Little White Lie
“How was work?”
I flicked off the lights in the kitchen, double checking to make sure the oven and fryers were turned off. I walked to the front counter and collected my tips.
“Katie, come upstairs when you’re done,” Steph called to me, heading towards the back door. “We’ll be waiting.” She gave me a smile before disappearing around the corner and up the stairs where Walter and Bob waited, their shift ending hours ago. I swept the back corner of the store quickly, passed the freezer filled with booze, sauces, and vegetables, and towards the front. I made a neat pile with the broom before sweeping it into the dust pan. I returned the broom to its home in the bathroom, then filled with mop bucket with water and soap. I wheeled it back to the back corner and began to follow the same path, only this time with the dirtied mop. When I finally finished, I quickly dumped the water in the sink on the floor, stained with years of dirt and grime, and did once last check through the store. Door locked – check. Oven off – check. Lights off – I flicked the switch, turned, and headed around the corner and up the stairs.
“It was alright.”
“I thought you got out at ten?”
The stairs ascended up, the darkness swallowing me whole with only a small shed of light emerging from the crack of the door at the top. I had only been up these stairs once before, when I first started at the pizza place. My manager, Bob, gave me a tour. I always wondered why – it was his house, not part of the store. I remembered when he showed me his stash under his bed. It amazed me that he would keep such an illegal thing in the same house as his daughters. I felt I had committed a crime just by looking at it, but I played it cool.
I pictured them through that door, passing it around this very moment. I already could smell the cigarettes greeting me at the door way. When I got to the top, I knocked casually while my heart thudded fast in my chest. Bob’s face greeted me with a flirty smile, welcoming me inside.
“Had to stay late to clean.”
“You’ve been staying late a lot.”
I tried to remember what he told me when the bowl reached my hands. I held it the way he showed me, covering the hole, lighting the bowl, and sucking in. I held my breath for a moment – now what? – and swallowed, coughing. Did I do it right? I passed the bowl to its next victim and took a sip of my drink. It tasted like chocolate milk. A White Russian. Delicious.
I sat in the stool at the counter, watching my coworkers take hits from the bowl, drags of their cigs, and sips of their alcohol. I felt like I was living in a haze while they talked and laughed around me. In the living room, I heard a familiar song on the radio.
“I love this song,” I said. Bob smiled.
“I know, that’s why I put it on. I remember you telling me you did.”
I took a second hit when it came around again, their eyes on me, smiling. I coughed out smoke and sent the bowl back on its path and watched it make its way around the circle. They each took a confident hit, smiled, and passed. I took another sip of my drink – empty. I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was an hour past closing – an acceptable time, I thought, to go home and make up an excuse of closing an hour later.
“I gotta get home.” I pushed myself away from the table, saying goodbye to Steph and Walter. They said their goodbyes as I made my way through the smoky room and into the cool night air, with Bob on my heels.
“Thanks for coming up. Are you sure you’re okay to drive home? We have an extra room if you need it.” I considered this for a moment before politely turning down his offer. I could only imagine him trying to take advantage of me. I remembered him asking me to dinner – it was too weird. I had to leave before things got worse.
“Let’s do this again,” he said.
“Sure.” I forced a smile, trying to act cool. We stood awkwardly for a moment.
“Well, see you next week,” I said, turning on my heels and walking towards my car.
“Yeah, because I’m the only one that actually works.”
“Well, you look tired, your eyes are red. Get some sleep.”
The dotted white lines on the high way blurred together; my mind raced at a hundred miles an hour while my car dragged along at sixty. The glow from the street lights streaked my vision as I peered into the darkness. My hands were tight on the wheel, guiding the car between the designated lines. I scanned my surroundings occasionally, searching for black and white vehicles hiding in the darkness.
My brain throbbed against the inside of my skull. The taste of sweet alcohol lingered on my lips, on my breath. The smell of pot stained my clothes. I dug through my purse for peppermint gum and cheap body spray, popping a piece in my mouth and spritsing my clothes. I snapped my gum, slung my purse over my shoulder, and headed into the house.
“Yeah, I’m exhausted. Night.”