Cerise rode home quietly that night, and Mike glanced at her. "You OK?"
"Yeah. Tired," Cerise replied, and looked forward. It had been an odd night. Some of the customers had come on a little strong, and so had the singer. Yet at the same time, Cerise had felt something come back to life inside of her. She was not certain why, but it gave her hope. She stared out of the window as they drove through the dark night, and he pulled into a long driveway with a yawn.
"I see a light. The baby probably woke her up," Mike said and glanced at Cerise. "I talked to your mother today at work. We have agreed to both go in on a car for you. I can't keep working these late nights. Kelly might divorce me." She had agreed to the closing shift, being a night owl and it was the only one available when she arrived. Mike had insisted on making sure that she had him there to support her, and changed his own schedule even as he knew it would affect things at home.
"She would never do that," Cerise told him, and he rolled his weary eyes as they got out. Cerise went in with him, always checking to see if her aunt needed help. That was what she had mainly done when she arrived, and she seemed to be working so much these days. Kelly was feeding the baby on the couch, and she pulled a blanket over herself as they walked in.
"Hey, babe," Mike said, leaning over to kiss her as Cerise noted the other kids sprawled out on the couch. "Rough night?"
"I got them settled with movies finally. Then she woke up as I was laying down myself," Kelly said, and Cerise glanced at the blanket with apologetic eyes.
"Babe, I'm sorry. We are going to get her a car soon and I can be home a lot more for you," Mike said, and Cerise walked out of the house. They were so kind in helping her, but she was ruining their lives. She blinked back the tears that filled her eyes as she walked up to her apartment, feeling any good vibe fading in her guilt. Cerise set her purse down after locking her door, and she turned on her docking station. She turned on her Ipod and lay back on her bed with a sigh. Cerise told herself that when she got a car, things would be better. He could be the family man again, and she would not be a burden. She vowed to ask Jessica for a ride the next night to help them out, and she rolled over onto her stomach and cried.
Things seemed so up and down, and she wondered when she would feel better. She remembered back to that night watching Riley, and how much she admired her. The singer was confident and secure in herself, and seemed to make no apologies for anything. Cerise assumed that she was into guys and girls after the way she flirted with both sexes, and she was even confident in that. Cerise remembered being confident once. She would have called herself happy before. She looked like any one of those girls dancing and having fun, instead of one that was too scared to live. She closed her eyes and ignored the soft knocking at the door, hoping they would think that she fell asleep. They left and she did fall asleep, though the normal dreams kept waking her up. She woke up in the morning to the sound of a car driving away, and she assumed that one of them was taking the kids to school. Cerise felt so bad all over again, and she cursed her life as she yanked the covers over her head.
She did get up eventually, and went downstairs to face reality. Kelly was in the kitchen and she glanced up at her niece with a smile. "Cerise. I am so glad to see you. "
"I'm sorry I am…fucking up your life. I don't want to do that," Cerise apologized, and Kelly sighed.
"You're not. It is an adjustment, for all of us. We would not be happy if you were with someone else, baby girl. He would not be satisfied with that. You know it as much as I do," Kelly told her, and they looked at each other. "We're both worried about you."
"I am worried about me," Cerise said slowly, and stared at the floor. "I am going to ask Jessica for rides home, at the very least. I can do that until I have a car, and you guys can focus on your family. I can't stand being a burden."
"Honey, you're not," Kelly assured her, and pulled her into her arms for a hug. Cerise cried as she hugged her back, and Kelly just stroked her hair gently. "Are you hungry?" Kelly asked as Cerise pulled away a few minutes later. "I made French toast and bacon for the kids. We have leftovers."
"Sure," Cerise agreed, having not eaten since last night. She knew that she was losing weight, and she felt their worried looks. She poured herself a cup of coffee and added generous amounts of milk and sugar to the cup. Cerise had once hated coffee unless it was doctored up a lot, but now simple kept her going. It was about survival. Kelly sat with her and talked about the bar as she ate, and Cerise felt calm when she returned to her apartment to shower. She pulled on her uniform and braided her hair into two pieces, and stared at herself. She looked as tired as she felt, and her face was pale. She went with mascara and gloss again, and walked back into the house. The kids were home and the house was filled with chatter as she walked into the living room. Jilli was doing homework until she saw Cerise, and she jumped up and attacked her. Ryan followed suit, and Mike came in to tell them to be quiet. He saw Cerise and his face fell, and she stared down at his children.
"OK, Jilli. Get back to your homework," Mike told his dark haired daughter, as she flashed her big green eyes at him. "Now." Jilli stomped back to her spot and he picked Ryan up and took him to the couch, where he set him down in front of a cartoon. "Cerise." He went into the kitchen and she followed as he gestured with his head. "I am sorry about last night."
"Why? I am screwing with your life here," Cerise told him, and he sighed. He knew it would not be easy helping her out, as did Kelly. "I am going to ask Jessica or Kylee for a ride home from now on. That way you can be home earlier. At least until I get a car."
Mike stared at her and she looked back. "I am going to agree to that for now. I need to try and make everyone happy around here."
"I am sorry. I am sorry that I screwed up and had to come here," Cerise told him, and he shook his head.
"You did not screw up," Mike told her firmly, and she looked at him with tears in her eyes. "You belong here now, sweetie. We all just need time to adjust."
"How much?" Cerise asked plaintively, and he sighed.
"I don't know," Mike replied, and took her hands. "Can you work tonight?"
"I need to. I can't handle being home and thinking," Cerise replied, and tried to smile. She had the same problem that night. She faked it for the customers, but she found herself being short with the staff. Cerise just wanted her night to be over, and she watched her friends smiling and enjoying their night as they flirted their way through their shifts. Cerise glanced up around ten to see Drake hugging Jessica, and her eyes saw the rest of the band headed towards the bar. They ordered drinks and talked together as Drake stayed with Jessica, and Cerise went to continue her rounds. She had to go to the bar to get her orders, and she went to the opposite end of the band. Riley's confidence was downright irritating tonight. Cerise felt eyes on her and she glanced up to see the singer's eyes focused on her with a slight frown, and she looked away. She went back to her tables and was serving when Jessica came up to her.
"Hey, girl. A few of us are going dancing after our shifts and I was wondering if you want to come. It will be so fun." Jessica was bubbling over with excitement, and Cerise bit her lip.
"I…" She never had asked Jessica for a ride home. "I don't think so. I am really tired."
"Are you sure? It is just me, Kylee, and the band," Jessica told her, and Cerise scowled.
"Yeah, I'm sure," Cerise said, and Jessica nodded slowly and walked away to speak to Drake. She sighed and glanced at her cheap watch on her wrist. Mike had left for the night. How was she going to get home? She went to collect empty glasses and take orders for refills, and she glanced over the mass of bodies on the dance floor to see the band members out there. Riley was flirting again, and Cerise thought to herself that she made it look like an art form. The guys were outgoing like her, but she seemed to be very into enjoying herself. Cerise set her tray down at the bar and ran into the bathroom, using the toilet and washing her hands quickly. She heard the door and glanced up to see crimson hair and she nearly sighed out loud.
"So you're not going to come out with us?" The voice was casual, but Riley's eyes were curious. "Mike's car is gone. Are you going to walk home?"
"I was going to ask Benny for a ride," Cerise replied, and she raised an eyebrow at the waitress.
"Just go dancing, Cerise. Have some fun. You look like you need it," Riley said, and Cerise glared at her.
"How do you know what I need?" She stormed out of the bathroom, and dimly heard Riley say that she needed to enjoy life. She ignored them the rest of the night and when they had slowed down, she asked Benny about the ride. He agreed, and she went to clean the emptying tables. Jessica looked at her as she left with the group, and Kylee waved as the band looked on. Riley said nothing, but her gaze pierced through Cerise as she shivered. She did not understand why she cared what Riley thought, since she barely knew her. She just sensed that Riley was willing to help her somehow, and Cerise's only urge was to push her away. She would do it with anybody else as well. She finished up and followed Benny to his truck, finding his easy going manner very bearable. It was a short drive and she was soon saying goodbye and heading to her dark apartment. She took a shower and went to bed, just wanting to sleep. She had the next day off, and she was so relieved as she closed her eyes. Maybe she could just sleep all day.
She woke up very late the next day, and stayed in bed for awhile. She spoke to her mom and they discussed the car, that was being purchased with money left by her father for his family. Cerise thought about him after she hung up. He had been a lot like Mike. It was part of the reason she hated burdening Mike so much, but also why she needed him. She needed a father figure, especially now. There was a knock at the door and she heard Kelly's voice. "Cerise? Are you alive in there?"
Cerise kicked off the blankets and walked to the door, scratching her messy hair. "Hey, Kelly."
"We were thinking of going to dinner tonight as a family. We want you to join us."
"I am actually feeling kind of sick. I think I will just relax here," Cerise lied, and Kelly looked at her with disappointed eyes. She just didn't feel up to it.
"Are you sure?" Kelly was all too aware that the kids wanted to see her. "The kids are so excited about you going."
"I'll watch a movie with them when you get back," Cerise offered, and Kelly nodded. "Just have Jilli come and get me."
"I will. Get some rest," Kelly said, and headed down the stairs. Cerise got back into bed and turned on her Ipod to something calming as she tried to forget the look on Kelly's face. She wished that she could be home again sitting on her beach. She needed the peace that the mostly isolated area gave her, and the sound of the waves lapping against the shore. She was a whole lifetime away from there, despite having been there three months ago. She drifted off to sleep and woke up to the sound of an excited voice at her door.
"We brought you dinner, Cici," Jilli called to her, and Cerise blinked. She walked to the door and told Jilli that she would be right there. Cerise pulled on some soft yoga pants and a different tee shirt and yanked back her hair. She went into the house to see a to go box on the table, and she rubbed her eyes..
"I don't want you wallowing in that room, Cerise. It's dangerous. I heard that you were not doing so well last night," Mike said, and she sighed. That was the downfall of working for him.
"I am not Kylee and Jessica. They are so happy all of the time." Cerise groaned, sitting down and distracting herself by opening the container. It had chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, and corn and she sniffed deeply. Chili's…Jilli's favourite pace.
"They are also used to the atmosphere there. You can be like they are," Mike told her, and she lifted her eyes to his. "In time, baby girl. You will be back to normal before you know it. That's over."
"Tell my dreams that." Cerise didn't say it out loud, but she thought it as she went to get a fork. She took a bite of the loaded mashed potatoes, and realized how hungry that she was. "I know, Mikey. I will try."
"Good," Mike said, and she watched as he walked down the hallway. She heard the kids in the living room and she ate hurriedly and joined them on the couch.
"What movie do we want?" Cerise asked them, a genuine smile crossing her face. These kids made her happy, deeply and truly happy. She put on the Tangled dvd for them and made some popcorn in the kitchen as she grabbed a soda for her and some water for them. She cuddled with them both on the couch and watched the movie yet again, loving the easy way they just loved her. There was no complexity to it, merely simplicity. They all fell asleep there and Kelly came out later, smiling as she clicked off the TV. She left a dim light on and returned to her waiting husband with a satisfied smile, and Cerise didn't wake up until she smelled the coffee the next morning. She sat up slowly, trying not to wake the kids up as she looked around.
"Good morning," Kelly said, smiling at her from the kitchen.
"Hey. Guess we all got pretty cozy last night," Cerise said, stretching. She smiled as she realized that she had not dreamed anything last night, and felt relatively rested. "Can I borrow them every night?"
"Hmmm?" Kelly asked, and Cerise shook her head. She went to get some coffee and added her cream and sugar. "Thank so much for watching them last night."
"No problem, Kelly. I enjoyed it," Cerise replied, and saw Kelly's smile. "I am here to help anyway." She helped her aunt with breakfast, and the kids woke up to eggs, bacon, sausage, and toast. Mike came out stretching too, and his eyes locked with Kelly's as they smiled at each other. Cerise bit her lip, having seen a few too many happy couples lately. She idly wondered if that would be her again, though she would have to let someone in to get there. She took another bite and greeted her uncle as he focused on them, and hung out until it was time to go to work. She went up and showered, pulling her hair into a high ponytail and adding a little more make up. She added plum eye shadow and pink gloss today, and vowed to make her life better. Mike came to her door, and he promised that they would look at the car in the next couple of days. She nodded and got into the truck, and he looked at her.
"You look nice today, Cerise."
"I need to get better, Mikey. I am going to start small, but I am going to do it," Cerise told him, and he smiled as he pulled out of the driveway. She went into the bar and greeted Kylee and the other night waitress Brittany with a small smile. Cerise started to clean up and take orders, and bumped into Kylee as they waited on drinks. She was gushing about the night before, and Cerise stared at the bar. It sounded kind of crazy and…fun. Fun for later, when she was feeling stronger. From the sounds of it, Kylee had ended up hooking up with Matt and she looked thrilled. "Fucking fabulous. Another couple," Cerise muttered as she carried the drinks to the table. She worked for a few more hours, and was surprised to see Jessica slip in with Drake.
"Hey. Cerise," Jessica said, and Cerise nodded and smiled. "I wish that you could have come the other night. We had so much fun, and missed you."
"Like I said, I was tired," Cerise said shortly, annoyed all over again. "Just the two of you tonight?"
"Yeah, for now. Matt will be here later for Kylee," Jessica said, and Cerise nodded. "Was the club thing just a bit much? You are new here, and….."
"I guess it was. Yes," Cerise admitted with a rueful smile.
"I thought of that afterward. How about a movie one our next night off? Just you and me?" Jessica offered, and Cerise nodded with a smile.
"I would enjoy that," Cerise agreed, and they exchanged numbers quickly. Cerise went back to work with some hope for her future, though she was not excited about her two work friends having the guys as boyfriends. That meant that she would see more of Riley, and that thought made her question her feelings regarding her. The singer made her so nervous. She was not there that night, and Cerise let the thoughts fade as she worked.