Taking One For The Team
"Get over here!"
"The Altador Cup isn't going to watch itself!"
Meredith, the renowned (or at least heard of) Slushie Slinger Tuskaninny, was sure that her jaw would lock if she grinned anymore. But she had to keep doing it: she was sure that if she stopped smiling and nodding at the overzealous – and frankly, quite aggressive – customers, she'd flip her lid, and it would not be landing onto a slushie cup. She was ready to scream!
"Of course, here you go, sir," she said as politely as she could, all but throwing the icy drink into a pink Skeith's outstretched paws. She couldn't even let off steam in her mind; she wanted to insult them as each ungrateful neopet stalked off, but the moment one pet's back was turned, another appeared vying for her attention and she had to forget instantly how much she loathed the last one.
"Maybe you'd be better as a goal-keeper rather than a waitress," an Island Kougra growled.
"She wouldn't have to move far," a green Techo called back.
Meredith felt the heat rise to her head and tears swelled in her eyes. The still-gathering crowd of neopets weren't even bothering to be civil now. The Altador Cup was great – if you were either one of the revered Yooyuball team players or the fans – but did anyone think of the pets behind the scenes? What reward other than a 'job well done' did those who put up the stadium get? Even that crazy Techo, the official mascot of 'Make Some Noise,' got more respect than she did!
So she'd put on some weight in the previous years since getting a job as a waitress, but that was her own business! She at least worked, didn't she? And wasn't she as much a part of those who made the Altador Cup happen as the team-players were? Sure, she wasn't as important... (and how she would have liked to have a figure as good as Derbi Azar) but she reserved the rights to her dignity, thank you very much.
"No tears in the drinks, please!"
The jeering continued and the volume of noise in the Slush Shack increased to deafening decibels; the crazy Techo would paint himself green with envy if he heard.
The noise didn't altogether stop, but there was a sudden and very noticeable drop in the level of pandemonium.
Meredith could feel the eyes of every customer on her, and she could even spot a few malicious smirks at her outburst. But she wasn't done, not by a long shot.
"I have had it up to here," she gestured with a fin placed at eye-level, "with each and every one of you!" Instantly, as if she was already being admonished for her display of emotions, her vision panned over a young Peophin who couldn't have been doing more than doing as he was told in getting drinks. He almost looked as startled as she felt. She allowed herself a small apologetic smile in his direction before focusing her sharp gaze on the Island Kougra who had first insulted her.
"You should be ashamed of yourselves," she said, fins on her hips. "You come into a public place and you all behave like... like untrained Gruslens, snapping and growling!"
Meredith felt her expression soften as a few neopets ducked their heads. She couldn't help but feel gleeful at their shame and guilt. She was still staring straight at the Kougra who stared right back, his large eyes full of the merciless ambition of a bully.
"Are you quite done?" he drawled, the claws of a paw tapping impatiently on the counter.
He turned to face the crowd and raised his paws up above his head, as if he was about to beckon them to war.
"Don't you think that if she can't serve us fast enough, she should get a different job?"
Immediately calls of encouragement and agreement were thrown back.
"Yeah! If you can't take the heat of the Altador Cup, go and hide in Terror Mountain!"
"You'd make even the Snowager full!"
"Enough," Meredith screamed, "I said enough! I don't have to serve you the way you're all behaving, and I certainly don't have to tolerate your rudeness! But if you want a drink so bad...!"
A sudden cheekiness rose through Meredith's anger. She grabbed a slushie cup from behind her and filled it to the brim with chokato-flavoured slush.
"Are you still thirsty? Huh?" she asked the Kougra. She could feel her face growing hot and for once she was thankful for her plain red paint-job. She knew that if her boss ever found out about her antics – and especially about today's rather lacking crowd-control – she'd be fired on the spot, but right now she was too riled up to care. Even Sloth couldn't intimidate Meredith into backing down now.
"Well if you are, have this!"
Even as Meredith let go of the slushie cup, intending to hurl it towards the Kougra, she knew that she had released her grip too soon. Xana DiLanche she wasn't. She hoped that it at least couldn't get any worse than hitting another – rude! – customer.
Then the Altador Cup's very own Krawk Island team meandered in, headed by none other than Garven Hale. The crowd parted in two and a hush descended over the whole of the Slush Shack as the cup and its contents hit Hale's shoulder. Meredith made a brief mental note to pick up a copy of The Neopian Times on her way home; hopefully someone would be advertising a job.
"Garr, curses!" Hale growled, glowering down at his soiled team shirt. Meredith wanted the ground to open up beneath her. Where was a random event when you needed one? "I guess I wasn't too quick this time, aye?"
Meredith and Garven's eyes met, and even though Hale wore only the smallest of smirks, his eyes twinkled amiably.
"Arr, but we weren't too quick on defending either, were we?" Zayle Sufhaux grinned and nudged his partner-in-defence, Nitri Cassale.
Feldon "Dinksy" Collibridge bustled her way past the two defenders and looked up over the counter. "Methinks someone might've lost 'er temper with the crowds."
Before Meredith could defend herself to the Shoyru, the Island Kougra responsible for this entire mess piped up.
"She certainly did! We were just saying-" he gestured to the throng of neopets behind him, "-if she can't look after her customers, she shouldn't be allowed to hold down her job." The crowd who had previously chanted and jeered with the Kougra now shuffled back as one body as Ealyn Hawkshanks came forward and glared up at the Kougra. Small he might be, but he wasn't Krawk Island's left forward for nothing.
"And what precisely was she failing to do for her customers?" he croaked. "Was she... refusing to serve ye, by any chance?"
The Kougra paused, realising that Meredith had been serving them all as fast as she could – just not fast enough! He rolled his eyes as if the answer to the question was obvious. "Well, what else would we be complaining about? She can't just stop letting us be customers – especially not with this heat! The stadium feels as if you're in Moltara sometimes!" He smiled from one team player to the other, as if allowing them into a secret joke just for the six of them. Meredith could feel Garven Hale's eyes back on her.
"This be true?" he asked her.
Again Meredith was verbally jumped, but this time it was to her aid: "She was serving us! She was doing a great job! And then these ... Sloth-wannabees started heckling her!" It was the young Peophin speaking.
Nitri Cassale kneeled down on one haunch and looked at the Peophin. She repeated Garven's own question to him. He nodded eagerly and pointed a hoof at the Kougra. "He's a bully! ...and so is he," he shouted, pointing out the green Techo.
"Not true," they chorused together.
"Sure is," the Peophin insisted. "Tell 'em!"
Meredith straightened herself up and nodded firmly. "It's the truth. ...It was drastic of me to throw the slushie. I lost my temper with their attitudes."
"s'good thing it got me then, isn't it?" Hale grinned toothily. He turned to the two silver-tongued neopets; his grin vanished, but his teeth gleamed under the lights of the Slush Shack. "Why don't yer two leave, eh?"
It didn't take the Kougra two shakes of his tail to realise that, not even with all the training Mystery Island had to offer, he would never challenge Garven Hale. He slunk out with his ears low and his tail dragging along the floor.
"...well?" Sufhaux arched a brow, looking at the still-present Techo.
"B... but I di-"
"OUT, NOW!" Hale roared. The Techo was out of the door in an instant.
Dinksy whistled in mock-admiration. "That's a speed to aspire to," she grinned. Meredith smiled appreciatively as the crowd snickered uneasily.
Garven Hale, however, wasn't done. Now his attention was turned to the crowd entirely, and without the Kougra or the Techo to bear the brunt of their actions, each individual neopet felt the fear of Kass put into them.
"I'm not going ta accuse any of ye outright about what might've gone on 'ere or not... but if I ever 'ear about anyone being rude ta such a needed member of staff fer the Altador Cup again, I'll make sure that yer all kept at the doors of the Stadium next year. 'ave I made meself clear?"
Every neopet nodded in unison; all except for the young Peophin who was gleefully receiving an autograph from Nitri Cassale.
"Good," Hale growled. "Now... why don't we get what we came for, team?" He smiled at Meredith. "Ready when you are, luv."