Caged in Winter

By: Brighton Walsh



Heat infuses my cheeks, my hands clenching at my sides. I should’ve realized from her description it was him, but I never thought he’d come back here. I’m not sure if he’s got a death wish or if he’s just fucking with me, and I hate that he came to the one place I feel off my game. If he approached me on campus, ran into me on the street, I wouldn’t even think twice before I gave him a piece of my mind. But being here is different. For one thing, while this isn’t the classiest place of employment, it’s my place of employment, and—especially after the other night when I lost my cool—I cannot do anything more to jeopardize that. For another, it’s hard to be taken seriously, to demand respect when my bits are barely covered.

Turning away, I go about the rest of the night as if I never saw him. While I’m waiting on my tables, I fantasize about what it’d be like to stomp over and spew the retorts I’ve had days to perfect. I imagine the look on his face, what he might say back . . .

By the time last call comes around, a hundred different imaginary arguments have sprouted up in my mind. I glance around, a part of me hoping he’s still here so I can use one or two on him. I come up empty, though, the pub nearly bare, save for a couple groups loitering at the tall tables and an older guy at the bar, finishing up his drink.

I tell myself the disappointment I feel is strictly because I’ve had three days to think about what I was going to say to him, and all night to roll the retorts over in my mind. There’s no telling what his friend actually said to him. For all I know, he told him to come back because I said I wanted his number.

Blowing a strand of hair out of my eye, I go about my nightly duties, finishing up quickly. It’s pitch-black by the time we head out, the only illumination in the parking lot coming from the tiny sliver of moon. I wish Randy would put up some floodlights, but the bastard’s too cheap.

“Sure I can’t drive you to the bus stop?” Annette asks.

I smile, shaking my head. It’s the same thing she’s asked every night since my first night here. And just like that first time, I tell her the same thing as always. “S’okay. It’s only a block away.”

“All right. I’ll see you tomorrow, Winter.”

“Night,” I say and wave, turning and heading in the direction of the bus stop. This part of town is brimming with college students, many still wandering around even this time of night, so I usually feel pretty safe making the short trek to the stop.

Just as I round the corner of the building, a tall form steps out from the shadows. I startle, one hand going to my throat where a scream is lodged, the other clutching my bag and the pepper spray I keep there. As I fumble with the flap, the guy steps toward me again, his face close enough to make out, and my fear quickly dissipates, immediately replaced by irritation.


cade

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

The look she shoots me is made of pure disdain. “Then maybe you shouldn’t lurk around in parking lots at fucking midnight. Are you a jackass and a stalker?”

I hold up my hands before stuffing them in the pockets of my jeans. “I’m usually neither. You just bring out the best in me, I guess.” I offer her a smile, hoping to coax one from her, or at the very least, soften her up a bit.

It does neither.

She stares at me for a minute before shaking her head and looking toward the ground. She’s changed into a sweatshirt and fitted pants, her long, dark hair pulled away from her face, and even though she’s ninety percent more covered than she was the last time I saw her, she’s still beautiful. When she looks back up at me, her eyes spark with the fire I saw that first night. “I’m not sure how else I can say this so you get it, but here goes. I don’t want or need your help. Got it? Stay away from here or I’ll tell Annette to add you to the Wall of Assholes.”

I raise my eyebrows. “Wall of Assholes?”

“Yeah. Assholes who aren’t welcome back.”

“You actually have one of those? Did you put those guys from the other night on there?”

She throws her hands in the air. “They didn’t do anything!”

My mouth drops open, and I stare at her, shocked silent. When I find my voice, my words come out sharper than I intend. “He grabbed your ass!”

Turning, she walks away from me, shaking her head as she goes. She mumbles just loud enough for me to hear, “Believe me, that’s not the worst thing they do.”

I catch up to her quickly. “Then why do you work here?”

“God, you’re like a flea that just won’t go away.” She gives a quick glance in both directions before she hops off the curb and walks across the street. There are a few students roaming, but it’s a Friday night. How secluded is it on a Tuesday? The idea of her out here, walking by herself, bothers me more than it should. “Are you intentionally being this obtuse? Why do people usually work? So I can pay for things.”

“I get that. But why there?”

She glances at me out of the corner of her eye before moving her attention once again in front of her. There’s a weighted silence between us, almost as if she’s deciding how much to reveal to me. Finally she says, “Because a partial scholarship only goes so far, and this pays the best for what’s available with my schedule. Unless I go down to Roxy’s.”

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