Emmitt Davis wasn't aware that Sierra Tirrell worked at The Hillsboro Pizza House when he applied for a job there.
He was seated at a booth table being interviewed by co-owner Sal Maloney when Sierra walked through the restaurant and saw him.
"Emmitt Davis?" She said with a laugh. "I'll vouch for him, Sal. Go ahead and hire the kid."
Emmitt couldn't even believe she knew his name! But he got the job!
That was two years ago and Emmitt had worked countless shifts with Sierra. They didn't socialize outside of work but they made for great workmates at the Pizza House.
Everybody knew Emmitt was smitten with Sierra (including Sierra) but that reality was left unspoken and the two formed a well-oiled working team with each developing a sixth-sense anticipation of what was needed at any given moment with an uncanny ability to fill an order or address a crisis without even talking.
The two had fun together and they used humor to keep the atmosphere light and stress-free even if they looked goofy in their red Hillsboro Pizza House tee-shirts and dungarees!
They were inner-changeable in their duties – they could run the front counter and cash register, they could make any grinder combo, they could cook a pizza, and they knew the area for making deliveries (although Sal didn't want the girls doing that job unless it was an emergency and only in the daytime).
Emmitt knew he was accepted by Sierra but he still felt a certain 'separate but equal' reality when they were outside the shop. She'd say hello to him at school but he didn't hang out with her clique – he came from a different neighborhood and social class, plus he had a family reputation that made him an outsider. Nobody talked about that stuff to his face but he knew they wondered about it behind his back.
It was a rainy Friday night – Emmitt was working the closing shift with Sal, Sierra, Nancy and Roxanne. Carl was the delivery guy. The door to the business opened and Emmitt looked up from the sandwich counter where he was making a Roast Beef grinder to see his sister Ally stroll into the premises wearing a yellow rain jacket with the hood over her head.
"Hey," she said to her brother. "I know it's raining but I'm staying at Jeff's tonight so I can't give you a ride," she announced.
"Okay," he said.
She nodded, turned and left the shop as quickly as she arrived. The others went on with the usual routine and Emmitt forgot about the intrusion until closing time when he realized he was going to have to walk home in the rain.
"I'll give you a ride."
Emmitt turned to see Sierra standing behind him at the back delivery entrance of the shop off the back alley. All the closing chores and morning preps had been completed and it turned out that Sierra and Emmitt were the last ones to be leaving.
"You don't have to," Emmitt said, peering at Sierra in the shadows of the emergency lights in the back hallway.
"I know," she grinned. "But I will anyway. You don't even have a rain jacket on."
"I walk most nights," he explained.
"Well, not tonight," she replied.
He nodded and opened the back door, waiting in the alley while Sierra punched in the security code into the alarm system and closing the door behind her. The rain had let up some but it was still a miserable night.
"Come on," she said, hurrying for her car parked in one of the allotted spaces behind the pizza shop.
Emmitt followed, climbing into the passenger's seat of a relatively new sporty sedan. Naturally, he felt out of place.
"Where do you live?" Sierra asked as she started the car.
"Gully Road," he answered.
"Geez, that's quite the hike," she said with surprise. "Don't you have your license?"
"I don't have a car."
"Why not? You're working," Sierra said as she backed the car out of the spot.
"My sister and I have other bills," he explained.
Sierra drove the car out of the alley and down the main street heading for the flats section of town and Gully Road that ran behind the flats along the abandoned canal route that formed the gully.
Emmitt could smell her perfume over the pasta sauce and body sweat and he figured she overused it to help mask the work smell. She had long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail underneath a Hillsboro Pizza ball cap. Emmitt thought he could see her eyes dancing in the headlights of the passing cars. He liked her but he could never tell her.
"I just realized that I don't know that much about you even after all this time together," Sierra laughed.
"There's not much to know," he replied.
"I know you're quiet and shy," Sierra said good-naturedly. "I know you're a good worker who never complains and always gets the job done. I know you have a sense of humor."
Emmitt didn't say anything in reply. This was the first time he had been alone with Sierra outside of the pizza shop and he was feeling nervous and foolish. He appreciated her charity but he had no idea what he was supposed to say to her. Most of their conversations focused on work banter and chatter, not a one-on-one discussion about him.
Sierra was driving down Gully Road now, an older section of town with trees on one side of the road lining the gully and run down-houses along the other side. She was squinting through the rainy dark as there were no street lights on the road.
"I'm surprised you haven't been killed walking here," She said.
"There's a walking cut through from Ferret Street in the flats," he said. "That's not as dangerous." He made a gesture. "That brown one," he said, slightly embarrassed by the appearance of his dumpy looking house.
Sierra pulled her car into the potted and rutted crackly paved driveway and stopped in front of a garage with no door. She glanced at the house that was dark.
"Nobody left a light on for you?" She asked.
"It's alright," Emmitt replied as he opened his side of the car door. "Thanks for the lift. I'll see ya."
"Wait!" Sierra said. "Can I come in?"
He gave her a funny look. "Why would you want to do that?"
"It's Friday night," she shrugged.
"More like Saturday morning now," Emmitt replied. The pizza house closed at eleven but closing responsibilities took longer.
"So?" Sierra wanted to know. "Can I?"
"You're Sierra Madre," Emmitt replied, referring to the nickname some of the lesser kids gave her behind her back – meaning Sierra of the Hill.
"What's that supposed to mean?" She asked, bemused.
"You live on the hill," he said.
"You think I'm a snob?" She asked with a sudden frown. "That the Hilltop Neighborhood is only for the high-nose people?"
"No," Emmitt insisted.
"I make pizzas for God sakes," she said with annoyance. "Doesn't that give me credibility?"
"Of course," he murmured. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"Damn straight," Sierra rebuffed, opening her door. "Now that you've insulted me you have to let me come in."
Emmitt sighed as he got out of the car and closed the door. Sierra came around the car and stood next to him in the drizzle.
"Is anybody home?" She asked.
"No," Emmitt replied, heading for the back door.
Sierra followed him and watched as he opened the back door to a small crowded foyer that led into a cluttered out of date kitchen with an ugly linoleum floor and older appliances. The cupboards looked like they were installed in the 1940s. Emmitt turned on a light and Sierra stepped into the kitchen with him.
"Do you want something to eat or drink?" Emmitt asked. "I'm not sure what we have."
"That's okay, I'm good," she replied, glancing around. "How 'bout a tour?"
"There really isn't much to see," Emmitt shrugged.
They stepped into the living room and he flipped on the light switch so Sierra could see the faded carpet, yellowed wallpaper and furniture from the 1970s. Broken French doors led to a glassed in screen porch that was full of junk.
"What's down here?" Sierra asked, stepping toward the side hall.
"Just the bedrooms and bathroom," Emmitt replied, turning on the hall light.
She peeked her head into Ally's bedroom and then his across the hall. Then she saw the door to the third bedroom that was closed. "Who's in there?" She asked.
"Nobody," Emmitt sighed.
Sierra stared at him for a long moment. "So the stories are true?"
"Depends upon what stories you've heard," Emmitt answered.
She walked down the hall and opened the door to the master bedroom. She flicked on the switch to see a bed frame with no box spring or mattress in the middle of the room, along with a couple of dressers and bureaus, covered in dust. She closed the door and studied Emmitt.
"Where are your parents, Emmitt?" She asked.
"Not here," he told her.
Sierra walked down the hall to him. She took him by the arm and led him into his bedroom which wasn't that big. The bed took up most of the area. There was a dresser built into one of the walls, a desk overlooking the window, and a door-less closet.
"Where's your Dad?" Sierra wanted to know as she took a seat on the end of his unmade bed.
"Dead," he reported, leaning against the door frame.
"What about your mom?" She inquired with a squint.
"Institutionalized," He answered.
"You mean jail?" She asked with confusion.
"No, an asylum," he clarified.
She barely reacted to that revelation. "What happened?" Sierra asked.
Emmitt was surprised Sierra hadn't bolted for the door at the news.
"She initially had post-partum depression after my sister was born," he said. "Then she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and bipolar. She'd get easily agitated, paranoid, have grandiose delusions and preoccupations. She couldn't fit in socially and she really couldn't take care of us. She was hospitalized a lot. We faked it as best we could but then my Dad died and that really sent her over the edge. It became unmanageable and she was finally sectioned to a long-term facility."
"I'm really sorry," Sierra said with sensitivity.
"Is that the story you heard?" He asked with interest.
"I heard that she killed your Dad," Sierra admitted sheepishly.
"Yeah, that's the most popular one," Emmitt replied. "Or that he killed her."
"So, it's just you and your sister?"
"She's a CNA at the Blue County Care Center," Emmitt said. "She's twenty-two and my guardian."
"You're lucky to have her."
"I'd be in foster care otherwise," Emmitt acknowledged.
"It must be kind of lonely," Sierra realized.
Emmitt shrugged. "You get used to it."
"Why don't I spend the night?" Sierra suggested and Emmitt almost fell out of the door frame hearing such an idea.