Carbon

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Chapter 37

The Friday night wavered on slowly as I continued my shift at Whacko Taco, peddling around the small joint, staring off into nothingness, distracted by the past. I mindlessly cleaned a pair of steak knives in the sink, wondering if maybe this was all a mistake. Maybe Ned hadn’t done that. Maybe it was me being paranoid and anal.

“Shit.”

I turned my finger over, blood dribbling from its tip. I placed the knives back into the boiling water and knelt down to the napkins beneath the sink. I wrapped several around my finger quickly to staunch the bleeding, but my blood ran loose and wept. Droplets quickly saturated the white napkin.

The bell on the door rang, and I shot to my feet. “Just a minute,” I called over my shoulder as I shuffled to the sink and washed my hands, careful not to rip the scabbing from my finger. I shoved on a pair of clear gloves and turned to the customers.

“Wasn’t she and Ned Mortis going out for a while?”

Panting, Ned and I stared at the ceiling nonchalantly. Our perspiration folded into one, and I couldn’t tell who was who and what was what. We were one, and I liked it. I loved the idea that I was his—no one could harm me anymore. I sleepily turned to see his beautiful profile glitter in the soft starlight. A smile spread across my lips, and I gingerly sat up. His eyes snapped open and then closed as he asked, “What are you doing?”

I placed my hands on both sides of his face, and I knotted my hands in his thick hair. I leaned forward and pressed my lips against his. I whispered into him, “I like you.”

Then his hand knotted in my hair, pulling me closer to him. He passionately kissed me in response, and I fell into his embrace again. He wrapped my leg around his waist and rested his hands on my lower back lightly.

Immediately, I erased my smile from my face and had a forlorn expression.

Two guys from my high school sauntered into the shop and eagerly looked at the menu, ignoring me. I began to prep a tortilla in the heater as I waited for them to pretend I existed, pretend they knew I actually heard. A guy with a muscular build and sandy hair hesitated and then said, “I’ll take a number seven.”

“Chips?”

His brown eyes fell on me, and he cracked a smirk. “How about a smile with my taco?”

I ignored him. “Would you like chips, sir?”

“I’ll take a number seven also,” his smaller, tow-headed buddy declared.

“Chips?”

“Yes, please,” he took out a billfold and began to estimate how much money the meal was going to take. He turned to his buddy and asked, “Do you have to be such a jerk? They, like, just broke up.” His eyes fell back on me and apologetically shrugged, “Sorry about that.”

I ignored his last remarks, glaring holes into his friend as he messed with my sombrero over the glass case concerning the meals. I finally batted his hand away before saying, “Two steak tacos coming up.” I pulled a tortilla off of the heater and threw it on my cutting board. I snatched a steak from the oven-like thermos below the bar that stretched about six feet down to the cash register. I quickly sliced up the steak and threw it on the tortilla and slid down to the next station. The brute pointed to lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions, bacon bits, pico de gallo, and then moved on to sour cream.

“Put some extra sour cream on that if you want a tip.”

I turned up in time to catch the bad end of a wink; you know, the end in which you realize you were being hitting on by a disgusting animal who squinted one eye almost to a close and then opened it and called it a “wink.” I narrowed my eyes and glanced at my tip jar… I didn’t have any. I turned back to the taco and added enough sour cream to saturate the bottom of the taco. I placed it in a festive red plate and placed it in front of the cash register.

I swept to the end of the bar and came to the gentleman of the two. He politely picked out cucumbers, lettuce, green peppers, vinegar, olive oil, and pickles. Every time I glanced up, the guy would give me a sweet smile and then gently direct me what to do next. At the end of his order, I rang up their total.

Slam! Twenty dollars were forced on the counter beside my tip jar, and I turned my eyes up to the immature boy. I really wished I would have just ripped off my glove and broke the scab on my finger to spice up his taco. He would have enjoyed the little extra iron anyway. “Keep the tip.”

I handed them their two plates silently and turned back to washing the dishes. My boss glanced out of her office quietly and motioned for me to come over to her. I dropped the dishes in the sink and wiped my hands on my apron.

“Go sweep the lobby, chica,” she assigned as she leaned back to finish checking the balances and checks before finally retiring to her small family in the suburbs.

“Yep, on it.” I returned to the sink and peeled the broom from the wall, the calcified soap stains rubbing off into the wood grain. I marched through the kitchen area and opened the little half-door to the lobby.

I leaned into the work to distract from the figments of my imagination that haunted me.

He wrapped his arms across my chest, pulling my back against him. I whined, “I’m tired.”

He buried his face into my hair and whispered, “I know, I know.” His lips brushed against the back of my ear as he confided, “I wouldn’t be anywhere else but here right now.”

I closed my eyes and buried my face into his pillow. His sweet vanilla scent masqueraded my perspiration, and I smiled into his crisp sheets. I clenched my eyes shut as he began to kiss my neck gently. “Stop,” I groaned playfully.

“Look at her. No wonder Mortis went out with her. Her ass is crazy.”

I stood up and pulled the broom to my chest, trying to ignore that comment from the bestial guest from before. I quickly swept a couple booths behind him to keep his eyes off of me, and then I noticed his friend.

“Dude, stop. You’re making her uncomfortable.”

“She’s being overly sensitive.”

My sombrero threatened to fall of the top of my head as I leaned over the cash register counter to grab the dustpan. I felt something brush against my butt, and I quickly shot to my feet. I quickly turned around in time to see the brute put his hand back into his lap. I threw the broom and dustpan to the floor angrily, disgusted with the male gender. I stalked into Sloan’s office and bluntly blurted, “I need you to stay in the lobby with me.”

“Devin, I’m almost done with the expenses. Can it wait a couple minutes?” She pulled her midnight black hair into a taut ponytail as she continued to calculate everything with the low buzz of a popular pop song playing in her office.

I shifted my eyes back to the lobby and then turned back to Sloan. “A couple minutes?”

“Ten, tops, okay?” she promised in her high, lilting voice that still managed to sound like she had smoked a few too many cigarettes in her teen years.

I slowly breached the presence of the two boys again, careful to not distract them from the conversation they were deeply involved in. I went behind the counter and began to prepare more meat to be grilled on the stovetop in the kitchen and then began washing vegetables.

“Yo, Sebold, can I get a refill?”

I glanced over my shoulder and turned back to my work. “Sir, you may get a refill at the soda machine to the right of the cash register.”

“Ooh, you got some sass, Sebold.”

I turned the faucet on as loud as I could, the spigot exploding forcefully with a thick stream of water. The lettuce began to peel off its stem with the intensity of the shower. I just couldn’t stand the harassment anymore. I was not mentally stable enough to be able to shake off the attention I was getting.

Then the mousey guy began to talk over the torrent. “Joe, you don’t want her anyway. I heard she gets around. That kid in science class said she gave him a blowjob at his party after a shot.”

“Ethan Carr is a liar. I heard she just had some penetration.”

I clenched my teeth together, sawing down my nerves raw as I ventured further into the kitchen, putting on more faucets to deafen the conversation.

“Either way, what about her sister, though? God, I would—” An echo resounding from him shoving his finger into his mouth and popping his cheek resounded throughout the restaurant and into my kitchen. It was the smaller of the ass-hats.

An anger boiled in my gut that could not be described in its immensity with solid speech. Indescribable, the intensity of the anger attempted to persuade me to devour their carcasses after destroying their intestines with the sharp steak knives residing in the sinks within hand’s reach. A compulsion to bare my teeth like a rabid animal and tear through their skin with my canines threatened to overwhelm me. A feral ferocity exploded within my chest.

I stomped from the back of the kitchen and threw open the half-door thunderously. I halted beside the booth they invaded and soiled so miserably with their presences. I slammed my hands on the table, shaking the sodas. I hissed, “I don’t care if you talk all day about me, how I screwed every guy in our class, how I screwed your moms last night, but don’t you ever, ever talk about my sister that way. Are we clear?”

Both started in their booth and stared at me incredulously.

I peeled away from their table and bravely took up my broom and dust pan, turning back to my original task. I heaved a sigh and tore through the dust particles like a vacuum cleaner with my new robust energy.

“God, what a bitch.”

“Esther I bet is so smooth and pure, you know? Leslie Griffin is too much of a pussy to ever try anything. I bet she’s so tight that you can’t fit a finger in her. Virgin material for sure. I would pay money to pop that bitch’s cherry,” admitted Joe heartily.

I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I remember my hands wrapped around the animal’s collar, yanking him off the seat as he dangled limply. If he stood up, he would have towered high above me. My claws dug into my hands through the fabric, tautening my grasp on this worthless piece of trash. My sombrero spun on the floor after I either tore it off or it fell off by itself. I bared my fangs fiercely and heaved breaths as I tried to calm myself down. His dusty eyes widened in great fear as I glared down my crooked nose.

“Devin!”

Sloan snatched the back of my apron and yanked me backwards aggressively. I shook the guy off of me and nonchalantly walked back to the kitchen, walking away from the explosion coolly as if I didn’t just try to mangle a man by his collar.

“Get out of my shop!” The two boys stared at my boss incredulously before she howled like a coyote, “Get the hell out of my shop before I call the cops!”

As soon as my foot went over the threshold to the kitchen, I immediately realized what I had done. I clenched my hands to my ears and knelt down, tears brimming over my eyelids like a child. I heaved a breath and then tried another but choked on too much oxygen. I quietly cried into my legs, disappointed in myself, disappointed in my lack of control. “Oh God, oh God,” I whimpered.

The bell of the doorway rang, and Sloan locked the deadbolt. She walked slowly back to the kitchen and glanced around the back. She gave a reluctant sigh and called, “Devin?”

“Down here,” I whistled.

She shuffled next to me and sat down on the cold tile beside me. A firm hand fell on my upper back as her olive eyes stared at me behind long lashes. “Chica, what happened?”

“I just couldn’t take it today. Any other day, and I could have ignored it. I could have just let it happen and not care. But all of this stuff keeps coming up, and I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do this anymore,” I sobbed.

Sloan’s gaze shifted back to the door and then returned to me. “Did they touch you?”

I lied, “No.” I couldn’t afford to be involved with anything extracurricular besides school and my own emotions. I was brutally atrocious when it came to building up the fortress to fight off the inner demons.

I couldn’t let the police know I was going insane.

“Devin, you know I can’t have this at my business.”

I tore away from my knees, tears still in my eyes, blurring my vision. “What?” I inquired innocently, my heart beginning to bend away from the bandages I had just placed on it.

All in all, I got fired. I sobbed and begged for my job back, pleading Sloan that I would take up triple shifts and even babysit her kids for free. I needed my money for my insurance, and I needed the currency for my pills. Sloan finally just told me she “had to let me go.” My explosive emotional state cost her two customers and perhaps their family members as customers. A part of me wonders if maybe I had been truthful, I would have been reprimanded fiercely but remained an employee. Perhaps if I was not so timid to out someone on their nascent abusive behavior, I would have been able to supply my nasty habits for a little longer.

I walked home with dry eyes and a sore throat. Well, I don’t know if I could call that empty house a home as much as it was just shelter. I strolled in the back door with the shattered window, the glass still littering the floor. I collected mail from the mailbox, just a few bills and a bank statement—my bank statement. I shoved my mail in my bra and the bills in the trash, hoping my parents didn’t manage to pay them and get some debts lined up. After throwing out the trash, I came back to my mail.

I nestled down in the middle of the living room and pulled the blanket Ned left around me as the cool May night was upon me. I ripped open the envelope and the advertisements about credit and loans fell into my lap. I ignored it and glanced at my bank statement. “No…” I flipped over the envelope to make sure it was addressed to me, and I flipped it back and forth again for good measure. “No, no, no…”

$0.00.

Withdrawal: $2,453.12. Withdrawn two days prior to Ned breaking my heart.

I slammed the bank statement on the floor and found a new reason to break down into tears. Why would my mother do this to me? I didn’t know and couldn’t understand. She knew I had been saving that money for emergencies—like my pills. I threw my fist into the floor, cracking the bones in my knuckles, and I resignedly lay back, staring at the blank ceiling.

How was I supposed to survive the rest of my life like this? A person can’t possibly survive these setbacks with abruptly being fired from a job I only received because Heath could charm anyone, my mother abandoning me, my mother stealing from me, my father being released from prison, and Esther pretending this all would be okay.

I clenched my eyes shut and shoved the heel of my hands into my eye sockets. Fireworks exploded behind my lids, and I heaved another sigh. “What am I going to do?”

“I think I love you.”

And him. For some stupid reason beyond my capacity to understand, I was fully encompassed by the possibility that Ned could somehow make this better, but I knew he had no purpose in my life. He and I were only unfortunate acquaintances with the similarity of Heath being our primary companion. We were never meant to struggle to know one another and lead ourselves to this. If Heath hadn’t have died, he and I would never had the displeasure of meeting.

“I love you.”

I sat up quickly, pulling my hands away from my face. Sparkles and flames rattled in my head as the blood drained from my head. I bit my lip as the memories came back.

“Get the hell out.”

“Devin, it’s okay if you don’t feel the same way. Just don’t do this.”

“I said, ‘Get out.’ Please, Ned, get out.”

“Devin, it’s okay. It’s okay. What’s wrong?”

I languidly blinked, computing the look of complete desperation he had given me that night, and then I simply let him back in because I trusted him. Because I began to believe him.

“Devin, what’s going on?!”

“Get the fuck out!”

I couldn’t sleep that night, haunted and taunted by the memories I once treasured but now wished to dispose of as awful offal.


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