Mission For Knowledge: Part Two
The next few weeks saw Rain dragging around school like a zombie. She had quit all of her extra-curricular activities and had cut down her class schedule to only the most basic subjects of Math and English. She stopped being an active prefect and was told off many times by the teachers for slacking.
At lunch, she would still patrol the cafeteria, but didn’t care much when a food fight broke out and she got hit with a cupcake to the back of the head. Nor did she care when one of the bad boys decided to throw all of his garbage under the table.
She stopped eating and started to lose a lot of weight. Her friends tried to help her, but eventually they gave up. Even Walter, her best friend, wouldn’t talk to her anymore.
The days went by and prom came and went. On that day, Rain just stayed home and stared at the wall opposite the sofa.
Her foster owner’s guild donated a Pirate Paintbrush so that Reggie could be painted and adopted out. After she graduated from Neopia Central High, both her foster brothers, Takula and Reggie, were gone.
It was summer now, and some students from NCU, including Walter, would be getting ready to go to Brightvale University. And where did she have to go? She felt horrible to not be doing anything to help support Guy, so she decided that she would get a job.
After looking through the classifieds and finally finding a job she felt she would be suited to, she put on her pink and green sun hat and walked out the door.
This particular part of the Market Place was dark and dreary, considering it was in Neopia Central. She entered into the quiet eatery called Jaundice Juice and walked through to the back of the store. A grimy looking Techo rose up from behind the counter and handed Rain a mop and broom.
“Clean the place,” he instructed, and without a backward glance, left the store. Rain raised an eyebrow, but then continued to do as she was told.
After an hour of thoroughly cleaning the floor, she decided she might as well wipe down the tables and chairs too. When she had completed this task, she went to start washing the filthy dishes in the rusty sink.
Sweat dripped down her face as she finished scrubbing the windows so that she could actually see through them. It started to get dark outside, so she went to flick on the lights. They did not come on. She looked up at the fixtures and realized most of the bulbs were blown. She went to the cash register to find some neopoints to buy some light bulbs, but there was none. Feeling increasingly frustrated about the situation, she took her own money and went to an appliance store that was close by. The bulbs were ridiculously expensive, but she figured her boss would compensate for it when, or if, he got back.
It was closing time and finally the orange Techo returned. He looked around the shop without much expression on his face.
“Be here early tomorrow morning,” was all he said, before he went to the back of the shop and into his office. Tears of frustration leaked down Rain’s face. She had cleaned this store top to bottom, and this ungrateful so-and-so didn’t even have the decency to tell her thank you. She rubbed her temples and left the store.
A whole month went by and she was still working at Jaundice Juice. She worked seven days a week and was only paid one hundred neopoints a day. That was no where near enough to support herself, never mind her foster family, but she still gave most of her salary to Guy.
“You don’t have to do this, Rain. You worked hard for this money, and you deserve it.” A sad smile lighted on Rain’s beak, but she said nothing as she handed him six hundred and fifty neopoints.
The bell overhead rang out as Rain stepped through the door. Her once grubby orange boss was now gleaming with health, and wealth. Ever since Rain had come to work for him, the Techo had been rolling in neopoints. She kept the place spotless, did all of the hard work, and worked for next to nothing. He was one happy cheapskate.
The first customers of the day entered into the store.
“I’ll have an orange juice and a fried egg please,” requested a magma Acara.
“And I’ll have a coffee with marshmallows and some streaky bacon. Thanks!” said the Acara’s rainbow Buzz companion.
“Yeah, bring some apple juice and hot cakes to my office,” Rain’s boss demanded, as he headed for the dingy little room. She sighed as she set to work on the orders.
The door bell chimed again as another, larger group entered.
“Hey, Rain! We’ll have four bacon muffins, five coffees and one Guava Roll,” the cheerful spotted Cybunny asked as she and her four friends sat at their favorite table by the window. These neopets were regulars.
As Rain started to fry up the bacon for the breakfast sandwiches, she could hear Yums, the brown Bruce, talking about some awesome new petpet store that was about to open in one of the nicer parts of the Market Place.
“I hear they are looking for people with degrees in petpet keeping.”
“They’re also hiring other people, though,” Arnie, the pink Elephante stated as Rain started handing out their coffees.
“Yeah, of course! I also heard they are offering a scholarship to go to Mystery Island Community College to study in petpet care. I mean, it’s not MICC’s most notable subject, but still. They do pretty well with all kinds of stuff. They were actually offered university status, but the head honcho, Leila, turned them down. She wants a mellow, island learning experience.”
“That’s impressive!” Chilli the ice Lupe sipped his coffee. Rain was amazed that he didn’t melt with the hot liquid being poured down his throat.
“Can we help you with anything?” Chelsea, the spotted Cybunny, asked Rain, who hadn’t realized she had been standing motionless listening to the friends’ conversation.
“Um, no, thank you. Sorry,” she apologized; heat rising in her cheeks as she quickly went over to take the order of a new group of customers.
Rain lay in bed that night, thinking over what her customers had been talking about. Mystery Island Community College did sound great. She’d even done some research on it after work and saw that they pretty much did everything, plus they only cost two hundred and fifty thousand neopoints a year.
A sad frown crossed her face as she realized she would probably never be good enough for any college. She closed her eyes against the flood of tears she could feel coming.
She turned up for work the next day, dark circles under her eyes. She put on a pot of coffee and looked around for her boss. Late as usual. She thought with disdain, continuing to prep the newly named Joyful Juice for another day of work.
The bell trilled as a lone customer came in. Rain recognized it as one of the regulars, Chelsea.
She knew Chelsea would order a coffee so she started pouring one right away.
“Make that two, please,” Chelsea asked with a pleasant smile, as Rain reached for another cup. Rain brought the cups to a table for two, and Chelsea accepted hers with a grin.
“Why don’t you join me for a minute?” Chelsea asked, as she took a sip. A look of surprise crossed Rain’s face, but she obediently sat down.
“So, what’s it like working here?” Chelsea asked. Rain shrugged.
“It allows me to give back to my foster owner. He’s so wonderful.”
Chelsea nodded her approval. “Yeah, foster owners can be so nice sometimes. But others...” For the first time, Rain saw a look of sadness in the Cybunny’s eyes.
“Did you not have a nice foster owner?”
“No,” was Chelsea’s only reply for a few minutes. Finally, she continued.
“Well, as a rare species, I was created on that one day a year when we become available.” She paused to take a sip of coffee.
“My first owner had been a small human girl. She snuggled me so tight sometimes, I thought my eyes would pop out of my head. She wanted to show me off to her friends one day and took me to the park. A bully came by and stole her lollypop. She challenged the bully to a fight. The other human’s neopet was a level ten adult Xweetok who flattened me, of course. My owner was not happy at all, and begged to get a new, better neopet. Her parents adopted a much stronger Faerie Usul from an adoption agency, and simply put me in the pound. They could have given me to that adoption agency, but didn’t really care.
“I wasn’t in the pound long before I was adopted by a girl who said she would make me more attractive to potential owners, a foster owner. I was very happy. Thinking she would take me to Mystery Island to train and even paint me with a paint brush. However, my wishful thinking ended up being a daily trip to the lab ray. It was painful, the volts of electricity going through me. Some days making me stronger, some days much weaker. After two months of this, there was still no change in my appearance. Yes, I was indeed stronger, but the pain I still felt didn’t seem worth it.
“Finally, my foster owner dumped me back into the pound. Thankfully, my higher stats did make me more attractive to potential owners. A boy adopted me that time; he took me home and cared for me. I was his only neopet. And I still am.”
A delightful smile passed over Chelsea’s face as she relived her moment of feeling loved for the first time. Rain smiled for her, even though she felt the pang of never having known a permanent owner who loved her. Guy loved her enough, but he wasn’t planning on keeping her any time soon.
The bell tinkled again, and Rain’s boss entered. “What are you doing sitting there? Get back to work!”
Chelsea giggled as the orange Techo stormed into his little office. When he had slammed the door behind him, Rain let a chuckled escape. It was nice to finally have something to laugh about, and someone to laugh with.
A few weeks went by and every morning saw Rain and Chelsea having a lively chat over a cup of coffee. Then at lunch, the rest of Chelsea’s friends would join the conversation. Although her boss always gave her the evil eye, he never interfered, as Rain was still a very efficient employee.
“So, has the ol’ codger given you a raise yet?” Yums the brown Bruce asked, munching on a grape roll.
“No. I think he’s still trying to pay off some debts.”
“Yeah, like to the pirates!” Arnie stated, sipping some orange juice through his pink trunk. He then continued on telling them a wonderfully exaggerated tale about pirates and Rain’s boss.
The door opened and a lone customer came in, cutting Rain’s inclusion in the scandal short.
After the spotted Grarrl had her pork sausages and chocolate milk, Rain rejoined Chelsea’s table. The friends were again talking about the job opening at the new petpet store, Fantastic Friends.
“I heard they’ve had a few applicants, but none were good enough for their standards,” Yums was saying, as he dunked the last of his roll into his coffee.
“Well, I wonder exactly what they’re looking for?” Chilli asked, holding on to his hot cup of joe.
Rain was staring into outer space, imagining what life would be like if she got accepted as their new employee. A sly grin crossed Chelsea’s face.
“Why don’t you apply for the job?” she asked Rain, who choked on her neocrunch cereal at the very thought.
“No, I think they’re looking for someone much more promising than me.”
“You’ve got plenty promise, I don’t see why you just don’t apply for it and see what happens.”
A pensive look crossed Rain’s face at Chelsea’s words.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try.”
Rain entered the cheerful and colorful shopping center that contained Fantastic Friends. She adjusted her brand new pink sun hat Guy had bought her for the occasion.
“I think this will be the best thing that has ever happened to you,” he exclaimed with pride as he presented Rain with her gift.
“Well, I won’t get too excited just in case.”
Guy’s lips turned down at these words, but then he smiled. “I know you’ll do well.”
Rain could see lots of well dressed owners walking around with their happy pets. All of the shops in the plaza were sparkling clean and had a wide variety of items. She could already see Fantastic Friends would be no exception.
In the window were quite the array of petpets, from snow white Catamara in a fish tank, to an adorable litter of Puppyblews. There was even a cage filled with Beekadoodle.
She walked through the glossy glass doors and down the many aisles of cages and petpet accessories to the back of the store, where she had been directed by another worker.
A friendly looking purple Tuskaninny greeted her and invited her to come to the interview room.
“Well, Rain. I see you were quite the accomplished academic! Lots of community service, wonderful. And a prefect to boot! I must say I am impressed with your resume.”
Rain smiled bashfully at the high praise. But then a serious look crossed her face. She had learned never to get her hopes up the hard way.
“It says here that after you were rejected from BU, you never applied to another institution of secondary learning. Why?”
Rain looked into the purple face across the desk from her. How could she admit to a potential employer that she was totally worthless?
“With your grades, determination and other accomplishments, you could have been accepted into any other college or university in the whole of Neopia! They would probably even have paid your tuition.”
Rain looked incredulously at her possible new boss. “What makes you so sure?”
The purple Tuskaninny laughed, “Oh my! You lack confidence. But you are young still and have much to learn. It is truly a shame that you didn’t think you would be good enough for anywhere else.”
Rain was shocked as her thought process was revealed by this complete stranger. How did this Tuskaninny know she felt useless?
“Well, my dear. We are going to change the way you think about yourself at once! Will you accept a spot at Mystery Island Community College, free of charge, with a job guaranteed at the end of your education?”
Rain’s jaw dropped at this proclamation. “What?” she asked rather rudely, then offered an apologetic smile.
“You heard me right, young Lenny. I am offering you the opportunity of a life time. But in your case, had you tried, you would have had every college on the planet vying for your capable mind.”
Rain was speechless. She didn’t know when she stood up, or even signing the agreement form. And later that day she couldn’t recall walking home. All she knew was she was sitting on the fire couch in the living room, staring at the wall with her mouth wide open when Guy and the other neopets came home.
Worry clouded Guy’s face as he sat next to the green Lenny and put his arm around her lanky shoulders.
“Don’t worry Rain, this isn’t the end.”
“No,” Rain whispered in a dreamy voice. “No, this is just the beginning.”
To be continued...