Today was her eighteenth birthday, and she knew her grandmother would be preparing something special for her, probably smiley-faced pancakes. She could hear her cursing and banging around in the kitchen. She was mildly concerned that her grandmother would set fire to the place so she rushed to prepare for work. She sped through a shower and threw on her wrinkled, Cracker Barrel uniform. Loud music began to play from the kitchen. The bass making her vanity-mirror rattle.
“What the-” she peered into the mirror, her blue eyes, rimmed with green, were wide with worry. She hurriedly pulled her honey-brown hair up into a messy bun, and put on just a touch of makeup. She jogged downstairs and was greeted with a sight she would not soon forget. Her grandmother was gyrating around a male stripper. Techno music played from a pink, sequined boom-box.
“Granny… is that a stripper?” Kylie asked, dumbfounded. This was far worse than she had imagined.
“Yes, isn’t he gorgeous?” She purred, running her fingers through his soft, brown hair. He was naked save for a present box covering his privates. He also had a big, red bow tied around his neck.
“Happy birthday Kylie,” he said, starting to raise the box towards her.
“No, no, keep it there.” She cried, quickly turning around, blushing furiously.
“Okay, well… I’ll just leave you two love birds alone. Try not to make too much of a mess.” Her grandmother said, backing out of the kitchen. There were multi-colored streamers strewn haphazardly throughout the kitchen and cake batter dripped from the chandelier. The room couldn’t get any messier.
Kylie stopped her grandmother from leaving, “What’s going on here Granny? Why is there a stripper standing in the middle of the kitchen?” Her grandmother had done some outlandish things before, but nothing compared to this. She seemed to wilt before Kylie’s eyes, her jubilant expression from before being replaced with one of sorrow.
“They might not want you if you were spoiled.” She pleaded with Kylie. “It was the only way I could think to keep you.” She had begun to cry. There were tears falling from her wide, guileless eyes. “I just knew you wouldn’t fall for it.” She pouted. “Now they’re going to take you away, and I’ll never get to see you again.” She began to cry harder.
“It’s alright granny.” Kylie made soothing noises and gently led her towards her room. “No one’s going to take me away from you. You just go back to bed, and I’ll clean up out here.” She tucked her in and gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. As she turned to leave her grandmother grabbed her hand with a surprisingly strong grip.
Clarity returned to her eyes, and she said; “Just remember I love you baby girl, and do not trust anyone.” She let go of her hand and then snuggled under her quilt.
“Okay granny. I love you too.” Tears started to fall from her own eyes as she kissed her on the cheek. She would have to make an appointment with the doctor soon. Her grandmother was getting worse.
Kylie wiped at her cheeks before reentering the kitchen. The stripper was still standing in the same spot that they had left him. He had the tablecloth wrapped around his waist. “I’m sorry about your grandmother. Will she be okay?” He asked, concern showing on the strong planes of his face.
“Yeah, it’s just… I suspect that she might have Alzheimer’s.” She explained, turning away, embarrassed that she had started to cry again.
“Oh, man. That sucks. If it makes you feel better, I won’t be charging for my services.” She must have looked at him quite sharply, because he hastily gathered his stuff and said. “Good luck with things…” before shutting the door, taking the tablecloth with him.
“Wow, just wow.” She muttered, and then started to clean. With her thoughts preoccupied, she lost track of time. Just as she was cleaning up the last of the cake batter she glanced up at the clock. “Sonofa… ” Kylie cursed. She was thirty minutes late.
“Kylie, what’s wrong. Have you tried the cake I made you yet?” Her grandmother came shuffling into the kitchen, her wide, doe-like eyes falling to the cake lying on top of the trash. “Kylie?” Her grandmother’s eyes were starting to tear again.
“Oh, silly me, how did that get there?” Kylie asked, scooping the cake out of the trash. She suspected that her grandmother had used eggs that were way past their expiration date, and it wasn’t fully cooked. “I’m just going to take this with me to share with the people at work.”
“How thoughtful of you, save me a piece,” her grandmother said, wondering off into the living room.
“Okay. Bye Granny.” She said.
“Bye dear.” Her grandmother called from the living room, switching on the television. The theme song for American Idol began to play. Kylie grabbed her purse and helmet and balanced the cake on one hand as she would have a server tray. As she stepped outside she missed the first step and the cake splattered onto the sidewalk.
“Why do these things keep happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?” She addressed the sky.
“Having a tough morning?” Her neighbor asked. He was sitting on his porch with a cup of coffee and a newspaper. Blushing, mortified, she chuckled nervously, and scooped the cake behind a bush with a rake.
“Right, yeah… bye,” she waved to her neighbor and rode off on her bike. He waved and then disappeared back behind his paper, chuckling. Not paying attention, she pulled out right in front of a school-bus. The tires began to squeal. Then the bus came to a complete stop as if it hadn’t been going fifty miles an hour just seconds before Kylie had pulled out in front of it. Kylie hopped off of her bike, her knees quaking, and the bus-lady stepped off of the bus rubbing her neck.
“Oh my God, oh my God, that was close. Are you okay?” The bus-lady looked close to fainting herself.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I think.” Kylie said, collecting her bike and walking it past the bus. Face, after kid-face pressed up against the windows. An oddly dressed woman watched her from across the street. “What is up with today?” She whispered, a chill slithered up her neck, and the fall leaves skittered across the road making a rustling noise. For once she was glad for the conservative uniform, which covered nearly every inch of her skin.
When she finally peddled into the Cracker Barrel parking lot, she was an hour late. Hoping to slip by unnoticed, she went in by the back entrance. Apparently nothing was to go right for her that day, because her baby-faced boss was berating another one of his employee’s right inside the door.
“Hi, Mr. McGuffey, sorry I’m late… again.” Kylie said. Surprisingly, Steven, one of the youngest employees, was in trouble for smoking in the men’s room. He looked relieved as McGuffey swung his blood-shot gaze her way. She briefly considered bolting and then remembered her grandmother’s confusion from this morning. The people at the library would not continue to overlook her grandmother’s rapidly deteriorating state for much longer. Soon this would be their only source of income. To keep her job, she’d have to grovel. Locking her pride away, she began with; “Why, Mr. McGuffey, have you been working out? You’re looking awfully fit.” She squeezed his bicep. He narrowed his eyes at her while subtly sucking in his gut.
“The fifth time Ms. Adams. This is the fifth time you’ve been late this month.” His jowls quivered as spittle flew from his puffy lips. She could tell he was working himself into a real lather, and she had a feeling this would take a while. Steven gave her a pitying look from behind McGuffey’s back as he slipped away.
Why her? Why did he always have to give her such a hard time? She suspected it was because she didn’t coddle his ego as the other servers did. Well, apart from that small exception earlier.
All the while she pondered McGuffey’s treatment of her; he continued to rant and rave. I wish he’d just leave me alone. McGuffey stopped mid-insult and spun on his heel to face Steven. He was just about to round the corner when McGuffey shouted his name. He jumped a foot in the air.
“But, but Kylie was-,” he stuttered. His eyes were ping-ponging between the two.
“I don’t care what Kylie was doing. She is certainly a better employee than you. Now, what do you think is going to happen if I catch you smoking again? Don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking to you,” he roared, when Steven tried to answer. “This time I’m just going to write you up. Next time you’re out of here, even if you are my nephew.” They were walking towards McGuffey’s office, and just before going in, Steven glared back at her.
“Well maybe somebody shouldn’t have been smoking in the bathroom,” she muttered under her breath as she walked into the break-room to put up her stuff. Luis, one of the cooks, gave her a funny look. “What? Does nobody talk to themselves anymore?” He backed out of the room, hands up as if to ward her off. “Oh, the joys of working at the Barrel,” she muttered, tying on her apron.
When Steven came out of McGuffey’s office, his eyes were suspiciously red and his bottom lip quivered. It wouldn’t have been the first time that McGuffey had made somebody cry. She was just glad it wasn’t her. She thought crying at work was the ultimate embarrassment. Already the other servers were snickering over Steven’s tears. Meaning to cheer him up Kylie said, “at least he didn’t fire you.”
He sniffled. “No, it’s worse than that. He’s going to tell my mother.” He was only sixteen with red hair and pimples. “She’s going to kill me. My grandpa died of lung cancer.”
“Okay… well, good luck.” She awkwardly patted him on the shoulder and then ducked out onto the dining room floor. When she came back, after clearing off a table, everyone was circling around Steven and slapping him on the back. “What’s going on?” She asked Luis.
“Steven found a winning lottery ticket underneath one of his tables, a one-hundred- thousand-dollar ticket.” He explained, excitedly.
“Wow! That’s lucky….” She trailed off, an odd feeling overcoming her. She shook her head vigorously. “No, that’s impossible.” Luis glanced at her nervously and began to inch away. She rolled her eyes at him. Dismissing her earlier absurdity, she elbowed her way through the growing crowd to congratulate Steven.
“Kylie can you believe it?” His face was flushed, and his blue eyes were bright with excitement. He looked like he had a fever. “You must be some kind of witch or something, because right after you wished me luck, I found this.” He held up the ticket.
“It was a coincidence.” She said a bit too sharply. His face fell, and he looked confused.
“I thought that you’d be happy for me.” He looked down at his feet, his flush from before grew in intensity until he looked like a crab. “I also thought that now that I’m rich and all, I don’t know. Maybe you’d like to go out sometime.” He looked up, eyes hopeful, and displaying her usual tactlessness; she laughed.
“But you’re only sixteen!” She exclaimed, flabbergasted. She Continued to chuckle as he pushed his way through the crowd, his bottom lip once again quivering.
“You were a bit harsh.” Luis reprimanded. She jumped, because he had whispered in her ear, startling her. He was no doubt drawn back by the drama. Steven’s earlier admirers were now laughing over his embarrassment.
“Poor kid can’t catch a break.” Kylie lamented, feeling just the tiniest bit bad over her reaction to Steven’s proposal.
“I’d say the money is a pretty good break.” Luis replied in his usual droll manner.
“Yeah, but money can’t change personalities,” said Kylie.
“Too true, I am afraid that our friend Steven is to forever be an oddball.” Luis said, carefully arranging his hairnet over his pompadour.
Kylie tried her best to stop the scream that was rising in her throat. She had just finished eating dinner with her grandmother—fully cooked this time— and had come upstairs to find a two people rooting through her stuff. Thinking to protect her grandmother from the potential murderers/thefts, Kylie switched into fight mode. It was finally time for all of those kickboxing videos to payoff. Kylie was poised to launch herself at the closest murderer/theft until she said, “I wouldn’t if I were you,” continuing to pick through Kylies things.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Please do continue. I keep my money in the polka-dotted sock in the top drawer.” Kylie said, her tone dripping with sarcasm. She tried to subtly slip her cell phone out of her purse.
“We don’t want your money, and I wouldn’t do that either,” said the one rifling through her closet.
“Or you’ll do what?” She asked, flipping open her phone to dial 911. She then froze in place, unable to move a muscle.
“We warned you. We didn’t want to frighten you,” said the one who had spoken first. She walked over and started sniffing the area around Kylie.
“You were doing a fine job of that. I assure you.” Kylie said through her teeth. Her mind was reeling over the fact that she couldn’t move.
“I don’t sense anything magical. However, the fear coming off of her is quite strong,” said the one sniffing her. “She also smells of fried foods.”
“Gee, I wonder why.” Kylie said, now able to move her toes. The murderer/theft looked startled, her heavily rimmed eyes going wide.
“She can fight me off. Perhaps we have found our ruler’s daughter at last,” she said.
“Doubtful. Your hopefulness is making your will weak. Move over and let me try.” The first one was dressed entirely in black. However, the girl who had stepped out of her closet was dressed in Kylie’s old band uniform. She had wild, red hair flowing down her back. “You have absolutely no taste in fashion, by the way. This was the only decent thing I could find.” The huge, gold buttons reflected the light from the hall. “Okay, Amelia, release her.” She stood in front of Kylie, determination winking in her hazel eyes. “I’m ready.”
“Why? You’re not going to be able to hold her any better than I can,” Amelia said, crossing her arms and flopping down on Kylie’s bed.
“Yes I can!” She whined, stomping her booted feet. “You’re always so afraid I’ll beat you at something. That you never let me try anything.”
“That’s because not everything’s a competition Dalia,” Amelia sighed.
“Ha! See, she practically admits it.” Dalia turned towards Kylie triumphantly, just as she slumped to the floor. Amelia’s strange hold on her was gone, and Kylie sprinted down the hall.
“Stop her. Stop her.” Amelia shrieked, springing from the bed.
“I’m trying,” Dalia panted, racing after Kylie.
She had just enough time to notice her grandmother swiveling her hips at the kitchen sink, Kylie’s green ear buds dangling from her ears, before she raced through the front door. It was twilight, and the chill brought tears to her eyes as she pounded down the road. She considered banging on one of her neighbor’s doors, but couldn’t come up with a plausible reason for doing so. What was she supposed to tell them? That she had two witches chasing after her. She could barely believe it herself.
I wish they would stop following me. I wish they would stop following me. I wish they would stop following me. She chanted in her mind. She heard a shriek, and glanced behind her. Dalia stood in the middle of the street. She was stomping her feet and appeared to be crying. Amelia smirked and continued to pursue Kylie. She turned back around and headed for the convenient store down the street. Just before reaching her safe haven, she heard a pop and then a sizzling noise, and turned around to find a smoldering Amelia pulling away clumps of smoking hair. A once-again triumphant Dalia stood behind her.
“Dolly, why? You ruin everything. I almost had her.” Amelia shoved Dalia.
“Well you made me stop, just because I was ahead of you.” Dalia shoved her back.
“Does that sound like something I would do?” Amelia asked, exasperatedly.
Dalia looked confused. “Well, no. I guess not.” They both turned to look at Kylie, who stood with her hand on the store’s door-handle. She quickly ducked inside, and did her little chant thing. Amelia attempted to pull the door open, but it wouldn’t budge. They started shoving each other again.
“Geez, A.D.D much,” Kylie muttered under her breath.
“Uh, can I help you, miss?” The man behind the counter asked her; and for the first-time Kylie realized that she was in her flimsy, floral-print robe, with nothing underneath it.
“Nice, real nice,” she hissed under her breath.
His voice rose sharply, “miss?” He sounded nervous.
“Yeah, um… tampon emergency. Sorry.” She cringed after the words left her mouth.
“Ah, right. Well, they’re near the back.” He said, a blush suffusing his cheeks.
“Thanks.” She crossed her arms over her chest, and headed towards the back of the store. The place was deserted, and she could tell baldy was watching her closely. Whether it was because she had on a flimsy robe, or because he didn’t trust her, she couldn’t tell. She was betting the former.
“Is this a fashion statement, or was no one supposed to see you like this?” She spun around, dropping her armful of tampons. Luis’ eyes widened in surprise, and he bursts out laughing. “Definitely not a fashion statement,” he started picking up tampons. “Geez Louise, chica, calm down.” He was chuckling even as patted her on the back comfortingly. Kylie was sobbing, great heaving breaths sawing in and out, and she stuttered incoherently.
“F-first the stripper,” she squawked, pathetically.
Luis raised his brows, “Stripper?”
She glared at him. “Then that stupid bus nearly ran me over. I got yelled at by McStupidpants, and now tweedledee and tweedledum, won’t leave me alone.” The last word was wailed, and she crumpled into Luis’ arms.
Luis snorted. “McStupidpants, really, you can do better than that.” She leaned back, and glared up at him with watery blue eyes. He quit smiling. “Wait, what did you mean; they won’t leave you alone?”
“Who, oh, you mean Tweedledee and tweedledum? They’re outside, fighting, because tweedledum blew tweedledee up.” She babbled. She gazed up at him as if she believed her statement made all the sense in the world.
“Right….” He stretched out the word, clearly thinking that she was insane. She wasn’t quite convinced that she wasn’t, either, but she definitely didn’t like him patronizing her. She shoved him away.
“I don’t need you. I can fight my own battles. Apparently, I’m some kind of witch or something,” again she said this as if it were all perfectly logical. She marched past baldy, who jumped back as of afraid she would bite. “I’m so tired of people treating me like I am crazy.” She wailed.
“Here’s a tip. Stop acting like it.” Luis said, falling into step behind her.
“I’ll show you. They’ll be right outside, just like I told you.” She pushed open the door; the only living thing was a ferocious Dotson, barking across the street. “B-but, they were here. They were chasing me.”
“Sure they were, crazy girl.”