“Ebony, I want you to stay behind the bar today. Trish and Linda will serve the tables,” says Darrell, popping his head round the door of the Staff room.
“Oh, is Linda back?” I ask.
“Yeah. And it’s about time. She had that baby six months ago!”
I laugh and roll my eyes. I pat his shoulder as I pass him. “I’m sure she’s very sorry that she wanted to spend some quality time with her new-born baby.”
“And so she should,” he replies, trying to sound serious but humour sparkles in his dark eyes.
As soon as I step behind the bar, Trish is at my side.
“Have you heard?” she asks, wide-eyed.
I furrow an eyebrow at the urgency in her voice. “Heard what?”
“Darrell’s split us up.”
I laugh. “I know. Linda’s back.”
“That’s not the reason.” She glares in the general direction of the Staff room. “He just wants to break us up.”
“Can you blame him?” I arch an eyebrow and start to clean the dirty glasses left from last night. “All we do is talk. Maybe we’ll actually be a little productive if we split.”
She presses her hand to her heart overdramatically and gasps. “I can’t believe you just said that.” A family walk through the front door. Trish quickly grabs four menus and slots them under her arm. “Now I’m going to serve these lovely people with my new best friend Linda,” she says before strutting off with a huff. I watch her as she leaves and laugh when she gives in a turns back to me with a cheeky grin and a playful wink.
Time seems to drag, standing alone behind the bar. And it’s not as if we’re a busy place. Even though we are supposed to have been separated, Trish comes behind the bar now and again to pretend to use the pitcher while she chats.
A man strolls in and sinks himself down onto one of the stools in front of the bar. I flash him a smile but he doesn’t return in. Instead, his eyes narrow, studying my face.
“Are you Ebony?”
My heart thumps and my blood runs cold. The man is about in his early fourties with grey running through his black short hair. He doesn’t look familiar.
“Erh…yeah,” I reply with an awkward smile.
At this, his face scrunches up into a look of disgust. “How do you live with yourself?”
I cough, choking on a gasp of surprise. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me. Running off with your mother’s boyfriend. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
My chest feels tight and the back of my eyes burn. I open my mouth to speak but no words come out. I’m trembling. His eyes bore into me, filled with hatred.
“My wife’s a friend of your mothers. She’s told me everything. It’s sick. You’re sick. After what you two have been through with her ex-husband- your father- and you go and do this to her.” He scoffs with distain.
I drop my shaking hands to my sides, hoping he doesn’t see my terror. I clear my throat. “Y-you don’t understand.”
I feel a warmth at my side. I turn and see Trish stood beside me. Her emerald eyes are trained on the man in front of me, as harsh as his. They are narrowed to slits but the man doesn’t acknowledge her.
“No,” he seethes, keeping his eyes on me. “No, I don’t understand. I don’t understand how someone could be so selfish and cruel.”
“Right.” Trish snaps, loud and demanding. The man’s eyes finally pull from mine and latch onto her. Her jaw sets in anger. “You need to go.”
He huffs a laugh, studying her. “And what’s going to happen if I don’t?”
She smiles wickedly and place a glass of beer on the bar. “If you don’t, the contents of this glass is going to meet your face.”
He narrows his eyes a little, searching hers. She stays strong, her glare not wavering. He sneers a little and turns back to me. “Don’t worry.” He stands. “I was just leaving. I can’t stand the sight of her any longer.”
I gasp under my breath, feeling my heartstrings being painfully yanked at.
He gives me a once over and curls his lip. “You disgust me.”
“Leave.” Trish demands. He looks at her. “NOW!”
Finally, he does. My bones seem to quake when I hear the door shut behind him and he disappears out of sight. I let out the breath I had been holding in and drop back against the back of the bar, trying to control my rapid breaths. My body is still shaking and I can feel tears pooling in my eyes.
“Eb, are you okay?”
I flinch when Trish touches my arm. I look up. Everyone in the restaurant has stopped what they are doing and are looking at me. A sob jumps out of my thought. I slap my hand over my mouth as tears begin to pour down my cheeks.
“I can’t…I can’t…” I mumble into my hand and run out of the bar and into the Staff room.
Luckily, it’s empty.
I drop down onto one of the chairs and hold my head in my hands as I sob. A shadow casts over me. I look up to see Trish in the doorway, looking helpless.
“I just need a minute…I’m fine…” I suck in a sob and brush the tears from my eyes.
“Are you sure?”
I nod. “Please, give me a minute?”
She studies me then gives me a slight nod before shutting the door.
Why am I letting this man get to me? I don’t even know him. Why should I care about what he thinks of me? My stomach cramps. I care because he’s right. I’m sick. Sick and twisted.
The door opens. Light floods in. I had been sitting in the dark. I clench my jaw with my eyes to the floor. “Trish, I said…” but my voice trails off when I look up. It’s not Trish this time. It’s Darrell. “Oh…” I clear my throat. “Sorry.”
He sighs and turns the light on before closing the door. He drops down on the seat beside me.
“No, I’m sorry. I should be protecting you girls from guys like that,” he says.
“It’s okay.” I wipe a falling tear. “I deserved it.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Believe me, Darrell, I do.”
He sighs and wraps his arm around me. “I’m not as dumb as you girls think I am. I know what goes on under this roof. And I know what is going on with you.”
I arch an eyebrow. “You do?”
He nods. The light bounces off his balding head.
“You wanna know what I think?” he asks.
I laugh a little. “Why not?”
He smiles. “I think you’ve got what you’ve always wanted and the world is trying to punish you for it.” His lips form a thin line. “But if you’re happy, Ebony, be happy. Don’t let the world get to you.”
I shake my head. “You don’t get it, Darrell. Nobody does.” I look into his dark eyes. I can see my reflection in them. “I am happy but at the same time, I have this nagging feeling that it doesn’t belong to me.” I sigh and shake my head, looking to the floor. “Tom was my mum’s happiness and I took him from her.” My throat starts to swell up. “I stole her happiness.”
He laughs a little and squeezes me close to him. “It’s a known fact that you can’t take someone who doesn’t want to be taken.”
I look up at him. He smiles. He brings his arm back round, slaps his lap and stands. “Now. If anything like that happens again, you come straight to me. Got it?”
I nod with a smile.
“Good. Trish is fuming out there. Part of me thinks she’s going to track that guy down and beat him to death.” His eyes widen.
I laugh. “Thanks Darrell.”
He shows me a warm smile, understanding what I’m referring to. “No problem. I hate seeing you girls upset. You’re like my daughters.”
I smile up at him and stand. “And you’re like our work dad.”
He laughs. “C’mon, I’ll switch you round. Linda can man the bar for the rest of the day.”