21: Virginity Bet 3.
-“Here’s your order. Sir, ma’am “. I put the two plates on the table of this old couple while greeting them courteously.
-“Finally!“. The greybeard expressed joyfully. The woman next to him chuckled, rolling her eyes.
-“He’s such a food lover!“. I laughed back at the beloved duo and came back to work cleaning the counters and serving the rest of the customers.
It was twenty past one o’clock when I put back my apron on its old hanger and joined the restaurant’s outlet. By the time I was going to leave, only three colleagues sharing their usual evening coffee outlast.
-“Thanks, Betty. I’ll repay you for your kindness”. Lorenzo, wearing its unclean cover, beamed at me with his hands on my dainty shoulders.
-“You’re welcome. Now I have to go”. I said, peeping at my watch.
-“Wait...“. When I was going to press the lever of the door’s exit, Lorenzo stared at me anxiously and concerned.
-“Do you have to go to his house? Why don’t you do it here? Look, I’ll bring you red tea and pancakes as you like and whatever you want but only for you, nothing is free for him! Just don’t go to his house, or maybe my house would be better. Or what if I tell mom! I’m sure she’ll understand since you’re such a brilliant girl!“. He glanced at me with the same worry in his dark eyes.
-“Lorenzo, it’s fine! I’ll do my work and leave. Nothing less, nothing more”. I stated, ready to leave.
-“But Betty, what if he does something to you?“. I Blinked.
-“Like what?“. The entrance cracked slowly, letting a bald man with blue eyes, wearing a dark suit and a well-made tie, come in.
He stared at us for a moment with his severe eyes of the boss ready to fire his employers if they lack punctuality or tend to be professionally insufficient. Mr. Passenger is a perfectionist who combined in his worthy establishment modernity and rusticity, run by an award-winning owner.
And even if my experience here is not the longest, almost six months, I could tell that it was a mild one.
Not only is “Merry Go-’Round” nearby from what I could call home, but Mr.Passenger has also succeeded in conferring to me a calm rhythm. Allowing someone who prefers to stay in her thoughts rather than interact with the outside world time to integrate.
When I don’t have answers to the queries or drop my positive tone, which tends to occur a lot, or when I have to bear the brunt of some ill-mannered consumers’ frustration, he always got the solution to subdue them.
-“It’s not your fault, Betty. Even the best companies get calls from angry customers. The key is first to calm them down so you can find out how you can help them. Hear. Empathize. Apologize. Resolve and Diagnose”. He’s such a gentleman! I first thought when he said that to me.
He’s not only well-mannered but also good at making choices and decisions based on his broad experiences.
And like they used to say, the occasions when a man trips over a gold nugget while strolling with his head in a cloud of wishful thinking are few and far between. So, I had to consider my fallibility by analyzing the chief characteristics of my boss’ mind to learn and improve. Once I deduced more or less the fundamental laws of social functions, I put into practice the idea of ambition, and it worked.
Now, I let my customers vent out their madness, uninterrupted. I say empathy phrases to simulate how I understand their problem, learned that you could never make it right no matter how many times you apologize, and make sure that the same issue won’t happen twice.
My mind became quicker and obedient, like a machine ready to serve anything at any time to anyone, not taking things personally like before, never do that again.
Not only it’s appreciated for its quality service, but the restaurant also has as much cheerful ambiance as design: The wood heater is ideal for warming up on winter eventides. Meanwhile, the terrace with views of the pretty blossomed courtyard will be perfect for enjoying the summer months, not forgetting that it serves the most selected American cuisine with particular emphasis on traditional England fare in the area.
-“Lorenzo, still taking advantage of Betty’s break to skip your work?“. He said, cutting the mood. Lorenzo looked at me helplessly, begging me with his eyes to interfere and save his short-term career again.
-“It’s okay, Mr.Passenger. I had nothing to do this morning “. I quietly responded. Mr. Passenger seemed to be skeptical, raising an eyebrow and wincing at me, but he didn’t seem to bother too long when his gaze met the lofty lady with a skirt sitting crossed-legs on the table where the three men were still sharing their drink. They seemed to relish her presence as they were partaking jokes, ambiguous smiles and pouts, while she’s tilting her head to one side to reveal a part of her neck. It appeared that the boys had made a favorable impression on Rachel, but their beguiling synergy didn’t have the same impact on Mr. Passenger, clearly not.
As Rachel was getting scolded for her engagement in some playful banter and protecting herself like usual by applying her traditional catchphrase: “I’m not provocative, I’m just very friendly!“; I turned to leave but, Lorenzo gripped my arm.
-“Betty, listen! I have to tell you something...Ouch...Ouch..OUCH!“. Before he achieved his interpellation, Mr. Passenger grasped the waiter’s ear and dragged him to the counter to get back to cleaning and making beverages. He tried to say something from above, pressing his red aching ear, but I couldn’t figure out his innuendo.
-“Betty!“. He yelled.
-“Tell me later, I’m already late!“. I replied, slamming the door behind me.
On the bus, many seats were vacant, probably because it’s a day for loafing and watching, pausing, and rewinding sitcoms from the comfort of the couch, waiting for the cloudburst to make modern living suitable but empty at the same time.
The day started with scattered light clouds but, now it turned dark with low clouds, and the bottom of them seemed to fray like torn apart cotton.
Google Maps indicated an entrance of a colonial-inspired resident protected by large walls, and as I was going to knock politely on the door, someone called my name from the top.
-“Betty, you’re finally here! I was waiting for you the whole day! Wait, I’m coming!“. The head that shouted my name with excitement from the window disappeared quickly, permitting the short moment of loneliness to make me a little bit nervous, and I wonder the meaning of Lorenzo’s insinuations now.
-“Hey Loli! How you doing?!“. He gave me a hug and two flying kisses on the cheeks, and without giving me time to react, he dragged me by the hand inside his house.
I followed him wordlessly, facing his tense back under his black t-shirt and wondering what makes people like him so talkative and aroused. While, there is me who feel more comfortable focusing on my inner thoughts and ideas, who believe that loneliness is part of life’s journey.
His mom was preparing the turkey, and his dad was cutting vegetables and herbs to stuff inside the bird, probably for dinner.
They did not seem surprised by my coming, which made sense: Jacob Watterson is like the essence of conviction and satisfaction you conquer when you get an A in every exam. And then there’s me, a large field representing not only the fear and tension of failure but also the evening consequences of this failure. In other words, he is the famous superman who loves to bring home a different girl every night to feel her up. And among the digital age tamed by the younger, I’m the snob phony intellectual more opted to be seen as a faintly comic nerd: brainiac.
-“This is Betty!“. He introduced me to his parents, not letting go of my hand.
-“How are you doing, Betty?“. Jacob’s dad asked from the kitchen countertop, still holding the knife. He was tall, though slightly bowed, lean with sharp square features, his silvering hair catching the last of the sunlight, and spoke with a heavy accent.
-“Good.” I answered, feeling the heat on my taken hand.
-“How is it at school? I heard you’re the number one in every subject!“. A small woman with soft black hair wiped her hands after washing them and turned with a smile to look at us.
-“She might be Einstein’s secret love child, mom!“. The parents frowned, looking weirdly at their son as if he did not know that Einstein and his children were all dead at this time.
-“Yes, I do my best.” I said, hating the tingling sensation in my hand, which didn’t seem to bother the holder. She smiled at me, then raised an eyebrow.
-“I’m sure you do. Jac’ let go of her hand! You’re making the girl uncomfortable!“. Jacob let go of my hand finally, and I kind of felt released.
-“Don’t mind him, Betty. He’s trying too hard to be a womanizer, but he often forgets that he still sleeps holding a giant doll with a continuously lit pilot light”. His mom whispered to me.
-“Mom, I’m right here!” Jacob screamed, rolling his eyes.
-“Oh, sorry, my little womanizer! Did mommy hurt your feelings?!“. She squeezed his cheeks and, he stopped her by the arms.
-“Mom!“. He whispered.
-“What?! Usually, you like that!“.
-“Not in front of others!“. Jacob muttered and, his sympathetic mom blinked while his dad was laughing.
-“Oh, and Betty, did I tell you? Jac’ likes to put formula powder in his old baby bottle and drink only that in the morning!“.
-“Yeah, and his favorites are Similac Pro-Advance with No artificial growth hormones. Look how many we have!“. His dad opened the wall cabinets, revealing countless infant formulas occupying the whole cupboards.
-“What the hell you’re talking about, you two?! Shut the hell up!“. Jacob screamed with embarrassment.
-“Oh, and don’t get me started on his weird obsession with Mama Bear 99% Water Baby Wipes! He can’t even do his daily grooming without them. Apparently, it’s because they are hypoallergenic and have no smell...“.
-“Betty, let’s go!“. Jacob dragged me quickly by the arm away from his hilarious parents.
-“It was nice meeting you, Betty! I’m Olivia, by the way”. Olivia smiled from the kitchen.
-“And this is Josh here.” Josh continued the presentation. “Jac’ The door will stay open, got it, boy?!“. Jacob rolled his eyes.
-“They are nice.” I said, following him upstairs to his room.
-“Nice? They are fucking horrific.” I half-smiled.
-“If you heard what they said to my best friend. That asshole was having a good time spreading my intimacy to every person I know, they already saw me as an idiot, and with that bastard, I can assure you I didn’t rise in the public esteem. If you saw what he got me for my birthday! A crazy thing, though”. He laughed, remembering something, and I half-smiled again.
-“Fortunately, you’re not like him. You seem to be a good confidante”. He stared at me with his blue gaze, smiling warmly.
-“You’re lucky.” I just answered with a low tone, with some saddening in my voice. He blinked, probably curious about my sudden lowing spirit.
-“So, this is my room”. He stopped walking in front of a chamber, scratching his neck.
His room was light, open, spacious, and stuffed with comic and Asian female posters on the grey walls. The carpet was quite old and had some stains, but most of the comfy double bed covered them. Some football gear was outside the wardrobe on the floor. The open balcony let the fresh air wafted in.
-“Make yourself comfortable.” He declared while pushing the door slowly.
-“I SAID LEAVE THE GODDAMN DOOR OPEN!“. His dad screamed from below and, he swore under his breath, leaving the goddamn door open.
I took a look at the photos of nature, pets, weddings, girls, and other everyday articles sprawled on the desk. The photographs were so great that their authenticity seemed doubtful.
-“I’m a self-taught photographer and videographer.” He declared, taking a seat next to me.
-“You’re pretty good.” I noticed.
-“I can take one of you.”
-“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I said, staring at the images, but he had already left his seat searching for his camera.
-“Here, Loli! Try to smile a bit.” He said, focusing his camera.
-“I don’t feel like smiling, and Betty is my name, not Loli.” He moved the camera away from his face and blinked at me.
-“I know, Loli is a nickname, you don’t like it?“. I looked away.
-“No.” He put his camera on the desk, then turned around his chair, placing his legs on either side of it and using the back as an armrest.
-“What’s your story, Loli?“. He asked, looking right through my glasses.
-“Betty and I think we should start working.” I said, taking a pen and bringing out my book.
-“I don’t feel like working, Loli.” He shrugged, smiling, and I softly sighed.
-“As you wish.” I knew from the start that he wasn’t planning to help cause a lot of his friends used to ask me to do their homework, and I often endured being nagged since I’m weak and have no friends. My books and thoughts are my only company, and loneliness, as I always believed, is part of my life’s journey, maybe even too much. If only I didn’t crave human contact, I could use my desire for solitude as a pretext and assume that this is who I am, this is what I want. But that’s not true. I don’t want to feel empty and isolated. I hate crying late at night because I know I will have to hide in the toilets so no one can see that I don’t have someone to share my meal with. And what I despise the most is Monday’s physical exercise cause I know that the only person who will receive the ball when I throw it is the void of the hall and my unwanted heart.
One day, Mr. Passenger advised me to be more open, go out with friends and live my youth as I should, better than working for someone else’s sake in my holidays. I got a little mad cause I hate when someone tells me to be friendly as if I don’t struggle enough with that. I answered that there was nothing wrong with having no friends, that even he, himself, hated crowds. I wish I didn’t reply; cause his response got me awake all night, suffocating with my insecurities.
“A lonely child who struggles to make friends at school has different needs than a lonely older adult whose spouse has latterly died.” Damn, that hurts. It hurts so bad. That was me, a lonely child who struggles to make friends. When I finally had to admit it, I felt broken, more broken than I ever was. Great sadness, distress, and knots of hate in my soul had me questioning myself a lot. Those words were so unfair to my eyes, yet, it felt like an invisible barrier that I couldn’t breakthrough.
-“What’s more useful when it’s long and hard?“. I rolled my eyes.
-“Maybe if you get some education?!“. I stared at him, annoyed.
-“That’s it! how did you guess?!“. He asked, surprised.
-“It wasn’t a guess”. I replied harshly, trying to re-concentrate on our homework again.
-“Ah, you’re so mean! You broke my tiny heart!“. He put his hand on his chest, pretending to be touched.
He followed his narration of awkward jokes while I was too drown in the events of the biggest and deadliest war in history.
-“I finished.” I finally declared after an hour of complete devotion to the task.
-“Wow! That was fast!“. I was going to propose to him reading what I did, but I restrained myself, knowing that he probably wouldn’t get a clue. I put the presentation in my book and arranged it with my pens in my bag, ready to retire.
-“You’re leaving, already?“. He asked, surprised by the swift gathering of my affairs. When I got up from my seat, my hand accidentally slipped on the desk, dropping a photograph on the ground.
-“Who is this?“. I asked, staring at the smiling boy with black hair and blue eyes on the photograph.
-“My elder brother”. He answered, looking at me from his seat with his arms on the top rail.
-“He looks so much like you”. I noticed, still staring at the unknown man.
-“Yeah, only the face, but his personality was completely different from mine. He was too serious and bibliophile. You would’ve liked each other, I bet”.
-“He was ?“. I asked, wondering why he was talking about his brother in the past.
-“Yeah, he was killed by a dopehead three years ago. The man got the wrong target, apparently”. He was no longer looking at me, he seemed mad with his head down and his fists clenched.
-“My mom still suffers, she doesn’t show it, but I hear her crying late at night. This bitch ruined my family and, he’s still runnin’ free. I won’t rest until I get my revenge”. His temper sparked and, raw anger rolled through him as his eyes were glossy as if he was trying to fight back the tears.
-“So, who’s going to read the presentation, me or you?“. I asked, putting back the picture in its old place. He didn’t reply, drowning in his feelings and old memories, probably.
-“Okay, guess I’ll do it myself”. I muttered, moving to the exit.
-“Betty, you’re already leaving ?“. Olivia asked in the hall. I nodded.
-“Stay with us for dinner, I bet your homework made you hungry”. She said, following me to the way out.
-“Sorry, I can’t”. I answered slowly, she told me he won’t be home today, but I don’t wanna take risks and come back late.
-“Hum”. She stared at me, not convinced.
-“Alright, at least let Jac’ escort you to your house. You came by foot, right? I didn’t see any car parked”.
-“Oh no, that’s not necessary”. I said, with a shaken voice.
-“It’s okay, that’s the least he can do for you after the work you did alone”. I opened my mouth a bit, surprised that she figured that I did the study individually.
-“It’s my son. I know he’s not a big worker, especially when it comes to studying”. She answered my wonderment, putting her hands on my shoulder.
-“Jac’ come take Betty to her house!“. She screamed from downstairs.
-“It’s not a problem, I can go alone, really”. I pressed the door’s handle but, to my considerable disquiet, the door was padlocked as I was hearing quick footsteps on the stairs.
-“Comin’!“. In a few seconds, he joined us, wearing a black jacket.
I swallowed my spit roughly, fearing the evening consequences of this failure cause if he’s home, I’m dead.
Slow gusts were passing through the window, bringing the seasonal flavors of the salty air and the viscous sweat of the earth.
-“You like comics?“. Jacob asked, seeing the Justice League’s background on my phone when I unlocked it to check the time.
-“Yeah”. I simply answered, holding my mobile’s case too tight.
-“Who’s your favorite?“. He might be a fan too, according to the posters on his room’s walls.
-“Robin, the second Robin, Jason Todd if you prefer”. He nodded.
-“Or Red Hood, even if he’s an anti-hero”. He smiled at me and I agreed.
-“What’s yours?“. I asked, after a moment of silence while checking the time, again.
-“Nightwing”. He smiled.
-“I see why”. I half-smiled.
-“Why?“. He looked at me, amused and arching an eyebrow.
-“Well, he has a gregarious reputation, is adaptable, exuberant lover of life and people and, of course, had countless conquests. You and him, have the same energy”. He laughed.
-“True, at least we’re both fans of Batman’s sidekicks”. I nodded.
-“That’s a point”. He started exploring the DC Universe and its many characters with superpowers, superheroes, and villains broadly referred to as meta-humans, who fight each other in an endless struggle. I enjoyed every little moment of it and, for the first time, I felt like I had a friend I could share my interests with.
-“Is this the giant doll you sleep with?“. I asked, looking at the big barbie doll, dressed in a school uniform, wriggling in every sense in the backseat.
-“Yeah, Cassidy”. He answered, smirking at me after taking a quick look at the backseat.
-“She must be a great company, this Cassidy since you take her even in your car”. He started laughing at my words like a villain from Gotham City, putting his arm out of the window and driving with one hand.
-“You can call her Cass. She might have a thing for you too”. He chuckled, staring at the doll that fell on my shoulder from the shaking moves of the car.
-“Cassidy...So, this is what I am to him”. I whispered, looking down. Suddenly, my chest tightened, my pounding heart was beating with high deaf blows, my throat gasped as if the air could no longer penetrate. Frightful suffocating anguish seized my soul at the same time as the invincible cold invaded me to the marrow.
I was thrown into confusion and blurred and, I was literally in a state of panic. Oh, no! This anxiety attack again! Why? Why now? Why is life abandoning me in an unfavorable moment like this? In front of someone who would turn this miserable situation into a geek comedy with his ruthless fellows?!
-“What?! Are you okay?“. The car was still traveling, and it made my head more heavy and hurtful that I wanted to vomit.
-“Yeah...D...Drop me...He...Here”. I said with so much difficulty, pressing my stomach from the churning inside of it.
-“Here?! We’re in the middle of the road!“. He was frowning, probably surprised by my paleness, dry mouth, trembling body, and shortness of breath. I felt like I was a prisoner in my own body with this hot flushes and choking sensation. I wanted to go out of this suffocating place. I wished to run away even if I was unable to decide where.
-“Right or Left?“. He asked rashly. I indicated the way toughly, with my tingling finger and, when the car slowed down, I opened the door and rushed to the outside.
I was going fast, without pausing, discerning, or thinking about anything until I was in front of a public bench. I squatted on the seat and, I stood there, for a long time, inert in mind and body, devoid of all will and all thought.
Suddenly, I began to tremble crazily, like a sail blowing in the wind. My arms, hands, and feet vibrated with sharp bursts, and consciousness came back to me abruptly, clear and poignant.
-“Have a drink, Loli”. Jacob handed me a bottle of water that he probably bought when I was in my anxiety state. I took it and, he sat on the bench next to me.
-“Feeling better?“. He asked, putting a hand on my back.
-“Yeah, kind of”. I got up from the ground and sat on the bench with the bottle between my hands.
-“Sorry, I never meant to put you through such a horrible experience”. I said, exhausted.
-“It’s okay, I’ve seen worst. So what was that?“.
-“The school doctor told me it was a panic attack. All those negative thoughts in my head running and ruminating until they become a loss of control, a sensation that you’re dying”.
-“It happens a lot?“. He asked, with concern in his eyes.
-“Once in a month, sometimes two, if I’m feeling very bad and, sometimes it’s just a feeling of discomfort in my chest if I’m lucky”. I replied, holding the bottle tightly.
-“Wanna talk about it?“.
-“No, I don’t want it to happen again, I’m already feeling sick just thinking about it. Could you...Can this thing stay between us, it’s already hard to assume it with myself. I don’t want others to know”. I begged, avoiding his stare.
-“Sure”. He shrugged then, took out a cigarette and a lighter from his jacket pocket, and I smelled something sweet coming from it.
-“Shiiiiit!“. His hands, the cigarette, and igniter were all sticky and gummy, smelling like strawberry mixed with tobacco.
-“You brought my bag? I think I have some paper tissues in it”. I asked, seeing my bag put next to him, on the seat.
-“Yeah, but I can’t touch it”. He answered, showing me his messy hands.
-“Okay”. I stretched my arm behind his back to bring my bag and, I got out a pack of paper that I wet with the water then handed it to him.
-“It’s almost like your 99% Water wipes so, you won’t feel a big difference!“. I joked.
-“You’re starting up too?“. He arched an eyebrow with a smirk and, I shook my head.
-“Of course”. I removed the cigarette and the lighter from his hands and cleaned up the melting candy with my wet tissue.
-“Light my cigarette, Betty”. He said with a husky voice. His flashing blue eyes like deep blue sea, square jaw and intriguing pale face gave him a captivating charm. Too focused on refining the mess he made, he wasn’t looking at me so, I put the cigarette between his heavy lower lips and sparked it up with the igniter.
-“You know, Loli”. He said after a moment of silence, taking his cigarette out of his mouth.
-“You give too much importance to things that are not worth it. Life is both rich and short, but above all too precious to waste it on negative thoughts, people and situations. Let it flow, really. If anything is bothering you, allow time to heal all wounds. I don’t know what you believe in, God, Karma, or Destiny but, you must, in all these matters, have faith and let it go”. I joined my hands, looking in front of me. A neighbor was passing by, walking her Chihuahua on the opposite sidewalk. How I wish I was an adoptive dog, I might be color blind but, who is not blind? Millions of people are blind by choice. They just care about Their small person and little dramas and, many just follow the crowd. Pretending not to see the misfortune of others, as long as they are elusive and safe, they won’t feel concerned or bothered. The world can only notice the fake lights.
These four-legged souls are the best. Too bad they don’t live long enough too. I don’t wanna live long enough, anyway.
-“That is probably easier said than done”. I answered the umpteenth person who gave me the oft-repeated recommendation on how to live my life.
-“But if a task is difficult, it means that we should simply work harder on it”. He smiled sarcastically, probably referring to my hard-working at school.
-“Then try to stop smoking”.
-“That’s not the same”.
-“Of course it is! It’s as hard as change”.
-“Okay, then I’ll stop smoking”. He replied enthusiastically and, I sighed.
-“I have to go home”. I declared, getting up from the bench.
-“Wait”. He stood up in turn, the cigarette still in one hand and my bag in the other. Once at my level, he helped me wear my backpack.
-“You’re right. I can’t quit smoking that easily but, I can do it for a day”. I blinked, not understanding where he was going with this.
-“Every Saturday, like this day, I’m not allowed to smoke and, you, you’ll have to face your fears”. I frowned.
-“My...fears?“. He stuck the cigarette between his lips then, took my glasses out of his chest pocket, unfolded them, and put them carefully over my eyes. I didn’t even notice that I had taken them out and dropped them in his car, so much I just wanted to escape from my attacks of suffocation.
-“Yeah, things that scars you, like going to haunted areas or dark woods. Don’t worry, Loli! All you have to do is trust me and let the wave carry you”. He winked at me, smiling and, my mind desperately tried to grasp the insignificant ideas he was implying.
-“I think you need to stop watching those horror shows, Watterson! Have a pleasant evening and goodbye”. I handed him the lighter and turned to leave with hurried steps.
-“See you next Saturday, Loli! And don’t forget what I told you! Let your mind have some rest!“. He screamed from afar. I rolled my eyes, sighing from this worst annoying planner I have ever met.
I hope I will never have to see him again!
While walking to the house, I brought out my phone from my bag. At least, he did one thing right by gathering my things.
-“No missed calls so, he’s not home”. I whispered to myself, relieved.
When I was making the key turn in the lock, the door opened suddenly, letting a woman with long straight black hair appear in front of me.