Names and places used in this story are entirely fictional and do not reflect any person and place in real life. Any similarities in real life is entirely coincidental.
Afterglow - Chapter 01
This can't be happening.
This cannot be happening.
Actually, now that it's the third time this year that this has happened, I'm not surprised anymore — but it still hurts.
I stare at the café manager, perplexed at the situation. Okay, so maybe I made a teensy mistake on how I handled that customer's sassy ass, but did I really deserve to get fired for it? Am I not allowed to defend myself? What about human rights?
Wait, I don't even know what the human rights are, so I'm not really sure if anything applies.
A couple of hours earlier, I was manning the counter over at this café called Annalise Cupcakes. The customer ordering insisted that I honor her "Free Coffee if you buy 2 Apple Cinammon Crumble cupcakes" coupon that she cut off of some fashion magazine. However, I couldn't possibly honor her request given that 1) she cut off the serial code part of the coupon which we use to electronically check it with the system, 2) we didn't have any Apple Cinnamon Crumble cupcakes in stock at the time, 3) she actually only wanted to buy 1 cupcake and insisted I just give her half a cup of coffee and 4) now that I did a double-take on the coupon, it actually expired 2 months ago.
As calmly and as professionally as I could, I explained the situation to her that, no, we can't possibly honor that coupon. I was even about to recommend to her our cheaper, but equally delicious Banana Cream cupcake when she just started throwing a fit at the counter. She started raising her voice and kept droning on about how "we don't give respect to our customers" and that "this is discrimination because she's black" (Note: she wasn't black. She was more of a tanned brown). I tried my best to calm her down but she just kept throwing insults at me. It reached a point where I started yelling at her, too. It became a scene where the people in queue just started chanting for us to fight instead of worrying about getting their cupcakes on time.
Of course, it never did escalate into a fight because that was when the store manager came out to assess the situation. He profusely apologized and called me to his office, which leads to right now.
"The thing is, Ms. Pierce, we run a very tight establishment here," he sighs, looking infuriated. "And in this establishment, we have a policy — the customer is always right."
Well, I just started working here today. How was I supposed to know such a policy existed?
"Of course, what you did was right. She really can't use the coupon."
"However, for difficult customers such as her with a tendency to file reports to social media and the like, we tend to give in for the sake of the bakery's name."
Is he fucking serious?
"Which is why, and I'm really sorry, Ms. Pierce, but I'm going to have let you off."
"You can't be serious."
"Oh, but I am," he laughs. "Unfortunately for you, we can't keep anyone that might tarnish the café name because of her temper. And you weren't really doing that well today to begin with."
I stare at the floor, shoulders slumped. I can't believe this. The third time, this is the third time I've lost my job this year. And it's not even half of the year yet.
"Please take your belongings with you and leave the premises. Oh, and..." He rummages through his pockets and brings out an old, crumpled $10 bill. He attempts to straighten it up and extends it to me. "A little something for your troubles. At least, I hope it's enough to get you home."
Frowning, I slap the bill out of his hand, letting it fall on the floor. Without picking it up, I and storm out of his office.
Outside, I walk a little bit farther down the next block with my heavy bag in tow. It's actually not as heavy since they asked me to leave my uniform, but it still feels like a weight on my shoulders given that I just lost my fucking job. Down the block is a small park where old people usually stay at. I found myself a cozy bench next to an old timer feeding pigeons and throw myself on to it, heaving a heavy sigh. The old lady beside me looks concerned.
"Tough day at work, dear?"
"You can say that, grandma. I just got fired," I say without even looking at her.
"Oh, you poor thing," she replies, sincere concern in her voice. "But you young'uns will be fine. You always get over life's problems without batting an eyelash."
I don't know what miracle soap operas this grandma's been watching, but I can tell her right now that no, we most certainly have to bat our eyelashes a lot just to get over life's problems.
I no longer bother to reply and instead just lean against the bench, closing my eyes shut. I'm so exhausted, so depressed, so... Hungry.
Yeah, I'm hungry. I'm definitely hungry. I bring out my phone and make a quick call.
45 minutes later, I'm at the roof deck of St. Patrick's Hospital. My best friend, Sarah, has been working here as a nurse for a couple of years now. Sarah's always been there for me — we've been friends since grade school and I honestly couldn't imagine life without her. I come to her for advice, for emotional support, for practically everything — including a free meal. I had like $5 left in my pocket and that was barely enough to get me home. Thank heavens for Sarah. With a quick call, she tells me to come over to the hospital for a quick meal on her. She's practically my savior every time I'm in a pinch in life.
I look around as I wait for Sarah to finish her shift. St. Patrick's Hospital modified their rooftop into a garden area where patients can be brought out to have a breath of fresh air. Around me are a lot of patients, all accompanied by a nurse or a relative or two. Some of these patients look lively, walking around and smiling, though with an IV line attached to their hands or arm. Some look worse off, stuck on a wheelchair with blank looks on their faces. I noticed one of them looking intently at the railing around the roof deck compound. What could be so interesting there?
I see Sarah coming toward me, a smile on her face. There she is! My angel, my savior, my ticket to lunch!
"Sarah!" I cry, jumping into her arms. "I love you!" To be honest, I really do want to cry, with everything that has happened so far.
She pats my head and laughs. "Come on then, let's go to the cafeteria."
It's already past 3pm, so the cafeteria isn't quite full. Sarah grabs me a plate of lasagna and a slice of flan cake and we proceed to a table near the windows.
"So," she starts, as she starts digging in at her beef stew. "What happened this time?"
I sigh as I fork at my lasagna. "Lost my job. Again."
"Oh." She says flatly. "What's that, fourth time this year?"
"Third," I firmly correct her. "Just the third."
I throw my hands up in the air in exasperation. "I just don't understand what I'm doing wrong with my life! I don't know what's wrong with me. Is it my attitude? My looks?"
"You're just unlucky," she says. She's practically finished with her stew. "Really hard to get work in your career, huh?"
"It's not... well, the competition is... unexpectedly hard."
I graduated with a Culinary Arts degree back in college, and my grades were just average. I've never actually landed an actual job where I've been able to actually use what I've actually learned. All the jobs I've ever gotten since I moved in to the big city are serving jobs at fast food establishments or obscure cafés.
"Try to look at life this way," Sarah starts.
Oh no. "Not this again," I groan.
"Hear me out," she says, clearing her throat. "Everyday, I see patients from all walks of life. Some get better, some don't. Some eventually leave, some eventually never get to walk again, nor see, nor speak." She puts down her spoon and looks at me straight in the eyes. "Nor live."
I roll my eyes and Sarah frowns. "What I'm trying to say is you have it made. More than most people confined in this hospital."
"That's not a very fair comparison to make, you know," I mumble.
Sarah sighs. "Well, at least, you have Greg."
I smile at the thought. Of course, there's Greg. Greg Mitchell, my 4-year boyfriend and the love of my life. We both graduated from the same university, and he holds a degree in English with a concentration in Publishing. After graduation, we both decided to move to the big city to start a life together. Unfortunately for me, only his career hit off. He managed to snag a spot as an editor at the big ol' Redande Publishing House, while I'm still stuck looking for a stable job. He insists that he'll take care of everything for now, though, while I try to get my career straight. He's an angel.
"At least you have him. Such a doll. I wish I had a boyfriend."
I laugh nervously. "It's not always roses and chocolates in our relationship."
Our conversation stops when a notice alarm rings through the hospital PA system. The personnel around us, including Sarah, look up in attention.
"Code Blue, I repeat, Code Blue at the hospital back street! Code Yellow at the roof deck compound!"
Sarah's eyes widen. A few personnel around us get their phones out to make calls. She stops one of them about to dash out of the cafeteria by the arm. "What's going on?!"
The other nurse almost answers, but notices me sitting at the table. She pulls Sarah away and whispers something. I see Sarah's face turn white.
"Cams, I'm sorry. I have to go!"
"N-No problem! Thanks for the... meal." She doesn't even hear me. She's already out the hallway.
With a shrug, I quickly finish my food and make my way out of the hospital. A bunch of doctors and nurses and other personnel brush past me in a hurry, toward the back exit of the hospital. Whatever happened must be very serious.
With nothing else to do, I decide to head home. I really hope the train isn't too packed.