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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-4

“I’m fine.” She hides her face, stepping to the window.

I follow, her staring into the night, me staring at her. “You know…you don’t have to be.”

She glances at me, confused. “Just because you’re the only person at the restaurant who’s ever seen me cry doesn’t mean you know me.”

I look back over my shoulder, Lucas and Struggles causing some kind of ruckus in the hallway. “Maybe they don’t either.”

She presses the heels of her hands to her eyes again, quiet for a long time. Then she says, “He could have just fired me.” She shakes her head. “He didn’t have to erase me.”

It isn’t just the faint tremble in her voice—I’m not sure what it is exactly. Maybe the room, bigger now with just the two of us in it. Or maybe I’m just really seeing her for the first time, the parts of her she doesn’t wear to the restaurant. But I feel like whatever threads have been holding her together are ready to snap. She feels it too, which is why she’s trying so hard to not let me see, to not let anyone see.

She looks up, tears drying on command. “I shouldn’t be talking to you like this.”

The creak of the door pulls my gaze.

“Did you find those box cutters?” Chloe asks. “They’re all waiting downstairs.”

I grab the box cutters off the floor and then I find Pen’s reflection in the glass one more time.

I want to tell her that I understand. What it’s like to feel invisible; to feel like all you’re good for is forgetting. Even though I’ll always remember her like this. Bare. Beautiful. But I don’t say a word. She seeks my eyes within the glass and I’m silent. And then, even though leaving is the last thing I want to do, I turn and go.

 

Pen&Xander.v9

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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-3

The mouthwash sloshes between my cheeks until my eyes burn. I spit it out, flecks of blood swirling near the bottom of the sink. I’ve been grinding my teeth in my sleep for weeks, tearing open old wounds that’ll probably never heal.

I cup a handful of freezing water and splash it on my face. It trickles down, tracing the raised skin behind my left ear. It puckers near my hairline, the scar barely visible when I look straight ahead. Sometimes I forget it’s there and sometimes it throbs. Sometimes it whispers to me.

But this morning it wasn’t just a whisper. It was a shout, Jago’s voice yanking me out of sleep. I felt his hands pressing me to the pavement. Gravel grinding into my cheeks. The taste of dirt and oil making me choke while his fists pounded. Pounded. Pounded into me.

I thrashed at the blankets, gulping down air. Then I opened my eyes to streetlights flickering outside my bedroom window, the baseball cards tacked near the ceiling fluttering in the air conditioning.

You’re out. You’re out. You’re safe.

It’s a lie every time but it’s the only thing that lets me catch my breath.

Pen&Xander.v9

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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1-2

The parking lot hasn’t changed; the science building looks the same as that first day of school five months ago. But as I sit in my car, watching girls I met during orientation skip up the steps, hugging their bags, excited to play nurse, I try to convince myself that something inside me has. That today I’ll actually be able to go inside. That today I will stop lying and be the person they want me to be.

Class starts in approximately seven minutes—the class I should have taken and passed last semester, moving me one step closer to a degree in nursing.

Six minutes.

I sit in the parking lot, watching the clock tick down. The car is in park but I can’t bring myself to turn off the engine.

Walk inside.

I turn off the car, reminding myself how much I’ve already wasted on tuition and books.

You can do this. You can.

I reach for my bag.

Get. Out. Of. The. Car. 

And then I can’t breathe.

My mother’s shoes.

All I can think about are my mother’s shoes.

How they’ve sat in the same spot by the door for almost twenty years. Scuffed and cracked, the shadow of her foot pressed to the leather even when the laces are loose. I imagine every hallway they’ve ever walked down, every door they’ve propped open, every mess they’ve ever stepped in, every second they’ve held her up when all she wanted was to collapse. Because one of her patients couldn’t remember her face or their daughter’s name or how to speak.

When she lost one I’d wake to the knock of the rolling pin and the smell of dough warming on the hot plate. Sometimes I’d try to take the pin from her but there was something about the force, about the rhythm that reminded her how to breathe. We’d work in silence and three-dozen tortillas later she’d wrap them in foil and drive them to the family. The family that only visited once a month. That would accept my mother’s food without acknowledging that she was more family to the deceased than they were.

And then the next day she would go back to work.

For almost twenty years. She went back.

And if I step out of this car, if I walk up those steps, if I sit at that desk and pretend…how long will I be sitting there before I realize I’m trapped?

I take a deep breath, the scent of a thousand shifts at the restaurant tucked into the fabric of the front seat. Mango and cilantro and epazote, tomatillos and roasted pepitas and tortillas. I can’t sleep without those smells tangled in my hair, without those flavors still on my tongue.

So I have to decide what’s scarier: living a life that doesn’t belong to me or losing the one I love. If the truth breaks my father’s heart, I know he’ll take it from me. But if it doesn’t, if he understands, if I can make him understand, I can be free.

I weigh each option, simmering in the anxiety they provoke, in the hope. Because I have to do what scares me. It’s the only way to ward off the helplessness. To stay in control. I always have to be in control.

Which means that today is not the day I go inside.

My stomach drops, my hand reaching to put the car in drive again.

Today is the day I tell them the truth.

 

Pen&Xander.v9

Available here!

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Teaser Tuesday

P&X Teaser #1

My back hurts, my legs burn, sweat painting my neck. I scrape my hair out of my face and find pieces of lettuce and dried enchilada sauce. Angel is just as filthy, the hours stuck to us in layers of grease while time has burrowed even deeper in my father’s skin.

He’s been waking up at three AM every morning for the past fifteen years. Cooking migas and tamales and pozole and carne asada. Cleaning up broken glass and spilled drinks and half-eaten food. Hiring cooks and bartenders and dish boys, firing them too. Wondering if people are going to show up that day, if they’re going to like the food, if they’re going to pay what it’s worth. And going to bed every night hoping that it was enough. To pay the bills. To raise four kids. To open the doors another day.

I can see those worries on his face, and even covered in filth, in food my father used to love, in sweat I can’t wait to wash off, there’s nothing I want more than to wear the same worry he does, to wake up with the same freedom.

“You smell like shit,” my father says.

“You mean I smell like money,” Angel corrects him.

My father almost laughs but then his eyes track to the rearview mirror. To the shadows lined up across the street. He backs out slow, the glow of the neon sign stamped against the hood of the truck. NACHO’S TACOS stretches to the curb, bleeding into the streetlights. The one across from us is just about to burn out, gasps of white drawing my eye.

“Just stare straight ahead,” my father says.

“How long have they been out there?” Angel asks.

Our father is quiet and I know it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been out there. All that matters is who they’re looking for.

Pen&Xander.v9

Available here!

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Teaser Tuesday!

P&X

My back hurts, my legs burn, and everything sticks to me, sweat painting my neck. I scrape my hair out of my face and find pieces of lettuce and dried enchilada sauce. Angel is just as filthy, the hours stuck to us in layers of grease while time has burrowed even deeper in my father’s skin.

He’s been waking up at three AM every morning for the past fifteen years. Cooking migas and tamales and pozole and carne asada. Cleaning up broken glass and spilled drinks and half-eaten food. Hiring bartenders and dish boys and steak cooks, firing them too. Waking up every morning wondering if people are going to show up that day, if they’re going to like the food, if they’re going to pay what it’s worth. And going to bed every night hoping that it was enough. To pay the bills. To raise four kids. To open the doors another day.

I can see those worries on his face, and even covered in filth, in food my father used to love, in sweat I can’t wait to wash off, there’s nothing I want more than to wear the same worry he does, to wake up with the same hope.

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