By the time I got home Valentina was still up again, her body laying across our battered leather sofas. The TV being the only light source in the room, reflecting against her tanned skin. "Hey," she croaks as she watches me walk through the door.
"Hey," I reply as I shut the door behind me, the creakiness making my skin crawl. "Why are you still awake?"
"Because I was worried about you," Valentina says as she swings her legs round the sofa and places them down onto the floor.
"About what?" I question as I throw my keys down onto the kitchen top and shrugging off my jacket.
Valentina taps her phone and looks at the time. "Well normally you're home over an hour ago and I wasn't sure if something at work happened."
I roll my eyes before plopping myself down onto the sofa next to her and smiling. "Honestly, the tubes at this time of night are bloody awful. I had to wait like twenty minutes because there was someone who pressed the emergency button and you get no signal down there."
"I just hate London at this time of night and you know it," she rubs her eyes quickly before slamming her hand back down onto the sofa.
"Vee, you know I've been doing this job for almost three years now and nothing bad has happened on the journey home, it's always so busy and people are getting ready to go out." I explain to her and watch as she nods back to me.
"I know," she raises her hands up in defence. "I know I'm paranoid but I'm just looking out for you."
I force a smile even though my body just wanted me to collapse into my bed and get ready for university tomorrow. "Don't worry, I can defend myself."
Valentina snorts a short laugh out of her nose and I narrow my eyes at her instantly. "What?"
"You couldn't even fight your way out of a paper bag Micah, have you ever been to the gym?"
My mouth gapes at her slightly at her response. "I'm going to pretend that you didn't say that," I grumble before standing up. "I have pepper spray on my keys so that's all you need to know."
Valentina's laugh rings in my ears. "Can you get me one?" She asks and I turn to her.
"Fine," I nod. "But i'm going to go to bed because I am shattered,"
"Alright, good night."
"See you tomorrow," I say quietly before shuffling myself to my bedroom. Ignoring the mess and falling face down onto my untidy bed.
. . .
I woke up extra early before class so I could catch up with my mum, she says she's okay but I never know whether to take what she says seriously. She never wants me to worry but I can't help it.
Every few months I actively take time out of work and studying to visit her, she says that seeing me makes her day. Guilt always drowns me but I know that I am doing this for a better life for us, so I can give her the best care possible.
Planning to go back home in a few weeks just before our end of exam season starts, so that I can focus on getting the grades I have worked hard for and deserve.
Knowing that I was on course for a first is relieving but final exams can fuck everything up royally, one bad grade and you can drop down instantly. I've been studying since the beginning of the year, revising to my hearts content. I couldn't even remember the last time I went out to a bar or a club and got absolutely off my face.
I almost feel like I can't rest until I know that my education is over and I can start looking for a job with my finished degree. That is when I will get so drunk I'll blackout, I can feel it brewing.
A soft knock at my bedroom door alerts me. "Yeah Vee?" I shout as she pops open the door and peaks her head inside.
"Just thought you might like a coffee," she offers as she swings a full mug round the edge of the door.
My heart almost falls into my stomach at her kindness, no one realises how far a cup of coffee goes in this flat. "Thanks Vee, you're honestly the best," I say gratefully as I reach out my hand toward her and take the mug from her fingers.
"Hey," my voice stops her before she leaves her room. "Maybe sometime next week when I'm not working we could go for dinner or something, get out of the flat and have a pre-exam night?"
Valentina's eyes instantly light up at my offer and she nods enthusiastically. "Micah I would absolutely love that, I'm not going to be seeing Arran for a little while as he's working away, so that will be really fun."
I nod back towards her. "I'll book that really nice tapas place you took us to last year, we loved that,"
Her smile stretches out across her face. "Yeah that sounds really good, I'm already looking forward to it," she says as she steps back. "I'm going to pop to Tesco's before university, do you want anything?"
My eyes dart down to the bed for a moment as I think. "I've been craving Doritos for the longest time," I exhale as I think about the flavour of tangy cheese. "But only if they're on special, don't get them for two pounds it's a complete rip off!"
Valentina laughs, probably thinking I'm being dramatic over a bag of crisps but times were tough right now and I needed every penny. "It's an extra pound Micah, it doesn't matter."
I sigh and shrug my shoulders to her. "Well just let me know how much I owe you,'"
She rolls her eyes at me aggressively and shakes her head at me like she's in disbelief. "Micah, I can get you the crisps. Now will you please chill the hell out, you're making me feel stressed."
Pinning my mouth shut so I say no more. "I'll see you later," she nods before shutting my door behind her.
. . .
Shifts at Café Cosmo felt like they never ended. One day rolled into the next and it was all a big blur, this place was my second home no arguments. The restaurant was beginning to get more and more busy as time went on and Marco was trying to keep his composure managing us and keeping his customers happy.
Marco's friend Weston has visited a few times since I first saw him, this time bringing a bunch of his clients along. They all looked like sophisticated idiots, flashing their most valuable piece of clothing or fashion accessory.
Weston's watch changed like clockwork, from Gucci to Rolex to Armani. As did his suits, changing colour every time. I'm not sure why I noticed or why I was so obsessed but he fascinated me in an annoying way. It was almost like every time I saw him I disliked him even more, even though he has done absolutely nothing to me.
I hated the way my brain worked because I knew I was being completely unreasonable but it was just the way he carried himself like he was the top dog, like he owned this place. Feeling unsure if he kept coming here so that he could take advantage of Marco and his business.
Doubting that he even worries about spending money, especially one of the most expensive restaurants in Mayfair. But I just hoped that Marco could see past their friendship if he was in any way taking advantage of how kind and humble Marco is.
He started his own restaurant chain from scratch by himself without the money from his parents or anyone else. He used his own resources and started from the bottom, becoming extremely successful.
Marco is who I aspire to be, never giving up on your dreams and focusing on them until they become a reality. Showing that hard work can get you far and it can earn you a better life.
Weston sat in the same seat and table every visit and I had to wait at his table as he sat in my section of the floor. He never spoke to me like he did the first time I met him, instead he would just stare up at me as I took orders and placed plates down onto their table.
I forced myself not to look his way because his gaze made me feel extremely uncomfortable and I didn't want myself to get trapped into my own embarrassment.
Tonight was my last shift for the week, Valentina and I had our planned dinner date tomorrow night and I was over the moon to have a night off. I had purposely kept a little bit of money to the side so that I could comfortably afford a nice dinner instead of worrying.
When I come bounding in the front door, a little too loud for eleven at night. Valentina is standing by the kitchen, her thumb nail in her mouth as she stands and faces the kitchen counter.
Dropping my bag to my feet quickly. "Hey," I say to grab her attention. "What's the matter?"
Her eyes snap to mine and she breathes out shortly. Leaning forward to grab the letter that lays in front of her, the envelope ripped open and the paper shoved inside. She hands it over to me gently and I instantly furrow my eyebrows towards her.
"What's this?" I question curiously.
My eyes move from hers to the letter in my hands, pulling out the folder piece of paper and flicking it open with my thumb. As I scan my eyes over the words written in black, my blood runs cold in shock.
"They're increasing our rent?" I say in disbelief as my eyes glance back over the letter.
"They're saying that the rent we pay isn't covering the mortgage and they might have to sell the property after our contract is up if we don't,"
I run a hand through my hair, feeling the need to rip it out strand by strand. "Fuck Vee, what are we going to do?"
Valentina shrugs at me. "I don't know,"
"My pay from the restaurant and my student loan barely pays for the rent and bills as it is, I can't stop sending money home to my mum, I can't do that." I rush my words, panic setting into my veins.
"Hey," she steps forward and rests her hand onto my shoulder supportively. "It's okay, we can get through this."
"How?!" I shout loudly which startles Valentina. "We won't be able to find another flat that is half as decent at this place, regardless of how shit it actually is."
"We will get through this, okay?" Her dark eyes peak up to me as she continues to calm me. "Let's just focus on our exams as it is and if we have to move out and find another place to rent, we will. When we've both got proper jobs where we can afford it."
My shoulders feel heavy as I breathe. "I know you want this to all be sorted now but there is nothing we can do about it now, we just need to wait and ride it out. There is light at the end of the tunnel I promise Micah, we just need to stay positive."
Positive was one of the words I dreaded, I overthinked things way too much and ran every possible scenario through my head a million times. Keeping myself awake at night until I'm tossing and turning in agony.
But in reality I knew I had to keep it together for the sake of my sanity. So instead I force out an, "okay." Valentina watches me for a few moments trying to read my expression but I couldn't even describe what my face looked like because I was stripped of all emotion.
"I'll ring our landlord tomorrow and ask them to explain the situation in more detail. Maybe I can get around it with my persuasion."
I nod towards her after a few moments even though I knew it wouldn't work, no landlord will retract asking for money.
"Go get some sleep and let me sort this out, okay?" She says as she rubs my shoulder gently.
"I'll try," I mumble before taking myself to bed and shutting the door behind me. Expecting nothing but a sleepless night.