Author's Note: This is a fanfiction for the pairing of Young!Once-Ler/YoungGrammyNorma from the 2012 film version of Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax". If you don't agree with any of this, then I suggest that you do not read. ALSO! If you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want to be spoiled, then DO NOT READ. SPOILERS AHEAD. Thank you!
Chapter One : Everybody Needs A Thneed
Nights in the Truffula Forest were always calm, it seemed. In all the time that Once-Ler had been out here, trying his best to sell his wares, he had never seen it so much as drizzle. But surely there had to be some form of precipitation out here, otherwise the colorful foliage would never be able to grow as tall and vibrantly as they did. Still, he had been here for nearly two weeks now, and a raindrop had yet to fall from the sky. Tonight was no exception. The sky was especially beautiful, velvety blue and dappled with bright stars. Once-Ler cast an occassional admiring glance through the nearby window as he composed a new letter to home, his writing sloping across the paper in its typical messy scrawl.
"'Dear Mom'," he read aloud, holding the paper to the light. "'You promised that you would write me, but since I haven't heard from you yet, I guess I'll just jump the gun. I thought you might want to hear that I'm hard at work making thneeds. Sales have been...'"
He stopped reading at that point, his brow furrowing with concentration as he stared at the page. He had stopped writing right there, unable to choose a word that would best describe his current predicament. He hated having to admit that not a single person had shown even the slightest interest in buying his product, especially when his family had given him such grief about it in the first place. But there was no point in trying to lie to them, was there? She would find out eventually, he was sure. He had never been a great liar, anyway. Sighing, he put the paper back down on his desk, twiddling his pen in between his index finger and thumb absently as he thought. After a few moments, an idea occurred to him; nodding with silent approval with himself, he bent over the desk and quickly finished the sentence.
With a newfound confidence, he lifted the paper again and read the completed sentence aloud. "'Sales have been slow, but I imagine that once people realize how important that my invention really is, they'll come around.'"
The words flowed a little better now, the ideas coming faster than before. He put the paper down again, writing down whatever he felt like adding in. He knew that his mother would want success stories, but some part of him suspected that she would love stories of his failure even more. After all, as much as he loved his family, they had all spent quite a lot of their time putting him down. His mother especially. For a family with such incredibly high standards, they were fairly poor. In fact, Once-Ler's main motivation behind going out and selling his thneeds to the public was to earn his family a little more money. And of course, the glory and recognition that came with changing the world didn't hurt, either. It would be nice to be noticed.
Having launched into the task ahead of him with a renewed fervor, he now stared contentedly at his completed letter. He smoothed the wrinkles out of the slightly-rumpled sheet of paper, placing the pen down on his desk. Since the wooden desk was slanted, the pen rolled unceremoniously off the tabletop and clattered onto the floor, but he didn't pay it any mind. With an overdramatic flourish of his wrist, he cleared his throat and picked the letter up again.
"'I'll be heading into town again tomorrow to try a different sales pitch. I'm sure it will work out this time. Don't worry. I know you have a habit of doubting me, but please just trust me on this. I've found a really comfortable place to stay until my business gets going. Maybe you and the rest of the family might come down and pay me a visit sometime. If you can, of course. I'm not begging. Give Brett, Chet, Aunt Grizelda, and Uncle Ubb my best. Love, Oncie.'"
He cringed a little as he said his nickname. Not that he really minded being called 'Oncie', but given the steps he was trying to take with his career, it seemed incredibly childish. After all, he was a grown man now, and he was trying to make a good name for himself. It would be difficult to do that with that goofy pet name popping up everywhere he went. Then again, he doubted if his mother would even reply to the letter. She did stay fairly busy, after all, babying his two brothers. Not that he minded. Sure, sometimes his mother didn't see eye-to-eye with him, but they got along relatively well on most days. He knew of her secret desires to be wealthy, of her longing for a more successful family; all he was trying to do was help that dream along a little.
Now competely satisfied with the contents of his letter, he folded it neatly down the middle and reached for an envelope. Slipping the note inside, he sealed the envelope in a single neat movement. Once-Ler flipped it over and wrote down the appropriate addresses. He supposed he would mail it to them when he went into the city tomorrow, in another desperate attempt to sell some thneeds. He had been unsuccessful so far in his endeavors, but he was determined to keep positive. This bad luck streak couldn't possibly last forever. Could it?
"Tomorrow will be fine, I'm sure," he told himself, leaving the envelope on his desk as he got up from his chair and crossed the room.
He wasn't certain what time it was precisely, but he felt weary; for the past few hours, he had been hard at work, thinking of ways to improve his sales strategies. After spending so much time working his mind, he was ready to get some sleep. Feeling a little more confident about his business efforts, he slipped into his favorite bunny pajamas, placing his gray fedora on a shelf overtop of his bed. Yanking back the quilt covering his bed, he hopped into bed, suddenly in a much lighter mood. Somehow, he would get their attention. This had to work.
The next morning, Once-Ler was in high spirits. After his typical morning routine -- which now included feeding the Lorax and the barbaloots some of his breakfast -- he was more than ready to get back into the urban area and start selling. As he got dressed and gathered all his belongings that he would need today, he found himself cheerily humming the tune to his new jingle. It was lighthearted and catchy, something that, coupled with his guitar, would surely catch the attention of at least one person. Smiling to himself, he grabbed his guitar and slung it over his shoulder, carrying the fluffy pink thneed in the crook of his left arm.
Striding briskly outside, he waved in greeting to Melvin, his mule, still tied up to a post with the wagon attached to the lower half of his body. "Hey," he said, remarkably peppy. "Ready to do some selling, buddy?"
Melvin snorted in response, and gave Once-Ler a look at he could have sworn looked very sarcastic. Choosing to ignore this, he jumped nimbly into the wagon, making himself comfortable for the trip ahead of them. It wasn't a very long distance to travel, but with so much anticipation burning inside him, even a few minutes would surely feel like an hour. To pass the time that it took to get to town, he strummed absently on his guitar. Occassionally, he would practice the new jingle he had composed, making sure that everything that needed tweaking was fixed now. Before he knew it, he was there.
Having come from a relatively small town, Once-Ler had been a little overwhelmed during his first few trips to this urban chaos. Now, though, he was quite accustomed to, and even on friendly terms with, the thriving, humming town that sprawled before him. The city itself was nothing too marvelous; it was the sheer amount of people living there that impressed him. With a population as booming as this one, someone was bound to notice his thneed. Taking his place at the open-air stage in the center of town, he set up his equipment, barely able to keep the smile from his face.
Even this early in the morning, a lot of people were milling about, and Once-Ler could practically feel their eyes starting to fall on him as he strummed through a few chords. Every day that he had been here in the past, the citizens had only been interested long enough to see who was playing the guitar before they went back to their daily business. Hopefully, today would be different. Clearing his throat, he looked up, tipping his hat a little farther back on his head. His unruly mop of dark hair shaded his blue eyes as they scanned the crowd, trying to gauge their responses. A few people had gathered around the semi-circular stage now, though most of them looked like they were laughing at him instead of actually listening to him play. He felt a slow flush of color rushing to his cheeks, but he continued to play regardless.
Once he finished his song, he gave a breathless, hopeful smile and looked up at his audience of potential customers. Instead of meeting the sound of polite applause, however, he heard whispers and saw pointed fingers. Razor-edged smiles and high-pitched laughter. He had grown used to this response by now, but that still didn't stop his shoulders from slumping ever so slightly, his cheeriness slowly deflating. He swallowed heavily, deciding that since he went through all this trouble, he might as well try to talk to them.
"Uh...hi, everyone," he began, chuckling a little and giving the crowd a short wave. They said nothing, only blinked and stared blankly back at him. Taking this as a sign to just continue talking, he said, "That song you heard just now was, um, my brand-new song. It's a jingle for my invention. The thneed!" At this, he lifted up the pink fabric, holding it out for display. "You see, the thneed would be perfect for anyone because it can do...well, anything you want it to!" He had hoped to gain their interest during this sentence, but the grumbles of disinterest and boredom made him trail off at the end of his sentence.
Gradually, the crowd disappated, leaving Once-Ler still standing on the stage. He stared silently for a moment at where the audience had been just a few moments earlier. He bit his lower lip, trying to hold back the bitter disappointment squeezing at his heart. Well, he told himself, at least they weren't as rude as they were yesterday. I won't have to clean tomatoes out of my hair when I get home. Maybe their change in attitude meant something. Maybe they were at least considering buying a thneed. At least as a last-minute, easily-exchangable birthday present?
Sighing, he took off his hat, placing it on the ground next to his equipment. He continued to lightly play different tunes on the guitar, hoping that someone might notice him after a while. Most of the people just walked on by, too busy to be bothered by a relatively unknown guitarist trying to sell a pink sweater. He was not too upset because of this; in fact, this was much kinder reception than he normally recieved. Still, he had thought that today, people would actually give him a chance. He frowned a little, wondering if perhaps he just wasn't giving it enough time. After all, success didn't suddenly boom into existence.
Just have a little patience, he coached himself mentally. You'll be fine.
It was just nearing sunset when Once-Ler finally decided to just give up and go home. He had been periodically advertising throughout the day, taking breaks to eat lunch, go to the bathroom, and sometimes to avoid the irritated glares of the passers-by. He had packed up all his belongings and was loading the wagon when he got the strange feeling that something was missing. He raised his eyebrows questioningly, wondering for a moment if he was just second-guessing himself. He checked the wagon a second time, made certain that everything was there, and shrugged his shoulders.
Just as he was about to hop into the wagon, however, a voice caught his attention. "Hey!" The voice was feminine, soft, but carried a note of strength in it, as well.
Once-Ler turned, coming face-to-face with a young woman with outrageously-curly brown hair rushing towards him. She wore a bright yellow sundress, and when she got close enough to him, he noticed that she was about a foot shorter than him. Round glasses were perched on her small nose, and her eyes were narrowed slightly. In her hands was a gray fedora, a little rumpled but otherwise unharmed. He gasped in surprise, reaching up to pat his head and realizing that he had left his hat back at the stage.
"Is this your hat? I thought I saw you wearing it earlier," she said, all but shoving the hat towards him.
Once-Ler took his hat, placing it atop his head in one swift movement. "Uh, thanks," he told her, nodding and offering a small, grateful smile. Nice to know someone was paying attention, he wanted to say, but held his tongue.
"I hope they didn't hurt your feelings too much, acting like that," she told him, though there was a smirk of amusement stretching across her face. She looked as if she were fighting back a smile.
"What, me? Nah. It's fine. I mean, I'm fine." He crossed his arms, giving her a quick once-over before adding, "And what, may I ask, do you think is so funny?"
The girl giggled lightly, covering her mouth with her hand and looking up at him through her lashes. As if she were embarrassed to be caught laughing at him. "O-oh, it's nothing," she said, her voice tremoring slightly with laughter. "It's just...I think you'd have a lot more luck with them if you worked on your songs a little more."
"My songs?" he repeated, unable to hide that the comment had ruffled him a little. He had worked hard on that new jingle, after all. "What's so bad about the songs I play?"
She shook her head slightly, her curls bouncing, and she gave another light chuckle. "Th-they're just, well...a little cheesy! They're so silly, no one can take you seriously!"
Once-Ler considered this for a moment, tilting his head to the side ever so slightly. She wasn't really intent on offending him, he could tell by the way she held herself. Still, she was telling the truth, and somehow, he knew it. Eventually, the frown on his face was replaced by a wide smirk, blue eyes dancing with amusement.
"Alright, then," he said after a short pause. He knew it was getting late and he needed to get home, but he couldn't resist. "What's your name?"
She hesitated for a minute, then nodded and said, "It's Norma."
"Okay, Norma," he began again, unable to keep the genuine intrigue from his voice. "I'll be coming back here every day for a while. Until sales start picking up. Give me a week to come up with a new jingle. And if you don't like the new one, then...I will stop coming here. I'll go back home. But, if it ends up being really good...then...you buy a thneed, and you advertise to your whole family. Do we have a deal?"
There was a moment's consideration, and then: "...Okay. Fine. It's a deal. I'll be waiting, er...I didn't catch your name."
"Once-Ler," he told her with a nod.
The two shook hands, both unable to keep giddy little grins from tugging at their lips. This hadn't exactly been what he had pictured when he had thought about selling his thneed to the public, but he was willing to start anywhere. And this girl seemed nice enough.
"I hope you're ready to buy a thneed, Norma," he told her, playfully competitive. "Believe me, it'll be the best investment you've ever made."
She folded her arms across her chest, smirking gently as she replied, just as jokingly, "We'll see about that. I'll give you a fair warning; I'm not easy to impress."
He leaned down a little so that the two of them were at eye level. Tipping his hat forward slightly on his head, he smiled and said, "Well, it's a good thing I like a challenge."
And, without another word between them, the two parted ways. The entire way home, Once-Ler was trying to fight the smile growing on his face.