↩️ Chapter One
Tears begin to well in the corners of my eyes. “This isn’t fair!” I yell at the sky. If there is a God, he either doesn’t hear me, doesn’t care, or thinks I deserve this. I’m scared, nervous, and angry, so I make a pitiful attempt to reach out to the Voices. For a few seconds, I forget that they’re gone, and when the realization hits me, I want the pitch-black road to swallow me whole. But this isn’t the time for pity parties. Taking two deep breaths, I push myself up and limp forward into the night.
Despite my angst from the previous day, I actually wake up in a good mood. I don’t need to work today, after all. Snoozing my phone, I spread my legs and arms out like a starfish. I lift my right leg and cross it over to the left and feel my back pop. The tension leaves me immediately. I quickly go through my morning routine, half-dead until the shower water hits my face. I soon find myself in front of my bathroom mirror, ready for a day of chores and relaxation. I run a critical eye over myself: wild curls tamed into a ponytail, short in stature, and chubby. My clothes are too loose in some places and too tight in others, so I pull at them until I feel better about what I see. I’m as average as they come, but there is an upside to being average: no one notices you. And if no one notices you, they can’t really judge you. Content, I slip on my favorite Batman shirt and an old pair of jeans and start to plot out my Saturday. I groan when it hits me. I need to pick up groceries.
“Eggs, tortillas (the freshly made ones), avocados…” Tom goes over the grocery list once, twice, three times. He’s an asshole, but he does have his uses from time to time. “You’re going to wear that?”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing? It’s not like I have a date,” I shrug.
“You look pathetic.” A deep, gravelly voice interjects. I jump a little.
“Thanks, Hate, and good morning to you too.”
Arnold chooses this moment to emerge in righteous anger and put together a rather ambitious exercise regimen. Half listening to their squabbles, I slip on my daddy’s cross before heading for the door and rub the wooden material between my fingers like a talisman. I’m Agnostic and an ex-Catholic, but it brings me comfort anyway.
“You still haven’t named me.” Hate growls as I lock the door.
“What about Buddy? Or Max?”
“I’m not a dog.” I laugh as I feel his indignation slide over me.
“Picky, I see. Why do you care so much? You’re not even real.” I chalk up last night’s conversation with the Voices as a dream or a delusion.
Hate is silent all the way to the grocery store while the others bicker. Even when I’m off work, I can’t seem to escape this place. Maybe that’s what being an adult is: always worried about your next paycheck, the next set of to-dos, the job. Money isn’t everything; my mother used to say. Then why does it feel that way?
I push my cart through the aisles, lost in thought while mechanically grabbing essential items. Luna’s, the only grocery store in town and the source of my anguish carries just about everything. Despite the crumbling parking lot and being one of the oldest buildings in Victoria, it isn’t a physical eyesore. The managers run a tight ship, so everything is organized, ten times cleaner than my apartment, and misplaced items (thank you lazy customers) quickly make their way back to their shelves. Despite my very much warranted attitude, I can’t lie to myself. This place is like a second home. My warm and fuzzy feelings are quickly squashed as I hear a wine bottle shatter to my left. Oops.
“Shit.” I look up as Christina’s eyes zero in on me. Maybe if I pretend I didn’t see her, I can make my escape down the bread aisle.
“Hey, idiota! You break it; you buy it.” I freeze in place. By the looks of it, that bottle probably costs about as much as my wifi bill. I cringe and tighten my grip on the grocery cart. If I didn’t know any better, it looks like Christina wants to physically pounce on me. Her dark hair is pulled back into a too-tight bun, and frameless glasses rest on a sour face. She’s only a few years older than me, but she has the soul of perpetually angry 70-year-old grandma. She’s intimidation personified. I sigh. Before I can reply with a ‘yes ma’am,’ Carlos, the head manager, walks over and smiles at me.
“What are you doing here on your day off? I didn’t know you loved this place so much.” He makes this joke to all of his employees when he catches us in the store. I laugh tiredly.
“Just picking up a few things. Sorry about the wine, I’ll pay for it upfront.” Arnold begins to punch at the front of my skull from the inside. I rub my temples. Carlos looks at me in confusion.
“Uh, why? It was an accident, I assume.” I nod my head up and down, and Christina turns on her heel and leaves for the front of the store to yell at some other poor soul. “I’ll call someone to clean this up.” He takes out the walkie-talkie in his pocket and calls it in. Carlos gives me a wave and leaves for the breakroom. James, the coworker who took my shift, shows up a minute later as I try to push the glass together with my foot.
“You must’ve really wanted the wine, huh?” He chuckles as he cleans up after my clumsiness. I blush. I recall watching Remember the Titans a few years ago, and one of the girls calling Sunshine a dreamboat. James is classically handsome, recently came back from the army, and is ten years my senior. We’ve had a few conversations in the past, all of which left me feeling stupid. Definitely a dreamboat. “…and that’s why I prefer squirrel over armadillo.” I snap out of his spell.
“What?” He laughs and crosses his arms in front of his chest.
“Head in the clouds.”
“Ya…” I mutter. “Sorry about that.”
“You know you don’t need to apologize all the time.”
“Nope. Take it back.” He grins. I cock an eyebrow and humor him.
“Fine. I’m not sorry.” He holds his hand dramatically over his chest.
“You wound me.” I roll my eyes. He recaps our conversation. It turns out that he went hunting with his brothers last weekend and they had cooked up an assortment of weird animals. James is a little bit of a cliche with his redneck tendencies, but it’s honestly kinda cute.
“He doesn’t like you; he’s just being nice.” Tom makes his opinion known, and I reluctantly agree. After a few more minutes, I bid James goodbye. I bag my own groceries and make it out the sliding doors only to accidentally bump my shoulder against an older customer going inside.
“Sorry!” As I turn away, he catches my eye.
“Go back to Mexico.” He spits out as he casually strolls away. I stop in my tracks. I feel a tightness at the top of my spine that spreads through my skull. I squeeze my eyes shut, and when I open them, there’s only darkness.