September 18, 2001
When I woke up the next morning, I was half-convinced that it had all been a dream. It was wild enough to be some freaky nightmare, complete with muscle pains and the thoughts of Amy that always seem to pop up during REM sleep. All of it could have been an insanely detailed figment of my imagination; there was no jumping in front of a moving vehicle, no tense microwaved pizza dinner with a man who couldn’t even remember his last name. This all proved to be wishful thinking, however, when my alarm clock sounded, my newly mangled arm fully visible as I rolled over to shut it off. In that moment, all I wanted to do climb back under the covers and never come back out.
Unfortunately, that was not an option. Despite my brush with death the day before, both me and the s*hmuck I had rescued, — Grant, I reminded myself, — were still breathing. Life went on, as always. How unfortunate.
Like swallowing a spoonful of cough syrup, I figured it would be best to go ahead and get the worst part over with. With a grimace, I let my feet hit the floor and headed for the laundry room to retrieve my Mulligan’s uniform.
Once again, I seemed to have forgotten just how bad the situation really was. Despite the heavy duty rinse cycle I had promptly put my damaged clothes on after my shower, the outfit still, quite frankly, looked like h*ll. What had once been one of the trademark outfits of the classiest waitresses in the city was now nothing more than several articles of blue fabric, decorated with an assortment of dirt and small tatters. The skirt and blouse were nothing, however, in comparison to my trusty cardigan, which now laid abandoned on the bathroom floor. I had known that it was a lost cause as soon as I took it off the previous evening, seeing the gravity of the damage for the first time. The knitted godsend of a clothing article was now nothing more than frayed yarn and tar residue, a caricature of the navy blue beauty it once was.
Before you assume that my upset about the cardigan’s demise is overdramatic, let me make one thing clear: for the past two years, that cardigan had saved my a-s-s.
I hadn’t thought much about how strict the world is about appearance when I got a tattoo on my eighteenth birthday. My mother had always told me that tattoos were only sleazy when they were in a spot where they couldn’t be covered by clothing. Figuring my collection of sweaters and long sleeved T-shirts was the only virtue I needed, I didn’t hesitate to tell the ink-covered girl wielding a needle to cover my right shoulder with a big, purple rose, as big as possible, please.
As it would turn out, that decision was less than stellar. Though the tattoo itself was beautiful, the placement became a cause of constant paranoia when I started working at Mulligan’s.
For a twenty-year-old college dropout, Mulligan’s Restauraunt was the msot lucrative employment option in the area. Owned by local entrepenuer bigwig Fred Starnes and his womanizing son, Lucas, Mulligan’s waiting gigs promised six dollars per hour and one of the finest displays of the culinary arts that the south east had to offer. The two main conditions to this deal were that a. each waiter or waitress must bring their shining personality to the table, (or have good acting skills,) and b. they must be attractive and clean cut enough to grace the cover of Vogue magazine. Visible botanical tattoos were hardly part of the deal.
Of course, I was able to wear one of my long sleeved shirts to the job interview. Once I actually landed the position, however, I was royally screwed. The mandatory outfit for the sophisticated waitresses of Mulligan’s consisted of a pencil skirt and sleeveless button-up blouse. If I showed up one day without means of arm coverage, I would be back on my ass faster than you could say ‘fired.’
Apparently, the world was looking out for me. The week before I officially started the job, I had found the cardigan on the clearance rack at Dillard’s, matching the shade of my work outfit almost exactly.
No one had ever questioned my reasoning for wearing the cardigan since I showed up to work for the first time wearing it. They simply assumed it was simply an eccentricity of mine, another quirk to match the aloof attitude I displayed whenever I wasn’t handing out menus or carrying trays to tables.
As far as any of my colleagues knew, I was completely devoid of ink. I planned to keep it that way.
At this point, that definitely looked as if it would be easier said than done, what with my security blanket of sorts lying on the floor, totally annihilated. I was beginning to wonder if things could get any worse.
Clad in my marginal-condition uniform, I looked to the closet for some serious improvisation. I ended up coming out with a short denim jacket, figuring it was the closest thing I had to my beloved cardigan in both color and style.
Once I was dressed, I turned toward the doorway of my bedroom with a sigh, making sure not to catch a glimpse of myself in anything that could reflect on my way out.
The fact that the day before was not a nightmare was further proved by the fact that Grant was seated on my sofa, intently shoving a spoon full of cereal into his mouth, milk dripping from the spoon into his lap. I cringed, hating to imagine that some of that milk had probably found its way to the couch cushions as well.
Seeing that he had left the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch open on the kitchen counter, I retrieved the milk from the fridge and a bowl from the stack of dishes I had left out to dry.
Grant hadn’t acknowledged my existence at all since I came out of the bedroom, gaze transfixed on the television. The morning news droned on as it always did, the usual background noise that accompanied my morning routine. Aside from the strange man on my sofa and the scabs on my body, that morning really wasn’t all that different from the mornings I was used to. Holding on to the bit of normalcy I still had, I tried to convince myself that everything that had changed was totally reverseable. I’d be able to drop Grant off at the local homeless shelter and drop by a department store to find a replacement for my cardigan. In a week’s time, I’d be able to forget that any of this had ever happened. I would learn from my experience with playing in traffic, and everything would be okay again. Happily ever after, the end.
I returned the carton of milk to the fridge and carried my bowl of cereal with me over to the couch, making a mental note to buy a kitchen table whenever I had the chance. Eating every meal on the couch couldn’t be doing wonders for my posture.
Reluctantly, I seated myself next to Grant. I quickly looked at him out of the corner of my eye. He was almost finished with his cereal, by the looks of it, though his attention seemed to be more focused on the TV. Considering the fact that he supposedly didn’t even know where his house was, it had probably been a while since he had seen a television. Of course, that was if he was actually telling the truth, which I still doubted that he was.
I rolled my eyes at the idea before picking up my spoon. At this point, I had decided that he was probably a drug kingpin on the run from the cops. The sooner I got him out of my living quarters, the better.
I began my breakfast just as Grant seemed to be finishing his. Still in a television-induced trance, he discarded the milk-splattered bowl on the coffee table, having no apparent intention to take it to the sink like any respectful person would.
I shot him a look of contempt before breaking our silence. “You know that’s not where that belongs, right?”
He whipped his head around to face me, eyes wide. Once he recovered from the shock of seeing me, he hung his head in apparent shame. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn’t see you there.”
I took a deep, huffing breath that almost resembled a laugh. “Well, now that you have, can you maybe be a good guest and go put your bowl with the rest of the dirty dishes?”
He nodded and silently rose from his seat, taking the bowl with him as he trudged towards the kitchen.
I sighed, returning my attention to my cereal. I had finally begun eating when the TV caught my attention.
“And now,” the newscaster started. “We turn our attention to a report of a rather odd incident that occured on a highway in downtown Stoneview yesterday. Deborah?”
I groaned quietly before lifting my head. Surely not.
Once again, my hopes for returning to my normal life flew right out the window. Surely enough, one of the local journalists stood on the sidewalk that I had pulled Grant onto the day before, the wind blowing her perfectly teased blonde hair into her face as she spoke into her microphone. “Sure thing, Dan,” she said. “A near automotive accident was reported on the south bound lane of Williams Boulevard yesterday evening. Witnesses say that a pedestrian was nearly struck by a moving vehicle before he was pulled to safety by what seemed to be a good Samaritan…”
Without thinking, I threw my hands up and screamed. “Of course!” I yelled. “This is absolutely fantastic!”
Almost immediately upon hearing the commotion, Grant appeared, stepping out of the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” he asked, his voice unnervingly calm.
I shot him an angry glance. “I’ll tell you what’s wrong.” I lifted a shaking hand to point at the television. “We made the news, that’s what’s wrong!”
Grant blinked, still all too nonchalant. “Oh.”
I tossed my head back with a groan. Of course he didn’t understand the gravity of what was happening. Hell, I hardly even understood it.
As much as I would have liked for her to shut up, Deborah continued to drone on onscreen.
“Witnesses of the incident report that both the pedestrian and the woman he left with appeared to be white and between the ages of twenty and thirty. The driver of the vehicle, who has requested not to be shown on television, claims that the pair left the scene in a silver Subaru sedan. Despite this, no further information seems to be available at this time, though anyone who may know anything about the situation is encouraged to contact authorities. Dan, back to you.”
Unable to tolerate any more noise, I hit the power button on the remote before turning back to Grant, pointing a finger at him as well. “You are not to say anything to anyone about this,” I said. “If anyone tries to ask you about it, lie to them. The last thing I need is to be on the news.”
I paused, my eyes wandering to his hands. The sleeves of his already ratty gray jacket were now soaking wet, accompanied by an unknown frothy substance. Though the last thing I wanted in that moment was to look at his stupid face, I met his eyes. “What the hell is that all over your hands?”
He looked down at his sleeves, just now appearing to notice the mess himself. “I was trying to wash the dishes,” he said. “I figured you’d want me to.”
I sighed. “Whatever.” I caught a glimpse of the clock out of the corner of my eye as I turned away from him. Figuring things couldn’t get much worse, I chose to examine it further. Much to my dismay, it seemed I was expected to be at Mulligan’s in about ten minutes.
“Shit,” I cursed under my breath. Not bothering to practice what I preached earlier, I pushed what was left of my breakfast aside and stood up. “Come on,” I told Grant. “We’re going to be late.”
“Late for what?” Grant asked.
“I have to go to work,” I replied, my hand already on the doorknob.
Unfortunately, Grant’s questions didn’t stop there. “Why do I have to go with you?”
“For one thing, I don’t trust you to even tell me the truth about where you came from,” I started. “And for another, I’ll be dropping you off at the soup kitchen or something on the way back home.”
Grant sighed. “I told you I’m not homeless. And I wanted to finish the dishes.”
“I don’t give a damn whether you want me to think you’re homeless or not,” I snapped. “And I’ll finish the damn dishes when I get back. Now hurry up and get your ass out here.”
With that, Grant begrudgingly followed me out the door of the apartment. Apparently, foul language was all he needed to be convinced.
“Good,” I mumbled under my breath, shutting the door behind me.
This time, we took the stairs back down to the lobby. Grant was close behind me the entire time, following me like a lost puppy. In a way, I supposed that was what he was. I believe my father once rescued a dog from the road under similar circumstances.
When we reached the complex’s parking lot, I was practically running toward the car, narrowly avoiding twisting my ankle on the way. I hoped Lucas would rot in hell for making me wear heels every day.
“Come on, I don’t have all day.” I unlocked the door for Grant as I hurried into the driver’s seat.
I had barely allowed both of us to shut our doors when I began driving, let alone buckle up. Not having to worry about time like I did, Grant fastened his seatbelt as I headed onto the first road toward Mulligan’s.
“So,” he said. “Where do you work?”
“Mulligan’s Restauraunt,” I replied.
Grant seemed to consider this for a while before speaking again. “Doesn’t ring a bell.” He paused again. “Then again, not a lot of places around here do.”
I considered asking why he’d even ask before ultimately keeping my mouth shut. The fact that he said ‘around here’ insinuated that Grant wasn’t from the area. Apparently, he had traveled.
Definitely a drug kingpin, I decided. Or maybe a murderer.
I told myself I’d decide later when I pulled into the Mulligan’s parking lot. Trying my best to ignore Grant’s prescence in the seat next to mine, I carefully manuevered the XT into my usual parking place as I always did. Once I was adequately parked, I shut off the car and pulled down the mirrored visor. As quickly as I possibly could, I examined my face for any leftover food, applied a fresh coat of lipstick, and pulled as much unruly black hair as possible into a bun atop of my head. Finally, I reached into the ashtray next to the pack of discarded Reds. Emerging victoriously, I clipped my Mulligan’s name tag to the breast pocket of my jean jacket. With that, I had succesfully finished my before work routine.
As close to satisfied as I could possibly be, I turned back to Grant in the passenger seat. “Just stay out of the way as much as possible,” I said. “We only have to make it through the next eight hours.”
As it would turn out, I was a mere ten minutes late to clock in. Sometimes, I amazed even myself.
Dory and Zoe had already arrived, standing together in the waiting area. Dory greeted me with a smile from behind the reception desk as Zoe cleaned the seats. “Good morning, April.”
In spite of myself, I made an effort to smile back. “Morning, Dory.”
No matter who you were, Dory was one of those people who it was impossible not to be charmed by. She was cute, two years younger than me and a whole head shorter. Her short brown bob, smattering of freckles, and petite build made her almost fairy-like in appearance. Her voice didn’t help to convince me that she wasn’t really a character from a storybook. The prevelance of an English accent in her soft, high-pitched voice made her sound all too much like a princess or pixie, elegant and airy. The lilt of her speech reminded me of yellow flowers and early sunrises, Beatles songs and singing birds. Just a few words from her mouth helped to put me at ease. Her very prescence was relaxing.
Meanwhile, Zoe was her polar opposite. Between her long, honey blonde hair, brightly colored eye makeup, and the fervency with which she wiped down the seat’s cracked leather, her simple existance seemed to exude confidence and raw energy. She was quite obviously a force to be reckoned with: she made that much obvious in the strength of her work ethic and the quick, sharp words that she constantly delivered with her thick Southern drawl.
Despite their apparent differences, Dory and Zoe balanced each other out, sharing an almost sisterly friendship that it was difficult for anyone else to understand, — myself included.
Between both of their shining personalities and the intensity of their relationship, I was always bound to come out as third best. Luckily, I didn’t value my job as a Mulligan’s head waitress enough to view them as competition. If I did, it would just make me hate my job that much more.
Dory and Zoe were part of what made the five days a week I spent at Mulligan’s bearable, in and of themselves. Though they were frequently difficult to keep up with, I appreciated their companionship, and they seemed to appreciate mine. To make the situation even better, this mutual appreciation seemed to go unsaid perfectly fine from all parties, taking away the pressure of having to work too hard to maintain a relationship. I was especially grateful for that.
Zoe stood up straight, abandoning her work. “Done,” she declared proudly, resting her hands on her hips. “Lucas’ll be thrilled to see the place clean.” She turned to look at me, though she quickly froze. “Hey, April,” she began. “Who’s your friend?”
I resisted the urge to sigh at the fact that she had acknowledged Grant as I turned around to face him. Even when he was completely silent, it was impossible not to notice the complete stranger I had in tow. Straightening my back, I motioned towards him. “Zoe, Dory,” I started. “This is my new friend, Grant. Grant, Dory and Zoe.”
Dory smiled kindly. “Pleasure to meet you, Grant. I’m Dory.”
“And I’m Zoe.” Zoe stuffed her rag into the pocket of her apron to hold a hand out for Grant to shake.
He did so with great alacrity. “Nice to meet you, Dory and Zoe. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m Grant.”
“Oh, we most definitely could tell.” Zoe’s scarlet-painted lips curved into a mischevious grin as she eyed Grant up and down. “It’s a pleasure to meet your acquaintance.”
A vague sense of discomfort overtaking me, I cleared my throat. “Hey, Dory, is there anything I should do before we open?”
Dory nodded, pointing towards the largest portion of the dining area. “The taller tables could use another wiping down.”
I nodded back, doing my best to look grateful. “Thanks.” I extended my arm behind me, waving my fingers. “Come on, Grant.”
Without a word, Grant obeyed, offering Dory and Zoe a wave as he followed me into the dining area.
We made a detour to the kitchen for me to retrieve the cleaning supplies. Once there, I turned to Grant pointedly. “Stay back here for now,” I ordered. “It’ll keep you out of the way. Me or Dory will probably come get you when the chefs start showing up, though.”
Grant nodded, absentmindedly hoisting himself up to sit on the counter. “Got it.”
“Excellent,” I replied, bending down to dig in the cabinet beneath the sink. I took out the furniture spray and a dishrag before shutting the cabinet and standing up.
“Now, I’m going to leave you alone,” I told Grant. “I hope I can trust you with that.”
“You can,” he replied quickly. “I’m sure of it.”
“Good.” I hesitantly made my way back toward the kitchen’s double doors, desperately hoping that I hadn’t just made a horrible mistake. “Now get off the counter. I can’t have you contaminating anything.”
“Did you hear that there was almost a car accident on Williams Boulevard last night?”
I did my best not to tear my attention away from cleaning the tables as Zoe spoke. If I looked at her, I was afraid she might find me out. I had never been good at hiding guilt. “Really?” I asked, trying my best to sound as disinterested as possible.
“Uh-huh.” Having no apparent regard for what I was currently doing, she leaned against the table, examining her immaculately polished orange fingernails. “Guy was standing out in the middle of the road when some lady came and kept him from getting flattened.” She looked up from her manicure and shook her head. “Kinda weird, really, considering he was probably trying to kill himself.”
I gulped, trying my best not to think of Grant, back in the kitchen. Perhaps leaving him alone in a room full of sharp objects less than 24 hours after a suicide attempt wasn’t the best idea. “Yeah. Real weird.”
Zoe shrugged, probably figuring that the situation she was talking about didn’t personally affect either of us. She was only half-right. “Maybe she’s one of those holy roller types,” she continued. “Trying to save his soul from eternal damnation and all that.”
I nodded. Of the few things that I knew Zoe and I had in common, a disdain for Southern baptist religion was one of them. “Maybe.”
“Oh, and get this,” she continued, obviously excited to gossip about a situation she knew absolutely nothing about. “She kidnapped him afterwards.”
I resisted the urge to throw down my dishrag and set the record straight about the entire situation. That was not what happened at all. I did not kidnap Grant. I wouldn’t kidnap Grant.
“What?” I managed to squeak out.
“Oh yeah,” Zoe continued. “Ran off with him before anybody could even call the cops. The news said they got away in a silver Subaru.” She glanced towards me. “Don’t you drive a silver Subaru?”
I gulped, my throat feeling like I had swallowed a handful of cotton. I couldn’t lie when she could just march out the door into the parking lot and call my bluff. Then again, I doubted she’d immediately come to the conclusion that I was the crazy kidnapper lady just because of the XT alone.
I shrugged. “It’s a small world.”
Zoe giggled. “I’ll say.” She stopped leaning against the table as I attempted to squeeze past her. “Anyway,” she continued. “I figured I should probably tell you about it.”
Once again, I resisted the urge to freeze up. Why would she need to tell me about it, specifically?
“Don’t you hit Williams Boulevard on your way home?”
With that question, I relaxed. Of course, it wasn’t anything personal. She was still totally clueless.
“Yeah,” I said. “But I wasn’t there when that happened. Did they say what time it was?”
Zoe shook her head. “No.”
I shrugged. “I stopped by Burger King for dinner after work,” I lied. “So they must have gotten everything cleaned up by the time I came that way. You know, without anyone for the authorities to pick up, it must’ve been easy.”
“Ah.” Zoe turned her attention back to her nails, seeming more than slightly disappointed that I didn’t seem to have any insider information to discuss with her. “Well, I wouldn’t know. I don’t really know much about accidents.”
Throughout our entire conversation, this was when I had to bite my tongue hardest. I wished I could say the same.
Not long after I finished cleaning the tables, the chefs began to arrive. I managed to get Grant, who was thankfully still in one piece, out of the kitchen and seated at one of the tables in the corner that nobody ever wanted. As usual, after the chefs came in, Lucas followed.
Lucas Starnes was a leader by nature. It was what he was born to do; never the follower, no matter how hardworking they were, he seemed to live to command everyone else in how they did their jobs. ‘Boss’ was quite the appropriate title for him.
Before he was even through the doorway, he was already preparing to have us do his bidding.
“Okay, ladies and gents,” he said. “Are we prepared for another terrific day here at Mulligan’s?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. This cheesy motivational monologue was an everyday habit of Lucas’.
“Yes sir!” I chimed along with the rest of the servers.
He flashed us a satisfied grin, proudly displaying rows of cover boy worthy white teeth. Maybe, if he learned how to take orders instead of giving them, he could land a role in a Colgate commercial.
“Great,” he said.
He rubbed his palms together, preparing to tell us something else. “Now,” he started. “I have an exciting surprise for all of you this morning.”
Once again, I resisted an eye roll. None of Lucas’s ‘exciting surprises’ were ever that exciting at all. He was just trying to psych us up so we wouldn’t complain about whatever it was that he wanted us to do. I doubted his newest announcement would be any different.
After a moment of quiet anticipation, he smiled and decided to tell us what it was. “I am happy to announce that my father will be dropping in tonight.”
Though this didn’t receive the enthusiastic response Lucas was probably hoping for, I wasn’t too disappointed, either.
Though I barely knew Fred Starnes, his prescence as the owner and co-founder of Mulligan’s was never overbearing, making him an almost pleasant person to be around.
Fred had always been wise with money. He knew how to manage things, always assuring that he’d never have to worry about funds, happily keeping himself in the lap of luxury throughout his lifetime.
From what I knew, his courtship with Maureen Mulligan began as a financial power move in itself. Simultaneously mild mannered and sharp witted, Maureen came from one of the few families that had just as much, — if not more, — money as the Starnes. This fact alone piqued Fred’s interest when he met Maureen at Wake Forest in the fifties. Impressed with each others’ bank accounts, Fred and Maureen began dating. Though they might have fallen for one another’s funds at first, they were soon head over heels in love, now for mind, body, and soul. Before they could even graduate, they were engaged. Though it was now close to the last thing on their minds, the merging of their wealth upon their marriage made them one of the richest couples in the Carolinas.
Living in one of Stoneview’s most affluent neighborhoods, with vacation homes in both South Carolina’s beaches and North Carolina’s mountains, Fred and Maureen Starnes devoted their entire lives to each other and their five children, of whom Lucas is the youngest. Staying on top of the heap was no longer their main focus; it was just something that they did, like floating in a swimming pool, it was something that was simply ingrained into them.
Aside from Fred and her children, Maureen’s greatest love was cooking. Educated in the culinary arts in a way that extended past homemaking, she was a master of the kitchen. Of course, that was one of the many things she lost when she began to succumb to ovarian cancer.
Soon, both the Starnes’ money and Maureen’s health began going down the drain. Their stock investments and inheritances were barely enough to keep them afloat. They sold their additional properties and began to dig into their life savings, occasionally borrowing money from their older children. They went from having nearly everything to nearly nothing at all. The only constant that remained in their lives was each other.
That was true until the very end, when Maureen died at the age of fifty nine. She not only left Fred a widower, but one who was struggling to get by, both emotionally and financially.
Luckily, Fred was a businessman by trade. With the help of some savvy friends and his youngest son dropping out of college to assist him, Fred was able to build the foundation of his newest business venture: a restauraunt.
In the end, when Fred and Lucas unveiled the place and opened it to the public, it was really for Maureen. That’s why Fred christianed it with her maiden name: though it was founded after her death, Mulligan’s was built with Maureen’s still-roaming soul in mind.
Though the story in itself is rather heartwarming, I’m unsure if Lucas’ mother would be very pleased with some of his practices within the business of which she is the namesake.
Then again, I supposed it was my duty to help hide those ugly truths when the man that she loved came to visit that night.
Throughout the day, my focus was expected to be evenly divided between waiting tables and keeping everything clean for when Fred arrived. However, I couldn’t help but be anxious about Grant the entire time.
For the most part, he remained at the table in the back. Thankful for this, I showed him my gratitude by managing to sneak him a sandwhich and pitcher full of water halfway into the afternoon. He gave me a sincere smile and thanked me before pouring his first glass.
Later, my decision to bring him the whole pitcher proved to be a bad one when he began to repeatedly rise to go to the restroom.
Every time he stood up and headed for the men’s room halfway across the building, my breath hitched. With his torn-up clothes and the unkempt, slightly greasy state of his hair, Grant stuck out like a sore thumb as he made his way through the sea of yuppie restauraunt-goers.
You should have at least made him shower last night, I scolded myself.
Seeing him come back through a group of knockoff James Deans, once again with wet shirtsleeves, it was obviously too late for that.
By the time Mulligan’s began dinner hours, he had already drained his first pitcher and requested another. Afraid he’d try to get it himself if I denied him, I refilled the pitcher and brought it back to him.
Not long afterwards, Mulligan’s main doors swung open to reveal none other than Fred Starnes, dressed to the nines with a woman in tow. Within what seemed to be just seconds, Lucas emerged from his office to greet them.
It was show time.
Lucas called Zoe over to seat Fred and his unnamed female companion. He placed a hand on her arm and whispered something to her, causing her to nod and promptly lead them over to my seating section. It was unclear to me if this was random or a deliberate attempt to make me work my ass off.
“April,” Zoe chirped as she lead the pair to one of the tables I had cleaned that morning. “This is Fred Starnes and his friend, Lorna Hopkins.” She gave me an enthusiastic grin, large enough to squinch up her eyes. “She’s a food critic.”
I smiled and nodded, holding my hand out to both of them. “It’s a pleasure to see you this evening, Fred and Lorna.” I held a pair of menus close to me as they both took my hand and shook it. “As you probably know, I’m April. I’ll be your server tonight.”
Fred smiled. Unlike his son, he could probably use a bit of dental work. “It’s always nice to see you again, April.”
I leaned over in something that resembled a bow. “I could say the same thing about you, sir.” I sat the menus down for them to inspect, starting with alcoholic beverages. “Can I get the two of you something to drink? Perhaps a bottle of wine?”
Fred took a quick glance at the menu before nodding. “The house merlot, please.” He sat down the menu, glancing at the woman across the table from him. “Anything extra for you, Lorna?”
Lorna sat down her menu as well, brushing her long, silvery hair from her eyes as she looked up at me. “I’d like a glass of white, please.”
“Got it.” I took my order pad from the pocket of my apron and wrote down the order before picking up the menus as well. “I’ll be right back with that.”
As I walked back to the kitchen, I peered over my shoudler at Grant. Noticing my eyes on him, he raised the hand that didn’t grip his cup to give me a thumbs up.
I smiled despite myself. Maybe this evening would go better than I thought.
Fred and Lorna were about halfway through their meal when all hell broke loose.
While the two of them made quick work of putting away their food and wine, Grant waved me over from the corner. When I made my way to his table, he promptly pointed to the floor, warning me of something.
“I broke the glass my drink was in,” he told me quietly.
I sighed, looking down at my feet. Surely enough, shards of shattered glass were spread out on the tile, glinting in the dim light of the lamp on the table.
I looked back up at Grant, irritated. “Why did you do that?” I hissed from between gritted teeth.
“I didn’t do it on purpose.” He raised his hands in defense. “I was getting up to go see you, and I accidentally bumped into the table, and, well, it fell, and–“
“You know what?” I interrupted him. “I really don’t care. Just let me go get the stuff to clean it up.” I pointed a finger at him. “Oh, and by the way, there is no coming to see me. Your entire job is to stay put until I tell you it’s time to leave. Okay?”
He nodded, mouth clamped shut.
“Good.” I turned around, walking over to the supply closet at the front of the restauraunt.
No sooner than I had opened the closet door was Lucas behind me. “What are you doing?”
“Cleaning up.” I turned around, broom and dustpan in hand. “Somebody dropped a glass.”
He nodded, stepping out of the way as I headed back towards the dining area. “Just be sure to keep checking up on Dad,” he said. “Last I saw, he and Lorna were almost finished with their drinks.”
Before I could reply, Zoe walked past, which distracted Lucas enough to make him turn his attention from me. “Hey, Zo,” he said. “Can you meet me in my office for a sec? I gotta talk to you about something.”
Zoe quickly stopped what she was doing, smiling at him. “Sure.”
With that, I was free, resuming my mission of going to clean up Grant’s mess.
As I left, I heard Lucas lock his office door behind him.
It turns out, one broken drinking glass can go an awfully long way. Cleaning up the wreckage of Grant’s accident was taking a lot longer than I would have liked.
Grant looked on helplessly as I attempted to sweep every last shard into the dustpan. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“No,” I snapped. I shook my head angrily as I did my best to sidestep the pieces that were dangerously close to my feet. “Your one job while we’re here is to stay out of my way. We’ve been over this.”
Grant didn’t reply to this. Judging by how much his words had helped me thus far, I figured it was just as well.
With a few more swipes, I managed to get most of the glass into the pan. I stepped back, leaning the broom against the wall and putting my hands on my hips. Now, the question was where I could safely dispose of the whole mess.
Before I could figure out what my next course of action would be, I felt a pair of my hands grab my arms. I turned around, only to be met with the face of a very angry Zoe.
“What are you doing?” she hissed from between gritted teeth.
I motioned to the floor. “Um, I kind of have some glass to clean up.”
She looked down at the incriminating dustpan with disgust before meeting my eyes again, bright blue eyes still flashing with anger. “Do you know how long you’re taking?”
I shrugged. “There’s a lot of glass.”
Zoe pointed back towards a table at the front of the room, practically trembling with rage at this point. “Speaking of glasses, Fred and Lorna’s had been empty for over five minutes.” She crossed her arms over her chest, still glaring at me. “Care to explain why you hadn’t checked on them in so long?”
I sighed. “Look, Zoe, I’m really sorry. I’ll go get their drinks now.”
She huffed out a breath of exasperation, blowing a stray lock of blonde hair out of her eyes. Come to think of it, her hair looked too much like a rat’s nest at the moment for her to be complaining about the state of the restaurant. “Don’t bother. Dory’s already taken care of it.”
I looked back at Fred and Lorna’s table. The pair of them seemed to be chattering happily, both of their glasses full of wine.
I whipped my head around back to Zoe, angry that she was making such a big deal out of a problem that had apparently already been fixed. “Why are you bothering me about it, then?”
She groaned, throwing her hands up in the air. Her blouse slipped off the side of her shoulder, revealing her bra strap. “Because,” she started. “Fred’s going to be pissed beyond belief! He’ll think we’re understaffed, and that Lucas isn’t an adequate leader, and–“
Sick of her talking down to me, I interrupted her. “Last I checked, your arms and legs aren’t broken,” I said. “Why couldn’t you have done anything? Why put all of the work on Dory and come get all high and mighty with me?”
Her eyes narrowed to angry slits. She opened her mouth, a viper ready to spit her venom at me.
Before she could do so, Lucas emerged from who knows where. He all but ran up to us, his rumpled dress shirt untucked. “What’s going on here?”
Zoe whirled around to face him, pointing a finger at me. “April’s trying to tell me that I don’t work hard enough while she sits on her ass over here.”
I scoffed. “I’m sitting on my ass? You came over here just to start a fight with me!”
Lucas held his arms out, planting one hand on my shoulder and another on Zoe’s. “Ladies, please. I’m sure we can work this out.” I shot him an angry glare, which seemingly prompted him to take his hand off of me. “Without using the word ‘ass’ again, could you please explain what happened?”
“Apparently, April’s been cleaning up broken glass for the past fifteen minutes,” Zoe said.
Lucas nodded. “Okay. And?”
Zoe sighed, looking away from me to meet Lucas’ eyes. “I confronted her about the fact that your dad and Lorna’s drinks had been empty for a while before Dory refilled them.”
“Yes?” Lucas asked. He looked at her as if everything she said was life or death, even though how disorganized she currently looked made it difficult for me to take her seriously.
I looked between the two of them as Zoe opened her mouth to speak again. Both of them looked a little off, to say the least, with their wrinkled clothes and messed up hair. I did a double take at Zoe’s exposed bra strap and Lucas’ crooked tie before the realization hit me.
Wait a second.
At this point, Zoe was really putting on, her bottom lip jutting out as she spoke. “She thinks I don’t do enough,” she said. “Even though I’m busy doing a lot of important things around here, like–“
“Like sleeping with our boss, apparently,” I interrupted her.
Quicker than I had ever seen her move before, Zoe whirled around to face me. Before I could even see what she was doing, she lunged at me.
She reached for my neck first. My first thought that she was trying to choke me, I tried and failed to push her away. Soon, however, I saw that that was no longer her point of focus, anyway. Looking down, I realized that I had forgotten to put on the scale necklace that morning.
That was no longer my main concern, however, when Zoe latched on to my jacket. Before I could fight her off, the buttons securing the jacket over my blouse had popped open, enabling her to pull the jacket off of my shoulder. When she did, I froze.
My jacket in her hands, Zoe stepped back. “What the hell is that on your arm?” she spat.
Before I could answer, Lucas cleared his throat and spoke up. “April. Zoe. My office. Now.”
If I hadn’t had my voice robbed from me, I might have asked if he wanted to screw me, too.
I tried my hardest not to think of what Lucas and Zoe had probably just done in that very office when Lucas opened the door. Unable to find a piece of furniture I was certain they hadn’t been on, I stood in a corner of the room while Zoe took one of the chairs in front of his desk. She shot me the evil eye while Lucas wasn’t looking. I gave it right back to her.
Once the door was locked, Lucas sauntered over to his desk, taking a seat in his leather chair. “So,” he began, his voice already strained. I didn’t remember ever seeing him so angry. “I believe that April has some explaining to do.”
“Just me?” I asked. “Your girlfriend here just physically assaulted me. Does that not count for anything?”
He ignored my questions. “Tell me, April, what exactly is on your arm?”
I looked down at my right shoulder with a sigh. The tattoo did look a little off today, a scab near the middle of it making it look like the flower had been sliced in half. “It’s… a rose.”
Lucas nodded. “I see,” he said. “How long have you had a tattoo, April?”
I laughed. “For longer than I’ve worked in this sorry place.”
He looked up at me sharply. “Answer the question, please.”
As much as I would have liked to continue pissing him off, I obeyed in order to shorten the process. “Four years.”
“So that’s why you always kept your arms covered up,” Zoe said. “I always figured you were cutting yourself. Or maybe using heroin.”
It was all I could do not to slap her. As far as I knew, she had never thought such things about me. It was only now that I had figured her out that she was trying to make me look bad.
Without thinking, I flipped her off.
Zoe’s jaw dropped before she turned to Lucas. “Did you see that?”
Lucas rubbed his temples. “Zoe, please.” He made eye contact with me from across the room. “Is there anything else you’d like to talk to me about, April?”
“How about the fact that she brought a homeless man to work with her this morning?” Zoe asked.
Lucas turned his attention away from me once more. “A homeless man?”
“He’s not homeless.” Okay, I was going to play devil’s advocate now, but only because Lucas and Zoe were being insufferable bitches. “He’s just a friend who needed a little help.”
Zoe snorted. “And you worry about who I’m sleeping with.”
I balled my hand into a fist. Lucas opened his mouth again.
“April,” he said. “You can go ahead and pack your bags.”
I laughed, though nothing about the situation was remotely funny. “You’re firing me, and not her? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.” I cupped my chin, pretending to consider something as I stared at the two of them. “I suppose it may be because she’s good in bed, though.”
“Fine.” I stood up from my spot leaning against the wall, heading towards the door. “You two enjoy each other, and for God’s sakes, use protection.”
Before either of them could reply, I slammed the door.
I collected my purse from behind the reception desk and marched into the dining area for the final time. I walked straight to Grant’s table, yanking at his arm. “Come on,” I said. “We’re leaving. For good.”
“I thought you were taking me to a soup kitchen?”
I sighed as I pulled into my apartment complex once again. “I was, but I decided against it,” I told Grant in response to his question. “If you think that’s what’s best for you, we can go tomorrow. I won’t have work, anyway.”
He paused as I shut off the car. “You got fired?”
I chuckled. “Yeah. But if they kept me any longer, I probably would’ve quit.” I opened the door and unbuckled my seatbelt. Once out of the car, I bent down to look at Grant in the passenger seat. “You coming?”
He nodded, undoing his own seatbelt and opening the door.
We ascended back up the staircase, this time with considerably less energy than when we left this morning. When we reached the top, my cell phone began ringing in my purse. Seeing that it was Dory, I decided to screen it, throwing the phone back into the bag in favor of my keys.
Once I had unlocked the door, I walked inside, immediately collapsing onto the couch and throwing my arm over my eyes with a groan.
Grant closed the door behind him before proceeding to stand over me, a look of concern on his face. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” I sat up, looking him directly in the eyes for the first time all day. “Just really tired. And pretty pissed, if we’re being honest.”
He gave me a look of understanding, gently placing a hand on my arm. To my surprise and maybe his, I let him.
“Why don’t you go take a shower?” he asked. “Maybe you’ll feel better afterwards.”
I offered him a weak smile. I was beginning to feel bad about the way I had treated him thus far. When those around him are in obvious distress, he’s actually pretty decent. “I think I will,” I said, standing up. “Help yourself to the TV and whatever’s in the kitchen. Just don’t do anything stupid.”
“I won’t,” he replied.
I walked into my bedroom and collected a pair of pajamas before making my way into the bathroom. Turning on the faucet, I took off my clothes and took down my hair while I waited for the water to warm up. While doing this, my reflection caught my eye.
The girl I saw in the mirror looked positively haggard, totally and completely whacked out. My eyes were rimmed with dark circles, appearing more sunken in then usual. A nasty scratch climbed all the way up my right arm, straight through the rose. I let my hair fall in front of my face, a dark curtain to obstruct my view of myself.
Maybe Zoe really did think I was on drugs.
I stayed in the shower for a while, but I didn’t really feel much better when I got out. Of course, bathing didn’t fix everything, but I had hoped that this was one of the many matters that could be fixed with a nice, warm shower. I was sorely disappointed.
I put on my pajamas and returned to the living room. To my relief, Grant seemed to have heeded my advice on not doing anything stupid. He was still exactly where I’d left him: on the couch. When he saw me, he gave me a gentle smile.
“I ordered pizza from that place you have the menu for,” he said. “You do like pepperoni, right?”
I nodded, taking a seat next to him.
He grinned. “Great,” he said. “But I also got vegetarian, just in case.”
After dinner, Grant took a shower, as well, changing back into his dirty clothes afterwards. I had no idea how many times in a row he had worn them, and I really didn’t want to.
After that, he settled on the sofa with a blanket I’d given him, quickly falling into a deep sleep.
I hoped to myself that rest would come that easily for me as I put the remainder of the pizza in the fridge.
Once I had gotten the apartment somewhat clean, I took my purse with me and stepped out onto the balcony, knowing I wouldn’t be able to sleep for some time.
Stepping out into the cool, autumn night’s air, I took a breath. Despite the chill bumps quickly popping up on my arms, it was much more comfortable outside than in the apartment. It was open out there, giving me just enough space to have the illusion of freedom, even though I hadn’t been truly free in years.
Of course, I had been freed of some things, my job being one. Thinking of this, I pulled my phone from my purse and flipped it open. Though I had missed four calls from Dory, there was luckily nothing from Zoe or Lucas. I considered that to be a good thing. If I was dead to them, it would be a relief.
I put the phone back, not even bothering to try and call Dory back. It would probably be too late for her to answer, anyway.
I was aware that everyone I knew probably went to bed earlier than I did. Looking over the city, however, I was relieved to see that I was in the company of people who were, in fact, just as messed up as I was.
I rested my elbows on the balcony’s banisters, looking down over the streets. A stoplight changed, causing a steady stream of cars to scatter every which way. I watched their headlights flicker as they went in various directions on the intersection at the end of the road. I leaned in further, getting as close to them as I could at my current altitude.
Of the many fears I had with which I was well acquainted, driving and death were two. The only vehicle I was comfortable having control over was the XT, though this was only because I had been driving it for nearly six years and knew it like the back of my hand at that point. Like a lover, I was aware of nearly every aspect of its existance: its likes and dislikes (the types of fuel it took best,) its quirks (the blindspot, the features that just didn’t seem to work that well,) its vices (the things that made it to do exactly what I wanted.)
Death, however, was a bit more foreign to me. The few times I found myself stumbling upon it, I’ve never taken it well, though that didn’t mean I wasn’t familiar with the devastating feeling that came along with it. That distinct brand of misery was the source of my morbid fascination with it.
As I leaned over the city streets, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to let myself go flying over the edge. Of course, I’d probably black out well before I hit the ground, but it was so easy for me to imagine the satisfying thud that would accompany my body falling onto my car’s roof. Wouldn’t it be wild if the authorities who were unknowingly researching an accident I helped avoid were also the ones who found my body a day later?
Without thinking, I found myself leaning over, nearly ready to take the plunge.
Right when I was almost past the point of no return, however, something stopped me. Looking back, I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was: all I know was that it felt like a bright white light, a camera taking an unexpected snapshot within my mind. All in a single second, I was so keenly aware of the vulnerability of the man sleeping inside my home, of the pain my family still harbored from nearly a decade ago, of the unopened voice message Dory had left me.
Thinking of these things, I jumped… back onto the balcony.
Sitting down on the cold concrete, I dug into my purse again. This time, I took out my trusty Bic lighter and an unopened pack of Marlboro Reds.
It had been zero days since my last cigarette.