Life is Hard Sometimes
My head felt fuzzy from the sudden influx of information as I quickly took out my notepad to write it all down. I’d like to say that my memory would be enough, but I knew better. I’d forget, and then I’d get in trouble for it.
Trust me, it had happened before.
“—and be sure to wipe the tables properly, Corey. After that, you’re needed up in room 320 to do a quick sweep through. Change out the bed sheets, clean the bathroom, and get it set up for the next guests. Be back down here in an hour to help out in the restaurant. Got it?”
I finished writing down the last of my tasks in shorthand, nodding before I was even done. “Of course, sir.” I looked up at my manager, Greyson Kurosawa, with a determined gaze.
His eyes softened. “I know it’s a lot, Corey, but you’re a good worker.”
I felt a flare of pride, beaming at the compliment. “Thank you, sir. I’ll get right to it.”
“See that you do,” Kurosawa said, giving me a curt nod before walking away to deal with whatever else was going on.
I figured he probably had a lot to do considering that he was the manager of one of the top hotels in the city, much more than me anyway. I’d never seen the guy complain though. Kurosawa was a stoic Japanese man that most people would run away from if they met him in a dark alley. Even when the hotel was practically on fire, he didn’t budge.
The stoic quality was a good one to have for a manager, but he was so great at his job that it felt a little weird to ever complain about mine. Maybe that’s why he always gave me so much work: he knew there was no way I’d admit I couldn’t do it.
Pride is a stupid thing, I thought as I trotted from the lobby to our attached café, whipping out my spray bottle and towel to rub down the sleek black tables. My job was originally just supposed to be manning phones and cleaning the café, but over the years I spent working at The Grand Hotel and Suites, I ended up as the “fix it.”
When someone doesn’t show up for work, I do their shift. When something goes wrong, I handle the problem. When there’s a random job that needs to get done, it’s my job. The only thing I definitely don’t do is handle customers and guests directly.
Social anxiety was already a bad quality to have in the hotel business, but Kurosawa did his best to accommodate me. For that, I was grateful. Plus, he didn’t want a repeat of the 2013 Plate Smashing Incident. The short story: a customer ended up with a pie in his face and I ended up sitting in a pile of broken glass. I maintain that it wasn’t completely my fault. Not my shining moment though.
At least my hotel coworkers found it funny. It was how I became work friends with Dana Reynolds too, so it wasn’t all bad. I had to wonder if she ever thought about that incident as she caught my eye from across the café.
“Hey, Corey!” she said cheerfully. “Kurosawa has you working all over the place again today?”
“Looks like it,” I said as she stepped out from behind the counter, flicking her shock of black hair over her shoulder. Dana was four years older than me at twenty-five, well-built, obviously a former athlete, with perpetual bedroom eyes and a penchant for makeup. She usually worked the café during the day but moved over to the lounge by night. With her looks and personality, I wasn’t surprised that she pulled people in so easily.
She literally pulled me in as she wrapped a friendly arm around my shoulders. With a “tsk” noise, she shook her head. “You really have to learn how to say no, Corey. You make it way too easy for him.”
I rolled my eyes and pushed her arm off, stepping around her to wipe down the other tables. “I’d feel bad if I complained.”
“Bury that guilt deep inside you and take a few lessons from the master,” she said playfully, pointing to herself. “When it comes to a healthy amount of complaining, I’m your gal.”
Despite what she said, Dana really did care about her job. Even when she was talking, she was always on the lookout for a customer who needed help. Unlike me, she was actually good with people.
I finished wiping down the tables, reaching to get the last one in the corner. Dana leaned on the partition next to me. “You shouldn’t overwork yourself, Corey.” He voice was quiet and concerned, with a warm quality running through it.
I could only smile at her, trying to play off the obvious bags under my eyes and the heavy exhaustion sitting in my shoulders like a leaden weight. “I won’t. Don’t worry about me. But I do need to get up to 320 to make the beds.”
Dana hummed. “Before that though, what do I have to do to get you to agree to come out with me some time? I know you’re busy, but come on Corey, you’ve got to say yes eventually,” she pleaded.
I offered her another smile. Dana asked me every single week whether I’d like to go out with her that coming Friday. I always said no, but she always kept asking. Even if I knew I’d never go, there was something comforting about knowing that she would ask.
I was about to give her my usual no when her eyes caught onto a new customer she needed to get back to. Before she stepped away, she gave me a friendly pat on my shoulder. “Think about it, Corey,” she said in a singsong voice. She didn’t wait for my response, already walking away with a cheerful smile on her lips and a greeting on her tongue. I stared at her for a second, shaking my head in bewilderment. Social people never ceased to amaze me.
I grabbed my spray and trotted back over to a maid’s cart, depositing it before running off to floor three. Turning down a room wasn’t all that hard after so much practice, but some rooms were worse than others. Room 320, thankfully, wasn’t the worst I’d seen.
A few bedsheets, towel replacements, and trash runs later, and I sighed in relief, checking my phone for the time. “Almost 7…” I mumbled, depositing it back into my apron.
I was right on time as I took the elevator, put on my customer service smile, and met Kurosawa at the entrance of the hotel’s restaurant. He looked at me appraisingly when he saw me. “Well done, Corey. This will be a short shift here until Karen comes in. You’ll just be cleaning off tables and doing dishes.”
“Of course, sir,” I said respectfully.
“I won’t be calling for you tomorrow either,” he said. “You still have your classes; I wouldn’t want your work to interrupt your studies.” Some people might be offended by their boss getting involved in their personal business, but I didn’t mind. Kurosawa was just showing that he cared in his stoic, hard-to-read sort of way.
I smiled at him. “You know by now that I can do both, sir,” I said with a light chuckle.
He nodded seriously. “Of course. But it’s best to do one task right than both poorly, not that you do any of your work here poorly. Now then, if you’ll excuse me.” He bowed out with a polite nod of his head to me and our hostess, Leana.
Leana smirked. “That guy would literally have all the women he wanted if he just loosened up.”
I gave her a waning smile in return, chuckling. Awkward laughter was my go-to response when I didn’t know what to say. I waved bye to Leana and trotted back to the kitchen to meet Marcus Andrews.
Marcus, my other work friend, was tall and dark skinned, with a thin frame, killer smile, and suave grace that most people simply lacked. When it came to getting ladies, all Marcus had to do was smile effortlessly and wink a little. He was an incredibly kind-hearted guy though, and while confident, wasn’t self-assured enough to be obnoxious.
We’d become friends when he stood up to a customer who tried to feel me up. I’d yelped and dropped dirty dishes all over the floor. Marcus yelled at the customer and helped me up, cracking quiet jokes to take my mind off of the crushing embarrassment that was my life.
I saw him immediately when I stepped past Leana. He was setting down a tray on a rack, handing out dishes to his table with a wide smile and an easy twist of his body. His eyes flicked to me while I waited for him to finish. He stepped over to me casually, reminding me of how much shorter I felt when I stood next to him.
“Corey the party animal is here,” he joked, giving me a little smirk.
I rolled my eyes. “The closest I’ll get to party animal is if you paint whiskers on my face.”
He snickered. “While I would find that funny, I think you’ll get in trouble every day that isn’t Halloween,” he joked quietly. “Here for dish duty?”
“I am the dishwashing queen, you know,” I said sarcastically, stepping in front of him to push open the door to the kitchen.
I was met with the usual bustling activity of chefs calling out orders, wait staff running around, dishes clanking together, and multiple pans sizzling in the background. There was something comforting in the loud chaos of the kitchen compared to my quiet daily life. I sidestepped around a waiter as Marcus came up beside me with a wide smile.
He didn’t have time to talk with his next order up, but he patted my shoulder and left me to my own work. I lost myself in the repetitive action of washing the dishes that were placed next to me, singing quietly to myself. A few times, I was asked to go out and gather dishes from the tables before returning to the sink to clean them off.
When Karen did finally show up, apologizing to me for her tardiness, I waved her off, letting her know that it was no problem. My shoulders slumped in exhaustion as I took a seat in an alcove where people liked to take little breaks. Closing my eyes, I wondered if I could fall asleep to the familiar sounds of the hotel. I jumped when someone touched my shoulder.
“Marcus,” I breathed, putting a hand to my chest in surprise.
He smiled softly, holding out a dish with pasta and breadsticks stacked on it. I blinked when he said, “Eat, Corey. My treat. Or well, more like we made extras and I commandeered it for you.”
Marcus did things like this for me sometimes, but his kindness never failed to surprise me. When I asked about why he was so nice to me, he said I reminded him of his brother, which I chose to take as a compliment. “You should have some too at least,” I tried to say, taking the dish and placing it in my lap.
Marcus sat on the chair across from mine, his elbows on his knees. He shook his head. “Nah, you eat. I know you skip meals to work.” He raised an accusatory eyebrow.
I pouted. “You sound like my mom. Remember? She bought me a juicer last Christmas because she was worried I wasn’t eating.”
He let out a bark of laughter. “I forgot about that!”
I rolled my eyes, giving in and digging into the pasta. If I could afford this place, I’d eat here. As it was, leftovers and handouts were all I could manage, although even leftovers tasted amazing.
Marcus stood up, ready to go back to work. “I’m guessing you’re skipping out on Dana again?”
I shrugged while I chewed. He already knew the answer. He gave me an understanding look. “School work must be killing you, huh? Is it midterms or something yet?”
I shook my head fondly at him. “Not for me. Essays. And a group project coming up.”
He made a face. “Ugh, group work. The actual ninth circle of hell. And knowing you, you’re doing all the work?”
“Not all of it… or at least not hopefully,” I muttered, already praying that I wouldn’t be paired with a group of idiots.
Marcus shook his head sadly. “It’s cute that you still have hope.”
“Go back to work!” I laughed, watching as he shot me a smile and left me to my pilfered meal. I was left smiling from our interaction, relishing in the easy friendship we had. I’d come a long way from the girl who couldn’t even hold a proper conversation. Sarcasm was my secret weapon.
I surreptitiously snuck a take-out box to store my meal before I trotted over to my locker to clock out and grab my sweatshirt and backpack, nodding goodbye to Kurosawa and emerging into the dark fall night. I shivered as I pulled on my sweatshirt, wondering when it would start snowing. Perhaps I should have chosen a school in a warmer area since I didn’t drive, but it was far too late to do anything about it now. I was already in my fourth year of college. I just had to get through this year to get my degree in History, because yes, I was a huge history buff.
I smiled to myself and got walking, hitching my backpack up on my shoulder and pulling out an old phone I used to store music. I lost myself in the music as I walked, breathing in the cold air around me. By the time I returned to my shared apartment, courtesy of university housing, my nose was red from the chill. I almost wished I could have stayed outside though as I walked in to see my roommate, Shawna Mitchells, cooking in our shared kitchen.
I ignored the dark-skinned woman as always and walked to my tiny room, letting myself in and shutting it quickly. I let out a sigh of relief. I was a nice person, or I at least liked to think of myself that way, but Shawna always rubbed me the wrong way. She harassed me about everything, banging on my door if I dared to let my dishes dry in the dish rack next to hers. I’d taken to drying them in the drawers, setting up a nest of towels for them.
She didn’t like to see me cooking, got angry if I did any of my homework in the shared living room, and sent me nasty glares if we even crossed paths. I would have moved out if I could, but I was getting a grant to pay for this housing. Even with the roommate from hell and our third roommate who took her side, this was much better than paying rent. At least I didn’t share my bathroom with them.
I yawned and set myself up for another long night, preparing to do a few hours of homework before I went to bed. By the time I passed out, it was late into the night. Or maybe really early next morning. If only sleep came easy, but my thoughts simply wouldn’t rest.
“I want to sleep,” I murmured into my pillow, staring up at the ceiling above me.
Distress flooded my senses as it always did when my anxiety prevented me from sleeping. Something about being awake when everyone around me was asleep, when there was no one to talk to and the world was silent made me wish I could cry. It made me want to curl up in a ball until blackness overtook me and my mind went silent.
I curled up on my side, pushing my head into a pillow. I breathed deeply, waiting for the moment when I fell asleep without even realizing it.
In the morning, this feeling would all just be like a hazy nightmare forgotten in the light of day.