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Authors: Amber Kay

After Her

BOOK: After Her
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AFTER HER

BY

AMBER KAY

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Copyright ©2015 by Amber Kay. All rights reserved.

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

--Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART ONE

The proposition

 

1

 

 

The moment Sasha sits at the table, I know what to expect.

She eats in silence, stabbing a green bean with her fork. Her predatory focus shifts to me. Every muscle in my body tightens like strings of a wound violin. This damn conversation is going to happen whether I like or not.

“There is reason why you’re still single,” she finally speaks, releasing the pressure bubbling in the air. I don’t acknowledge her. She knows exactly why. Looking her in the eye after an announcement like
that
might ignite fire. We’re combustible like that. She the oil.

I the flame. And I don’t use this metaphor lightly. At times, Sasha is a first-class bitch with some serious boundary issues, completely inept at noticing basic social cues so she never knows when to shut up. Nevertheless, I love her like a sister. No one brings out the worst of me better than Sasha Hawthorne—queen of awkward conversations.

If we were alone, I’d make a scene. The walls of this fine establishment would fall apart, bracing for the impact of my incendiary fury. Sasha also knows this. At least she should by now. Best friends are
supposed
to be in tune, like two planets rotating on the same axis. She once that joked we were twins separated at birth—four arms, twenty toes on the same body with a single faulty brain to share.

She’s not ignorant about my inner workings. She knows me better than most. She is a mental engineer, able to uncork my skull for easy access to my brain. If this were the literal sense, she’d see an image of me asphyxiating her for casually bringing up the matter of my love life in the middle of a crowded fucking restaurant!

“I’m sure you’re going to tell me what that reason is,” I mutter before slipping a crouton
into my mouth as Sasha swigs her green tea.

I watch her fiddle, fumble through the peas on her plate, gathering them all into a neat pile atop her half-eaten steak. One of her many obsessive-compulsive tendencies. She’s so easy to read, like so many others. I can usually take one look at any random person and guess what their neurosis is.

I am thoroughly convinced that everyone has at least one, including me. Two years of college as psychology major has granted me with a radar to detect this kind of stuff. Some say that it’s me being a stereotypical Virgo—meticulously analytical. I like to treat it as a morbid inside joke that only I know the punch line to. Sasha has no idea why I giggle as she continues treating her food like Lego blocks.

“Your standards are way too high,” she adds. “It’s like you expect a Prince William and you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I mean—you know I love you Cassandra, but let’s face it, you’re no Kate Middleton.”

My cheeks flame with heat. If she were anyone else, I would leave her sitting stupid in the restaurant with the bill. Even though Sasha has a way of pushing me harder than anyone else, I can’t deny that she may have a point.

I'm the kind of pathetic soul you’d see alone on a Saturday night, saving a seat for no one at the movie theater and waiting for no one at the bar while nursing a non-alcoholic hot toddy. The reason being, I think, is that I'm an only child.

Vygotsk
y
would say that I'm the perfect personification of everything that can go wrong in an only kid—minor anti-social tendencies and a sense of undeserving self-entitlement with a smartass mouth. This, I'm sure, alienates most people in general, especially men. 

I sigh, choosing to concede. “Thanks a lot, Sas, but I am
well
aware that I'm not Kate Middleton. Kate Middleton isn’t some broke ass college student working for tips at a job she hates. Speaking of which, I didn’t plan to spend my lunch break being lectured by you. If I want to be criticized, I’ll call my mother.”

As I reach for the receipt lying on the tabletop between us, Sasha grabs my hand and shakes her head.

“It’s my turn to pay,” she says while whipping out her credit card. “And FYI, I wasn’t lecturing you.”

“Well, you weren’t complimenting me either.”

Sasha sighs then smiles that sad, placating smile that makes me feel shitty for snapping at her. 

“I’m only looking out for you, Cassie,” she says. “I don’t want you to end up alone. It’s sophomore year and you haven’t had a real date since high school. Your mom isn’t here to nag you, so it’s my job by default.”

I smile back then chide myself for giving in because sometimes I’m a pathetic pushover and I hate myself for it. This, I think, is
my
neurosis. I, like a self-professed alcoholic at an AA meeting, am not ashamed to admit it.

“I don’t need a date,” I say then I glance at my cell phone to check the time and notice two missed calls.
Not now,
I think, before cramming the thing back into my pants pocket.
Jesus Christ, not now…

“I need to get back to work before Frank notices that I tweaked my time card to steal an extra twenty minutes for lunch with you,” I say while gathering my dirtied dishes. “Some of us still have to work for a living, remember?”

“Ooh, what about Frank?” she remarks with an impish smile. “He’s an eligible bachelor. Kind of cute in that rugged, Chuck Norris kind of a way.”

I resist the urge to gag at the thought. “Frank? As my
boss
Frank?”

“Oh, don’t look so turned off,” she says. “I don’t see the problem.”

“He’s like thirty years older and smells like an ashtray,” I say. “The man chews tobacco, has been divorced twice and sneaks off to the bathroom at different intervals of the day to skim vintage
Playboy
magazines. Is that your version of an ideal man?”

Sasha remains unfazed with a look on her face that tells me she’s probably not fucking around. I roll my eyes and gather my plates to head for the trashcan. She goes into pursuit after me, cutting me off midstride. Before I push the trashcan door open, she swipes my plate from my hand and dumps it for me.

“Cass, I was only kidding,” she says. “Of course I want better for you than that.”

“Really? Because I'm starting to think you’re trying to sabotage me,” I say.

We turn back toward the table and across the crowded restaurant with her arm looped around mine. I refuse to humor her or this conversation any longer, but Sasha talks relentlessly, unaware that I'm no longer listening.

She grabs her backpack as I clear our table. Frank would kill me if he knew I’d sat down for lunch in the dining area with the customers. It’s best I get rid of all the evidence of our meal before he returns from his “smoke break.”

“You just wait,” Sasha continues. “I’m going to find
someone
for you test the limits of your untapped femininity with.”

I throw my hand over her mouth.

“Sasha,” I say. “If you love me as much as you say you do, you’ll leave and let me finish my work shift in peace.”

Sasha sighs, accepting defeat. I glare and finally she leaves. While cleaning the table of our lunch mess, I retrieve the receipt and discover a message written on the back. A message to Frank suggesting that he call me on my private cell.

“Fuck you, Sasha,” I mutter before crumbling the receipt in my fist. Boundaries aren’t the only things she has a problem respecting.

The rest of the afternoon is its usual routine. I bus the dirtied tables since our regular kitchen helpers called in sick. I also record and deliver the orders along with the only two servers on duty since Frank runs such a tight ship.

Skinflint Frank only ever allows three waitresses to work at a time, which means more work and longer hours for me. I can’t complain. I need the money. There’s no option for me to turn down overtime pay. No magic button to press to make all the bill collectors go away.

Three-fifty an hour plus tips is barely enough to cover tuition and rent, not to mention the bills of food, utilities and the occasional miscellaneous Saturday night barhop Sasha forces on me twice a month. Money, at this point, isn’t in superfluity, but I can't imagine setting aside my pride long enough to call my mother and beg for money not after the big deal I’d made about moving out of her house.

All I ever see anytime I pick up the phone to call her, while resisting the urge to mention money, is that smug
I-told-you-so
look on her face scolding me for being so impulsive. I put her out of my mind with a reassured smile. I’d rather bus tables until my knuckles bleed than to crawl back home.

By evening with the lunch crowd dispersing and only a handful of customers sitting at the bar, I steal some downtime to skim my Ethics textbook for midterms. I seek refuge in the women’s restroom, sitting atop a toilet seat to study during my shift.

Halfway through chapter eighteen, I hear the door swing open. This isn’t an occurrence that usually catches my attention. I don’t feel as awkward as I used to whenever someone barged in on me in the stall with my head in a textbook. I'm good at blocking out the world when I'm in a zone of fervent contemplation. Outside sounds don’t bother me. What bothers me is the woman who enters.

I hear the sound of her stilettoes clicking against the linoleum floor before whiffing the
freesi
a
 
perfume wafting off her. I catch myself peeking out through a crack in the stall door at the woman standing before the mirror, reapplying her makeup.

With her back to me, all I see is a body—a silhouette of a body shaped like a sturdy vase with curves in all the
right
places. She is definitely not a local. That much is evident by her swanky attire—a strapless red cocktail dress, much too formal for a casual restaurant like
Frank’s Grub Hub
.

I smirk imagining how Frank reacted upon seeing her. If she has managed to hold
my
attention, she must have sent him into uncontrollable convulsions. I giggle then clutch my mouth to muffle the goofy sound. My textbook slides from my lap, colliding onto the floor loud enough to echo a noise that sounds like a small avalanche.

“Hello?” she calls out, turning her head toward my stall. “Is anyone in there?”

She is a middle-aged, but statuesque—a visual wonder. Though her age is evident by the soft wrinkles and folds of her face, she could easily put any twenty year old to shame. Long brown hair that curls a little behind the ears. Dark blue eyes set deeper under two manicured brows. A face of soft angles, sharp features. High cheekbones.

“I hear you breathing,” she says. “Might as well come out.”

I exit the stall in a stupor, clambering to retrieve my textbook from the floor.

“Do you often hide in public restrooms?” she asks. I clear my throat and put on my best customer-friendly smile.

“It’s the one place my boss can’t legally enter so there’s no way he can catch me slacking off,” I say.

With a smile, she turns back to the mirror and dabs her smudged lipstick with her left thumb. It’s a shade of coral, perfect contrast against her sallow complexion. I can’t help noticing everything wrong with someone like
her
eating at a place like this.

Frank’s place is one for mostly college patrons. It’s an on-campus business within walking distance of most of the dormitories, sponsored by the university. Only students eat here. Most just order coffee then eventually pass out in the dining room with their crumbled bodies slumped over an open textbook.

Those are the poor fools that I have to wake at closing time and prop up like drunken men on stilts until campus security arrives to drive them home. During the football season, on Fridays, after pep-rallies, this place is packed with plastic cheerleaders and oversexed varsity clones too riled up from the game.

Frank’s
is certainly not an esteemed country club for Orange County’s suburban society of soccer moms, trophy wives and socialites. I have a strong feeling that this woman falls in the latter category. This is not her turf.

“You work here?” she asks after gesturing at my uniform. I nod while clearing my throat again with a splash of insecurity washing over me. I'm not the timid type, certainly not one to buckle under the weight of mild pressure.

As a waitress, I'm also a trained seal, paid to perform amazing feats of magic with my body. Despite the degradation that goes into waitressing, I'm good at the job. I can roll over and sit like a good little dog. I know how to smile, force a laugh and fake a façade to get through the stressful workdays. I know how to talk to people.

With her, it’s different. There is no talking or even general coherency. There’s only me, stammering my words and rambling like a schizophreni
c
with a speech impediment.

“Don’t tell my manager that you saw me in here,” I say. “He would be kind of pissed and I can't afford to lose this job.”

The woman chuckles. “I’ve been where you are now. We’ve all had our fair share of intolerable bosses. What’s ironic is that my last boss eventually became one of my husbands. That should give you some hope.”

“No,” I say. “There is no way Frank Grant will ever become my husband.”

I laugh, but this time, she doesn’t.

BOOK: After Her
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