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Against A Wall

She doesn’t know it, but she’s everything to me.

“Truck nuts is here.” Toby pulls a shot for the latte with a foam heart. That leaves me at the register.


I peer out the front window, and there’s Cash Wall, parking his monster truck half on the sidewalk, not quite blocking the fire hydrant, but definitely within a foot. Chrome nuts hang from the trailer hitch, swaying as he leaps down.

Come on, go to the dry cleaners. Go to the dry cleaners.

Cash swings around the bed and heads for the coffeeshop.

I panic, but silently.

How bad would it be if I took out the trash right now? The breakfast rush is over, but the tables are still full of folks enjoying their Saturday morning. It’s good to see them full again. Means I can worry less about Dad.

I sigh and brace myself. I can’t ditch my job because the customer used to bully me in high school, and it would be a dick move to leave Toby alone with a dozen customers.

Especially since it takes him ten minutes to make a foam heart. He calls it foam “art,” and I can’t even roll my eyes because when he first learned how to do it from the internet, I oohed and ahhed and took it very seriously, ‘cause that’s what I thought good girlfriends do.

Toby did me a lot of favors when he dumped me. The biggest one is I don’t have to watch any more videos of stupid crap that I don’t care about. I only watch the stupid videos I want to watch now. It’s very liberating.

The bell on the door rings as Cash flings it open with way more force than necessary. There’s a chorus of “heys” and “my man’s.”

Cash shakes a few hands and doles out a high five or two as he makes his way twenty feet to the register. I shuffle so I’m standing completely behind it. Not that he won’t still be able to leer at my chest. He’s hella tall.

He swaggers on up and slaps both palms full on the counter. I’m gonna have to wipe it down once he’s gone. Cash is some kind of hunting guide now, so he has those kinds of hands. Outdoorsy. Probably clean but they don’t look it.

He’s dressed like every other guy with a truck in this town. Pants with a lot of pockets. Camo baseball cap with a fish hook on the brim. Raglan T-shirt—camo and Army green—that’s tight in the arms and across the pecs.

All the women in the shop are ogling either his biceps or his ass right now, and all the men are staring out the front window, eyeing up his truck.

I’ve never been able to figure out the phenomenon of Cash Wall. Is he an insufferable asshole because everyone worships him? Or does everyone worship him because he’s an insufferable asshole?

People suck, so it could be either.

Cash smiles down at me, flashing his perfect white teeth. “Glenna Dobbs. Looks like someone started to dip your head in a vat of blueberries, and then gave up.”

My fingers fly to my ends because I’ve never been able to brace myself sufficiently for Cash Wall. He’s my kryptonite.

Some jerk at a nearby table snorts, and says, “Good one.”

It’s not. Blueberries aren’t a dye.

I do what I always do and pretend I didn’t hear him. “Can I help you?”

“I don’t know. Are you gonna half-ass my coffee like you half-assed your hair?”

It’s ombré. When Toby and I split, I wanted a change. I left the top mousy brown, and dyed the bottom bright blue fading to light cyan. I love it. Toby liked me “natural,” so it’s a nice, low key middle finger since I can’t get away from the guy. Plus, it looks bitchin’ in a French braid.

“Small, medium, or large?” I ask.

Cash tugs the crotch of his cargo pants and winks. “Large, baby.”

Cash’s brand of dickishness isn’t subtle. I guess if I had to have a nemesis, I could’ve done worse. He’s been trying since seventh grade, but he rarely lands a decent zinger that really hurts my feelings. It’s more a persistent subtle undermining. 

“That’ll be three dollars.” Now, he’s gonna bitch about the price.

“For a large coffee? Are you skimming from the till to pay for the rest of your dye job?”

I exhale slowly, blowing out my cheeks, and wait.

Toby’s ignoring the whole exchange. He used to speak up for me, but I guess since we’re “growing into new people” now, he’s growing into the kind of person who insists on being “friends” with his ex but lets her hang out to dry when a customer hassles her.

It tracks.

“Does the coffee come with a mug, at least?” he asks.

He knows it doesn’t. He comes in once a month or so to trot out this same schtick.

I shake my head once, aiming for the baleful scorn of that Weimaraner puppy from the meme, the one who says “no way.”

Cash Wall comes from the richest family in town. The bridge into town is named after them, for heaven’s sake. His father breeds race horses. His older brother’s the acting sheriff since Del Willis was put on leave. His mother is the chair of every committee. And he complains about the price of a cup of coffee.

Is there a word that’s like entitlement, but for when a guy chews straw like a redneck and acts like his truck doesn’t cost seventy thousand bucks?

“Hey, Toby,” he calls over my shoulder. “Can you at least make a flower in mine?”

Toby ignores him, too, but the closest tables are really enjoying the show. I haven’t been the town’s favorite daughter since the article about Del Willis, but truth be told, they’ve never liked shelling out “Starbucks prices” here in Stonecut County.

The same folks who sit at the tables bitching about how slim margins are getting at the feed store and the tire place think my dad is ripping them off. ‘Cause the supply chain magically doesn’t impact coffee ‘cause it’s bougie.

“What’s his problem?” Cash finally digs in his pocket for his wallet. “Ponytail too tight?”

I take a crumpled five and stick the change in our tip jar.

“Hey.” Cash fishes the ones back out. “You haven’t done anything to earn that, greedy Gus.”

Greedy Gus? How is it Cash and I were born in the same place, received the exact same education, and he has a country twang and says things like “greedy Gus?”  

I grab a white paper cup, write “dumbass” on it in black grease pencil, and then turn my back to him while I fill it up with decaf. I put a lid on. Hope this is to go.

When I set the cup on the counter, he grabs it so his hand covers the name, and he doesn’t look down. He’s too busy checking out my boobs. I’m a B-cup, and I’m wearing a black hoodie with a black apron over it. There is literally nothing to see, but Cash won’t miss an opportunity to be a creep.   

“On your right,” Toby barks as he heads out from behind the counter to carry Sue Acheson her latte, cradling it like a new born baby.

“Oh, wow!” Sue claps her hands.

“I’ll never know how you get it so perfect,” her husband Bob exclaims. Toby launches into a detailed explanation.

I grab a rag and scrub Cash’s gargantuan handprints, trying really hard not to have mean thoughts. I can’t in all fairness. I stanned Toby Guilfoyle’s various “artistic endeavors” for the past eight years. And his hearts are pretty damn perfect. I’ve sold several stock images of them on PixiePix.

I wipe the last of Cash’s smudges off the wooden counter, and I let myself take a peek at the clock on the wall. Five hours down. Seven hours until closing.

I go to rinse the rag in the sink. My feet already hurt in my combat boots. It’s a preemptive ache. They know what’s coming for them after a twelve-hour shift.   

I need to silver lining this shit. I’m trying to be less of a downer. As he was moving his stuff out of our apartment, Toby very calmly explained that neither of us could ever reach our full potential if we continued to be dragged down by my “cynical worldview” and “persistent negativity.”

So—silver linings. Where’s the bright side?

Two hours until lunch. Since my dad owns the place, I’m nominally in charge. I’m going to take a long lunch. Toby will pay me back by taking once twice as long afterwards, but that’s cool. That’s less Toby. See? Bright side.

Dad has never been more right than when he asked me to think hard about whether I really wanted him to hire my boyfriend. What if we broke up? But art school had fallen through for Toby, and he couldn’t work at a place that required a uniform, and at that point, we’d been together for three years. It was a safe bet.

Now I work with my ex all day long. It’s actually made the break up easier. I don’t miss him. He’s always right over there, chatting up a customer or taking his good sweet time making a latte. Right now, he’s pulled up a seat next to Sue, and he’s showing her his phone. He’s probably showing her his SoundCloud.

I go ahead and wrap up the leftover breakfast quiches. Dad made a killer curry onion tart, but it didn’t sell. Folks weren’t keen on the curry smell. Bright side? More for me. My stomach grumbles. Two more hours, tummy. Two more hours and it’s all yours.

Cash Wall doesn’t seem to be leaving. He’s working the room, coffee cup in hand. Everyone is stoked to see him. Lots of back slapping, and with the ladies, a lot of hair twirling. I get it. Objectively, Cash is hot. He’d be a much less epic villain if he looked like a toad.

Junior year, he asked me to the homecoming dance as a prank. He did it in the cafeteria after everyone had taken their seats for maximum attention. It worked well narratively because he was the most popular and good-looking guy in school, and I was the awkward artsy girl who hadn’t learned to love her lil’ bit o’ chub, yet. Oh, and it was the day I got my first period. I was a late bloomer.

I got to stand in the middle of a sea of plastic rolling tables, holding a plastic tray, wearing a pad from the school nurse, the adhesive working just well enough to stick to my pubes, but not well enough to stick to my panties, while the whole school laughed at me.

For bonus points, Toby made a big deal of confronting Cash later that day in the middle of gym class—not for trying to poach his girlfriend—but for making me the butt of a joke when I was clearly suffering from anxiety and depression.

Classic villain move. By both guys, now that I think about it.

I like stories, so I can appreciate the structure, if not actually living through it with a huge ass pimple right in the middle of my eyebrows. I’d like to say it made me stronger, but it only led me to waste a crap ton of money on a three-step acne treatment that I used for a month and gave up.

That’s the thing about living in a small town. Your worst high school memory just hangs out at your place of work, wearing the exact same cologne he did on the day of your greatest public humiliation.

On the bright side, the burn has mostly worn off from repeated exposure. 

I finish with the quiches and schlep the tray of wrapped dishes to the back. I take my time storing them in the fridge. Usually, the shop starts clearing out around now. We get another, smaller rush at mid-day and another when people get off work, but we generally only have full tables in the morning.

I bet people aren’t leaving because Cash is here. They all want a chance to shoot the shit with him, talk about hunting season. Flirt. Ask him about his truck and his folks and whether he thinks Stonecut will go to states this year.

People like him. He makes them laugh. I’ve never understood that. His jokes are bad.

The front room is livelier right now that it has been in weeks, and it’s making my anxiety spike. I like a chill and quiet coffeehouse. That’s a crowd who’s one hundred percent less likely to bring up Del Willis.  

I smooth my damp palms on my apron and ties my hair back in a black band. I don’t have anything to actually worry about. People were mad when the Del Willis article came out—a lot of folks boycotted the shop and canceled their subscription to the newspaper—but it’s blown over.

Except for the Willises and a few of their closer friends, everyone has come back to Peace, Love, & Beans. We’re the only game in town if you don’t want convenience store coffee. I haven’t been asked “where I get off” or “how I dare” in months.

Some people still make remarks, call me “Woodward and Bernstein,” which I had to look up on Wikipedia. I can handle that, though. Cash Wall has been calling me names since I was thirteen. “Ferdinand” when I got my nose pierced. “Nut muncher” when he heard I was eating vegan. In gym class, whenever I dropped a ball, he’d clap and say, “Good job, Glen Davis.” I guess that’s an insult, but I never bothered to search it up on the internet.

Anyway, I don’t need to be jumpy because everyone’s chatting and enjoying themselves. This is good. For a little while, Dad was talking about shutting down the shop to focus on saving the paper. His angina was really acting up, and my insomnia got crazy bad. He hasn’t mentioned scaling back for a while now. Disaster narrowly averted.

I try to make my face pleasant—according to Toby, I’m a default frowner, and it takes less energy to smile—and I head back out front. Cash is standing by a front table, talking to Gary and Jim Ellwood. His eyes find me me the instant I come through the doorway. My stomach goes bloop. Kind of like when you go over a bump at high speed on a country road.

Kinda like when you’re gonna puke.

“Glen, this coffee is hella weak,” he hollers across the room.

Conversation screeches to a halt, and all the eyes turn to me. My face flames, and I can feel it crumpling into a combination of forced smile and sheer panic. I’ve caught the look in a reflection before. It looks like I’m stroking out.

I hate public attention. It’s my kryptonite. I have lots of kryptonites.   

I’m frozen.

Where’s Toby?

Oh. He’s slouching against the counter, dishrag jauntily slung over his shoulder. He widens his eyes at me like “well, what are you gonna do about it?” Then he looks down at his phone. No help coming from that direction. 

“Do you want another cup?” I ask.

“Why would I want two cups of weak coffee?”

“Mine was fine,” Sue Acheson says, shooting a smile at Toby. “Delicious.”

“Do you want a refund?” I ask. I’m aware I sound ungracious. I’m incapable of faking a good customer service tone of voice, but I am aware. Awareness counts for nothing. Sue and Bob Acheson exchange glances. I can feel the Yelp review.

Everyone is staring at me, and this is Stonecut County, so I know every single person in this place.

There’s my first-grade teacher Mrs. Fox sitting with my sixth-grade math teacher Mrs. Myers. There’s Amy the dental hygienist who cleans my teeth next to her husband Doug who used to pump out the sewage tank at my grandparent’s place before they passed. There is a table of kids I went to high school with, and oh, there’s Samantha Becker, the girl Toby dated before me. She must have come in while I was in the back.

My stomach sloshes dangerously.

I dig into the tip jar and fish out three bucks. “Here.” I hold it up.

Cash’s smartass smirk disappears. His brow wrinkles. “I’m not gonna take your tips.”

“Why not?”

“I’m just not Glenna.”

I stare at him, holding up the ones.

He stares at me and folds his arms.

For some reason, I’m stuck. His brown eyes are tar. Toffee. Quicksand.

My stomach flips.

Hate makes your body do really weird shit.

Paper Texture


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