When I woke up that morning, I knew he was going to murder me, my boss, that is. Although I worked for my father, being tardy didn't show good form considering I'd received a promotion the day before. Isaac Douglas Cooper II, founder, and owner of Cooper's Cars & Stuff ran a tight ship. Pop typically let me get away with a lot, but I couldn't imagine him being okay with his Assistant Manager running so late on her first day. I reassured myself that it wasn't my fault.
After setting my alarm, I laid awake in bed. I'd worked at Cooper's since I was sixteen years old and this move up was a huge step for me, especially since I'd one day own the business. Excitement prohibited me from being able to close my eyes but eventually, after at least two hours, I was able to pull back my thoughts and retreat into a deep sleep. Little did I know, the universe had plans to ruin my day and around two o'clock in the morning, those plans became evident.
It all started when the couple that lived above me began fighting. In my two years living below them, I'd never heard them fight so being caught off guard by their behavior; I tried and failed to ignore it. An hour later they were still going strong. Irritated and confused, I walked to my kitchen. I grabbed the strainer I'd used for dinner the night before. Climbing onto my counter, I started banging on the ceiling.
I knocked a few times, ignoring the few wet noodles that fell onto my shirt before they got the hint and took mercy on me by shutting up. I wish I could say that was where my misfortune ended, but sadly, that's not the case.
My brand new alarm clock failed me on this of all days. I woke up thirty minutes later than I should have and rushed to get my shower started. To make it, I'd have to skip washing my hair, but as I waited for the water to heat up, minutes continued to disappear.
Eight minutes was how long it took me to realize my water heater wasn't working again, and thanks to the useless piece of junk my landlord had yet to fix, I took the coldest shower of my life.
Finally dressed and in my kitchen, I planned to defrost myself with a hot cup of coffee, but when I opened my pantry, all there was, was an empty canister.
"Did I wake up in a parallel universe?" I asked my empty apartment. I didn't get an answer.
Even though it was me who put the empty coffee canister back into the pantry, I scoffed at the idiot who did it. Only idiots did that, right?
With no time to grab a coffee from The Market across the street from where I worked, I did what I had to do. After two years of turning left out of the apartment building, that day, for the first time, I turned right.
My building happened to sit on a line dividing two tiny towns in the middle of Nowhere, Ohio. While I technically lived in Taylorsville, if I moved three feet to the right, I was in Hillview. The differences were astonishing. Taylorsville was light, homey and welcoming, whereas Hillview was anything but.
Other than the diner that was diagonal from my building, the homes and businesses within sight were boarded up and abandoned. There weren't many people wandering around Hillview, outside of the people who worked in the diner and the homeless man that called their parking lot his home.
There was a policy that the residents of Taylorsville seemed to follow. Residents didn't cross the line into Hillview, and I had never witnessed anyone break that unspoken rule.
Since I was already running late, I made the executive decision to go where I'd never gone before. Bucking Bandits, the diner that doubled as a gas station, had a certain charm to it. If the name didn't give you pause, then the dirty windows would certainly do it.
As far as I could tell, they hadn't sold gas since the beginning of time since the pumps were older than dirt. As a matter of fact, I was sure I was their first customers in no less than ten years.
Bucking Bandits may have looked rundown, but I put my chances of walking back out alive at about sixty percent, and that was enough for me. It was all for the love of caffeine.
The homeless man, whose long hair shielded all of his features, was present, as usual. He gave the place a real appeal, although I had yet to see him awake. He was the icing on the cake, in my opinion. When I walked up to the diner, the dog acknowledged my existence before lying back down by his owner. Two signs sat beside them. One that read, "will work for food" and the other, that was nearest to the dog, said, “I’m friendly."
My father taught me that judging someone based on their circumstances was the most shameful thing I could ever do, so I did my very best not to feel anything.
Complete silence met me when I opened the door and walked in the diner. I was very pleased to see the inside looked far cleaner than the outside. Old, but clean.
The only others who were present were the people who owned and worked there, and those three pairs of curious eyes stared at me.
I'm sure I looked lost, but I smiled and walked up to the man at the counter anyway.
"Hello, can I just get a cup of coffee to go?" I asked. He nodded and grunted something to the waitress beside him, who then turned and shrugged at the cook. I turned around and spotted the man and dog through the window. Feeling nothing toward him proved to be impossible, and before I could stop myself, I said, “excuse me, I need to add a few things to my order.”
Twenty minutes later I was walking out with two coffees, two cups of water, and two orders of their biggest breakfast. I went over to where the man was sleeping on the ground and, as politely as I could, nudged his leg with my foot.
"Good morning! Hello?" When there wasn't any movement, I adjusted the containers as much as possible and sat it all on the ground. I squatted down beside him to make sure he was alive by feeling his neck for a heartbeat. After confirming he was breathing, I lightly shook his shoulder and looked at the dog, as if he could help in some way. He didn't seem to notice anything other than the boxes of food sitting a foot away from him.
"Sir?" I asked, shaking him a little harder. He reached his hand out and swatted at me as if I were a pesky fly of which he was ridding himself.
"Hey, that wasn't very nice! I have some food for you." It was not lost on me how ridiculous I must have looked. Me, in my pencil skirt, suit top and bright blue tennis shoes, shaking and yelling at a man sleeping in the parking lot by a dog. I could feel the eyes in the diner watching the spectacle.
After resigning myself to the fact that he wasn't going to wake up, I opened the to-go boxes and started preparing the food for them both. Biscuits and gravy, toast, eggs, sausage, and bacon for two. I placed a plate in front of the dog and nudged the man one last time.
"Breakfast is ready, sleepyhead," I said. He started to stretch, so I grabbed my coffee and walked away.
My trek to Cooper's, which was made up of a body shop, a used car lot, and my dad's house, the very house I grew up in, was about a twenty-minute walk for me from my apartment. Main Street, the only street to run through town, housed every business, house, and apartment in Taylorsville. The only exception was Greater Road, which took you about twenty miles into the country and dead ended. My hometown was incredibly small.
Miles and miles of cornfields surrounded us, and, even though we were in our little world, it didn't feel suffocating. I'd grown up in this very town, and although I knew just about everybody in it, no one bothered to understand anyone else's business. Peacemakers and secret keepers were what the population was made up of, and I came to realize it was a blessing. I liked that I didn't have nosey neighbors. I didn't have to deal with running into the old woman at The Market, the only grocery store in town, who would pretend to care about your problems until she could run and gossip to the first person who would listen.
By the time I arrived at work, I was well over an hour late, and Pop was furious.
"Bentley," He huffed. The vein in his head was so much more visible since he'd shaved off his hair.
"I'm sorry, Pop. You don't understand the kind of morning I've had."
"If you would just-." I cut him off with my hand before he could finish his sentence.
"You promised me you wouldn't bring it up again," I said, referencing a conversation we'd had weeks prior, where he tried to convince me to get a car. At twenty-two years old, I felt like I was using that day from my childhood as a crutch, but no matter what, I felt terror grip my chest with the mere thought of getting behind a steering wheel. I may have forced myself to get my driver’s license for emergencies, but that didn’t mean I was over my fear of driving. Maybe one day I'd feel different, but I knew it would probably take a miracle.
"You can tell me about your morning after you've vacuumed out the cars." He said, bringing me back to the present.
"What?" I asked, incredulously. "I just vacuumed them all out yesterday. You know, when that was my job?"
His chuckle met my ears, and I knew it was a lost cause. "This'll teach you not to be late again, Squirt."
"Oh, whatever, Old Man," I grumbled before opening the closet door. I silently wondered how much I would need to pay one of the mechanics to destroy the vacuum, but figured Pop would just send me to his house to get his vacuum, so, breaking it would be pointless.
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