Of all the jobs working in a restaurant, taking out the trash proved to be one of the worst. Leftover food, partially empty coffee cups, and whatever else people liked to throw away all combined their scents into a cacophony of nasty. Not even the strongest scented bags could stand against the might of the stench.
As if the smell of the trash bag wasn’t enough, I had to go out into the back alley which contained a scent so foul it put tears in my eyes and threatened to blind me. As with most back alleys in a big city, it had acquired a terrible smell of garbage, urine, and other unmentionables.
Death smelled better than that alley.
Most days, Watch would kindly take the trash out so I wouldn’t have to, but he wasn’t here today. The responsibility fell to me. I hauled the bundled bag of garbage out the back door and hefted it onto the lip of the dumpster. To my dismay, the bag tore open as I pushed on it and coated my hand in a sticky mess. I shoved hard and the offending mass plopped down with a satisfying thud that echoed up and down the narrow space.
Studying my hands told me the mess had likely been caused by the leftovers of someone’s caramel macchiato. A tap on my elbow made me jump so high I could have landed in the dumpster.
Whipping around, I came face to face with a smirking Cailey. “Hey, Paige.” She wiggled her shoulders as she clasped her hands behind her.
Her surprising me in a normal setting would have been scary enough, but in this dingy back alley, it could have been any number of creeps. The fact that it was only my girlfriend both comforted me, but put her at risk of me kicking her butt.
“Are you trying to scare me to death?”
She continued to feign innocence and spoke in a musical tone. “Aw, I missed you too.” She came in for a hug and I stepped back causing her to pout.
I held my palms up. “You don’t want me touching you right now.”
Her face contorted into a frown for a second before shifting again. She straightened up and stepped forward with a spark in her eyes. She reached into the front pocket of my apron, not caring about invading my personal space. “If I know my girlfriend.” She took her time rummaging around in there, grinning as my face reddened. Her face lit up and she extracted my pack of hand wipes. “Then she has these on her.”
Was I predictable?
Her smug expression as she peeled bag the cover on the pack only added more fuel to the fire burning on my face. She winked as she took one of my hands. I watched silently as she cleaned first one, then the other. She crumpled up the wipe and tossed it into the dumpster. She resealed the packet and returned it to its pocket.
Cailey held her arms out and gave her best puppy dog pout. “Can I have my hug now?”
I taped my chin and studied the alleyway for a minute. “And if I were to say no again?”
Her brow furrowed before she wrapped her arms around me. “I wouldn’t listen.”
“Good.” I smiled into her shoulder. “What are you doing here, anyway? Don’t you have practice?” Cheerleading practice usually ran later than this.
She shrugged as we parted ways. “We got out early, and um… I wanted to ask you something.” She took a sudden interest in one of the many stains in the concrete at our feet.
I couldn’t help the head tilt as I studied her. Cailey’s sudden shift in behavior caught me off guard. I never saw her act like this before.
“You can say no!”
Alarm bells started ringing in my head. What was wrong? What was she about to ask that was so bad? It felt like a blacksmith was pounding away in my chest.
“Cailey, just ask me.” I practically begged.
She nodded, and with a deep breath, met my gaze with nervous blue eyes. “I was wondering if youwantedtocometomyfamily’sbarbequethisSaturday.” The last bit came out in a jumbled mess that took a second to decipher.
“What?” That was the only word I could manage after deciphering her question. Her nervousness had sent my mind into a panicked overdrive as t prepared for numerous horrible possibilities all at least one hundred times worse than what she’d just asked. I hadn’t expected that question, and so I didn’t have a response ready to go.
With another deep breath, Cailey explained at a slower pace and I felt my heart rate return to normal levels. “My parents are hosting a family reunion at the city park and they thought—I did too—that you might like to maybe come with me and meet my family.” While this time she spoke at normal speed, I still struggled to hear her. Her voice grew quieter with each word and I had to lean forward to hear her.
If it weren’t for her obvious nervousness, I might have guessed it was all a ploy to sneak a kiss.
“You want me to meet your family?”
“Are they going to be okay with us?” I pointed back and forth between her and me.
I hadn’t spent much time with Cailey’s parents. I saw her mom on occasion before or after school and at games. She always seemed nice and didn’t seem to have a problem with Cailey and me dating.
Didn't keep me from worrying.
Still, from what Cailey said, her parents took the whole relationship thing better than Father. His assistant even had the nerve to suggest sending me to some bible camp and I never wanted to slap that woman more. Thankfully, even Father knew following her advice would be wrong. It took the two of them a few weeks to get used to the idea of me dating a girl. Even now, they weren’t exactly okay with the idea. They just sort of tolerated it and chalked it up to a phase.
At least I knew Kyra, Jonas, and Watch always had my back.
With a dismissive wave, she came to stand beside me and take my hand. “Of course they will be. They practically ordered me to invite you.”
I arched an eyebrow at her, but before I could tease her about what she just said, she added with a worried look in her eyes.
“Not that they had to!”
I chuckled and squeezed her hand. “Good to know.” I opened the back door and followed her inside. “You could have just texted me, you know?”
“But I wanted to see you.” She bumped her shoulder against mine.
“Out there? That alley is disgusting.” I stuck out my tongue and faked gagging.
She glanced behind us. “True.” Her eyes met mine and they sparkled with clarity. “But it’s not so bad when I’m with you.”
I kissed her cheek and a blush sprouted from that simple touch. A smile blossomed on her face as I gave her my answer.
“Saturday sounds fun.”