Off Sides(6)

By: Sawyer Bennett


He was already out the door when I said, "You too."

It wasn't until my shift ended and I was counting my tips that I realized he left me fifty bucks. That could buy a whole lot of Ramen noodles for me and Paula.

"I'm sure I could get you on at the record store."

Huh? My attention is brought back to Paula and away from hot men who leave me large tips. Looking at her, I smile.

"Not if I had to dress like that," I quip.

Paula is in the beginning of her mid-life crises. Her pitch black hair is now dyed with red streaks running through it. She cut her bangs short and severely across her forehead. The Goth look is her clothing of choice tonight and she is rockin' a short, plaid skirt in dark red and black, with a sexy off the shoulder, black top. Skull and cross-bone tights and combat boots complete her look.

"Puh-leeze, girlfriend. You are rockin' your own brand of weird with your hair and face metal. Pot...meet kettle."

I laugh as I put on my earrings and shake my head. I motion toward my face and then flip my lavender locks back. "Uh-uh. My look is pure art." Looking her up and down with my best attempt at distaste, I smirk. "You, however, are a fashion disaster."

"Bitch."

"Tramp."

"Floozy."

"Martyr."

"Strawberry Shortcake."

We both burst out into a fit of laughter. We always try to one up the other when name calling and see who can make the other laugh first. This one is a tie.

Sitting down on the edge of my bed, I put on my sneakers.

Paula walks over and sits next to me. "So, what do you have going on tomorrow?"

An inadvertent sigh escapes my lips. "Tomorrow's kind of hectic. I've got two classes in the morning and then a tutoring session at lunch. Then I promised Ann I'd fill in for her a few hours at the diner while she goes to a school meeting for her kid. And finally, I'll put in a couple of hours at the shelter."

God, my life is crazy.

Paula stands up and puts her hands on her hips. She's just looking at me, not saying a word.

"What's that look for?"

"Nothing."

"Oh, no you don't. Don't go all mommy on me."

"Well, come on, Danny. You're running yourself into the ground. I'm worried about you."

I stand from the bed and wrap my arms around Paula. "I know you're worried about me but I can take care of myself."

She squeezes me hard in return. "I know you can, honey. Doesn't stop me from worrying about you though."

I squeeze her back and then step away from her before I start blubbering like an idiot. Paula is the only one in the world I have that cares about me. Well, besides Sarge, but I just don't get to see him that often.

"I'm fine," I assure her. "Besides, this is just short term, right?"

"Sure, kiddo. Short term." She says the right words but by her tone I can see she thinks I'm in perpetual servitude.

***

It's 3:00 p.m. and my ass is dragging. After getting off work at 7:00 a.m., I had just enough time to get a quick shower and head to my morning classes. After a torturous hour of tutoring a soccer player in Western Civ—who was more interested in trying to cop a feel than studying—I'm now at Sally's to work part of Ann's shift. Two cups of coffee and I'm feeling marginally better. Lucky for me, it's pretty dead right now.

Bending over the Classified Ads at the counter, I'm browsing for some weekend work. If I can get a few houses to clean on the weekends, that would go a long way toward helping to pay my debts.

The jingle of bells indicates a new customer has arrived. I look up, folding the paper in half and then stop. It's Mr. Fifty Dollar Tipper. And I realize I had not built him up in my mind. He is still as hot as I remembered. He's wearing a gray t-shirt that's soaked in sweat and a navy pair of running shorts. He appears to be slightly out of breath so I'm assuming he has just finished a run.

"Sit anywhere you'd like," I tell him.

He walks up to the counter, holding my gaze. There is no doubt in my mind that he has stopped in here to see me. I can tell because there is purpose and intent in those whiskey colored eyes of his.

I watch mesmerized as he runs a hand through his damp hair to push it off his forehead. It's dark brown and wavy, and bordering on just a tad too long for a mother's taste. For me, it’s perfect. Too bad I don't have the time or desire to act upon it.