There's a new girl in town and the friendly folks of Lyra are ready to welcome her in style! Now let's just hope they don't scare her off. Written and Illustrated by Mayura Nacht.
Kana Portrait: http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/28306217/
The dot on the map read "Lyra" in thin red letters. Nestled in between green sections that represented forest, it was right along the coast with only a hatched line, indicating a railroad, running through it. There was nothing in the regional guidebook about it except the words "quiet and scenic" in small print on page 34 in the Quaint Towns section.
It sounded perfect to Willow.
Folding the map again, Willow glanced out the window of the train and tried not to listen to the conversation her new "friend", a talkative cat named Rover, was having on the telephone three benches down with someone named Nook.
"...Yeah, another one. No, no, she doesn't know where she's going to stay."
Willow rolled her eyes. It wasn't as if she'd planned on not having a place to stay, but her circumstances called for immediate departure with little to no forethought about accommodations. If she'd stayed one more minute in that house, in that town with her family, someone was going to end up with their head in a blender. She had too many relatives, in her opinion, and they all lived in the same town.
"All right!" Rover chirped, returning to his seat in across from her. "It's all covered, my friend will meet you at the station. He'll take care of you."
Somehow Willow didn't feel completely reassured.
This was all new to her, this feeling of being out on her own without a cousin or aunt or some other relative with her. Usually when she traveled it was with an entourage of family. She loved them, but she had no privacy. They were always interested in her life, offering advice even if she didn't want it. Couldn't she make mistakes without everyone jumping to her rescue? Even total strangers were doing it! Did she have the word "helpless" tattooed on her forehead?
The PA system crackled to life, temporarily interrupting Rover's steady description of his travels and friends, much to Willow's relief.
"Attention, attention! Next stop Lyra! I repeat, next stop Lyra!"
"Well, it looks like your stop is coming up. It was wonderful to meet you Willow. Perhaps we'll meet again when next you ride the train. I'm always doing this, you know?"
What? Talking to strangers on the train, or creeping people out? Willow wondered, reaching below her seat and retrieving her duffel bag. As the train slowed, Rover helped her get her suitcase down from the luggage rack above them while she pulled on her back pack. Willow felt like a bag lady carrying all her worldly possessions in three bags. What was she thinking moving to a town in the middle of nowhere with only a few bells in her pocket?
Stepping off the train, she turned to give Rover a half-hearted wave as he called out his good-bye, then descended to the platform. The porter monkey offered his assistance, but she politely declined, saying she could handle it. She needed to do this, she could do this by herself.
Hefting the bags and suitcase, she struggled across the brick station to the staircase that led to the pathway into town. Not very far down the cobblestones she spotted the roofs of four houses. Three were one story little wooden structures, the last and closest to her was two stories. Its roof was painted blue and had two chimneys, neither of which were active.
Willow leaned against the railing and squinted trying to see if there was any sign of activity. Rover said his friend lived there and she was betting this Nook creature lived in that house. She wondered if she should head towards it or wait for Nook to come get her. Judging the way her arms were aching from walking only the short distance with her bags, she decided to wait.
"Ho, ho!" a voice called over from her left. A tanuki, nearly as tall as she and wearing a business suit came hurrying through a little path in the trees. "Are you Willow?" he asked coming up beside her. She nodded. "Good! Rover called me and told me you were coming. Sorry I'm late, but I was finishing up the preparations for the statue that's going in over there." The tanuki pointed to a dug up spot just right of the cobblestones. "It's going to be grand!" he exclaimed.
Willow only nodded again.
"My name is Tom Nook, but everyone just calls me Nook," he continued taking her duffel bag from her.
"Willow Ender," she said not bothering to protest as he took the suitcase from her too.
"Rover said that you needed a place to stay. I have several houses for sale just down this way." Not bothering to make sure she was ready to move or not, Nook started off down the path towards the houses she'd been looking at earlier. Following her benefactor, she listened as he went on merrily about the three different houses he had, the fact that he could enlarge them, for a price, and that he owned the local store where she could purchase furnishings.
Coming to a halt, he set down her bags and turned to her.
"Pick any house you like, except that one." He pointed to the house with the blue roof. "That one is already taken and paid off. She was wonderfully quick about it." The tanuki smiled happily, his voice raising an octave as he added the last part. Willow eyed him suspiciously, getting that feeling she got when her grandmother started trying to fix her up with her Bridge club's members' grandsons.
Eager to get away from that too familiar sensation, she hurried to take a look at each house. After spending several minutes looking through each one and coming to the realization that they basically were the same place, just different carpeting, she chose the one across and down from the "Blue Roof" as she dubbed it.
Nook seemed pleased with her choice, although it seemed that he would've been happy with any choice she made. When it came to a matter of the price though, he wasn't so happy. She didn't have near enough to cover the cost of the place and they spent half an hour working out how she was going to pay off her debt. After all, he couldn't let her stay there for free and she had no where else to go.
Stupid Willow, really stupid. I should've taken up Dad's offer to cash in my savings bonds, she thought biting her tongue as Nook pointed out that he wasn't heartless to a creature in need. No, but you are greedy.
Finally she agreed to work part-time at his store until she could work the debt down to a reasonable amount. Nook seemed satisfied with that and with a cheerful wave and promise to see her bright and early the next morning, he left Willow to unpack, or rather dump her clothes in a pile on the floor. As much as she didn't want to, she may have to go over to his store and haggle for at least a dresser.
This wasn't going how she'd expected it to go. Angry at herself, Willow stepped outside, slammed the door and was prepared to head off in pursuit of the tanuki when she heard someone call out.
"Ah, excuse me. Miss?"
Turning, Willow noticed another human, a woman several years older than herself, brown hair layered and styled in a tidy manner. She was dressed in a sleeveless shirt, slacks and carried a pink box. She was standing in front of "Blue Roof" looking very much like the "friendly neighbor" in all those TV sitcoms.
"I hope I'm not intruding, but I couldn't help but notice you and Nook looking at all the houses. It appears you've purchased one, yes?" She sounded a bit hopeful, leaving Willow to wonder how many humans lived in Lyra. Admittedly she hadn't asked Nook about the residents, but she thought there must be more than one.
"Yes, I did...more or less speaking." Willow tried not to grumble. She didn't want to take her anger out on her new neighbor.
"Ah," said the woman, a smile spreading across her face. "I know that line." Coming over, she stood in front of Willow and held out the box for her. "In the spirit of neighborly goodwill, I offer you a small gift and my services as part of the welcoming committee. I'm Kana Wrighter."
Taking the gift, Willow lifted the lid to box and saw a platter of brownies and a letter a note on top. Reading it, she smiled.
"I thought you might like that," Kana said watching her. "Don't worry, I was in your shoes about three years ago. I needed somewhere to live and my friend Ellie, she lives here down by the ocean, encouraged me to come here. Nook stuck me in the same deal he' no doubt struck with you. Let me guess, no real furniture in your place?" Willow nodded. "I have some I'm not using; you're welcome to any of it."
"Oh, yes," Willow replied, closing the lid of the box. "You mean it about giving me some furniture?" Kana nodded.
"I have a lot of stuff in my basement I haven't bothered to sell yet. You may go through it and take what you want and don't worry about paying me back. I'm just glad to have a new neighbor. That you're human is a bonus. Up until now, I've been it." Kana's relaxed manner caused Willow to smile. Her generous offer of furniture and a tour of the town along with some brownies to sweeten the deal suddenly made her feel very welcome.
"Can I come see the furniture now?" She immediately cursed her self for sounding pushy, but Kana only chuckled and said yes.
"Let me throw on a sweatshirt so I don't ruin my work shirt and we can move furniture. Oh wait, I wonder if Groucho is in?" Kana stared down from the cluster of four houses through the trees just south of them. "Groucho Grizzley lives down past that Golden tree; you can see the top of his roof from here. He's a bit of a grump, especially in the morning, but otherwise a nice guy. Wait here, I'll go see if he's available to help us."
Trotting off, Kana hurried down to find Groucho. Taking advantage of her neighbors' absence, Willow greedily ate a couple of her brownies. She was licking the fudge from her fingers when Kana reappeared with a tall, blue-black bear wearing a dark green shirt. He was grumbling to Kana who seemed oblivious to it, or perhaps she just didn't take it seriously, Willow couldn't tell which.
"Groucho, this is...oh, I never did ask you your name. That was rude of me."
"Groucho Grizzley." He crossed his arms and stared at her. "You needed furniture moved."
"We haven't picked it out yet..." Kana began. Groucho turned on her, glaring.
"So why did you bother me now?!"
"Because we will need you and I thought it'd be easier if I got you now when you're at home rather than wait and risk the chance that you won't be there," Kana explained matter-of-factly.
Groucho continued to glare.
"I have brownies," Kana offered. "Fudge iced or cream cheese swirled."
The bear glanced at Willow, then back to Kana.
"Chocolate chunks?" he asked, arching one eyebrow at her. She grinned impishly.
"I bought them on my way home."
Without another word, Groucho headed up towards Kana's house. The woman winked at Willow before hurrying after him.
Watching them walk, Willow was suddenly reminded of her parents. The grump and the one with the ability to wrap the grump around her finger. She nearly laughed. Following them, brownies still in hand, Willow couldn't help but smile as Kana and Groucho discussed what other goodies she had in her kitchen.
Upon entering Kana's place, the trio went immediately downstairs, Kana promising to show Willow the house later. Flipping on the light, Kana gestured to the jumble of furniture shoved every which way.
"Nothing matches, but there's a lot of stuff to choose from," she admitted letting Willow go down first.
Opening the drawers of a pink dresser that was similar to the one she'd had in her room at home, Willow wondered if she could get this all in her tiny house. Moving about the basement, climbing over a few chairs and a statue of a mermaid, Willow took inventory of what she absolutely had to have.
"Do you ever throw anything away Kana?" Groucho asked from the stairwell.
"I haven't had time what with my schedule at the company and..." Kana trailed off as Willow turned on a transistor radio that looked like it'd seen better days. It blared some unintelligible rock song and Willow hastily turned it off.
Above them the doorbell rang. Kana excused herself to see who it was and vanished back upstairs. Climbing back over the chairs, Willow pointed to the pink dresser, which was the easiest of the three dressers to get to. The other two, a brown stained thing and a black one, were wedged next to each other with a tribal mask, three lily pad shaped end tables, a fishing pole and two totem poles blocking the way.
"I'll start with this. I think if we move it, we can get to the writing chair over there and that small reddish end table," she said, looking up at Groucho.
"Sure," he answered coming down the remaining stairs.
"Hey! Groucho, winger!" The bear paused and Willow watched him roll his eyes. A blue hawk appeared along with a white sparrow and a green frog. They were all wearing the same yellow print shirt with black paw prints. "Need a wing or two and a flipper?"
"Hello!" exclaimed the sparrow. "You must be the new girl, Willow. I'm Piper, this is Pierce and Prince." She waved to the two other animals with her. "Kana said you might need some help moving furniture?"
"Well," Willow began. The basement was becoming more crowded than it was with only the furniture. "I'm sure we could use the help?" It came out more of a question as she watched the expression on Groucho's face turn from gruff to annoyed.
"Pierce, why don't you go help Groucho get that dresser out of the way?" Piper suggested, giving the hawk a playful shove. He didn't hesitate and within a moment both he and Groucho had the pink dresser.
"You wanted this right?" the bear remarked, making sure this was correct. She nodded and, with Prince and Piper hurrying back up the stairs to open the door, they lifted it up. Once they were on their way to her house and no longer blocking the stairs, Piper, Prince and Kana came down. Willow pointed out the other items she wanted and they quickly got a hold of them and carried them up.
The procession of furniture went on for about twenty minutes before everything that Willow wanted was brought over and arranged. Tucking a strand of black hair behind her ear, she looked around at her newly cluttered home. Nothing matched, but she had furniture and a place to sleep.
"Whew, I'm beat." Prince waved a flipper in his face to try and cool himself. "That was a lot of work, I'd forgotten how hard it is to move." Across from him, resting on a cream couch, Pierce was flopped out, wings spread along the length of it. Kana and Piper sat on the floor, heads resting against the back of the pink dresser with Groucho sitting in the writing chair to their left.
"Thanks everyone," Willow said. "I don't know how to thank you."
"Just don't move anytime soon," Groucho replied.
"I second that," said Prince. Piper chuckled as Kana climbed to her feet.
"Since everyone worked so hard, how about dinner at my place tonight?" she offered, dusting off her slacks. "Is everyone all right with sandwiches, carrot sticks and brownies?"
A chorus of "no" answered her. It took a minute to rouse everyone and herd them out the door, but Kana and Piper managed. Taking a long look around her house, Willow sighed contentedly. She hadn't made a mistake leaving home she decided. No, in fact, this was a good decision.
"Coming Kana," she replied, flipping off the lights.