When I was eight, my mom died. My father became a shell of a man. I lost both my parents that day.
I was lost and alone, taking care of a man that stopped acknowledging me. That's how I became a mother of two by the time I was sixteen. Their dad Jake was three years older than me and gave me the affection I craved so much at the time. When I become pregnant and gave birth at fourteen, Jake stood by me and my dad began to try with me. He helped watch Lucian so I would stay in school, and Jake would also stay at night so I could get some sleep. My father hated him with a passion I had never seen, but tolerated him for my sake and Lucian's, too.
It wasn't until I was pregnant with Damon at sixteen that I realized Jake wasn't what I thought he was. He wanted me to get an abortion. He didn't want to be a father again. Charlie stood by my decision to have Damon. He wasn't happy at all that I was pregnant again, but he still helped me get through school while Jake began to disappear for days, then weeks. He was 'away for college' to try to better himself for his boys. The same boys he refused to see when he did come into town.
I graduated at the top of my class, and was planning on going to community college when Charlie dropped the bomb that he was no longer going to help me. According to him, I was eighteen and a parent; I needed to move out and figure it out on my own.
I was crushed that my father would do that to me. He gave me two weeks to get out of his house.
I was lucky; I quickly found a diner job in Seattle and a one bedroom apartment for cheap that wasn't too far from where I was working. Taking what I could, my four-year-old and two-year-old moved with me and I've never looked back. I've struggled every day since to give my boys what they need. Jake wasn't helping me at all; even if he did show up he wanted money. I hated him so much, but even more I hated myself for loving him and wanting him to be the father that Lucian and Damon needed. But he will never be what we need, because he wants to party and screw every female that walks.
I look at my twenty-four-year self in the mirror. My hair is long and lifeless from all the neglect, and brown like muddy water. My eyes match my hair in dullness and color; they have sunken in my face from all the meals I have had to skip to make sure my babies have what they need and that they eat. I look older due to the stress of figuring out how I'm going to pay rent and get the boys the clothes they need for school the following month.
I strip my work clothes off and neatly fold them on top of the broken toilet lid that the super still hasn't fixed since we moved in six years ago. I hiss when the hot water hits my back, then my body adjusts and it begins to feel good to wash the grime of the day off. As a ritual, I begin to cry. I cry for my kids' futures, I cry for myself and the situation I got myself in. I cry from the stress of everyday life. Feeling the water turn from hot to warm, I know I'd better finish quickly before it gets any colder.
I throw on a well-worn robe that was once my mom's. It has long since lost her scent and the warmth that it used to give me. I tiptoe out of the bathroom and open the bedroom door to peek in on my boys. Lucian's shaggy brown hair is sticking up everywhere; I can't believe he's ten already. He's a sweet boy, and so smart I should put him in a special program, but I can't afford it. I look over to Damon and smile at how he is sprawled out snoring; he has more of a meaty build, where Lucian is tall and lanky. Damon unfortunately has his father's temper and fights all the time, sticking up for his brother because Lucian won't do it himself.
I quickly kiss their foreheads and shut the door quietly so I don't wake them. I try to get myself comfortable on the couch that has been in the apartment since we moved in. I drift off dreaming of a better life, hoping when I wake up it will be a better day.
But when I wake up we are still in the shitty apartment with screaming neighbors.
"Mom," Lucian whispers. I turn to his door where he is standing in his Iron Man PJs that are too short for his long limbs. He pushes his glasses up his nose. He needs a new pair that are fitted to his face better.
"Yes, baby." I yawn, sitting up and waiting for my son to ask me what he needs.
"Is there enough breakfast for all of us this morning?" He doesn't meet my eyes. This is a conversation we have most mornings, since he notices my lack of eating with them.
I wave him over to sit with me. He quickly responds, tucking into my side. "I have pancakes for breakfast this morning, and milk."
"So, you'll join us then?"
"Yes, I'll eat with you boys this morning." I kiss the top of his head.
He gives me his biggest smile, showing all his teeth and dimples. My heart fills so much, I want to cry that I was able to make him this happy.
Together we get all the ingredients and make pancakes. I love cooking with my kids, teaching them a viable life lesson. Damon finally wakes up wearing only his Paw Patrol underwear and a goofy grin. "I smelled pancakes."
We eat breakfast and get ready to go, since I have a shift at the diner today. I love the job in the sense that the boys can hang out there while I'm working, and I love talking to the customers.
We get to Paul's Diner and I sit them down in a secluded booth with some toys and books to keep them entertained. I quickly get to the back so I can prepare for my shift.
I see Tanya already here with her apron on. She is tall, all legs, with strawberry blonde hair neatly pinned to the top of her head. She's gorgeous.
"Bella!" Tanya sings my names when she sees me.
"Tanya!" I sing back to her while tying my apron around my waist.
"How was your night with my two favorite men?" she asks me as she throws some dishes in the sink to be washed later.
"Good." I smile, because nothing makes me happier than my kids. Tanya knows all about me and my life.
"You need some tension release, girl." She smacks my ass. "If you ever want to come over to the other side, I will be the first one to help you out." She puckers her red coated lips, making kissing sounds at me.
"I'm sure Irina would be a little upset with you for that comment." I laugh at her antics and throw a dish towel at her head that she catches with ease.
"Shit, Irina would want to join in." Tanya laughs while walking out of the back area.
I snort to myself. She and Irina became my closest friends, basically my family, when I moved here. Tanya trained me when I first started here at the diner. She was flirtatious and fun, and she gave me advice and confidence when I was feeling low. She and Irina have been in love since high school. Irina is going to school to be a lawyer and Tanya wants to be a nurse. But they agreed that Irina would start her career first, then Tanya can start hers. They have all their shit together.
I see Seth pop his head in the door to the back room. "Bells, Paul is going to be coming in today."
"Shit," I sigh. I'm grateful that Paul he gave me a job when no else would, but he's also a creep that can't keep his hands to himself. He mostly likes to be in my personal space smelling my hair. He doesn't mind that the boys hang out, either, but I don't want them seeing how inappropriate he can be.
Trying to make myself useful, I get started taking tables for the rush. I make sure the boys have some food to eat when lunch comes around. They behave so well for me when I'm at work that I barely need to check on them more than once an hour.
Around one thirty things slow down. I hear the bell above the door ring, telling me more customers have arrived. I look up to see some very business-professional looking people. I can't help but stare at them; we never get people like them in the diner what with it's certain run-down charm.
There are three gentlemen; a hulking linebacker with curly dark hair that's laughing, a tall, shaggy blonde guy with a basketball player build, and finally, a copper-haired guy that looks like he just got out of bed and ran his fingers through it, wearing a scowl on his face as they take a seat. The women accompanying them are just beautiful; one is short with a dark pixie cut and a smile that lights up the room as she takes in her surroundings. The other one is tall with lengthy blonde hair and is smirking at the scowling man.
Watching them take a booth in my section, I quickly grab menus for them. I glance at my boys, who are staring at the new-comers who are just a booth away from them. Quickly, I get their attention and gave them the 'mom look'. Their eyes grow wide and they hurry to turn back in the booth.
"Welcome to Paul's Diner, I'm Bella and I will be taking care of you today." I give them my best smile while I hand them the menus.
"Hi, thank you," the pixie woman greets me.
"We have Pepsi products, tea, and coffee. Can I get you anything while you look through the menu?" I put my pen to paper, waiting for any responses.
"Diet Pepsi," Pixie orders.
"Do the Dew, please," Linebacker laughs at his own joke and the blonde scolds him.
"Jesus, Emmett, are you five? Diet Pepsi."
"Sweet tea," the shaggy blonde guy answers, eyeing the pixie.
"Coffee, black, freshly brewed too, please. Also, make sure the cup is clean," the scowling copper-haired man demands in a tight velvet voice without looking up from his phone.
"Jesus, Edward, I'm sure they have clean glasses." Pixie rolls her eyes at Scowling Guy.
"Alice, have you seen this dump? I can't believe you talked me into this shit."
"Yes, our place has some character to it, but I assure you that our food is amazing. Seth, our cook, is attending Seattle's best culinary school," I defend the diner and Seth.
"Sure," Copper guys says skeptically.
"I'll just get those drinks for you." I put my pad in my apron and quickly go and get the drinks for them.
I keep taking a gander over to their table while I get a new pot of coffee going. I notice Damon still staring with a troubled expression and Lucian shaking his head. Over at the business table, Copper-head is typing on his phone while the others are chatting to each other.
"Paul's in his office," Seth's voice pops up from behind me.
"Shit!" I grab my heart and glare at Seth's smiling form. "Thank you."
I grab all the drinks and put them on a tray and walk back over to the table. "Here we go. Diet Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, do the Dew for you, sweet tea for the gentleman, and your fresh coffee in the cleanest of the clean cups, sir." I keep my smile fun and cute while passing the cups around. Most of the group chuckles, but mister grumpy raises his eyebrow as if challenging me.
"Are we ready to order?" I keep with my chipper self, ignoring his challenge.
"Yes, we are." They all chatter away with what they want, and then I get to mister cranky pants.
"I want a sub, pepperoni, salami, ham, mustard and mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, and pickle on whole grain with provolone cheese. Do you think your cook can handle that?" He hands his menu to me with a cocky grin.
I raise my bitch brow with my own smirk. "I think you'll find your sub more than satisfying, sir."
I walk over to the window to put my order in to Seth. "Hey, for the sub give him the Bella special." I wink.
"Can do, Bells," he chuckles, knowing what I want.
Feeling good about myself, I go over to my boys and check in on them.
"I don't like that guy, Mom," Damon noticeably points to copper hair.
"It's not polite to point like that, Damon," I scold him, pushing his hand down.
"I don't like the way he was talking to you or looking at you, Mom," he grumbles with his arms crossed.
"Don't worry about him, sweetie," I kiss the top of his head and walk back to the kitchen.
I get to the window to pick up my order for the business group and smile, seeing that Seth did exactly what I wanted to mister grumpy copper hair.
"Here we go." I hand the orders to everyone, the last one going down in front of him. I wait.
I hear them chuckle and laugh at him. He just stares hard at it, then looks at me with a confused expression.
"Did you seriously have my food made into a smiley face?"
"Yes, sir, I hope you enjoy your food. If you need anything, please feel free to ask." I smile and wink and leave their table. I check my other tables and the boys, and before I know it the business group is stacking dishes, so I quickly get the check and take it over to them.
"I hope the food was up to your standards." I put the check down on the table.
"It was the best I've had. This is going to be my lunch spot from now on." Linebacker pats his stomach to drive his point home. The others nod their heads in agreement.
I wait for copper hair to respond but he keeps his face in his phone. They give me a credit card and I quickly run it and bring their receipt and wish them a good day.
I start cleaning up another table and when I reach theirs I nearly faint at the sight of the tip. Five one hundred dollar bills with a note. 'Best sub ever'
I sit down before my legs give out. I can get the kids clothes and more groceries. Someone upstairs is finally giving me a small break.