"Do you want me yet?" the waitress welcomes the double-entendre.

I've always been handsome; strikingly so. Thick, black hair and light-tan skin seems to make women melt.

This cafe is my home every afternoon. Today's lounging has yielded three fruit. Each as pretty as the last, yet all the same flavor of I-don't-give-a-shit.

Out of my three criteria, she's already failed the first. Do I want her yet?

"No, thank you." I say firmly.

I hardly notice her walk away. It's getting pretty late; the sun's drowsy rays have turned silver, competing with the cafe's yellow glow.

Agh, I've always hated the twilight-hour. It's beautiful, gray hue is the lighthouse that warns me of the rocks ahead.

Shit. I don't want to leave yet.

The familiar chill of despair seeps into my bones.

"Happy birthday, Locke!" Violet calls out as she steps inside.

Gusts of wind dance with her dark hair before the door closes. Her feline lips smirk the way I like. Crimson nails cage around a small box of the same color.

"Vi, hey," I rise. "What's this?"

"Vi, schmi! Get up and give me a hug."

Her familiar hands find the back of my neck when we embrace.

"Vi," I gasp. "your hands are freezing."

"Shh. Sit, sit." She pulls me into the booth. "How has your seventeenth-birthday been going?"

"Give me your hands," I rebut, chilled by the icy tips.

Her fingers are slender. The dark shade of red polish is intense beside her fair skin.

"Thanks," she sighs. "I had to walk here, you know. How awesome am I?"

"Depends on what's inside the little box." I smile.

"Ah, ah, ah." she wags a finger. "Warm me up, first."

With a chuckle, I stretch my coat around her. She leans into me, warming her hands against my body. A wisp of red peaks across her shoulders.

"Did you dye your hair?"

"Still cold." she sings into my shoulder.

My chuckle rocks both our bodies. Vi, you're the calm between every storm that sends me back to those wretched rocks. My candle in a dark room.

I tighten my grip around her slim waist.

"It'll be okay, Locke." Vi murmurs into my shoulder.

I shift her weight to meet my eyes, a question on my lips.

"I saw you run your hand through your hair." her eyes are drowsy with sympathy.

"Do I do that a lot?" I release her waist to mimic the action.

"Only when it involves your mom, and it's here." she slides my hand over to the top-left side of my black hair.

Peculiar. I enjoy the warmth of her soft hand before releasing my hair.

"Your hand feels warm now."

The pain in her eyes dissipates slower than she usually allows. Her mood brightens a little when she hands me the box. When I hesitate, she urges with a nod of her head.

The box reveals a silver ring that widens at the top. In its center is a keyhole.

Vi leans forward, lips forming my favorite smile, which is oh-so-very sexy in the cafe's dim light. Her fingers handle the brilliant necklace hidden by her hair.

The pendant is a tiny, crimson key.

"Lock and key," I murmur.

"That's us. Besides, it's a little funny, right? You're the lock, and your name is Locke."

"You're such a dork." I chuckle.

She turns her head for the gratitude that's expected. I kiss her warm cheek, truly happy from her consideration.

She slides something into my hand before I pull away.

"Another gift?"

This box is a rectangle.

"Open it." her light-brown eyes are beaming.

I slide off the top to reveal the iPhone 5 inside.

"Holy shit, Vi!" I breathe.

"Happy birthday."


"Overtime." she wrinkles her nose. "I know how much you've wanted a phone."

The sleek device is brand-spankin'-new. I marvel at its black skin and graphite trim. Its case has a geometric back that's the same color as Vi's nails, and as soft as her cheek.

My reaction must've been sought for; she's smiling as big as I am.

"Its plan isn't the best, but you can call me whenever you want. I've already saved my number for you."

"Vi, thank you. So much." I squeeze her tightly.

She groans playfully against the pressure.

"Wow. We have to celebrate." I continue, raising my arm for a waiter.

Ms. Double-meaning makes a show of turning her back to us.

"Oh, Locke, I'd love to, but I have to get back to work. I'm kind of broke, now." she chagrins.

"Work, schmirk." I grumble.

Before Vi can offer to play hooky, I help her up. The guilt she tries to hide is unbearable, so I press my hands to her jaw.

"Thank you. Truly."

My thumb brushes her face. Her eyelids lower peacefully.

I snatch my hands back and rush to the door. Vi catches up after a moment, leaving without another word.

Damn it. That was too much.

I leave soon after. Delaying things never helps, and the long walk to the house is just a blur.

I breathe deeply.

Okay. Just follow the rules and you should be fine.

I bury my ring and phone deep in my pocket. After another deep breath, I unlock the door.

The house is dark. I just wait, knowing all too well what's going to happen.

Maybe she won't, though. Maybe she won't.

"Where the fuck have you been?" my mom screams.

Stay calm. Relax.

When I don't answer, she stomps out her doorway, bouncing her short hair.

I raise my chin.

She slaps me. The first one is always the worst. I can practically feel the blood prickling under my skin.

As expected, the second blow comes. She always hits the same spot. Always.

"Don't make me ask you again." she spits.

"Out." I mutter.

How disrespectful must I sound to her? The third slap is harder than the second, so I guess it must sound pretty bad. I've learned it's better to keep quiet, though.

Just follow the rules.

She grabs a handful of my hair and pulls me inside, straining against my height.

Oh, the hair-pull. Work must've been hard today, then.

"Fucking bastard." she shouts in Spanish. "You were supposed to clean today!"

"I cleaned before I left, mom."

She slaps the other cheek this time.

That one streaked my vision.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! Stay quiet! Follow the rules!

"Don't you talk back to me! What the hell have you been doing?"

When I don't answer, she digs into my pockets. Shit, no!

Mom, don't take those! Those are my birthday gifts!

"What is this? Where did you get this?" she shouts, holding up the ring and phone.

There's no way in hell I'm telling you about Vi!

When I don't answer, she storms back into her room, slamming it shut.

My cheeks feel inflated and numb. Every breath is ragged and shallow.

It's better this way. Don't forget, it's better this way. Remember what she'd do when you stayed home? Remember, this is always better.

I make sure the front door is locked before walking into my room. I can feel the tears stinging my raw cheeks.

Tonight wasn't as bad as most. Maybe she remembered it was my birthday.

After I shower, I rummage through the laundry-room closet. After I find a crimson blanket, I lie down to sleep.