, would you like me to do, Cassie," X asked.
"I would like you to baby-sit Aaren like you would any other child but I would also like you to make him some friends," Cassie said.
X looked at the woman, trying to comprehend. Did she really just ask me that, X thought in bewilderment.
"How would I do that, exactly?" X asked.
"Well, how do you make friends," Cassie asked.
"I don't really think about it."
"Please, I'm worried about my little boy. I know it's unusual but at least try."
X could only nod his head in agreement, though he wasn't at all sure what he was going to do about the situation he was now in.
Cassie looked relieved at her babysitter's agreement. "Thank you."
The woman handed X emergency information and then took her leave. X checked his watch.
"Only 8:15," X said to himself and Love, his spotted Puppyblew and constant companion.
The Gelert wasn't used to not having a child to watch. Cassie had said to make himself at home so he felt free to explore. He wanted to make sure that he knew exactly where al of the windows and doors were in the home, in case of emergency. Thankfully, his tour took the rest of that hour. He had just come back to the front door when his sharp ears noted the opening of a door.
X looked expectantly at the flight of stairs in front of him, Love seated beside him. They heard the tread of footsteps and a few moments later, Aaren appeared. He yawned loudly, not bothering to cover his mouth. He clomped down the stairs and came to an abrupt halt in front of X and Love, looking a little startled.
"Who are you," Aaren asked, looking up at the tall Gelert.
"I'm X, your babysitter. This is Love, my Puppyblew. You must be hungry, Aaren. What do you normally eat for breakfast," X asked, heading for the kitchen once more, completely comfortable in his surroundings.
The little Usul hurried after the Gelert, trying to keep up with the longer legged pet, "I eat whatever is cooked for me."
"Even bran muffins?"
Aaren stopped dead in the kitchen doorway, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
"Didn't think so. How about some cereal?"
X went to the pantry, got a box of Bran Boulders, got the milk, the bowl, the spoon and delivered the finished product to his waiting charge.
"There ya go," X said with a smile.
Aaren took one mouthful, curled his lip and spit it out. "Yuck! This isn't sugary enough!"
"What are you talking about? I put the normal amount of sugar in there."
"No, you didn't."
Aaren stood up from his stool at the island and marched over to the counter. He reached for the large jar labeled SUGAR and took it back to his cereal bowl. Using his spoon, he began to get heaps of the sugar and dump it into his bowl. By the fourth spoonful, X had had enough.
The spotted Gelert shot out his hand and stopped Aaren, who looked up in shock. No one had stopped him from doing something he wanted to do before!
"That's quite enough, Aaren. You can't eat that. You've ruined the cereal," X said firmly.
"Then make me something else but that actually tastes good," Aaren emphasized the word good.
"No. Pancakes aren't exactly healthy, either. You should only eat something like that on special occasions."
Aaren frowned, crossed his arms and glowered at X. He was never told no! X looked calmly back.
"I can't have any sugar," Aaren asked.
"You can but in smaller amounts. Too much is never good," X said.
"OK, how about scrambled eggs?"
X dumped the ruined cereal, disgusted by the needless waste. He replaced the sugar jar and then set about making Aaren his breakfast, for the second time. Ten minutes later, a plate was once more set before Aaren. Without even tasting it, he began to reach for the salt but then paused, looking at X. X raised his eyebrows at the boy, who dropped his hand reluctantly.
"Let me guess, too much salt isn't healthy for you, either," Aaren said.
"You guess correctly. You should at least taste it before you decide you don't like it."
Aaren looked down at the plate then slowly picked up his fork and took a bite. He chewed thoroughly, looking thoughtful before he swallowed.
"Well," X prompted.
"It tastes OK but I still think salt would make it even better," Aaren insisted.
"How about some ketchup?"
"I've never had ketchup with my eggs before."
X merely looked expectantly at Aaren.
"OK, I'll try it."
X squirted a bit of the ketchup on Aaren's plate. X smiled when Aaren's thoughtful look changed to one of happy surprise.
"This is... good," Aaren said, his surprise evident in his voice.
X went ahead and put more ketchup on Aaren's plate. The boy ate slowly and X decided to use that time to get to know him better.
"So, Aaren, what do you like to do," X asked.
"I stay inside and read books, play card games. Sometimes, I try to write but I don't think I'm any good. I have board games and other toys but it isn't any fun to play by myself," Aaren said.
"Well, I'm here to play with you. Though, I like going outside. I surf, play Yooyuball, soccer. I rarely sit still."
"Oh, I don't go outside. I hate getting dirty!"
"That's too bad. Getting dirty isn't what I focus on. I focus on all of the fun I have instead."
"I don't have any friends."
"No one seems to like me."
"Not everyone will. However, there will be someone out there who will like you for you."
"My mom doesn't count."
"Yes, she does. I meant others besides her."
"How do you make friends? Did you read a book or something?"
"I've never thought about it. I suppose I was just friendly and did my best to find others who shared the same interests I do."
"That sounds hard."
"Everything gets easier with practice. How about going to the park?"
Aaren wrinkled his nose and shook his head vehemently no. A shudder passed through him as he got up and left the room. X cleaned up in the kitchen and then went to look for his wayward charge.
"At least I don't have to worry about him running away," X said to Love.
The spotted Gelert went upstairs. He passed the office and the bathroom. He knew the second door on the right belonged to Aaren. He knocked on the door.
"Come in," Aaren called.
X opened the door to see Aaren sitting at a desk. The boy was on a rolling chair and had spun it in X's direction.
'Want to play a board game," X asked.
"OK, I have lots," Aaren said.
Aaren led the way downstairs and turned right into the game room. Shelves were filled with different games.
"I want to play this one. It looks fun," Aaren said, picking up Kiko Board Game.
They played games for the rest of the day. Aaren taught X about yo-yos and origami. Cassie came back shortly before dinner. X left, determined to help Aaren, no matter what it took.
~ ~ ~
It was Wednesday, shortly after lunch, when Aaren proposed something, "X, could we go to the bookstore?"
"Sure, we can do that," X said.
The Gelert was eager to stretch his legs. He had never been inside so much before. He led the way down the path. He was still hoping to convince Aaren that being outside could be great The poor kid was ten years old and he didn't know how to ride a bicycle!
They walked leisurely, mostly because Aaren was a tad chubby and couldn't (and wouldn't) move above a sedate walk. After half an hour, Aaren was huffing and puffing and they hadn't even left Aaren's neighborhood, yet.
"My feet hurt and I'm tired," Aaren whined.
X glanced down at his charge, "OK, I'll get a cab."
X scanned the sky first and was rewarded with the sight of a blue Eyrie. He had never had any need for a cab but decided to try, for Aaren's sake. He began to wave his arms above his head, wishing he stuck out, like a glowing pet would. Thankfully, the Eyrie spotted X's efforts and glided down.
"To the bookstore, please," X said, setting Aaren on the Eyrie's back.
"You got it. Five minutes," the Eyrie said.
X leapt on as the Eyrie took off. It was a breathtaking ride and X told himself never to do it, again. Feet weren't meant to leave the ground, the Gelert decided as the Eyrie touched down in front of the bookstore.
"Thank you," X managed to say, handing the Eyrie some Neopoints for the ride.
X followed Aaren into the bookstore, "So, is there any book in particular that you're looking for?"
"I want to read a book about making friends, X," Aaren said.
This gave X pause. He looked around, taking in the many shelves of books and their categories.
"Follow me," X said.
The Gelert led the young Usul to the children's section. There were plenty of books here.
"This is a good place to start, Aaren," X said.
X stood back, watching Aaren peruse the shelves, reading titles to himself, pulling a book out to look at it before returning it. He had yet to find anything he wanted to buy when a tawny striped bundle of fur attached itself to X's legs.
"X! You haven't babysat me for ages!"
"Lillian Grace, it hasn't even been a week," X said with a laugh, scooping the baby Kougress into his arms for a hug.
It was then that the spotted Gelert noticed Vicki, who was watching the two of them with a bemused expression on her face. She sighed and then shook her head.
"She likes you a whole lot more than she likes me," Vicki said.
"Greetings, Vicki," Aaren said, having joined the conversation, a slim volume in his hands.
"Well, hello to you, too, Aaren. Are you and X getting along?"
"Yes," X and Aaren said at the same time.
This surprised Aaren and he turned to look at X with wide blue eyes. Then, his gaze switched to look at Lillian Grace, who smiled warmly at him. X put the little girl down.
"Lillian Grace, this is Aaren. Aaren, this is Lillian Grace," X made the introduction.
"Hiya, it's nice to meet you, Aaren," Lillian Grace said, extending one hand to shake.
Aaren took a step back and wrinkled his nose. "You're not royal. You're just a baby! I only associate with royals, unless they're serving me in some way."
"That wasn't very nice."
"Nice? Why would I want to be nice to anyone?"
"So they will be nice to you."
This gave Aaren pause. It was clear he had never thought about that before. Vicki and X exchanged a glance.
"Lillian Grace, it's time to go," Vicki said.
"OK, goodbye X... Aaren," Lillian Grace said, hugging the spotted Gelert goodbye before taking her babysitter's hand.
"Aaren, if that's the only book you're going to get, then I'd like to get some books, too," X said.
The Gelert picked out several books and bought them. Then, he hired a Uni cab this time to get back to Aaren's Neohome. X had Aaren sit down I the living room with their books.
"Aaren, you want to learn how to make friends? To know how to do that, you have to know yourself. I know you know nothing about your species, so let me educate you," X said.
For the rest of the afternoon, X told Aaren about his species. How they were known for their friendliness and bravery. He gave examples, both of famous Usuls and of Usuls X knew personally. Cassie came home then and X had to leave but he hoped he had made an impact on Aaren.
~ ~ ~
The next day, Aaren was full of questions and X answered them as best he could. On Friday, after breakfast, Aaren proposed something.
"I've read that book so I want to put it to practice. Lets go to the park," Aaren said.
"OK," X said it slowly, reluctantly.
What did the little Royalboy Usul have up his sleeve? X was going to find out. X got a Uni cab and they soon enough reached the park. He recognized many faces on the playground. Aaren walked confidently into the fray.
X stayed close, knowing it was bad to hover but he was worried about Aaren's safety. The Usul walked up the stairs of the play set and tapped a blue Blumaroo boy on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, but what game are you playing and may I join?" Aaren asked the boy.
At that moment (as is typical at a playground) there was a high-pitched scream (of fun, of course) and X didn't hear the answer. However, the Gelert knew child games and it appeared to be a variation of lava monster, where one child was it and the other children couldn't leave the play set because the sand was the lava. The child that was it tried to tag one of the others who leapt and jumped out of the way, hoping not to be caught. It was a fun game, X having played it a few times. The Gelert stepped back, out of the way and watched his young charge.
X was impressed by Aaren. The Usul seemed to be accepted by the others. They treated him as one of the gang. Aaren hesitated often, as if trying to think of a correct response to the situation. By the time X called Aaren back to get ready for lunch, the boy was filled with excitement.
"I did it, X! I made new friends," Aaren said.
"Great! Now you have to keep them. We're having lunch with Vicki and Lillian Grace at Hubert's Hot Dogs," X said.
"Lets go. Lillian Grace was getting impatient so they're already there."
Thankfully, they didn't need to take a cab. Hubert's Hot Dogs wasn't that far away. Vicki and Lillian Grace were already in line, so the boys joined them.
"Hey," X said.
"Hey," Vicki returned the greeting.
Lillian Grace glanced at Aaren but otherwise ignored the Usul. The line moved quickly. Lillian Grace ordered a Tomato Striped Hot Dog and Vicki got a Calamari Jacket Potato. X got a Tomato Stuffed Jacket Potato and Aaren got a Bacon Deluxe Hot Dog. Being lunchtime, there was no available seating at Hubert's.
"Lets eat at Lillian Grace's. Its close by," Vicki suggested.
The others agreed. Actually, the baby Kougress' Neohome was right across the way from the park.
"Let's eat outside," X suggested.
"Sure," Vicki agreed.
"Vicki, may I eat in my tree house?" Lillian Grace asked her babysitter.
"Yes, you may."
The baby Kougress raced for the large tree, with its plentiful shade and comfortable tree house, hot dog in hand. X and Aaren watched her go.
"Lillian Grace, we have guests," Vicki said.
The baby Kougress halted and turned to look back at the others, her expression unreadable. Then, she turned her golden gaze to X and Aaren.
"X, Aaren, would you like to join me in my tree house," Lillian Grace asked.
"X will stay here on the lawn, Lillian Grace," Vicki put in quickly.
X shot the glowing Buzz a surprised glance but otherwise didn't object. He looked at Aaren.
Aaren nodded his head reluctantly. "Yes, I'd like to eat lunch in your tree house, Lillian Grace."
"Then follow me," Lillian Grace exclaimed (forcing cheer into her voice, X could tell).
X watched the children go and then looked at Vicki. "So, what was that about?"
"Aaren's a good kid, like I said. Making friends with Lillian Grace will really help him out."
X had to agree. Vicki got an outside umbrella and the two babysitters sat on the lawn, watching the tree house, just in case there was any trouble. Half an hour later, Lillian Grace and Aaren had come down out of the tree house, lunch over.
"Can we go swimming, Vicki," Lillian Grace asked.
"I don't know how to swim," Aaren said at once.
"That's OK. X can teach you. He taught me how."
"Lillian Grace-," Vicki began.
"I have to ask Cassie's permission, first before I can teach Aaren how to swim, if he wants to learn," X explained.
They looked at Aaren, who looked dubious. "Is swimming fun?"
"Is swimming fun? Yes! Swimming is fun," Lillian Grace exclaimed.
Aaren still looked doubtful but they all agreed that, once they got Cassie's permission, they would come back to Lillian Grace's so that Aaren could learn how to swim. It was then time for Aaren and X to leave. They got a cab and arrived back at Aaren's the same time as Cassie. Cassie was thrilled that Aaren had made friends and said yes to X teaching him how to swim. Aaren went to his bedroom, tired out after his long day and X was ready to leave.
Much to the spotted Gelert's surprise, Cassie hugged him. "Thank you, X, so much! You've done a wonderful thing for Aaren. I was so worried about him but I don't have to worry anymore... well, at least not about him being alone for the rest of his life."
"You're welcome. All I could do was give him advice. The rest was up to him," X said.
Cassie stepped back and X began his walk home. Of course, Cassie was right. He had done a good thing, helping a child fit in with his peers. It really made the Gelert feel good.
"That's what being a babysitter is all about, eh, Love," X said with a smile.
The Puppyblew wagged her tail enthusiastically as the pair went on their way.