Monday, January 13, 2014

Girl Meets City

Hello everyone! I have an incredibly busy week ahead of me. It just seems to be getting busier! I had a public speaking tournament yesterday and I was super excited to break! Although I didn't do so well in final round, I had such a fun time with everyone on the team :) I did not appreciate getting home at 8pm to a mountain of homework. I have a mock trial scrimmage from 3:30 to 9pm and I'm actually competing against one of my church member's school. I have another three day (well 2 days if we don't break BUT CROSSING MY FINGERRRRRS) tournament and finals next week. Busy, busy, busy.

I think I'm finally 100% over the guy I liked freshman year. He was the first guy I really fell for and I think I've explained this before but everything seemed so right. Yeah, I know I'm dating someone too but there's always that spot your first crush occupies. I recently saw a video on Facebook of him asking a girl to a dance like thing? (he moved schools) and I actually feel happy for him. There are no bitter feelings or anything. I wonder if he even remembers me.

But enough about me and my life. This is part two of the story I've been working about the girl with many, many identities. Enjoy :) and I'm sorry in advance for probably the lack of posts until. . . the end of January..

Stranger Danger

    My eyelids flutter open and I take a deep breath. The nightmares come and go but the ones tonight were especially bad. I sit up and take a sprig of water. I can barely remember what I did to deserve such a cruel night of sleep. I stop gasping for breath and glance quickly over at the clock beside my bed. 7:30 AM, it reads. It’s time to wake up anyway. I slide off the covers and pick up any of the fallen pillows from the carpet flooring. I hadn’t wanted carpet but that was a tiny inconsequential detail. I needed this place much too badly. My phone lets out a delayed bleep sound. An amused smile drifts onto my face. It’s an unknown number as I carefully look around. It’s an old habit, I tell myself, before opening the new message. It’s him and he wants to meet me at a café around two in the afternoon. I text back a quick okay because I can’t see the harm in meeting him. I get to talk to someone who doesn’t know me, for free. Then I can be out of here.
         The last of the cardboard boxes are finally gone and it somewhat feels like a home, even if it’s just a temporary home. I change into a pair of yoga pants and an old t-shirt I don’t remember buying. I grab the water bottle sitting on the kitchen cabinet and slip on the new running shoes Archie gave me a while back. Archie. I block out the memories and start to run. I run down the stairs and it’s not a long jog because I live on floor two. The neighborhood is quiet, mostly filled with busy childless people who work shifts from 9 to 5. I don’t belong here but it’s the one place I’ve learned to feel safe.
         The shower is hot and sort of relaxing. I close my eyes for a while before realizing that patches of my skin have become red, the water searing as it streams across my body. I take another deep breath and turn the faucet from hot to stop. The last bits of water trickle down and I wrap myself in one of the two towels I own. The mirror is fogged and the break from seeing my appearance is appreciated. My room is small and the bed occupies almost the entire space. There’s a plastic clothing rack to the left where the few dresses and nice shirts I own are hung up. All the hangers face the same direction and I shut my eyes before any memories come flooding back in. I change into a long black dress that still seems appropriate for the late spring. My blondish hair is too short to tie up or braid and it just stays in that weird curled up form I never intended it to be. I wear two-inch heels and add a dab of blush and mascara. It looks better than yesterday but barely.
         I get there five minutes past two. The restaurant is a nice homely diner with waitresses that wear the frilly aprons and the smell of grease is so thick that it stains your clothes. The fluorescent lights died out some time ago and mold has taken over the old jukeboxes. I flip a quarter between my fingers and wonder if the jukebox still works. I decide not to give it a go and slip the quarter back in the little tattered purse I didn’t leave behind. The vinyl floor seems to be in oddly good condition. A little bell chimes as I walk through the doors. There aren’t too many customers. Some businessmen scarf down pancakes and eggs before their late lunch break ends. He’s sitting at the far left and raises his eyebrow to acknowledge me. I’ve never been here and I have a slew of excuses just in case he asks.  He doesn’t.
         “You like nice,” he says in the obligatory way. I know I don’t, not anymore anyway. I smile politely to accept his compliment. He’s wearing another collared shirt and brownish khaki pants. Guys always manage to look so put together with so little thought. He taps his vintage-esque watch while staring at some sort of void. Is he trying to point out that I was late? He doesn’t seem like a country boy.
         “Friends use names,” I simply say and sit down opposite form him. The purse slides down my shoulder but I make no effort to grab it. He seems oddly familiar except I can’t place my finger on where I’ve seen him before.
         “Ray,” he says with a little smirk. I hadn’t noticed how loud and confident his voice was. “Ray Concha.” He adds his last name with a long pause.
          “What made you want to be a therapist?” The waitress swings by and hands us menus. It looks like the usual diner food.
         “I’m just doing this part time, until my uncle comes back from paradise.” I let out a little laugh. “I thought it’d help me land girls.” He smiles in that cheeky way I used to hate.
         “Is it helping?” I stop myself from bursting out in uncontrollable laughter. I can’t tell if he’s joking or not.
         “I met you, didn’t I?” I scoff and he opens his menu. I can’t tell if he’s being serious. We order a couple minutes later and I take a sip of water.  
         “Tell me about your childhood, Brie.”
         “Why should I?” I’m not stuck in that little office anymore. There’s no reason why I should tell him anything honest or truthful. I was making such good progress here in this little sleepy town. Ray obviously wasn’t expecting an edgy girl. “We’re here as friends, or something.”   
         “Fine, I’ll tell you about me. Raymond Smith Concha,” he says leaning forward. His eyes widen as if he has some unbearable secret to hide. He takes a sip of water and waits for me to comment.
         “Reality check, we’ve covered one sentence of who you are. Am I supposed to congratulate you?” He lets out a little chortle. I can’t help but ease my tension and smile.
         “I was thinking more along the lines of I say something and you say the equivalent from your life.” I pretend to think about it for a couple seconds. It sounds pretty cheap for me to hear the story about some boy from the rural country waits tables or caddies during the summer to save up for a college education. He then gets married a year after taking a 9 to 5 job. Three kids and a white picket fence around the house. I’ve heard this story already but I have nowhere  else to be. I smooth out the wrinkles in my dress and twirl the quarter between my thumb and pointer finger again. I wonder how long he plans to be here.
         “Sure. Brianna Stacy Sommers.” I almost cringe. He doesn’t seem to catch that something is out of place.
         “You can’t add a sentence or two?”
         “You already have the unfair advantage, mister.” I scrutinize his fingers. They’re not calloused and it’s obvious he hasn’t done much physical labor in his life. Perhaps he has a sob story tucked in. A brother, a hardworking brother who isn’t too intelligent, had to provide for the family while Ray went to college and had a grand marvelous time. Maybe that’s why Ray was taking over the office during his uncle’s leave.
         “Fine, I lived in Creekwater Hills as a child.”
         “Where is that?”
         “Just around the bend.” I smirk up at him. So far his story matches up pretty perfectly.
         “As a child? Did you move somewhere?”
         “Ah, I don’t think so missy. You haven’t given me any details of where you grew up.” Before I can say anything else, a waitress comes in holding two platters of way too much food. She describes the food we ordered and places it in front of us. I look at the pancakes and eggs I ordered. It looked so much more appealing in the glossy sheets of the menu. Ray immediately picks up his fork and starts eating. Maybe you become used to this stuff too. I wouldn’t be surprised.
         “I lived in San Francisco until I was fourteen.”
         “So you’re roughly close to home too, only about two hours you know.” I eat part of my runny eggs in contemplation. How does he know I went somewhere far away from home? I shake the thought out of my head. He’s probably just picking up on the fact because I did first. His type always likes to appear smarter than they actually are. “Baseball star until I graduated high school.”
         “Physics whiz,” I say with a steely smile. He rolls his eyes in a playful way. I take another bite of my pancakes. They taste too doughy and too much like butter for my liking.
         “Let’s see. Before I went to college, I moved a quarter mile away to go to the better school. My mum worked as an assistant to my uncle, my dad’s brother. He’s the big shot in my family. No one else takes vacations to paradise in the middle of the year, no one can afford to,” Ray says as his voice cracks. I see a glimpse of dark before his face lights up again. “She doesn’t do that anymore.” He stops talking and looks out the window.
         “Why not?” I know I’m stepping on thin ice but this part doesn’t fit the mandated story I’ve already created for him. “Is this what you do?”
         “Hell no,” he yells. A couple other people stare at us but he couldn’t care less. His hands start shaking and his face is bright as a tomato. “I would never do this if it weren’t. . . never mind.” He takes in a deep breath. There’s something intriguing about this character, this person I haven’t met before. It’s my turn to play therapist.
         “So, what’s with the uncle?”
         “He thinks he’s doing my family a favor because he looks as us all like deranged charity cases. I’m the only one who went to college. My mum was basically a homemaker her whole life. She took care of her three siblings growing up and you know did the regular stuff when she married Dad. Mum joined the PTA club and gardens and what not. She took care of my brother Steven, and me. He’s a year younger than me and works on the farm down in Sacramento.” Ray takes a drink of water and I wait for him to continue. “Well he’s doing well there. He has his own farm now and proposed to his girl Sally a few months back.” It would make sense that a farm boy would marry the “sophisticated” Sally.
         “What does your dad do?”
         “I’m getting there. He has a plumbing company around here. It’s not great but it was enough growing up. It’s enough now that both Andrew and I are out doing our own thing. My uncle went to a college around here and never respected whatever my family did. When Mum started working for him, during a rough patch when the plumbing business wasn’t good, and basically had an affair with him.” He’s barely whispering and I’m not sure what the correct response is.
         “Did she tell your dad upfront?”
         “Of course she did and like the good man my pop is, he took her back but I can’t say I’m the same. This was the year before I went off to college. I . . . I just had to leave. People here, well ten miles from here, know everyone. It was just too much for me.” I nodded. I knew too well what he was talking about.
         “Why are you working for your uncle then? Have you forgiven him?”
         “I’ll never forgive him, Brie.” His tone is harsh and he keeps staring off into the window. I wonder how he can be so trusting with his life story. “My mum quit immediately after that incident. She never speaks to my uncle anymore. She never even acts like he exists. Family gatherings are always awkward. My pop and uncle don’t talk much either.  My uncle married a twenty year old after Mum quit and goes on a lot of vacations. He doesn’t have any children, yet I figure. Dad needed some surgery and we didn’t have the money. Andrew was going to give up his entire life’s savings for this but Mum wouldn’t let him. So when my uncle struck me this deal, I agreed. I flew back and restarted my life here.”
         “How long are you staying?”
         “Depends, how long are you staying?” I stifle more laughter and take a bite of my pancakes. I look to see that he’s finished almost all of his food.
         “I’m not sure yet.” I feel guilty, hearing his whole life story without offering more than a name and hometown. Perhaps he also needed someone to confide in. “Do you know any places that are hiring?” He seems well connected enough to know.
         “The little café right next to my office happens to be looking for some worldly barista, kind of like you.” He flashes me a smile. I feel relieved that his sob story is coming to an end.
         “I’ll go talk to them after lunch I guess.” I stare at my watch. It’s already been an hour.
         “Hey we’re not done here yet.”
         “How much of your story is there? It seemed pretty much caught up till present day.”
         “You haven’t told me anything.” He folds his hands on the table and waits for me to say something.
         “Hmm, well you’re not the only one with a messy family. My mother never really wanted me. She was a showgirl travelling around Las Vegas and my father was a lonely physics professor. You guessed it, one day she gets pregnant and I don’t even know why she didn’t get an abortion. Nine months later, she sends me to San Francisco, baby in a basket and a little note style, to my father without even a proper DNA test. There’s not much he can do so he takes me in. He’s a twenty five year old guy with a newborn child.”
         “Rough,” Ray interjects. “I knew there was something about you the minute you walked in to my office.” I give a slight nod.
         “Well, he marries a nice lady named Talla. I would call her Talla now but I never see her. I was Brianna back then.” I don’t know why I was telling this stranger everything about my life. This is what I was trying to avoid when I moved here. I squeeze my eyes shut for half a second.
         “Why don’t you talk to your parents?”
         “Talla never loved me, Ray. She never accepted me as her own child and considered me inferior because my mother was a showgirl. My mother never called, not even once, but that’s a whole different story. She had two kids of her own, Janelle and Nelly. My father continued his work as a physics professor and Talla, like your mum, was the homemaker. It was obvious that I was my father’s daughter from the very beginning. I was so good at this stuff, not to be braggart.”
         “Don’t worry about that, Brie.”
         “I went to a special school for . . . talented kids. I hated every second of it. Being stuck in a room of pretentious kids all acting so intelligent gets tiring after maybe the first day. Well when all the other kids in my class were ten, I was still four. It was a lot eating lunch alone and being called names. I won the Siemens Award when I was in middle school and that really got another whole movement against me. To be honest, I didn’t really spend time with anyone except my father. He visited me twice a week at boarding school. I wanted to be free and somewhere new so I worked very hard to graduate that place, with honor,” I smirk quickly, “so I did at fourteen.”
         “Wow,” he says with a little bit of admiration. “Why didn’t you go to college?”
         “Of course my father wanted to send me to college but . . . but Talla couldn’t see past the fact that I was a certified smart kid. She threatened to divorce my father if I went to college. I didn’t see Talla’s value in this family but I knew my father would be beyond devastated. He’s never been good with women.” I chuckle and take in a deep breath. No one has ever heard this story before. I don’t even know if I want to trust him but it’s already too late.
         “And how’d you end up here?”
         “It’s a much longer story.” I look at my watch. It’s already been another hour. The waitresses are glaring from the kitchen. We’ve overstayed our welcome. My plate is still half full but neither of us say another word. “Maybe some other time.” The warm, smiling girl is gone. In her place is the edgy, hardened girl who knows sharing is dangerous. I have no intention of seeing him again. The one useful detail I gleaned is that the café is hiring someone.
         “See you,” I say casually.
         “I’m not sure. I’m going to get my job today and we’ll see if I have time for social interactions.” He nods. Perhaps he understood that we’re never going to meet again. We walk the opposite direction and for once, I’m glad this whole town is so small. The diner is part of a strip mall that includes a small clothing store and a hairdresser. There’s one remotely empty bookstore. It’s already four ten but I step in anyway. An old lady barely looks up from her book when a little bell dings as I walk in. The place smells like dust and slightly of rotting paper. The place is tiny, just large enough for five steps in each direction. There’s nothing good and I didn’t expect for there to be. I leave with my ratty purse swinging behind.
         The café is about ten minutes away from the strip mall. It’s next to a group of glittery offices. These offices are the only resemblances of some city life. It’s where most of the people work from 9 to 5. I see the therapist office I went to last night. True to Ray’s word, the café is right next to his office. I push open the door. There is one girl standing by the blenders and a very attractive guy standing by the cash register. He hasn’t changed at all I think wistfully.  
         “I’m looking for a job,” I say to the man leaning against the counter. His brownish hair is just long enough to cover his eyes and I try for a beaming smile. He doesn’t recognize me, I realize.
         “Ashley wouldn’t mind help, would you?” He addresses the girl wearing way too much makeup on her face. Her eyelids are completely caked with pink eye shadow and her lips are smeared with red lipstick. I smile anyway because I need some kind of income. It would be nice to buy a new dress or something fancy to wear once in a while. Ashley wipes her hands on her apron even though it’s obvious she hasn’t made a drink for a long time. Her nails are so long that I have the impulse to back away.
         “Sure thing, honey,” Ashley says with a little smile. They share a cautious look.
         “You’re hired, girly,” the tall, handsome man says. “You can begin working now. I’m Hansel, Hans please, and that’s Ashley. The aprons are out back. Ashley will show you.” Ashley eagerly grins and grabs the back of my shirt. I try to free myself of her hold but all my efforts are futile. She opens the warehouse door to boxes upon boxes of coffee beans and a little rack of aprons. Ashley hands me a nondescript brown apron and I feel silly putting it over the black dress.
         “What’s a young thing like you doing in a dead town?”
         “Laying low,” I say without any expression. “I was bored of the city life.” She lets out a full blown laugh.
         “I never thought I’d hear a girl under twenty wander in here and say that.”
         “Who says I’m not twenty?”
         “Don’t kid yourself.” Ashley doesn’t say anything more and I stand awkwardly between her and Hans.
         “What did you say your name was?” Hans asks. He’s filling out some kind of paperwork. “We pay seven fifty per hour, okay?”
         “I didn’t say. I’m Brie, Brie Sommers. How many hours am I working?” It’s weird telling him a real name.
         “Six hours sound good to you? Seven in the morning to noon. Ashley is usually hung over during those hours.”
         “Hey! You didn’t need to share that with the new girl, Hans.” Ashley bats her eyelids a couple times and turns away from us. I hadn’t expected for there to be any kind of night life in this sleepy town.
         “Six hours is fine,” I say trying to keep up my charming demeanor. It’s hard since I’ve never been an outwardly charming person. “Seven days right? People always need their coffee.”
         “You’re sharp, I like that.” Hans says nothing more and Ashley takes her cue to teach me how to make drinks. From her posture to the way she pouts, I can tell that she’s never stepped a foot outside this place. She’s never wanted to either.  No one who wants to leave stays constrained forever. Her story isn’t much of a surprise either. I can already guess that she’s the type of person to have peaked in high school. She was probably homecoming queen and when high school ended, reality hit, hard. Ashley is probably working in a coffee shop because her high school sweet heart left her for some girl under twenty. I don’t ask though. I don’t care enough.
         “So are the parties here good?” The air is tense and I can’t figure out why. Ashley gives me a sidelong glance. We’ve covered how to make coffee, just black, but not much else. It doesn’t seem like anyone orders anything more than a cup of regular Joe. I don’t understand why they would hire me at three hundred and fifteen dollars every week but I know better than to question good things. For my one bedroom apartment, rent is still five hundred and forty five dollars a month. I didn’t have to pay for the first month but it’s almost the end of March. The jobs pays moderately well and I’d be left with around seven hundred dollars. It’d be enough to escape to somewhere new and exciting.
         “They’re legendary,” Ashley whispers out of Han’s earshot. I give her a pity smile. I can’t believe she still parties or is too hung over to show up to her job in the morning. I am curious as to what kind of relationship Hans and Ashley have. I don’t ask. It’s my first day after all. I wouldn’t mind waking up next to Hans though in the morning.

         I don’t talk much and diligently learn how to make drinks. Hans hands me a little booklet of all the drinks I’m supposed to learn. He points out that there’s a cappuccino and latte machine that they never use anymore. I leave for home around eight. Everything here closes at eight. Faithful husbands return to their bored wives and I return to a nearly empty apartment.

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