“You stalking me?”
She snorts. “You wish. I finished some business next door and saw you wander into this fine establishment.” Abby leans over the bar. “Where are the cherries?”
Denny slams his laptop shut. “I’m not a food pantry, Abby.”
“Hello, I get two of my four food groups here.” Abby lifts the bowl of peanuts and swivels it. “Protein food group and the cherries are the dessert group. You’ll feel bad if I die of malnourishment.”
My mouth waters at the sight of the peanuts and my stomach growls loud enough that Abby lifts a brow.
The Vin Diesel wannabe actually cracks a smile. He picks up a foam container and the smile fades as his eyes land on me. “What the f**k are you doing here?” His words are angry, but his tone isn’t. I have no idea what to make of him.
Abby grabs a fistful of peanuts and feeds them into her mouth, one at a time. I watch each one disappear behind her lips, almost tasting the salt on my tongue. Her eyes flicker between me and the bartender and I try to refocus on this moment, not on food. A single thought weaves through: Abby knows Mom’s secret. Is this the guy my mom is screwing?
“I’m here for the job,” I say.
Denny tosses the container at Abby and she catches it midair and immediately flips the lid to revel a half-eaten deli sandwich and chips. My knees go weak at the sight. He then crouches, fishes out a jarful of cherries, joins us at the end of the bar and slides it to Abby. She digs in and shoves a cherry in her mouth like she really is on the verge of starvation.
In slight, deliberate movements I’m not sure anyone but me notices, she edges the bowl of peanuts in my direction. I try to act casual as I approach the bar, but I’m so damn hungry it was probably a full-on run. After snatching a handful, I shove them into my mouth. My eyes close as I chew, part relieved, part devastated. How have I been reduced to such desperation?
When I open my eyes, I discover Denny staring at me. “You’re underage.”
“So’s she.” I tilt my head at Abby.
“I just feed her.”
“It’s true.” She tears a hunk out of the sandwich. “See, if you had listened to my story on Saturday morning instead of cutting me off, you’d know that. By the way—” she glances at Denny “—this is West Young. We go to school together.” Her forehead wrinkles as she chews. “I think. I didn’t go today.”
Denny crosses his arms over his chest. “Abby…”
She waves him off. “Yeah, whatever. I get it. I’m going to end up dead and pregnant then dead again by the age of eighteen. Then I’ll have thirty venereal diseases and end up pregnant again before I’ll die in a fiery car crash. Do you have those tiny pretzels? No? Damn.”
Giving up on her, he cocks a hip against the bar and assesses me. “I’ve not seen you around. Are you new to the area?”
I don’t know why, but part of me is disappointed. I hoped his initial reaction meant he knew who I was and therefore he would be the reason why my mother frequented this place, but no go. He could still be the f**k, he just might not be familiar with her children. “Yeah.”
“I meant what I said earlier. I’m looking for a bartender—a legal one.”
“What about the handyman job?” I snag another handful of peanuts. “I’m eighteen.” I’m not, but I will be soon. “And as long as I don’t serve drinks, I can work here.”
“I’m searching for someone to fix things and clean. Are you going to do that?” There’s a clear challenge in his voice.
Last week, hell no. Today? “I’m handy.” It’s true. Rachel’s the car freak, but I’m the one who fixes odd things in the house: loose doorknobs, leaky faucets, dripping toilets. I learned early because Dad was never around and the people Mom hired to do the shit never did it right. “What’s the pay?”
“Ten dollars an hour.”
Abby chokes and pounds a fist into her chest. “My bad. Go on.”
Denny scratches his jaw. “I don’t know.”
“I’ll vouch for him,” Abby says. “He’s a stupid teenager who knows nothing looking for a job. He’s obviously hungry and he’s as naive as the day he was born. I think that screams employment.”
My head snaps to Abby, but before I can tell her where to shove her vouching, she winks at me. “Denny has a soft spot for lost puppies. Trust me—no one else could give you a better recommendation.”
Denny looks me over again, then does the same to Abby. The doubt is etched on his face and I consider begging. My mind begins to section off between sanity and crazy and crazy is pulling ahead for the win.
How can I exist without food? Food means money and money means a job and a job application means a phone and an address. It’s an endless loop where if I don’t have one, then I can’t have the other.
“I could hire him.” Abby tosses a chip into her mouth. “I’ve been considering expanding the business.”
What? Haley said she was a drug dealer. No longer able to stand, I drop to a stool. Buying it is one thing. Selling it…
“You can’t feed yourself,” Denny reminds her.
The glare Abby sends him prickles the skin on the back of my neck. “My assets are continually tied up, but I know people who can pay him.”
Silence before he addresses me. “I’ve got one stall down in the men’s bathroom. If you can fix it, the job is yours.”
“Give me tools and show me the way.” My older brother Jack constantly clogged his toilet.
“Tomorrow,” he responds.
“Now that this is all Brady Bunchesque, I’m thinking finder’s fee.” That damn evil grin crosses Abby’s face.
“Haven’t you ever heard of not biting the hand that feeds you?”
“No, that would have required me to go to school regularly. The way I see it, you were looking for something and I helped you find it. I deserve some appreciation.”
They stare at each other like both of them are contemplating hitting the button that results in nuclear war. Frightening how neither one of them flinches.
“You didn’t find anything,” I say. “I came in here myself.”
Denny pulls his wallet from his back pocket and slams several bills that include zeros in front of Abby. She tucks the cash down her shirt and begins eating again like the whole exchange never happened.