"Have a nice evening!" I smiled cheerily, waving at the elderly couple who had been the last customers of the evening at the restaurant where I work.
As soon as they were out of sight, however, I closed the door heavily, slumping against it and rubbing the heel of my hand along the knot that had been forming in my right shoulder since the beginning of my shift early in the afternoon. I locked the doorknob and turned off the outside light, as well as the cheery neon 'We're Open!' sign. Blowing a wisp of my dirty blonde hair out of my face, I ambled through the restaurant, pushing in chairs here and there, nodding at the busboy clearing the last few tables. He smiled at me while dumping a stack of plates into the tub in front of him. I passed in front of the bar and, glancing at my disheveled reflection in the mirror against the back wall, grimaced at my tousled hair and the dark circles of mascara around my eyes. As I walked through the kitchen where the two chefs were wiping counters, putting away ingredients, and washing dishes, I pulled my hair out of its ponytail, shaking my head. I pressed my fingers to my temple, striving to relieve the dull ache resting behind my eyes.
I pushed through the door of the back office and found my grandmother sitting at the large mahogany desk, going over the books. She and my grandfather work meticulously to keep this place in shape and working perfectly. After my mom, their youngest child, went to college, my grandmother quit her job as a secretary and my grandfather resigned from his position at a local real estate agency. His last business contract was to sell the building for the restaurant to himself. It had always been their dream, to have their own restaurant, and for the past twenty-five years, they've been running a successful and wildly popular restaurant here in Vernon, New Jersey, my hometown.
In all of my seventeen years, it's always been one of my favorite places to be. I remember when I was in elementary school that as the school day would end, instead of taking a bus or walking home like the other kids, I would walk the two blocks into the commercial district and straight into the restaurant, where I would plop myself down on a barstool and share a chocolate shake with Grandpa while we talked about my day. A lot of my most precious memories are here, from birthday parties to my first date, family reunions to the experience of getting my first job.
Unfortunately, having this job wasn't exactly what I'd expected it to be when I was fifteen and just a rookie. At that time, waitressing had seemed fun, almost glamorous. It soon sunk in that it was a lot of work, and not fun work at that, and often, on the worst, most crowded days, it almost seemed like more work than it was worth. But I had a good paycheck that had allowed me to buy my own car, without any help, and I had saved up enough money that I felt confident that I would be able to support myself through college, with only minimal aid from my parents and scholarships. Which technically, I guess, makes the job worth it. In addition, I get to spend time with my grandparents, and besides, having a job is at least one good thing that I've done in my parents' eyes.
Thinking this, I smiled at my grandmother, easing the door shut behind me. She glanced up at me, then over at the clock on the wall, looking surprised. "Oh my, is it ten already?"
"Yup." I sighed heavily, collapsing into the chair across from her, closing my eyes and taking a deep breath.
My grandma lowered her glasses and looked at me carefully, folding her hands under her chin. "Bad day, honey?"
"Yeah, sort of." I combed my fingers through my hair, pulling it into a somewhat cleaner ponytail.
"Well, Claire'll be back tomorrow, so we'll have all five waitresses and you won't have to work extra tables. Besides, it was only so bad today because Ruth and Ellie left earlier than usual. Tomorrow it won't just be you and Mel."
"Thank goodness." I said, glancing at the door to the kitchen, where I heard a sudden burst of laughter. The same lock of hair from earlier once again dropped into my vision, and I once again attempted to blow it away.
"Kristen, darling, would you mind if I went home now?" She looked at me apologetically as she dropped her reading glasses into their case and stood up, flexing her fingers. "Can you finish locking up after everybody for me?"
"Sure." I said, standing up and grabbing the key ring from where she'd already put it on the desk.
She picked up her coat and eased it on, picking up her various belongings from the desk and dropping them into her large purse. "I just want to get back and check on your grandpa. He's been feeling even worse this morning than he was yesterday, and I've got to get back there and make sure he's been drinking enough liquids today. Lord knows he probably hasn't, and he'll just keep complaining to me all night long about how terrible he feels." She smiled at me, as if we were sharing a private joke, and I watched as the sides of her eyes crinkled, showing all the laughter and smiles that had filled her long life. "You know how men are. So irresponsible. Where would they be without us women leading their lives?"
"I don't know, Grandma. Nowhere good." I smiled, pushing open the door and following her towards the back exit, which lead to the employee parking lot.
She laughed, a full belly laugh, smiling lovingly at me. "Good night, Kristen."
"Good night, Grandma." I gave her a quick hug and watched her scurry to her car through the rain as the heavy door fell shut. I turned around and sighed. The busboy was gone from the room, probably in the kitchen loading dishes into the dishwasher, and only Mel was left, wiping down tables with a rag. I walked past the kitchen, leaning through the serving window to grab a wet rag. I hiked up the five steps to the bar and walked behind it, rubbing the rag viciously over the thick wooden slab, focusing on the sticky smudges, not letting up until it was spotless.
When I was finished with that, I began rearranging the bottles of liquor on the mirrored shelves, humming to myself, floating off into my own world.
"Boo!" The shout came from behind me, almost causing me to drop the bottle of vodka in my hand. I whipped around and recognized the two figures sitting on two barstools in front of me. The sudden movement caused a few more pieces of hair to fall into my face, along with that one persistent strand.
"Jesus!" I breathed, placing my hand on my chest, feeling my pounding heart. "Emily! You scared the shit out of me!" I exclaimed.
"Sorry. It was so worth it, though." She grinned, tucking her bobbed brown hair behind her ears and dropping her purse on the bar.
"It really was. You should've seen your face." The boy next to her said as he started laughing again. I reached out and swatted his arm, frowning.
"Ben!" My warning proved fruitless, however, and in fact only caused him to laugh even more, hard enough to make his shaggy haircut start to shake and his eyes water. "Oh shut up." I scowled, crossing my arms over my chest, still holding the bottle of vodka.
"Man, if anyone needs a drink tonight, it's you." Emily smirked, nodding at the bottle in my hand.
"No. Trust me, I do not want to drink anything tonight. It's been a bad day and I'll drink too much and end up weepy and whiny. I just need to relax a bit." I turned around and placed the bottle in its place on the shelf, turning to look around the restaurant, just now realizing it was empty with the exception of me and my two friends. "Hey, where is everyone?"
"Only Mel was here when we came. She let us in on her way out."
"Oh. Okay." I took off my apron and walked into the back room, picking up my coat and purse. When I emerged, Emily and Ben were standing near the front door, laughing at something one of them had said. I walked through the room, flipping off light switches as I passed them. When I reached the front door, the only light left was the dim red glow of the Exit sign above our heads. I pulled out the keys and ushered my friends out the door, locking the deadbolt and manual locks behind me. "You guys want to go somewhere?" I asked, pulling on my coat against the rain and the chill in the wind.
Emily and I shared a smile, and then glanced at Ben, who also knew what we were thinking. Being as close as the three of us were, we all instinctively knew what the other was thinking, and the same idea had popped into all of our heads. "Sure." Emily grinned, bright eyes flashing even in the dark.
I smirked at her enthusiasm and pulled out my car keys, tipping my head in the direction of my car. "Meet you guys there?"
"Okay. See ya." Ben grinned, pulling out his keys as he and Emily ran to their separate cars.
I hunched over against the rain, tucking my purse beneath my arm, and strode toward where my car was parked, close to the back of the building. I fished for my key and pulled it out, jabbing it into the lock and opening the door quickly, shaking off rain as I started the engine. Flipping on the radio, I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the street.
I drove along the familiar roads, through downtown, into the residential areas. After another ten minutes or so, houses became more and more sparse, with rolling green lawns dotted with the fallen leaves of mid-autumn. As I drove, the rain slowed and eventually stopped, but the sky remained cloudy and dark. I finally slowed and turned down a familiar driveway, with the gates already open and Emily's and Ben's cars parked haphazardly at the end of the driveway, near the garage of the large, extravagant house. I pulled in behind them, parking my car and hopping out into the fresh, cool air that comes after a rainstorm.
Emily and Ben were sitting on the hood of Ben's car, Emily sipping from a bottle of soda while Ben flipped his keys in his hand. I climbed up next to them, ignoring the fact that the rain on the hood slowly seeped through my pants to cool my skin. Sighing heavily, I trailed my hand through my hair.
"What's up with you today?" Emily asked, studying me intently.
"Bad day." I said quickly, closing my eyes and pinching my fingers on the bridge of my nose. "Bad customers, long shift, not enough tip money, you know, just the usual."
"Is that all? Because you're acting like Ben does after he's gone to visit his mom." At this, Ben sighed heavily, and Emily suddenly turned to face him. "That reminds me, didn't you go see her today?"
"Yeah, I had to. It was bad. Like usual. But let's talk about Kristen first." Ben turned to me, looking concerned.
"Okay, yeah." I conceded, leaning my elbows on my knees. "Grandma told me today that tomorrow, we're catering some kind of an engagement party dinner, and she needs me to help out. But she hadn't told me about it before today. And besides, I'm already going to be working at the restaurant in the afternoon, so that plus catering in the evening is basically my entire day." I breathed, glancing back and forth between Emily and Ben.
Emily gave me a sympathetic smile. "Oh. That sucks."
"Pretty much. But whatever, I'll live. Anyways, Ben, what happened with your mom today?"
"She was just the bitch that she always is." Ben's voice had a sharpness to it that always appeared when he spoke of his mother. Ben's parents were divorced, and thankfully, considering the way they got along. Ben's mother had always been irresponsible when Ben was younger, even when she didn't have a job. Ben's dad had always worked hard, so that his mom didn't have to work, but she couldn't even handle the responsibilities of raising Ben. Sometimes, when we were in elementary school, Ben would come home to an empty house, simply because his mother had disappeared to go shopping and forgotten what time Ben got out of school. This kind of irresponsibility had been what eventually led Ben's dad to divorce her, and Ben lived with his dad, but he still had court orders to visit his mother a few times a month. Once he got older and started to really resent his mother and her never being there for him, Ben developed more and more dislike for her, making these visits hell for both him and her. Each and every time, he's in a bad mood for a while afterwards, and he always has to have a chance to rant about the horrible things his mother said to him. "She always pretends like she knows all about me, but she doesn't. I haven't lived with her in seven years, and even when she was still with Dad, she didn't know anything about me. She was never there. God, she makes me so mad!" Ben's hands were clenched in fists, and Emily reached over and rested her hand on his forearm. "And she lost another job. She was working at some salon as a secretary, and she missed so many days of work that they fired her. She'd only been there for two months."
"Wow." Emily grimaced, glancing at me.
"Well, at least she doesn't live with you and your dad anymore." I tried to smile, hoping to make Ben see something good.
"Yeah, I guess so." He didn't look convinced, but he sat up straight and tried to smile, quickly going back to his usual tough self. "What about you, Em? Anything new?"
Emily snorted. "Nah. You know, my dad and I had another fight today."
I glanced up at the sky as I thought I felt a raindrop hit my hand. "About what?"
Emily shrugged, waving her hand in a careless manner. "College, what else?" She rolled her eyes. "Today he decided that it would be best for me to go to some Ivy League school. Can you imagine that? Me? At a place like Harvard? Yeah, right." Emily scoffed and glanced up as the rain started up again. "Do you want to go into the barn?"
"Yeah." I smiled, hopping off of the car and heading towards the barn, which is, in fact, empty. Emily's parents own this estate, but in fact they only use it a few times a year, coming here for vacations. Emily, Ben and I, however, love to come out here to get away from everything and just hang out. We walked into the barn as the rain got heavier, and Ben hopped up to sit on one of the stable doors. Emily and I collapsed next to each other on a pile of ratty old blankets on the ground.
Ben looked down at us, crossing his arms over his chest. "So. Now that we're all in such good moods about everything, what do you guys want to do?"
Emily, with her constant sweet tooth, giggled. "Ice cream?"
"Sure." I grinned and stood up, helping to pull Emily to her feet as Ben jumped down from where he was sitting. We all dashed through the rain and up the front steps onto the porch, while Ben and I waited for Emily to retrieve the spare key from its hiding spot underneath the porch swing. She unlocked the door and we tramped through the downstairs to the kitchen, where we found one tub of vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, chocolate jimmies, and maraschino cherries. It's sundae time. Will this solve our problems? No. Will it make them seem smaller? Yes.
I turned the steering wheel in my truck, parking haphazardly next to the other two cars in the middle of the large field. I turned off the car and opened the door, dropping my keys into my pocket as I stepped down. I walked around to the back and lowered the tailgate, smoothly swinging a leg up to climb into the back of the truck. Looking into the dark, I could see the bright orange glow of two lit cigarettes and the faces above them. The two people smoking them were each sitting on their own cars, alternating between lazily exhaling smoke and taking long swigs from the beer cans sitting next to them on the hoods of their cars. Pulling out my own pack of cigarettes and lighting up, I reached up to catch the can that was tossed to me.
These are my two best friends, and we are at the Lot.
Alan, Pete, and I have known each other since middle school. We've always gotten along, and we've honestly become almost iconic in our high school. Alan is the star running back of our football team, dating the captain of the cheerleading squad, and definitely one of the 'gods' at school. He's already been recruited by the University of Florida and accepted on complete scholarship to attend after this year. Pete plays basketball and is going to go to Ohio State on scholarship next year, and he's got a reputation of being a 'heartbreaker.' Me, I'm Danny Kass, professional snowboarder. I guess you could say that Pete and I have similar history with girls. My last girlfriend lasted for only six weeks, and with that long of a relationship with me, she can practically claim a record. I'm not necessarily trying to get a reputation, but I'm only in high school. And honestly, how likely is it that anything in high school will last? So with that in mind, I'm just trying to have fun, if you know what I mean.
The Lot is the name we've given to what is really just a big old abandoned field a few miles out of the suburbs of Vernon, New Jersey. Corn, or possibly wheat, I'm not sure which, used to be grown here, but now it doesn't grow anything but dry, brown grass that makes your ankles itch when you walk through it. The three of us discovered it a few months after we first got our driver's licenses, and we've been coming here ever since. Usually it's on the weekends when we come, before and after the various parties that we go to, usually just to have a beer or a smoke.
We've all been smoking and drinking since our sophomore year, but now that the three of us are finally all eighteen, we can at least buy our own cigarettes. I'm the youngest of the three of us, and my birthday was three weeks ago, near the end of September. I pretty much only smoke at parties or other times when I'm with the guys. It's not something I'm exactly proud of, but I don't really want to quit. I don't see it as a big deal, and I don't smoke nearly half as much as either Alan or Pete does. For the two of them, cigarettes, beer, pot, and even worse drugs are commonplace. I've done most of the drugs they have, but never really seen the appeal of constant use. When a joint's being passed around, I'll usually have a drag, but I've never really been much of a junkie.
Popping the tab on my beer, I glanced at Alan as he crushed his empty can under his foot. "So guys, what are we doing this weekend?" I raised my can to my mouth and swished the cheap beer through my mouth before swallowing. "Any parties tomorrow?"
"Actually, I can't go to any parties tomorrow. My sister's engaged." Alan said slowly.
"Really? Shit." Pete laughed. "I was hoping to hook up with her sometime." Alan's older sister is 25 and gorgeous, and ever since we were younger, Pete's had his eye on her. Alan's always been against it, not that it makes much difference. Mara has always avoided Pete like the plague, much to his chagrin.
"Too late now, man." Alan said, smiling without remorse as he opened another can of beer. "Anyways, tomorrow they're having an engagement party, and I have to go."
"Shit! An engagement party? That means bridesmaids!" Pete shouted, putting out his cigarette on the hood of his car. "Fuckin' awesome! We're coming!"
Alan took another chug of his beer. "Whatever." He groaned in a tone that made it apparent that he wasn't in the mood for joking around now.
"No, really, man." Pete looked at me for support. "Weddings are a perfect place to find chicks. They're all depressed that they aren't the one getting married, so they'll do anything to find a guy."
"Sounds good to me." I grinned, laughing at Pete's snorts and Alan's sighs.
"Danny, aren't you with that girl? The one who's friends with Laura?" Alan asked, referring to a cheerleader who was friends with his girlfriend. "What's her name?"
"Natalie. And eh, I guess so. But I mean, we've been together two weeks already. I'm getting bored. And besides, she's getting really clingy." I smirked, finishing my beer. "It's gotta end sometime, right?"
Alan rolled his eyes at me but Pete howled in laughter. "That's what I'm talking about! Especially if there are hot bridesmaids somewhere!"
"Okay, so you're both coming tomorrow?" Alan asked, leaning back on his elbows and looking up into the sky, which had finally cleared up for good after almost constant rain throughout the evening.
"Hell yeah!" Pete said, and I nodded in consent, holding up my beer to his in a toast.
"Okay. It's at that restaurant, the Pine Street Grill, at six o'clock tomorrow."
"Sweet. See you guys there." Pete grinned, hopping off of his car and getting into the driver's seat.
"What about those two beers you had?" I asked.
"Nah, I'm fine. It's only a five minute drive to my house anyways." He responded, starting the engine and turning on the lights, practically blinding Alan and me.
Alan reached up to shield his eyes and grunted. "Jackass."
"Don't get yourself killed." I shouted at Pete. He laughed in response and rolled down his window, reaching his left arm out to give Alan the bird as he drove away.
"So are you really going to hook up with some bridesmaid tomorrow? Even though you're dating Natalie?" Alan asked, lying back on the hood of his car and closing his eyes, letting out a puff of smoke.
I shrugged, taking a final drag from my cigarette and then dropping it onto the bed of my truck, putting out the glow with the toe of my shoe. "Yeah, probably, if I still feel like it tomorrow. I mean, Natalie and I aren't that serious, and it's not like I haven't done something like this before."
"I don't get how you can do shit like that." Alan coughed. "I could never cheat on Laura."
"Well, I'm not really cheating on Natalie. I mean, it's not like we promised to be exclusive, so technically I have every right." I smirked.
"Whatever." Alan muttered, sounding exasperated. We were quiet for a few moments before we heard the soft tapping of rain falling. I glanced up at the sky as the drops fell harder, dropping on my forehead.
"I'm going to go get out of this rain." I said, breaking the silence.
"Okay. I guess I should too." Alan agreed. "Anyways, I've gotta go now because Laura and I are gonna do something tonight. Maybe go to the movies. Or something."
"Use protection." I smirked as he laughed in response. I climbed down onto the ground and slammed the tailgate shut. "So I'll see you tomorrow?" I pulled out my keys and passed to the driver's side, opening the door.
Alan put out his cigarette and got into his car. "Yeah, cool. Tomorrow. Six."
I slammed my door shut and started the engine. "Cool." I looked up at the sky as the rain increased again, flipping on the windshield wipers and pulling out onto the road towards Natalie's house. Hell, I might as well have one good night with her before I give her a reason to break it off with me.
Who knows what might happen at the party tomorrow? Maybe I'll meet the woman of my dreams. I might get in a car crash on the way there and not even make it. I might see the most beautiful woman in the world. I might fall in love. But I could also break my leg, or get sick, or any number of other possibilities. No one can guess the future, not even me. So I might as well enjoy tonight, right? Might as well do something to make it worth it no matter what happens tomorrow.
Nothing seems to be, nothing tastes as sweet
as what I can't have
Like you and the way that you're twisting your hair
round your finger
So this is it! The first chapter of my second story! I'm pretty excited about this one, I think it's going to be really fun to write. To clear a little bit of stuff up, yes, this is the same Danny Kass who appeared in my other story as a minor character. In this one, he's one of the main characters. HOWEVER! Just because he appears in the other story, that doesn't mean that they are related. As a matter of fact, they really aren't. They stand alone; one doesn't need to be read to understand the other. They're unrelated, so don't think of them as having any connection. So. It's going to be a romance, but it also really has a lot of drama, and plenty of serious stuff going on. It's rated M for language, sex scenes, and just the mature nature of the plot. I hope that doesn't scare anyone away...
Hopefully I've got some crossover readers from Shades of White, as well as some new ones. For everyone who did read Shades of White, I want to thank you all for the lovely reviews I got for the end of the story. I'm glad you all enjoyed it so much and liked the ending. For any newbies, I would love it if you would read my other story...(I know, shameless.)
So hopefully, I'll get some good response to this, and I hope you all will review. Because reviews are just such a nice pick-me-up. And they kind of make me happy. And they're inspiring. So please review, let me know what you think so far of the characters, the writing, everything else. I'll really appreciate it.