Chapter 45 - A Secret Friend
“Rhett are you okay?” Grant asked.
He shook his head and quickly formed a smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry, spaced out for a second.”
Grant noticed a look on Rhett’s face he had never seen before. It was leaking sorrow. Rhett had always been one to cheer everyone up, so even seeing that for a moment took Grant by surprise.
“Did you used to feed your tortoises strawberries too?” Linn asked Rhett.
“Of course! Everyday! It was their favorite treat!” Rhett overshot his smile, as if trying to hold something back.
“Well, this is probably enough “guardian” viewing for Rhett, right?” Natch teased.
“Hold on, I’m still writing something down!” Saraiya said, her hand scribbling side to side in a small notepad.
“You know, you could probably ask Rhett any questions about tortoises, or even ask to see his,” Kale interrupted.
Rhett shot a glare at Kale. A first, that no one had seen before.
“I mean… haha, if he had one here…” Kale wasn’t convincing anyone.
“What? Rhett has a tortoise here? I thought he meant Kandorr when he said he had one back at home!” Saraiya said. “You did say you were here on a visa after all.”
A guilty expression formed on Rhett’s face, “Well, I guess, there is no recovering from Kale’s performance. I uh, actually have my guardian, Tarro, in Lyros. I made a room for him, I just don’t let him outside because of all the cats. I have a feeling they wouldn’t be friendly towards him.”
“What?! Why have we never been told about this? And why is Kale the only one who knows?” Saraiya appeared flustered.
Rhett sighed. “Kale was the only one there to greet me when I arrived and he offered to help me move all my stuff inside. Plus, I’ve seen in newspapers and tv how much people of Kandorr get teased about their tortoises, so I thought I’d lay low on it. I was originally going to tell you all after a while, but it didn’t seem that important.”
“Anything animal related is important to Saraiya, Rhett,” Natch said while placing his hand on Rhett’s shoulder.
“I guess I can let you guys meet him sometime this week...”
“Hmm, okay.” Saraiya still seemed a bit annoyed.
Grant wondered if Rhett was as close to his pet as much as Kale was to Zair. If that was the case, maybe that’s why he didn’t seem as creeped out as Grant did in the beginning. He was used to living in an environment full of people who practically worshipped animals. Perhaps it was other reasons that Kale had creeped Rhett out. Although, in the past week, it had felt like Kale had never creeped them out to begin with. It was an odd feeling. Grant started to look at him as an actual friend, despite his strange habits.
The group left the tortoise exhibit and headed down the building passing a food stand. Rhett tried to stop everyone to eat until he noticed a food court right outside the building.
They approached the food court and Grant noticed a stand selling vanilla cola cubes.
“Ah! I need to buy these!” Grant said and rushed ahead of the group.
“That’s so unlike you Grant,” Rhett smirked. “I haven’t seen you get that excited for anything.”
“Ah hah, I guess,” Grant said, feeling embarrassed. These were important to him though, he hadn’t had any since that dreadful day. He couldn’t even bring himself to search for them, but ever since that day at Knairez, he was completely confident that the incident wasn’t his fault. Eating this dessert would help bring back happy memories of sitting around with Elijah every summer.
“I want some too!” Linn’s voice trailed off behind Grant as he jogged up a wooden ramp towards the stand.
The floor of the food court was elevated and made up of mahogany floorboards. On the outer edges of the manmade ground, waist high railings surrounded the perimeter. Lush forests of exotic trees filled in behind the footpaths. Cicada chirps filled the air. Groups of people were seated around tables in the middle of the court, it looked as if they were in the middle of nowhere in Jurai. A lonely village of food stands.
The group spread out into lines at various food stands. Saraiya and Linn stayed with Grant in the line for the ice cream treat. Rhett and Natch each got in line for a different snack while Kale found an empty table for everyone.
“When I used to work here I ate these way too often.” Saraiya laughed.
“I can imagine that would be a problem for me if I worked here.” Grant said as he took out his wallet.
“This area is actually one of the renovated areas. When I worked here, this area was nowhere near this fancy, and it looks like if we continue further down this way there are new animal exhibits.”
“Yay! New animals!” Linn smiled.
“Next!” The voice behind the stand called.
Grant jumped from surprise and stepped forward. The worker was in a red Montria Zoo uniform. He brought his eyes up and recognized her face. Although her stingray styled hair was hidden away behind her back. She smiled suspiciously.
“Wow, what a surprise seeing you here,” Rinari said.
Grant’s eyes grew frantic, dodging eye contact. “Yeah… Could I just get a large please?”
How many times did Grant have to run into her? It was as if she was always watching over him.
“I suppose that is my job. Who else did you come here with?” she asked while scooping up the ice cream.
Grant remained silent and Saraiya stepped up towards the booth.
“Oh, are you here on a date?” Rinari raised an eyebrow.
“W-what? No, we’re here with some people from Lyros,” Grant quickly denied.
“See, was that so hard? I’m just curious who tagged along.”
“You know her Grant?” Saraiya asked.
“I guess you could say that…”
Rinari handed him the ice cream and winked. “It’s getting closer to the day huh?”
“What day? Are you guys planning something?” Saraiya turned to Grant who had already left the money on the counter and walked away from the stand.
What day was she talking about? He remembered her saying she planned on seeing him again soon, but hadn’t that already happened at Knairez? Unless that was just a coincidence too. What was she really planning? And who was she?
Grant approached the table where Kale sat alone, waiting for the others.
“Thanks for taking me along, Grant.” Kale’s eyes smiled.
“It wasn’t just my decision, you should be thanking everyone though.”
“I know, but, I am just glad that everyone felt comfortable enough to bring me along. Usually I don’t get invited to anything, so this is pretty nice.” His eyes looked sincere as he placed his gloved hands atop the table. “It’s too bad Ambri couldn’t make it.” Grant sensed no truth behind those words.
It wasn’t that she couldn’t make it, it was that everyone decided against inviting her and asked Kale at the last second. The mood felt tense whenever Ambri was around. For a second he thought he would rather have Rinari with them, but then retracted his thought. She pulled a knife on him, afterall.
He took a bite in his ice cream and slouched in his chair with a satisfying sigh.
“Hey Grant, why do you think the cats have taken a liking to you?”
Grant swallowed a mouthful of the cold dessert. “I have no idea to be honest.”
“Hmm, it’s strange, I didn’t expect them to like you until after the ceremony.”
Kale paused. “That’s just usually around the time they start becoming friendly with new people. After the ceremony we usually bring some of the cats to be fed by the new residents in hopes some will stop acting so hostile. It usually works.”
“I don’t know, maybe they just got used to seeing me around and realize I’m not a threat.”
“No, I don’t think that’s it Grant. I—”
“Hey you two, the others still aren’t back yet?” Saraiya asked as her and Linn sat down next to Grant.