The ambiance of the restaurant seems to change when she walks in. Her smile lights up the place. Her dark brown hair seems to grow lighter, as it gets closer to the roots. She must have dyed her hair or something. She was blindfolded a moment ago, but when she pulls it off, I see her dark hazel eyes. They are so full of life. I am supposed to be serving, not staring, but I cannot help it. Her aura is . . . captivating. I try to go about my job, refilling glasses with wine or water. I decide to take the risk. I’m gonna look at her.
When my eyes meet the girl’s, I feel as though she is staring into my soul. I did not mean to be staring. The girl’s smile is captivating. I cannot look away, but I force myself to look away. I do not want her date to notice me looking at his girl. That will be a disaster. I could get fired and I need this job. I may not be the best at keeping a job, but at least I can try.
I quickly make myself scarce, heading over to a table at the back of the restaurant to refill an older couple’s water glasses. I sneak one last look at the girl. She is looking for me.
“Yes,” I say, heading to another table. “What can I help you with?”
“We would like the check please,” the CEO-mafia-like guy tells me, snapping his fingers.
I nod and go to the front of the restaurant. I manage to keep my presence hidden from the pretty girl with the lip ring. For some reason, she reminds me of my older sister, Katie. Tears start to fill my eyes as I bring the check to Mr. CEO.
My sister died a year ago. Car crash. It was awful. My mom cried for months. My dad has not been the same, since he decided to close himself off from everyone else. My brother, Nathan, was away at college when it happened. He was the closest to Katie. When he heard the news, he stopped coming home for visits.
“You okay, kid?” Mr. CEO asks, handing me the check back with two hundred bills.
“I’m fine,” I reply, clearing my throat. “Please come again.”
I start to clear the dishes as he leaves with his friend. Just when I turn to retreat to the kitchen, I trip on my own foot, sending the glass dishes flying through the air. My face hits the floor, not giving me enough time to brace myself for the fall. I do not look up right away, but I hear a few gasps when I raise my head. I feel something drip from my nose. I touch the wetness and look at my finger. Blood. I grunt as I rise to my feet, holding my fingers to my nose as I hurry the bathroom. I grab a handful of paper towels and cover my face, letting my head fall back.
This I not the first time I have embarrassed myself like this. I have always been a klutz. It’s like I have a contract with the floor. At least, that’s what my Spanish grandmother would say whenever she came to visit from Puerto Rico.
“Ese muchacho tiene contracto con el piso!” she would say, every time I stumbled to the floor.
My grandmother, bless her heart, may not have liked me best out of her grandchildren, but I loved listening to her stories. My mother was born in Puerto Rico, but she came to the States to study. Then she met my dad and never wanted to go back. It broke my grandparents’ hearts, but they were happy that she found a life for herself.
“You okay, man?”
I shake my head as I turn to look at my pal, Josh, over the bloodied paper towels. I have chronic nosebleeds, among other things, and not just when I hit my face with the floor.
“Did you bring your meds?” Josh asks, handing me a fresh stack of paper towels.
“I took them already,” I reply, exchanging the clean towels for the soiled ones. “If I am to take more, I would need to . . . go home for a new bottle . . . Which is not the best idea right now.”
The wet towel snags my lip ring. Fantastic.
“Things that bad?”
I glance at my friend and groan. That is all it takes and Josh to drop the subject. He knows that things are not the best at home. Heck! I have been away from home for weeks now. I know how to make my meds last, if I need them to last longer than the usual two weeks. But I ran out yesterday. Which might explain the mishap.
“You should really get some help,” Josh goes on, clearing his throat as though he expects me to explode at the comment.
I just might explode on him, considering I do not have any more depression or anxiety meds. However, if I do that here, at work, my boss might fire me. Someone could call the police and I will be brought back to the psych ward in the hospital. I do not want that to happen a fifth time this month. I think the meds are what make everything worse. Then again, my parents never wanted to try to help me. All they have ever done for me was sending me to the ward repeatedly.
All the times they tell me that I cannot be helped. All the times they push me away and lift Nathan up. My sister’s death took effect on me too. They are not the only ones who miss her. Katie was my best friend and the only one who knew how to get me out of my depressed state of mind. Katie was the only one trying to help me. Without her here, I feel lost.
Josh does not know the other half of my story, and I do not know if he would be as accepting if he did.
“I saw you staring at that girl,” Josh says as we exit the men’s room. “Dude, I think her date proposed to her . . .”
“She looked like my sister,” I say in a low voice. “That’s all.”
Josh nods; at least I do not need to elaborate on the topic. I have only known Josh for the few weeks that I have been working here. From what I gather, Josh seems like a good guy. He’s always checking on me when things go wrong. He figured out what kind of meds I am taking during the first few hours I started working. Something does feel a bit, off when he is around, but because he is always checking on me, I cannot help swallowing the bitter taste in my mouth.
I look up to see the manager coming towards me. He does not look too happy, but he does not look angry either. This could be the moment I lose my job here.
“Yes sir?” I say, preparing for the worst.
“Take the rest of the day off,” he says, nodding. “I know you did not mean to cause a commotion, and I am going to let it slide today. But I am letting you off with a warning. Another outbreak like this and you will have a lot more than just a day off.”
I nod, “Yes sir,” I say, turning towards the double doors that lead to the kitchen.
I quickly grab my backpack, clocking out before anyone can ask me questions. I can feel mu blood already beginning to boil as I walk out into the pouring rain. Terrific; I will have to sit in wet clothes while I ride the train back to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That will not only make matters worse, but I will most likely catch a cold. I catch everything, it seems.
I do not want to go to Lancaster, but how else am I going to replenish my meds? My folks will have a party, and not in my honor. I strongly believe they wish I had never been born. With Nathan being just a few years older than me, and Katie was three years older, they had two perfect children. They didn’t need me. They didn’t want me.
When the train pulls into the station, my stomach is churning as my anxiety begins to take toll. My hands are shaking as I clutch the straps of my backpack. I look around, hoping no one recognizes me. Whom am I kidding? Everyone knows everyone in this town. I am sure someone will call my parents before I even arrive at my front door.
I run through what is left of the rain, the rain that has been following me since New York. I pump my arms back and forth, willing myself faster. My parents’ house is not far from here. How convenient. To think I have always lived so close to the one thing that has been helping me escape. I cannot stand being at home. The feeling of being unwelcome is my only companion when I am there. If I am lucky, this could be my last visit. I will be twenty-one in a few weeks. Which means I can get my meds without a parent with me.
I slide to a sudden halt and whip my head around to see who called me. I see a girl of about nineteen, huddled beneath an umbrella, staring at me.
“You’re back,” she says, her voice sounds breathless, as if she has been running with me. “I was told you were sent . . . you know, back.”
I run my fingers through my black locks, blinking the raindrops out of my eyes. I wipe my eyes and look back at the girl, but she is gone. I look around, hoping to find her hiding from me behind the cars that are parked in the street. Nothing.
“Where did you go?” I ask the air, trying to catch my breath.
When she does not reappear, I turn and start running again. Another reason why I do not like to return home. I think this town is haunted or something. I am always seeing people who not actually there. Or maybe it is just the effects of the medicine. Some of the meds I take for my depression have side effects of hallucinations. I do not understand it. My parents do not make the effort to help me properly; they let the shrinks give me whatever meds they wish.
I slow down to a stop when I reach my street. It is too gloomy, more so with the rain. My house is at the end of the street. It is a dead-end street. There is no way of escape, unless you walk by all the neighbors. The neighbors look out for the other houses. Most of the husbands are licensed gunmen.
I hesitate in front of the house, staring at the front door. I do not see my parents’ cars in the driveway, but that does not mean they are not parked in the garage. I look at my trembling hands. They tell me that if I do not go into the house, the trembling will only get worse. I sigh and march silently to the door, and knock.
The door opens. My mother is standing there with a surprised look on her face, arms crossed in front of her chest. She says nothing, but steps aside to let me enter. She takes one look at my wet clothes and points in the direction of the hallway. I walk in that direction, knowing that if I do anything but that, Mom will have my hide.
The house has not changed. The walls are still that ugly shade of vomit green, the color my mother insisted they pick. The family photos hang on the wall. My brother’s high school graduation photos, his diploma. Katie’s picture is everywhere. There is only one picture of me. The family photo we took the Christmas before Katie died. That was the last time I posed for a picture.
“You are dripping water all over my carpets,” my mother says sternly.
I do not realize I have paused in the hallway. I inhale sharply and hurry to my old bedroom, closing the door behind me. Like the rest of the house, everything is exactly as I left it. My baseball trophies are all lined up on the shelf, collecting dust. My medals are hanging off them with cobwebs mingled in the straps. My bed sheets look like they have not been cleaned once in my absence. I shake my head and hurry to dry myself up.
I let my backpack drop to the floor. I begin to undress, throwing my wet clothes and shoes in a heap in the corner. I go into my bathroom and start the hot water for a shower. If I am lucky, I can clean myself up before breaking the news to my parents about my lack of meds. I take one look in the mirror. My black hair is drenched, hanging in my eyes. I could pass as a lead guitarist in a heavy-metal band, but that has never been me. I shake my head and step into the shower, letting the hot water wash away the worry and distress of returning home.
Of course, this relief is not going to last.