Read Cornered Online

Authors: Ariana Gael

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Teen & Young Adult

Cornered

Cornered

Braving Love Trilogy
– Book One

By Ariana Gael

© Copyright 2013 GrassRoot Books

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

No party of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodies in critical articles and reviews.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

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CHAPTER ONE

 

“Michelle! Get your tail in here and mop floor!” Mr. Phan yelled from the noisy kitchen. Clanging pots and pans and dropped metal utensils echoed from behind the swinging doors as he shouted. A dark-haired waitress at the bar stopped wiping the gleaming surface, blew out a long breathe that fluffed the bangs falling over her eyes, and headed to the doors.

             
“You clean floors now! This guy no have brains to do it!” Mr. Phan jerked his head at a teenaged boy peeling beets over a strainer and went back to scrubbing out a pot, leaning in all the way to his shoulder to get the gunk stuck down in the bottom. Michelle would take floors any day over having to stand at the sink and get goopy, spicy sauces unstuck from the pan’s aluminum bottom.

             
“Dad, I said I would get to the floor after I finish this. If I don’t peel these while they’re still warm, it’ll be tougher to get the skins off. There’s no reason to make Michelle get all dirty.” Binh smiled awkwardly at Michelle and shrugged his shoulders, never missing a beat with his knife.

             
“I don’t mind, Binh. Let me just get an apron to cover up,” she said, pointing to her uniform of a traditional Vietnamese dress. It was pretty—elegant, even—but not very practical for working in a restaurant, especially in the loud, steamy kitchen.

No reason not to pitch in back here
, Michelle thought to herself
, it wasn’t like there were any customers out front anyway
. And that was a real shame, since tips had been down for the past couple of months.

“And don’t use dirty water in bucket, get new water!” Mr. Phan yelled without looking back. That man had two volumes: on and off. Michelle wasn’t sure which one was more terrifying, the loud screaming or the angry silence.

“Sorry, Michelle,” Binh said quietly, looking around the stove hood to see if his father heard him. “Really, I’ll do that. I don’t want you to get all dirty.”

“It’s no problem, really. It gives me something to do, right?” Michelle pulled a hair elastic off her wrist and tied her long, wavy hair up into a casually messy bun before reaching for a clothespin from a nearby drawer. She pulled the long skirt of her dress up over her knees and pinned it in place with the clothespin before dumping the heavy bucket of old gray water and filling it from the corner sink, adding in cleaning fluid while the water churned it into mounds of bubbles.

She couldn’t hear over the splash of the running faucet, but out of the corner of her eye she could see her boss chewing out his son some more, his arms waving wildly as he gestured around the kitchen. Poor Binh. He kept his head down the whole time, his knife sliding over the thick peels and making unending curlicues of beet peel. Most of his problems could be over with one flick of that knife...

Whoa, Michelle, nice attitude
, she thought to herself. Mr. Phan wasn’t that bad. After all, he gave her a job when she needed one in the worst way, and she was the only person outside of the family that he’d hired. He even tried to remember little American holidays and give her the day off, not just the big ones like Christmas, but Valentine’s Day, too. Not that she needed Valentine’s Day off.

She hoisted the bucket out of the giant sink and got to work on the already spotless floor. Mr. Phan made sure this chore was done twice a day since he was terrified of the health inspector. Michelle had wondered if part of her being hired wasn’t just so Mr. Phan had an American around to handle some of the people he didn’t understand.

As she mopped, Michelle worked her way around the cook stations in the cramped kitchen, wiping sweat out of her eyes with the back of her hand. She was careful to stay out of Mrs. Phan’s way since she still wasn’t entirely certain her husband hadn’t brought in the outsider for inappropriate reasons. She made sure to keep a tight leash on Michelle around her husband and her son.

Michelle worked her way to the door to the kitchen where she was met by a stinging slap on her backside, followed by a loud laugh.

“How’s my favorite tight ass and the girl it drags around with it?” Daniel laughed, exhaling a puff of smoke over his shoulder and grinning like he’d said something profound.

“Hi, Daniel,” Michelle said in a neutral voice before looking around and lowering her voice. “You know you can’t smoke in here. C’mon, you’re gonna get me in trouble.”

“What are they gonna do, fire the only person in here who can speak English? Then who’ll sign for the deliveries? No way, babe. They can’t touch you. I can though!” he said, making a leering face and grabbing her butt again.

Michelle swatted at his hands. “Stop! I’m working! I mean it, you have to go. Mr. Phan doesn’t like personal stuff while I’m on the clock.”

As if on cue, Mr. Phan came out of the office and sniffed the air angrily before storming over to Michelle and Daniel. “You no smoke here! You go outside! Now!”

“Yeah, yeah, Chang, I’m goin’. I’m just checkin’ on my girl, here. Making sure you aren’t workin’ her too hard. They outlawed slavery in this country, you know.” Daniel flicked his cigarette butt to the floor, grinding it with the heel of his work boot. Michelle raced to grab a napkin from the bar and pick up the offending litter before Mr. Phan could say something.

“You get out! I no like you! You go now!” he ordered, pointing to the door and edging even closer to Daniel. “I don’t have to let you in here! I call police!”

“Whatever. Michelle, call me as soon as you’re off work and we’ll do something. Hang out, you know.” Daniel turned and walked out the door, shoving the door open with such force that it hit the exterior wall before slowly easing back into place.

“I no want boyfriend in here!” Mr. Phan said, turning his frustration on Michelle with an angry point in the direction Daniel had taken. “He no come back or you no have job!”

“I understand, I’ll tell him to stay out,” Michelle said humbly, lowering her gaze to the floor. A black smudge from Daniel’s cigarette butt smeared the otherwise clean tile. And right now, Daniel was a black smudge on Michelle’s life, too. He was good-looking and attentive, but otherwise, that’s about all he had going for him. The entire six months they had dated he had bounced between jobs, and more than once Michelle had to scrape him off of the floor of some bar and cart him home. More than once she’d had to forgive him for what looked a lot like cheating, too, only she’d had nothing to go on except a nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach.

When the dinner rush picked up a little bit, Michelle took her post by the door to seat the patrons and take their drink orders.  She looked up in surprise when a large and boisterous party came through the ornate Asian doors, laughing and talking loudly. Her smile widened when she recognized her two roommates and a few of their friends.

“Hi guys! What are you doing here?” she asked, hugging her two friends in turn.

“Well, there’s just not enough mouth-flame and painful heartburn in my life, so I dragged these bums with me,” Angela answered. “Plus, it’s the only way we get to see you anymore!”

“I know, I’m sorry! I’ve been really busy with the restaurant. My boss doesn’t exactly understand the concept of a forty-hour workweek. If the rest of the family can be here twenty-four hours a day, he doesn’t understand why I don’t want to!” Michelle replied in a stage whisper, looking around to make sure she wasn’t spotted betraying her employer.

“Just work? Darn. I was hoping you were busy with something a little steamier than that!” Angela laughed, giving her a knowing smirk.

“Are you kidding?” Brooke exclaimed, throwing an arm around Michelle’s thin shoulders. “Michelle’s still dating Schnoozler the Loser! Trust me, there’s nothing steamy happening between them. Sleepy, might be more like it.”

“Thanks. Thanks for that, really. It’s great to see you two,” Michelle answered sarcastically with a dejected sigh. The only reason the remark didn’t piss her off was because it was too true. Daniel was not the most romantic guy around. Heck, sometimes it seemed he barely had a pulse. He was kind of just...there. Sometimes he was around when he shouldn’t be, like when he showed up at the restaurant and made fun of Mr. Phan.

She led the group to their table, bringing them drinks before returning to her station and leaning against the reservations podium. From time to time she swept or wiped something, just to keep her boss from thinking she wasn’t busy.

Michelle snuck glances at the group during their dinner, watching as they had fun and as two of the couples sneaked a kiss once in a while between laughs. It was nearly heart breaking. Nothing fun had happened in her life in a long time
.

CHAPTER TWO

 

Brooke woke up during the night and looked at the clock. 2:00am. She looked over at the bed on the other side of the room, a sick feeling in her stomach welling up when she saw through the dimness that it was still made, its pillows still neatly fluffed in place. She reached for her phone on the bedside table and checked it. No messages. She padded down the narrow hallway to the bedroom on the other side of the living room.

“Angela? Wake up,” she whispered frantically. “C’mon, wake up!”

“Huh?” Angela rolled over, squinting her eyes at the light from the hallway that flooded her room.

“Michelle’s not home yet,” Brooke insisted. “Check your phone.”

“You check it, it’s on the charger in the kitchen.” Angela’s voice trailed off at the end, already working herself back into sleep.

“Wake up!” Brooke said at full volume, giving Angela’s shoulder a shove before going to retrieve the phone. No messages there, either. Angela finally stumbled into the tiny kitchen to look at the phone that Brooke held out, a frightened expression on her face. “Look! She hasn’t called you, either.”

“She probably just stayed at Daniel’s place. It’s not like there’s any privacy here,” Angela griped with a sour expression before covering her mouth in time to yawn.

“No way. There is no way she went anywhere with that guy for privacy. He’s such a creep.”

“They’ve been together long enough, there’s no reason for them not to have any privacy.”

“Ew. It’s not a time thing, there’s no schedule of when you have to do it!” Brooke argued.

 

“Did you seriously just call it ‘doing it?’ What is this, seventh grade? No one calls it ‘doing it’ anymore. And yeah, if she’s been seeing this guy for six months and she isn’t ‘doing it,’ she won’t be seeing him much longer. She’s twenty years old, she’d better hurry up and find the right guy to ‘do it’ with,” Angela said with a sneer.

“Are you just trying to see how many times you can squeeze the words ‘do it’ into one conversation? There’s nothing wrong with calling it that.” Brooke crossed her arms defiantly, shooting Angela a smug look.

“Maybe not at your mama’s house, but please. Not here. Just promise me I won’t hear that again.” Angela hip-bumped Brooke and smiled. “So if you don’t think Michelle is at Daniel’s place ‘doing it,’ where do you think she is?”

“I don’t know. That’s the problem. She never just doesn’t come home. Even when she goes somewhere with Daniel after work, she texts me. I’ve even told her I’m not her mom, she doesn’t have to check in all the time and see if she can stay out past her curfew! It’s, like...I don’t know...”

“What? It’s like what?”

“I don’t know, it’s like she doesn’t trust Daniel or something.”

“Hell, who does trust Daniel? He’s a shit who spends half his time drunk and the other half hitting on girls right under her nose. I just hope Michelle realizes it sooner instead of later. I don’t want her catching whatever that creep picked up from the last skank he cheated with.”

“You are not right in the head,” Brooke said, exasperated. “But what do we do now? I
can’t just go back to bed and see if Michelle makes it home by morning!”

“I can.”

“Oh no you can’t! If I’m sitting up worried, so are you!”

“If I’m sitting up waiting on a full-grown white girl, you’d better have something awesome for me to eat. I’m not sitting around hungry.” Angela put on a good front, but Brooke saw that crease that was etched between her eyebrows. She was worried, too.

 

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