“Son of a two-faced weasel!”
The knife fell, and my blood seeped into the wood cutting board and stained the slice of aged cheddar I’d just cut from the block. I squeezed my hand into a fist and spun around to the opposite counter so I could turn on the sink and hold my sliced finger under cold running water.
I scowled over my shoulder at the knife where it rested with the blade propped against the cutting board.
“This has happened too many times,” I muttered. “Do I deserve this for trying to plan a nice night for my friends?”
The knife, of course, had nothing to say in return. It just sat there, sharp and glistening under the lights above the kitchen island, taunting me with its complete and total lack of empathy. My finger burned and ached, and I worried about how bad the damage was going to be.
When I mustered the courage to look, I found that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected. The cut was clean and thin. Sure, it was a little too deep for comfort, and after looking at it for too long, I promptly gagged and scrambled to the bathroom to find a band aid, but the bleeding didn’t last long. After wrapping up my finger tightly, I saw to cleaning up the cutting board and the knife and decided that I wasn’t going to cut any more cheese.
“Those bitches get what they get,” I said decidedly.
Over the next fifteen minutes, I assembled the charcuterie board I’d been chopping and dicing treats for. I loaded it up with a variety of cheeses, meats, crackers, and toppings like olives, pickles, jalapeno jellies, dried apricots, and sides of vegetables. Once it was arranged to my liking, I carried the tray into the living room and set it on the black leather ottoman my two roommates and I had been using as a coffee table since we moved in together two years ago. The corners were a bit destroyed, courtesy of Riley’s damn nuisance of a cat, Mercutio—a name I vehemently hated and steadfastly thought was too long of a name for a cat. Who gave a cat a four-syllable name? And what was more, who named a fluffy white demon cat after a Shakespeare character?
The fluffy furniture-destroying, ankle-attacking, early-morning-meowing feline would have been better named something like Hades. Or Satan. Anything inspired by Hellish characters would have sufficed.
Riley didn’t think that was too funny. My other roommate, Madison, and I thought it was hysterical, and we’d seen to calling the cat the Kraken for the last few months simply because of his destructive asshole ways.
I’d come up with other colorful names for the feline spawn from Hell but those made Riley particularly pissy, so I settled for the Kraken.
“Speak of the devil,” I said as the fluffy white beast crept out of Riley’s bedroom in the hallway off the living room, tail flicking, ears angled forward, little pink nose sniffing at the air. I pointed menacingly at him. “Cheese makes you shit yourself, Krak. So you stay the hell away from our spread. Got it?”
His tail flicked again.
I arched an eyebrow.
Kraken yawned indulgently and padded away with his tail straight in the air and his asshole on display.
“Dick,” I breathed.
The clock above the fireplace told me I only had five or so minutes before my roommates came home from work. They both worked at a fashion retail store here in Waynesville, North Carolina. The store was called Strut and I had never felt like it belonged in our country town. Waynesville was more of a denim and plaid, hair up, boots on, getting-shit-done sort of town rather than a neon patent-leather high-heel town. But apparently, they did all right business here. I supposed it was because every woman in the county came to Strut for something shiny, new, and nicer than what they might find in the usual thrift shops or department stores.
Most of my clothes came from the former and I preferred to keep it that way. Fast fashion made me want to hurl, and so did the thought of millions of perfectly good clothes being thrown into the garbage every year.
I took my remaining five minutes to quickly clean up some dishes and pour three glasses of merlot. All the while, I kept a steady eye on Kraken, who stalked around my feet with the air of spoiled royalty.
I caught my reflection in the window while I dried the dishes and was startled by my red hair.
I’d just dyed it this morning, and every time I spotted myself in a reflective surface, I was surprised to see the deep red, vibrant color. It reminded me of mermaid hair. It was rich and dark and long, reaching right to the underwire of my bra, and I was so glad I’d made the decision to finally dye my dirty-blonde locks.
I’d never dyed my hair before.
But today was the day for changes and new beginnings. That was what this evening was all about, after all. I had news to share with my girls. I wasn’t sure how they were going to take it, hence my ass-kissing charcuterie spread and the twenty-three-dollar bottle of wine. Usually, I opted for a bottle that was under ten dollars, and that was with tax included.
But I needed to properly butter them up before I broke my news to them.
I heard the front door unlock right on cue and turned from the kitchen counter just as my two best friends came inside, giggling to each other.
Madison and Riley were nicely dressed as always. Their jobs required them to wear clothing only from Strut, which meant about thirty percent of their pay or more went to purchasing new clothes for their work “uniform.” Clothing items from Strut averaged around a hundred and twenty dollars per item, and even though my besties had worked there for three consecutive years, I’d yet to purchase anything from the store.
I had received articles of clothing from the girls for Christmas and my birthday though. One was a skin-tight body suit I’d worn one time on New Year’s Eve. The other was a black coat with a large hood and a sash around the waist. I felt it was far too formal to wear in a town like this, but I knew it would be good in the near future.
The very near future.
“Mercutio!” Riley gushed as the cat bounded across the laminate floors to greet her with his usual routine. He sat right in the middle of the doormat, an old bristly thing Madison had brought home ages ago that used to have a picture of a pumpkin on it, but now it was just an orange blob, blinked slowly up at his master. The cat mewed until Riley dropped to a crouch and gave him what he wanted, a good scratch under the chin and an obscene amount of high-pitched baby-talk.
Madison and I locked eyes as she shrugged out of her leather jacket and hung it on our three-legged coat hanger.
“Hey, babe,” Riley said. “Your hair! Holy shit!” Her gaze slid to the living room and the ottoman. “What’s all this?”
“I wanted to have an impromptu girls’ night,” I said.
Riley looked up briefly from the love of her life. “I love the red.”
“Thanks.” I beamed. “Me too.”
Madison stepped around Kraken and Riley, giving them a wide berth in case he swatted at her for interrupting his evening affection ritual, and came to join me in the kitchen. I handed her a glass of wine.
“Your hair looks fantastic,” Madison said, picking up a strand of my hair and running her fingers through it. “And it’s not dry. How did you do that?”
“Bleach bath first, coconut oil, and a lot of conditioner?”
Madison nodded approvingly. “Looks like you went and had it professionally done.”
“That’s what I was going for.”
Riley finished greeting Kraken and shrugged out of her jacket as well. She came to join Madison and me in the kitchen, picked up her own wine, and took a sip. “Oh yes, I needed that. Today was a day, let me tell you.”
I waited expectantly. “And?”
“And what?” Riley asked.
“Aren’t you going to tell me?”
“Oh.” Riley snorted. She wasn’t the brightest bulb on the strand of Christmas lights. That was for sure. “You know how it is, babe. Retail customers are actually the worst.”
“The worst.” Madison nodded for good measure, just in case I wasn’t grasping the massive concept.
Riley sighed and leaned one hip against the counter. “We had this one woman come in, wanting to make a return, and she’d very clearly worn the garment out and about, and probably several times over, mind you. It had deodorant stains and makeup stains and—ugh.” Riley threw her wineglass-free hand in the air. “Entitled people, you know?”
“Sure,” I said, pausing to sip my wine.
Riley glanced down and spotted my blood stain on the cutting board. Her eyes narrowed. “How did you get hair dye on the cutting board?”
Like I said, Riley wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.
“It’s not hair dye. I cut my finger when I was cutting the cheese. We’ll have to throw that board out.”
Riley was still staring at the board, confused.
“It’s my blood,” I said flatly.
“Oh,” Riley said. “Got it. Ew.”
“You’re not usually clumsy in the kitchen,” Madison said. “Is everything okay?”
I licked my lips. Here it was. My moment was right around the corner. I gestured at the living room. “Can we all sit down? I have something I want to talk to you both about.”
Riley and Madison exchanged a look. The last time I’d done this to them, I was telling them I no longer wanted to spend the first Friday of every month hitting up a tanning salon and then following it up with a mani-pedi appointment. That sort of pampering just wasn’t in the budget these days, and even though I liked the quality girl time, it was making it hard for me to afford my portion of the grocery bill.
We all took our usual spots in the living room. I sat cross-legged in the egg chair draped in blankets closest to the fireplace. Madison and Riley hopped into opposite corners of our rather Bohemian-looking blush-pink velvet sofa. It had been Madison’s when she had her own place a couple of years ago. Her taste was feminine and colorful. Before moving in with us, all her decor had been in pastel pinks, teals, and yellows.
I set my wine down on the table beside my chair and clasped my hands together. “As you both know, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching because I’ve felt kind of stuck. In limbo, so to speak.”
Madison nodded knowingly.
I’d quit my job eight weeks ago on a spur-of-the-moment impulse. My manager had been giving me hell for refusing service to a misogynistic prick at one of the local coffee shops here in Waynesville. The customer had been a foul prick and I told him so. I also chose some other more abrasive adjectives that hadn’t been well received by my boss when he heard the heroic tale from a customer who thought I’d handled myself like a champ. When my boss laid into me, I took my apron off, threw it at his feet, and wished him luck with his business. Then I marched out with my head held high and a fire burning in my belly.
Change was on the horizon.
It had taken me eight weeks to figure out my next step.
“I’ve made a decision,” I said.
Riley sipped her wine and dabbed at her lips, checking that her fuchsia lip stain was still on. “And what is that? Did you decide to take us up on our offer to see if we could get you a position at Strut?”
“I still think that would be so much fun.” Madison nodded eagerly. “Imagine all of us working and living together?”
No thank you.
I loved my girls but the thought of spending literally all of my time with them made me want to hurl into my wine glass.
“No,” I said slowly, not wanting to offend them. “It would be a blast working together, but I’ve been feeling like there is something calling me that I need to follow.”
“Briar the spirit wanderer.” Madison snickered.
I lifted my chin. “You both know how I’ve always dreamed of moving to New York City. I think—I think now is the time to go for it. My life is stagnant here. My parents are traveling abroad and living their best lives in Croatia and France and Venice. I want that. I want to explore and discover new things. I want to make a life for myself somewhere bigger than Waynesville.”
Both of my friends had stopped laughing.
“Wait, are you serious?” Riley asked.
I nodded. “Yes. I already bought my plane ticket.”
“Ticket? Singular?” Madison’s eyes were wide with surprise.
I nodded. “No return flight. I need to make this work.”
“When do you leave?” Riley pressed.
This was the hard part. I chewed the inside of my cheek and looked down at my crossed ankles resting against the frame of the egg chair. I wished I could bring it with me when I moved, but it was Riley’s.
“I leave tomorrow.”