Cross Roads

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Chapter Nine: Morning

"Why is your foot in my face?"

There are nicer ways to wake up in the morning. A soft little nudge and a whispered 'Good morning'. The slow turning on of lights. Drawn to wakefulness by the smell of fresh brewing coffee. Waking up on one's own accord, even.

This, this is NOT.

No one wants their boss – adopted older brother, older sister's maybe boyfriend – to wake them up by grumbling nearly two feet from their head. Especially not at this un-Godly hour where it's so dark outside it couldn't even be considered as morning.

"Shut up," I whine back, refusing to open my eyes. I stretch out my legs, surprised when my toes hit something in the middle of being cracked. Curiosity getting the better of me, I take a peak and am startled to find that, yes, my feet are in Brandon's face. Quite literally. My toes are digging into his cheek, heels pressed underneath his chin. It looks very uncomfortable for him . . . For me, I am quite content with not having cramps up the Wha-Zoo in my thighs. "Hello, there," I say.

He pushes my legs away so that they now hang over the back of his couch. "Well, this is awkward."

"I agree," I tell him, not finding it so awkward that I must move. Once again, I am shocked by how comfortable this carrot-vomit-looking couch is. "Morning afters are always awkward."

He glares at me, not enjoying the reference, I guess. Arms rise over his head, shoulders cracking as he stretches. "What happened?"

I roll my eyes. "I fell asleep. Cleaning your house was not easy. You fell asleep. Running a store is very stressful. Simple, really. Now, you need to go and get ready for work while I go back to sleep." I turn over, intent on doing just that.

Brandon, on the other hand, has a different plan in his head. He shoves my feet around and to the floor, standing up in one swift motion. "No, I'm getting ready for work and you are going home. I can't have your parents finding out that you slept over my house. Your dad already hates me enough." He shudders at the mere mention.

"He hates everyone," I say with little concern, picking my feet back up. "And I think I'll stay here until I need to go to work. Maybe borrow some of your clothes."

"I don't think so."

"Pwease?" I beg. "You won't get in trouble. The 'rents will just think I'm in a mood and that I chose to spend the night in my jeep. No one will need to know that I crashed on your couch. Does that put your fraying nerves at ease?"

"Spencer . . ."

"I'll be good! Seriously, I just don't feel like getting up and driving right now," I mumble, barely even awake to hear what I'm saying. I yawn, hug my folded arms to my chest, feel myself slowly start to drift off again. "You'll be the best-est brother ever."

He sighs and I know that I have him. Big brother instincts, no matter how many years relatively dormant, always helping me to get my way. "Fine. Whatever. Just remember to come in at seven instead of eight."

"Yep," I say, already halfway gone. A blanket gets thrown over me and I curl up with it, out like a light even before Brandon has left his living room.


I show up for work ten minutes early, intent on changing into my spare McDonald's clothes in the ladies room. Unfortunately, even for how relatively large our lobby is, the layout only gives us a one-person bathroom. I try to push my way inside, but someone has already bolted the door shut, leaving me outside and glaring. Times like these I wish we had an employee's only bathroom.

Sadly, that is not the case.

I lean against the wall near the door, waiting and waiting and waiting for this woman to finish with her business and exit. The clock ticks down until I have barely a minute left to change and get clocked in. It is at this moment that I decide I have had enough.

Spinning on my heel I march back to the counter. Brandon is at the register printing out an hourly sales report. He sees me immediately, raising an eyebrow at my chosen attire – the same things I'd cleaned in yesterday and then slept in.

"You look like the walking dead," he tells me.

I glare. "Can I change in the back? Somebody's taking the mother of all dumps in the girl's bathroom and I don't want to be late."

He sighs but gives in, nodding me quickly behind counter before any customers can come in and see. I rush to the office and get changed, jumping up and down as I struggle into pants that are too small for me - I curse the aunt who thought it would be a good idea to get me clothes for my birthday, shop I the kids' section, and then throw out the crucial receipt. I squeeze into the pants, somehow manage to shove the ends of my shirt down my hips, and then realize my belt is a little too big for the space I am given by the stiff waistband.

"Brandon!" I yell, exiting the office to clock in – hey, I'm close enough to being dressed.

"What?"

"Where's the screwdriver?"

"Top drawer in the filing cabinet!"

I bend over, hoping my butt doesn't split though my pants, rifling through the drawer until I find what I am looking for. Crying out in triumph I whip my belt from my belt-loops, lay it out in the office, and proceed to stab two new holes into the leather. It takes much longer than it should, requires me to get the help of the grill person – a large dude by the name of Colby Jackson.

I call him Cheese simply to avoid any confusion.

"Spencer! You done back there?" Brandon calls.

Cheese and I look up from where we are currently trying to puncture a hole into my belt, me practically sitting on his shoulders as he presses down. I'm pretty sure there's a hole in the desk, but my belt must be Made in America because it's surprisingly indestructible. Brandon is up front getting swarmed by our morning regulars who expect swift service because they come here every day of the freakin' week.

They get annoyed – and equally annoying – when they have to wait for coffee because some random came and ordered half the pot ahead of them.

I know.

Absolutely ludicrous.

"Coming!" I screech. Cheese and I give up on the belt. I put it on, ignoring how it hangs a little at the buckle. Who knew I could lose inches by cramming into pants made for a nine year old? Maybe I will start shopping in the kid's section. It would save me money on clothes.

I race up to the front, taking over the register the instant I see the clenching of Brandon's jaw.

Me thinks he is getting pissed off.

"Hi. Biscuit and a decaf?" I ask the elderly gentleman who is standing before me.

He smiles and nods. "Three creams on the side."

"Yep," I say with a nod, already having rung it in. I wasn't kidding when I said these people came every day. "Two-eighteen."

He hands me a five, and I give him his change. The next guy comes up, I already know his order, and the line slowly progresses. Brandon takes drive thru next to me, handing out food at the same time. The wait is a little lengthier than normal, but we got a little backed up as I tried to make my belt fit. These things happen. It's the way of working in a fast food restaurant.

"Brandon! The toaster's not working!" Cheese says at the beginning of a tiny lull in the customers.

"Great," he hisses, handing me the headset and going into grill. He tries to figure out why are itty-bitty little toaster has stopped moving and is currently setting a bagel on fire. Cheese keeps making food, forgoing the toasting of muffins and bagels. When the orders are all done I watch as he puts them into the oven in the hopes of crisping them slightly.

"Oh, that's a nifty idea," I tell him, peering around the pop machine to watch.

"It is, isn't it?" he replies.

A family comes inside and I am forced to listen as they argue over what to order, changing the items they want numerous times, waiting until I have given them their total before deciding it's not what they want. They piss me off, and so do the cars at drive-thru that choose that same exact time to pull in. I take their orders while arguing with the family on counter, explaining calmly coffee is cheaper than orange juice which is why their total is what it is. It takes way too long for them to accept that they have to fork over thirty dollars to pay for five meals, glowering at me the entire time.

The headset beeps.

"Hi, one moment, please," I say using the fakest and sweetest voice that I reserve for the beginnings of my shifts. I hand out the food for my first drive-thru car, take the next one's money, start gathering drinks for counter. "Sorry about that. How can I help you?"

"I want an Egg Muffin," the man at the speaker says, mean and nasty and sounding so very demanding. I don't like him instantly.

"Okay," I say, busy with putting hash browns into the fryer because counter is waiting.

The man says nothing.

I keep gathering food, putting it in bags or onto the tray. I hand out drive-thru's order, get the following car's money.

"I'm sorry, did you say that was it?" I ask the guy still sitting at the speaker.

"I want an orange juice," he snaps.

"Okay. And a hash brown?"

"Yes."

"Okay. And was that going to be it for you today?"

"Yes."

"Alright, your total is six-seventy-four. You can pull up to the second wind—"

He's already pulled past the speaker before I finish speaking. I glare up at the monitor that shows me the tail end of Mister Rude's car as it makes the drive-thru turn. I make quick work of the rest of the orders, Cheese having finished making the food a long time ago. He comes up front to help me, and soon we're at the last order. Mister Rude's order.

Unfortunately, Mister Rude turns out to be our rude supervisor who is not pleased with how long it's taking him to get his food. Even as I come up to the window to take his company card I can see him marking things off of the sheet that will eventually be our speed-check. I know instantly that we will likely fail, for no other reason than he sees me.

For some reason this guy hates me; has been trying his hardest to get me to quit since he was appointed our supervisor last October.

And because of that well known fact I refuse to leave this place until I'm either fired – unemployment check, hello there – or Brandon quits. He's the only reason I have stayed this long, working for such a sleaze-bag of an owner and putting up with the sexism that our supervisor does not realize could get him a lawsuit.

"Hi," I say cheerfully, making an attempt at salvaging the speed-check. "That would be—"

He throws his card at me even before I can get the appropriate greeting out.

"—six-seventy-four," I finish lamely, juggling the card and shutting the window. "Brandon! Nigel's at drive-thru and he looks pissed!"

"Well that's just great!" I hear him snap. He's too busy trying to figure out what's wrong with the toaster, side panel gone so he can see the wires and stuff inside. He'll worry about our supervisor when the man comes inside.

I swipe the card, get the receipt, return to the window. "Here you go," I tell him. "Here's your food and here is your drink. Did you need—" Once again I am cut off as he speeds away, swerving into a parking space closest to the door before another customer, an elderly woman, can take it.

What an ass, right?

"We've failed. I can already see it," I say, even as I try and tidy things up before the horrible supervisor can walk inside. "Cheese, can you run and check the bathroom's for me?"

He nods and does just that, coming back to report that the men's is fine, the women's is occupied so he doesn't know.

"Gosh, I hope it's not the same woman from an hour ago," I groan. I glance out the window and see Nigel crossing the parking lot. "Loki's is on the move! Cheese, tuck in your shirt and for crying out loud find your hat!" Normally it's Brandon who is yelling at people to straighten up, but seeing as how he is currently elbow deep in wires and running the risk of electrocuting himself I do it for him.

Besides, I'm the one who is going to get him the bad score to begin with.

"Hi, Nigel," I say when the man enters.

He completely ignores me like the douche he is, beady eyes surveying lobby and counter. "Get a broom out here. This place is disgusting."

"Okay," I say immediately, grabbing the nearby one and going onto the floor. There is one straw wrapper lying beside the garbage and nothing else. Not only is Nigel a douche, but he is also a liar. I can't decide who I like less, the Knightlys, Nigel, or our owner. I'm pretty sure they're on equal ground.

Nigel goes around, inspecting every freakin' nook and cranny of this joint. I'm pretty sure that he takes off points because a garbage bag is sagging on the side and not perfectly symmetrical with the can. He takes a grand total of fifteen minutes to canvas the restaurant, and then stops Brandon from fixing the toaster to scream at him in the dry stock room.

Cheese and I share a look and then set about eavesdropping, not needing to try very hard because Nigel is most definitely pissed.

Who called that?

Oh, yeah, I DID!

"You run this place like a circus! Nothing is done. Why is she a manager? She can't even handle herself up front well. She should not need your grill person to help her out. She is a manager. And where were you in all of this? You should have been controlling things, not letting them escalate to this point," Nigel is practically screaming.

I hate him even more. I have a name and he knows it. He has no problem writing it on our speed checks whenever I work so that the office and the owner know whose fault it is we failed.

"I understand that, sir, but I was dealing with something. Our toaster caught on fire. And Spencer was handling things fine. Yes, I know our times were off, but these things happen. I'm sorry. We'll do better next time."

"What makes you think there will be a next time? For you? For either of you?"

Cheese and I share another glance, our eyes going wide. What, they're going to fire Brandon? If that happens then I will definitely walk out. See ya So will half the people employed here. Our previous store manage was a load of crap, doing nothing but sitting in the back, changing schedules after they'd been posted, not ordering product correctly so that we were constantly running our and borrowing. Even before the dumb sod had left Brandon was running things.

Brandon's response is not what I expected, but it is something that I have been rooting for. He lets people walk over him too much.

"Because I'm all you've got right now," he says, firmly but without any bite. He is being honest. "You fire me and then you will have to run the store. I made a mistake. It won't happen again."

Nigel splutters for all of a second, and then he fires back with, "You're right. It won't happen again. Keep her off of counter. She's too confused to handle it."

EXCUSE me?

"I don't want to come back here and find her by herself again. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes sir," Brandon says through obviously clenched teeth.

They exit the back room and Cheese and I flounder as we try to look like we're actually working. Cheese grabs a cloth and starts wiping down table. I take up my broom and sweep nonexistent dirt.

"You missed a spot," Nigel says on his way out the door.

I make faces at his back, barely resisting the urge to run to the window to give him a send-off salute with my tallest finger. Cheese does it for me, muttering nasty curses under his breath – but loud enough for me to hear where I frown against counter. I watch as the man drives away in his ugly and gay Volkswagen, snarling at him until he disappears down the street.

"You missed a spot," I mumble, looking for anything that I possibly could have missed. I'm not surprised when I find nothing because I am a speed-sweeper-extraordinaire. That one minute I had before Nigel's entrance and I had made counter look impeccable. The guy is just a scummy bastard, not unlike my sister's ex.

I take a couple more orders, and then make my way to the back. Brandon is still trying to figure out the toaster, more frustrated than he should be by our normally faulty equipment.

"Sorry," I say quietly, hoping he isn't mad because of me – even though I know the likelihood of that being the case is very high.

He exhales heavily through his nose, twisting a wire. He turns on the toaster and it starts moving again. "There. Fixed it, Colby."

"Yay," the guys says, showing his enthusiasm by raising his beefy and tattooed arms as high as his shoulders.

"You can take your break now. Spencer, you're in grill."

Me thinks he is mad at me. Whoopsies.

I wait until Colby has disappeared outside before I try approaching Brandon again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you in trouble. Heck, you shouldn't even be in trouble. I was the one up front. He should have yelled at me, not you."

"But that would require him to acknowledge your existence," Brandon teased, and I knew then that he wasn't overly cross with me. He elbowed my side. "It's fine. Nigel's just a jerk."

"Cheese says that he is sexually frustrated," I deadpan, trying hard not to think of what I'm saying or else I will break character. "Looking at Nigel's face I must agree. No sane – or sober – woman would ever give that ugly mug the time of day. . . What did he take off for this time around?"

"He pretty much gave us a seventy because you were working," Brandon admits, withdrawing the sheet of paper from the clipboard. "I don't understand why he has such a problem with you."

"I've narrowed it down to three options. He's either in love with me, and this is how he thinks he should show it. He might think I'm gorgeous and know that he has no chance with me. Or, and this is the one I am leaning towards, he is a sexist pig who is getting fairly close to having his nuts caved in."

Brandon shudders. "That is, actually, quite descriptive. Remind me not to get on your bad side."

I look over the speed check, growing more and more frustrated the more Xs I see. "I did suggestive sell. I asked if he wanted a hash brown. I did give the proper greeting, I just told him it would be a minute. Sorry, but there were others before him who I thought were more important. Okay, no I didn't say 'If the order on your screen is correct' but in my defense he kind of drove off before I could have possibly given it. I did greet him correctly at the window. He just cut me off by chucking his card at me. And I would have said 'Thank you, come again' if he'd waited a second when I was handing out his food. This is all just a lie! Lobby isn't gross. I am not incorrectly dressed! What the hell?" I grab the paper, staring with wide eyes at what he has written in the margin.

Manager does not know proper procedure and is incapable of handling customers. Spencer should not be allowed up front as she is rude and ignorant to customers.

"What. The. Hell!"

"Calm down, Spencer," Brandon says, taking the score away from me. "It's not that big of a deal. We just won't get our bonus checks, not that it's anything new."

"Because of me! Seriously, Brandon, none of this is true! Nigel hates me, and I think it's because I'm female. He's a sexist jerk!"

"I've thought the same thing. You are the only female manager of all the stores he supervises. Ours is the only one he ever consecutively harasses. And he does seem to antagonize you for no apparent reason."

"Pretty soon he's going to blame me for our equipment malfunctioning," I grumble.

"I wouldn't put it past him."

"I will file a lawsuit if that happens."

"I think you should."

"This is like harassment."

"I agree with you."

"He's not trying to fire you, is he?"

This is where Brandon sighs, running a hand through his hair. "Honestly, I don't know. Right now they can't. They do that and they're just screwing themselves. Nigel's all talk at this point in time, but . . . they've been denying me some of my overtime. Yours, too, if you haven't noticed."

I nod. "I figured something was going on. So far it's almost an entire paycheck. Twenty-one hours over the course of a month. What about you?"

He laughs harshly. "A lot more than that. They're giving me some bull about me trying to cheat them by clocking in when I'm not here. Who knows, maybe they are trying to get me fired. Accusing me of stealing like that." He groans. "Whatever. I need a new job."

"Yes, you do," I agree with him. "Someplace that actually appreciates you. Go to Burger King."

"Well, I am kind of limited in my job choices. Most people don't like hiring college drop outs."

"Don't I know it," I say. "How about this. When you and I get out, why don't we go for a drive? We can apply any place that has a hiring sign. Somebody's gotta hire us. And any place has to be better than here, right?" I know even as I speak that it's not going to happen. Brandon needs this job, crappy pay and insane hours and all. And I won't leave because I know he depends on me to help him out. I'm the only one he can rely on to actually show up and make sure he doesn't work from open to close seven days a week.

We're both stuck, at least for a while.

"True," he says with a nod.

A customer walks in and I meander back into grill, making the bagel sandwich that appears on my screen. When the woman leaves I go back up front, leaning against the counter and watching as Brandon writes down some of the hourly.

"I left my cleaning supplies at your house. Can I come over after work to pick them up?"

"Sure."

"We can make a plan of what to fix up first, too."

"Okay."

"I'll even make dinner, if you want."

He looks up, giving me a very stern look. "Spencer, I'm getting the feeling that you're avoiding going home."

I shift my eyes around lobby, refusing to make eye contact. "Noooo," I say, drawing out the word.

"Spencer."

"Okay, my grandmother is coming over for dinner, and she hates me. You remember me telling you that, right?"

"Yes."

"Well, I got a very long voice message from my dear sweet mother explaining all the details. She wants me to be there, but that will ruin the dinner. I have every intention of telling her I have plans, whether or not I do is not important. I just don't feel like being told what a failure I am, so . . . what say you to dinner? I'll make my infamous waffles and scrambled eggs if you agree."

"You want to have breakfast for dinner?" Brandon asks in a straight face and even voice.

"Yep."

"Do you promise to clean up after yourself?"

I nod, crossing my heart while saying, "Scouts honor."

He frowns. "Spencer, I know for a fact that you were never a scout."

I roll my eyes. "Whatever. Yes or no?"

"Fine."

"Yay!" I squeal, hugging him.

He tolerates it for all of a second. "This isn't going to become a habit, is it? You aren't slowly making an attempt at moving out of your parents' house and into mine, are you?"

His words give me a light bulb and I know instantly that he has regretted opening his mouth. He sends me into the back on a mission to prepare for change-over which is an hour-and-a-half away. I know he hopes that I will get too busy to even ponder the suggestion he has inadvertently given me.

What he doesn't know can't hurt him, though.

Yet, at least.

I will approach him once the details have been ironed out to tiny wrinkles.

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