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September 29th, 2012
Lower Ring Ba Sing Se, Autumn of 98 AG
"Mom! Is the breakfast ready?!" Lee screamed impatiently
"Yeah, I want food now!" Meimei agreed, slamming the table with her small but strong fists. Her dad had always meant to put her in jujitsu classes but never got around to it.
Joo Dee walked into the kitchen with two bowls. It was one of the last things the family kept ever since they departed (the family likes using the word departed instead of escaped, it's a pride thing) Ming-Yun. The bowls had emerald designs around the circumference, the same color as their nation's flag. The Pong-Jai's were very patriotic.
"Leechi nuts for breakfast again?" Lee asked disappointed, "That's practically all we've been eating since we came to this stupid city!"
"Well when you have enough money to support two adults, a four-year-old and a loud-mouthed son, you can decide what we eat! But for now, you're going to sit down, eat your breakfast, and go find a job so we can afford to live somewhere better than this!" Joo Dee bellowed at her son
Lee stared at his mother whose face became more and more vehement. Meimei looked at her mother, then to her brother, and repeated it until the silence was broken by their just-awaking father.
"Good morning family," Sho greeted before letting out a short goat dog-sounding yawn.
The hostility increased but Lee and Joo Dee decided not to ruin Sho's day and left the room without saying a word.
Joo Dee barged out the back door to wash the exiguous, filthy clothes they had, mumbling, cursing, and asking why the spirits gave her such an ungrateful son. Sho followed her, wondering what on Earth could've happened moments before.
"What's wrong?" he asked, putting an apathetic arm around her shoulder
"It's just, I don't know how long I- we can live like this. The same meals day after day, the same clothes months after months. We're spending a gold piece a week and earning a couple copper pieces a month. In a little bit, we won't have enough money to buy winter coats, nonetheless winter boots," she replied, tearing up sentence by sentence.
"Honey, look at me," Sho said with his hands on her cheeks, "I'll make sure we'll make it through this."
"That's the thing, I don't want to just make it through this. I want to be able to wake up and not worry how many hours my husband's been breaking his back to feed his family while we sit back and relax."
"Joo Dee, listen to me. There's nothing to worry about. I'll do what I can at work to make some more money. Well, I'm off to work, see you in a couple of hours, or so."
With that, he was off and Joo Dee a little more joyous about future.
Lee walked down to the market with his copper piece he acquired from finding Old Man Yoo's cat.
"Hello Ms. Quan-Lee! How much can I get for a copper?" Lee asked the old lady selling moon peaches.
"Nothing," she oxymoronically said.
"Okay I'll take- NONE? Just a few days ago I could've bought three of them?"
"Ever since the market crashed from the Fire Nation's not giving us any exports, prices sky-rocketed. Just about every fruit has gone up except this one, until now," she replied negatively
"Well, how much are they?" Lee pondered at the thought.
"Will you quiet down? You're scaring off my potential customers," she demanded while motioning her "potential customers" to come to her.
"I'm sorry Ms. Quan-Lee but I don't have the money to pay for that. I'll just come back when I have enough," he reluctantly spoke, walking away with his head down and hands in his pockets
I spent way too much time look for a stupid cat to not get my weekly moon peach. Lee said to himself, exasperating his animosity for the high prices. I'm gonna get that peach one way or another.
He turned around and stalked towards the lady's cart. Making sure no one was there, the thieving Lee grabbed as many moon peaches he could and ran like a pygmy puma stealing its dinner.
Lee felt a sense of danger as he fled the scene of his petty crime. A few moments later he felt bad about what he had done but thought back to what his dad told him, doing what's right is less important than doing what you have to do to survive.
When he arrived home (which was more qualified to be called a shack), he stopped and took a long look at the small building. The roofing looked like Pao's tea house but was cracked in a numerous amount of places. The shudders were chipped and splinters were all along the door, including the handle (that by the way didn't even have a lock in it because the refugees couldn't afford one).
Lee sighed louder than a screeching bird and skulked into the shack. Meimei was playing with the doll Mrs. Xang gave her while his mother was trying to cook dinner. He walked across the kitchen when all of a sudden his mother made an outrageous noise.
"Ahh, dammit! These damn spark rocks Liang gave me are useless," Joo Dee screeched
She turned around expecting her husband but when she saw Lee she gave a menacing glare and went back to her failed attempts at creating the impossible inferno.
Before he could finish his apology the mother hugged him and gave the boy a kiss on the cheek, hoping that their fiery altercation earlier that day had been extinguished.
Lee walked over to the minuscule, malachite and aureate couch and plopped himself on, making a horrific hullabaloo that annoyed his sister to the point where she whipped the oh-so-precious doll at his head.
"What was that for?" Lee pleaded rubbing his head remembering the bag of moon peaches next to him, "Mom, I brought you some peaches. Now we can add some variety to our bland diet."
"Where did you get that? Those are more expensive than Kuei's clothes!" Joo Dee proclaimed adding an optimistic whisk to the Leechi stew. Lee was unresponsive, causing his mother to think the worst. "You didn't steal, did you?"
Lee still didn't answer.
"I'm very disappointed in you."
"I know, I know. I have to give them back and apologize," Lee said ashamed.
"No, I never said you have to give them back. I'm leaving you to do what you want, the right choice, or the wrong choice. I know you're only 12 but ever since our departure of Ming-Yun you've been considered an adult. We might've not said it, but this, this environment has forced you- us, to adapt in ways I can't even explain," Joo Dee explained.
Lee left the kitchen with a difficult choice that seemed elementary but was more than that. It was either eat the guilt peaches or face the shame and humiliation of giving the peaches back to his friend that trusted him, confided in him. He didn't want to do either of those horrid things.
He went to bed, tossing and turning throughout the night having nightmares about what the lady might do to her. Firebending, knife throwing, Unagi-summoning, and everything else you could possibly think of no matter how deranged or psychotic your mind could be. Periodically his screams would wake him up or Meimei's kicking him would.
When he woke up, he knew what he had to do.
"So mom, what's for breakfast?" Lee asked ironically
"I don't know. You tell me," she said with the two bowls in her hand, setting them on the table
Lee's eyes opened wider than ever and gulped a loud gulp.
In one bowl was an abundance of Leechi nuts and in the other bowl, three of the best looking peaches one could find in the area.
"I understand," Lee said while getting up with the peaches in hand.
As the boy walked down the street, beggars (or as they call themselves, "eternal borrowers") drooled upon the sight of the peaches.
When he was in her view, Ms. Quan's face lit up. This confused Lee.
"Oh, wow! You brought me some peaches!?" she asked.
"Yes, but no. Listen, I have to tell you something," he confessed with a long sigh. It took her but then she knew what she was about to say.
To be continued...
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