I slipped my grease stained shirt over my head, buttoned every one but the top button and gathered together my apron. I wrapped the dangling strings around the bulky apron to keep them from trailing on the ground and getting dirtier then they already were.
I had one foot out of the door and a hand on the door knob when I glanced down. Damn, I forgot to cover up my tattoo. I shouldered the door open and sprinted the length of the living room and into the bathroom. With fingers that knew what they were doing I put the white bandage on my leg and taped it down.
I re-hooked my keys on my finger and put my apron back under my arm. I was out of the front door a minute later and twenty seconds after that I was behind the wheel of my car. I had gotten to be an expert at covering up my tattoo. It was a problem for where I worked. Why it was a problem? I had no idea. It was a picture of an open book, with the words Believe written across the pages by a feather quill. How unoffensive could you get?
Tattoos didn’t create the proper image for the restaurant where I worked. Everyone had to look uniform and match. No individuality or personality allowed inside those walls. I hated having to cover it up the five days I worked a week. I got it for a reason. It was my emblem, my way of showing the world who I was and what I did with my life. I wrote with full belief in myself, my words and what I could do with them. If that was offensive to someone, well screw them. I didn’t and would not try to care.
The drive was quick, only fifteen minutes today. No traffic to delay me, which was good for my mood. What wasn’t was the actual shift. The work day did not fly past like the drive. It was long and full of attitude and confused messed up orders. I got my exercise that day running back and forth recooking half of what was served. I got into a fight with one of the cooks when I wouldn’t admit that his job was more difficult then mine. (He didn’t have to talk to these people! I did.)
Finally the end of the day was near. I had one hour left. Sixty minutes was all I had to endure before freedom was mine. I had two days off and I was planning on using them to forget that this place even existed.
I got a new guest at the counter. I handed him a set of silverware but left the menu in the holder. He was a regular (not a particular favored regular) who knew the menu better then half of the waitresses here. He rattled off his meal of choice and I turned to head around the corner to put in his order. He caught sight of my bandaged leg and asked question I had heard at least a dozen times that day.
“What did you do to your leg?” He asked.
I stopped and glanced down at my leg to ensure we were thinking about the same thing. “Nothing. It is actually covering up my tattoo. Against regulations to have it,” I said. Now that should have been it, just like it had been for the rest of the day. But this guy wasn’t one for keeping his mouth shut.
“You have a tattoo? Why would you destroy yourself like that?” He asked, completely shocked and disgusted.
“It was designed by my brother. It’s an open book with a feather quill writing the world Believe,” was how I responded. It was the safest thing for me to say right now. I walked around the corner to the computer, knowing that if I stayed near him any longer some unpleasant words would leave my mouth.
Unfortunately for me staying away from him was not a possible task. The restaurant was the size of a shoe box, it only sat 30 people. So I ended up back in font of him only minutes later.
I was at the front computer checking out a guest, doing everything in my power to ignore him. He kept trying to catch my eye but I refused to even glance at him. As soon as the woman had her back to me, Mister-I-know-everything opened his mouth again.
“So what gang are you in then?” he asked, no laughter. He wasn’t joking, he was being serious.
I had to drop my pen because my fingers started to shake. “What!? I’m not!” I snapped at him. I was usually very much in control of my emotions. I didn’t snap or get angry easily. People joked it was like pulling teeth to get me mad. Unless you attacked someone I cared about. Today though I was already at the end of my rope and he wasn’t cutting the last threads.
‘Well, that is automatically what I think. If you get a tattoo you are in a gang. Simple.”he shrugged at me. His look said “Well, you’re the one who got it so don’t blame me.”
“Well, you are a judgmental piece of shit! You know that!? You wear glasses and a high priced suit, guess you are a smug bastard who thinks because he has money he is better then everyone else. Like being judged? No!? Well, neither do I! Did you bother to ask if it had any meaning? Or why I got it in the first place!? It is a reminder to me to believe in myself always. Even when arrogant piece sod shit like you attack me! SO FUCK YOU!!” Such an awesome speech, I just wished I could actually deliver it. I wished I could have watched his face fall and watch him fumble for his words.
But I needed my job so I bit my tongue until I tasted blood and turned on my heel for the back area. As I scooted past coworkers I let the scene continue to play in my head. A small smile creased my lips. In real life I could never say a word and could never put him in his place. But in my own little world I could tell that bastard off and he could get what he deserved.
“Seriously can you all shut up for half a minute?” I growled. I held my head in my hands, trying to keep the pounding contained. I had been listening to the din for the last two hours and couldn’t take it much longer.
My plea for silence went unheeded. The villainess was cackling on about a spell that would be the perfect catalyst for moving the plot forward. The heroine was crying and asking why I was always trying to hurt her. Her best friend was all arms-crossed angry and defensive while yelling at me. The dog was barking while another number of half formed faces were trying to get their voices heard in the chaos as well.
“I can’t do anything with all this noise. No one is going to be saved or doomed until I can hear one single complete thought,” I shouted. My neighbors would be giving me the usual side glances again tomorrow.
Still no one tried to quiet. The voices got louder and more angry. My head was beginning to pound, and my vision was getting hazy. If this didn’t stall soon I would need an hour long nap to ease the ache and then no one would get their story told.
“Everyone out!” I yelled as I stood up. A grumble answered the command but they all moved and pushed trying to be the first one out. A minute later standing in a line before me were all my characters that had been a jumbled mess inside my head minutes earlier.
The villainess had her long black curly hair tucked behind her ears and her dark red lips were curled up in a sneer. The heroine and her best friend were locked together at the elbow. The best friend was tapping her foot at me with impatience The heroine’s dog was sitting obediently at her side, tongue hanging out. At the moment he was the only one I could really tolerate.
Standing at the left side of the room, slightly apart from the first three, was the hero. He had his head bent and was shaking slightly. Beside him stood another man and woman. Both stood staring blankly ahead, no movement and no outstanding features at all.
I moaned and pulled my hands down my face as I looked at the disaster that stood before me. “You guys are a mess,” I told them as I slid down my bookcase that I had been standing up against. “Everyone sit down and let me think for a minute.”
All the characters slowly sat on the ground, the villainess was the last one to make contact with the floor. All had eyes trained on me. I let my head fall into the now familiar blackness of my hands. I closed my eyes and tried to envision where each of these people was going and what their point was, if they had one.
“I can’t go anywhere. I’m the villain, you have no story without me,” the villainess said. Her voice was silky and slow. I almost gagged, so cliche.
“You can go anywhere I want you to go. I don’t actually need you at all. I need conflict, which could be anyone and anything. Now shut up or you are disappearing and I am replacing you with someone who is more cooperative,” I snapped a muffled replied at her from where my head was tucked into my arms.
I could feel her eyes boring my head while the heroine started to snicker like a child, beside her. I looked up and caught the woman’s eye. “You can shut it as well. I need someone to fight the conflict and you don’t have to be it. Right now you are only good at whining and that isn’t a super power that has ever won any battles as far as I am aware of. So don’t get too cocky over there,” I pulled my hair behind my ears and pushed myself to my feet. As I stood towering over my creations I looked them all over one more time. “I don’t actually need any of you. I can erase everyone of you and start from scratch. And right now that sounds like a good plan because you all are being a pain in my ass.”
“But then you will just end up right here again, with new faces but with the same lack of cooperation and extreme irritation,” the hero muttered, voice barely audible and eyes still trained on the carpet.
“I know,” I sighed. He was right. I had already been through this twice already with this same story. I kept restarting but kept ending up in this place every time. Every time I fought them all tooth and nail and then when they wouldn’t conform I backspaced and started over. I was in a battle that I had no hope of winning. “I know that my original idea isn’t working and I know that I can’t start over. It’s just that you are all giving me a damn migraine.”
“Sorry,” the hero muttered sadly. My anger ebbed a little bit, being mad at him was like being angry at a puppy.
“Alright, let’s try something new. Let me talk with you and see what I am dealing with here.” I scanned down the line and decided to just start from the top and work my way over. “You,” I pointed at the villianess. “You are my villain. You are out for revenge because our heroine friend here, wronged you. She stole your crown and life, blah , blah, blah.” I sat on the couch beside where she sat on the ground. “That is so overdone.”
“I’m shallow,” she leaned down and rested her head on her crossed arms that were resting on top up on her knees. “One dimensional and flat. I need a deeper back story, one that breaks the readers hearts and makes them sympathize with me a little bit,” her eyes held mine. “Something like I’m cursed to kill everyone I get close to because I went off and made a deal without thinking when I was a child. Something like that.”
“Good, but what about if you only believe you are cursed but really aren’t? It was a lie told to you by your parents who couldn’t take responsibility for their own actions. They were the cause of all the disasters you attributed to your ‘curse,’” I added air quoting the word curse.
She nodded, a grin spreading up her lips. “I like it. I hate her,” she pointed at the heroine “And my parents and ultimately myself.”
“You need to be more subtle as well. Right now you are too striking. One look tells me you are evil and not to trust you. You can’t be so easy to pick out of a crowd and so easy to label. I need the reader to wonder if you really are a villain or someone who just ended up at the end of their rope in life. Lessen the edge in your voice, not so cutting and hard. Let’s make you a bit smarter, with a larger vocabulary and more intricate ideas. Maybe make you philosophize a bit. I want you more calculating,” I added.
“I can work with that,” she sat up and looked at her new self. She was no longer wearing the revealing black dress with bright red finger nails. She had much more normal looking clothes, a shirt and trousers but still red nails, just not as bright. Her hair was less full, still curly but not as high and noticeable. It was still long enough though to hide her eyes if she needed it to. Her smile was more genuine, but still had a slight curve to it. She made you uncomfortable but in a way you couldn’t exactly place. Her eyes were less angry, more desperate and sad.
“Much better,” I high-fived her.
“Now you two,” I moved from the couch and sat on the ground directly in front of the two best friends, still locked together like life depended on the connection.
“I love you,” I pointed at the best friend. “You are strong and use all your energy protecting your friend. You hold on tight, as if she is yours and no one else’s. There is a hint of sisterly affection there but also of genuine love as well. You are layered and that is great. Though I think we need to tone you down you a little bit. You might be a bit too harsh and soldier like right now. I need you to soften a little, be a tiny bit vulnerable.”
“And her?” The best friend asked without an added thought to my suggestions. Her hand tightened on the heroine. “She is just as strong and as perfect as I am. You created her to be so.”
I had to bite back a smile. Okay, maybe the lover part wasn’t all that subtle after all. “Strong is nowhere close to the word to describe her and you know it. She doesn’t have a strong gene anywhere in her genome. Your rose-colored glasses just have you believing that she can be strong. You wouldn’t have to work so hard if that she had that side inside her,” I said.
The best friend dropped her head and nodded. She knew what I said was true, even if it was the last thing she wanted to hear. The heroine looked lost, staring back and forth between me and her confidant and savior.
“What is wrong with me?” She sounded scared, almost on the verge of tears. “I’m perfectly fine.”
“You are weak,” no sugar-coating or white glove handling with this one. “You need to be stronger. Right now you are a victim, who can’t do anything for herself and honestly you really piss me off. The villainess is easier to understand and care about then you. I’m cheering for your friend to win and for you to just disappear completely” her face fell and tears fell down her cheeks.
“What can I do?” She asked quietly while her friend rubbed circles on her arm.
“Get a backbone. You need to match her blow for blow, yell for yell and sense adventure for sense of adventure. Be her equal. You’ve been friends for ages and I know you have watched her. How about you learned how to be strong from her? She taught you how to let your true self shine,” the tears ceased flowing and instantly she sat up straighter, she reached up and grasped her friends hand tightly. “But…” I started and both girls tensed up.
“But you have a dark side. You knew what you were doing to the villainess the whole time. You did it to have the power and to protect your best friend, who was in danger she knew nothing about. You are ruthless and your outward loving face is only a mask,” the best friend’s hand went to loosen but the heroine tightened the grip and gave her sideways glare. I felt a twinge of guilt at the decisions I had just made. It was necessary for the story, even if it meant breaking my favorite character’s heart.
I gave the best friend a mouthed, “Sorry.” The dog nudged my hand and I scratched him behind the ears. “You are fine, buddy.” He gave me an excited bark and I laughed. I let him give me a kiss on the cheek before I moved down to sort out my hero.
“Alright, boy it is your turn,” I reached out to make him actually look at me. “I love this meek scared thing you have going on right now. It makes it easier to sympathize with you, but only if we have a good reason for it that is,” I waited, hoping he would help me fill in the blanks. He just stared at me silently.
“Okay how about you were bullied by your older brothers, all six of them? There was no room for you to have a voice in your family, so you just stopped speaking. You stopped trying to make anyone actually notice you. You live in this silent shadow world now,” He just nodded.
“But this has to change quickly or else you are going to get frustrating. How about you befriend the villain woman over there and she teaches you how to find your voice and purpose? In the process she grows in some way as well. She discovers that the curse was false and that she can care and can live with her heart open,” I glanced down at the villainess. The hero did a quick look as well. He gave her a warm smile, her only response was to duck her head back onto her knees.
I laughed, it was going to be fun playing with those two So many awkward interactions and potential banter was waiting for me. My fingers were itching to find a pen. First though I had two other random people to deal with first.
“Now for you two mystery folk,” the man and woman didn’t move, just stared. “You are just shells right now. Question is do you have a purpose or are you just taking up pages and words?”
The man finally brought his gaze down to meet my eyes and gave me a weak smile. Hopelessness and dread filled the air around the pair. As I watched them it came to me like a shot in the back.
“You two are at fault for this whole mess. You angered the villainess’s parents. You gave the heroine a speech about not losing love. You told the hero silence was better than fighting. You are the worst spirit guide type people, ever,” I said, a small part of me trying to joke but it fell flat. The pair just nodded. “It is a story about those who control the universe and how twisted up one mistake can get. You appear very little in the story, we only get snippets of you trying to desperately fix your mess. But you are trying to fix the miss that you started but you are only making it worse and worse. You are dying,” I said, my eyes staring to sting. My voice was barely a whisper and I felt a slight hitch in my chest. I caught the sob in my throat and rubbed my chest, trying to relieve the misery trying to take over.
Their shoulders slumped and their eyes darkened. We all knew what had to happen. They had accepted their fate, which was why I only ever saw glimpses of their faces earlier. They never had a voice in the chaotic din that had plagued my head minutes before. Their demise was going to kill me to write.
Once I had control of myself again I got to my feet. “Alright, we have some cohesion finally. Time for you all to go home,” I closed my eyes and envisioned them all back in their places inside of their story. I opened my eyes to an empty room waiting for me.
I picked up my notebook and pen and settled into my armchair . Only one voice spoke as my pen began to glide over the white pages. “It was all a complete mess set off by one tiny mistake. A mistake that was slowly killing us.”