Chapter One: Lily’s POV
Snatching my card, I head to a quiet corner of the car park. Pulling out my phone, I call the number on the back of the card. I pace back and forth as I’m forced to listen to five minutes of background music. Finally, a human being comes on the line. After answering her security questions, I try to remain calm as I explain to her that my balance must be wrong, that my wages of £958 are always paid in on the first of the month, that it’s now the third and the money is not showing in my account. More waiting while she checks my recent transactions. The car park is filling up, it’s that time of the evening when people come home from work and stop off to get their groceries. Dark clouds block out the sun. It’s going to rain and I didn’t bring an umbrella. Her voice cuts through my thoughts. “I can see £958 is usually paid in on the first of every month. However, there was no payment this month.”
There’s a gust of wind and I feel a few drops of moisture against my skin. “Are you sure? Maybe there’s been a mistake.”
“Nothing has been paid in. All I can suggest is you contact the personnel department of the company you work for.”
I shove my phone into my bag. Great. Just great. I join the throng of customers who are shuffling through the doors of the store. As I pass by one of the checkouts someone calls out, “Are you back already? You doing an extra shift?” It’s one of my colleagues but I really don’t have the energy to explain, so I mouth, ‘Got a problem.’
Standing outside my boss’s office, I rap my knuckles against the door. At twenty-three, my boss is only three years older than me. He looks up at me as I stand in front of his desk. “Can I help you, Lily?”
He’s a good guy. Like me, he has a degree, and like me he’s putting it to good use by working at a grocery store. Too many graduates applying for too few jobs. At least my day ends at five. Eight hours on the checkout and I’m done. My boss works longer hours and has way more responsibility, for not much more pay. No surprise he’s young, they wouldn’t get an older more experienced person to do this job for the money they pay. I sigh. “My wages haven’t been paid.”
“Not you as well.” He rubs the back of his neck. “There’s been a mix up. Personnel are aware of it and your wages should be in your account by Monday.” My dismay must be obvious, because he frowns. “I can loan you a few quid if you’re short. You can pay me back when you get paid.”
I square my shoulders and shake my head. Owing money makes me anxious. For that reason, I’m one of those rare people who doesn’t own a credit card. I’ll manage. Somehow.
I hear the rain before I even step out into the car park. This day just keeps getting better. Before heading outside I pull my coat up over my head. Water splashes onto my tights as my feet slosh through puddles. Striding briskly, I consider my options. My food cupboards are empty but I have £70 in my purse to pay my electric bill. I could use that cash to buy food and pay the electric on Monday. But, I’ve already received the final notice. I’ll pay the bill. Four days without food won’t kill me. My feet are soaked and rain drips from my eyelashes by the time I reach the Post Office. I delve into my bag for my purse.
Chapter Two: Kai’s POV
He rolls the filter paper between his fingers. I glance at my dog, Duke, who is sitting on the floor at my side. Duke is watching him more intently than I am. I stroke my dog’s head to let him know everything is okay. For now. His right ear twitches but he doesn’t take his eyes off the guy who has now lit the joint. The smell of grass hits my nostrils as he exhales and passes the joint to me. I take a deep draw and hold it in my lungs before exhaling through my nose. I don’t do drugs. Thing is, buyers want to know they are getting the real deal, so I’m expected to share a joint with them before they buy. I take another puff and hand it back to him. He’s new to me. I don’t like dealing with people I don’t know, makes me edgy, but one of my regulars put the word in for him, so here he sits in my living room. He leans forward. Duke stiffens. I slide my fingers into his collar. “Sit back. You’re making my dog nervous.”
He sits back. “You should get him trained.”
“He is trained.” Trained to attack anyone who threatens us. Trained to tell me when anyone gets near to our door.
“Do you want the gear or not?”
“It’s alright but I’ve had better.”
“Bullshit. It’s the best you’ll get in this area.” I let go of Duke’s collar. “We’re done. You’ve wasted enough of my time.”
He holds up his palms. “No, no. You’re right, it’s good stuff it’s just that I’m a bit tight at the moment.”
He shrugs. “I’m a bit short of cash this week.”
“Not my problem.” Someone is going to get a piece of my mind for recommending this a-hole to me.
“Can you knock a couple of quid off the price? It’ll be worth your while; I’ll be a regular customer.”
Just what I need, a regular customer who won’t pay my prices. “I don’t give discounts.” I get to my feet and Duke stands beside me. “We’re done.”
“Okay, it was worth a try.” He pulls some notes out of his wallet and holds them out to me. “I’ll just tell my girlfriend that we’ll need to spend less on food this week.”
“Put your money away, get up, and get out.”
“It’s okay, I’ll pay.”
He’s still holding out his cash. I step towards him. Duke follows. “We’re done here. Leave.”
Following him to the door, I close and bolt it behind him. I clench and unclench my fists as I stomp back to the living room. Asshole. Pretending he’s poor when he’s wearing designer clothes and buying grass. Trying to do me out of money that’s mine. I know what it’s like to be poor and he isn’t it. I doubt he’s ever come home from school hungry and found no food in the house. I bet he never had to hide from debt collectors like me and Mum did. Seventeen years later and I can still remember how scared I would get when she heard the knock on the door and would tell me to shush and we’d have to hide beneath the window in case they looked in and saw us. At the time, I didn’t know who I was hiding from. I thought it was someone who was trying to hurt us. Shaking my head, I attempt to clear my negative thoughts. I don’t have to let shit like that affect me anymore. We’ll never be poor again. I’ve seen to that. Still, I’ve lost out on a sale and it irks me that I’ve lost out on money, and the fucker got a free joint. I close my eyes and draw in a deep breath. Enough Kai, just let it go.
Mum’s sitting at the kitchen table, she looks up as I enter. “Is there a problem? I heard you telling that boy to leave.”
I turn on the tap and fill a glass with water. “He wasn’t a boy, he’s was a man.”
“You all look young to me.”
I stare out of the window at our back yard. The rain bounces off our iron garden table. “He didn’t want to pay my prices. It’s no problem; I’ve got plenty of other buyers.” I down my glass of water. “He’s not someone I want as a customer anyway.”
“Will he cause you any trouble?”
“He’s a chancer, not an idiot. If he messes with me, word will get around and there won’t be a dealer in the area who will sell to him.”
“Maybe it’s time you gave this up. You could get a regular job.”
Closing my eyes, I let out a breath and turn to face her. “And what, work more hours than I do now, for minimum wage so we just scrape by? If we’re lucky.”
“You have a good brain. You don’t need to settle for a minimum wage job.”
Not wanting to snap at her, I stare at the ceiling while I get my temper under control. I fix my gaze on her. “You’re right, I am smart. Smart enough to know there are people with degrees doing minimum wage jobs. Who do you think they’re going to hire? Someone who went to university and got a degree? Or someone like me, who left school at sixteen?”
She shrugs. “You could get a degree.”
“I don’t want one and I don’t need one. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, and it pays bloody well.”
I notice she’s turning her cigarette pack over and over in her hand. “Why don’t you have a smoke? It’ll calm you down.”
“I’ve run out.” She opens the pack to show me it’s empty.
“You should have told me before you ran out. I’ll go buy you a pack.”
Slipping my arms into my coat, I pull up my hood. Luckily, the shop isn’t far because the rain is chucking it down.