Botany Students' Day Out
Leslie always feels like the odd one out in her botany class. She joined a year after the other fifteen students, and they'd already developed a strong set of links, a balance that she disturbs. So she was surprised when Tony (BlueAnthony, a faerie blumaroo who always has creative flower arrangements) invited her to come on an overnight trip with the class to Roo Island.
But sure enough, here she is, with the rest of the class, and they're all riding the merry-go-round and having fun together. Even Pachy (PachysandraMote, a green lupe who manages to get under everyone's skin; the rest of the group usually just puts up with her) has been laughing and talking with the rest.
They're in the most theme-park-esque section of the island, and after the merry-go-round comes to a stop, Cal (captainnapalm, a scruffy brunette user with the start of a moustache and perpetual dirt under his fingernails) suggests riding the Rolling Thunder.
Tony declines - he has wings, after all - and says he'll just watch the bags. Leslie offers to join him; but a chorus of protest stops her.
"Aw, no, Leslie, c'mon."
"What's the matter? You don't like roller coasters?"
"Well," she admits, "I've never been on one. But . . ."
"Then you've gotta try this!" Paws, claws, hooves, and hands drag her into the line.
The idea in the back of Leslie's mind - that the odds of a Chaos Faerie attack are high, and she ought to stay on the ground and at the edge of the group - is scrubbed from her mind by the exhilaration of plummetting towards the ground at ninety miles an hour.
When it's over, Betsy (buzzerlvr12, a purple-haired user with an interest in plant sculpture and a good-natured grin) suggests they go get ice cream. So they huddle in a cluster next to the snack stand line, fumbling with bags and wallets and mulling over flavors.
Leslie's already decided - she'll have a scoop of vanilla with chocolate sauce - and so she studies a bank of flowers lining the path. "Nelson. Gigi. Noblesse," she murmurs to herself, naming varieties of carnation as her eyes pass them. "Kaly. Dream. Giogia. Pesco . . ."
"Dude. Leslie," interrupts Cal, the scruffy user. "We'ren ot at school. Lighten up! What kind of ice cream are you getting?"
"Vanilla, with . . ." she begins. And then there's that chorus again.
"No way. Geez, Les."
"They have eight zillion flavors and you're getting vanilla?"
"I think I'm getting speckled."
"Thistle shoyru for me."
"I can't decide - I like blueberry aisha, but I've never tried spotted . . ."
"Hey, Leslie," says Betsy, the purple-haired girl. "How about you get pink spooky and I'll get minty rock, and we can share?"
Leslie agrees, and discovers that, while she doesn't care for pink spooky, she rather likes minty rock. Better than vanilla, in fact.
That night, as they lie in their sleeping bags on the floor of Tony's condo (girls in one room, boys in another; the flat has been in the blumaroo's family since before Dice-a-Roo came about, which is how he can afford such a large Roo Island property), the girls talk.
Leslie's not really listening - she's keeping her ears perked up for a VirtuPet attack again - until Betsy says, "What d'you think, Les?"
"What? Sorry . . ."
"Geez, even I was paying attention!" chirrups Pachy, the bothersome green lupe.
"C'mon, talk a little," Betsy encourages her. "You've been in our class all year, and we don't even know you."
"I don't have anything to say," Leslie protests.
"What are your pets like?" suggests Triczzie (a red kau who laughs at jokes that Leslie simply doesn't get, and usually seems very distant).
And Leslie finds that she has things to say after all.
Everyone else but Val (Vallerie985, a green peophin who's only in the class because her owner wants her to join him in the gardening business) has fallen asleep, after hours of talking and a few hushed rounds of Two Truths and a Lie.
The conversation is intermittent: there's silence for a while, and then Val will say something.
"I can't b'lieve y'thought I'd never been t'Maraqua," she murmurs sleepily.
"Well, nobody knew you were a Caption Contest model," replies Leslie quietly. Val had won that round, no question.
"Why's that so s'prising? 'M I not pretty 'nough?" comes Val's response after a moment.
"That's not it. It's just . . . rare."
There's a longer pause than usual, and Leslie's drifting off herself when Val's voice brings her back. "You have fun t'day?"
". . . Yeah," murmurs Leslie, to her surprise. "Yeah, I did."
She waits a while for Val's next question, but only even breathing reaches her ears, and pretty soon Leslie is fast asleep too.