"We are the oasis in the desert, the safe harbor in the storm, the place anyone is welcome, as long as you're not a jerk to the servers."
The rain falls in sheets, like layered waterfalls outside my second story window. I hug my knees to my chest and press my cheek against the cool glass as I watch the world outside soak itself in the Oregon mist and water.
My mom is downstairs cooking something that smells wonderful. Waffles and bacon, I think. My favorites. Breakfast for lunch? Or would it be dinner? Working graveyard messes my whole schedule up. I check the clock. It's nearly three in the afternoon, so maybe linner? Or dunch? I chuckle at my own stupid humor. I've been an adult now for fifteen hours. I was born at midnight on a full moon during a storm, or so my mom tells me.
There are day people and night people. I am a night person. An owl. A vampire. A being of darkness. A moon goddess.
I hear my mom shuffling around the kitchen, humming the nameless tune she always hums when she's alone. I feel a strange kind of melancholy today, but I don't know why. It's my birthday. I should be happy. Why aren't I?
I tug on the oversized shirt I sleep in, pulling it down my shins as I shiver. The heater is on the fritz again, just in time for a very cold winter.
"Ari! Breakfast!" My mom's voice is shrill. Forced frivolity. She's been on edge too, likely from those final notice bills I saw in her room.
She doesn't know I've dropped out of college to work full time at The Roxy. She doesn't know I already paid the electric bill in person so it wouldn't get shut off. She'll be pissed when she finds out, but at least we'll still have electricity.
College can wait.
It's not as if I'm behind, having graduated a year early and completed three semesters of undergrad classes already. But I have a long, expensive road ahead of me if I want to fulfill my dream of becoming a lawyer. And I don't have the time or money for that dream just yet. She'll understand one day.
I flip my legs off my window bench and grab a pair of jeans lying on my floor. It only takes a few seconds to pull them on and tie my long hair into a ponytail. A few black wayward strands fall out and I tuck them behind my ears and run downstairs.
My mom smiles when she sees me, but her eyes are creased with worry. "Happy Birthday, Arianna!" She's holding a plate of waffles and bacon, with eighteen lit candles sticking out of the waffles.
"Thanks, Mom." I walk over and blow out the candles, missing the last one as I run out of air. I didn't make a wish, so it doesn't really matter.
"What did you wish for?" she asks.
I smile, hoping my eyes don't betray my strange anxiety. "If I tell you, it won't come true."
She nods. "Of course." My mom and I don't look much alike. She's wild, with red curly hair, freckles, and hazel eyes. I take after my father, she says. The few pictures I've seen of him prove her right. The pale skin, black hair, elfin features, and green eyes are nearly identical. I may have gotten my looks from my father, but I get my determination and stubbornness from my mother.
She limps around the kitchen serving up our breakfast, and I resist the urge to help her, to insist she sits. I know she's in pain. I can see it eating away at her, in the pinched expressions on her face and weariness of her eyes. It's gotten worse over the years, and her pain pills are less and less effective. But despite it all, she won't let me help. My mother is nothing if not proud and fiercely independent.
We sit at our two-person plastic kitchen table surrounded by peeling yellow walls with cheap flea market paintings of flowers and fruit decorating them. I love our kitchen, as tiny and old as it is. It's cheery and always smells of cinnamon and honey.
I'm mid-bite when my mom looks up, her grin faltering. "What time do you have class today?"
I hate lying to her, but today isn't the day to tell her the truth. "It's Friday," I say. "No classes. Just work."
Her eyes light up. "Oh, maybe you could take the day off? We could go hiking? Or maybe to the museum?"
I want to say yes. I really, really do. But I can't afford to lose a day's worth of pay. Not when I know rent is overdue and we're getting eviction notices. But I can't tell her that. She works so hard to provide for us, and I know it would break her heart if she thought I was worried. So instead I shrug and try to act casual. "I can't, I'm sorry. I wouldn't be able to get anyone to cover for me this late. But how about we go out to eat after my shift? My treat."
I can see the disappointment on her face, but she covers it quickly with a smile. "That would be fun. But I'm paying. No arguments. You only turn eighteen once."
"Deal." I take my plate to the sink and wash it, then kiss her on the cheek as I head upstairs. "I've got to get ready for work. I'll see you in the morning."