Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight, or any related characters. Any references to real places or people is purely for purposes of fiction, and should similarly be taken with a grain of salt.
The meth-heads, the crackwhores, the Forever XXI lot lizards with thirty-nine years of fifty-year-old leathered skin and blackened, cracked sneers teemed in the parking lot amid more average civilians like zombies while I watched from inside the glass window of the fortress I could now officially refer to as my life.
"You have a customer," Mary muttered, sounding a little irritated that I could at all be distracted on my first day. Startled, I twisted my head back to the register, turning my back on the apocalypse behind me.
"Hi, how are you?" I asked as energetically as I could to the dirty, grizzly man standing in front of me, donned in a shirt that displayed his truck company's logo. His odor was so prominent I could smell it from across the counter, which was a yard wide. I tried my absolute hardest not to make a face, considering the girl who was training me was for sure going to report back to the managers', but never in my life had I been thrust into a world where hygiene was an option. That was not my world. ...That wasn't my world.
It wouldn't have been so bad if he was the first customer I had encountered in such a state in my six hours of being here.
He grunted in response, his eyes trailing my torso up and down, and I thanked baby Jebus for the hideous, oversized red smock I donned. Maybe some girls who, like me, had never been hit on in their life would be adversely affected, appreciating the attention, or at least finding it flattering. But considering that these men would actually pay to have sex with the aforementioned hookers in a heartbeat, the praise was more insulting and substanceless.
I shook my head slightly as I scanned his items. His coffee cup had no barcode of course, and I had to search for a second through the different menus on the POS to find the right screen to ring up hot beverages. Mary moved to help me when she saw me hesitate, but I quickly found it before she could intervene. I was determined to impress. As repulsive as the environment was to me, it had better pay than most places that would have me, and I needed it.
I started bagging the trucker's items as he swiped his card, and Mary nodded next to me. "It's good you're doing that," she muttered, as I tried to avoid glancing at any of her rotting teeth. "Saves time."
I let my sarcasm have full reign in my inner monologue, but I gave Mary only a grateful smile for her support. This was not my first job. This was not even the hardest job I had ever had. I was running a register. Sure I had to learn the system, the brands of cigarettes when I had never smoked a day in my life, how to operate the lotto machine when I had never played, interspersed with taking care of the truck stop's "to-go" bar which had the fountain drinks, coffee, creamers, popcorn, boiled peanuts, grill, and perpetually dirtied counters, along with the hardest task of all, dealing with people.
But I knew, arrogant as it sounded, I was considerably more intelligent than most of the people I had encountered thus far, and if they could do it, so could I.
But I had thought that before.
The long fall down is, in retrospect, not so much a fall but a steady race, foot by foot, over uneven but easily traversed terrain, down the cliff. It seems like it happens so suddenly, one minute you're at the top, and the next you're looking up at the precipice you were on, dazed, feeling around your head for the congealed blood that must be there because surely you fell, this wasn't your fault, it was a clumsy accident. Just an accident. But then you look back and remember every single moment, most trivial but all so relevant, all the accumulation of a million steps of failure, that walked you down that fucking cliff to be swallowed by the jagged rocks at the bottom. If you're lucky. And there's no blood on your head. You are one hundred percent in tact.
That's the worst part.
I was surprised by how much there was to this truck stop/gas station. It all seemed so straight forward the first time I walked in here. But at the end of my first shift, after seven hours of the continuous onslaught of new stimuli, I would admit my shock at the amount of things there were to memorize.
The phone at the front counter rang and for the first time today, I was forced to answer it. While helping a customer. I was told I would have to get used to the multi-tasking. I had been around registers, I had been on receptionist duty, but never had I been told I had to do the two simultaneously. All my previous manager's were of the same mind that the two actions could only lead to unnecessary mistakes. But I was already getting the feeling that I wasn't working in the most well-managed place...
I scanned a muffin. "Thank you for calling One Stops, this is Bella speaking, how may I help you?" I saw Mary nodding in approval as she helped customers at the other register as well. I motioned towards a small price screen facing the customers for their convenience. "Yes, this is the one in Renton...yes off the I-5..." The cash register door opened with a slight click as I made change, trying to listen intently and count correctly, "...you too, have a great night."
Can I stay here? was the question I kept asking myself.
At ten in the evening, my designated hour of departure, Mary, my mentor for the day, a woman who had to be only in her early thirties but was considerably aged by her smoking habit, her yellowed, rotting teeth, and the chemically burnt frizz on the top of her head, showed me how to close the drawer, which required so many steps that I wondered how I would memorize it. How she had memorized it. But I assured myself it was all repetition, and the fact that I was being shown this after half a day of new information was what was wounding my confidence.
And the fact that it had been a little while since I had put my mind to any good use. Behind my excuses, I had a very real fear of being proven incompetent.
You can do it, I told myself, breathing out, still sitting in one of the small and cluttered rooms in the small and cluttered back office where Mary had finished our paperwork and gone home. You can do it. Just do it.
It all seemed too much suddenly, as it often did.
Walking out into the clear June night, I pulled out my phone habitually and was shocked to find a text message waiting for me. Flipping it open, my stomach dropped sickly. My mother.
Charlie told me u got the job. Good for u. But did u call that teacher your guidnce cnslor told u to c? keep school in mind.
I cringed for several reasons. Firstly, her text speak. Secondly, the fact that she was talking to me when she was the one who wanted a clean break. Thirdly, I just could not handle the subject matter. The shame, the guilt, the anger, the anxiety. That was why I was here. To leave it behind me.
The big, red, old Chevy I drove creaked and groaned all the way back to the apartment. But considering it had somehow managed the entire trek from Forks to Renton, I had faith in it that I might not have possessed otherwise.
It was rusted and loud, but it was free, and it was freedom to have a vehicle. My dad had bought it from an old friend, so it was really more a favor than a business transaction. He had given it to me with some trepidation, but my father still believed in me in a way I wasn't sure my mother would ever be able to again.
But it didn't matter. I was an adult now. My faults were just mine now. I didn't have to involve them anymore. Well, that's what I liked to believe anyway.
Really, I just had an adult's ability to make a child's mistakes.
Everything I had right now indebted me to Charlie in a way I was resigned to accept. After all, he was helping me, not condemning me. What a strange change of pace...
I let myself into the apartment and paused as I toed off my shoes. There was no noise. My roommate was probably still in Seattle. She had informed me that she stayed with friends there a lot because she went to the University, and that even though we were technically roommates, I would have the place to myself most of time. I found it refreshing and discouraging all at once.
Charlie was a good acquaintance of her parents, and had pulled some strings to have them convince their daughter to have me as a roommate. Really, her parents paid for it so it was their decision but we all figured it was better if our relationship didn't start off at gunpoint. But I can only imagine what horror stories she had heard about me.
So here I was, paying a very reduced rent in an apartment I essentially had to myself, in a free truck, in a new city away from either of my parents, free to start a new life. For all intents and purposes, I was very lucky. Liberated.
I felt punished. Chained.
I stared up at the ceiling in my still bare room, my modest luggage against one wall, watching the streetlight that streamed through my curtains make pale yellow and deep navy shadows. I went over what I could remember learning today to prepare for tomorrow.
I was still viewing the world in blocks of time. I didn't want the details, didn't want to keep them, to live them. I wanted the time to pass as fast as it could, and I wasn't ready for the small things. I didn't want the past, the present, barely the future.
The tears wanted to come. They choked the back of my throat and pricked at the corners of my eyes. I slapped myself as hard as I could, gasping lightly at the brief sear of prickling pain, and then did it one more time for good measure.
I was going to have to get up tomorrow and do this all over again. If I let myself cry now, what would stop me from doing it tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after?
I couldn't drown in a river of my own tears. So there was no use to them.
Just don't stop.
- The Romanticidal Edwardian