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Butter and Salt
Dropping out of the sky, so fast I couldn’t keep track, were my hopes and dreams. Spiraling, plummeting, spinning so quickly I grew dizzy trying to watch. Where was my life going? How did I end up here, of all places?
Staring dimly at my uniform, I shrugged it on and stared at myself in the mirror. My plain brown hair was tucked behind my ears as was customary, my dark brown eyes full of self-loathing. This, too, was the norm. The dark red vest and gold plated name-tag were a mockery of classiness...who could pretend to be classy while scooping out over-buttered popcorn, or dealing with customers who acted like being out of medium-sized cups ruined their entire week?
I was nineteen, fresh out of high-school and my head was still spinning. I’d intended to go to college. I scored reasonably well on the SAT’s, having taken some prep-classes and studied for hours (I was surprised the words weren’t inked onto my nose at this point). I had sent out applications to over twenty different colleges, local and out of state, and I got two responses. They weren’t my top choices, but I was willing to go until my boyfriend at the time got an “across the country” gig and I decided to follow him. Let me tell you, it was the worst time of my life.
When I got home after the gig, I broke up with him and re-sent out all my applications. This time, I got no responses. Zero. I was too broke to go to community college, after spending all my money on the road, and I was afraid of going into debt by taking out too many loans. My parents stopped speaking to me after I gave up on college and kicked me out, leaving me to room with my friend Penny in her one-room apartment on the south side of town.
All of my money went to rent, and what didn’t go to rent went to groceries. My spending money was limited to the crumpled twenty in my pocket, and I just wish along the way someone had taught me to stretch a dollar. In the beginning, I had hope that I could save enough money and buy my way out of this hellhole. But the beginning lasted so long that the hellhole became my reality, and the rough patch in my life, just became my life.
“Lina, let’s go!” Penny hollered through the thin plaster walls.
Not bothering to take a last look in the mirror, I grabbed my one-size-too-big jean jacket and left my room. While Penny drove us to work, I played with the fringe on the broken seatbelt, trying not to think too hard. Sometimes, my life wasn’t that bad. If I closed my eyes real tight, I could pretend I was somewhere else. Somewhere rich. Somewhere where if I was irritated, I had enough money to be able to tell people how I felt. Try doing that at my job and I’d get fired, losing my only lifeline.
After a fifteen minute ride, where the only sound was Penny popping her bubblegum, we parked outside AMC. I winced as the brakes screeched us to a wailing stop.
“Now Lina,” Penny turned to me, flipping her blonde hair. Penny, with her wavy blonde hair and pretty blue eyes, got us the tips. She could afford to buy money for makeup because if she didn’t play up her eyes and loosen an extra button on her white-collared shirt, we wouldn’t be able to pay for gas. I was long past jealousy, and grateful for once that I was plainer than she was, and didn’t have to put myself through that. “Pay day is tomorrow, so if we both do our best to smile and keep our lips zipped, everything will go smoothly, alright?” She continued, referring to last week when I threatened to throw a slushie at a customer because he was bitching at me over menu being changed.
“Yes, Penny.” I intoned, wiggling the door handle and sliding out of her car. Together we walked quickly through the front door and up the stairs, to our positions. Penny and I worked the food counter and together we were a well-oiled machine. There used to be a third girl working with us, Maybella, but she had married a rich guy ten years her senior and packed her bags. I hated her for the longest time afterwards.
“How do I look?” Penny asked me, batting her eyelashes for practice. Under the hazy movie lights, the glitter on her skin made her hazel eyes look almost gold.
“Perfect.” I replied, slumping over the register. We worked from two in the afternoon until ten at night, and already I was exhausted. For the first couple hours there wasn’t much foot traffic, but at four-o-clock things started getting busy, as expected. At five-thirty, the line for snacks was six people long.
“Hi there. What can I get for you today, sir?” I heard Penny purr from the other side. Whoever was her customer gave a low chuckle. It took all my self-restraint not to roll my eyes.
“He’s a pig,” I whispered to my friend while we were both filling up popcorn.
“We need our car.” She snapped back, nearly spilling the snacks as she whipped around to face the customers.
She was right, and I knew it. Sighing, I handed the popcorn to the middle-aged women with three kids and waved her forward. “Welcome to AMC, what can I get you?” I deadpanned, staring at the peeling poster of snacks on the counter that I had been picking at for hours now.
“Hey,” Came a low rumbling voice. “I’m not sure what to get. Do you have any recommendations?”
Unwilling, my gaze flicked up and caught on the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. Taking a mental step back, I scanned the newest customer, and saw that along with those eyes came dusty blonde hair cropped short behind the ears and a leather jacket covering an obviously toned body. He was undoubtedly one of the cutest boys I’d ever seen, and around my age...but that didn’t change where I was, or my situation.
“The nachos are good, and the candy is the same as anywhere else. Sweet.” I said flatly, meeting his eyes with a raised eyebrow.
The guy laughed. “In that case, I’ll take some chocolate mints. Thanks.”
I bent down and got the candy out, then slid it across the counter. “Three seventy-five.” He handed me a five and I quickly made change. “Thank you, enjoy your film.” I said, holding out his money.
He took it, letting his fingers brush against mine as he did so. “Thanks, I’m sure I will.” He said, and with a wink, sauntered off to his theater.
No, I didn’t stare after him, or begin squealing with Penny. For one thing, my next customer stepped forward and placed the biggest order I’d gotten all night, and for another, cute boys only lead to trouble. And in my position, I had enough trouble of my own without fantasizing about some biker-jacket-hottie rescuing me from poverty. Penny knew me well enough not to say anything, although she did waggle her eyebrows at me when we passed by each other at the popcorn station.
A few customers later, there was a familiar face stepping up to order.
“Noah!” I exclaimed, feeling myself smile for the first time all night. Noah was Penny and I’s next-door neighbor. He was twenty-one and went to college thirty minutes from our apartment, and he’s a really sweet guy. We’ve all become pretty good friends, and on the weekends the three of us go out and splurge on saturday morning pancakes at iHop.
“Hey Lina,” Noah smiled, pressing his palms against the counter. “Just dropped by for a quick movie to de-stress. Got any Twizzlers for me?”
“Sure do!” I quickly picked out the second-to-last package of Twizzlers. When he started to go for his money, I shook my head. “No charge.”
“But, Lina...” Noah knew my financial situation just as well as I knew his, and we both knew that neither of us should be spending money on candy. But, hey.
“Last week you covered my half of the pancake-bill. I need to start paying you back.”
“You don’t need to pay me back.”
“Fine! Then these Twizzlers are a gift and we can call it even.” I insisted, tossing them at him.
Instinctively Noah caught the candy. Smiling, he opened it and handed me two. “Thanks, Lina. I’ll catch up with you after the movie?” Raising his hand in a wave, he said, “See you, Penny!” And then he left.
“Someone’s got a crush on you...” Penny sang, gliding over to fill a Coke for a teenage girl.
I whacked her with one of my Twizzlers, then held it out for her to take, which she did. Stuffing mine in my mouth, I faced the next customer and nodded, deliberately not dwelling on anything Penny said, or how good Noah looked in green.
I spent the next two hours serving each customer with a smiler faker than cheese whiz. Only a few were really cranky, which was good because for some reason I was wound up tighter than a clock. Without my express permission, my eyes would glance up and quickly scan the crowd every few minutes.
“Would you relax?” Penny hissed, accompanied by a hard nudge in the ribs. “I’m sure he’ll come back to say goodbye.”
I gave her an owl-eyed expression. “He, who?”
“You know,” She leaned closer and lowered her voice conspiratorially, “The hottie with the leather jacket and incredible butt?”
I scoffed. “Please, Penny. I don’t want any part of his...well, anything! Besides, he’s not going to--”
Tugging my eyes from the ground again, I found myself looking into a pair of familiar baby blues. My mouth went dry with shock and my hands started to shake. I hadn’t wanted to believe it before, but could Penny be right? Could this incredibly hot guy actually want to talk to me?
“Y-yes?” I stammered, covering it up with a smile and kicking myself for acting like a fourteen-year old.
He was not smiling, however. In fact, he looked almost peeved. “There was a hair in my popcorn. A brown hair.” He said pointedly.
Mortification flash-froze me in place. “Uh, I’m s-sorry, sir. You can have your money back if you--”
Hottie slammed the almost empty popcorn container down on the counter. “Of course I want my money back, and I want you to keep your greasy hair in your head, you,” And he proceeded to call me a few names so distasteful that I couldn’t repeat them.
“Hey!” Penny exclaimed, moving next to me, just as a hand grabbed Noah by his leather jacket and hauled him off his feet. Standing behind him, one hand fisted in the guy’s coat, was Noah, green eyes narrowed in anger.
“Don’t,” Noah said slowly, “You ever call a lady those names again, or I’ll make you eat this jacket. Got it?”
“Get off me!” The guy started to struggle, as a girl with long legs and red hair sprinted over to him.
“Kyle!” She whispered frantically, “Let’s just go, okay?”
Noah released Kyle, who shook out his jacket glaring at all of us.
“Here’s your money, sir.” Penny said mockingly, holding out the correct bills.
With one last sneer at the three of us, Kyle turned and stalked off, his girlfriend following quickly behind. Tears prickled my eyes, and I turned my back on my friends to wipe them away. I was so touched that they had stood up for me...there weren’t many people I knew who would do that. Taking an even breath, I turned back to face the two of them.
“Lina, it’s okay,” Penny put a comforting hand on my shoulder, “You wouldn’t want a guy like him anyone. Everyone knows boys named Kyle are never any good.”
“You dated a Kyle,” I pointed out, sniffing.
She grinned, hazel eyes gleaming wickedly. “Exactly.”
“Yeah Lina,” Noah came over and leaned against the counter, concern softening his features. “Don’t let some random guy with sour grapes ruin your night.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, smiling a little at him. “That was really nice of you, what you did. And I’m ruining it by getting all teary...”
“Hey,” He took my hand in one of his, looking at our entwined hands for a moment before meeting my eyes. “You didn’t ruin anything.”
Penny laughed. “With the two of us at your side, nobody will bring you down! We’re like a team of superheroes. Well, minus the really sick powers.”
“And plus the pancakes.” I added with a small giggle.
“And crappy apartments.” Penny agreed.
“Huzzah!” Noah lifted our hands in the air, and the three of us dissolved into laughter.
That night, when I went to bed, for once I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t mad at my parents for cutting me off, or at the world for making it so hard for a young girl to make her way. But most importantly, I didn’t blame myself for making the wrong decision at the wrong time. Everyone screws up eventually, and if I’d just gotten my major screw-up out of the way early, then so be it. At least I had Penny, and a better best friend I could never ask for. And I had Noah, too, a good friend and maybe someday, more than just a friend. But right now, lying in the sheets I’d bought off E-Bay, life wasn’t so bad. And after all, it could only get better from here.
Missouri City, Texas
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