Afternoon Tea: Part Two
“I just don’t know what to do,” said Afton, staring gloomily at the empty tray. She was sitting in Darren’s parlor, but the pastries that her friend had baked were long-since eaten. The Bruce had even refilled the teakettle, and Afton still could not bring herself to leave. “This is the career of a lifetime, but I’m not sure if I can handle the pressure.”
Darren sipped patiently at his eighth cup of tea. “Well, at least you’ve talked it out,” he replied. “It’s good to get your emotions out in the open.”
“But now what?” moaned Afton. Her first cup of tea remained full and cold. “I don’t want to quit, but I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Just do what feels right,” said Darren simply. “That’s really all there is to it. Go to work, see how it feels. If you don’t like it, quit. But I think it will get better.” He smiled. “It always does.”
Afton found it hard to share in her friend’s optimism. “I hope so, but I’m not sure. Hubert seems like a very greedy Neopet.”
“But you’re not,” remarked Darren, “and that’s all that matters. You,” he said, poking the Gelert, “just need to worry about yourself. Keep your chin up. Work hard, and everything will sort itself out.”
Afton smiled. “Thanks,” she said, resting her head on the table.
“You look tired,” said Darren. “Go home and sleep on it. I’m sure you’ll feel better in the morning.”
“I hope so,” said Afton doubtfully, standing up and stretching. “Thanks for tea. And thanks for wasting your whole evening talking to me.”
Darren grinned. “What are friends for?”
“Excuse me.” Afton looked up from her desk to see a young blue Kacheek standing in the doorway of her office. “I was told to come to Room Thirty-Four.”
“Hello,” said Afton, pushing aside some confusing graphs. “How may I help you?”
“Well,” said the Kacheek, looking at the ground, “I just received a Neomail saying that my bank account was terminated. The bank teller said to see you about it.”
“Terminated?” repeated Afton, raising her eyebrows. “Why?” The Kacheek shrugged. He looked very nervous, but said nothing. “Well,” said Afton, after a pause, “could you tell me your account number? Perhaps I can sort this out for you.”
“It’s a junior-saver account,” said the Kacheek. “It’s not listed by a number, just my name.”
“Oh,” replied Afton, hurriedly looking through her filing cabinet. “I don’t have any records of the lower balance accounts. Let me call in Mr. Hodge. I believe he has the master list.” Afton sounded very professional and confident, but inside she was very nervous about sending for her boss. It would be the twentieth time in half as many days; she had been counting.
Afton told the Kacheek to wait in the lobby while she made her way to Room Fifty-Five. She knocked and winced as her superior’s booming voice bellowed, “Go away, unless you’re my secretary!” Afton pushed open the door anyway.
“Boss?” she asked timidly. “There’s a customer who—”
“You’re not my secretary!” interrupted the large blue Skeith. “How many times do I have to tell you not to bother me?”
“I just needed to use your bank account list,” said Afton. “There’s a customer whose junior-saver account was terminated for no reason.”
“Nothing at the National Neopian Bank is done for no reason,” said Hubert.
“Well I was hoping to find out the reason then,” said Afton. “If I could just borrow your files for a moment—”
“Nobody is going to borrow anything!” interrupted Hubert. “If anything’s to be done in my office, I’ll do it myself. And this had better be the last time you come crawling in here asking for me to help you! What’s the customer’s name?”
“Artem Burrow,” said Afton. She watched her boss rummage through his “B” file until he found the correct paper. He at last pulled out a single sheet with several numbers and the familiar red “terminated” stamp over the Kacheek’s picture.
“It says here,” said Hubert, “that this account was terminated due to lack of sufficient deposits.” He decisively put the paper back in the folder.
“That’s it?” asked Afton. “That’s the reason?”
The Skeith rolled his eyes. “If a junior-saver account is not upgraded with in a year of its creation,” he said, “it is to be terminated. Obviously, if someone can’t scratch up enough Neopoints to move from junior-saver to bronze-saver in one year, they shouldn’t be using the bank.” Hubert gave Afton a glare that clearly said that the discussion was over.
“Oh,” said Afton. “I see.” She quietly walked out the door. With a sigh, she made her way to the lobby, where Artem was waiting.
“Did they fix it?” he asked with a smile, when he saw her approaching.
Afton bit her lip. “I’m sorry,” she said, looking sadly down at the Kacheek. “Your account was terminated due to...” Her voice trailed off. She gazed into the nervous eyes of the Neopet that was so hoping for her to help him. “Due to lack of sufficient deposits,” she finished.
“Oh,” said Artem. He looked down at the shiny floor. Afton could see that he was fighting back tears. “All right then,” he said finally. “I’ll just leave now.”
The blue Kacheek got up and walked slowly through the bustling crowd until he stepped through the large doors. Afton watched him go with a shuddering sigh. She hung her head and slowly made her way back to her office.
As the weeks rolled by, Afton grew more and more comfortable with her job at the National Neopian. The Gelert realized that her head for numbers was invaluable to the company; even Hubert Hodge was impressed. The Finance Manager began sending more and more of his reports to his assistant, and soon, Afton was in charge of nearly all of the bank’s finances.
Her niche, however, was with the stocks. Afton would spend hours poring over graphs and charts, making crucial decisions with the funding. They almost always paid off. She bought low, sold high, and was able to predict the stock market trends better than anyone else. Her name became well known in the banking community, and small business owners often came to her for advice. Afton was responsible for the rise of several successful franchises, and the bank reaped the benefits. Her salary tripled in just a few short weeks. Afton had never felt so successful.
It was not long before Afton received a promotion. She bid goodbye to Room Thirty-Four and moved into her new office in Room Forty-Seven. It was larger, neater, and most importantly, had a new nameplate: Afton, Stock Manager. Hubert was still her boss, but the Gelert knew that the bank could not flourish without her.
Afton still made time every evening for tea, despite the increasing business of her schedule. Darren supported her every step of the way, although Afton suspected that he didn’t always know exactly what was going on. Nevertheless, his daily company was gladly received.
One evening, however, Afton was about to leave the office when Hubert stepped in. He was holding a small stack of papers, and he was frowning. “Afton,” said the large blue Skeith, “we need to talk.” He sat down.
“Is something wrong?” asked the Gelert, leaning to catch a glimpse of the papers.
“No, not at all,” said Hubert, trying to get comfortable in Afton’s small desk chair. “I just have a few papers for you to look over.”
“It’s a little late,” said Afton, glancing at the clock overhead. “Couldn’t this wait until tomorrow?”
“No, it couldn’t,” said Hubert. “This is a list of all of the companies we’re currently investing in. Now, I’ve noticed that you have an uncanny talent to buy stock in small businesses that become successful, but this list is of those that are slipping.” He handed her the papers. Afton quickly scanned the list. The Art Department, the Wishing Well, Mystery Island Merchandise, and other names continued down the sheet. “I know how much you hate firing people,” Hubert continued, giving Afton a look that showed his disapproval, “but sometimes it is very necessary.”
Afton frowned. Hubert paused, then continued. “These companies are failing. That’s all there is to it. The bank is still making money, thanks to your clever investing, but cutting our costs here would increase our profits even more. What you need to do is decide which of these names we need to cut funding for.”
“There are a lot,” said Afton, flipping to the next page.
“I know,” said Hubert. “And they’re bringing us down. We need to close them now, so we don’t lose any more money.”
Afton sighed. “How many?”
“You need to give me a list of fifty companies to shut down by tomorrow morning,” said Hubert. “That’s all.” With that, he stood up and left, leaving the papers on Afton’s desk. She could hear his heavy footsteps echoing down the empty hallway.
Afton turned to the list. Fifty businesses? She had to shut them all down. It was up to her to judge which companies were worthy of staying alive, and which were to be cut off. The Gelert bit her lip. It would be a long night.
The process of going through the list and determining which stocks to keep was so taxing that Afton woke up the next morning to find that she had fallen asleep in her desk chair. There, before her, was a list of fifty names. Fifty companies who were about to find out that their time was up. Fifty companies, countless workers who were going to lose their jobs, and one Gelert who had made the decision.
Afton groaned. She put the list in the “Outgoing” tray on her desk, and then stumbled into the hallway. It was still quite early in the morning, and the bank was empty. Afton rubbed her eyes and stepped out the large front doors, hoping to make it home in time to get an hour of sleep before returning to work. The walk was not far, but on the way, Afton passed the Morning Sun Coffee Shop and realized that she had missed tea with Darren.
“I’m really, really sorry.”
“Don’t worry! It’s all right. I understand,” said Darren over tea that evening. Afton still felt terrible about the previous night. She hadn’t missed tea with Darren in months.
“No, it’s not all right,” said Afton. “This job has gone too far. If I can’t even spend a few minutes every day with a friend, then it’s not worth it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Darren. “This job is the best thing that has ever happened to you. You’re not going to throw your career away just because you missed one day’s tea with a fat Bruce!”
“I just feel so exhausted,” said Afton. “I work hard all day and then rush over here at night just to get a moment’s peace.”
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to be here every day,” insisted Darren. “I can live for two days without seeing you.”
“But you’re my best friend,” said Afton. “You’ve been with me every step of the way.”
“Well, maybe you should try doing things on your own,” suggested Darren. “I don’t have to dictate your life.”
“Oh, it’s not like that,” said Afton. “I just... I don’t know. I need you.”
“Well, not every day, certainly,” said Darren, pouring himself more tea. “I tell you what. Why don’t we make it Saturday tea? Surely you can spare a few minutes a week. That way, you can work overtime on weeknights, if need be. I don’t want you having to stop what you’re doing every day just to see me.”
“Saturday tea?” asked Afton, toying with the idea. “Well, that would make work a little easier...”
“Saturday tea it is, then,” said Darren with a decisive nod. He drained his teacup and winked at Afton. “I’ll hold you to it.”
To be continued...