Mother's Balloon: Part Ten
Featuring an Icing Thief and Suspicion, Wadjets and Ladders, Family Portraits and Memories and a Heart still Torn in Two
Mrs. Midge Worthington was the mother of five children, and like any mother she took the greatest pleasure in knowing her children were safe, healthy and happy. Her biggest regret in life was that she was not able to provide them with the finest of food, or the nicest of clothes, or the fashionable new toys other children were playing with. All she had to give was the highest quality of love. And that showed in everything she did, from the meals she cooked, to the care she put into keeping her house clean, to the inexpensive but elaborate birthday parties she would throw at least five times every year.
Every time a birthday came around, Mrs. Worthington would do everything in her power to ensure that it was a happy one. The house would be thoroughly decorated to the birthday person's liking, and the cake would be iced in such a way that it would be almost too pretty to eat. This year Bettina's cake was done in a very light green, with lavender trim around the top and bottom, and large purple flowers underneath where the writing was to go. Mrs. Worthington was just deciding whether to do the writing in pink or yellow icing when her husband snuck up behind her, and squeezed some pink jell onto his finger.
The blue Yurble turned with a jerk, catching the brown Kougra red-handed.
"Paws off!" she barked, snatching the tube out of his hand. "Look what you've done now. I barely had enough as it was!"
"Nonsense, you've got plenty there." He shook the yellow tube upside-down, and shrugged his shoulders when he felt nothing inside. "Listen Midge, I'm worried about Reyela tonight." he said, announcing the purpose of his interruption.
"What do you mean?" She held out her hand, telling him to hand the icing over. "If you're talking about sending her with Bill, he already said she would be no trouble at all. He's got three granddaughters her age, you know. It'll be a few hour drive in that carriage of his, but I'm sure they'll keep each other entertained..."
"I have no qualms about sending her with Bill," said Mr. Worthington. "I'm sure they'll get along famously. But chances are when they get there, Reyela won't be able to find her father right away, and we can't expect Bill to wait around all night for her. She might end up by herself, and Brightvale City is no small country town, if you know what I mean..."
"I know." Mrs. Worthington knew exactly what he meant. "The whole thing is ridiculous, really. I don't know how she's ever gonna find him if she doesn't know where he's staying. It's a blessing that there are only a few hotels in Brightvale City." A look of panic fell over her face. "Oh Seth, what if he's already gone home?"
"It wouldn't surprise me." Mr. Worthington admit. "It wouldn't surprise me at all. How could you stay out and enjoy yourself when your child's been missing for two days? Do we even know where Reyela lives? We could ask Bill to make a stop at her house on the way there. She can go inside and see if he's there, before she goes gallivanting around the city looking for him."
"If her house is on the way, Bill should drop her off whether he's home or not." said Mrs. Worthington. "He'll have to come home eventually, but she might be on her own for a few days."
"From the stuff she says, it sounds like she's on her own most of the time anyway. Did you hear what she was saying to Bettina earlier? She made it sound like she and her daddy barely even speak."
"I know everyone has different views on how to raise a child, but," the Yurble hesitated, trying to convey her thoughts without sounding harsh. "Do you think he seems like the kind of parent who would take his daughter on a trip for her birthday?"
"I was thinking the same thing." Mr. Worthington confessed. "And it seems unlikely that she could have wandered so far away from her dad without him noticing, even if he was distracted. You don't suppose she's a runaway, do you?"
"She could be."
Mrs. Worthington was suddenly aware of another person's presence behind her. "What would you like, Caleb?"
"I just wanted to see how the cake was coming." said the younger blue Yurble. "And Bettina has something she wants to say to Pa."
"Don't look!" Mrs. Worthington jumped in front of the cake when she realized Bettina was with him. It was a family tradition not to let the birthday girl or boy see their cake until after supper, when the lights were off and the candles were lit, and it was time to sing happy birthday.
"What did you want to say to me, Bettina?" Mr. Worthington leaned over so the Usul could whisper in his ear. "You forgot her outside, eh? I guess I'd better go get her."
"You didn't leave Liza outside, did you?" Mrs. Worthington asked with concern.
"No Ma. But I can't tell you who I did leave outside. It's a secret."
"A secret?" she echoed. "You're keeping secrets from your mother?"
"Don't worry, dear, it's a good secret. I'm sure you'll like it. I'm gonna bring it in now." Before he departed, Mr. Worthington attempted one final dip from the green icing bowl.
"Oh no you don't." With lightning reflexes, his wife grabbed the bowl out of his reach.
"Can I lick the spoons when you're done with them?"
"Pa!" Bettina shouted. "That's just for kids to do!"
"There won't be much of anything for you to lick off anyway." Mrs. Worthington frowned at the near empty bowl. "You might not even be getting all the letters of your name on the cake this year."
"It doesn't matter to me, Ma." Bettina said with a reassuring smile. "Chocolate cake tastes good even with no icing at all."
"It's not as good as it is with it though!" said Caleb, who had inherited his father's sweet tooth. "Come on Bettina, it's probably our turn again."
"See you later Ma!"
With her children gone back in the living room, and her husband gone out the back door, Mrs. Worthington went back to icing Bettina's birthday cake. There wasn't enough pink or yellow left to write the message she had wanted to write. She was about to open the cupboards to see what other colours she had, when an idea came to her. She squeezed all the pink icing, and the yellow icing she could to the front of their respective tubes, and within a moment, she had completed her masterpiece.
Sitting on a worn-out carpet that was packed to the brim with neopets, being squished up against the wall, observing the rain from the living room window, was not an activity Reyela would have ever thought that she could enjoy. Watching rain fall had never been a favourite pastime of hers — Which was a shame, really, as it would have given her something to do all those miserable and wet fall days. The red Draik was somewhat disappointed that this storm seemed to be coming to an end. It had not even left puddles for the Worthington children to jump in, and already the clouds were starting to clear slowly, and the raindrops were rolling down the window as softly as during a light spring shower. Reyela thought the patterns they made were fascinating and beautiful. They impressed her so much that they distracted her from the fact that she was failing hopelessly at every board game she played.
"Hey Reyela, it's your turn!" Medis alerted her for the third time, as the scarlet Draik stared blankly out the window.
"Oh." Reyela awakened from her daydream, and took the die and rolled it. She rolled a four, and she moved her piece four spaces and landed on the same square as Medis.
"Uh-oh." she grimaced. "Two people can't be on the same squares, can they?"
"I'm afraid not." Medis replied. "You'll have to move back a space."
Most board games did not require a large amount of skill or talent, and Wadjjets and Ladders was no exception. There was no certain secret to rolling the die to get it to land on the number you need, and it was ultimately up to fate and a great deal of luck to decide who the winner would be. If Reyela hadn't known before, she certainly knew it now. Some Neopians were luckier than others, and she was not a lucky one.
"It's your move, Bettina."
Bettina was a lucky one, but Reyela had already known that. She got to move her piece six spaces, hopping past a Wadjet and Caleb's piece, which put her up to first place.
"I'm winning!" the biscuit Usul gleamed.
"Not for long!" the biscuit Kougra challenged, and by chance the die rolled six for him as well. He too hopped over the Wadjet, and landed one space ahead of Bettina. "All right!"
Caleb was the next to roll, but the die wasn't so generous to him. He shook the ivory cube as hard as he could, and tossed it halfway across the floor. When he caught up to it, all that greeted his eager eyes was a solitary black dot.
"Aw man!" the Yurble groaned, and the other children laughed.
It was now back to Reyela's turn, and she would have been very happy to have rolled a one. Instead she rolled a two, and she slid down a long Wadjet which put her back down to the middle of the board.
"Perhaps I should quit while I'm ahead?"she sighed. "If this can in fact be considered ahead. Hannah, do you want to take my place?"
"You can't drop out in the middle of the game." Hannah apprised. "You're almost done, I think. I bet someone's gonna win soon."
"And it's gonna be me!" Bettina claimed, picking up the die and throwing it in the air. She trapped it with both hands, and carefully peeked inside as if she were afraid it might escape.
"Three." She showed the others. "Better than nothing, I guess."
Medis rolled a four, and got to go up a small ladder to the top row of the board. Caleb rolled the six he had been dreaming of, but unfortunately that brought him to a Wadjet, and he was forced to slide his piece down four rows so that it was one row on top of Reyela's piece.
"You've won, Medis." Reyela prematurely announced. "You're so close to the finish that it's impossible for you not to win."
"No one can be called the winner unless their piece is on the finish square." he corrected her. "I'm not on the finish square yet — Anything can still happen. It's your move."
Before she rolled the die, the scarlet Draik rolled her eyes to express her strong disapproval of the rules. Then she took the die and tossed it into the air the way Bettina had done, and when she saw she had rolled a two, she pouted, until she realized her piece was two spaces away from the tallest ladder in the game: The ladder that led from the middle of the board, all the way up to the top row.
"Would you look at that!" Medis' eyes nearly popped out of his skull. "Reyela's gonna win!"
Reyela was bursting on the inside, but on the outside she stayed composed and calm. "No one can be called a winner unless their piece is on the finish square." she repeated Medis' exact words. But her fingers were crossed, and her smile was starting to shine through. She knew who was going to win.
Bettina rolled a four and Medis rolled a three. Neither one stumbled upon any Wadjets or ladders, but Medis was now only five spaces away from the finishing square.
Caleb's turn came and went without anything extraordinary happening, and before long the die was back in Reyela's hand, and everyone's eyes were glued to her piece. She was but four spaces away from the finishing square. Unfortunately, that meant she was also three squares away from a long yellow Wadjet that stretched to the second-lowest row of the board. She would have to get a number higher than three to make it past the Wadjet and win the game. Her hand involuntarily started to shake.
"What are you waiting for?" Medis prompted. "You're not gonna get a better number if you hold it for longer."
Without really meaning to, Reyela let the die fall out of her hand, and it clunked to the floor and landed with only two dots facing up. Reyela glowered.
"This game must be fixed! How is it possible that I keep rolling twos?"
"At least you didn't get a three." Hannah encouraged her. "You still have a chance of winning."
"Yes, but if Medis hadn't forced me to roll right away, maybe I could have won just now."
"Oh, so you're saying it's my fault?" the biscuit Kougra glared.
"It's my turn!" Bettina grabbed the die and rolled it before any altercation could start. "I got a five! That's funny, because that's how old I am today! Look Medis, look Reyela, I'm in the top row now!"
Reyela said nothing, and as Medis had no desire to argue with her, he remained silent as well. It was his turn, and he was still five spaces away from the finishing square. He dropped the die just like Reyela had, but to his surprise it landed on six. "How did that happen?"
"What do you mean how did it happen?" Caleb slapped him on the back. "You just won the game!"
Everyone clapped, but the biscuit Kougra did not smile. He was looking at Reyela, trying to decipher the expression on her face, wondering whether she was going to scream or cry. To his surprise, she did nothing of the sort, but began to clap as well.
"Good game, Medis." she nodded sincerely, and offered him her hand for him to shake.
He thanked her, and took her hand and shook it, and he heaved a secret sigh of relief.
Reyela was like a fuse that could be ignited by the tiniest spark. When provoked she was nothing short of explosive, so she needed to be handled with caution and care. He didn't know what made the scarlet Draik the way she was. Two days ago he had thought she was spoiled rotten — A city girl accustomed to the luxuries of life, forced to stay with a farming family who didn't know the meaning of the word 'luxury'. Now he could see it was far more complicated than that. It could take a person years to truly understand the wild Draik. And years was something the biscuit Kougra didn't have.
"I smell supper." Caleb sniffed the air. "Smells like squash, and bread... and spinach."
"Spinach?" Hannah echoed. "Caleb, how can you tell what supper's gonna be just by smelling it?"
"Magic, Hannah, you know that. I also smell dough of some sort, like, crust or something. And some kind of meat, and cheese, and... peas."
"Now I know you're making that up."
Bettina's face lit up like the sun. "I don't think he's making it up! That last part sounded like meat pie, my absolute most favouritest supper food! Caleb, is that what we're having? Did Ma tell you?"
"Maybe." Caleb grinned. "Why don't you go ask her yourself?"
Bettina inhaled sharply, and danced into the other room.
"Pa picked up all the ingredients at the market yesterday." Caleb explained. "You wouldn't believe the trouble I had trying to keep her from looking in the bags."
"It sounds like your hard work really payed off." Medis chortled when he heard an enthusiastic squeal from the kitchen.
"I'd say she's proper excited." he smirked. "Supper must be almost ready. I'm starved."
"How is that even possible?" marvelled Hannah. "You had more waffles than anybody at lunch time. Even Pa only had three."
"Pa's not still growing." he said simply. "Let's clean up here and see if Ma needs any help with anything in the kitchen."
"Wait." Reyela shouted suddenly as Caleb, Medis and Hannah started picking up their game.
"Did you want a rematch?" asked Medis. "I don't think we have time right now, but maybe after supper we'll have a few minutes."
"I just wanted to say that I'll be leaving soon, and I..." She looked down at the red checkered shirt and blue pants Hannah had lent her: The ones she had been wearing the day before as well. "I think I'd better change now. I don't know how much time I'll have after supper, and..."
"Go right ahead." Caleb invited her. "I guess you know the way?"
"Oh yes, I know the way."
She was going to say something else, but she didn't. She turned and walked slowly out of the room, taking in the sights as she meandered through the hallway, and up the stairs.
There was absolutely nothing pretty about the outdated cream-coloured wallpaper, or the wooden floors that creaked every second step you took. But Reyela had become attached to them. So attached in fact that it made her happy just to look at them, and imagine all the lovely moments that may have happened in the timeworn hallway over the years.
The framed black and white pictures on the walls gave her clues. There was one of a very young Caleb and Medis holding a Beakadoodle chick by the open back door. There was one of Hannah and a toddler Bettina having a tea party in the living room doorway. There was a more recent photograph of the entire family coming in the front door, Mrs. Worthington carrying a newborn Colton in her arms. And there was one faded picture that Reyela had to squint to clearly see. It was of a young boy, a Kougra with the same inviting eyes and laughing smile as Medis, but who was not Medis, standing on the same stairs that she was standing on with a pretty young Yurble who was unmistakably Mrs. Worthington.
It startled Reyela to see how strong a resemblance Medis shared with his father when his father was the same age as him. Even now he was a spitting image of Seth Worthington, not only because of the way that he looked, but by the way he looked at life itself. From the way that he walked to the way that he talked, to the habits he couldn't break, to his love for the land, Medis was almost an exact replica of his father, and it showed in everything he did.
At this time, Reyela couldn't help but think of her own father, and wonder if she shared any similarities with him, other than the fact that she was related and she lived in the same house. It was true that she was a Draik, just like he was, but she didn't look like him. She was not the same colour and she did not posses any of his facial features, besides his brown eyes. She had always thought she looked more like her mother, and her father agreed. She remembered back to a few weeks ago when her father had said she was blossoming into a beautiful young lady.
"Every time I look at you now, I see Adelaide." he had told her that evening when he was coming in the door from work.
"You always say that, but I don't understand it." she had replied. "How can I look so very much like Mother if I am red, and she was white?"
"I look past the colour." the green Draik had answered tenderly. "You do look so much like her, even just sitting there like you're doing now. When I look at you, I almost think that I don't have to miss your mother so much."
Reyela recalled that she hadn't verbally replied to this comment. She had answered with a nod, or perhaps a polite smile. But now she wished she had said something more...
For the first time since she arrived at the Worthington farm, or perhaps even for the first time in her life, Reyela felt her heart pining not only for her home, but for the father she had left behind. The desire was strong, so strong that it was almost a physical pain. Her head was actually starting to hurt, and she wondered if it was her brain trying to tell her her heart was wrong.
Don't go back. the voices told her. You belong here. Don't go home.
"I have to go home." her heart argued with her brain. "My father is missing me. He loves me ever so much..."
Your father doesn't love you.
Reyela bounded up the stairs and ran into Hannah and Bettina's bedroom, heading for the window. She needed air, but the window had been shut due to the rain, and no matter how she pulled, she couldn't get it open.
Reyela gave up and collapsed onto Hannah's bed. Maybe it wasn't too late. She could make up a reason why she positively could not go to the city with Bill, or if worse came to absolute worst, she could even tell them the truth. They would surely let her stay with them if she told them her father was a cruel and heartless man who didn't care about his daughter, or even remember she existed.
"What's wrong with me?" Reyela said in a barely audible whisper. "I know Father cares about me, even though he doesn't always show it. And yes he may be selfish, but I'm just as bad. I'm sure I'm over reacting, or imagining the whole thing. How ridiculous I'm being!" She laughed a weak laugh, and the slightest shadow of a smile began to appear on the red Draik's lips.
"They'll be wondering where I've gotten to." she realized, getting up from the bed, and changing back into her own sky-blue dress.
She folded the clothes she had just taken off, and left them in a neat pile on the dresser. Her hair had become quite matted from a day of active play, so she quickly went through it with the brush Mrs. Worthington had lent her, and then she retied her ribbon so that the bow was straight and tidy again.
Before she returned downstairs, she did one final check of herself in the bathroom mirror. She didn't know if she looked quite up to Brightvale City's standards. Her chestnut hair was not cooperating as well as she would have hoped, and the fabric of her dress was a bit wrinkled from being folded instead of hung. In spite of these things, she did look very pretty. It was not only her face, but her overall appearance. It looked different, she thought, but she couldn't put her finger on precisely what it was.
"I suppose I'm ready."
Her gaze lingered on the mirror for a second longer, and then she lumbered down the stairs to join the Worthingtons for supper, for the last time.
To be continued…