Fiction Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

I arrived at the restaurant promptly at seven and punched in as soon as I hung my backpack in the back closet. This was a several story high building, but I worked on the bottom floor in Billy’s Breakfast Burrito. It was a lovely place to have a job, . . .most of the time. 

The servers had already turned over the glasses in the dining room and the host was getting ready to open the doors. 

    Quickly, I straightened my brown uniform and pinned on my name tag. Our supervisor, Paul Jillett, a.k.a. The Speeding Comet, swept past me, true to his nickname; which had been affectionately bestowed on him by me, and the two most regular waitresses, Lona and ‘Peaches.’ 

     The door banged as he cruised into the kitchen and just as quickly, the sound was repeated, and he slid to a stop before me. “Tara. Glad you’re here. You might be on the floor alone today.” 

    My eyes widened. The forecast was two hundred people, too many for one busgirl. “Why?” 

    “Donny has a headache and a fever. He can’t come in today.” 

    Donny Lewis was my usual partner on the floor. He was in his early thirties, a good twelve years older than me, and one of my favorite busboys to work with.  

    He brushed his hand back through his thinning hair. “You’ll really have to hustle your bustle this morning. . .” he hesitated for a second, “Unless you want a trainee.” 

    “I’ll take what you can get.” A trainee was better than nothing. At least we could work together. 

                                           *.   *.   *.   *.   *    * 

    Ten minutes later, the customers were starting to filter in and already Lona had two tables to wait. I stayed in the kitchen, waiting for the first customer to leave so I could clear their table and set it for the next people. 

    Squirrel Buka, our regular EXPO, was late as usual, so I employed myself in filling in for him by getting necessary condiments ready for Lona, Peaches, or one of the waiters to take out to their tables. 

     By and by, Peaches bustled into the kitchen, struggling to tie her black apron around her ever-widening waist. She snatched a pastry from off one of the counters and yelled for the cook. “Jill! I need two eggs. Sunnyside down, please.” 

    “Give me a minute, honey.” Jill threw a handful of cheese squares into a plastic container and reached for the plastic wrap. 

     Peaches crammed half the pastry into her mouth and left the kitchen. The revolving doors revealed Paul, moving at his usual pace, followed by a sober-faced, high-school-aged boy.  


     I dropped what I was doing and approached them, chucking my sanitizing gloves into one of the many waste baskets. The kid, whom I judged to be around seventeen, looked at me momentarily with striking blue eyes. Just as quickly, he glanced away. 

    Paul’s expression was unreadable, and I felt confused. To be emotionally detached from a situation or person was unusual for my supervisor, who regularly went out of his way to make people feel comfortable. “This is Fin,” he began by way of introduction to me. 

    “Fin, you’ll be training with Tara today. Just pay attention and do what she tells you.” 

    A barely discernible nod was all that he received in acknowledgement and then he was gone, and I was left to try to feel my way through my first day as a trainer. 

    Right off, I noticed that he didn’t have a name tag. “Where’s your name tag?” 

    Starting, he glanced down at his shirt and shrugged but didn’t reply. 

    Fleetingly, I wondered if he had a speech handicap. Poor kid, he looked so alone even though the kitchen was crawling with workers all around us, thicker than down feathers on a goose’s belly. “Come with me,” I said as I pondered what it was about him that gave me that vibe. “Have you ever worked in a restaurant before?” 

    He shook his head in the negative and followed me out of the kitchen and into the dining room. On the way, we passed the server station, I grabbed a couple of round bussing trays, and gave him one. 

    A family of three was leaving as we entered, so I led the way to the table and began to stack dirty plates and half-filled glasses on my tray. I instructed Fin to do the same and he wordlessly followed my example. As he reached for a half-empty mug of coffee, I noticed that his hands were trembling. Fear that he would drop and break something mixed with concern for whatever was the matter with him, but I kept my mouth shut and we made it back to the kitchen and deposited the dishes into the dish pit without accident. 

    Only when we had completely cleared that table and reset it, did I turn to him. “Are you okay?” 

    He avoided my eyes and shrugged. “I’m fine.” 

    His tone was clipped, and I was unconvinced, but before I inquire further, Lona swept past me, her hands full of receipts. “The corner table is empty, Tara.” 

    “Fin,” I began, but he was already gone from my side and filling up his tray with plates full of half-finished pancakes and syrup coated bacon bits. With a sigh, I joined him. 

    We headed back toward the kitchen at a rather faster pace than the first time. I grasped my full tray tighter and kicked the door open with my foot. Squirrel Buka was headed right toward us and talking a mile a minute to the cook, cooking up excuses as to why he was so late and not watching where he was going. 

    “Squirrel, watch it,” I warned as he passed me, but it was too late. His shoulder brushed Fin’s arm and dishes clattered onto the tile floor, sending bits of food and broken glass flying in all directions. Dropping his tray too, Fin stumbled backward, eyes wider than saucers. 

    Squirrel’s round face was aghast. “Whoa, man, I am so sorry. Guess I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” 

“Squirrel,” I said, with some annoyance. “You’re late.” 

    Fin’s whole body was shaking as he bent over to pick up his bussing tray and it was then that I noticed the scars on his wrists. Squirrel’s eyes met mine and I knew that he had seen them too. He opened his mouth but snapped it shut when I shot him a warning look. Together, we knelt and began to pick up the pieces of broken glass and porcelain. After a second, Fin knelt beside us and started gathering up the bits of food with his fingers. There were better ways of doing that, but I didn’t say anything, and, in a few minutes, we had the floor looking better than it had before the spill. 

    I climbed to my feet and brushed my skirt off. Squirrel repeated his attempt to apologize to Fin, but the boy refused to look at him. “It’s fine,” was his barely audible reply. 

                                    *.   *.   *.   *.   *    *

    Somehow, we got through the rest of the morning without falling too far behind. The doors closed at 11:30, but there were still a couple of families finishing up their food. Fin and I were in charge of resetting the tables, vacuuming the carpet, and re-stocking linens, but after we had completed the latter task, Fin asked if he could have a bathroom break. I told him yes and began gathering the empty baskets for the silverware rolls.  

     Ten minutes later, I had finished with the tables, and he still wasn’t back yet, so I went into the kitchen and found Squirrel cleaning up his EXPO counter. “Have you seen Fin?” 

    He shook his head. “No, why?” 

    “He left for the bathroom ten minutes ago.” A weird feeling came over me. “I’m going to go look for him. I’ll be back.” 

    It seemed strange to go into the men’s bathroom, but I was saved from having to do it by an older employee janitor who was just exiting.  

    “Is there anyone else in there, Dave?” I asked him. 

    His salt-and-pepper eyebrows lifted. “No, I don’t believe so. Why? Are you looking for someone?” 

    “Yes.” I couldn’t explain the feeling of urgency that I was experiencing. Perhaps it had something to do with seeing the scars on Fin’s wrists. ‘Wounds’ would more accurately describe them; barely healed over; recent.  

    I excused myself and headed back into the kitchen at a jog. My supervisor was nowhere to be found but I discovered Squirrel out back, smoking. “Squirrel. I can’t find Fin.” 

    He frowned. “He’s not in the bathroom?” 

    “It’s been fifteen minutes, Squirrel.” I could feel my head growing hot and my voice raised slightly. “We need to find him.” Surely, he would understand why I was so nervous. 

    “I mean. . .“ My co-worker's voice was maddeningly relaxed and apathetic. “Maybe he went home.” 

    I compressed my lips and stalked off. Be like that, then, Squirrel, but I have to find him. 

    Back in the restaurant, I ran into the janitor again on my way out of the front door. “Tara,” he said. “Come out here.” 

His expression was tense, and I followed him without hesitation. Once outside, he turned around and pointed up. 

Five stories. 

Or was it seven? 

I really couldn’t remember. 

After all, I always left for home as soon as I could punch out. I had never taken the time to explore the building. 

And I was regretting that, for there was Fin, perched precariously on a ledge outside one of the windows of the topmost floor; a thin figure surrounded by air. Good grief, I didn’t even know what the top story was used for! 

A collective murmur swept through the crowd that was beginning to gather. “He’s fixing to jump.” 

No, Fin. I looked up one more time to fix the place in my mind and then ran back into the restaurant. Reason told me that the elevator would be faster than the stairs, but every moment idle seemed like an hour. I took the stairs two at a time and by the time I reached the top, my calves were burning like fire. 

A lady in blue met me at the top. She took one look at my face and pointed toward the nearest open room. “The boy went that way.” 

When I reached the window, it was open. I poked my head out and felt my brain begin to swim. The crowd below appeared as a sea of ants. Forcing my gaze away from the ground which seemed so far away, I turned to Fin. 

One hand lightly held onto the latch of the window, and the ledge he was standing on did not look any wider than six or eight inches. 

“Fin?” I kept my voice quiet. 

He swung his head in my direction and looked at me with those haunting blue eyes, now rimmed with red. “Go away.” His voice was low but cracked in the middle. 

Slowly, I shook my head. “I can’t do that, Fin.” 

“Go away,” he repeated, a hard edge creeping into his tone. The wind picked up and ruffled the top of his hair. 

I risked another glance downward and bit my lip so hard I could taste the blood. “You might not die.” 

The look he gave me was unreadable. 

I forged ahead. “Broken neck. Concussion. Possibly paralyzed. Do you really want that?” 

He turned away and stared down at the crowd below. But I saw the sudden tears. 

“Maybe you want to die in style,” I continued. “Check out that white convertible down there. I’ll bet the top of it would cave in nicely. ‘Course. . . it might just shatter and fill you with shreds of a steel.” I was grasping at straws, desperate to convince this boy to live. 

His fingers were just barely wrapped around that latch. Another tear rolled down his cheek and my heart went out to him. 

“Why, Fin?” 

It was a long minute before he answered me. “I want to die. No one will miss me.” I could hear the bitterness in his voice. “No one at all.” 

I recalled my supervisor’s closed attitude towards him and Squirrel’s blatant lack of concern. “I will miss you, Fin. I need you. Tomorrow there will be even more people than today eating at the restaurant.” 

Such a statement seemed irrelevant to the moment, but his fingers tightened on the latch, and I took hope. I leaned out further and carefully touched his arm. “Fin...” 

Then he turned toward me with his whole body, and I wrapped my arms around him as he fell against me. Practically straddling the windowsill, fifty feet above the pavement, I held tight to him as he cried, fearful that we both might fall. “It’s okay,” I murmured. “It’s okay, Fin.” 

After a couple of minutes, we were both back in the room and I shut the window and latched it. He straightened and just watched me, so I gave him another hug and he drew the back of his hand across his eyes. “Thanks, Tara.” His tone was quiet, but I heard him anyway. 

Before I could figure out how to reply, Squirrel rushed into the room, his cigarette dangling from his fingers. His mouth dropped open slightly. “I looked around, Tara, after you left, but I didn’t hear. . .” his voice trailed off. 

“Squirrel,” I said. “You’re late.” 

July 20, 2023 16:46

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Mary Ann Ford
18:53 Jul 22, 2023

This is soooo good!!!!!! I wish I could "like" it more than once. I'm almost crying. This one deserves a win!


Molly Layne
21:13 Jul 22, 2023

AWWWW thank you so much!! I'm sooo glad you enjoyed it :) Thank you again!!!!


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