Cross Roads

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Chapter Four: Fury

I am exhausted.

I am in desperate need of another caffeine fix.

Unfortunately, I am too busy dealing with lunch rush to entertain the notion of downing an entire two pots of coffee and a shot – or fifty – of espresso for long. I am running around, getting out counter and drive-thru orders.

I feel like I am doing a remarkable interpretation of a chicken with its head cut off.

I feel as though it would be almost comical if I wasn’t so irritated by my lack of sleep and my too long shift.

I sigh and stop an Asian tourist from taking someone else's order. I give him his correct food, repeat exactly what he ordered, and then listen as he tells me that’s not what he wants. When I offer to give him a refund and then ring him up for the food he says he wants he walks away with a smile and I am left confused.

I go back to handing out orders, getting more and more frustrated by the minute.

Finally, going on three, the lunch rush ends and I am free.

“Spencer! I need change!” my headset person calls.

Grr ... spoke too soon.

“Brandon’s back there!” I answer, busying myself with stocking up front counter after the disaster that has just occurred.

I am so fortunate to have gone through the breakfast and lunch rushes, and I cannot wait until dinner (note sarcasm). Hopefully I’ll be out of here before people start showing up in desperate need of a cheap ice cream fix.

“What do you need?” the GM yells from where he is standing in the office leafing through a recent fax. It’s probably a complaint about us taking too long with an order. People are so picky and annoying and needy and selfish these days.

From the storage space beneath the counter I grab the cups that remain inside, stocking up the dispensers. When I run out of things up front I go into the back and fill up my arms with everything else that I will need, shimmying my way back and nearly losing my oh so precious cargo. Somehow I make it, just in time to deposit the sleeves on the nearby cooler.

“Grab enough?” my order taker laughs, grabbing a sleeve and going over to stock the dispenser behind her.

I laugh, clearly not amused. “This sucks,” I groan, loading up the cups at the drive-thru window.

She nods. “Tell me about it. When do you leave?”

“Eight.”

She winces. “Seriously? Didn’t you open?”

“Yep,” I say, nodding stiffly.

“How did that happen?”

I glance up and see Brandon walking up to the front. “Ask this guy,” I grumble, pouting. “This dumby didn’t want to call anyone else – who doesn’t work today – and see if they would come in. No, he asked me in a way that wasn’t really a question.” I glare at him. “I hate you.”

My boss isn’t fazed, laughing it off. “I’ll make it up to you, Spencer.”

“Bringing me coffee doesn’t count. That’s something you have to do.”

“I do, huh?”

I nod again. “Yeah, unless you want a really grouchy, really inefficient manager on your shift.”

“God forbid that happen,” he says with a mocking gasp.

“Don’t you make fun of me!” I cry. “I haven’t slept in forty-eight hours.” Just thinking about it makes me tired. I feel a headache building and make a note of raiding the office for some more Tylenol. I had been fighting this headache all morning; ever since I left the Knightlys’ ghastly party, in fact.

“Drink some coffee, Spencer,” Brandon tells me with an apologetic, small smile. “I’m going to the bank. We need more change. I’ll be back in ten minutes unless there’s a line. Will you be able to hold down the fort?”

I give him a look.

He laughs and starts for the door. “Okay, okay. Stupid question. Don’t bite anyone’s head off while I’m gone.” And then he leaves.

I make faces at his retreating back, and then curse internally as his pickup leaves the parking lot. I know I am not in my normally chipper mood, but I am just so tired. I need caffeine.

Ooh!

I set about making myself a large Iced Coffee, putting in a shot of espresso in the hopes that it will perk me up. While shaking my pick-me-up drink I walk around, checking garbages and tables, ordering my unoccupied counter people to get things cleaned up before the shift change.

Drink in hand I check out the grill area, only to find the crew people back there have been cleaning and stocking without my needing to tell them. I give a half-hearted “Congratulations” to them and carry on to the back, swallowing huge mouthfuls of my Iced Coffee as I go. Things are slow so I take a moment to sit down in the office. I pick up the papers that Brandon had left out.

They are a growing pile of complaints, the top one being from this person saying that by the time they got their food and returned to work that their lunch had gone cold.

The person works at an office building at least twenty minutes away.

Forgive me for not seeing the issue.

I snort, thinking about what a moron this person is.

“Can I get a manager up here?”

I groan, slamming my forehead down against the desk in the office. All I want to do is sit and relax for a minute. Just a minute. Is that too much to ask?

Obviously it is.

I push wearily to my feet, tuck in my shirt to make sure that I look presentable, and then I walk up to the front.

“What’s up?” I ask, glancing between my two counter people and a woman who looks like she should be on Biggest Loser instead of standing in McDonald’s lobby. “Is something wrong?”

“She wants to talk to you.”

I nod and the two of them set about other things while I deal with this very sizeable woman.

“What can I do for you?” I ask, forcing pleasantries.

She snaps her tongue and effectively classifies herself as one-of-those-customers. I prepare myself to be screamed at and blamed for everything that is wrong with the world.

“I just came through here and ordered a McDouble without onions, but with mayo added to it.”

Eww. What a disgusting combination. Canadian, eh? They do love their mayo.

“Okay,” I answer, nodding to let her know that I have heard her.

“I was charged fifty-effing-cents for it. Fifty-effing-cents. Explain to me why you’re effing charging me for mayonnaise on a sandwich.”

I grind my teeth together, not liking the language she is throwing at me. “I’m sorry about that, but there is a charge because the McDouble doesn’t come with mayo. You’re adding to the burger—”

“So effing what?” she screams at me. “I’m taking off the onions so why should I effing pay extra?”

“The mayo costs more than the onions,” I explain to her as calmly as I can while a grown, forty-something woman is screaming expletives at me. “If you had taken off the ketchup and mustard there wouldn’t have been a charge because you would have been substituting—”

Once again she interrupts me to get her say in. “I don’t effing care!”

Obviously you do.

“I shouldn’t have to pay fifty-effing-cents for mayo! If I go to another store they don’t charge me. They give me mayo packets!”

“We are privately owned, ma’am. Our prices are different. The way we function and the products we carry are different. We do not have mayo packets here. As for the charge, our registers automatically charge you for it. It’s not us putting it in. The registers do it—”

“Well then your registers are effing wrong.”

I stare at her, fighting a glare. “No, they aren’t. Our owner wants us to charge when things are added to sandwiches. I understand, the price is obscenely high for mayo, but that is not my fault. I can give you the office number if you’d like to call—”

“I have effing called! They don’t understand what you guys are doing, but it’s effing wrong. Now you effing listen to me—”

This time I interrupt her, fed up with her mouth. “Ma’am, I am going to ask you to stop swearing at me. There is no need for it. You can express your frustrations without it. I don’t appreciate swearing, and it is uncalled for.” I am polite, but I am firm. I hate when people say the F-word at me.

She chews the inside of her fat cheek, double-chin growing more prominent as her face reddens. “Okay, you little brat,” she starts, “how’s this?” She then proceeds to talk at me as though I’m a little kid, voice all high pitched and coated in a disgusting amount of sugary sweetness – I feel like I might become diabetic just by listening to her. “I do not want to pay for extra mayo when I am already paying a dollar fifty for a freaking sandwich.”

“I understand that, but that is how things are here. We have to charge you for the extras.”

“You know what? I want to speak with whoever is above you. You got that?” she hisses at me, attracting the attention of other customers sitting and eating in lobby.

I notice that a couple and their kids are packing up and getting ready to leave, one of my counter people offering them a bag to put their half eaten food in.

“Okay. Would you mind sitting down? Our general manager is out at the moment, but he’ll be back in a couple of minutes—”

“Don’t give me that you effing c—t!” she screams.

And that is that.

I round on her, too little sleep and not enough coffee affecting my mood.

“Don’t you EVER speak to me that way again!” I snarl at her.

“Whatcha gonna do about it?” she asks in the most childish voice I have ever heard on a grown adult – and that is saying something consider I’ve heard Mrs. Knightly talk.

“Get out. Right now. You are not welcome here. You do not come in, screaming and swearing like that. You do not call me or anyone a name like that. Get out right now or I am calling the cops.”

“For what?” she laughs, thinking that my threat is fake.

“Harassment. Verbal assault. Being a public disturbance,” I list off, counting them on my fingers. “Get out. You do not get to complain about this to our general manager. You need to leave right now.”

“You effing c—t!” she repeats, looking about ready to hit me.

I hope she does. Then I can add physical assault to the list of charges. I’m about ready to dare her to deck me with her beefy little fist when Brandon appears next to me, fuming. I know he has heard everything – or at least the last part.

“Ma’am, you need to leave,” he snarls at her.

“And who are you?” she challenges.

“I’m the general manager. And I am telling you to leave.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Yes I can. Or do you want me to call the cops? I will get a restraining order against you. You do not come in and call my employees that. What makes you think that’s okay? What makes you think that you can? This is a place of business. Families come in here to eat. They do not want to or need to hear your mouth. Get. Out.”

She stays firm, her feet planted solidly – literally because she has absolutely no arch, the fat cow – on the tiled floor. “I want your name. I want her name. I will be calling Corporate and reporting this to them.”

“Go ahead,” Brandon tells her. “My name’s Brandon. Do you want me to write it down for you?”

“No, I effing don’t. I can do it myself. What’s your last name?”

“None of your business. You can have my first name, but that’s it.” He crosses his arms and looks very imposing in his almost six-foot body.

“And what’s hers?” she asks, gesturing to me, not even bothering to give me a glance.

I bite my teeth to keep from screaming at her ignorant arse.

“You can have my name,” Brandon says firmly, shifting to stand in front of me.

“I want her name.”

“You aren’t—”

I step around him and get in her face, ready for this confrontation to be over with. It’s getting old very, very fast. “My name is Spencer. It’s spelled S-P-E-N-C-E-R.”

“What kind of effing name is that?” she tells me.

I get ready to lunge over the counter.

Brandon grabs the back of my shirt and keeps me from getting a foot off the ground. “Get. Out,” he hisses, pointing to the door. “Right now. Spencer, go call the police.”

I go to do just that, getting as far as the office before he calls for me to stop, that the lady has finally left. I sink heavily into the office chair, my headache now present. I am no longer able to hold it off with the downing of more Tylenol. My head pounding, I drop it into my hand, staring at the perspiration on my Iced Coffee.

“What was that about?” Brandon asks me, appearing in the doorway and setting his bag of change on the desk.

“The fifty cent charge for mayo,” I tell him, monotone. “Can we get a restraining order for her?”

“If she comes back,” he says with a nod. He leans against the wall, arms still folded tightly over his chest. “Are you okay?”

I nod.

“You were going to take her down, weren’t you?”

I laugh, not really feeling the humor behind it. “You know me so well,” I say. And he does. I’ve known Brandon since I was a freshman in high school. He’d been a senior at the time, working as a tutor among other things. I’d been the poor, chunky girl who was failing Algebra and Earth Science. We’d been friends ever since that first session, and had worked together ever since I was sixteen. He’d even been the one to get me hired here in the first place.

... On second thought, maybe he's not my friend ...

He squeezes behind me and reaches for the phone.

“Who ya calling?” I wonder, picking up my Iced Coffee.

“Finding you a cover,” he says.

I arch an eyebrow. “Why?”

“No way are you going to make it until eight,” he replies, grinning.

“I told you that this morning when you called and made me come in and open.”

He shrugs, dialing in a number from the board. “I didn’t think we were gonna be so busy. I figured I could send you home at four. Or five. Since we made almost two thousand for lunch I don’t think dinner will be much better.” He pauses, listens to the other line, and then says, “Hey, it’s Brandon. I was wondering if you’d be willing to work a four to eight tonight?” He waits. “Really? Great! Thanks. See ya then.” He hangs up, and then calls a second number.

“Now what?” I ask.

“They’ll need at least two people to replace you,” he explains. He has to call two more people before he can get a second cover, but I do not care. So long as I can go home at four I am okay with it. “There. You can leave at four. You’re welcome.”

I glare. “You’re the reason I was gonna be working a sixteen hour shift,” I deadpan, not feeling the love.

He waves a dismissive hand. “Whatever. Now move. I’ve gotta get ready for the shift change.”

I slowly get up out of the seat, holding tightly to my Iced Coffee. I walk back up front. Lobby has cleared since that woman, and I don’t know whether to be grateful or cursing her until I leave. The next half hour passes by slowly, with only two cars coming through drive-thru. There are no more incidents, and when four o’clock hits I am the first to clock out and walk out that door with hardly a goodbye to the sorry saps who will be working for dinner.

I cross the parking lot, walking to the back where my Jeep is parked. I climb in, crank the engine, back out and then floor it to the exit. I barely pay attention on my drive home, hitting all the red lights which gives me more time to stew on what just happened with that woman.

I still can’t believe what she called me! How dare she?

I end up speeding all the way home, my anger making me floor it. Somehow I don’t get pulled over by a cop – my mood would not make that a pleasant experience, and I doubt my parents would pay my bail – and I make it home with no incidents. I park in the dirt next to the driveway, get out and slowly trudge up to the front door.

Anabelle greets me by flinging the screen open.

She seems to be very angry.

I don’t know what I’ve done to warrant such a reaction. I haven’t seen her since last afternoon.

“Hey,” I say. “How’s it going?”

She steps out onto the porch, slamming the screen heavily behind her.

Uh-oh. Something’s wrong.

“I didn’t do the laundry, so if your clothes have been altered to different colors it wasn’t me!” I defend, grasping at the only thing I can think of for her to be ready to murder me. I throw up my hands in a show of surrender. I am not in the right temperament for a second argument in less than an hour.

“What is wrong with you!” she growls, looming over me.

Curse taller, older siblings. They suck.

Um . . . many things?” I answer nervously. “Could you maybe be more specific?”

She shoves me.

I do not appreciate the handling so I shove back.

“Don’t touch me!” she squeaks, going to shove me with two hands.

I step to the side and she stumbles. I can’t help it as I laugh. This is the funniest thing I have seen all day.

“Spencer! How could you!”

I stop. “How could I what?” I question, so confused that my headache is growing worse.

“Adrian just broke up with me and now you’re dating his younger brother!” she screams. “What kind of sister are you? You’re supposed to be on my side! You’re supposed to be siding with me! I thought you hated the Knightlys! I thought you couldn’t stand them; especially Alvin! What changed that? Was it because Adrian just dumped me?”

“No! Why would you think that? I hate Adrian. I hate Alvin even more!”

“Then why were you and Alvin photographed together at his house last night? Why are you in the newspaper?” She thrusts said paper into my chest, already folded to the offending page that will be my downfall.

I look down and sure enough there is a picture of me and Alvin just as we entered through the front door. Alvin looks like he belongs with all the finery and the money and the fancy clothes. I look about ready to combust. I didn’t even know that reporters and photographers had been at the event. I didn’t even know our picture had been taken. By anyone.

“I can explain, Belle,” I begin.

“You better,” she snarls.

I groan, dragging a hand through my hair and then realizing it’s still tied back from work. It’s now a mess and I have no choice but to take it out. “Look. After Adrian broke up with you, you know how I went to bed early?”

She nods.

“Well, I kinda didn’t. I snuck out, got a ride to his house, and then fed the nearby hose into the gas tank of his million dollar car.”

To say my older sister’s expression is priceless would be an understatement. I didn’t know her eyes could go that big; that her mouth could fall that far open; that her eyebrows could disappear beneath her dark bangs.

“You’re the one who vandalized his baby?” she gasps.

“Yes?”

She laughs and hugs me. “I love you!” she declares, bending her neck as though she is going to kiss me on the cheek. I jump back to prevent the sudden and unwanted and unnecessary display of affection. “Seriously? You did that for me? I have the best little sister ever.”

“Yes, I know you do,” I say off-handedly. “Anyways, Alvin caught me and now he’s blackmailing me to be his pretend date to any and all functions so his mother will get off his back about his womanizing ways. That’s it. I don’t like anyone in that family. I’m only doing it because if I don’t he’s gonna tell Adrian and I’ll be in debt or in jail. So don’t tell anyone. Especially Mom and Dad. They already hate me enough. And Mom will tell Grandma and that woman is just waiting for an excuse to send me to rehab or jail or something.”

She nods her agreement. “Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me.” She laughs again and slings an arm over my shoulders and dragging me into the house. “I still can’t believe you did that for me. It’s the best thing ever. It even tops that time you took the blame when I backed into Dad’s company pickup.”

I frown at the memory, thinking of how angry our dad had been. And I decided not to correct her about how Dad had automatically assumed that I’d done it, and I just hadn’t felt the need to correct him.

“Sure. You owe me, though.”

“Yeah? What?”

“Chocolate. Those fancy truffles you guys make.”

“Okay. I’ll bring you some home tomorrow.”

“And they’re all mine. Dad can’t have any.”

“I’ll try to sneak them past him.”

“Good. Now get your arm off of me. I have some sleep to catch up on.”

She pushes me towards the stairs. “You look like the walking dead anyways.”

I make a face but don’t comment, too tired to speak. I go up into my room, change into a pair of cut-off sweats and a tank, and then collapse onto my mattress. I’m out like a light not even a moment later.

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