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February 6, 2012 by Tiffany A. Robbins

Stephen reached for the Mt Dew and waited as the surge of caffeine calmed his nerves. The free soda was his favorite part of his job at the pizza joint. Once his twitching leg started to calm, he reached for the spatula and rammed it strategically into the rotating sprayer of the industrial dishwasher.

A hiss of steam emerged from the jets. He slid the tray of plastic red water glasses and closed the stainless steel cover.

“David,” he called out to the manager on duty, “It should be working fine now. Tell Rob not to mess with the sprayers again unless he wants to hand wash the dishes.”

“It’s about time,” the rotund manager called from his office, “that pizza has been getting cold for ten minutes. It’s your ass if they complain.”

Stephen ignored his boss’s foul temper; he had enough to occupy his already racing mind. Stephen grabbed another soda and the pizza as he headed toward the lobby.

“Hey Steve,” Melissa hollered after him, “Your kid’s mom called. She wants you to bring a pizza over after your shift. Says the food stamps ran out. Also, she wanted me to specifically tell you that you’re a deadbeat… but I defended you.”

“Which kid’s mom?”

“I don’t know. It’s not my job to keep track of your baby mommas.”

“Okay, whatever,” he said and hurried on his way as David came around the corner with an angry glint in his eye.

Ashley was sitting at the break table as he strode through the dining room intent upon the glass push door that symbolized his freedom from the hot kitchen and the corporate Motown radio station.

“Stephen, you got a minute?”

He paused, “What’s up?”

She nudged the calculus book at him. “I’m stuck on number 3.”

He glanced down and said, “Use the quadratic equation on that one and don’t forget to simplify number 2 or your professor is going to dock you again. I’ve got to run, but I can check it on my break.”

“Okay,” She said forlornly at his retreating figure.

The wash of cool night air caused him to breathe deep and cherish his respite from the chaos of the restaurant.

He slid his keys into the ignition of the old Dodge, but the grumble was absent. All that greeted him were the soothing tones of “The Used” on the radio. He managed to keep his obscenities locked up tight in his head where his mother had taught him that they belonged. He reached for the screwdriver in the glove box while grasping the wires dangling under the dashboard. Stephen braced himself for the jolt of electricity as he jammed the screwdriver into the empty cigarette lighter outlet.

The Dodge roared to life and settled into its grumble of 80s quality car emissions.

He pulled swiftly out onto the highway, which passed through the rural town only to get stuck behind a tractor. The obscenity escaped, but blended in seamlessly with the song as he pulled an illegal u-turn, flew past the restaurant, cut through the cemetery, and up Olive Street.

The house was dark as he approached but he knew it was the right one as he had counted the lots since he’d turned onto Elm Street.

The steps creaked and a big dog growled from inside. He knocked and the man who opened the door did not return Stephen’s friendly greeting. He took the pizza and handed Stephen a wad of loose cash accompanied by bits of lint. “I gave myself a discount. See if you can hurry it up a bit next time, loser.”

Stephen kept his cool and stated, “Thanks for your patience,” before returning to his Dodge and the next pizza delivery.


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