Cross Roads

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Chapter Fifteen: Butt

The morning had started wonderfully . . . with me getting to work a couple hours early, making nearly two hundred breakfast burritos before my opening showed up.

After that it just kept getting better. The software update for all the stores carried some kind of virus, and I was forced to run back and forth between the office phone and the front counter registers as the IT guy tried to get the system to boot so we could open. Now, that normally wouldn’t be too horrible of a thing, but functioning on barely an hour and a half of sleep is all but impossible, especially with this Arab dude throwing out technical lingo like I’m not a dense blonde and have a clue what’s going on. That and customers obviously don’t care that the lights aren’t on and the doors are still locked as they peer in, see me and start screaming for their coffee.

Yes, my morning was going so well.

Brandon had to run to different stores, dropping off product that they wanted to borrow but were unable to pick-up – how this made sense I have no idea; something about him being the youngest GM and therefore everyone’s whipping boy. Personally I think he just wanted to get away from the store for a while, even if he was wasting his gas with little hope of getting fully compensated.

On the plus side the morning is being unnaturally slow, the only rush being the old farts who arrive, grouchy until they get their coffee.

I can relate. I’m still waiting for a chance to down a whole pot.

And then he came in.

I am standing behind the counter, swishing sugar and ice around in a coffee pot to clean the inside when I hear the door swing open. Voices, ones that I instantly and regretfully recognize, drift over and I cannot keep the glare off my face as I look up to see Alvin standing there, hands in the baggy pockets of his skinny jeans – what a dumb white boy – and eyes appearing as lecherous as always. Gross.

“Can I help you?” I snap. I set aside the coffee pot and leaning against the register, glaring and not caring what other customers must think of my attitude. Nigel and the owner aren’t here right now so there’s no reason for me to act.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Alvin retorts, laughing over his shoulder at his friend who giggles like a little school girl who’s just seen some guy staring in her direction – completely oblivious to the fact that her skirt has been tucked into her granny-panties. “Oh, that’s right, you work here.”

“BURN!” his friend says as the two high-five.

I am very unimpressed. “Wow, how did you put that together? I’m so glad simple logic has not evaded you in the course of your less than stellar academic career,” I deadpan, tapping away on the register to give myself something to do. I change my manager password, wait a moment, and then change it back to the one I’ve memorized before I screw myself up. “Were you going to order or do I get the joy of kicking you out for unnecessary lingering?”


I point to the sign on the wall to my right. “‘Please allow yourself thirty minutes to eat and drink.’ That means that unless you order something you can’t be here. Company policy. So, what’s it gonna be, Alvin?”

The friend laughs again, only stopping when Alvin spins to glare at him.

“How fresh is the coffee?” he asks me with an air of superiority.

In all honesty, I don’t know. Usually it barely lasts longer than twenty minutes before I have to brew another, but, as I said, today has been weirdly slow. The coffee’s probably up around an hour old, but it’s still steaming so it’s totally fine. “Not old at all. Probably around fifteen minutes,” I lie. “Did you want some?”

“What do you put in it? Can you make cappuccinos and stuff like Starbucks?”

“No,” I say, “because we’re not Starbucks. You can get a latte or a mocha, but that’s it aside from just plain, delicious coffee. So what’s your choice?”

The door opens again and Adrian walks inside, shoving his brother away from the counter. “Hey, Spencer. Can I get a large, black coffee?” he asks, already withdrawing his wallet.

Shrugging off the strangeness of it all I put in his request “One-oh-nine,” I say, holding out my hand for his payment. I am shocked when he gives over a ten and a dime, and tells me to keep the change. “What?”

“It’s like a tip,” he explains slowly.

“We’re not allowed to accept tips,” I reiterate, too confused to think up something else.

Adrian frowns. “Okay, then do you have a customer praise jar or something?”

“Nope. Usually you call the office or corporate.”

He pauses a moment, waiting for me to continue. “And?”

“And that’s it. The only regular faxes we get are customer complaints. They love to tell us how suck-y we’re doing at our jobs, as if half of us care. They don’t pay enough for us to put much effort in . . . not that some of us don’t actually work, but still.”

“So what happens if a customer gives you a tip?”

“It’s supposed to go into our drawers.”

“And then what happens?”

“Our drawers are over and all the extra money goes into our owner’s pocket.” I hand him back his change.

“Well then, if that’s the case.” He puts the penny into the donation box, rolls up the bills and pushes it back towards me. “Here’s what I owe you for refusing that ride a while back.”

Hello confusion, old friend. “I don’t follow.”

“You saved me certain death, remember?” he teases as I go about pouring his coffee and then handing him the Styrofoam cup. “I will be eternally grateful for that, Spencer. And this is me showing my appreciation. Thanks for the coffee. I’ll get my little brother out of your sight before you decide to do murderous things to him.”

“HEY!” Alvin bellows, only to break off in a squealing scream as Adrian grabs onto his ear and drags him out of the lobby. The stranger friend follows slowly, apparently never having seen this before and not knowing what to make of it.

I can relate.

“What was that about?” Brandon asks me, randomly appearing from the back.

I am so startled that I let out a scream of my own, tripping back and nearly falling flat on my butt. “What is wrong with you? I could’ve died!” I yell shoving him. It was meant to send him off balance, but the dude barely even flinched under my palm. I am seriously in need of a nap.

“You looked right at me when I walked in, Spencer,” he says.

I don’t remember doing any such thing. “So? That doesn’t mean you can sneak up on people!”

“I was talking to you as I came up here!”

That gives me pause. “Oh . . . What were you saying?”

“I asked how you were doing, if you needed me to call the cops, and then what the hell that was about with the Knightlys. Did you hear me now?” He walks up to the register, printing out an hourly and filling in some of the day’s cash sheet.

“Fine,” I grumble. “I’m tired, no I don’t need the cops, and your guess is as good as mine. After the whole debacle with Alvin and the party I thought I’d finally be rid of that family. I guess I was wrong.”

Brandon stares at me, no lost in thought and zoning but completely thoughtful and thinking maybe a little too hard.


“Was he the one who gave you that bruise?” he asks quietly.

I could lie, I know I could, but I’m just sick of it all. I sigh, leaning back against the counter next to him. “It doesn’t matter. I hit him first, and then he got tackled by a full grown Mastiff, and after that he got slammed into his car by this dude I call Dog-Tags, so it’s all good. Nothing to worry about.”

During my entire rant it is obvious that Brandon has not followed much. “Wait, wait, wait,” he says. “So he did hit you?”


Seething with rage does not even begin to describe the expression that forms on my boss’ face. “I’m gonna kill him.”

It would be an under-statement to say I am merely surprised by the show of hate in his voice. Actually, I have never heard Brandon sound like that, about anyone. Not even his own dad who is a complete turd and should never be permitted to contact his son ever again. It’s a little terrifying, but mostly gut-warming to realize just how awesome of a big brother he is.

If only he were my actual big brother.

“Now, now, Brandon,” I placate, patting him on the shoulder. “What would Anabelle say? She might love you but I don’t think my sweet, naïve sister would fare well in a prison setting. Do you?”

“No,” he sighs. He drags a hand though his hair, stopping suddenly and straightening as though I have just given him the best set of jumper cables ever. “Wait? Did you just say that—”

I catch on immediately to what he is referring to. “What? No! I’m just . . . I don’t know . . . assuming. She hasn’t said anything like that . . . just that she likes you . . . a lot, which she should considering she dated you for three years in high school, right? It would be weird for her to spend such a long time with a guy she didn’t really like . . . but then again, she did waste a year on Adrian, who she didn’t really like until after he dumped her . . . I guess the only reason she was so broken up over him was the way he broke up with her, which is kinda understandable . . . but you’re the only one of her very few boyfriends that I’ve ever liked. And to think I never even knew you two were dating for three years! How did you pull it off? And were you guys dating when you became my tutor?”

He stares at me, eyes wide. “First: WOW. I never knew you could talk that much about nothing.” I glare at him and barely refuse the urge to hit him. “And second, we broke up almost two weeks before I became your tutor. To be honest I didn’t know you guys were sisters until a few months later and by that time I just never saw the need to say anything. Your sister and I broke up and we didn’t speak again. I figured saying something would just be awkward.”

I shrug. “I thrive on awkward so who knows? You and I might have become best friends earlier if you had.”

“As opposed to when I got you your first job?”

“No, that’s not when you became my best friend.”

“Oh? Then when?”

“That was when you were the only one who would go see Despicable Me with me in theaters,” I say, as though the answer was obvious. Neither of my parents had wanted to go, Anabelle was too embarrassed to risk being seen watching a kiddie movie, and I was going to go alone. When Brandon found out he made me wait for him to get out of work and, even though he was exhausted from working an eleven hour shift, he went with me to see it. We’d laughed, made a mess with popcorn, nearly got thrown out of the theater, and I’d told him he was adopted as my big brother the second we got into his car. “Remember?”

“Yeah. I just thought that was when you decided I was going to be your brother,” he tells me.

“It was. Best friend and big brother all in one delightful event.”

He smiles, shakes his head and bends back to the paperwork. I take a couple’s order, get their drinks and hash-browns, and then return to leaning against the counter.

“Your sister called me last night,” Brandon says after a time. He sets aside his pen, pushes away the clipboard and gives me his undivided attention. “Why didn’t you?”

“What did she tell you?” I ask instead.

“That you and your parents got into a fight and you’d left. I tried calling you but you never picked up.”

I laugh nervously, pulling on my ponytail. “Yeah, about that . . . I kinda gave my dad my phone.”


I shrug. “I was pissed and I wanted to assert my independence. I wasn’t in the right mindset.”

“Where did you spend the night?”

“Well, I was going to stay in a motel, but the sheets had very questionable stains on them. And then I was going to sleep in my jeep in the park, but I couldn’t go to sleep, so I just came here and made burritos until Cheese showed up. So he loves me right now and I’m exhausted.”

“You look it, too,” he deadpans.

I pout. “That’s not a very nice thing for you to say.”

“You should’ve come over.”

“I didn’t think, okay? I was just pissed and upset and . . .” I trail off, my throat getting uncomfortably tight for some reason. I narrows my eyes at the floor, watching as a lone ant scurries across the tile before it gets squashed beneath my sneaker. Poor, lonely ant. It was a kindred spirit. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so cruel and heartless. It wasn’t it’s fault that it’s a creepy crawly with no business being in a place of eating and business.

“You okay?” Brandon asks me quietly, nudging my shoulder.

I let out a sigh and shove my hands into my pockets. “I don’t know. I don’t have a place to stay. And I just . . . I don’t think it’s sunk in that my parents have kicked me out yet. Maybe in a few days I’ll be back to my raging, homicidal self.”

“Yeah, let’s not hope for that,” Brandon says. He looks down at the schedule, chewing his bottom lip. “It’s been pretty slow today, and I’ve got five people coming in at eleven. Do you want to go then, catch up on some sleep?”

I shake my head. “Nah. I’ll just be attempting to sleep in my car, and even though I’m apparently tiny enough, it’s still not comfortable to sleep in. Besides, I need to start bringing in the hours if I’m gonna hope at proving my parents wrong. Apartments aren’t cheap, apparently.”

“You could go back to my place,” he offers quietly.


“I’ve got a couch. You can sleep there until you figure things out.”


“Yeah. Why not.”

If I wasn’t so tired I would’ve hugged the guy. As it is I just smile and nod. “Okay. Sounds awesome.”

“Okay, then. You get to go home at eleven unless it gets freakishly busy for no apparent reason. Remind me to give you the key before you leave . . . although you could probably get inside without it. I’m pretty sure the lock is broken anyways. Just another thing that needs to get fixed. Lucky me.”

I tilt into him. “Aw, Brand-O.”

“You’re welcome,” he answers, knowing exactly what I mean.

At eleven I’d gone to Brandon’s and promptly collapsed onto his couch without even bothering to change out of my work clothes. I was out like a light and didn’t wake up until he got home a little before five, his front door creaking and groaning on its hinges to the point I thought it was going to break and the rest of his house would follow suit.

“You still look like death,” he tells me, kicking off his shoes and chucking his keys onto the coffee table. Brandon shoves my feet out of the way and collapses onto the couch with a grateful sigh.

“Wow. Thanks. Just what I want to hear,” I mumble, still struggling to wake up after my lovely nap. “How was work?”

“Slow. You’d think it would be a little busier the day after Memorial Day, but nope. I was wrong. Sent home three others and labor was still a little high. Nigel and them are going to be pissed.”

“When aren’t they pissed, though?”

“True.” He pushes the palms of his hands into his eyes, groaning. “So, I’ve been thinking . . .”

“That’s never a good thing,” I retort automatically.

“Ha-ha. Funny. As I was saying, why don’t you move in here?”

I . . . actually have nothing to say to that.

“I’ve got the room. It wouldn’t be bad having you for a roommate – er, house-mate, I guess you would say.”

“Seriously?” I ask, just for clarification.

“Yeah. It makes sense.”

“Awesome! I’ll pay rent and stuff! You don’t have to worry about that. And I’ll be the best house-mate ever!”

He grins. “Just make sure no one at works knows about this arrangement. We could both get fired for it. And some of the crew already thinks you get favoritism—”

“Which is weird because I do, but that’s only because I actually show up for my shifts. I have yet to call off, and I’ve only been late once or twice, and both times it was not my fault. Old people thinking they have enough time to cross the street with those pesky little walkers.”

Brandon is now staring at me, completely flabbergasted.

Hee-hee. Flabbergasted. Such a funny word. Flabber and gas and ted.

GAH! I’m still so TIRED!

“I’ll also be bringing over a TV if that helps,” I say.

“Okay. It’s official. You are definitely moving in,” he teases, casting a disgusted look to the box-y television with the antenna that I currently leaned against the wall atop a drawer-less dresser. “You wanna go pick up your stuff now?”

“Like now-now?”

“Yeah. Why not? I’ve got time and so do you.”

“True. Just let me call my sister to see if she’s home—”

“She is,” Brandon interrupts me.

I stare.

“She called me on my way home. She . . . suggested . . .”

“And by suggested you mean she ordered.”

“Yeah. Pretty much. She suggested that I take you in like some stray dog—”

“Hey! That’s so mean! That’s not nice at all! I am not a stray dog.”

“ANYWAYS!” he cuts me off from my tangent. “She thinks it’s her idea that you’re going to move in with me, but to be fair I was going to offer when I found out that you’d been kicked out. But just let her think it was all her.”

I nod, getting his meaning immediately. I’ve been her sister far longer than he has dated her. “She likes to usurp other’s nifty ideas and corrupt them to be her own. Understood Brand-O.”

He rolls his eyes. “So she called me, ordered me, and then said that she’s home right now. Your parents are still at work and won’t be home for another couple hours. So if you want to go and grab your stuff we can. It’ll be easier fitting stuff into my truck than your little jeep.”

“You mean my itty-bitty-monstrosity,” I clarify.

“Sure. Whatever. Sound good?”


“Okay. Let me get changed and then we can go.” He gets up with a groan, sounding eerily like an eerily man – my poor, poor dad – rather than a dude in the prime of his life.

“Hey, Brandon?” I call when he gets to his stairs.

He pauses and looks to me, an eyebrow raised in question. “Hmm?”

“Thanks,” I tell him, sincere and feeling awkward for probably the first time in my life. I know he didn’t have to help me out – I’m not his responsibility – and he’s got enough on his plate to begin with. So this is really, extremely nice and self-less of him. Dang. I did an awesome job of picking my brother.

“No problem. You’re bringing a TV,” he jokes, instantly lightening the mood and pushing aside the awkwardness.

He goes upstairs to change out of his work clothes while I do the same in his partially re-done bathroom on the main floor. When he comes down we pile into our respective vehicles and he follows me over to my parents’ house. Pulling in I can see that Anabelle is home and, thankfully, still the only one who is home at this current moment. The second we park she races out, first to me where she asks how I am, and then to her boyfriend who she gives an adorable little peck on the cheek.

Ahh. Young love.

I can see what’s happening – WHAT? – And they don’t have a clue! – WHO? – They’ll fall in love . . . And here’s the bottom line . . . Our trio’s down to . . . me – OH

Wait, what? No, I was not singing Lion King.

“How long do I have until Sir Grumpy-Pants and Lady Moods get back?” I ask, leading the way into my once-upon-a-time home. It is the same as I remember . . . full of broken promises and crushed dreams and – ah, there it is. Hello Flat-screen. You will be coming home with me tonight. I wonder if Father Time kept his old one because he’s definitely going to need it if he wants to watch ESPN anytime soon.

“Not until around seven,” my sister says. “I tried talking to them last night but they’re not in the listening mood. I’ll try again tonight, but . . . Dad’s really upset. Mom too.”

“Not about me, surely,” I gasp, marching upstairs.

“If it makes you feel better Grampa yelled at them after you left,” she offers.

I spin around with a grin. “Aww. See? Someone who loves me.” I return to my mission of gathering as much of my stuff in the little time that I have been given.

“Wolf and I went looking for you, too.”

“Two more people to add to the surprising total of . . . THREE!”

Brandon coughs from where he is trailing Anabelle on the steps. “I think you’re forgetting someone.”

“Yeah!” my sister is quick to latch on.

“Brandon doesn’t count! Once Dad finds out that your sister and your boyfriend are living together he’s going to be livid. Sorry, Brand-O, but I don’t hold much hope for you surviving to your birthday next week.”

“Your birthday’s next week?” Anabelle wonders.

“Yes, and what’s that supposed to mean, Spence?” he answers.

“Dad’s gonna hate you,” I sing-song, pushing into my room and coming to a stop, surveying the mess that is my organization system.

Brandon snorts. “Sorry to disappoint, Spencer, but your dad hated me the second I rang your doorbell. Waiting for Belle to come downstairs was the most awkward five minutes of my life. Did you know he had a recording of a documentary on near-misses? I would’ve preferred it if he started cleaning the guns that I wouldn’t be surprised he had.”

My sister and I share a look.

“Sounds like him,” she says.

I shrug. “I wouldn’t know. I asked him what he’d do when I finally brought home a boyfriend and he told me he’d tell the guy that I’m all his, no questions asked. I guess we know now who Daddy’s little girl is.” Am I bitter? No, but I might sound it. Is it intentional? I don’t know. I haven’t had the best week, so give me a break. “Do we have any boxes?”

“My pickup,” Brandon says. “I took them from work. Just need some duct tape to reconstruct them.”

I nod and go to do just that. “While I’m gone make sure you don’t so anything nasty in my former room. I will know if anything has been disturbed, and I will make your lives hell.” It is not a fake threat. I will do such things. It is my forte.

“Looking out for my honor?” my sister teases.

“No,” I scoff. “I’m looking out for Brandon’s. He’s such a shy and innocent guy. I don’t want you taking advantage of him.” It’s a joke. I know neither of them will be caught doing unseemly things. But Brandon especially. Both will be waiting until they’re married – please, please, please; fingers crossed – but I just like to give them a hard time. It always gets me to smile when they take the same shade of red as a tomato.

Brandon blushes and Anabelle laughs as I run back downstairs to get the boxes and set about rebuilding them.

The following two hours are spent dismantling my room. My bed frame and my mattress are carried downstairs – and by carried I mean more like Bell and I pushed while Brandon was squished beneath – and put into the bed of Brandon’s truck. My desk I decide to leave; it was just a storage space, anyways. But everything else goes into the numerous boxes that were taken from McDonald’s. Bit by bit my old bedroom is emptied out until all that is left is the desk and a years-old stain that I had managed to hide – the result of grape pop and a hilarious cat-video found on YouTube.

Last but not least I take my TV. Yes, it’s a more spiteful action – this had been a gift to my dad – but the man shouldn’t have given me the ultimatum that he did. ‘Obey me in every aspect of your life or move out’. Wow. He definitely won’t be getting a Best Dad mug for Father’s Day. Or anything from me for that matter.

I carry my TV out and to my jeep, buckling it into the backseat and hoping my driving is up to par so it doesn’t break on the return trip to Brandon’s.

When I turn around to give my goodbyes to my sister I am surprised – even though I probably shouldn’t be – to see her and Brandon standing on the porch, hugging and talking and looking entirely too cute for their own good. I realize what an incredible match-maker I am. I swear that I will hate my sister for life if she doesn’t marry this boy in front of her because he is just adorable.

I lean back against my jeep, slipping into full creeper mode as I watch them.

They are oblivious to my scrutiny, but that’s fine.

Brandon’s hands are on my sister’s waist, loose and tapping a strange rhythm. My sister is leaning up on her tip-toes, arms folded behind his neck and her head resting on his shoulder. They talk some more; I can’t hear or lip-read what about. They laugh. Anabelle messes up his hair. Brandon kisses her cheek, causing my sister to turn pink. They start talking again, making plans from the way they are nodding.

And then Brandon looks up to see me watching, completely amused.

“Spencer! Don’t be nosy!” my sister yells to me.

I wave. “Maybe try not to be in the open next time?” I suggest.

She sticks her tongue out at me.

They go back to talking for another minute, come to an agreement with another cheek-kiss. Oh, how sweet and adorable and middle-school-ish of them. They walk down to where I’m waiting, still watching.

“I’m coming over tomorrow,” Anabelle says. “I’ll bring dinner okay?”

I glance warily at Brandon. “You sure you want her to see your digs?”

He glares at me. “If you think it’s so bad you can always get your own place,” he offers.

“No, no! Your house is fine! At least it smells better than butt.”

My two older siblings – wow, what a way to think about it – share a confused look before deciding this is me and they don’t need to understand everything . . . or anything.

“Ready to go?” Brandon asks me.

I nod. “Yeah. It’d be best to leave before the ‘rents return and we get into another fight.”

He kisses Belle one last time and then goes to his pickup, backing out of the driveway and speeding off.

“You okay with this?” I ask my sister.

She nods instantly. “Yeah. I’d rather you live with him than by yourself. I trust him, Spencer. He’s a good guy.”

“Exactly,” I say. “Which begs the question: why did you two break up?”

Anabelle smiles but shakes her head.

It was worth a shot.

“I’ll see you tomorrow. What’re you working?”

“Ten to six.”

“Better than an eleven to seven, I guess.”

“Not by much.”

She hugs me tight, promises to talk to our parents again tonight. “See you tomorrow.”

I nod once, and climb behind the wheel of my jeep. It’s as I’m pulling out of the driveway that my dad arrives, sitting in the road and waiting for me to move. As I drive past him the look on his face can only be described as utterly heartbreaking; sad and miserable . . . but I know my eyes are playing tricks on me because that’s just not possible. He’s the one who kicked me out to begin with.

So I just ignore him and drive away, hoping that I’ve hit rock-bottom and things will only get better from here.
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