Afternoon Tea: Part Four
When Afton woke up on the first day of Hunting, Y6, life was profitable. Business at the Rainbow Bath was booming, and Afton had risen to become one of the richest pets in Neopia. The Gelert had been painted Faerie, a flattering color. Every day, she left her glamorous home in Faerieland early in the morning to walk to her office. She worked in the tall building that housed the Rainbow Bath, Faerieland’s largest attraction. Afton would thread her way through the throngs of Neopets eager to pay any price to bathe in the colorful waters. Once inside, the Gelert would spend all day haggling over prices, arranging business dealings, and entertaining famous guests.
On this day, however, Afton was a bit more exhausted than usual. Her celebrity status assured her to be top on the guest list for every Neopian event, and the previous evening, Afton had been at Queen Fyora’s birthday party. She had stayed up so late that the Gelert had only managed to get a couple hours of sleep before rising to go to work the next day.
So, when Afton stumbled out her front door, wearing large sunglasses, a purple silk shawl, and carrying an extravagant purse, she did not take the normal route to work. Instead, she took a slight detour to Cloud Coffee, the finest coffee shop in all of Faerieland.
Afton had never been to Cloud Coffee, although she had included it in her recent “Afton’s Top 30 Faerieland Hot Spots,” article in the Neopian Times. Any business whose name appeared in any of Afton’s lists could expect great success, and Cloud Coffee was no exception.
When Afton arrived at the shop, the line was out the door. She frowned. The Gelert needed to be at work in a few minutes; she didn’t have time to wait in line. Therefore, Afton adjusted her shawl and walked straight to the front of the line.
“Excuse me,” said an Acara. “There’s a line here.”
“Don’t you know who that is?” hissed an Aisha behind her. “That’s Afton! Let her through!”
The Acara gasped. “I’m sorry, Afton, ma’am,” she said quickly, stepping back. “I didn’t recognize you through those sunglasses.”
“Obviously,” was Afton’s only reply, as she stepped up to the counter.
“Hello,” smiled the Shoyru at the counter. “What would you like this morning?”
Afton glanced at the menu above her on the wall. She didn’t have time to read through the list; she was late already. “What do you have?” she asked.
“Well,” began the Shoyru. “We have all sorts of flavors of coffee, cappuccino, latte, hot chocolate, tea...”
The last word lingered in the air. Tea. For a brief moment, all of the details in Afton’s life vanished as that one word echoed in her mind.
“Miss?” asked the Shoyru.
“Coffee, please. And make it quick. I’m in a hurry.”
A young Chia walked down one of Faerieland’s many streets. She took a skip every few seconds, enjoying the brisk air. Suddenly, in a splash of colored water, a beautiful Faerie appeared in front of her.
“Hello,” said the Faerie kindly. “I am the Fountain Faerie, and I need your help. If you find me a Dark Nova Lamp, I will let you bathe in my Rainbow Fountain.”
The Chia sneered and replied, “Are you kidding? I can just visit the Rainbow Bath for half the price and much less trouble than getting that stupid item.”
The Chia walked quickly around the Faerie and turned a corner, leaving the Faerie behind her to let out a sad sigh.
Rejuvenated by her coffee, Afton made her way down the busy streets to the Rainbow Bath. The building was tall and impressive, and already there was a line of Neopets out the door. Afton pushed through them and ascended the stairs to her office on the top floor.
The Gelert sighed and sat down at her desk. She took a large stack of papers and began to sift through them. Price changes, profits, costs, stocks, and more figures littered the many pages. Afton felt exhausted. All day, she worked, and all night she attended social functions. Her bank account was steadily climbing, but her personal satisfaction was far below the norm. Leading such a busy life had taken its toll over the years. Afton’s eyes were not as bright and thoughtful as they had once been. Now, they were cold and calculating, always analyzing numbers and graphs. She was always tired, and often irritable, except when she was entertaining clients. Afton was living the celebrity life, and she hated it and loved it with equal conviction.
But this day was not to be a normal day. Afton had broken the routine once, by visiting the coffee shop, and it seemed that her routine was to be broken again, as several footsteps pounded in the hallway, followed by rapid knocking on her door and shouts of, “Open up!”
Afton scowled. “I’m busy!” she called to the door, which was immediately kicked open by two Chias in police uniforms. Afton’s eyes widened. “What do you want?” she demanded.
“We’re from the police station,” said one Chia. “We’ve been monitoring your activity for several months, and now we have a warrant to shut down the Rainbow Bath.”
“What?” cried Afton, noticing a paper in the Chia’s hand. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You have violated the law,” said the second Chia. “Hoarding items in order to raise their price is a crime, and this establishment has been ordered to shut down immediately.”
“Hoarding items? What are you talking about?” said Afton in a raised voice.
“Our records show that you have bought virtually every Flask of Rainbow Fountain Water on the market,” said the Chia, “in order to fill your Rainbow Bath. You charge a higher price for pets to use the bath, and that is illegal.”
“You can’t shut me down,” said Afton coldly. “I’ve worked for years on this.”
The Chia laughed and replied, “Just watch us.”
One day. That was all it had taken, just one day. In one day, the Rainbow Bath had been drained, and the building had been put up for lease. In one day, Afton had lost all of her Neopoints and even her extravagant home. In one day, the career that Afton had worked for years on was destroyed. In one day, Afton was back to where she had started, three years ago.
Actually, she was below where she had started. Her house in Neopia Central had been sold, and she didn’t have a job or the neopoints to buy a new one. She had only been able to come back to Neopia Central by selling the rest of her possessions. Now, she was left with nothing.
It was evening, and the warm spring air tickled Afton’s cheeks. She did not enjoy it. The Gelert was sitting at a table outside the Morning Sun Coffee Shop, where everything had started those three years ago. The shop was closed, and there were no Neopets outside. It was quite late, and most were at home, enjoying the warm evening. But not Afton. She had no home. She didn’t have anything, not even a friend.
The Gelert hung her head in shame. She let the feeling of emptiness wash over her. She was a failure. Everything she had worked for now meant nothing. The despair consumed her, and she felt as if her body was filled with cold sand. The cold weight brought her down, and she let herself slump over the table. It was all her own fault too. She had brought this misery upon herself, and that made the pain all the worse.
Afton did not cry. She had locked her emotions away long ago. All she did was lie there, sprawled in the chair and resting on the table. She was a pitiful sight, and she knew it. But she didn’t care. There was nothing left for her in the world. Nothing mattered.
But then, she felt a warm tap on her shoulder. Afton looked up to see a brown Bruce standing over her. She opened her mouth. “Darren?”
The Bruce sat down next to her. “Afton,” he said quietly.
Afton burst into tears. “Oh Darren,” she cried. “I’m so sorry.”
“There, now,” he said gently, hugging her. “It’s all right.”
“Why are you here?” she asked, wiping her eyes. “How can you even bear to look at me? I didn’t write to you, not once. I didn’t even remember you.”
“I remembered you,” said Darren quietly. “I come to Morning Sun every night, because I knew that you’d be here someday. And here you are.”
“You came here every day?” asked Afton. “You waited for me all those years?” He nodded. “How did you know I’d come back?”
“I knew that you’re a good Neopet,” said Darren simply. “I knew you would come back for me someday.”
Afton almost started crying again. “But I didn’t come back for you,” she whispered. “I came back because I had nowhere else to go. I haven’t even thought about you for months.”
“You came back because this is where you belong,” said Darren.
“How?” asked Afton softly. “How can I belong anywhere, when I’ve been so bad. I’ve betrayed everyone I ever knew. I betrayed my friends, I betrayed my customers, I betrayed you...”
“You were just doing what you thought you had to do,” said Darren. “But now you realize that things are a lot simpler than that.”
“Simple?” repeated Afton. “How can things be simple? My life has been one big confusing hurricane from beginning to end.”
“Your life isn’t over,” said Darren. “This isn’t the end. This was just part of the journey, something you had to overcome. And now, you’re home.”
“Oh, Darren,” said Afton sadly. “How can you ever forgive me when I’ve been so horrible?”
“It’s not too hard.” Her friend smiled. “You made mistakes, but you’re done now. You’ve come back.”
Afton began to cry again. “You’re all I have left now.”
Darren smiled at her. “Afton,” he said. “You’re all I ever had.”
When Afton woke up on the third day of Hunting, Y6, life was good. She had no money. She had no job. She had no possessions. She had no fame. She had no friends in the world, save one. Afton smiled. Life was good, as she walked into the parlor where her best friend Darren was pouring two cups of tea.