Caged in Winter

By: Brighton Walsh

She spins, her short legs chomping up the floor space between me and the back of the restaurant, and then she’s gone, disappearing behind a swinging door.

I stand there for a couple minutes, vaguely aware of the rumbling laughs coming from my group of friends. Before I can think too much about it, I grab a couple twenties out of my wallet and toss them on the table. They were supposed to be for yellowfin tuna to make seared ahi tuna steaks, but I’ll have to make them next week. It’s practice anyway, not for a grade, and it’s clear this girl needs the money more than I do.

“Bet that didn’t go how you expected,” Jason yells, and the rest of the guys crack up.

I flip him off, glancing to where she disappeared into the back, remembering the heat in her eyes and her rigid stance, and Christ, everything about this girl is getting under my skin. “Not exactly,” I mumble to myself.



The campus is always busiest this time of the day, with so many classes just starting. I generally avoid it like the plague, getting to the Arts Building earlier, but I was running behind, having spent too much of my morning thinking about the events of the night before. I can’t believe the balls on that guy. First, he jumps in without prompting, attempting to rescue me—me! I snort, shaking my head as I dodge a group of students on the sidewalk. I can’t remember the last time I needed rescuing. When you grow up alone, passed around from foster home to foster home, you learn really damn quick to get self-sufficient.

And then after he “rescues” me, after I tell him to fuck off, he has the balls to toss money on the table for me?

There isn’t a doubt in my mind it was him, either. Who else would it have been? The rest of the girls, while they watched the entire sordid affair, wouldn’t have given up forty bucks of their own tips just because I got screwed out of mine.

And those dickbags who bailed didn’t come back in. The one who had his hand on my ass looked like he was about to piss his pants as he scrambled out of his seat. No way was he setting foot inside again, especially so soon after he made his escape.

That pretty much seals the deal that Prince Charming swooped in, trying to save me again. Apparently he didn’t hear any of the words of venom I spewed at him. He was probably looking down my shirt while I was losing my shit, too engrossed in my boobs to pay attention to anything I said.

The anger fuels me all the way through my walk across campus, daydreaming what I’d do, what I’d say, if I saw him again. I don’t know if I ever will, but the cash he left is stuffed in my pocket. Just in case. Just in case I get the chance to slap it against his chest and give him a piece of my mind—again—since he was obviously too thickheaded to hear me the first time.

Until I do, though, it burns a hole in my pocket, thoughts of what I could buy flitting through my head. And it isn’t even anything fun. Instead of thinking about buying a new pair of shoes or books or name-brand shampoo, I’m thinking about groceries. Bread, meat, maybe even those soft, frosted cookies I love but only let myself indulge in if I’ve got more than a hundred-dollar cushion for my bills. Even still, I refuse to spend it.

I’ve gotten by on my own for fifteen years. I certainly don’t need anyone’s help now.


“Cade. Cade!”

I snap my head up and glance toward Tessa. “What?”

“Haley’s been talking to you for five minutes. What’s your deal?”

“Sorry.” I shake my head and turn my attention to my niece. “What’s up, short stuff?”

“Wanna play dolls?” Her big brown eyes—the only thing she got from her deadbeat father—implore me, and like always, I can’t say no.

“Sure. Go get ’em ready. I’ll be right in.” Before I’ve even finished talking, she climbs down from the chair, her stumpy legs pounding the carpet as she runs as fast as she can down the hall.

“Seriously. What’s with you?” Tessa asks.

I toss the game controller next to me on the couch, letting my head fall back as I close my eyes. “How do you know anything’s with me?”

“Well, for one thing you’ve died five times in the last ten minutes on that stupid game. For another thing, you’ve been quiet all afternoon.”

“Maybe I just don’t want to talk to you.”

She laughs and swats me against the back of my head. “Please. You live to talk to me.”

Thankfully, she doesn’t prod any more and walks down the hallway toward her bedroom, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

The thoughts that have done nothing all day but revolve around the firecracker at The Brewery. I can’t remember the last time I’ve let a girl get to me like she has. If I’m interested, I get the girl’s number, go out a few times, sleep with her if it goes that way, but that’s it. I’m definitely not one to sit around and fucking pine, constantly thinking about someone.

Even so, I can’t get her out of my head. She held so much confidence, so much poise in her small frame, even when she was telling me exactly where I could shove my chivalry. The details of our encounter kept me up last night, and have kept me company all morning. The fire in her words, backed with heaps of pride. Watching her dead eyes spark with life.

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