April 17, 2015
Murder is always the answer. How fast would the cops catch me? I could stick a fork in her eye and then I could sprint to my car, and move to Bali.
Because I am done. I have just about had it with years of avoiding, telling myself that it was okay when really each time Eliza landed a blow, she was slowly chipping away my self-esteem. With years of ignoring and attempting to avoid getting gutted straight in the heart. My guard was done for five seconds and it doesn't help that I have a massive headache. And now, my feelings aren't necessarily hurt, but there is a minor throbbing, following that headache I've been complaining about since the start of my shift to Peter.
I am tired and that twisting gut feeling when you are reminded that you have a two thousand page paper –which was procrastinated– due at eight tomorrow morning, and you know it is going to be a long night is settled in my stomach.
In a circular motion, I run my forefingers over my temples as I look up at the fluorescent ceiling lights of the diner.
I am done. So, so done.
I give a silent plea to any god to cut me some slack. I haven't done anything wrong, I promise. I am innocent.
My name is shouted from across the diner and I lock eyes with the cause of my hysterical thoughts. Eliza's silky black hair is flowing just past her thin shoulders. Her whole shape gives off a delicately fragile vibe– like there is a sticker on her forehead that reads: handle with care, please– while her eyes ... Her eyes are dark and filled with hate which hasn't seemed to stop since when she walked into my house, her mom hanging off of my father.
I am close, so close to tackling her like Stevens –the star quarterback of our high school. I could do it, I weigh a good thirty pounds over her.
As I walk towards her, I imagine pummeling her out of the booth, and her pretty, perfectly sculptured face would slide across the gross grimy floor, face pulled into a wince as I, I would be fucking beaming at the sight of her being put into her place.
Both figuratively and literally.
But ... I'd probably get fired.
I glance at the leather cardholder placed at the edge of the table. My heart drops a fraction, but not as much as when she commented on my weight five minutes ago. Grabbing it, and ignoring the thoughts of slamming her head into the table, I feel her gaze on my face as if waiting for me to speak. Her boyfriend, Hunter is completely oblivious as he is currently busy staring at his phone.
I finger the edge of the black card, taking note of Kensley engraved into it. My father offered me that same card, but I refused, so it went to my step-sister. But there is not a doubt in my mind that she wouldn't have gotten her own if I had. Sliding it into my gray apron, I try not to scramble behind the counter and showcase that I am hurt because I shouldn't be.
My father is purely my guardian. I can't even remember the last time he even hugged me and I definitely don't recall being congratulated after being accepted into UC Berkeley. So there should be no reason why I am hurt. But I am.
Walking back to the counter, a small, but a genuine smile is directed towards the couple making their way out of the diner. They turn up every Thursday at exactly eight and they never fail to make me smile even on the worst of days.
Two more hours, Avery, you've got this, I think, glancing up at the clock above the front entrance doors. I look around the diner, taking in the familiar area. Everything is black. Black booth, floors, stools, counters, with the almost metallic grey outlining everything. No, classic checkered floor, but there is that damn jukebox.
Two other customers are dining in beside Eliza, and all the other girls have clocked out, so I am in charge of the last few stragglers.
Sitting at the front counter on one of the stools, I take a sip of the water bottle, hoping it will help with the headache, while still trying to ignore the fact I have that paper due at eight tomorrow morning. And as the thought enters my mind, I feel my insides pinch and goosebumps erupt, so I gulp down the rest of the water and squish the water bottle up, wanting to be rid of the stress of that freaking paper. My stomach eases, but the cracking sound echoing, intensifies the headache and I immediately regret it.
Biting my cheek, I swipe Eliza's card and take note of the zero tip.
I was nine when Eliza's mom, Lauren married my father. Even if he hated it –we were a packaged deal, she had to have us both. Although my older brother was home for the first two years, and then he left for college and I was left alone at eleven.
I walk back over to Eliza's table murmuring to hurry and get the hell out, but it won't be for a while because there is still a huge chunk of French fries still left in the basket. She rolls her eyes before turning back to Hunter, snatching the card. With the empty plastic bottle still in hand, I make my way over to the trash can situated towards the end of the bar. I take a couple of steps back, arm raised, and throw.
The bell above the door rings. I stifle the groan wanting to rise out of me as I watch the bottle narrowly miss my makeshift basketball hoop.
Coughing into my arm, I take the walk of shame and pick it up, a scowl burning up my face, and place it in the bin.
I want to run into the kitchen and hide behind Leslie, and not serve these customers –who I have yet to look at.
I spin on my heels, with this obnoxious fucking twisted-piece-of-shit water bottle clutched in my hand, wishing I could throttle it at the fucking floor like a five-year-old, because whoever is behind me just witnessed how I failed to make a shot from six feet away. Feeling the stares of the customers at the door and the glare of my step-sister, I huff a breath, and I am completely caught off guard when I am met with four of the tallest men I have ever seen.
Every single one of them has an eyebrow raised and all four of them are trying to fight off laughter as they are coughing unnecessarily loud.
Clearing my throat, I tear my eyes away from them, too embarrassed at the front row seat they had. I murmur, "Follow me." And I gather four menus and lead them to a booth shaped into a U, taking into consideration their long-ass legs. One of them snickers and the heat triples in my cheeks. I resist the urge to cool them with my hands.
"We shouldn't be here." A black guy, with dreads, pulled into a bun, frowns. I may be wrong, but I swear there is fear in those brown eyes. "Coach will kill us if he finds out where we went." The other males nod in agreement but make no move to get up and leave. In fact, they seem to cozy up into the leather booth.
The tallest of them smiles at me as I place the long laminated menus in front of each of the guys. He mutters a quick thanks before he turns to Dreads. "Yeah, he will, but there's no going back now, and plus, I have been craving a cheeseburger for months." He shrugs, not seeming to give a fuck about their coach. He sits at one end of the booth, his long legs stretched before him, and god his feet are huge. They seem to have come from a tough workout because they are all dressed in basketball shorts and sweats stains mar their muscle tees.
"Quinten, he won't know, it's not like he has a fucking tracker installed on our cars." The shortest of them is a guy with a pink rubber-band holding his short hair straight up , with tan skin answers, and as he finishes the four of them erupt into chuckles, eyebrows raised, like they wouldn't put it past their coach to actually have trackers in their cars...
Clearing my throat, I ignore how hot their arms are, and ask, "What would you like to drink?"
I stand a good five feet away from their booth because I have been groped a couple of times when there is a group of males.
Without sparing eachother a glance they all answer, "Water."
Tapping my foot, I realize only Dreads, Giraffe, and Shorts answered.
Growing impatient because I am still embarrassed from two minutes ago, I look up to the black guy who didn't answer. He sits directly in the middle and when I meet his eyes, he's already staring.
"And you?" I raise an eyebrow, watching as he glances back down at the menu-which happens to be flipped to the appetizers and not the option of beverages as they are listed on the other side of the book.
"What? No!" Their voices stop me before I can recite and hide behind the counter.
The tallest groans, "Do you know how much sugar is in that? Have you not seen those pictures on Instagram where there are sodas lined up with cubes of sugar in front of it? You're going to get diabetes!–"
"I'm gonna get diabetes?"
"–And you dragged us down here. We are only here for burgers." He sighs.
The guy who wants Coke looks at me completely ignoring his teammate, and cocks his head to the side, appearing to be criticizing my whole being. "Do you play basketball?" He chuckles, glancing back at the trash can.
This dude can't be serious.
I shake my head.
"So three waters and a coke? I'll be back." I turn around and scurry towards safety and take my time in filling up the drinks.
I grab another water bottle from behind the counter and take a gulp, and after screwing the cap back on, I cool my cheeks with the coldness of my hands.
I am debating ditching this last group and running to my car. Peter will understand because my head hurts after all. I could have an extra two hours on my paper.
This is going to be a long night, I frown and rub my forehead. Letting out a breath, I tuck a strand of my burnt brown hair that escaped my lopsided bun.
After filling the cups with too much ice and having to dump them in the sink, I set the glasses on a tray and walk back over, placing the glasses in front of the men along with the straws.
And because I am curious, I notice that they are all wearing basketball shoes, so I ask, "Do you guys play basketball? What high school?"
Dreads scoffs and Giraffe laughs.
Shorts answers, "Have you ever heard of Atomics?"
Atomics. I feel like I have but I can't place it. The only thing I can think of is the Periodic Table.
I am not in the right mind for this.
Confused, I say, "The number of protons in the...uh... the nucleus?" I question, feeling unsure of myself now because of their intimidating stares. "Like hydrogen and nitrogen? No, I don't know, why?"
I look straight ahead, at the man who is slowly taking a sip of his coke as he tries to fight back a toothy grin. He has a long faded scar from his right eyebrow, stretching up about three inches. His ears are pierced and I swear his earrings are made of diamonds with flecks of ruby. And he has hair that is black and cut close to the scalp. I quickly look away as a laugh escapes him.
"We play for the team, Atomics." Giraffe shoots a kind smile, seeming to understand my confusion. And there is almost a relieved tint in his hazel eyes, and he settles even further into the seats.
"Oh! I do not know a high school that has a team called that. I assume you play outside of school. A hobby?" I say, nodding my head, finally understanding what they are trying to say.
The male with the scar, who I have found is actually handsome, pushes his soda to the side before leaning his arms on the table and responds, "Love," He chuckles, "We play in the NBA."
It takes a minute– me standing there and looking at him, waiting for it to register, and when it does my mouth opens and I can't seem to tell it to shut the hell up!
Like the heat of sunbeams, my blood catches up to my face and I am at a loss for words, but somehow I manage just fine. "Oh. Thats cool. Really cool. I'm sorry." I blush furiously embarrassed. "I am so sorry" I repeat, looking down at my feet because I can't meet their gaze, how I kind of just insulted them, calling it a fucking hobby! "I knew I thought it sounded familiar and not just elements. I'm not really into...sports..." I mumble, like the Atomics' home center isn't fifteen minutes away
He answers again, "It's fine, it was cute, especially the cheeks." He points at his own.
I look at everyone else and notice they are trying hard not to laugh and embarrass me further, all that erupts in the awkward silence is their grunts.
Jesus Christ, I need to evacuate.
Awkwardly clearing my throat, I pull out my writing pad, "So what can I get you guys?"
The man sitting directly in front of me answers again, "Four burgers, one with grapes, and another with pickles."
"Alright, well, I'll be back with your food. My... uh... Name is Avery, so just call if you need anything." I give the males an awkward smile before making a beeline for the doors to the kitchen. Slapping the pad on the counter, I go to the corner which is between the two storage cabinets, which happens to be underneath an air vent. Crossing my hands over my chest, I lean back against the wall, going through every stupid thing I said.
After five minutes of pulling on my hair and telling myself that in six years I won't remember this– neither will they.
I take a deep breath and let it out before walking out and posting the order up, so Leslie can see it and head over to the bar stools, facing away from them, and blocking my phone with my body. I start typing on my phone.
First, I text in all caps to the group chat with Nora and Cleo about my humiliating actions.
Nora's most likely asleep right about now as it is late in Johnson and Wales Providence. She's three years older than Cleo and me.
Cleo and I are sticking with California.
Clee's going to Sacramento, which is only about an hour away from Berkeley, which is perfect.
It is the end of April, which means in a little over a month, I'll be graduating, which means I can then go off and leave LA behind. However, I'm going to have to stay until the end of the summer because I won't be able to afford those two months just sitting around, and I'll continue working here.
I huddle around my phone and search The Atomics into the search bar and immediately links pop up, along with each of their faces in jerseys. A multitude of white teeth with every one of them smiling back at me. On the side box, their upcoming games are listed, along with their scores, percentages, and chances of them winning, and– from what I can tell– how likely they are making it to playoffs.
Which is high.
Clicking on the tab that says all players, I'm brought into a zoomed-in chart of all their faces. The black male with the earrings seizes my attention, and I can't help but notice the huge smile that takes over his face. But it's his brown eyes. They are smiling and shining and you can just tell that this dude is living his best life and seems to be so happy. He found his home.
I can not wait to find mine because Berkeley is leading me there. In just a couple of years, I'll be living my best life and I'll be away from this tormenting city.
Twenty years old,–almost twenty-one in July– the NBA star. They didn't see him coming since this man seems to be carrying the team with the number of points he makes per game with this being only his first year. He is their best shooting guard, making thirty-eight points in their last game. He was drafted sophomore year at UCLA.
Shaking my leg on the little bar under my foot, I click on the tallest of them. River Wilson. Over seven feet tall. He was traded and this is his first year with the Atomics.
Quinten McQuoid is Dreads and Tate Lane, Shorts.
Lincoln Brady seems to be their coach and the one Quinten seems to be scared shitless of.
I turn off my phone and place it back into my pocket, and rub my temples, completely and utterly embarrassed.
Now I want to go home. I want to write the paper.
"Avery!" Leslie snaps at me, a frown appearing on her face. "Burgers are done."
I slide off of the stool and trudge the few steps to the open wall, where the dishes on the shelves between the counter and the kitchen are. With the burgers placed on the tray and a blush permanently staining my cheeks, I walk back over to the athletes.
River Wilson immediately perks up when he sees me and calls out, "I am the one with the grapes!"
"So– Uh, who likes pickles?" I breathe.
Quinten McQuoid points at Liam as he takes a long sip from this glass. I slide the plates across the table towards the brown-eyed male. All the guys make disgusted gagging noises as Liam smiles –unashamed– and gladly slides the plate the rest of the way in front of him.
If I wasn't still shaken up from being uneducated on NBA basketball teams I would stick up for him and tell them how I actually love pickles. But I don't, instead, I give them a polite smile and say, "Call me if you need anything, I'm guessing you don't want dessert because your coach will "kill" you, so once you are all done I'll bring the check over."
Liam raises his hand. My eyes widen slightly at the number of rings covering his fingers. They are silver and black, and he has a ring on every finger. "I would like ice cream."
"We literally just agreed we wou–"
"Shut up." Liam looks pointedly at Quinten McQuoid.
River Wilson chokes on a laugh from behind his burger.
It's like I can sense her because I wince before I hear her squeals. "For the love of God," I whisper.
"Oh. My. God." Eliza's voice reaches my ears as she stalks over here, her black skirt swaying against her thighs. I am not going to lie just because I don't particularly like her, but she looks gorgeous. "Hi, I am Eliza and I am a huge, huge fan."
Never in my years of knowing her have I ever seen her watch basketball, but I may be wrong because I am not willingly spending time with my father and his family. My father loves basketball. He is in front of the tv whenever he is not on call and is yelling at us to shut up when it is on. I'm pretty sure he likes their team.
"I have wanted to go see one of your games. My dad and I are always watching you guys play on tv!" My disbelief must show on my face because she sees it and that fire is back in her eyes. "What, Avery?" Her brow is perched, a hand is placed on her hip, and one side of her lip is curled up into a snarl.
Hunter has struck up a conversation with River, who looks like he would rather be stuffing his face with the burger, but instead, he slowly pops grapes into his mouth while stealing glances at his burger.
"I have never seen you watch basketball."
"And you have?" Eliza says.
"Wait, I am sorry." She holds up a hand. "How would you know that I don't watch basketball? You are in your room all day or at that poor orphan's house. Dad is always saying how he wants a happy family but we can't have one because you're always so bitchy and gloomy all the fucking time." And then she mutters "No wonder he avoids you and isn't opposed to you always being out of the house."
I plaster a smile on my face, " I don't want to be near you guys, especially my father, that's why I am at Aayla's house. I hate it there."
I have tried for years to ingrain into Eliza's head how her name is Cleo. Not the orphan, or the sister of the amputee, or the ghost, or that introverted girl. Aayla Cleo Lynn is my best friend; I will stick up for her, always. Because if she was here right now she wouldn't, she would just ignore Eliza.
Oh, when Nora and Cleo hear about this whole situation!
I turn back towards the teammates, ignoring Eliza, and looking directly at Liam. "So, ice cream?"
I don't acknowledge the fact that their eyes are slightly widened and Eliza is glaring a hole into the side of my head, and as she turns, she says, "Dad's going to be pissed, but this is all the more reason why we are counting down the days until you leave."
Probably shouldn't have said anything as I have inadvertently humiliated the guys and they just witnessed my daddy problems.
Biting my lip, I repeat myself, "Ice cream?"
"What kind do you recommend?"
"Well, we have the basic flavors strawberry, vanilla, chocolate ..."
"I'll take vanilla."
"Basic." River coughs into his arm.
This time I respond, a small smile tugging.
"It's not basic. It's the best one. Chocolate is so strong– well in ice cream. Anyways, I'll bring that out to you when you're finished."
I rub at my eyes, digging through the pockets of my apron, searching for the couple of coins I saved. I let out a yawn as the night continues and I am getting sleepier as the minutes pass.
I need music.
I hear Peter, the owner, yell out from clearing a table, "Avs has the box!"
I slide two coins into the jukebox situated behind a booth. I search through each song and finally find one that should keep me going for the remainder of my shift.
Under the Bridge, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Clicking on the button, the beautiful song starts playing, as I softly start mumbling the lyrics under my breath. This song matches as we are in the middle of Los Angeles.
I look back at the table that is still occupied besides my step-sister's. All four males are still eating and the soft rumbles of their laughter hitting me in waves. I catch eyes with Liam Sanders. He has this cute-ass grin on his face as he slowly takes a sip of Coke. Averting my eyes, I continue walking and slam right into Peter.
Peter has a smug look on his face, "Look at you. All shy and flustered." He bumps his shoulder into mine, following me as I lean against the counter.
He is like an uncle. I have worked here since I was fifteen and he welcomed me with open arms and did not fire me when I accidentally slipped my fingers into a girl's chili cheese fries, and chaos erupted.
"You're ruining my flow. The song is being wasted as it does not have my full attention." I blankly stare at him.
He ignores me, clicking his tongue, "I see you eyeing him—"
"I was not!"
"–It's okay, I see you." He grips my shoulder.
My lips quirk and I whisper, "They are NBA players. I had no idea. I assumed they were high schoolers and I asked if it was their hobby. Their hobby! And I basically said straight to their faces that I hated basketball."
"Sucks for you."
My brows pull together at his casualness, like I am totally not mortified or how I was going to pass out. I am about to make a snarky remark when one of them calls me over, their deep voice filling up the brightly lit diner.
My eyes widen, pleading, "Pete..."
He merely shakes his head, his dark brown hair swaying.
"Fine then. Make a vanilla ice cream cone!" I call out and shove him towards the kitchen as he starts to walk away, laughing, completely unfazed.
Hesitantly I walk over, telling myself that I have got this. A little over an hour left and I can pretend this whole night did not happen.
I stop in front of their table, wary.
The moonlight and the lights hovering over their tables show me their burgers are gone.
I notice it was Tate who called me over because he is watching my every movement.
I realize his eyes are the lightest blue, which is a contrast to his slightly dark skin. They are inviting as he says, "Sit down."
Narrowing my eyes, I effectively glance around the diner. "I can't. I am working..." A nervous uncomfortable laugh erupts from me.
He also makes the move of looking around. "You are?" Tate blankly stares at me. " Cause we are the only ones here, thank god, by the way. Well... besides that girl who wouldn't stop talking, I can hear her from here." He gestures with his head to my step-sister who talks animatedly to Hunter.
Okay. So he may be right, but I am still on my shift and that gives me an excuse to not sit. I can clean the tables or fucking scrub the toilet over sitting in this black booth.
But, what comes out instead of that excuse is quite the opposite; I laugh.
"Glad you agree," I comment.
River gives up his seat at the edge because he scoots over, makes room for me, and offers one of the most welcoming smiles. He gestures for me to sit.
And maybe this won't be so bad.
Maybe not as bad as scrubbing the toilets?
Quinten runs his finger over the condensation covering his water glass. Drawing swirls in it, he asks, "Who is she? Your sister?"
"And you two don't seem to be close?" Tate comments.
"No, she– I mean, I tried. I tried years ago, but eventually, I realized Eliza had zero intentions of being my sister, but just the daughter of someone who married my father for his money and talent." I frown, grabbing onto one of the straw wrappers, twisting it.
Glancing up, I notice all four pairs of eyes are trained on my hands. I shove the wrapper away and instead stare at the table.
"How old are you?" Liam has his head propped on his palm.
"How long have you been working here?" River questions.
I answer, even though these random questions are making me confused and uncomfortable. I kind of have no choice because these are famous athletes. "Three years. I am saving up to rent a dorm or an apartment –anything really– when I get to Berkeley in a couple of months." I shrug and then rubbing my eyes I squint at the guys. "Hey, what did you guys need?"
"Well... we noticed that you have impeccable choices in music, so we thought why not offer you a spot out or VIP table." Tate winks. "Also," He raises a finger, "Liam won't take his eyes off you. I think he may have a crush on you, Avery. And since he is the baby of the team, it is our responsibility as wingmen."
My eyebrows raise. Heat swarming my cheeks at the implication and the fact these athletes do not seem to give a shit that I insulted their profession, and at the fact that a high-paying NBA player actually has been looking at me this whole time.
Tate continues, he seems to have sensed the shift at the table. "And by the way, since we walked in here I think the four of us have gotten lost in those eyes of yours."
Blushing even harder but not surprised at the compliment, I grin a little bit. "Thank you."
Anytime anyone compliments my eyes, it honestly always makes my day because they are one of the things I adore about myself.
Looking up at the man who still had his head propped on his hand, and is still watching me intently with those deep dark eyes, I notice River grab a napkin from the dispenser. He leans down and whispers to me, "I got you." He reaches into my gray apron and pulls out a black pen and slides further along the cushioned seats, towards Liam his long legs stretching and gently knocking mine. Tate and Quinten are lightly smirking and Liam is glaring at River, a small light barely-there smile graces his lips as he glances back at me.
Liam looks down at the brown napkin with the pen propped on top and he shakes his head as if this is unbelievable, and then picks up the pen and scrawls on it, before sliding it over to me. River then snatches it before I can even consider if I want it. He folds it and positions it inside of my apron, nudging me, giving me a smug smirk. "There you go. Text or call within twenty-four hours, please."
The apron in which the napkin is being held is giving arise of a prickling thrill on my abdomen. But I tell myself that this can be nothing like River mentioned. I have twenty-four hours, and once I don't respond Liam will get the hint and I can continue on. It's not like I am going to actually remember because of that napkin and it will just slip my mind –because of my paper– and I'll wake and tell myself he probably regrets giving a random girl his number. A liability. He would probably block me if I did contact him.
"Hey, you okay." Tate pokes my arm.
"Yep. I'm great. I'm gonna get back to wor–"
"Avery, what are you doing sitting on your ass? Trying to add onto those love handles, huh?" Eliza snips, hands gripping the edge of the table. Immediately like an involuntary action my whole being tenses, like the prey getting ready to bolt from the predator.
Jesus Christ. Someone please just spare me.
She continues, "Boy's, don't waste your time on Avery. Not worth it."
To my right, Liam clears his throat, scratches his jaw, and the skin above his brow creases, "What makes you think you can say something like that?"
Eliza smirks, "Because"– she gestures to me, making my heart drop– "look at her."
Liam considers me, " I have –trust me– for the past hour and she is gorgeous."