“Man, look at her! WOW!” Ethan exclaimed, clearly not able to control the volume of his voice.
“Oh yeah, she’s a little hottie…” Mark interjected, his head almost flying off of his neck to see what his brother was talking about.
“You do realize that you are both married, right?” I asked smugly.
“Doesn’t matter, boys night out, all the sightseeing I can with no head slaps!” Ethan laughed.
“Jenna is right to slap you silly!” I said with a smirk.
“You have to understand Elliot, we are trying to live vicariously through you,” Ethan joked.
“Please, it’s been two years since I’ve even had a legitimate date!” I spat out.
“Maybe it’s because you sit here with that shit look on your face? I mean really what girl is even going to look at you with that sour mug?” Mark turned to me now serious.
“I think I’m going to call it a night,” I said, roughly slapping a twenty down onto the table before turning to leave.
“Come on Elliot he didn’t mean it like that…” I heard Ethan shout over the music behind me.
Once inside my truck, I slammed my fists against the steering wheel. The anger was rising up and it was a good thing I left when I did I told myself as I sat there. Even though they meant well my older and younger brothers had a way of hitting me right where it counted sometimes. They were right, moping around at the bar while they mentally undressed anything with a skirt wasn’t going to get me what I wanted, and I knew that. What they didn’t understand was that it wasn’t as easy for me. Right now they had everything I’d ever wanted, everything I’d worked for and sometimes I hated them for it. Not in the, I’ll never speak to you sense but in the silently in the back of my mind I’m so jealous I could almost taste it way. Usually though, common sense would kick in and I’d be reminded that my situation wasn’t their fault and they weren’t really who I was mad at.
As Social Distortion blared from the speakers, I could feel the tension starting to subside as I rode out the waves of anger from before. I didn’t like being this person, the angry one that I’d slowly been allowing out more and more. He was a jerk and no one really knew how to handle him at times, not even me. It was just so hard though, not to be angry. Her face flashed briefly in my mind as I pulled into the driveway and the level of anger rose again. I could almost hear her voice, “You really like this one don’t you babe?” It felt like I had lived a lifetime since that day with Meagan two and a half years ago. And before I knew it, my fists were slamming again, this time the center console and the door took most of the brunt. Life just wasn’t fair, I tried to rationalize. You are just going to have to get past this at some point. Heading into the house though I decided that tonight was not that night. I threw my keys in the bowl on the entry table and went through the motions, as I got ready for the long night ahead of me. Sleeping had become something that only seldom put me out of my misery. It took me forever to fall asleep some nights just laying there my mind on constant overdrive. I can say for certain that if I would just allow myself to deal with what happened, maybe talk to someone about it, I would be able to sleep. I’d be able to do a lot of the things I have missed out on.
“Elliot? Another family dinner?” Her voice slammed through my unconscious thoughts. For her, it was abnormal to spend so much time with your family. She had never been close with her extended family and her immediate family was so spread out that she maybe saw them once a year. It was one of the things we fought about often and had even been fighting about it that night. It took me a long time to remember what that conversation was about but when I finally realized I could have kicked myself. I should have known that despite how much I loved her, she wasn’t right for me, that I wouldn’t ever be able to force her into my family, make her comfortable with them. The three years we were together, I spent a lot of time begging her to come with me to this or that, or swearing that it would be the last time my parents just showed up at our place. She never quite understood that dynamic. Scrubbing my face with my hands I climbed into the cool sheets of my bed and made to set my alarm for work. Sometime around two I must have drifted off.
Some mornings there are just flashes of lights, or the dull gray of the bumper, other days it’s the sounds that overtake me just as I’m waking up. Today there was nothing. No crunching noises, no flashes of lights, just nothing. These were the mornings I had grown to hate the most. Usually it meant I had dreams of the way things were before, dreams that were so painful to relive that I mostly didn’t. Recently there were more of these days than not. I don’t know why because things were going really well lately, good job, check, nice place to live, check, great family and friends, check.
It has taken me two and a half years to rebuild a semblance of the life I had before, days both bad and good. Days where I have to force myself to function because if I didn’t, I’d have those great family and friends up my ass about it. At first it was friendly dropping by, and calling incessantly, then it stopped when I was able to put on a better front. The first time I didn’t emerge for a few days though, there was pounding on my door and voicemails full of worry. It didn’t matter that things had been taken from me, things that I would never get back, it just mattered that I was getting on with my life being a functioning member of society again after my first brief hiatus. “Honey, it will get easier, I promise,” my mother had said after climbing in my kitchen window after three days of my disappearing act. What no one seemed to understand then, and sometimes even now, was that I wasn’t ready to let it get easier, how could I ever forget what happened or those things I lost?
I see now that everyone close to me had to have been hurting too but in a different capacity. Sure, I’ve had days, weeks and maybe even a month or two that I don’t think about it, obsess over it or relive those moments but then something will spark that memory and “wham!” there he is, that angry son of a bitch again. Over the last few years I’ve gotten really good at hiding my true feelings because I don’t like being the person who scares his own mother at times or sends his nephew crying out of the room. Sure, it’s been a while since either one of those outbursts occurred but it doesn’t mean that inside I’m not screaming with rage at certain situations. Mostly I just try to avoid anything that could possibly trigger that anger, meaning that I spend a lot of time alone. I hate catching them watching me, waiting for me to crumble, or searching my face for signs of distress. By them I mean my family and the one close friend I’ve kept around. They think I don’t hear them whispering in the kitchen or know that when a cell phone call warrants going outside to talk privately, it is about me. I would do it too if the situation was reversed. If one of my brothers were in my shoes I’d be worried as hell about them, so to an extent I can understand the concern but it doesn’t mean I like it. I know deep down that one day I’ll find my way out of this funk.
As much as I could dwell on this I needed to get my butt in gear and get moving if I wanted to make it to the office in time. Quickly I rushed through my morning and headed to the local Starbucks cursing quietly to myself as I turned in and the line was around the building. Was the need for caffeine worth the hassle of going in? Hell yes, I thought to myself as I put the truck in park. Apparently, three other people felt that it was worth it as well as they rushed past me for their fix. Waiting in line, I watched the baristas fluidly moving around each other behind the counter like a well oiled machine until I noticed a few huffs behind me and the distinct smell of peppermint.
Nonchalantly, I turned my head to see what the issue was and was instantly mesmerized as I looked directly into the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. They were deep but clear as though you could almost see right through them. Their owner, however, had a scowl on her small, flushed face that rivaled my own reflections in the mirror on most days. I must have been staring for longer than I thought because as she blew the wild strand of deep brown hair that had fallen across her mouth, she puffed out a “What?” I just shook my head, I mean, what do you say when you see a trait you hate about yourself in someone else, a gorgeous someone else for that matter. I had nothing.
“Welcome to Starbucks, sir, what can I get started for you?” the bubbly barista asked as I approached the counter.
“I’ll take a venti café Americano and whatever she gets, keep the change,” I blurted out, pulling a twenty from my wallet.
“Uh, okay. It will be waiting for you at the end of the counter, thank you,” she said, a little surprised as I moved along the counter. “Hey, I need a name for your cup?”
Turning slightly back to the barista, I said loudly, “Elliot, two L’s.”
I was secretly glad that angry girl didn’t catch me paying for her order, it seemed that if she knew she might give me stink about it. I did not want to get into it this morning and besides, I was slightly amused as I watched her blurt her order to the now frazzled girl behind the counter, apparently she likes a cup of complicated, I chuckled to myself. Adding to my amusement she tried three times to pay for her order and the barista refused, finally telling her that she couldn’t accept payment because the drink had been paid for, for the third time. Angry girl, more annoyed now than before, blurted out a quick and almost silent thank you before giving the poor girl her name and coming to rest behind me once again. While I tried my hardest not to take in the rest of “Taylor”, I couldn’t stop myself from following the dark brown hair down over her shoulders to the rest of her body. I may be angry at life and the world and whoever else gets in my way but damn if I’m not still a guy. She thankfully missed my once over and even my twice over as I took in her small stature, her curvy yet toned body and of course converse sneakers. I was a converse lover myself and when a girl had them on, I practically salivated. Which is probably why I missed them calling my name twice before I snapped my attention away from her.
“Thanks,” I muttered as I grabbed the drink and turned quickly to make an exit before I had a chance to stare at her again.
“Elliot?” her voice sounded small as I turned back around, finding those blue eyes trained on me.
“Yeah?” I said, trying not to sound like an idiot.
“Uh, thanks… ya know for the coffee…maybe next time I’ll beat you to it.” She blushed as her eyes got stuck on something I had already thought she’d noticed until I disappeared.
God, why do I always hit the snooze button one too many times? I should just not use it at all, I thought to myself as I hurried around the room, of course unable to find a shoe, a brush and even my deodorant. I was going to be late. Where is that shoe? I cursed as I lifted the bed skirt still not finding it. I remembered taking them off in the same place, how did one always disappear when I was running late. I am not always late, just lately, since I’ve picked some bartending shifts to help out my brother. What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him though. Helping him keep his dream open and running smoothly was worth more than some lame office job that was killing my soul anyways.
Finally finding the errant shoe, I shoved my foot into it and hurried out the door hoping that I had everything I needed for my day. Not looking forward to spending another eight hours answering phones and directing customers to the proper channels I slammed my fist on the steering wheel as I saw the line of cars at the drive through for coffee. Whipping the car into the first spot I practically ran inside, adding to my lateness as I hit a line three people deep still waiting to order. I blew out a few deep breaths and closed my eyes trying to calm myself and the anger I felt at this given moment, when I noticed eyes on me. The brown whiskey color so warm I almost smiled at him, almost. “What?” I huffed instead and he quickly turned away. I took the opportunity though to try and remind myself that it wasn’t his fault I was running late. Pulling out my phone, I texted Ella to let her know I was on my way and ask if she wanted anything. Thankfully, her response was that she already had coffee and she would cover me till I got there. It didn’t change the fact that I was angry about being late but it made some of that anger dissipate a little.
“Welcome to Starbucks, what can I get started for you today?” the too cheery barista asked me.
“I need a non fat white mocha with peppermint syrup, double shot of espresso and no whip,” I rattled off, probably a little too fast judging by the look on her face.
“Um, non fat mocha with peppermint and a double shot of espresso?” she questioned.
“White mocha, no whip, peppermint syrup, double shot of espresso, non fat milk…” I said, resisting the urge to speak loudly and slowly so she could understand.
“Ok, it will be down at the end of the counter when it’s finished,” she said.
“How much?” I said angrily.
“Someone already paid for yours,” she answered with a sticky sweet smile.
“Nah, come on? How much…” I asked again, getting agitated.
“Seriously, the guy ahead of you paid for yours too…” she said, nodding in the direction of the pick up counter.
I didn’t even say anything else due to shock that even with my snotty “What”, he paid for my coffee. Things like this didn’t happen to me, I thought as I made my way to stand next to him, preoccupied completely with his kindness. The more I thought about it, I could feel my cheeks starting to turn pink and refused to look in his direction for fear that he was going to use this opportunity to try and ask me out or some other weird freakish thing. I heard them call his name, “Elliot”. Nice name, I thought, and then almost in the baristas next breath he called mine too. Next thing I knew, out of my peripheral I could see movement and since he didn’t make to ask me out, I decided I’d thank him.
“Elliot?” I said, a little on the shy side of quiet.
“Yeah?” he answered as I started to take a good look at him.
“Uh, thanks… ya know for the coffee…maybe next time I’ll beat you to it,” I played, realizing that he was short…
Wait, no, he wasn’t short at all, those broad shoulders, that dusty blonde hair those whiskey warm eyes all sat within the confines of a wheelchair. And then he was gone. I hadn’t been able to lift my eyes from his wheelchair long enough to catch his face again before he high tailed it through the door. Way to go dummy… that wasn’t embarrassing or anything. How distracted had I been the whole time I was in this coffee place that I didn’t even realize he was in a wheelchair, it never registered at all, not when I questioned him in line, not when he obviously wheeled to the other end of the counter and then to leave. I’m short and all but still, that is a major difference. He probably thinks I’m a bitch; I never even looked him in the eyes after being shocked by the chair. Walking out to my car, I hoped he would already be gone, unfortunately for me, there he was climbing into his truck. Both of us stopped, him almost hanging from the oh-shit-handle as I was mid-stride next to his truck. It only lasted a moment and then before I knew what was happening, he spoke as he landed his butt on the seat.
“Never seen a guy in a chair before?” he asked me with daggers coming from his eyes.
“Hey, I didn’t even realize you were in a chair, my mind was so far from in there that you could have three heads and I wouldn’t have noticed…” I tried to cover with a joke.
“Yeah sure. You’re welcome for the coffee, by the way.” He smirked, hefting his chair into the truck in pieces.
“Elliot… I mean really I wasn’t staring because of the chair, I mean, maybe that’s what caught my eye, but no that’s not what I meant…I just couldn’t believe I didn’t realize that the whole time you were in front of me…” I blabbered for some reason needing to explain.
“Taylor, is it? Really, it’s fine. Have a good day,” he mumbled through gritted teeth as he slammed the door shut.
“Wait,” I said, stepping closer to the high truck window attempting to peek in at him.
With my advance towards his truck he blasted some punk music and started to back out. Wow, he’s even more pissed off than I am, I thought to myself as I crossed to my car shaking my head. Thinking about that encounter all the way into work I couldn’t shake the feeling of awfulness that crept up as I watched him drive away, or the strange disconnect that I’d experienced that morning. I was always the kind of person who could walk into a room and tell you what every person was wearing. I was very observant, obviously till this morning’s fiasco. Trying my best to push on through my day I settled into the dull tasks in front of me just waiting for those seconds to tick by till I could be free.
Sure, I was working the bar again tonight but really it was kind of fun in a way. It was the best kind of people watching. If Dave didn’t need the help so bad or hadn’t dumped all of his money into the little dive bar, I would never have taken this job or the bartending gig. But when your big brother needs help fulfilling his dream, you help. That’s what family is for, I kept telling myself. I was perfectly content before all this started about a year ago, I was happy to just be doing photography, I was starting to build up a good client base after two years of scrounging and working for way less than I was worth but I loved it. The freedom to make my own schedule, the lack of structure it provided was just my speed.
But then Davy’s wife got sick and he took out a bunch of loans on the bar to help cover the cost of the medical bills that were piling up, things spiraled fast after that. He was drowning in debt, she was not out of the woods yet and he wouldn’t ask me to help, so I just started showing up in the evenings so he could go home and be with his family. I couldn’t stand to see him suffering like that. I told him I would only keep my tips and he didn’t have to pay me. Before long though, even that wasn’t helping, so I picked up a temp job at this office his friend owns, hence answering phones and menial tasks.
While I’ve been helping him out with some of the cost for her care, all the money from the bar goes straight to those loans. One day, I keep telling myself, this isn’t going to be forever. Sure, I miss my carefree lifestyle but he would do it for me. I’m lucky that Davy’s friend and my office boss gives me a little slack here and there if I have a client or if I’m at the bar till close. Working in the corporate world was just never for me, I thought as I pulled my chucks back on to head out for round two at the bar.