Alex lay back against the soft pillowed comfort of the four poster bed. Her phone was still in the palm of her hand, as she let her mind climb backwards over the entries in the manuscript.
“Two.” She mumbled into the room’s warm embrace. “Two different men and one of them is Dad.”
She sat up on the soft mattress, reaching to reclaim the pages strewn beside her. Dropping the phone in her bag, she glared at the ragged pages, scanning each of them for a moment.
Her fine blond hair blocked her sight as she shook her head still trying to find distinction in the entries to help with the confusion. Tricia was intimately involved with one of them,. Her mom made it clear, but… she shook her head again and dropped the pages into her lap.
Digging her fingertips into her thrumming temples, she tried to clear her mind. The pulsing tide of thought and emotion drummed an irregular cadence. She squelched a sudden urge to scream. What am I going to do with this mess?
As a nerve grinding buzz echoed in her ears, she dropped her quivering fingers into her lap. “What in the…”
She walked with hesitant steps from Jay’s room, slinking like a prowler to the foot of the stairs. When the sound ripped through the house again, she scrunched up her face and covered her ears. “Doorbell, she shouted. rushing for the front door. “Grandma Maria must be going deaf.”"
Before the buzzer could make that hateful sound again, Alex began to flip open the locks on the door. Flinging it open, she screeched, “Stop!”
Before the teenage boy on the front stoop could jab his stubby finger at the buzzer again, she opened her eyes to glare at him.
The gum smacking kid stood wide eyed before her, backing a step away as if protecting himself from her . His dark, unruly hair hung lazily over one eye with a wedge shaped cardboard hat on his head at a rakish angle. Alex closed her eyes and breathed in deep breaths while the guy adjusted the mock pizza slice before it slipped from his slick hair. Pressing her fingers back into her temples, she forced a broken smile.
His checkerboard white and red shirt, half tucked into black pants and a worn black apron, reminded her of her brother Kale. She knew this kid was older and much darker complected than her brother, but the look of complete blankness on his face softened her voice..
“I’m sorry about that. It’s just really loud.”The boy’s expression did not falter or even flinch. Alex attempted another, more cordial greeting.
“If you were bringing that pizza here,” she motioned toward her chest. “I think you have the wrong address. I didn’t order pizza.”"
With the shift of one nervous eye the boy glanced at the paper attached to the box in his hands.
Alex frowned in response., “This is Sanchez. I don’t know the house number.”
"The order form just says that a “J. Galvez placed a delivery order thirty minutes ago for this address.” He said chewing on his gum again. . “I just do what they tell me.”
Alex gulped back a lump in her throat. Jay bought her dinner. Three thousand miles away and he was still watching over her.
She shifted her bare feet, wringing her hands and coming up blank on what she should do. There was protocol here. The kid needed to be paid or tipped or something.
“I ..I’m so sorry, How much do I owe you?”
“The pizza is fifteen bucks and the delivery fee and tip ...”
Alex gave a gurgled start, her empty pockets begging her to find her wallet. The choking sound of her panic disassembled the boy’s monotone recital of the bill. As she stood motionless in front of him, she could feel the flames of humiliation burn at her cheeks.
How am I going to pay this guy? She thought.
Her panic must have been emblazoned across her forehead because the teenager began tapping one of his black tennis shoes
She began to pat down her clothing looking for cash.
Still wearing her pajamas, the useless motion sent her brain into a mental frenzy. Her body involuntarily pivoted toward the interior of the house, her eyes darting in panic toward her suitcase and the stairs.
Where is my wallet? Did I already use that cash?
The clearly impatient delivery boy began smacking his gum in cadence with his still tapping foot. Alex started to ask him to come inside
This is New York City. She thought before she spoke. Jay would kill me if I invited this kid to come in.
Alex began her mental scramble again, her mind’s eye searching pockets, purses, and the upstairs bath for her shoes.
The incessant sounds of the impatient delivery boy became capped off by the ringing of her phone.she knew she couldn’t leave this guy hovering in the open doorway while she went and answered the call.
Stepping between the threshold and the entry way, Alex tried to find an explanation to curtail the growing tide of frustration she felt rolling off the teenager.
“I have…I don’t…could you?”
Alex knew she sounded to him as if her tongue quit working. The harder she tried to focus on his blank disregard for her situation, the more she ebbed toward a complete meltdown. Images swirled through her mind. Charles, Jay, her mom, two faceless men. The barrage was overwhelming. When the kid blew out an exasperated breath and his long, greasy lock of hair plastered itself across his nose, Alex burst into inexplicable laughter.
Random sounds and fluids spilled from Alex as everything finally caught up with her. It started as a mirthless chuckle, but quickly took on a Dr. Frankenstein, maniacal quality. She giggled, guffawed, chortled, squealed and, in the end, even snorted through her nose. As the final raucous sound broke from her lips, so did a wayward spray of spittle.
Pizza boy glared down at the wet spray that dampened his stained uniform scowling at her hysteria.
Tears flooded from her eyes, with no claim to the laughter. Streams of frustration, fear, confusion and exhaustion poured down her face. The weight of her pain filled her heaving chest as she gripped the doorknob with white knuckles and lurched a little toward the doorway.
The clumsy movement and torrent of emotion seemed to be a slap in the face for the delivery boy. With a brief flash of unseen emotion, his jaw dropped open. He took a stumbling step toward escape, and Alex lost it..
Wracking, burning, thundering sobs tore through her chest and across her throat. She sank, crossed legged on the hardwood floor and blubbered uncontrollably.
“My boyfriend asked me to marry…” Tears and shuddered breaths stole the words. “And then left me. I am alone and lost and I can’t find my money…”
Her face was buried in her hands but her eyes caught sight of the black tennis shoes shifting beyond the door.
“Look, lady, I just…”
Another burst of crying muffled the kid’s voice and Alex burrowed her head deeper into her palms.
It all washed over her again and she lifted her tear stained face to the pizza boy’s bleary outline.
“He keeps calling...” She blubbered onward. “But I’m not talking to him.”
Alex heard the final statement come out in a vicious growl, as if her voice was morphing into the snarl of a pit-bull. The black shoes backed away further, and Alex grabbed her stomach to regain composure. Instead the horrified look on the teenager’s face sent another gush of cries past her crumbling damn. Like a cornered animal, he glanced onto the empty street.
Before the boy fled to call the authorities, Alex scrambled onto her knees in front of him
“Its just that I thought my mom and dad were cheating but it turns out my mom was just kind of sleazy in college and I don’t know what to do next.”
The pizza kid looked up and down the street behind him again. Alex imagined him wishing for a magical portal, or flying broomstick, to come whisk him away.
Trying to master the tears in her eyes she wiped at her cheeks. Through her hazy sight she caught a glimpse of the shoes again, before he crouched in front of her. The pizza box sat, like an offering in front of her.
She looked up at him.
“Your life’s a wreck.” He muttered. “I don’t get paid enough for this kind of crap so just take the pizza; it’s on me.”
Before she could get beyond her tears to thank him, he was gone from the stoop. she listened to the pounding of his footsteps down the street.
Alex slumped brokenly against the door. She was spent, embarrassed and…hungry. The smell of the pizza wafting through the open door called her back to her senses.
Wiping at her cheeks and carrying the box into the kitchen Alex’s bottom lip trembled. The smell of chicken, onions, peppers and bacon teased her mouth toward a smile. Only jay knew the combination to her favorite pizza. The ringing of her cell phone once again briefly sent a charge of irritation through her. Melting mozzarella and marinara awaited, she’d face the rest later.
Alex opened the box from ‘Mama Lucia’s Bistro” and proceeded to pull the outer crust off the gooey concoction. After wrapping the impromptu breadsticks in a napkin, she closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of Parmesan and garlic.Like a jeweler plucking diamonds from a lump of coal, she picked first the chicken, and then the bacon off half of the pizza. Piling the meat onto one half, Alex proceeded to place the other half of the pizza, face down on top of the overloaded side. Picking up the sandwich style slice, she tore one, enormous, overflowing hunk from the warm crust and sighed. She would have to tell Jay the story of her meltdown in front of pizza boy, but not tonight. Tonight she would bask in her humiliation and the knowledge that she was desperately in need of the comfort food.She took her time devouring the small pizza, and then trudged lazily back upstairs. Her bread stick crusts tucked away in the refrigerator and her tired body prodding her back toward the tidy familiar bedroom.