Spirit Page 20

Regardless, it was like a fist to the gut when bored workers would take his completed application and fling it in a box.

It was a slap in the face when he was told he couldn’t complete an application because of how he looked.

This was at a little café on Ritchie Highway. The hostess had frowned when he asked for an application—reminding him of his grandmother’s constant look of disapproval—and said, “No piercings, no long hair, no tattoos.”

He’d nodded and thanked her, figuring it was just a fluke. An old people’s place.

Then two more stores said the same thing.

Like what he looked like would matter if he was washing dishes or stocking boxes in the back.

By three o’clock, he was bitter and jaded and starving again.

And exhausted. He’d slept in the car all night, but he hadn’t really slept.

His phone chimed, and Hunter immediately thought of Kate.

No. Becca.

You ok? Why aren’t you in school?

His thumb hesitated over the screen—but then he remembered her brush-off, the way she’d whispered about him with Chris. The way she didn’t trust him anymore.

His car was down to a quarter of a tank of gas. He spent a dollar fifty on a bottle of water and told himself it would have to suffice until dinner.

Less than ten bucks left. And he was starting to run out of options.

Home Depot sat with two other big box stores off the main road, but they had a NOW HIRING sign out front.

The man behind the service desk was counting cash in a drawer. He didn’t glance up when Hunter asked for an application.

“You’ve gotta be eighteen, kid.”

Hunter had heard this one before. “I am eighteen.”

The guy’s eyes flicked up and his hands went still on the money in his hands. “Sure. Prove it.”

Okay, he hadn’t heard that yet.

The man laughed and went back to counting cash.

“All right, look.” Hunter felt like he’d reached the end of his rope and found it a frayed, tangled mess. “I need a job. You’ve got a sign out front. I can work hard. I don’t understand why everyone has to act like I’m some—”

“You look.” The man flung the stack of cash into the drawer. “Forgetting the fact that you’re underage, I’ve got guys coming in here with families to feed. You want me to turn them down because some kid wants money to take his girlfriend to the prom?”

Hunter glared at him. “I need a job.”

“Join the club.” Then the phone beside the register rang, and the man turned away to answer it.

Hunter stood there, feeling the air bite at his cheeks. The fluorescent lights in the warehouse ceiling seemed to be buzzing more loudly than normal, but maybe it was just his shot nerves.

At this rate, he’d have to drop some of his remaining cash on a bottle of Motrin.

Then he realized that the man had left the cash drawer open, and he was now facing away, flipping through a binder full of laminated pages.

Hunter stared at the cash. He’d watched the man count it—a big stack of twenties. There had to be several hundred dollars there.

The store wasn’t even that crowded. He could grab a twenty and run.

He’d never stolen anything in his life.

The lights buzzed more loudly. Hunter wanted to rub at his head, but he was afraid if he lifted a hand, it would grab the cash almost against his will.


He turned his head, feeling like he’d lost a minute of time.

Michael Merrick stood there, two rolls of something green hooked under one arm. A red shirt with the Merrick landscaping logo stretched across his chest, already sporting a fine layer of dust, and a stain near the hem. He had a couple inches on Hunter, but that might have just been the work boots on his feet. It was the first time Hunter had ever seen Michael clean shaven.

Hunter had no idea what Michael thought of him, but considering the way his younger brothers were treating him, it probably wasn’t good.

Then again, Michael wasn’t swinging a fist or openly mocking him, so maybe this was better.

Michael said, “Why aren’t you in school?”

Hunter froze. He’d been ready for that question all day—but Michael was the first one to ask, and probably the only one who wouldn’t buy a line of bullshit.

Then Michael glanced at his watch. “Jesus, is it after three already?” He shifted the rolls under his arm and looked at Hunter a little more critically. “You all right?”

The question took him by surprise. “Yeah. Fine.”

The cash drawer slammed behind him, and Hunter jumped.

Well, there went an opportunity. Hunter scowled and wondered if he should be relieved or pissed.

The service manager cleared his throat. “I can take those for you here, if you’re ready.”

“Sure.” Michael put the stuff on the counter. Then he pulled out his wallet. Hunter could see cash trapped in the folds.

The service manager was watching him. “You need something else, kid?”

He needed to stop staring and get the hell out of here.

Before he did something he’d regret.

“No. Forget it.” Hunter unclenched his fists and turned away.

“Hey,” called Michael. “Hunter.”

Hunter whirled, ready to be hassled. “What?”

Michael was swiping a credit card through the machine. “The guys are all busy this evening, and I’m already behind. Feel like helping me build a retaining wall?”

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