The Not-Outcast

Page 65

“I’ll be fine.”

She sat, folding herself into one of my chairs. “I tell you I have a daughter?”

I was taken aback. “No.”

She started picking at her nails, running her hand over each end and holding her hands out to inspect them. “No? Well, I do. Had a husband. Got her out of it. Best marriage and divorce present ever. Couldn’t care less about him, but her, I’d wrestle a tornado if I needed. You got me?”

“So, it’s not all only Netflix and chill?”

She grinned before going back to studying her nails. “She’s in college. First year, and she calls me up first weekend she’s there. She’s having a panic attack. She’s been having panic attacks almost weekly. She and I, we’re taking the steps we need to, but those things are a bitch.”

The anxiety was subsiding, and exhaustion was filling in its place.

But my mind was still spinning. I could tell her how many times she chipped at her nails just sitting there, and I could tell her how many creases she had in her blouse, but she was telling me she understood.

She understood some of it.

“You think I’m crazy?”

She gave me a look. “I don’t like using that word, but everybody’s a little off. If you ain’t, then you’re part alien. That’s my philosophy. Don’t sweat it. You do what you have to do to get by, as long as it’s legal, you know. Me?” She went to her armrests and pushed up, standing. “I now have to go and rearrange the volunteer schedule because Dean didn’t think to tell me he was bringing in two celebrities today. Don’t think a bunch of reporters who were coming in on their own would be a good mix since it seems like these two want it on the down-low they’re here.”

She started for the door but glanced back. “You need anything from me?”

I had to tell her. It wasn’t a secret, but I’d just not gone public at work. That was a different thing.

I eyed her back, seeing that she probably knew because she had a whole knowing glint in her gaze. I said it anyway, “I’m in a relationship with Cut Ryder.”

Her mouth pressed in before she let out a grin. “Nice. You want me to usher him in here quietly?”

I considered it, but then shook my head. “You know, I think today is a day where it might help to turn my brain off.”

“You can do that with those two being there?”

I nodded. “Yeah. Cut’s supportive. I’ll let him know ahead of time, and he’ll understand.”

“Gotcha. And already he seems like a good one.”

Warmth rushed through me. “He is.”

And he was. He also proved it a few minutes later.

Me: Heard you’re coming here.

Cut: Yeah. I wanted to surprise you.

Me: I forgot my meds. My mind is spinning more than normal today. I’m going to be out there helping, but I’m going to zone out.

Cut: You’re going to do that thing where you work in the back with headphones on?

Me: I wanted to let you know so you don’t think I’m ignoring you or anything.

Cut: Are we keeping you and me secret there?

Me: Might help just with my spinning today. Is that okay?

Cut: As long as I get to see you tonight. Hendrix already mentioned having people over to his place to watch the games tonight since we don’t play until Saturday. You want to go with me?

Did I? Yes.

That was a normal thing to do, but this was me and I needed to do extra work to try and overcorrect everything.


Me: I’m in.

I wanted to try to be normal.



I gave Hendrix the 411, but not the why behind it. So when we showed up at Come Our Way, Dean gave us the usual greeting. He was a do-gooder suit. He wears the suit, but he means well bottom line. We’ve been around enough people to know the difference, and I relaxed a little once I met him. I remembered him from the first night, and a part of me still wanted to rip the guy’s head off.

He seemed more placid this time around.

Hendrix thought it was hilarious.

“It’s really nice of you to reach out and want to come on your own,” Dean was saying, backing up as he was leading us to his office.

Hendrix shared a look with me. Don’t know why we needed to go in there, but I had a feeling we needed to give this guy five minutes, or he’d never leave us alone.

He opened his door. We walked in, and neither of us sat.

Shutting the door, he extended his hand. “Take a seat.”

We still didn’t.

“Oh. Okay.” He’d been about to sit at his desk but remained standing. Smoothing a hand down his tie, he leaned forward and typed on his computer. “Mr. Sanderson, you’ve been here before, so you know the protocol.”

“Remind me.”

Yep. Hendrix thought this whole thing was hilarious.

“Uh, yeah. Sure.” He moved back around, a slight laugh coming from him as we went back into the main area. We were led to a back kitchen section where we were told to wash our hands. Then we were given a hairnet, an apron, gloves. A big black guy came around, wearing a chef’s apron, and we were introduced to Boomer. We got the low-down from him, which was basically where to stand and when someone handed you a plate, put a scoop of food on it. That was it. It took me till later to realize Dean was planning on sending Hendrix out ahead of time, keeping me in? Sounded shady, but in our world, worse shit happened.

We met Reba, too, and she stared at me long enough, so I started putting two and two together. When I cut my gaze to Cheyenne once, and back to her, she had a small little smile there. My girl shared. I stifled a grin and focused back on what we were doing.

It was hard not to watch Cheyenne, though.

I could tell she was stressed. There were strain lines around her mouth and under her eyes, but her earbuds were in and she had her phone in her pocket. She’d close her eyes every now and then and she mouthed the words along with some of the songs, but she looked like a regular kitchen worker.

Boomer would watch her progress. When she would be three quarters of the way finished with whatever he had her doing, he’d start setting up her next task. When she’d finish, he’d go over and point her where to go. She’d go over and start up. She always knew what was needed, and he’d start collecting whatever she just chopped, diced, or peeled. Most of the product was put in containers and taken back into their walk-in fridge. He was having her help get ready for a future meal.

Hendrix and I stayed for an hour.

We were both asked if we wanted to stay. Note that it wasn’t Dean who asked. He’d been standing around, checking on the beverages, but that lasted twenty minutes. He’d been in his office since, and Reba asked if we wanted to stay. We both did.

I caught Hendrix glancing at Cheyenne a couple times, too, a slight frown. I didn’t tell him why she was doing what she was doing, but I could read my right-winger, and he knew something was up with her.

After another hour, some of the stress lines were fading. She was gulping down coffee like it was going out of business, but she kept working. We kept working. And Boomer kept going back and forth between all of us. Reba came and helped out, too.

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