"You friends with piss face?" The comment was offhanded but laced with evident disgust.
"Huh?" Was my unintelligible reply. I had just been minding my own business and thanking every God there was for Advil liqui-gels to numb the pain when the comment came from my side view. It sent my heart thumping a half-beat quicker but it wasn't enough to cause a visible reaction from me. I had always been good at hiding my surprise.
The door swung shut behind me, bells chiming. My nostrils caught the sharp scent of cigarette smoke and gasoline and a distinct after-rain gritty sand smell. The air was still laden with moisture and I could feel a few stray hairs clinging to the side of my face.
"You heard me," the girl replied, lifting one knee to rest her soiled leather hiking boot rudely against the glass. My mind trailed to the thought of the imprint she would leave when she removed it. She inhaled on the cigarette, the end lighting up like a red hot coal. Her tone of voice had demanded an explanation.
My teeth set on edge at her blatant disregard for others property and her challenging tone. I felt like a cat rubbed backwards until my hair stood on end. I owed her no explanation and had no plans to offer her one. My breath became a little shallower as I shrugged noncommittally.
I knew who she was even though I could barely see her profile in the early hours of the morning. It was 1 A.M. to be exact. Her name was Julie Maria Cortino, or so the boss called her when she was upset—which the boss was a lot. In the course of one single eight-hour shift, I had endured the furious scolding of Sue Cortino three times—albeit none of the comments were directed at me. That didn't stop me from feeling the piercing pain to my eardrums; it was enough to create a tension headache. Once Sue had found the Ziploc bag of suspicious looking substance thirty minutes into the shift hidden in the confines of the back room, Julie had already set us up for a day of shouting matches. Then she had to make things worse by getting into a scuffle with one of the customers, followed by dipping her klepto fingers into the cash register to buy some goods from Joe's Liquor store across the street.
I'd only worked at Mr. Splinter's Mart for one day. I was as new to the trade of Gas station convenience stores as one could get and I knew I would have given Julie the boot the moment she became employed at Mr. Splinter's Mart, if I had hired her at all. Mrs. Cortino did not fire her daughter, of course. Some might say it was due to special familial treatment. I figured it was just to keep an eye on the girl, because god only knows what she'd be up to otherwise.
I mean, jeez, if she was going to hide some drugs, she could have thought of some place more intelligent than the Employee's Only section of a gas station. She was a couple nuts loose, in my opinion—that, or her blatant disregard of rules and consequences showed a streak of free-spirited and spunky, 'I don't give a damn'.
"Well?" Julie insisted. Her reddish-brown hair had a strange glowing effect from the lighted gas station window. Her tone suggested she wanted a fight, and not the catty kind where you scratch each other faces, pull hair and throw insults. She would get fist-physical. I wouldn't put it past her. While she was a tall and slender girl, there was some sinew to her too.
"I just met Eva today," I replied in a condescending and clipped tone, refusing to coin Eva a 'piss face' as Julie had done—the term brought up way too many disgusting images. Besides, Eva seemed a nice enough person despite her overwhelmingly tag-me-popular aura, and certainly better company than Julie. I glanced back through the gas station window where the back of a blond head was visible behind the cash register. Eva was gorgeous and more than a little intimidating, but I figured that she and I could get along.
Thank god I got off half an hour before Eva did because with the first day of school tomorrow, I had to wake up early to prepare. God only knew why I'd bother, seeing as I wasn't planning on living in this hellhole for very long. My first check, while meager, would be coming in a week, and it would certainly be enough to hop my butt on a bus out of here. And that's exactly what I was going to do. Living expenses aside, I didn't know what I was going to do once I got back to Edmonton. At this point, it didn't really seem to matter. I was seventeen and my life was screwed, so how could it get much worse?
"That doesn't answer my question." Julie's shadow-cast face turned toward the window, the freckles popping out of her skin aided by the new light source.
I was starting to get frustrated. It was high time I went home. If I had to speak harshly to keep Julie from harassing me all the way to my destination, I would. "God, we're not in grade two!" I spoke sharply. "Put two and two together, doofus! I just met her today. Can you make a real friendship in an eight hour shift? I thought not. Now if you'll excuse me, I have Z's to catch!"
Julie's eyebrows rose sharply, obviously impressed. Her eyes twinkled. My words had the opposite effect from what I had been expecting. A certain amount of delight was displayed across her soft, yet somewhat eery features. "You do have a backbone."
I snorted a bit self-derisively. I was a pale wisp of a girl and I knew it. Physically I couldn't do much damage to anybody. But sometimes, words did speak louder than physical appearance. If I talked the talk, sometimes it got me out of a lot of sticky situations—assume the power and people will back down. Seeing as I preferred to remain invisible, I didn't try this tactic very often. It got me a lot of attention in a really big hurry.
"Whatever," I replied while turning, ready to walk away.
"You should stay away from her," Julie informed my back. "She's not what she seems. One minute she's buddy-buddy, and the next, she screws your whole life around. She's a backstabber. If you want protection, it's better to be on my team."
"I don't want anything," I spoke poignantly without turning. I regarded the lighted gasbar as if it were my point of conversation. "I don't get involved."
This was true. I didn't get involved in sports or beta clubs or the chess team, much less people's disagreements. I'd never tried for popularity, despite a small twinge of regret that in that category. I think everyone, at some point in their life wonders what it's like to be popular. One thing I most certainly didn't try to do was to stand out and be the nonconformist with a different color of hair each week and tattoos and piercings from head to toe or silicone implants under the skin of my arms—I'd seen the latter once and thought it was weirdly fascinating. I didn't want to be a walking sign saying, 'pay attention to me because I'm different'. I just wanted to be good old invisible. Or so I thought half of the time. I indulged in the thought of attention every so often—the thought of how it would feel to be noticed.
"Working here," Julie contested, rounding on me so that we were standing face to face, a foot between us. She had about four inches on me, height-wise. A half smile played on her lips. "You might not have a choice. She'll stick her fingers in you and find out all your secrets and then you'll be stuck."
I snorted. The way Julie was speaking was really over the top—too fictitious-sounding.
"I'm serious, Lynne!" Julie insisted, her shoulders drawing back in offense. There was something a little wild about Julie's eyes at that moment, almost maniacal. "She's evil. She's done things so evil you'd be sick if you knew. The only thing to do with her is get rid of her."
Julie reached out and gripped my shoulders, tightly. It was hard not to let out the hiss of pain. She was gripping firmly, but not firmly enough to normally hurt a person. If I let her on to the fact that there was a bruise there on my left shoulder, who knows what would follow. I had to keep the slowly yellowing flesh a secret. If the police got involved in my situation now, I might never have the chance to run away. I could end up in a foster home in little old Splinter Bridge for the rest of my twelfth year. I couldn't end up trapped here—no way!
"Can you let go?" I masked the pain with annoyance. "This happens to be my personal bubble."
"You don't seem to be listening," she returned, her eyes becoming more wild and insistent.
"No really?" She had just squeezed tighter, and as a result, my sarcastic reply ended with a harsher edge than I had intended. Right about now was the time for peacemaking, not provoking anger. Julie was becoming more and more agitated and that was doing me no good.
Good god she was insane. That had to be it. This wasn't normal behavior—from anybody. Maybe I had been right about the few-nuts-loose diagnosis.
"Okay, okay." I said. "I don't know much about the girl, okay? And I don't care to, either. I don't want to get all chummy with her. Maybe you're right. Maybe she's a jerk. I don't want to get involved."
Julie loosened her grip, the creepy half-smile returning. She informed me rather matter-of-factly. "You will, eventually—when you find out."
Sure I will, princess, I thought with a mental grumble. My shoulder was picking up a dull ache. So much for Advil liqui-gels. Over-the-counter meds didn't do much for trauma that had been reactivated. Thanks a lot, Julie.
What I said out loud as I disentangled myself from her grasp was, "Maybe. I'll see you around."
I wouldn't, though. Not much, anyway. In a week I would be out of this town and I could put this nightmare behind me. All of it.
"There's a locker free next to mine at school," Julie suddenly said as if we were chummy. There was a hint of avid hope in her voice. "And I can show you around. I can introduce you to my friends."
"Gee, thanks," I replied, ignoring the urge to rub my injured shoulder. I had no intention of taking her up on the offer. "I need to get home, now. Later, okay?"
Julie finally nodded and stepped out of my way.
It oddly struck me at that moment just how pretty the girl was. If she was normal, she could be anything she wanted to be, attract all the good attention she wanted. The tall and willowy girl had such straight, mahogany hair, never a stray lock out of place. Sure, her lips were a little too thin, but her soft features lent miles of beauty to her appearance. And the sprinkling of freckles gave her her own unique flavor. Her eyes, from closer study were a soft, dark gray even though they looked brown from a distance. It was such a waste of a beautiful and elegant body. I almost wished I could look as pretty as her, but I would never want to be her. It was a mean thing to think, but I couldn't help but ponder over it.
I smiled half-heartedly as I began to walk past her. A pair of headlights rounded the corner at that moment. I side-tracked to the grass just to the left of the curb as the vehicle zoomed past as a blur of dark blue, it's color further diminished by the late night. The car screeched into the corner stall. Julie stood nonchalantly, just a foot beyond on the sidewalk. She flicked the still-lit butt of her cigarette into the street.
The door slammed as I continued to walk away.
"Julie! What have I told you about smoking around all of this gas? That nasty habit is going to blow our business and your life to kingdom come!"
"Don't have a hernia!" Julia countered condescendingly.
Thank god I was going home. No more of this bickering—at least for today. I'd calculated it all up. Two full shifts was all I needed for the cost of the Greyhound service. One more shift should take care of any other expenses I'd need until I could reach Tia. Then I would never need to see Mr. Splinter's Mart again.
Tia's family would take care of me—I hoped. Her mother had never thought much of my father, and I'd spent many weekends in their house in the past. Mrs. Hargrove seemed to feel sorry for me, and at this moment I was more than willing to take advantage of that fact.
"Lynne, wait!" I could hear Sue's voice just beyond the thoughts that coated my mind like a woolen, protective blanket. I grumbled under my breath, but paused obediently.
Sue caught up to me with a grand smile that completely contradicted the shouting match she had just been involved in. She was the second person to take a hold of my shoulders that day. And while she was gentle about it, it was all I could do not to tell her to take her freaking hands off of me.
"Thank you for all of your hard work!" Sue gushed, pulling her hand off my injured shoulder to run it through her short red hair. Relief. "You've done a great job! Now I'm sorry I had to leave you for the last part of your shift to grab the window signs, but I'm sure Eva was a great help."
Sue didn't give me a chance to reply. "I want to give you tomorrow off so that you can get settled in for school and I'll expect you back the next day at six. Is that alright?"
I nodded mutely, then thought to add. "But I really can come in tomorrow if you need me—"
"Oh, no no!" Sue insisted, cutting me off. "Timothy will take care of the evening shift tomorrow. Enjoy yourself, make friends, relax! We don't run our students into the ground. Three shifts a week, Lynne."
I just nodded and smiled, feeling a little dejected. The more money I could make this week, the better. But I didn't let my dissonance with her show.
There was the sound of the gas station door jingling behind us. It seemed to be all that Mrs. Cortino was waiting for because she suddenly changed from cheery to furtive and insistent and a little worried. "I noticed that Julie was talking to you. She didn't bother you, did she?" Sue didn't wait for a reply. "I'm so sorry!"
I scuffed my shoe against the side of the curb, feeling a small twinge in my chest. "No, it's okay," I insisted. "She was fine. She just offered to show me around school and introduce me to her friends."
Sue's eyes widened and suddenly she was hugging me. "Oh, that's wonderful!" She hugged me even tighter and I tried to breath around the shirt stuffed in my face. If only I weren't so short, forced hugs would have been a lot more comfortable. At 5'2" I had some real problems with physical affection. "Thank you so much for taking her under your wings!"
Wait a minute! What? Taking her under my wings? No! No!
"I think I'll give you a raise! Every effort you make will make the store better and my daughter better! She needs friends, you know? Because a lot of the kids at school treat her badly. She just needs a good influence in her life. She hasn't been the same since her sister died, but that could change."
I clamped my mouth shut on my protests and gave Sue a quick return embrace and backed out of her arms. Instead, I said, "Oh, I really haven't done that much."
Sue's eyes were insistent. "Lynne, you have no idea what this means to me. My daughter could be normal again, with your help. And the help of people that care."
Ouch. This woman had way too many high expectations of me. Of things I couldn't, and as shamed as I was to admit it, wouldn't try to do. I didn't consider it my problem and I sure as hell didn't want anything to do with Julie Cortino. I didn't want the attention and the problems that Julie would bring, especially not the negative attention. On the upside, I wouldn't be around to feel Sue's reprove on losing a newly trained employee or the girl who was supposed to change her daughter's life around.
So I smiled calmly and lied to her face. "I'll do what I can to help, Sue. I don't know what I can do, but I'll try."
Liar! The part of my brain that had a conscience scolded. Whatever. I didn't care. Sue didn't have the right to put such an impossible burden on me anyway. Screw her.
The woman's smile stretched across her thin face. Other than the faint hint of red that resided in Julie's hair, neither mother nor daughter looked anything alike. "Thank you, Lynne. Go home and get a good sleep. You deserve it."
Yeah, yeah. "Have a good night, Mrs. Cortino."
I walked away, my guilt quickly forgotten as I tried to locate my route by streetlight. I couldn't help but emotionlessly ponder over Julie as my feet crunched against the wet grit that had blown into the roadway. So she had gone loony after the death of a sister. That was sad, tragic almost, but not my problem. I was done worrying about being callous.
My eyes roved the distance ahead. The main road was one of the only streets in town that was actually paved. Most of the side-roads were thin gravel constructions that led between the old edifices. The majority of the houses looked like my great grandmother. Well, I didn't have a great grandmother, but they would match her in age if she were alive. Most were one-story blocks of rotting wood with peeling paint and a clothes-line running from the front porch to the streetlight posts. If I knew any better, I'd think they'd never heard of a washing machine or dryer.
The house my father had purchased was no better than any of the others; it had that faint smell of mold and made me think of termites. I refused to use the closet in the room that had been designated for me because of the funny purple stain that ran along the back wall. The house should have been condemned years ago. The whole town should have been condemned with the exception of abodes like the Cortinos, who made money off of the truckers and the oil field workers passing through this blip on the map. Splinter Bridge was barely a memory to the vehicles that slid along the highway, if they noticed the town at all. My father had chosen the perfect place to disappear and forget about his past. Me, I'd rather disappear in Edmonton with all of the people and miles upon miles of sprawling city.
I had walked from one side of Splinter Bridge to the other in little over twenty minutes the other day. The only building that was worth noting was the beautiful Lemoine mansion which had been partitioned off to include the high school and the Lemoine museum. I couldn't wait to explore the mansion tomorrow when the school opened up for the year. Curiosity was my main reason for existing; it was just who I was: Curious and uninvolved, a most unusual combination.
My eyes continued to rove the darkened buildings until I found exactly what I was looking for. Just next to the dimly lit post office was a glass encased booth, easily noticeable from the street by the soft white moonlight that glanced off its walls. A phone booth.
I rummaged through my pocket for the only quarter that belonged to my name as I trudged up to the structure and stepped inside. It felt secluded in the enclosed booth with only the moon for company. It was almost relaxing. My fingers flew across the buttons and I deposited the last of my finances into the slot. I could barely contain myself as the phone rang once, twice, thrice…
"Tia," I let out a sigh of relief. "I was afraid you weren't going to answer."
"I almost didn't," Tia returned. "The caller ID just says payphone. I don't answer random idiots from payphones. Usually."
I rolled my eyes and leaned against the glass booth. "Thanks. Really."
"Yeah, yeah." Tia returned and moved straight into scolding. "Girl! You haven't hooked the landline yet. You moved three weeks ago and I haven't heard a peep from you! Don't you think I deserve a note? A phone call? That's enough to make a girl go insane with worry!"
"Sorry," I apologized, glancing at the empty street as I spoke. "Dad doesn't have squat for the landline. Never mind three weeks, if we ever have a phone again I'll feel like the Queen of England."
"It's that bad." Tia's voice dropped. I knew her well enough to sense that she was feeling shame—shame that it was I that was in the bad situation and not she.
"Yeah, I don't really want to talk about it now," I returned, shuddering. I was embarrassed, and truly ashamed at all the things that had happened. Tia knew more than anyone else, but I didn't want her to know everything. My pride kept me from discussing it. "But Tia, I can't stay here, I just can't."
Tia immediately moved to action mode. "What do you want me to do? I could already chase your old man around with a sledgehammer for taking my best friend away. School's not going to be the same without you."
There was a small twinge within my breast. I had the urge to cry but I ignored it. I needed to be tough until this whole thing was over because if I broke down now, I don't know how I'd make it through.
"Tia?" I asked, hearing the obvious hope in my voice. I bit my lip until I could taste copper. "If I can make it there, can I stay with your family? Please? Just for the year until I graduate?"
"Don't ask. Just come." There was a pause. "I'll have to ask my mother. But I'm sure it will be okay. Really. She'll take you in."
I closed my eyes and took a breath. "Thank you, Beth, thank you. You don't know what this means to me."
"Girl," she said as if surprised by my gratitude. "Don't be like that. You know you're my friend. Always will be and I won't leave you out in the cold."
I smiled at that.
"But!" Tia changed the subject quickly, yawning. "My first day of school is tomorrow. Can I talk to you later? I need my Z's."
"Yeah," I returned, feeling a little dejected. I knew full well that I had no more money to call her, and it hurt a little that she wanted to cut things so short. But, I mentally reasoned, I would be seeing her in little more than a week. "Get a good one and make an impression."
"Yeah, yeah," she returned and I could tell from her tone of voice that she was rolling her eyes. But it was true. I was the invisible one and she was the one that caught people's attention. She relished in it.
"Night." I said.
I stood there pondering for a few minutes after I had placed the phone back in the receiver. It took me a full ten minutes before I brought up the courage to walk home. I hoped to god that my dad wasn't there—that he was out drinking or whatever. It was a morbidly funny thought for me to hope that he was out drinking when he'd spent the family savings on that in the past couple of months since mom had died. That's why he'd needed my college fund to buy our trash heap of a house in a town I didn't even want to live in.
I'd been dragged here—literally. My dad had never been physically violent with me in the past. But on the night he'd dragged me here, he being half drunk at the time, I'd sustained more than a couple bruises and some very sore limbs. I don't think I'd ever forgive him for that. I would never trust him again.
My dad, who rarely drank in his life until, was obviously a mean drunk. He couldn't be trusted. That's why I tiptoed up the front driveway and made it towards the lit window when I reached our property.
There he was, sprawled across the table with his back to the window. His chest moved up and down evenly.
Good. He was knocked out for the night. I could get a good sleep. Instead of taking the popular route known as the door, I slipped around the side of the house until I had located the window to my room. Soon I would be able to tumble under the covers and forget—if even for a few hours.
Hey, all! For those of you who were wondering, yes, this is my attempt to make a better copy of WOL using all the advice that people have given to me over the past couple of years through reviews. I hope you guys enjoy the new version! It will be a little different than the old version, but the story will essentially be the same.
First off, I would like to address all the issues I am trying to fix with WOL:
1)Incorporating Lynne's old friend in a little because it seems a bit strange that their relationship was completely cut off when she moved.
2)Making a good hook to make the story interesting from moment one
3)Fixing up Lynne's love relationship to make it less strained after all the issues.
4)Straining her relationship with her father more because as one person said, her father's words wouldn't make things quote unquote normal again.
5)Making Julie more realistic as sometimes in the old story I felt she was a bit cheesy insane rather than realistic insane.
6)Giving Lynne more of an obvious personality.
7)Fixing some of the unrealistic dialogue that sounds...well, written instead of real.
8)Fixing spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.
9)Making the story seem less disjointed in the middle when it changes focus, etc.
Thanks to Anavia L.C. for her comments. They helped wonderfully. Let me know if you like this intro better. More of a hook? And thanks for the Klepto comment.