Tied (All Torn Up #2) - Page 20
I used to like to break things and put them back together again, to see how they worked inside. Toys. Engines. Myself. No way am I adding a woman to that list. Especially one that’s already trying to figure out where her bent and twisted pieces are supposed to go.
“Merry Christmas,” she murmurs before she turns away, reminding me that Christmas is just a few days away.
“Happy birthday,” I call after her.
Of course I remembered. It’s my Dad’s birthday, too.
A swarm of people have piled into the tiny ice cream shop. I count four adults and at least ten little kids. They’re excited, running around. Tipping chairs over and shrieking.
The other girl who usually works here with me is out sick today, and the owner doesn’t come by until after four, so I’m here by myself. We thought it would be slow today since it’s two days before Christmas, but we were wrong.
“Can you make the cones faster?” the man on the other side of the counter asks. “Some of the kids are finished with theirs already, and others haven’t even gotten any yet. That’s why they’re screaming.”
I smile weakly, my hand shaking as I pull the handle on the vanilla soft serve machine. My head spins, and my thin shirt sticks to my arms and torso. I hand the man the cone and grab another one. “I’m sorry, did you say vanilla?”
“Chocolate. And I need that one in a dish,” he says impatiently. “You should really be writing this down.”
As I reach for a paper dish, my shirt sleeve catches and knocks the entire teetering stack off the counter. The customer huffs behind me. Overwhelmed with all the noise and rushing, I pick one up and start to fill it with ice cream.
“Excuse me,” a female customer says in a nasty tone, leaning over the counter. “You just picked that up off the floor, and now you’re filling it with ice cream? Are you serious right now?!”
Shaking my head, I throw it in the trash and grab a new one from a stack of smaller sizes. “I’m s-so s-sorry,” I stammer, on the verge of tears. “You’re r-right.”
“Do you people even clean this place?” the man continues, his tone getting angrier. “Where is the manager?”
I look over my right shoulder at him. “She’s not here right now,” I answer, my voice hoarse.
He shakes his head like maybe he thinks I’m lying. “I want to speak to the manager. You could have just given one of our kids ice cream in a dish that was on the floor.”
“You want to eat, little girl? Get on your knees and eat it off the floor.”
I try to fill the cone with ice cream, but the man’s voice stops me from doing anything. My ears start to ring a little, my face burns, and the room feels like it’s suddenly a thousand degrees. The screaming kids are getting louder. The other adults waiting give me dirty looks.
“I’m sorry. It was an accident…” My voice trembles uncontrollably. My mind goes blank. I can’t remember what he wants or what I’m doing here. Where am I? Terror seizes me like a vise.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess…
My eyes clamp shut, the memorized words playing out in my mind, soothing me, taking me back. Yes. Please take me away from here. To the castle, or the cottage in the forest with butterflies and singing birds, blue skies, and fluffy clouds.
I try to focus, clear my mind of all the noise—out here and in my head—but I can’t remember my breathing exercises.
“What the hell is wrong with you? Are you on drugs? Hey!” he shouts. “Are you even listening to me?”
I can’t move. The edge of my vision grows dark, and the voices of the children and the adults yelling become distant and distorted.
I fall—deep into the only place I feel safe—once again.
The brightest of lights shines in my face. I think I’m dead. I must have died in the ice cream shop. Maybe that angry man killed me.
I turn toward the voice to see my brother’s girlfriend. “Anna? What happened? Where am I? Are we dead?”
Her face looms over mine. “No, silly, you’re not dead.” She gives me a quick smile meant to be comforting. “You’re in the emergency room. You passed out at work, and one of the customers called an ambulance. You hit your head.”
“Oh.” I lift my hand to examine my head and find a large bump and a sore spot right in the front. The memories of lying on the floor with the ice cream dishes and the ride in the ambulance rush back to me. “I knocked over the dishes. Everyone was so mad.”
Worry stamps Anna’s face as she sits on the edge of the hospital bed and touches my hand. People always seem to be touching me, and while it still makes me uncomfortable, I’ve learned to tolerate it. Anna must have come from work because she’s wearing beige dress pants, high heels, and a silk blouse. Her dark hair is in a sleek ponytail. I’m not sure where she works, but it’s definitely not an ice cream.
“It’s okay, Holly. It was just a bad day, that’s all.” Her voice is reassuring, but her eyes betray her with their deepening concern. “Do you feel all right? I can call one of the nurses back.”
My chest heaves and my throat constricts as the memory of what happened in the ice cream shop comes back to me. I know I didn’t just faint. I had a meltdown and blacked out. It’s happened before—in the basement with the man, and at Merryfield during my first month. “I feel fine…but it’s really not okay, Anna. I freaked out, I think.” I shake my head, recalling the kids and the screaming and being alone in the shop with no help. And the angry man who wouldn’t stop yelling at me. “Too much was happening, the man was getting mad at me and I—”
“Slow down. Take a deep breath.” She takes one with me, breathing in and out. “It’s not your fault. You really shouldn’t have been alone there. It would be a lot for anyone to handle.”
“Am I in trouble?” I ask.
“No, not at all…but I did speak to the manager, and she thinks it’s best you not come back.” She squeezes my hand tighter between both of hers and leans closer to me like she’s going to tell me a secret. “It’s probably for the best. I’m not sure that was the ideal job for you. I think something quieter would be better.” She looks at me hopefully. “If you come to New York with Zac and me, I’ll help you find a job that will be good for you. Like maybe in a small, cozy bookstore. You love books, right?”
I let that sink in, and I actually do like the sound of that. “Yes… I would like that,” I say slowly. “I liked the ice cream shop, but I’m just not used to so many people and everyone talking at once.”
“That’s understandable, Holly. You’re going to need time, that’s all. Customer service is one of the hardest jobs out there.” I can see why Zac likes her, with her soft voice and caring eyes. “I give you credit for working in a place like that to begin with. If I did, I’d gain fifty pounds in the first week from eating everything in sight.”
“I really loved the bubble tea,” I tell her, remembering Tyler’s first words to me, and how it felt like getting a surprise gift to hear him talk. Earlier today, before the disaster, I had the idea of bringing him a tea to use as an excuse to see Poppy again. And him.”Is my mother here?” I sit up to look around. I realize I’m not in a room at all, but a corner of a much larger room sectioned off with dividers and curtains. I can hear other patients just on the other side of the curtains.
“No, but she’s on her way,” Anna says, after a slight hesitation. “They called her first, but she was in a meeting, so she called Zac. He’s in the city today, so he called me.”
I’m slightly saddened by the fact that it took a chain of phone calls to get to someone who could come see if my brain was leaking out of my head.
“I’m so sorry, Anna. You can go back to work, I’ll be fine here,” I tell her. I don’t want her to think I’m going to be too much trouble, or else she may not let me move with them.
“You’re no bother at all. You’re my family now.” She glances at the clock on the wall. “The nurse was in here right before you woke up. She said a doctor would be in soon and they’ll probably want to do a CT scan.” She must notice the look of fear on my face because she quickly appeases me. “That’s just a simple x-ray, it won’t hurt at all, and they mostly just do them as a precaution. You’re totally fine, and I’m sure you’ll be out of here in a few hours.”
“Really?” I ask, dubious and a little weary. The last time I was brought here I didn’t get out for weeks, and then I was sent to Merryfield.
“Really,” she emphasizes. “I promise.”
A nurse comes to take my vitals again; then a doctor arrives and examines me for all of two minutes before sending me for the x-ray. When the nurse brings me back to my area in the ER, Anna is gone but my mother is there in her place, and she immediately starts to question the nurse. I sit on the bed and wait, feeling like I am the cause of a lot of stress for everyone.
“What happened?” my mother finally asks me when the nurse leaves. I give her a shortened version of my day, leaving out how the man yelled at me and how I blacked out. Instead, I tell her I felt dizzy and fainted.