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Authors: Amalie Silver

Progress (Progress #1)

BOOK: Progress (Progress #1)
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Progress

by Amalie Silver

 

 

 

 

 

Progress
was originally written, published, and copyrighted as written by Amy Queau.

This is the retelling of the story in first person narrative.

 

DISTRIBUTION OF THIS EBOOK IS PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

 

 

 

 

 

© Amy Queau 2013, 2015

 

ISBN:
978-0-692-58572-6

Cover images purchased from Bigstock. Model release forms are on file with the photographers.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without permission, in writing, by the author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part I

Progress

 

 

 

This is the way the mind works. Memories shift and twist. We forget the details and things in between, but retain the thoughts that impact us the most.

 

I admit, I didn’t think much of Charlie at first. She was rounder than the girls who usually caught my eye. Not my type. But when I saw her sitting in that booth alone, for the first time something in my mind or my instincts or my heart told me to join her.

 

She defied me.

She challenged me.

She gave me hope.

Before I knew it, moving forward was my only option.

 

-Jesse

 

Chapter One

 

Charlie

 

“It’s been three weeks now, hasn’t it, Charlie?” Karalee asked, sitting down with me at table 26. “How do you like the job?” She twisted her silky blond hair and tied it up into a bun.

I smiled, not bothering to lift my head from my palm. “Good. It’s pretty easy.”

“Well, it’s not brain surgery. They walk in. Then you smile, seat them, and take their money.” She laughed and lowered her voice. “But the hostesses that came before you were barely able to manage
that
.”

“That’s what you get for hiring fifteen-year-olds,” I quipped.

“Well, I’m happy that my suggestion for you to fill out an application has worked for everyone. Most twenty-two-year-olds won’t take a job for minimum wage.” She gasped at her blunder and her eyes widened. “Not that you’re devaluing—”

My chuckle cut her off. “No offense taken. I kind of like it here.”

Karalee glanced around the virtually empty, dimly lit dining room and then down at the tacky floral carpeting. “You
like
this place?”

Not really. But it wasn’t very challenging, which made it kind of perfect. “Sure.”

The front door swung open and a young blonde approached the hostess desk wearing a scowl. I got to my feet and smiled at Karal. “Back to it. Want to hang out in the bar after work?”

She frowned. “Sorry, I’m closing. Maybe this weekend?”

“Sounds good.” I nodded and rounded the table with a grin. But I underestimated the size of my hips and slammed one against the corner of the table. With a deep breath, grinding my teeth through the pain, I approached the counter. “Welcome to The Crimson Cellar, how may—”

“I have a pizza to pick up under the name Olson. And I’m running late,” she snipped, staring at me. Her eyes moved over my body and her lip curled in disgust.

I nodded urgently and turned to the countertop behind me in search of her food. But there were no cardboard boxes. I swung back around and gave her another smile. “I’m going to check up on the pizza line. It’s probably just coming out of the oven now.”

“You think you could move a little faster,” she glared again, “or should I get it myself?”

Resisting the urge to crawl across the desk and throat punch her, I swallowed my contempt and walked across the dining room to the kitchen counter that faced open to the dining room. “Hey Alejandro! You got a pizza for Olson?”

He grabbed a ticket in front of him and matched it with the pizza he’d just removed from the oven. “Here, Charlie. Got it.”

I exhaled, thankful to avoid another confrontation with the small-minded, superficial nightmare that stood in the lobby with her hands on her hips. At twenty-two, I’d come across my fair share of people who hated me because of the way I looked.

Because I was fat.

There had been at least one person every day of my life who’d reminded me of it. It didn’t matter that I was an artist or a friend or a coworker or a coffee drinker or a daughter or a sister, had a small fear of horses, and hated ketchup but loved tomatoes. Oh no. No one saw anything else that comprised me except that I was almost six feet tall and weighed no less than a Toyota.

I retrieved the pizza from the counter with a smile toward Alejandro and took long strides up to the counter. “Here you are,” I said, finding the takeout order on the computer. “Anything else I can get you?”

She huffed and slid the box around to face her. After looking inside, she rolled her eyes and set her jaw. “This is not the pizza I ordered. Can I please get someone over here who knows what they’re doing? You’re useless.”

Never let them see how much they hurt you, Charlie. Take a breath. And calm your shaky hands, dammit.

“Maybe I can help?” a gruff voice came from my side.

My chin jerked up, and my eyes were met with a set of eerie blue-gray irises. Either the lighting was so dim that it wasn’t able to reflect from his eyes, or his eyes refused to take in the light. But the smile he had mimicked mine: something as fake as blondie’s tits.

He wore a Crimson Cellar uniform and a pair of tattered black jeans. He slipped a hand in his pocket, and a muscle flexed in his forearm as he held up a pizza box in his other hand. His dark tan contrasted against the light hair sticking out from his baseball cap, along with a short goatee that did well to cover a small hole in his chin—
a labret. 

“Are you Miss Olson?” he asked, drawing his attention to the woman across the desk.

“Yes,” she replied, taking a deep breath. “Finally, someone who knows what they’re doing,” she growled with a glare in my direction.

“Oh,” he chimed, peeking at my nametag, “
Charlene
knows what she’s doing. I work in Delivery, and I accidentally took your pizza for another Olson.”

She dug in her purse, mumbling, and pulled out her wallet.

He cocked his head to the side and flashed another toothy grin. “See? A common occurrence around here. I’m sure you can find it in your heart to forgive her, can’t you?”

“What’s my total?” she asked, ignoring him.

I would’ve responded if I wasn’t still staring at him—totally enthralled and tuned in to his every movement—and trying to stop the trembling in my hands that had traveled to my gut. I was speechless. Heat surged from my cheeks to the tips of my fingers, and my thoughts fluttered in my head, making me dizzy.

He leaned across me, lightly setting his hand on my shoulder to look at the computer screen, and I flinched at the contact.

He didn’t seem to notice.

“Nineteen dollars and thirteen cents,” he said.

She dug out a few pennies from her purse, trying to find the exact change, when he added, “But the tip is optional.” He chewed the inside of his cheek with a wink when she looked up at him.

Meanwhile, I stood staring like a twat-rocket.

But I couldn’t move. I tried to focus my attention on anything else in the room, but my eyes refused to cooperate.

After slapping her money down, Blondie walked out the door, and he turned to me.

“I’m Jesse.” He held out his hand.

I cleared my throat, trying to find my voice.

“Do you speak?” he added.

I exhaled, trying to keep my mind in one place. “Yeah, sorry. I speak.” I smiled. “You can call me Charlie.” I accepted his hand, and shook it.

“Good to meet you, Charlie.”

He hopped to the other side of the desk and dug in his pockets. After pulling out several wads of paper folded inside more wads of cash, he set them on the counter in separate piles. “Can you check me out?”

I held in a snort of laughter.
Pretty sure I’ve been doing that for at least four minutes and seventeen seconds.
“Of course. Listen, thanks for sort of standing up for me. She was just…” I trailed off, not wanting to finish.

“Horrible? Sex-deprived? Ugly?”

I rolled my eyes.
Right. Ugly. She was fucking gorgeous.
I hated her, but I could admit that she was pretty much perfect
.
“Not so much ugly, but yeah, she was a dick,” I continued uncomfortably.

He shook his head with a knowing laugh. “Trust me, she was ugly. There was nothing about that woman that was real. Fake hair, fake tits, fake nails. Nope.” He scratched the back of his head. “Women like that are built for one reason only. Can’t talk to a woman like that.”

My shoulders drooped. “Oh, yeah, you’re right. Guys are only looking for a great
conversationalist
. That’s what you want. Just someone to
talk
to.”

He narrowed his eyes at me with a smirk, and his eyes fell to my breasts. My body heated instantly, and my heart thumped against my ribcage. I tried to swallow, yet I couldn’t around the hard lump in my throat, and I looked down to the floor realizing what I’d just said.

“Not always,” he whispered.

I cleared my throat. “Well, I’m sure she paid good money for those tits.”

He laughed. “The bitch should’ve spent her money on a nose job.”

I chuckled and my fingers flew over the keyboard, closing out each delivery ticket. We didn’t speak. I’m not sure if he was avoiding further conversation or if he didn’t know what to say to me, but I refused to look up for fear that I’d make a bigger ass of myself.

I felt his eyes on me, and every second that passed made me more and more uncomfortable. I was lucky he refrained from small talk, or I probably would’ve started crying.

Knowing my own fragility didn’t make me any stronger.

“All done!” I chirped, handing him his cash and beelining to the restrooms before he could thank me or say goodbye.

I checked the paper towel holder and toilet paper dispensers slowly, then polished the mirror. When a sufficient amount of time had passed, I crept out the door and back into the lobby. Thankfully, Jesse was nowhere to be seen. That made breathing a little easier.

Until he walked through the kitchen doors in his street clothes.

There was nothing in my past to which I could compare the feeling. He stole the air from my lungs, the thoughts from my mind, and made me want to squeal like a little girl at her first pop concert. It was completely disconcerting. I’d never had much experience with guys, and I was pretty sure I was the only twenty-two-year-old in existence who’d made it through college without having sex.

The truth was that I didn’t feel comfortable enough with myself to allow someone else to get that close to me. Being told several times a day for my entire life that I was the furthest they came from beautiful, I believed it. I didn’t pity myself, it was just a matter of fact: I was overweight. Morbidly obese, to be precise. And that meant I was ugly. Rational thoughts about my self-importance, intelligence, or confidence never came into play.

When I looked at Jesse, I felt different. It was new and alarming. It went far beyond the butterflies I used to get from pictures of my favorite actors as a starstruck kid. There was a commanding posture in his walk, he kept his head held high, and his broad arms glided as he strode. A real tough guy—the kind of man you’d see in a magazine from the sixties with his cigarette pack rolled up in his sleeve. The cheap bright green tee he wore clung to his torso, defining every boastful inch of him.

He made me light-headed, warm, and left me forgetting how to breathe. If I’d had any prior experience in these matters, I probably would’ve played it coy, looked away, and closed my mouth. Instead I couldn’t tear my eyes away, and I gaped at him like a fish. But he walked right past, never giving me so much as a glance.

I felt like an asshole for ever giving my sister flak when she came home talking about a guy—prattling on about biceps and amazing eyes and dimples that made her insides feel like goo. I’d always rolled my eyes and made snide comments under my breath.

I understood her brain-dead exaltations now.

It was pure hormones.

There was only one other way to explain it:

Smitten. I was in Deep. Fucking. S
m
it.

All from one halfway conversation. God help me if he ever asked me what the weather was like or if I had seen that new movie playing at the theater. My ovaries would explode.

I had better start convincing myself that Jesse was an actual person, with thoughts and feelings and shit, because the puddle of near climax in my panties was bordering on insanity.

The only spastic thought that ran through my head at that moment was that green was my new favorite color.

That was all it took: a four-minute conversation, a casual hand on my shoulder, and a labret.

There really was no hope for me.

He strutted through the dining room with his wadded-up Crimson tee in his hand. He’d removed his hat, his hair was a darker blond than what I had seen from the small glimpse I’d gotten earlier. I doubt my sideways glance did much to hide my ogle, but at least I tried.

He sat down alone at a booth in the bar, ordered a beer, and swallowed half of it before I had the chance to blink.

It wasn’t until the phone rang that I snapped back to reality.

I took a deep breath. “Thank you for calling The Crimson Cellar. This is Charlie. May I help you?”

“Yeah, can you tell Je…I…na…ittl…late?”

“Hello? You’re cutting out—” I said, covering my ear to block out the noise from the kitchen.

“Can you hear me now?” he asked.

“Yes, better. Now what can I do for you?”

“Yeah, this is Jake. I’m supposed to meet Jesse in the bar after his shift. Is he done yet?”

A sudden burst of heat flamed across my cheeks. “I’m not sure who you’re talking about,” I played dumb.

“You must be new. Are you hot?”

I frowned.
What kind of person asks a question like that?

“Never mind. I’ll hear about you if you are. Look, he’s not answering his phone, so just tell him I’m on my way. I got…detained.” He laughed at his last remark and hung up.

BOOK: Progress (Progress #1)
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