Fridays are supposed to be his days off. Isn't that supposed to be one of the perks of running your own business? What good is having the disposable cash to have your heater set at 72 with the balcony door open, be three beers deep, laying in your boxers, half an hour into a Hexflix crime documentary, if you can't be home to enjoy it all? The soft strumming of the guitar of the aspiring artist living on daddy's money from across the hall, a car alarm blaring in the distance, the scent of a candle burnt down to the glass jar by the girl on the floor below who's blown her student loans on a car she really didn't need and now has to make every penny count. Every obnoxious, ambient noise and scent is a piece of what makes a top-floor loft a home. And today, in the barely lit morning of Vasilios, it is but a distant memory.
Because, where was he? Work. Beating the shit out of some poor sap that, for the fifth month in a row, failed to deliver his payment in full. And, what was he smelling? Blood. Mold. Wet concrete. Listening to the skittering of mice, water in the vents, the rush of water through rattling pipes held together with duct tape and a weak prayer to the gods - old and new - that refused to take his phone calls.
Royland Vondien, handsome, wealthy, and [i annoyed], stared down at the man in a heap in front of him. No matter the manner of fluid that escaped from his target's mouth - be it bile, blood, or spit - could inspire any glimmer of sympathy in his tired, blue eyes. "We've been over this, Tarron." Royland said.
Tarron, in response, sputtered and gripped his chest, rolling onto his back. Just, pathetic.
"You signed a contract." Royland said. "You agreed to pay back the money that you borrowed. There has to be an easier way to get my point across than coming out here every month to kick your ass." Royland holds out a bruised, bloodied hand for assistance. "Rag, please."
Alain, his blonde and broad-shouldered friend, gripped the shirt of their victim and tore it off, handing it over.
Royland, a shade disgusted, took the gory piece of fabric between his thumb and index finger. "[i Thanks]." He said. "Maybe next time, you could just hand me his fucking underwear?"
Alain sneered. "I gave you what you asked for."
"Fuck you." Alain grumbled. "You called me out here in the middle of a very important appointment."
Royland rolled his eyes. "Oh, I'm so sorry. How is Mrs. Jack and Coke?" He asked.
"Fuck. You." Alain snapped, folding his arms across his chest, indignant.
Royland made a halfhearted attempt to wipe his hands, ignoring his coarse and burly friend's temper tantrum. "Walter, what time is it?"
"5:30." Walter yawned. "Are we done? I gotta be in the kitchen by 7, or Ma is gonna blow her top."
"Yeah, I…Yeah, we're done. Dump him at the hospital." Royland sighed, carelessly discarding the rag, which hadn't done much at all to his mess, except spread it around. He watched Alain and Walter take Tarron by each arm and hoist him over their shoulders to carry him outside with some effort. He knew the speech by now: 'I want my money, I'll increase the rate another 10%, blah blah blah.' Surely, the next month would be different.
The day was young, and Royland just wanted to go [i home].
Halfway across town, among the constant beeps and droning of machines, the whining squeal of gurney wheels whizzing by, Tarron lay in the ER. Thankfully, being tended to, under the irritated eyes of a girl who was only an hour away from her shift ending when he'd arrived.
"Honestly, Tarron…" Sumina sat back, checking her handiwork for accuracy. For the most part, she'd been able to sew her brother's face back together, set his broken nose, and ice his bruises. She couldn't do anything about the defeated look on his face, the anger behind his eyes, or the hole in his pocket that was spreading to hers. "You need more money? Do you know how many extra hours I had to–"
"I know, Mina. I know… it's just, the guys I owe, they're serious about getting their money." Tarron responded, weakly.
Sumina stared at her hands, curled into her lap while she thought. "...I don't… I don't have any savings left… what I gave you was the last of what I had." Her shoulders slumped. Tarron deflated beside her. "W- Well, we have to do something. Maybe Vaeril can–"
"No. No, don't ask that asshole for anything." Tarron sat up, wincing. "He'll just tell me how stupid I am for trying to handle Ma and Pa's money issues on my own."
"But you [i are] stupid." Sumina said, frowning.
A slender finger tucked a lock of stray hair out of Sumina's face. The idea of working yet another month of doubles, skipping breakfast, and only just having enough to scrape by at the end of it was enough to make the promise of tears sit over the brim of her lashes. But, could she leave her brother to his own devices? That was how he'd gotten into this mess, anyway. "...I can try. But, you have to try, too. I can't keep doing this. My grades are really suffering and yesterday I almost fell asleep on my break…" She turned her head to glance at the clock in the far corner of the room. Her eyes widened. She stood, frantically removing her gloves. "It's 6 already? I'll be late for the bus. I'll be late for work."
"Go." Tarron shooed Sumina. "I'll be fine." Reluctantly, but with haste all the same, Sumina ran to gather her things.
It hasn't been an hour since Royland has left the warehouse basement when he finds himself standing outside the nondescript diner closest to his apartment, itching at the five o'clock shadow he never bothered to shave, bleary eyed, and still missing the quiet of his usual Friday morning. Through the window, he can see the usual senior citizen crowd gathered for their morning discount, driven to wakefulness by some curse that kept them going far longer than they should be able to. Meanwhile, here he was, in his youth. Floundering as a fish does on shore, for energy he couldn't be bothered to muster.
What a day to run out of coffee.
He seats himself and is served soon enough. The coffee does little for his mood, and less for the stinging in his hands from the beating he had administered this morning. The heat from the cup makes him sweat, causing the cuts on his knuckles to burn. He stares into nothing, heart thundering. [i How much longer is he going to keep this up?] Royland thinks, [i He's only got a couple more beatings in him.] Repeat customers were such a pain in the ass. Sirius had chastised him over the phone, reminding him that the six month deadline was quickly approaching. If Tarron's payment was delinquent again, he may not live to see the seventh month. Sure, they had made money off of him - but not nearly enough to satisfy the boss…
Before the thought of more blood on his hands could consume him, a voice like a bell draws his eyes towards the door. Clunky non-slip sneakers and light blue scrubs walk past him, and behind the bar to the kitchen, long white hair trailing down her back in a tight ponytail. Royland perks up immediately, heart thundering for a different reason, now. Thank goodness he'd decided to wear a dress shirt and slacks. He never comes on Friday. If he knew she'd be here, he might have started earlier than now.
Sumina hasn't had time to take her change of clothes out of her bag, before she's accosted from behind by a coworker. "Oryanna!" She giggled.
"Your regular is here. Seems like he was waiting for you!" Oryanna playfully poked at her friend's cheek, winking. "He sat right in your section." Sumina, unable to contain her embarrassment, flushed.
"He is [i not]!" Sumina squirmed. "Is he? No, it's just a coincidence. Let go of me. I have to get dressed."
"So you say… Castien sees it, too." Oryanna is singing as she returns to the floor, leaving Sumina standing in front of the bathroom door, chewing over words she wondered if she could believe.
Royland holds his breath when Sumina comes to his table, coffee pot in hand. He'd hardly drunk what was first served to him, but neither of them noticed.
Sumina clears her throat, mustering courage from the depths of nowhere, "I thought Fridays were your days off?"
Royland laughs. "They are. I…ran out of coffee. Seems like that was lucky for me."
It takes everything in Sumina not to break eye contact. "Well, while I'm here… would you like a- oh. Your hands." She furrows her brow, focusing in on the bruised knuckles, cleaned, but still stark in contrast to the rest of his mostly clean appearance. He'd been coming here for so long, but recently, he'd had more injuries than she'd ever seen on him.
Royland's expression drops, but he recovers. "Oh. This? It's nothing. Went a little overboard at the gym." He shrugs, but smiles nonetheless. "The end of the month is stressful for me… so… I box to get the frustration out…" He drops his gaze over her figure, then catches her eyes again. "Should I take a midnight trip to the hospital? See you there, too?"
Sumina blushes. "W- Well, I…" Belatedly, she realizes that he's probably only kidding. She smiles, giggling, and the sound makes Royland melt into his seat.
"I'll remember to ask for…" Royland said. He leans forward, eyeing her name tag. "Sumina. If that's okay with you."
"I should get back to work." Sumina said, sheepishly. She turned her face away, intent on scurrying to the kitchen while she could. She felt hot wherever his eyes landed. She'd never last if she stayed.
"Don't forget about me. Promise?" Royland smiled, and Sumina scurried away. She never did end up refilling his cup. But the look on her face was worth every drop of the cold coffee he'd have to endure this morning.
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