Caged in Winter

By: Brighton Walsh

But sometimes none of those work. And this is one of those times. Even though I was expecting it, it’s still jarring when his hand slides from my waist until he’s got a handful of my ass. If I felt threatened, I’d whip out one of the half-dozen self-defense moves I know, call for Randy, hope he actually did something, and walk away. In all the time I’ve worked here, I’ve only had to do that once, though. And even then, it wasn’t Randy who came to help, but Annette. Usually, like now, these guys are harmless. Disgusting, perverted pigs, but harmless. Sure, he smells like cheap cologne and alcohol and he’s got something stuck in his teeth, but he’s too wasted to prove to be a real threat to me.

I do a quick scan of the table, noticing the three other guys packing up their shit, divvying up the check, paying no attention to the dickbag with his hand on my ass. They’ve been here taking up one of my tables for three hours. Three hours of lewd remarks they think I can’t hear. Three hours of leers and whispers about my ass or my boobs. And now it’s down to five minutes . . . ten, tops. That’s all the longer I need to make it, and hopefully the show I gave them will be enough to warrant a tip large enough to justify feeling dirty. Sometimes I wonder if I wouldn’t be better off heading to Roxy’s, the strip club down the street, and just getting it over with. At least there, there are no pretenses. Take your clothes off, rake in your tips, go home. And there’d be no touching. I’m not the thinnest or the most voluptuous girl, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the guys. If my mother taught me anything in the seven years I was with her, it’s to use your body to your advantage if you can.

Before I can smile or bite my lip or laugh, lean in and rest my fingers on his chest and tell him how much I wish I could bend the rules, he yelps and his hand is gone from my ass. I whirl around to a brick wall of gray cotton, and look up, up, up until I get to the clenched jaw of some guy I’ve never met. His dark hair is buzzed short, the bulk of his body nearly obscene, the forearms peeking out of his sleeves covered in ink, but that’s all I notice before I’m focusing on the fact that he’s got Handsy Asshole’s arm bent and twisted up and against his back, and he’s whispering something in his ear. Something too low for me to hear.

And while I don’t have my customer’s hands on me or his breath in my face or his eyes fucking my body, I can’t focus on what relief I feel because all I can think is that this guy—this asshole who got a little handsy—was how I was going to buy groceries.

And any chance I had of getting a tip probably vanished the second this giant of a man swept his way into something that’s none of his business in the first place.


I spotted her somewhere between discussing the shot made in the final three seconds to win last night’s game and the latest version of Halo. It would make me sound like more of a guy if I said I was drawn to her because of her tits in that nonexistent shirt or her ass hanging out of those shorts that might as well be panties—which, yeah, I noticed both. But the truth is, her eyes were what drew me in.

They look . . . lifeless.

Sure, she’s got the smile plastered on. She’s got the glances down—the slight lift at the corner of her mouth, the lip bite—but she’s got this air of disdain surrounding her. She’s not like the other waitresses—the ones you can tell love working here. They flirt and laugh and touch. It’s obvious they thrive on the attention they get in a place like this.

Not her.

She hates it here.

Someone who isn’t really looking, who isn’t really paying attention to her, might not notice, but I do. Her dead eyes give her away.

I can’t blame her. Working here, surrounded by half-drunk men when you’re wearing less than some people wear on the beach, has to be tough. The thought of Tessa or Haley ever having to do this makes me sick, and I have to remind myself I’d never let it happen. That’s why we’re so careful with our money, why we scrimp and save even though we don’t have to. Why I work part-time even though the house is paid off, even though my mom made certain we were taken care of. Just in case. If our past has taught us one thing, it’s that anything can happen.

All night, I’ve sat quietly, watching a group of four guys a few tables over getting progressively louder and more aggressive. I’ve gotten bits and pieces of their conversation—when she’s been near, and when she’s been out of earshot—and it’s done nothing but ignite my temper. I’m waiting for one of them—probably the douche with the fedora—to grab her and pull her into his lap or spill his drink all over her shirt and mop it up with his napkins for an excuse to feel her up. I’m sort of hoping he does, just so I have a reason to confront the shithead.

Jason is bitching about some basketball player and everyone around me is groaning, but all I can see is the table three over from ours. The girl with the dead eyes comes back, and my skin boils as I watch Fedora Asshole beckon her forward and whisper in her ear. She shakes her head, points toward the back corner, and offers him a sad smile, though I can tell it’s insincere. She’s not sorry about whatever she just turned him down for. And based on the conversation I’ve caught bits and pieces of, it wasn’t anything tame. He probably asked her to suck him off in the bathroom.

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