Those Dark Eyes: Part One
Author's Note: This series is a sequel to my previous story, Afternoon Tea, but can be read independently. I recommend reading Afternoon Tea first, but you can enjoy this story without it.
Afton woke up to the sweet aroma of hot tea and biscuits and the warmth of the summer morning sun. Without opening her eyes, the yellow Gelert pulled the soft sheets up to her chin, sighing contentedly as silence of dawn hung in the air.
“Breakfast is ready!” called a jolly voice. Afton’s eyes snapped open, accompanied by an eager smile. “I spent all morning making it while you were sacked out,” continued the voice in its silly chatter. “Toast, biscuits, muffins – you name it, I baked it! You’d better enjoy this, Afton, because it’s one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever made. Cooking for two is quite a task, I’ll admit, but I can always use the chance to sharpen my mastery of the oven. Oh, and there’s tea too, of course. What’s breakfast without tea, I always say. Or any meal, for that matter...”
Afton giggled as her friend’s voice drifted around the corner. She slid out of bed and into a pair of fuzzy slippers, her nightgown trailing behind her as she hurried into the kitchen. There at the counter, with his back to her, was Darren, a chubby brown Bruce who had been Afton’s friend for as long as she could remember. He turned around with a silver tray piled high with so many breakfast goodies that Afton couldn’t imagine that even half would be eaten before the two pets passed out on the floor.
“Ta-da!” smiled Darren as he placed the tray down on the table. “This here is your homecoming breakfast! Fit for a queen, if I do say so myself.”
Afton had recently returned to her hometown from a job she had held in Faerieland managing stocks for the National Neopian Bank. She had been quite famous for a while, dining at the faerie palace not once but two times, and even meeting the Queen herself. “Even Fyora couldn’t eat this much food,” laughed Afton as she took a seat. “Although it does smell delicious.”
Darren swelled at the compliment. “Well, don’t let all of this go to waste, then,” he urged. “Eat! Enjoy!”
He poured two steaming cups of tea and sat down, passing a basket of muffins to his Gelert friend, but not before plucking one for himself. “Delicious,” he breathed, taking a bite. “I’ve never tasted a breakfast so heavenly in all my life.”
“It’s certainly worthy of the occasion,” laughed Afton. “I really missed you for all those months.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Darren through a mouthful of muffin. “As long as you don’t go running off getting rich again, I’ll be quite content.”
Afton smiled. “Those days are over,” she said, blowing on her tea. “I’m here to stay, and so is our friendship.” She took a sip and closed her eyes, savoring the taste she had not experienced for quite some time. “On a serious note, though,” she began, wiping her mouth with one of Darren’s embroidered napkins.
“Wait!” interrupted the Bruce, nearly choking on a piece of toast. “Let me guess. You want your old house back.”
Darren’s cottage on Bracknell Road had never been Afton’s permanent residence. The home she had owned while living in Neopia Central was actually the small house next door. Afton turned her head to glance out the open window and across the yard. It was still there, as cozy and inviting as it had ever been, the Gelert’s one true home. “Yes.” Afton sighed, turning back to her friend. “How did you guess?”
The Bruce pointed to his head. “I’m a genius,” he said, finishing off his cup of tea. As he poured himself another, he added, “I didn’t think you’d want to sleep on a couch in the parlor of your fat friend’s cottage forever. That might have been a clue.”
Afton laughed. “That’s not the reason,” she said. “I really appreciate you letting me stay at your place. I just...” The Gelert’s voice trailed off. Memories of the past few months rushed back to her. She had used her mathematical mind to get a job for the bank managing stocks, but she had become so engrossed with money and power that she had lost all of her friends, and in the end, all of the money and power that she had sought after in the first place. Now, with not a neopoint to her name, Afton had found herself seeking refuge with the only friend she had left, Darren. He had stood by her even when she sold everything to move to Faerieland, and even when she had come back poor and broken. But now it was time to move on. Those memories couldn’t haunt her forever. “I just need something to call my own,” finished Afton. “Something real.”
Darren looked her in the eyes. “I understand,” he said, and that was it. Throughout the rest of the meal, the two friends ate and laughed, happy merely to be in each other’s company. As the tray of pastries dwindled and the tea grew cold, Afton and Darren drowned out the pain of the past with visions of the future, and by the time the morning mist had lifted from the streets, their bellies were full and their hearts were content.
“I don’t know about you,” said Darren as he slouched in his chair, “but I am completely stuffed.”
“Thanks again for breakfast,” said Afton, standing and clearing the empty dishes. “It’s made me feel a lot better.”
“Really?” asked Darren with a frown. “Because I feel a lot worse. I think I ate too much.”
“You know what I mean,” laughed Afton.
“Well,” said Darren as he pulled himself out of his chair, “I’m exhausted. I think I’ll take a quick nap, if you don’t mind.”
“No, not at all,” said Afton, hiding a smile as her friend dragged himself down the hallway. “I think I’ll take a walk for a while, actually.”
“All right,” said Darren, stepping into his small bedroom. “I’ll probably wake up around dinner time.”
Afton groaned at the thought of another hefty meal. “Let’s make it a late dinner,” she said as her friend closed the door. “Very late,” she muttered to herself as she turned to wipe down the kitchen. The Gelert couldn’t help from smiling as she cleaned up. It was nice to be home.
* * * * *
Afton knocked twice on the pale yellow door. She was standing on the familiar porch of her old home, just next door to Darren’s small cottage. Her old garden was still there, the flowers somewhat overtaken by weeds but still vibrant and inviting, lining the hand-laid stone pathway that wound through the yard and had deposited Afton back at the front door she had left behind so long ago. The small house didn’t look much different, and Afton realized that it really hadn’t been that long ago since she had abandoned her home and friends for the sake of blind ambition.
Her thoughts were scattered as the door swung open to reveal a handsome red Lupe. “Hello,” he said with a polite smile. “May I help you?”
Afton had been wondering what kind of Neopet had moved into her old home after she left. She stared for a brief moment at the small house’s new resident, a young and seemingly charming Lupe with an odd, friendly twinkle in his eyes. “Oh,” said Afton, her previous nervousness subsiding, “I just came to see who had moved in.” The Lupe stood awkwardly in the door, still smiling but obviously confused. “I used to live here,” Afton explained, “and I’ve just moved back to Neopia Central, so I was curious to see who had bought the house.”
“Of course,” said the Lupe, relaxing a bit. “Please, come in.” He stepped back and opened the door so that Afton could step inside.
“Thank you,” said Afton, allowing herself a shy smile. “I’ll only be a minute.”
“I’m Rovan, by the way,” said the Lupe as he closed the door behind her.
“Afton,” replied the Gelert, glancing around. The house seemed to be almost exactly how she had left it. Some of the furniture was new, and the pictures on the wall had been changed, but so little else had been altered that Afton felt as if she had stepped back in time, back to when she was simply a teller at the National Neopian who woke up every day dreaming of a glamorous life. Now, as she took in the familiar surroundings, it was like everything that had happened since then had been erased, and she was still a humble young Gelert waiting for her big break. As the midday sun lightened up the small room, Afton let out a soft sigh. It was nice to be home, even if she didn’t live there anymore.
“So when did you own this house?” asked Rovan. He was standing behind Afton, watching her look around the small house. “I bought it from the National Neopian Bank.”
“It wasn’t too long ago,” said Afton, turning to face the Lupe. “I sold the house through the bank. You see, I used to work there.”
“Really?” asked Rovan, raising his eyebrows.
“Yes, unfortunately,” said Afton with a laugh.
“Why unfortunately?” asked Rovan. “It’s a pretty nice place to have a job.”
“It was nice,” agreed Afton, leaning on a nearby table which had once held her favorite flower arrangements, “but it wasn’t for me.”
“Too difficult?” questioned Rovan.
“No, not at all, actually,” said Afton, frowning as she uncovered the recent memories. She glanced at Rovan. He seemed genuinely interested. It was nice to have someone who cared, Afton thought vaguely, even if he didn’t know her. “It’s a long story,” she said after a pause.
“Do you have time to sit down?” asked Rovan. “I’d love to hear it.”
“Well,” began Afton, looking around. It did feel nice to be back in her old home, and it also felt nice to have someone new to talk to. “I suppose, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all.” Rovan smiled. “I live here alone, so it can get rather boring. Let me take you to the parlor.”
“I know where it is,” said Afton with a shy grin.
“Of course,” laughed Rovan. “Well, lead the way then.”
The two sat down in the soft, comfortable chairs in the parlor. Afton was happy to see that the room was still painted pale yellow, her favorite color, and that much of the old furniture was still in use. The windows were open, and a gentle breeze drifted through the curtains.
“So tell me your story,” said Rovan after they had settled in.
Afton paused for a few moments, wondering where to start. It really hadn’t been very long ago, but her recent experiences seemed to be buried in the distant past. She had tried so hard to forget them, and revealing all of her troubles to a stranger she had just met seemed like a bit of a risk. But Rovan seemed so honest and friendly that she couldn’t help wanting to tell him everything and give him a glimpse into the most personal depths of her heart.
“Well,” Afton said after a while, struggling to find the right words to begin her story. Rovan had waited patiently for her to gather her thoughts, and was leaning forward, looking deeply into her eyes. Afton looked back, and in those dark eyes she saw what she thought was the deepest sincerity she had seen in a long time, so she took a deep breath and began her story.
Afton told Rovan about how she had been promoted to financial manager at the National Neopian and how she had discovered her passion for the world of stocks and investments. She explained how she had risen rapidly up the corporate ladder, finding herself so important that she had to abandon her home and her friends to move to Faerieland as an entrepreneur. She told him how she had even resorted to illegal activity to make more money, and how she had been caught and lost everything. Afton opened up her heart to Rovan, telling him how she had come back home just days ago without a neopoint to her name, and how she was staying with her best friend who lived just next door. Throughout the entire story, Rovan listened quietly, giving Afton the opportunity to lay out everything she had bottled up in her heart before him, and when she finally finished her tale by saying that she was looking to buy a new house and find a new job, Rovan’s eyes lit up.
“You’ve been through a lot,” he said. “More than I can imagine. But I think that fate still has a lot in store for you.”
Afton raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Rovan smiled slyly. “I don’t think that everything you’ve been through has been a waste,” he said. “I just happen to be part of a new business myself. I own an independent investment company, and I’m looking to hire the best minds out there.”
Afton nearly gasped aloud. After all that she had been through with the bank, could she possibly return to investing for a career? She suddenly felt very vulnerable, but Rovan reached forward and grabbed her paw. “Afton,” he said, looking deeply into her eyes. “I think we’ve been brought together for a reason.” The Gelert began to feel a bit weak, but there was an allure in the Lupe’s dark eyes that brought out a strange new emotion in her. “It’s our destiny,” he said, and Afton believed it.
To be continued...