Today’s prompt was to change the POV of one of our previous stories. Since, I’ll be working on Carlos & Tereza’s story once again, I decided to do one of those ones. This one is some backstory that takes place about 20 years before the actual story. I wrote it in third person the first time, but switched it to first here and got into Carlos’ head a bit more.
I dropped the silverware on top of the rest of the dishes in the bus pan. Gathering up the rest of the trash from the table, I balled it all up together so it would be easier to throw away when I got to the kitchen. I gave a little shake of my head. They had certainly left a mess. I’d noticed most didn’t seem to care who would have to come by later and clean up after them.
I lifted the pan and turned from the table, my shoulders getting that itchy feeling between them, the hairs on my neck prickling. People were watching. It didn’t matter. I couldn’t let it matter. I took a deep breath and kept walking through the dining room.
It was nothing. People could look all they wanted. It didn’t mean a thing. I heard all the whispers anyway. They saw my tattoos and automatically assumed they knew everything about me. I must be some kind of thug, had probably done prison time, was likely dangerous and shouldn’t be working here.
I just wished it wasn’t all true.
I shouldered my way through the doors into the kitchen, dropping the pan on the shelf by those doors for the dishwasher to get to. The kid beside the sink jerked his head at me in greeting, but I only grunted back. I still didn’t know his name. I hadn’t bothered with any of that unless I needed to.
I’d only been here for about three weeks, and I knew it wasn’t the strength of my experience or references that got me the job. I didn’t have much of either of those. Only one reference had really mattered. Roman’s. And he’d done more than get me this job. If it wasn’t for him, I would have spent more than the one month in jail. And I would have this, or likely any, job. I wasn’t going to screw up that chance. Even if it was only to clear tables and wash dishes.
Even if I did still miss Tereza and Roman wouldn’t tell me anything except she was settling into her life with them.
I turned to grab another tub so I could clean yet another table off, but as I straightened again, I nearly collided with someone else. My first impulse still was to slam a fist into his face and pull a knife from my belt. Both would get me fired. The second would also, if I even carried one on me, get me sent back to jail.
I couldn’t afford either option.
I only let my lip curl at the tattoo of a wild cat on the other man’s bicep. Fuckin’ Pumas.
“Sorry,” I mumbled. Dios, that word tasted bitter on my tongue. I wasn’t really, but our boss had strict rules about fighting in the kitchen. I wasn’t risking my job for this pendejo.
The other man, Romello, sneered at me. “Just like a cowardly Coyote.”
I bristled at the words but picked up the bus pan I’d dropped during the collision and kept walking. It wasn’t worth it. I needed this job, this new start. The Pumas had taken enough from me, I couldn’t let them have this as well. So, I ignored the words meant to taunt me and walked back out into the dining room to clear another table.
I stepped out of the restaurant after clocking out and saw the three men waiting for me. One was little more than a boy, really, but Romello, the pendejo, had roped him in anyway. Romello himself stood right in the middle of them.
Great. Just great. Looked like we’d be fighting about this after all. I could always run, but I’d never done that before. And they’d just chase after me anyway.
I balled my fists and took a step forward. “What do you want? I was just goin’ home.”
“To your hovel, you mean?” Romello scoffed.
I doubted if his place was much, if any, better than my tiny apartment. But, I let the words pass. I really did just want to go home. “I don’t got a beef with you. I’m just trying to start a new life, like you. I just want to be left alone.”
Romello sneered at me again. “You’re nothing like me. You’re a Coyote.”
“Not anymore.” The words felt like a lie. Sure, I didn’t run with the gang any longer, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever stop feeling like a part of it.
Romello’s lip curled further, until he was nearly snarling. “You still ain’t washed the stink off.” Then, he was swinging at me.
I ducked the first punch, but the second caught me in the shoulder. I stumbled but found my footing quick enough. But the other two were on me a moment later. I got a few blows in myself, but I couldn’t fight off all three at once. I hit the ground but jumped right back to my feet. I wasn’t going down without one hell of a fight.
They meant to kill me. I could feel it in each of their strikes. I wasn’t just going to give up on this new life I’d been given.
I hit the ground again. I tried to get back up, but a boot connected with my ribs. More blows fell, stealing my breath, and I heard the snick of a knife opening. Then, sirens split the air, and the other men scattered. I got my knees under me and grabbed onto the closest thing I could find, a sign post, to get to my feet.
A hand closed around my arm. I tried jerking away, but metal snapped around my wrist before I could. The man’s words were barely more than a buzz in my head, but the actions were all too familiar to me. And my head was spinning too much to resist even if I’d planned to.
“You’re damn lucky they held you instead of taking you straight to booking.”
I held my head in my hands, not even looking up at Roman. I didn’t feel too lucky about anything right now. The cops who had brought me in had slapped a Band-Aid over the cut on my forehead but that was it. My head was splitting, my ribs nearly screaming in agony, but I was stuck in this damn holding cell. The only lucky thing I could see was that when Romello and his buddies had been hauled in too, they’d been put in a separate cell.
“I didn’t start the fight, Roman. Romello and his buddies were waiting for me outside. He’s always baiting me.”
“That’s why you ignore him. I thought you wanted this job.”
“I do!” More pain shot through my head, and I drew back, digging the heels of my hands into my temples. Dios. How hard had I hit my head? “And know, I probably lost it now.”
“If there weren’t witnesses who gave the same story as you, that would probably be true.”
At a gesture from Roman, a guard stepped forward and unlocked the cell door. The loud whine of it opening nearly had my head exploding. I squeezed my eyes shut as if that would help ward off the inevitable.
“Come on,” Roman said softly. “I’ll take you home. You’ll have to talk to Aberto in the morning about the job.”
I couldn’t think too much about that right now. Not when my head was splitting open and my ribs were on fire as I followed Roman out of the police station. Aberto’s place was known for giving released cons a second chance. He wasn’t known for giving ones for breaking his rules, though.
I just hoped he’d make an exception this time.
I stepped into the restaurant and winced at the bright lights. Roman had taken me by the hospital the night before. Head contusions and a couple cracked ribs. He’d stuck around until this morning, to make sure I woke up again. He really made sure of that, too, waking me several times during the night and asking me questions. When I flipped him off each time, he just laughed and left my bedroom again. Guess that was a sign to him my brain wasn’t too rattled.
They’d wrapped my ribs at the hospital and given me something for the headache, but it only helped so much. And these damn lights certainly didn’t.
Roman had said he’d already talked to Aberto this morning, so he’d be waiting for me. Now, I just had to plead my case. I knocked on the doorframe of the office even though the door was open, and my boss watched me approach. No point in taking any chances. Certainly not this morning.
“Come in, Armas,” my boss called out to me.
I stepped into the office and licked my lips, wishing they weren’t so dry. “Mr. Aberto-”
He held up a hand, and I came to an instant stop. I had to shove my hands in my pockets to keep him from seeing the way they trembled. I didn’t want to show any weakness now.
“You know I don’t allow any fighting in or around my restaurant.”
“Yes, sir.” I could barely get the words out. My throat and tongue felt so thick, I felt like there wasn’t room for anything else. “I can explain.”
“No explanation needed.”
My shoulders drooped at those words. That was it then. It was all over for me. I started to turn away but Aberto’s next words stopped me.
“I’ve seen the way you and Romello have been. And I’ve seem how you’ve handled it. I also talked to the person who reported the fight last night and said you were the one assaulted. I imagine you didn’t see any way around the fight.”
I shook my head. “Figured if I ran, they would’ve just chased me down.”
Aberto nodded as if he’d expected that. “Charges have been pressed. Romello will no longer have a job here.”
I swallowed hard. “And me, sir?” If I lost this job, I wasn’t sure what I’d do.
“Well,” he said, his lips curling up slightly, “I’m going to have an open position for a server. I’ve seen you’re a hard worker and seem determined to make your place here.”
I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. “Why?” I shouldn’t be questioning it. Shouldn’t risk him realizing he was making a mistake and change his mind.
“I see something in you,” Aberto said. “And I believe in the things I see. I believe in you, Carlos, and you should believe in you, too. Now, get on home and rest up. We can start your training tomorrow.”