A night shift was 4pm-close. Lunch was 10am-4pm. A clo-pin (close-open) was when you worked the night before and then opened the next day. I started picking up more shifts so I could save up some money and go somewhere else. I started working so much that I was barely home, so many shifts that I had changes of clothes in my car on hangers, a duffel bag in the trunk, extra socks balled up and mist spray that smelled like citrus.
I fucked Peter first. Peter was the headwaiter and knew everyone and everything. He was rich but his dad was sick and he couldn’t talk about it without crying. Peter trained me at the restaurant. He let me slide on the quiz questions that I got wrong. He ordered us pizza and put it on his tab. He said I was beautiful and he wanted to take me dancing. After my first week he took me clubbing. Allison, the head bartender, went too, and so did half the restaurant. But all night, Peter only talked to me. He put his arm around my waist while his other arm held a tequila soda and then we waited for the valet and I remember thinking that I should just go home and be a real person and then we ended up back at his place. He took off my dress and I had trouble getting into his bed because it was so high up. He was barrel chested and I can’t remember how he kissed. I can’t remember his mouth at all.
This went on for weeks. He had a pool and he’d tell me to stay, enjoy myself. I’d call Allison and she’d drive over. We’d tan and drink vodka and go to the mall. Allison made me so happy. She was like the older sister I never had. She bought me things like jeans and cute tops and makeup and our days bled into nights and then we were back at work in our uniforms. Allison loved Nate, the manager, but he had a girlfriend who never came into the restaurant. She was mysterious in that way because she never showed up but we all knew about her. Allison and Nate fought like they were dating, but Allison swore nothing had ever happened between them. I wanted to believe her.
Peter took me to Rocco’s Tacos and let me order anything I wanted. We got margaritas at 11:00am and he drove me back to his apartment. We fucked less and less and my ex from another lifetime would call me and I’d walk outside and talk to him no matter where I was. He was still unsure about me, unsure if he wanted to be with me, I mean. But he missed me, wanted to visit, wanted me to fly to him, wanted me wanted me wanted me. And I wanted him. But he never came. I told Allison and asked her to keep him a secret. She said he was like the boy who cried love.
Peter started training more waitresses and when Charlene came around it was like I didn’t exist anymore. He got her pizzas and they went clubbing. We never talked about it. Allison said, “Out with the old, in with the new,” and I sort of hated her for saying it, but I couldn’t hate her entirely because she was right.
When the restaurant had its annual party, I bought a purple dress from the mall. My plan was to win Peter back. I picked Allison up, a change for once since she was always the one driving, and I rolled us a blunt. I’d gotten the weed from Elliot, another waiter at the restaurant who sold weed to everyone, but he’d given it to me for free because he said I looked like I needed it. But Allison said she was cutting back and I smoked the blunt by myself while she waited outside the car and stood watch. When I got out of the car she was gone so I had to make my own entrance to the party.
Everyone knew I was too high but I still went up to Peter and tapped him on the shoulder. I wanted to know why he hadn’t called, why he wouldn’t even say hello. “I know things about you,” I said. But really, what did I know? I knew he wanted to start his own restaurant where you could customize your own meatballs. I knew that he wore a black leather belt to work that had belonged to his dad. He had his arm around Charlene and she was so blonde and tan and she was laughing and I knew it was over.
This was twenty-three years old. This was me living at my parents’ condo in Delray Beach while I worked at that restaurant and always came home smelling like grease. I hated my black nonslip shoes. I hated my apron that was too long for me and only came in one size. I hated begging for bread from the pizza maker who probably hated me asking.
I even started to really hate Allison because I wanted to be her. She was the brightest star in that place and the only reason I kept showing up. She’d let me eat shavings of Parmesan and blue cheese stuffed olives and always gave me shots of vodka during my shift. We complained about how we were so fat and no one wanted us. We joked that if we got hungry we should just eat air so we could lose weight. We put our hands up to our mouths and gulped. Our hands were empty when we did this. I chewed on lemon rind when I was starving. I asked if anyone had cigarettes to spare and they never did. Everyone shared their weed, their drugs, but no one would ever give you a cigarette.
The thing with Elliot didn’t start right away. It happened slowly and deeply and it happened because I was so desperate and alone. It’s difficult to think back and remember all the fucking. When I think about Elliot, I remember his twin bed, his huge dick, how it was bigger than any other dick I’d ever been fucked with. I remember that we once fucked in his mom’s room because she was out of town and she had a King size bed with a white comforter, the fluffy kind that I’d always thought I’d end up in someday. But it wasn’t perfectly white. It was yellowed in places. I remember stretching the condoms across the vastness of Elliot’s dick. I remember that sometimes he kept The Big Bang Theory on in the background and I could hear Sheldon and Penny fighting. I could never make out the plot, but I always came.
The orgasm was fast and I was too high to really enjoy it. When you’re fucked up on weed and coke, your body feels numb like a metal pole that’s been hit. You vibrate. You reverberate until you don’t exist.
Elliot once bought me a pair of earrings and took me to play mini golf. It was the only date we’d ever go on. The rest of the time it was me closing at work and him getting off early and me meeting him back at his apartment in Boynton. I fucking hated Boynton because it reminded me of where my brother used to buy heroin, but I drove there anyway, late, when it was dark so I didn’t have to see the road. In the morning, we’d wake and bake with a bong and I’d drive away in a fuzz, always making it home by some miracle, and then I’d sleep it off until my shift.
On Thursday nights we hung around our own bar after the restaurant closed. It became a ritual, and I love a good ritual. I like to feel comfortable, for things to remain the same. I like having a place I can return to time and time again. On these nights, we all took shots and talked shit and shared grilled artichokes and batches of lasagna covered in tin foil. I tried to drink Sprite to slow down but I always ended up shitfaced. I couldn’t drive one night, had to leave my car at the restaurant, and Elliot said I could stay at his place, that I could shower, change, come back for my next shift. I understood, but his voice sounded like the teacher from Charlie Brown. I drove with the passenger window down in case I had to puke, but I didn’t. I was somehow okay by the time we reached his place in Boynton and we watched TV and smoked and he played video games with his friend Taylor. Taylor was married but I never met his wife. She was a student at FAU or Keiser or Broward Community College, somewhere around there, and she was training to be a nurse so her hours were weird. Taylor was hot and sometimes I’d walk around in booty shorts and a big t-shirt and wanted him to flirt with me so badly.
I wanted everything then. Maybe I still do. I wanted the whole world to validate me, to want me into existence. Things had been so bad for so long. My therapist thought I was trying to replace my brother with all these guys, that I was looking for a surrogate to be my brother. But I didn’t really have a brother, did I? I’d dial his number outside Elliot’s house and sometimes he answered and sounded like the Milky Way and other times he just plain didn’t pick up. I wanted more than anything for us to be best friends. I wanted to go to the movies with him and just once for him not to nod out before the previews were over. I didn’t want to have to wake him up, guide him to the car, pray that he would get home safely.
One night my brother came in and sat at the bar at the restaurant. He ordered a Red Bull and I told him I could get him a free beer. He wouldn’t speak to me and I wondered if he knew who I really was, that I’d fucked two different coworkers in this restaurant, was currently fucking one, and that I was his sister through it all. I had given up on myself. I’d never have a career. I’d never write a book. He smoked his Marlboro Reds and gave me one from his pack. I put it in my apron and never smoked it. I saved it in my bedside drawer and smelled it when I was lonely.
Elliot found out about Peter because Allison said it was wrong to keep it from him. “He’s actually a nice guy,” Allison said. When he asked me point blank if we’d hooked up I said no. I wanted to be pure in his mind. And I liked the way Elliot fucked me. I liked how he made me feel. I like the drugs and his bed and his dick and the way he always had Monster Rehab energy drinks in his fridge and how he let me have the lemonade tea flavored ones. He stocked up extra on those because he knew I liked them best. All of us fucked up our insides and tried to heal it with these drinks, with more alcohol, with bread from the pizza guy.
Elliot said, “I wish you hadn’t lied so we could be still be friends,” but I hadn’t realized Elliot was my friend. I felt horrible when he said it, like I could die. I called his number over and over until he shut his phone off. I thought it might be like the movies, like when the guy shows up at your door and says sorry. But I was the one in the wrong, and I felt like showing up was too much. I felt like I had ruined something.
Months after Elliot, Taylor called and asked me to meet him at a park in Delray. I waited for over an hour and he finally showed up. He ran from the car and said he only had fifteen minutes. He said, “It’s not cheating if we don’t do anything.” I knew if Elliot found out, there was no chance of us starting things up again. I was willing to risk it though. Elliot had already moved on to Therese, another waitress, and I came to realize that I’d always wanted Taylor because I couldn’t have him. He was the jewel in a hidden temple that I now had access to. As I sat on the bench, Taylor smelled my hair and touched my legs and ran his fingers up and down my thighs breathing heavy. Then he got up off the bench and ran his hands through his hair. “You can’t do this to people” he said and got in his car and drove away.
It’s hard to remember how I felt during all of this, but I do remember pain. I remember the skunky smell of marijuana always present, always on clothes, tucked away and hidden in the fibers of fabric. I remember sitting in my closet and drinking a bottle of red wine alone. I remember sitting on the carpet and feeling it underneath me, letting the threads make impressions on my bare thighs. It was always hot, I remember that. It was perpetually summer in my forever hell of Florida. I never thought I’d get out.
I ended up at a hotel party one night and Taylor was there. He let me call Elliot from his phone but he got mad that Taylor and I were together somewhere. It had all been by chance though, and Taylor and I were able to put the leg touching in the park behind us. Taylor shotgunned me when he smoked but our mouths didn’t touch. I don’t remember why someone had rented a room at the Hampton Inn, but I remember the pool was closed and we all wanted to go swimming. Someone suggested driving to the beach but the ocean seemed impossible to me. It seemed ridiculous that we would all drive to the water and jump in together.
Nate left the restaurant, and with him Allison followed. Peter moved to New York and Charlene went and fucked off to somewhere else, probably another restaurant in another city with another group of fuck-ups. The pizza guy stayed. New people came and went. The new manager found a crack pipe in the parking lot and no one claimed it so nothing happened. Elliot stayed and it was both hard to ignore him and easy to ignore him. It got so busy there. I was always getting screamed at in the kitchen. I was always forgetting to put in orders or space them out accordingly. Men would shove cash in my apron or would corner me when I was polishing wine glasses and tell me that they’d leave their wives for me. They would point to the other side of the dining room and say, “She’s right over there, but if we leave now she won’t notice.”
My brother called me out of the blue and told me about some super moon. I was scheduled to work the night it was supposed to happen. I snuck out the back of the restaurant and headed toward the parking lot. I tried to get away from all the light. I called my brother and waited for him to answer as I kept walking and walking farther away from the restaurant, all of its sounds diminishing into a dull whir. All those forks tapping plates, glasses being filled with drinks, oil sizzling in the pan, all the talking and laughing and the voices rising to a crest and then rolling out flat on the shore. I dialed again and again and got no answer. I wanted to know if I was looking in the right direction, but then I saw the super moon in all its glory, big and yellow and bright, so bright it lit up my hands. I reached out toward it like it was a balloon floating away from me, like it was everything I’d ever dreamed of up there in the sky. My manager was calling my name but I chose to push his voice away. I tucked all the voices away back then. I pretended I couldn’t hear them.
Brittany Ackerman is a writer from Riverdale, New York. She earned her BA in English from Indiana University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida Atlantic University. She has led workshops for UCLA’s Extension, The Porch, Catapult, HerStry, Write or Die, and Lighthouse Writers. She currently teaches writing at Vanderbilt University in the English Department. She is a 2x Pushcart Prize Nominee and her work has been featured in Electric Literature, Jewish Book Council, Lit Hub, The Los Angeles Review, No Tokens, Joyland, and more. Her first collection of essays entitled The Perpetual Motion Machine was published with Red Hen Press in 2018, and her debut novel The Brittanys is out now with Vintage.