(c) 2021 Lif Strand
It’s raining. Of course it is.
It’s the wee hours of the morning by the time I slam through the screen door at a run like I always do. Right outside the kitchen of Mom’s Home Cookin’ is a stinky dumpster, so I’m holding my breath. My car’s parked in the back corner of the Radio Shack lot next door. My raincoat’s old and I’m resigned to getting soaked.
Somebody grabs me.
I do what any girl would do: I scream and shove my thumb down hard on the trigger.
“Dammit! She’s got spray,” a raspy male voice snarls. The canister flies out of my hand.
I scream again and Sonny, the guy who mops the floor after closing, barges out of the kitchen, popping a screw from the door’s top hinge in the process. Next thing I know I’m pinned face-down in a puddle by a heavy, sweaty body, my head ringing from bouncing off the pavement. I’m strong – waitressing my butt off five days a week will do that – and a little panic-induced adrenaline goes a long way. I buck like a spring colt and roll the body off of me, gasping for air. I come up fighting only to get grabbed again.
“What the– it’s just a kid.”
I pull the punch meant to connect with the raspy-voiced guy’s head. Turns out he’s wearing a badge and he’s got a gun in his hand. Messing with people holding weapons is not a good idea. Not that I haven’t done it, mind you, but the badge puts me off my game.
“Sonny?” I yell. He sits up, seems okay. Sonny’s not too swift in the brains department, but he’s a good guy and I wouldn’t want him hurt on my account.
“You both shuddup.” Raspy growls even though Sonny hasn’t said a word.
“Up yours,” I mutter. Come on – I’m just off a double shift with hardly any tips to show for it. I’m tired. My feet hurt. I am so done with being ordered around by customers and Mom and now I gotta hear it from this asshole?
The cop grabs me by the arm and jerks me to my feet, then peers at me to get a better look. The guy’s got really bad breath and it’s just too much. I yank free and suddenly I’m all tears. It’s a failing on my part, this tear thing. I get sad or mad enough and they just squirt out. It’s god-awful embarrassing.
“Come on now kid – it’s gonna be okay. Let’s get you out of the rain.” Raspy hauls me to an idling patrol car. “You wait here till I can get someone to take you home.” He shoves me into the back seat and slams the door, leaving me with my mouth hanging open. I mean, I’m young but I’m not that young.
Watching Raspy and the other cops sort out what must have been a drug bust gets boring fast. I’d rather be home drinking a beer while soaking in the bathtub. Maybe even a quickie with my significant other if I can get him to wake up. The back of the car’s got no inside door handles but lucky for me the other door’s ajar. I scoot over and slip out, feeling like a criminal. Being around cops does that to people.
So maybe that’s the reason for what happens next. I’m sneaking past the back of the patrol car and I naturally glance into the open trunk.
“Holy crap!” I slap my hand over my mouth to keep any more words from slipping out.
Look, I’m the one who clears the register when Mom’s closes. I know what cash looks like. I’m seeing cash in the trunk. Gobs and gobs of it, bundles of hundred dollar bills in plastic bags.
I’m no thief. I’ve never so much as nipped a penny of Mom’s money but there must be thievery in my genes. All I know is, I’m looking at the knot of cops standing around in the rain and the only person looking at me is Sonny. Then my hands are moving all by themselves. My fingers touch cold plastic and I have this kind of seizure.
You know. When you seize something and it ends up under your raincoat.
I turn and walk away. Away from cops, and Sonny’s eyes, and Mom’s Home Cookin’. I don’t really want to abandon my car but if I get in and start it up now the cops are bound to notice. Nothing good for me would come from that. So I’m trudging down the sidewalk, hands stuffed in my pockets, shoulders hunched against the rain. Just one more underpaid chump headed home through the puddles after a crappy night. Nobody important. Nothing here to see.
I walk till I’m soaked, till the sky turns gray with coming dawn. I finally reach the crummy little house where my significant other is likely still sound asleep. I stand there on the broken sidewalk, considering.
I turn around and trudge all the way back to Mom’s Home Cookin’, even though by now my feet hurt so bad I’m gonna be crippled for life.
Nobody’s there except for a couple rats working the dumpster. Thankfully, my car’s still in the Radio Shack lot. Soon as I get the door open I toss the loot onto the floor behind the driver’s seat and shove a few fast food containers on top. Then, as the morning sun hits the windshield and I gotta squint, I stick the key in the ignition.
The car starts, a good omen.
I turn on the radio, turn up the volume, and pause at the street. Should I turn left or right? One way is the crummy little house with the sub-optimal boyfriend. The other is… I don’t know what.
Cackling like a maniac I head the only way possible.
This story is dedicated to all waitpersons everywhere. You deserve big tips so you can live your best possible life.