Only six more months and I’d be ready to take my boards.
The thought put a little smile on my face as I hauled my tray over to Regina and Earl, an older couple who owned the old building downtown that held my apartment. The smile got bigger when I saw Regina was wearing the blouse I’d made her last week . . .
“Here you go,” I said, feeling all sorts of pleased with myself. “One Belgian waffle with strawberries and bacon on the side. One pork chop with hash browns, toast, and applesauce. You good on coffee?”
“You’re right on top of things, Becca,” Earl said, eyeing his chop with anticipation. He had one every morning. Didn’t seem like such a bright idea to me, considering he’d already had one heart attack, but every time I tried to talk to him about it he blew me off.
“These must be some of Honey’s strawberries,” Regina said, popping one into her mouth. “The store-bought ones aren’t as sweet.”
“Yup,” I told her. “Enjoy them while they last—they’ll be gone in a week or two.”
“Order up!” Blake shouted, ringing the bell in the pass-through window.
“That’s me,” I said, leaning over to give Regina an impulsive hug. She’d been the one to take me in when I’d first arrived in Callup five years ago. I’d been bruised, terrified, and so lonely for my mother it hurt. And yeah, I realize it’s crazy to miss someone who treats you like shit, but deep down inside we’re all just babies crying for Mommy, you know? Regina took it all in stride, holding me tight through the nightmares as I slowly rebuilt myself into something human.
It took Teeny six months to “forgive” me after Puck and I rode north. Mom had called all excited, saying I should come back home. Earl declared I’d be leaving over his dead body, and that was the end of it. I’d lived with him and Regina through high school and while I spent a year working and saving up my money. After that they gave me one of their apartments over the old pharmacy building at the friends-and-family rate.
Regina and Earl were the best thing that ever happened to me, and I loved them for it.
“Lookin’ good, Becca,” said Jakob McDougal, settling himself at the counter. Today he had four of his buddies in tow. He was loud, rude, and one time he’d left me a penny underneath a turned-over glass of water for a tip because his breakfast steak was overcooked. (I don’t know if you’ve ever seen someone do that, but it’s a straight-up dick move—one that takes real effort, too.)
Long story short, Jakob McDougal was an asshole.
He also wasn’t real bright, because after pulling that shit he still thought he had a shot at getting me naked, no matter how many times I shot his ass down. Now I resisted the urge to flip him off because I was still six months away from dumping this gig to start cutting hair, and Eva could be a real bitch if we were rude to the customers, even if they’d earned it. (Eva could be a real bitch about a lot of things, which was part of why I was working so hard to get my license and leave the waitressing behind.)
“I’ll be with you in a minute,” I told him, my voice tight, because guys like him pissed me off. Giving him my back, I reached for the next ticket and prepped my tray.
“I’m tired and need some coffee,” Jake said, ignoring the fact that I’d just told him I needed a minute. Dumbass. His friends Cooper, Matt, Alex, and one other I didn’t know laughed like a chorus of braying jackasses. “I was up laaaate last night making Sherri Fields a very happy girl, and I want something to get me up again. I got needs, baby.”
The jackasses grunted and snickered, giving each other high fives. One of them made a slapping noise and another moaned in a way that I suspected was supposed to sound like the unfortunate Sherri Fields in the throes of ecstasy. More like a dying elk, in my opinion.
I counted to ten and stared at the plated food in the window, jaw clenched. Blake caught my gaze, and his eyes narrowed. Uh-oh. Blake wasn’t a big fan of customers giving the waitresses shit at the best of times, and he got mean when he had a hangover. I saw him reach for his big, flat metal spatula with the sharp edge on one side and my eyes widened.
Crap. Did I want Jake and his friends to suffer? Absolutely. But not if it got me fired.
“It’s all good, Blake,” I said quickly. He shook his head slowly as Jake and his friends laughed harder. That’s when I remembered they’d gone to school with Blake, over in Kellogg. Seniors together on the football team. Then the other guys got jobs at the Laughing Tess mine . . . Blake had claustrophobia, so he slung hash browns in the mornings and went to community college in the afternoons. He was a smart guy, and personally I thought he had a much brighter future ahead of him than the losers behind me.
I felt his pain, though. Taking the high road can wear a person out.
“We got an issue here?” a deep voice asked, sending shivers all up and down my spine. I closed my eyes, wondering if the day could possibly get any more fucked up. That was the voice that haunted my dreams, although I hadn’t heard it for six months. (Six months and eight days . . . give or take. Not that I was counting.)
The voice belonged to Puck Redhouse.
The same Puck Redhouse who—in one monumentally fucked-up night five years ago—made me come harder than I knew was possible, poked me in a most uncomfortable place, and then set me up to get my ass kicked when he complained about how bad I was in the sack.
I sort of hated him for that.
The next morning he’d hauled me all the way back to Idaho and deposited me on Earl and Regina’s doorstep like a lost puppy. After that he disappeared into the night. I saw him around on and off, but the guy was mysterious.