BHM Served (eventual BHM, civilian turned feeder, slow burn, economic satire)

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stevita

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Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
213
Location
Texas
Christyn finished her sidework early and was the first to arrive to the top floor of the garage, where employees were required to park. The bartender arrived five minutes later. “Your name is Christyn, right?”

“That’s me.”

“Estrella. Or Stella, if you prefer.”

“Which do you prefer?”

“I prefer Estrella, but not everyone can pronounce it.”

“Estrella it is, then,” said Christyn. As Estrella began to lead the way back down the stairs, she said, “What did you want to talk to me about?”

“You’re a team player, Christyn. Always helping me prebuss the bar or running other servers’ drinks out of the well. You have to know that I appreciate it. Libby, however, does not.”

“What? Why?”

“She doesn’t want us to like each other. She wants us to compete. She figures if she can keep us all scrambling to outsell one another, she’ll make more money.” As they reached the bottom of the stairwell, she said, “Let me treat you to lunch?”

As they walked across the street to Estrella’s favorite restaurant, Christyn realized with dismay that it was her letter of recommendation that had killed Damian’s chances of being hired.

Cafe Alexis was a small, cozy health food spot where you ordered at the counter, took a number, and a foodrunner served you at a table. Estrella ordered a shot of vodka, which she slammed back at the counter, and the happy hour appetizer of the day, which came free upon request with every drink and happened to be a hummus plate with vegetables and pita today, but she said to hold the pita. Christyn ordered the Southwestern Wrap, but asked that they hold the chicken and add extra chipotle ranch. Estrella wrinkled her nose. “You’re just putting back in the calories you took out by omitting the chicken.”

“Oh, stop it, Stella!” said the girl on the register before turning to Christyn. “She’s like this with her men, too. Don’t worry, girlie, you can have as much chipotle ranch as you want. I’ll even give you some more on the side.”

Once they’d picked out a table, Estrella went right back to spilling company secrets. “Libby’s such a dumb cow. She really thinks those little mini-carafes we use to pour wine are a ‘sales tool.’ She’s always telling us to pour half the glass and then leave the carafe, then swing by the table, pour the rest, wave the empty carafe as if it’ll somehow brainwash the customers into ordering another glass on the spot. It’s a complete waste of time, if you ask me.”

“Yeah, brainwashing is a much more complicated matter. The one time I tried it, it took me weeks.”

Estrella peered at her quizzically. “I knew there was something different about you,” she said. “So who’d you brainwash?”

“My little barback.”

“You’re a bartender?”

“I was, at my old job.”

“Tell me, how many ounces of vodka go in a martini?”

“Well, first of all, it should be gin, but I guess that is a matter of opinion,” said Christyn. “But it’s two and a half.”

“That’s what I thought!” said Estrella. “Libby has us pouring four.”

“Why would she do that?” asked Christyn. “For someone who’s all about the bottom line, she’s practically giving away liquor.”

“I don’t know, but the wine bottles are too cheap, too. I saw a bottle of Santa Lucia at the grocery store for more than we’re selling it for. There’s something weird going on at this restaurant, but I don’t know what.”

“Tell me about it,” agreed Christyn. “Why would Libby request me specifically, then treat me like garbage every minute I’m in the building?”

Estrella gave her a sheepish look. “That...may have been my fault,” she confessed. “I told Libby that I’d worked with you before, and that I completely hated you. I said you were the most hot-headed, cantankerous server I’d ever met, and that you had no misgivings about sharking tables or overserving alcohol if it could make you a quick buck. I knew if I said that, she’d hire you.”

“Why?” asked Christyn. “How did you even know my name?”

“Your friend dropped it when he came in for a drink.”

“Which friend?”

“Mulatto guy, average height, thin, gorgeous smile, cheekbones that could cut glass, curly hair, kind of an attitude...Dominic or Darius or something that started with a D…”

“Damian!” Christyn placed him in a second. She winced. Cheekbones that could cut glass. He wasn’t eating. He was still jobless, and had too much pride to ask her for more help. “And...wait. You served him liquor? Did you ID him?”

“...Fuck.”

Soon the food landed, and Christyn bit into her wrap, impressed with the quality. The tortilla was soft and tasted homemade, the rice fluffy, the vegetables crisp and the corn and beans warm and juicy. “Thank you so much for lunch, Estrella. Would you like half of this? I’m not going to finish.”

“That’s okay. Way too many calories. It looks good, but you’re never going to lose weight like that.”

“Who says I’m trying to lose weight?” Christyn dipped her wrap into her side of extra dressing and took a bite. “So you got me transferred because I’m friends with Damian...do you like him? Is that it? You thought maybe if you got me moved to the store on Washington, he’d come in more frequently?”

“Guilty as charged.”

“I should kill you,” said Christyn. “I was having a much better time at the other store.”

“I’m sorry. I saw something I liked, and I took action!”

“You’re forgiven,” said Christyn. “Just have my back as long as I have yours.”
 

stevita

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Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
213
Location
Texas
The call came in as Christyn was driving home.

“Hi, this is Alexis Strauss, owner and general manager of Cafe Alexis. Can I speak to Chris Brandywine?”

“This is she,” said Christyn, plugging in her earpiece. “What seems to be the problem? Have I left my credit card there?” That wouldn’t even make sense; Estrella had paid.

“No, nothing like that. I’m here with Damian Mendez; he’s in my office. I wanted to call and verify his letter of rec; too many people fake these things these days.”

“I completely understand,” said Christyn. “I did write the letter, and if you don’t hire Damian, it’ll be the mistake of your life. He’s wonderful.”

“Good, good to know,” said Alexis. “I’ve been hurting for reliable employees. Lately too much money has gone missing, but you’re a manager. You know. But as long as you can vouch for his integrity, I’ll hand him his W2 right now!”

As Alexis hung up, Christyn beamed with pride. Her little protege, off to his next great adventure! She was sure the folks at the cafe would love him. And now she could visit him whenever she wanted, seeing as he’d be right across the street.
 

stevita

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Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
213
Location
Texas
TEN

A job was a job, right?

That’s what Damian tried to tell himself as he finished up his first week at Cafe Alexis.

Once in a while, he got to do the easy part, working behind the register, but that job was usually reserved for his coworker, Lacie, when she was there, because Bob, the floor manager, wanted a pretty girl working the counter. Most of the time, Damian was put on grunt work--restocking ice, setup, breakdown, making salads in the back--none of which he minded; in fact, all the cleaning and heavy lifting actually relaxed him, reminding him of his work with Christyn at the Capital. It was working on the floor that he hated: delivering food, bussing tables, and cleaning up after a bunch of people just in from their morning runs who wouldn’t stop yakking about their diets. The restaurant always reeked of sweat. Damian found it disgusting. He didn’t come in smelly and unshowered, so why did the customers think it was okay to do so? Have a little decency, people.

Still, the job was not without its highlights, Lacie being one of them. She was, indeed, stunningly pretty, with long brown hair and a face that reminded him of cheerleaders in frat movies. She also had a fantastic ass that strained the seat of her jeans, and he couldn't help but be fixated every time she accidentally bumped into something with it. More importantly, she had a warm personality and always helped him with his workload once she was done ringing up customers for the shift.

After they clocked out for lunch one day, she pulled a large plastic container out of the microwave before Damian had a chance to assemble himself something to eat off the line. “My grandma always packs me way too much leftovers,” she said. “Do you want any of this? It’s lasagna.” As she took off the lid and the delicious aroma wafted towards him, he felt his mouth beginning to water.

“I mean, if you’re not gonna finish it…”

“I insist! You work so hard that you’ll probably pass out if you keep eating nothing but the rabbit food here.” She scraped a hearty portion of lasagna onto a plate and handed it to him with a fork.

The lasagna was better than anything Damian had ever had from a box in the freezer aisle, rich and hearty without being too overwhelmed by cheese, and after living on cold tortillas and salsa for the past week, he couldn’t stand to pace himself and was finished within minutes. “You said your grandma made that?”

“Yeah, I still live with her. My mom lived with us too, for a while, but when I was little I was raised to believe she was my sister. She had me when she was really young, see,” said Lacie. “I’m trying to get my own place, but I have to save up some money first.”

“Just get fake check stubs,” said Damian. “That’s what I did to get an apartment. My boy Weezy knows how to make ‘em. Then again, he hardly takes my calls no more. I can never tell when he’s in the lockup. I might have seen him when I was in there; the days kind of get to be a blur.”

Lacie chuckled. With a devious sparkle in her eyes, she said, “What is with you boys in this industry always getting thrown in jail? Y’all all need to learn to be slick enough not to get caught.”
 

stevita

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Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
213
Location
Texas
Stella and Christyn made frequent stops into the cafe. Christyn always got a wrap but never finished it; Damian always asked her if she wanted to take it to go, but she told him he could eat it in the back if he wanted. Between Lacie splitting her lunch with him on the regular and relying on Christyn’s generosity for dinner, he steadily recovered the weight he’d lost going days at a time without eating when he was out of a job. He knew they were just well-meaning, but he thought to himself guiltily that it would be extremely hot to be tag-teamed by two beautiful girls secretly co-conspiring to make him softer.

But he had no such luck, as Christyn and Lacie seemed not to be in communication other than the short conversations they had at the cafe, and the weight came on mostly in muscle anyway from having to do all the hard work in the restaurant.

“How’s your boyfriend?” he asked Christyn one day while he was cleaning her table and bringing Stella a second vodka soda.

“I probably completely fucked things up. That day I got drunk with Auralee, I had totally forgotten about our date, and now he won’t speak to me.”

“That’s real mature of him. What is he, thirty?”

“Forty, as of the fourth.”

“Hmm...you know, that’s really interesting that you know his birthday and he doesn’t know yours.”

Damian thought he might have an in at last, but Stella chose that moment to finish her first drink and say, “Hey Damian, why don’t we do something sometime?”

“I...like, a date?”

“If that’s what you want to call it!” she chirped brightly. “Anyway, where are you taking me? Might I suggest the IMAX? There’s a horror movie out I’ve been dying to see…”

This put Damian in a tough position. He was never into Stella that way, and now, the forward nature of her advances was making him nervous. But she was a bartender at Christyn’s job. Damian didn’t want her taking it out on Christyn on the clock if he rejected her. So, reluctantly, he said, “Sure, let’s go to the movies. What does your Tuesday next week look like?”

The movie, as it turned out, was the latest bastardization of Hansel and Gretel. It wasn’t very good, but he was glad he’d accidentally forgotten to return Christyn’s sweater, and that he had brought it along, so he could lay it over his lap when he sprung an awkward boner during the scene where the witch’s plans were revealed.

His second date with Stella didn’t go much better. He had asked Christyn for restaurant recommendations, and she had suggested a place called Ta-Ta’s off the beltway near where he stayed, telling him they had the best fried shrimp in the city limits. Only, when he and Stella got there, the waitresses were wearing next to nothing.

He had forgotten to mention to Christyn that he was taking a girl out. She probably thought he would enjoy this kind of thing, and maybe he would have, but none of the skimpily-dressed waitresses appealed to him--too skinny for his taste.

Stella looked less than pleased, but decided that since they were already here, they might as well get a table. Service was slow, so slow, in fact, that Damian was starving by the time food hit the table and ate with a desperate need that had Stella cringing across the table. (But for the record, Christyn was right; the fried shrimp was wonderfully crispy and seasoned to perfection.)

“I don’t know what disturbs me more,” said Stella, “the fact that you took me to the local breastaurant, or you being more interested in food than women.”

“Aw, come on, babe, I only have eyes for you.” It was an empty promise, but a good save, and he earned himself a kiss in the parking lot before she let him take her home.
 

stevita

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Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
213
Location
Texas
“What’s on the menu today?” asked Damian as he met Lacie in the kitchen at the start of his break.

“I think you’re gonna like this. Nobody doesn’t like Nana’s meatloaf.” She pulled two meatloaf sandwiches out of the microwave and handed him one, beaming.

“That looks amazing! But there’s no way your grandma actually expects you to finish two whole meatloaf sandwiches.”

“Maybe I had her pack extra,” said Lacie. “Maybe I mean to fatten you up a shade.”

She was almost certainly playing. She had to be. Unless…?

If only she knew she had just stumbled upon the key to his heart.

“But seriously, you being with Stella Alba now, I bet she doesn’t let you eat as much as you want to. I see her in the store all the time. She’s always talking about her diet, and whenever she’s with a guy, he looks miserable.”

“Good thing I don’t let people tell me what to do.” Except for that one time he was brainwashed. Whoops.

The sandwich was so thick he had to eat it with a fork. It was so good, though, and sinfully filling. “That said,” he said between bites, “please don’t stop feeding me. Your grandma is an excellent chef! She could give Christyn a run for her money.”

“Christyn, that’s Stella’s friend, right? The cute curvy one?”

“Do you...do you like girls, or guys?”

“Both. I definitely like my women curvy.”

Damian smiled. “Me too. And your men?”

She reddened. “Okay, I hope you didn’t get skeeved out by that ‘fatten you up’ comment before--”

“I really didn’t.”

“And it’s just that you were so skinny when you started here, like, scary skinny, and you look a lot healthier now, and--”

“Hey.” He put down his plate to wrap her up in a hug. “You’ve been great, okay? And I get the sense that we’re both dealing with the same thing...in different ways...I don’t really understand it myself, but there's something I want and if you want it too...maybe we don’t have to be alone?”

She sank against him, rubbing his back. “Do you want to come over for dinner after work?” she asked. “Nana’s making gnocchi by hand, from scratch.”

“Would I ever!”
 

stevita

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Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
213
Location
Texas
Damian followed Lacie until she pulled up in front of the townhouse she shared with her grandmother in the outer Westheimer area, a few minutes closer to the beltway than where Christyn stayed. Her grandmother was a kindly-looking, full-figured woman appearing to be in her late 50s or early 60s. She was finicking over saucepans and pots on the stove when they entered and did a double take when she realized Lacie had company. “Oh, how wonderful! You’ve brought a friend.”

“Nana, this is Damian, from my job.”

Damian let her pull him in for a hug, a little confused on how to address her--he didn’t even know Lacie’s last name. “It’s nice to meet you, Mrs…?”

“Oh, none of this formality. You can call me Paulette.”

“It’s nice to meet you then, Paulette. And I can see where Lacie gets her good looks!” Not that she was a GILF or anything. (Except she was a total GILF.)

While the introductions were being done, a bark sounded from the next room and a big, magnificent husky ran right up to Damian and jumped on him, paws on his shoulders with a force that almost knocked him over. “Persephone! Down!” Lacie snapped her fingers, and the dog obediently backed off, tail wagging low and slow as she looked from Lacie to Damian, seeming let down.

“I really don’t mind it,” he said.

“Glad to see you’re a dog person...but we can’t let her just jump on everyone. Nana, me and Damian are gonna go upstairs and listen to some music before dinner,” Lacie declared, dragging him by the wrist into the stairwell.

“Alright. Leave the door open, honey!” Paulette called after them.

“Jesus, Nana, I’m twenty-one!” Lacie yelled back before pulling Damian into her room and slamming the door behind them. “Anyway, Damian...do you like to smoke weed?”

Oh yeah. It was going to be a fun night.

They sat on the bed passing the pipe between them a few times, until Damian was feeling nice and mellow, Lacie experiencing devious little giggle fits. “Hey, come here.” Suddenly, she got up and led him to the bathroom.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to get some preliminary numbers.” She pulled a scale out of a closet. Damian could hear his heartbeat in his ears.

“So you really were serious about...all that stuff?

“Only...only if you’re okay with it,” she said, glancing shyly off to the side.

“Oh, I am more than okay with it,” he promised, and stood on the scale, watching the needle settle at just over 139 and a half.

“Almost 140, good!” said Lacie.

“How is that good?” To him, the number seemed pathetically small compared to where he fantasized about being, a thought that would have brought him self-conscious shame if he were around anyone else, but with Lacie, he felt safe. Here, he had freedom to explore this side of himself.

“Well, you were probably about 120 when you started at the cafe. It broke my heart! You looked like you had been starved!”

“I’m lucky you were there to rescue me.”

“I’ll do more than that,” she said, moving close enough to hook her thumb in the waistband of his work slacks. “I want to see you with another twenty. I want these to be tight on you.”

“Yeah? Tell me more. Tell me what you’re going to do to me.”

“I’m going to stuff you with so much food this button pops.”

“Is that a threat or a promise?”

“Kids! Come get dinner before it gets cold!” Paulette called from downstairs. Lacie smirked.

“Hungry?” she asked Damian.

“Do your worst.”
 

stevita

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Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
213
Location
Texas
Paulette’s gnocchi was everything Damian imagined after sampling her cooking on the job. She served it tossed in a hearty brown mushroom sauce which she said used red wine and a roux of butter and veal stock. He was so impressed that he had no problem cleaning his first plate, which Lacie had piled high, and as he asked for more, her breathing shallowed and she crossed her legs hard under the table.

Of course, being stoned, Lacie was experiencing no lack of appetite, but Damian still beat her out by almost a whole plate. As dinner was wrapping up, Lacie stopped her grandmother from beginning to clear the table. “I got this, Nana. You cooked, I’ll clear.” She removed the empty plate in front of Damian and whispered to him, “Wait for me upstairs.”

He stumbled up the stairs and collapsed on his back in bed, running a hand up his stomach through his shirt. It was rounded out and resisted a slight push of his fingertips when he pressed. God, he felt so good. So full. So safe.

Once Lacie had finished doing the dishes, she came upstairs with a plate in hand of something warm and sweet smelling. “What is that?” he asked, tilting his head to look up at her.

“Canadian butter tarts. Nana just took them out of the oven a few minutes ago. Are you feeling up for dessert?”

So, they were Canadian. Damian would have guessed Minnesota, by the accents. Then again, all he knew of accents was influenced by TV. He had never been outside of Houston.

“I guess I could eat some more. Just...let me go slow?”

“Of course! You’ve already eaten so much at dinner...I don’t want to make you sick and have you wasting calories.” She sat down on the bed next to him, propped up against the headboard, and broke off a small piece of tart with her fingers. “Try this, and tell me how you like it.”

This was the stuff of his wildest dreams. He accepted the bite she held to his lips and the flavor exploded on his tongue, flaky warm pastry mixing with gooey, creamy filling. Bit by bit, he let her feed him three butter tarts, by the third feeling his stomach stretch to fit each additional bite. Yes, yes, yes. This was the feeling he craved, that he tried to chase whenever he could. At this point, Lacie paused to check in with him. “How are you feeling?”

“So full. So good. Tastes amazing. So good I want you to keep feeding me that, even though it feels like I’m finna explode.”

“Maybe we can take a little break? Here, come here.” She tugged him up by the wrist and he reluctantly followed her back to the bathroom, feeling heavy and weighted down. She put him back on the scale and jumped in delight. “That’s a whole two pound food baby we put in you!” She gave his belly a slap, and he groaned. “Oh! I’m sorry, baby! Here, come back to bed.”

It was a relief to be laid back on the mattress. Once he was on his back again, Lacie slipped a hand under his shirt and began to rub his belly, running her hands up and down both sides from the bottom of his ribcage to the waistband of his pants, thumbs barely brushing his navel. Her touch was like magic. “Ooh, your stomach is hard as a rock!” she said. “But if we keep doing this, it’ll be soft soon. You’ll be soft all over, and then, what will Stella say? She’ll know someone is feeding you well...she’ll know what a slut you’ve been. But you’ll like being my fat slut, won’t you?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, arching his back to press his belly against her working hands. “Make me your fat slut, Lacie.” He was as achingly hard now as he was achingly full; he’d been at half mast all evening but now it would be impossible for her to ignore the bulge in his pants. “Oh, shit,” she said, nervously palming him through the fabric. “Damian, I’m starting to come down and I don’t think I like being full as much as you do...I feel like shit, honestly. Definitely too full for sex. Not that I would know how…”

“Are...are you a virgin?”

“I live with my grandma, what do you think?” she said. She gave his gut another slap, he whined, and she muttered an apology. “I’ve never even taken a guy home before,” she confessed. “But when I found out you might share my fantasy I couldn’t resist! Anyway, I don’t want to blue ball you. Maybe I could suck your dick?”

“Have you ever sucked a dick before?”

“I can figure it out.”

She opened his pants and tugged them down, taking him into her mouth while she continued to rub his belly, which was nice. He had never gotten his dick sucked before, but found she was doing a good job, until it started to hurt. “Oof! Lacie, do you think you can keep your teeth off it?”

“Oops! Sorry!”

She went back to it, mouth open a little wider this time, and it felt so good, so good, so good, until he hit her gag reflex or something and she threw up all over his fucking dick.

“Oh my god! I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay...you said you were too full...I should have got you to lay down for a minute.”

Damian cleaned himself up in the shower and returned to Lacie, who was now balled up in bed, cursing and crying. “It’s really not that bad,” he tried to reassure her. “Maybe we can just cuddle for a while?”

“O-okay.” Trembling, she turned around and wrapped an arm around his waist. He held her until she stopped crying. “I hope you’ll let me do this again sometime. I promise I won’t mess up next time. You’re still so skinny.”
 

stevita

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Joined
Dec 7, 2019
Messages
213
Location
Texas
Damian had driven himself home before it got too late. Usually if he had money, he would hit up the fast food place at the end of his street where it intersected the beltway for breakfast, but he woke up still too full, which was a heavenly feeling, and convenient, because he didn’t have any money. Paychecks didn’t land for another week, and his cash tips had covered the tab at the ‘breastaurant,’ as Stella called it, and half a tank of gas, but that was it.

When he arrived at work, Lacie was already there, and her posture shrank awkwardly behind the counter as he walked through the door. “Are you okay?” he asked as he joined her in straightening up the area before their shift.

“I still feel so bad about vomiting on you last night.”

“Don’t sweat it, that was the sexiest part.”

“What?” She stammered and flushed adorably.
“Ha! I totally got you!” He laughed and elbowed her teasingly in the ribs. “Seriously, though. I get that you’re embarrassed; I would be too if I was the one that got sick on you. But don’t beat yourself up too bad, okay?”

It was a slow day, and during the lull while Damian was on his way back to the kitchen to put the ice bucket back, he passed Lacie from behind and said, “You did a good job feeding me last night.”

“Yeah?”

“I couldn’t have ate breakfast this morning if I tried, I was still so full. But you know what that means, don’t you?”

“What does it mean?” she asked, exhaling.

“It means your fat slut finna be hungry before lunchtime.” With the coast clear, he gave her ass a playful smack.

“Ooh, getting demanding, are we? I guess as the one plotting to make you into a plump, lazy hedonist, I have only myself to blame,” said Lacie. “Well...no one’s here now. If you want, I actually packed a little snack for you.” She pulled a stash of leftover butter tarts out from under the counter. “What do you say?”

“You’re too good to me babe. Lemme just find a plate.”

“If it’s okay, can I feed it to you?” asked Lacie. “By hand? I want to feel responsible for every sweet little ounce of fat we add to your body.”

“Goddamn, girl, that’s the sex--”

He was silenced as she shoved a butter tart into his mouth whole. Between chewing and swallowing, he let out ecstatic moans. “That’s right, baby. Swallow it down.” She brushed some crumbs that had slipped out the side of his mouth and made him suck them off her thumb.

And of course, Stella would choose that exact moment to walk into the restaurant. “Damian, what are you doing?”

His eyes widened as he struggled to gulp down the last of the tart so he could invent some answer she would accept. Luckily, Lacie was able to think on her feet.

“He’s having a midmorning snack, duh.”

“And I suppose you casually shove food people’s mouths, just as a friend, is that it?”

“I mean, yeah. Want a Canadian butter tart?” Lacie pressed one toward Stella across the counter.

“No!” Stella turned her head and smacked it out of Lacie’s hand. It hit the floor on the other side of the counter. Lacie pouted.

“You don’t consider me a friend, Stella?”

“Some friend! You know I’m on Keto!” She seemed to accept Lacie’s cover story, more concerned about her own diet than anything else, and questioned Damian no further. Shoving the napkin dispenser towards him, she said, “Clean yourself up. Christyn’s a few minutes behind me, and I don’t need my best friend seeing my man make a pig of himself. And go ahead and put me in for a Greek salad, no dressing, add chicken, and she’ll do the wrap again, but don’t give her any extra dressing. You won’t be doing her any favors.”

There was no part of what she said that Damian didn’t resent, but as Christyn walked in, he wiped his face off and went in the back to put together the order, pretending everything was cool, not wanting to disturb the peace.

He dropped off their order, placing a side of extra dressing defiantly in front of Christyn before heading to the back to grab more bottles of kale juice for the counter. Lacie followed him back there to check on him. “Hey...you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“She’s a nightmare, isn’t she?”

“The worst.”

“Still, wasn’t it kind of hot when she called you a pig at the counter?”

“I didn’t like it. When I hear ‘pig,’ all I think about is cops, and I don’t have a great relationship with the cops.”

“I see. Sorry,” said Lacie. “Why don’t you break up with her?”

“Are we even together? We’ve been on two dates. Now she wants to say like I’m her man? Trippin’.”

After having a few drinks, Stella left early to return to McCarthy’s for the second half of a double while Christyn lingered behind. Glad for the opportunity to talk to her without Stella, Damian went over to her table and said, “How’s things?” Only, when he got a closer look at her, he guessed the answer was, not great. She was shaking like he hadn’t seen her do since they worked at the Capital, and she had barely touched her food. “Your eyes are all red.”

“I haven’t been sleeping well since Jesse won’t talk to me. If they start to turn yellow, that’s when to worry about me.”

“What?”

“Jaundice of the eyes is the first sign of cirrhosis of the liver.”

“The only word I understood of that was liver,” Damian admitted, “but I’m guessing this has something to do with alcohol?”

“I had a good system that worked: if I’m at work, I can’t be drinking. That’s the rule. But Libby just hired a bunch of people and we’ve all had our shifts cut. So now I’m down to three shifts a week, and on the days I’m off, I’ll try to find something to do...I’ll go swimming in the pool, or clean the house, but I’m running out of stuff to clean and in the end I’m caving and having a shot, but of course, once I have one shot, I want ten!”

“It’s gonna be okay, Christyn. C’mere.” He took her hand and pulled her to standing so he could hug her close. He’d never been a very physical, touchy person before he met her, but that part of her seemed to have rubbed off on her over time. As she clung to him tight, he gave her a squeeze, wishing he could transfer confidence into her through the contact of their bodies. He was beginning to hate Jesse for what he was doing to her. “You’re so strong. You were doing so good when we were at the Capital. You’ll get back there again.”

“Back then I had you to stay strong for.” Her breathing hitched; he could tell she had started to cry.

“What if whenever you feel like going on a binge, you just call my phone?” he suggested. “I’ll talk you through it until you go to sleep, okay? Would that help you?”

She nodded. “You’d really do that for me?”

“I would do anything for you.”
 

stevita

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Closing time came, and Lacie handed Damian his share of the tip money for the day. “Hey, I want to talk to you about something,” she said. “I don’t think we should be fooling around anymore.”

“What? Why?” he asked. “Is it because of Stella? Because she really doesn’t mean anything to me.”

“I know...but Christyn does, doesn’t she? I saw the way you were with her. You love her. And I wouldn’t feel right if I let you settle for me.”

“She has a boyfriend, y’know.”

“And he sounds like a schmuck! He’s refusing to forgive her for one silly mistake! One of these days, she’s gonna wise up, and she’ll see you. Or else she’s going to look back and regret it for the rest of her life.”

“Thanks, Lacie.” She was right; he’d had fun with her, but even if he continued their affair, he’d still have Christyn in the back of her mind. That wouldn’t be fair to Lacie. All he could do, then, was wait and hope.

He counted out the money. That couldn’t be right...she’d given him $42. There wasn’t any more than $20 in the tip jar when he’d looked, and credit card tips came on their paychecks. “Did you remember to get your half?” he asked.

“Yeah. Stella paid in cash. And she racked up quite a tab; five drinks and she paid for Christyn’s food, too.”

“And she tipped how much?”

“Zip.”

“Then where did the money come from?”

“I’ve been here for a while; long enough to have the prices memorized,” Lacie explained. “Since you already heard her order, I didn’t ring her up. I just told her the price, took her payment, and slid the money under the register. Didn’t you notice that the ticket never printed in the kitchen?

“Me and the last guy who worked in the back used to do this every time someone paid in cash. I’d call the order, he’d make it without a ticket, and we’d split the winnings down the middle. Then Alexis started raising a stink about how sales didn’t match inventory, and he got cold feet and quit. Probably a smart move on his part. He was no fun to work with, anyway. Total health nut. But I’ve been looking for a new partner in crime. Think about it, Damian. We could pocket an extra thousands of dollars a week.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Damian. Christyn had invested so much energy trying to help him stay out of trouble with the law...was theft, even without a gun, something he wanted to consider in order to get ahead?

But a few days later when payday came and he opened up his check to see it only had $300 on it for two weeks’ hard work, his resolve to stay on the straight and narrow took a hit. His first check had been low, but he had assumed that was because he’d started in the middle of a pay period. With his second check looking like it did, he didn’t know how he was going to pay his rent...not to mention his debt to Christyn. As the shift began to slow down after the lunch rush, he approached Lacie at the counter and said, “You know that thing you asked me to do with you? Well, I’m in.”
 

stevita

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Isn't this just a compulsive read once you get started? Wow, I have that daze from coming up after being way too deep in a story.
Thanks so much! I promise, only a couple chapters of restaurant drama left before the ~real~ fun starts.
 

Tad

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Thanks so much! I promise, only a couple chapters of restaurant drama left before the ~real~ fun starts.
Believe me, I've enjoyed all of it so far. Very engrossed in the characters. Sometimes the hint of what is to come just builds tension, and that is great.
 

stevita

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ELEVEN

Monday, August 10: Libby gripped Christyn by the shoulder to stop her in the server station as she was walking with a tray of water for a family of four, nearly causing her to spill the whole thing. She had pre-filled the egg-cup glasses so she could drop them off along with a full bottle to buy herself time before she had to replace it. “That’s not the way we present waters here. And what is this?” she demanded, snatching the Styrofoam cup off of the tray. “Where did you get this?”

“From back storage. I had to tear the place down from floor to ceiling to find it, but--”

“I never want to see a Styrofoam cup in my restaurant again!”

“But it’s for a small child!”

“No exceptions!” snapped Libby, chucking it into the trash.

“That’s going to spill!” Christyn protested. “It’ll drip all over the floor when the busboy takes it out!” But Libby walked off, seeming not to hear her.

Wednesday, August 12: Shane was assigned to the cocktail area, right beside the bar with Estrella behind, who, predictably, wanted to yak his ear off about her new diet. He said he was alright when Christyn swung by to check up on him, but he kept muttering under his breath, Don’t let the capitalists win, and Christyn couldn’t bear to see him suffer. So she offered to switch sections with him and in the middle of the shift they were both pulled into Libby’s office and written up. She said there was a rhyme and reason to why she put them where she put them on the floor, but when Christyn asked her what it was, she icily ejected them from the room.
 

stevita

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Thursday, August 13: Christyn was standing near the edge of her section, watching her guests dine and looking for signs that they needed attention, but all seemed well for now. All her food had landed, her waters were full, everyone was beginning their second round of drinks from the bar, and they were eating, but no one was close to done and in need of clearing. Getting bored, she decided to check up on the bar.

It was Felipe bartending today, with four barbacks at his beck and call, but the bar was busy enough that they might need a favor. “Hey Felipe,” called Christyn from the well, “¿necesitas ayuda?”

“Actually, yes; can you go in the back and get me a box of the cups that look like tetas?”

Christyn laughed. “You mean the coupe glasses? Gotcha.” After completing the requested task, she waited in the well for the reward she had come to expect from Felipe. Sure enough, he soon set down for her a rocks glass containing a demitasse spoon and a scoop of the mint chip gelato he used to make the Chocolate Covered Grasshopper, a mint chocolate martini of his own invention that had made its way onto the happy hour menu. “Gracias, Chinita.” Because when you lived in Texas, were any part Asian or at least Asian looking, and worked with Spanish speaking folks, your name was Chino or Chinita on the clock and you learned to like it.

“De nada, ¡mi amor! El gusto es mio.”

The pleasure really was hers. Felipe was always so nice to her. He was cute, too. Strong square jaw outlined by a thin and neatly manicured beard, determined brown eyes, stocky with an even distribution to his weight that suggested he had always been at least slightly thickset. His frame overall was as masculine as hers was feminine; while she had the dramatic curves, his shoulders were broad and limbs were thick and muscular to balance the curve and slight droop of a well-fed belly. (She found herself thinking they might have fit together well horizontally; was Damian right? Did she have a preference? Or was this simply Jesse’s fault for leaving her alone, at a lack for the touch of a big, strong man who could throw her around?) And when he clicked out his pocket knife to open the case of glasses she had brought him...oof! That thing had to be illegal. Somehow, she found that enticing. If she wasn’t a taken woman!

But even if she had been single, she had a strong suspicion Felipe was gay. He was one of the only male workers who wouldn't give Estrella the the time of day, even if it might benefit him, Estrella being the queen bee behind the bar. Christyn also caught him looking at Shane on the clock; wouldn’t Shane be pleased? He had mentioned at the bowling alley that he tended to prefer thicker men.

Christyn was in the middle of enjoying her gelato, eyes still on her section, when a cold hand closed around her shoulder. “What did we forget to do at table 45?” came Libby’s cold drawl.

“I don’t know, what did we forget?”

“They all have sides of pasta. You never ran cheese.”

“I preset the cheese before the food hit the table,” said Christyn, gesturing to the shaker of cheese she had left on the table.

“Where did you even find that?”

“Back storage.”

Libby shoved a grating wheel into her hand. “You use this from now on. Tableside, when you run food. And if I catch you stealing my gelato again, it’ll be the last time you eat in this town.”

Technically, she hadn’t stolen anything. Felipe had handed it to her. But she didn't want to get him in trouble, so she said nothing.

That night, she phoned Damian to vent about her day. He stayed on the line with her until she passed out from sheer exhaustion, but he kept her talking so much she never even had time to touch the bottle of cognac.

Sunday the 16th. At the end of pre-shift, Libby hauled a box into the back room and set it on a table. “I have a little task for you all to do today.” She started taking stout glass bottles out of the box, along with labels bearing the company logo. “These are the new olive oil bottles that are going to sit on the tables. I want you all to stick the new labels on them, fill them up with the oil from the old bottles, and leave the old bottles in the dish pit to be washed and sent back to the flagship location. Heather has been told not to sit you until all the bottles in your section are done, so best get to work!”

“Why are we doing this?” asked Shane as he worked at a frenetic pace in the next section over from Christyn’s. “What’s wrong with the old bottles?”

“The old labels say extra virgin olive oil and the stuff we’re pouring is 90% canola,” said Christyn.

“Really?”

“Yeah, it says so on the barrel in the back, but I guess most of the time we’re too occupied with unnecessary steps of service to notice the little things like that."
 

stevita

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Monday, the 17th: Christyn was making small talk in Spanish with Marcos, her favorite barback, by the service well when Estrella approached her from behind the bar. “Hey, just a heads-up,” she said, “I wouldn’t let Libby catch you speaking Spanish on the clock. She might think you’re one of us and stick you in the ice box.”

“The ice box?”

“Haven’t you heard that? It’s what the whole staff calls the bar.”

“Why?”

Estrella rolled her eyes. “Think about it. ICE.”

“That’s terrible. You guys are terrible,” said Christyn.

Then, “Wait, shouldn’t I want a promotion to the bar?”

“Ay, no. You lose money behind the bar, having to share it with at least two barbacks every night. Yesterday I walked out with twenty bucks, and the day before, Luz said she left with seven.”

“Who’s Luz?”

“One of the other bartenders; you’ve never met her?”

“It’s hard to meet everyone when you only work three days a week.” Maybe that was why she hadn’t noticed anything strange about the demographics in the restaurant before Estrella pointed it out, but she was right. None of the Spanish speakers were servers, food runners, or even busboys. They were either behind the bar or in the kitchen.

“I’m telling you, something weird is going on here,” said Estrella. “Why the four ounce pours? Why the cheap bottles of wine? Why the ice box?”
 

stevita

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On Thursday the 20th, Christyn learned the answer to that last question.

Midway through the shift, Shane came running up behind her. “You have a one-top call table at 63. That’s gonna impress Libby for sure; if people are coming back and asking for you, that’s proof that you’re delivering superior service!”

“I doubt it,” said Christyn. She worked so infrequently that she didn’t even bother to try and build regulars; even if someone asked for her the next time she came to the restaurant, she probably wouldn’t be there. Anymore, she was just an order taker, a cog in the machine. She clocked in, did her opening sidework, got her tables, ran her food, dropped her checks, got cut, did her closing sidework, went home, and called Damian. He was the only thing that made her smile these days. “Guy or girl?”

“Guy.”

“Jesse!” She smiled and ran to her section, thinking she was finally forgiven. Only, when she got there, it was Damian sitting alone at table 63. But she was just as happy to see him! “Sweet tea, two creamers?” she asked.

“Damn, you have a good memory!”

She fixed him his drink, and when she returned to the table, he sprung up and gave her a hug. It felt wonderful to be enveloped in his arms, and wonderful to see him looking so happy and healthy. He had gotten worrying thin again while he was struggling to find a job, but now, his figure had filled out with muscle once more, his cheeks rounded, his jawline softened. He held her tightly, and she found her mind wandering. Would he hold her like this in bed? Would he be sweet to her? (Oh, stop it, Christyn, you’re just lonely, she thought to herself. Jesse is coming back. One of these days.) As their hug broke apart, she clapped him on the shoulder. “Employment seems to be treating you well,” she said. “So what are you doing here?”

“I have a day off, wanted to see you.”

“Do you know what you want?”

“Lemme do the filet, medium rare, with mashed potatoes and asparagus?”

“Okay, I’ll put it in for you.”

While they waited for the food to cook, they caught up. “How’s your boyfriend?”

“Nothing, still.”

“After all these weeks? That’s not nice. Maybe you should dump him.”

“But we’ve invested all this time into our relationship! But how are you and Estrella?”

“Who?”

“Oh, sorry, Stella.”

“We’re...okay. I wouldn’t really call us an item, though. We’re just talking.” He seemed hesitant with his response, but before Christyn could press him, a foodrunner appeared at the table with his order. “I’ll be right back. Enjoy!” she said, and did a walk through her section.

When she returned, Damian had barely touched his food, which was unlike him. She had always known him to have a hearty appetite when food was available, in fact, when she was cooking, she found it endearing. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m sorry, Christyn. It’s just...terrible,” he said. “The steak is tough and everything else has a weird taste to it, like maybe it’s not fresh.”

“Don’t apologize, I’ll just send it back.”

“I don’t want to be ‘that guy’...”

“Don’t worry about it. Do you want anything else?”

“What do you like here?”

“To be honest, I haven’t tried anything at this location. I’m always over at Cafe Alexis with Estrella.”

“Maybe I should just go there,” said Damian. “I really only came here to see you...and to pay you back the money I owe you. I was gonna leave this for your tip. This’ll cover the sweet tea, right?” He handed her a plastic sandwich bag containing a brick of cash.

“Oh my God...you made this behind a counter?” she said, palming it. “And I told you not to worry about it.”

“And if you were a loan company, I probably wouldn’t, but you’re my best friend. Take it.”

She shoved it in her apron pocket, picked up the plate, and returned it to the line, where Libby was talking to the chef about next week’s specials. “If you’re unsure of where that goes, maybe you should read the ticket first before you run your food,” she said coldly.

“This actually got sent back,” said Christyn, fighting a battle not to snap. “He said the meat was tough and the sides didn’t taste fresh.”

Libby yanked the plate out of her hand. “What’s he drinking?”

“Iced tea, but I don’t see how that’s important.”

“You didn’t sell him a cocktail?”

“He’s under 21!”

“Stupid girl!” Libby barked. “Look around you! All this restaurant, all this money...you think I don’t have the TABC bought off?”

Oh, that was it. Christyn was about to go off at last...but then, Libby handed the plate to the chef, who instructed one of the cooks, in Spanish, to take the steak and grind it down ‘with the others’ for a chili con carne that was to be tomorrow’s soup of the day. Her stomach turned, and for a moment, she was incapable of speech. When the nausea passed, all she could say was, “Dios mio,” and Libby stared straight at her, realizing with horror that she had understood everything.
 

stevita

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On Saturday the 22nd, 7 PM found Christyn’s section empty, so she had resigned herself to helping Shane keep his two tables prebussed while a third came in. The new two-top, a couple of regulars, ordered a bottle of Santa Lucia pinot grigio, which went for at least $50 at the grocery store, but for some reason, was available here for $40.

“Here we have a lovely bottle of Santa Lucia,” said Shane, holding the bottle in front of a table linen for the gentleman at the table to see the label. “If I may make a suggestion, the soft floral and crisp apple notes would pair beautifully with one of our roasted chicken dishes.” As he spoke, he draped the linen over his left arm and held the bottle below the neck to twist in the corkscrew. His wine presentation had come a long way, and Christyn found herself beaming with pride watching him absolutely nail it.

Then…

CRACK!

As the sound of shattering glass hit her ears, Shane let out a yelp of pain and dropped the bottle. Christyn rushed over and caught it before it could hit the ground and cause even more of a safety hazard. “Shane, are you okay?” she asked, leading him away from the table.

He couldn’t speak. His eyes had gone wide and he was hyperventilating. His left hand bled profusely, but there was too much blood for Christyn to see where the cut was or if there was any broken glass in it.

Felipe had come out from behind the bar to see what the commotion was. “What happened?” His eyes darted from the broken bottle to Shane’s bleeding hand, and he swore under his breath, “Hijo de la puta madre.”

“Christyn!” It was Libby’s voice who barked her name, pulling her away from the boys roughly by the arm. “You useless thing! Don’t just let it drip!” She took the wine bottle from her and placed it in a plastic bucket she was holding. “We can special this out by the glass for happy hour tomorrow.” She sighed irritably and said, “I’ve never seen anyone screw up a wine presentation this badly.”

But it hadn’t been Shane’s fault. One look at the bottle told Christyn that much. The corkscrew has barely punctured the cork when pressure inside the bottle blew it out right below the neck, where Shane’s hand had been. That meant the wine had been bottled before its time, and had continued fermenting on the shelf, creating a time bomb of CO2 buildup inside the bottle.

Everything was starting to make sense. The cheap bottles? Libby was getting them cheap from a distributor who knew they were bad. The four ounce pours? She was getting her customers so drunk they wouldn’t notice the deplorable food quality. The ice box? She wanted all the Spanish speakers in the front of the house as far away from the kitchen as possible, so they wouldn’t overhear the disgusting things she was having her cooks do. The extra steps of service? Designed to keep the servers exhausted even on a three-day schedule, so they wouldn’t ask for more shifts. This way, Libby could keep everyone part-time and dodge having to offer health insurance. Nobody worked consecutive days; Christyn would be willing to wager that Libby ran the same specials for days in a row to get rid of old leftovers.

Everyone who worked here was nothing but a cog in Libby’s machine. She didn’t care if they starved, or if they bled.

Off to the side, Felipe had wrapped an arm around Shane’s shoulders and was squeezing as if to hold him together. “You have to breathe, mijo.”

“You can’t really be thinking of serving that,” Christyn said to Libby. “It could have broken glass in it.”

“You really want to stand here and argue with me?” said Libby. “Fine! You can be cut for the night. Go ahead and drive your friend to the hospital, if you’re competent enough to manage that.” She walked away muttering, “Best of the best nothing. Can’t even open a bottle of wine...Dad, I’m gonna kill you.”
 

stevita

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On Tuesday the 25th, Christyn gave up her shift to another server so she could go to an interview for ABC Hospitality, a temping agency that specialized in banquet and bar service for concerts, sports matches, and catered events. One job wasn’t cutting it anymore; if she kept working 3-day weeks and $30 shifts, month-to-month expenses would start cutting deep into her emergency fund. She was a little nervous about the interview, especially after she read on the application that the company reserved the right to breathalyze its employees at any time, but Damian had expressed an utmost confidence in her over when they spoke over the phone the previous night.

And when she walked out of the office of Abigail Carter, Head Staffing Manager, with her I-9 signed and an assignment already to bartend at an auto show at the convention center on Thursday, her phone vibrated as a text came in from Damian:

So, when u start that new gig?

She smiled and sent a reply: Thank you for always believing in me. Thursday btw

On Wednesday the 26th, Christyn checked the floor map at the host stand to see that Libby had placed her behind the bar. “That’s not right...it should be Estrella, no?”

“Stella won’t be making it to work for a while. She’s been in a car accident,” explained Joe, the floor manager, as he made a few last-minute changes to sections. “Apparently, the driver was drunk and the passenger’s side airbag wouldn’t deploy. I kept telling her she was losing too much weight on that stupid diet...you women are crazy. Always coming up with some new way to starve your tits off.”

Christyn’s heart sank. “Is she okay?” She had predicted being moved to the bar soon, but she had hoped she’d be able use the opportunity to tip Estrella off on everything she’d learned about the restaurant while working the floor. Maybe they could all organize and leverage with Libby for better schedules. But now…

“She’s torn her diaphragm and fractured her knee. She’ll be out of the hospital in a few days, but it might be weeks until she can come back to work. In the meantime, Libby wants you as the new bar babe, though God knows why.”

Thursday at the convention center, things went off without a hitch, and on Friday the 28th, Jesse surprised her by having a seat at the corner of the bar. It was all she could do to keep from getting out from behind the bar and jumping into his arms, but she knew he wouldn’t like that. Instead, she fixed him his cola with light ice and set it down at the corner of his place setting. “It’s certainly a delight to finally see you in, Sir.”

“I figured you’ve been punished long enough.”

A shiver ran down her spine. “I must apologize for my transgression; you see, Sir, I fell off the wagon.”

“I know," said Jesse. “When I didn’t hear from you, Auralee’s bar was the first place I checked.”

Nothing in your head is a secret from me, he told her all the time.

“But tell me, how have you been keeping in my absence, kitten?”

At that, she spilled her guts, telling him every horrible thing that had happened at this restaurant so far. “Thank goodness I got a second job,” she finished.

“I heard; ABC Hospitality, is it?”

Her jaw dropped in awe. “Did Damian tell you?”

“No; while I have your protege’s contact information, we haven’t communicated. However, one of my former submissives works for them. Lily Cable, I believe, is her married name now. She mentioned to me she had seen your name on a sign in sheet. It’s a good company. I’m happy for you, slave. Now, I had meant to order the filet, but after everything you’ve told me, I think I’ll pass.”

“Perhaps once I get off, we can visit Damian at Cafe Alexis? The Southwestern Wrap is divine. Or...we can go back to my place, and I can cook? I’ve cleaned the apartment, I think you’ll like it. And, of course, afterwards I’ll be at your absolute disposal.”

Jesse, of course, chose the latter.
 
Last edited:

stevita

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On Tuesday the first of September, Auralee came calling.

She was delighted to learn Christyn had been ‘promoted’ to the bar and demanded to be served whatever new fruity cocktail she had come up with lately. Christyn fixed her a new drink she had been working on, the “pineapple upside down cake in a glass,” and rung it in under the spill tab (it wasn’t theft if she accounted for it, right?) but cut her off after one.

“Aww, why?”

“Four-ounce pours.”

“Nice!”

“You say that now, but wait till I tell you the reason.”

They talked for a while as Auralee sipped her drink, until finally, she asked, “How’s Damian?”

“I’m starting to think you have a crush on him,” said Christyn.

“Heavens no. But I do like him for you.”

“Well, I haven’t heard from him for the last few days, which is strange. We’ve been talking a lot. Every day almost. But suddenly it’s radio silence.”

“Here, let me check on him.” Auralee pulled out her phone to run a search. “What’s his last name?”

“Mendez.”

“Alright, Mendez-comma-Damian. Oh? Here we are...oh no. Middle name Dyon, turns nineteen on the 11th?”

“I don’t know.”

“Physical profile sounds like our guy. Black hair brown eyes, Latino, 5’8”, 140--really? Maybe soaking wet…”

“Where are you reading this?”

“The office of the Harris County District Clerk, criminal record database,” said Auralee. “I’m so sorry, Chrissy.” She laid her phone down on the bar top for Christyn to see. “He’s in Big Baker on a charge of DWI.”
 

stevita

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TWELVE

The look on Christyn’s face when Damian paid her back said it all. No one would believe he had made all that money working in a restaurant. And when Alexis did inventory...fuck, fuck, fuck.

He couldn’t talk to Christyn about this. It would break her heart to know that he’d so easily thrown away everything she had taught him about being an honest worker. But bottling it up was driving him insane. He was messing up at work, spilling drinks and bumping into things from a lack of sleep, and he was stress-eating. Not that Lacie seemed to mind catching him shoving whole tortillas smothered in ranch in his mouth after she’d already brought him lunch (the sexual element to their friendship was gone, but she still made a point of bringing him good, filling food so he wouldn’t be distracted by hunger at work, and it was a lucky thing, because he was distracted enough already by guilt.)

As she picked up on his anxiety, she began to offer him words of comfort on shift: “Everything’s going to be fine. No one will find out...I already tilted the camera away from the register. We’ll be careful. We’ll quit while we’re ahead and get a new job together so we can do it all over again.” She was so sure of herself...Damian’s confidence, however, didn’t improve.

Stella came in one day and noticed immediately that he was off-color. “Have you slept?” she asked.

“Barely. I’ve been stressed.”

“That’s not good for you! Lack of sleep triggers cortisol production. It’s a stress hormone, and it makes you gain weight like crazy!”

She said, “You need a drink. That will rectify your sleeping schedule. I can get us a bottle of vodka, you’ll just have to pick me up after work, my car is in the shop.”

As sick and tired as he was of hearing anything and everything about weight loss from Stella, he definitely wanted a drink, or very many drinks. “Sure, when do you get off?”

By the time he picked up Stella, his nerves were fried. He took her home to his apartment in the far Southwest of the city and couldn’t even wait for her to shake the vodka over ice; he just downed it warm and chased it with some water from the tap, and it hurt like Hell, but afterwards the buzz immediately started to set in and he was finally able to relax.

“Mind telling me what's got you so wound up?” she asked, inviting herself to a seat on the couch and turning the TV on. “Is it that girl from Cafe Alexis? She isn’t making any unwanted passes at you, is she?”

“No, no, it’s nothing like that.” He helped himself to another shot, this time chugging water directly from the faucet in the kitchen while the vodka was still in his mouth to lessen the burn as it went down his throat. He brought the bottle into the living room, along with two glasses of water, and set it all down on the table. “I just...well, she convinced me to start stealing from work, and I’m getting really paranoid that I might get caught.”

“Then just don’t get caught,” said Stella.

“But what if I do, though? I’ll go back to jail and when I get out, if I don’t catch another charge in there, no one will hire me. I’ll have to go back to hitting licks to survive, and then I’ll just go in and out of jail for the rest of my life unless I can join the French Foreign Legion!”

“The what?”

“This military branch in France, Christyn had an ex-boyfriend in it, I looked it up and apparently it pays well and they don’t care about your criminal record.”

“Look, nobody is going to France, okay?” Stella said sternly. “It’ll be fine...you’re just stressed. Have another shot.” She poured it for him and held it to his lips, offering him water immediately afterwards. It was starting to burn less with every shot...and she kept them coming. She was being so generous...usually, she was on him about every indulgence, not that he ever listened. Maybe calories didn’t count if they came from vodka?

By the time they had finished the bottle, he was feeling hazy. His face was numb and he sank happily into the couch cushions. It was nice. Even breathing felt good. He could see why Christyn had gotten addicted. “Shit,” Stella swore. “I have work in the morning. Take me home?”

That was the last thing he remembered.

In the morning, he woke up in the intake tank.
 
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