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CHAPTER 6

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Annabella was no stranger to working the Saturday lunch shift at Jim's. It was often seen as the coveted shift because it proved well with tips. Years ago, Annabelle had to earn her right to work the lunch shift before one day finally being given the chance to earn the extra hundreds she craved.

Now, six years later, Annabelle wanted nothing to do with the lunch shift. The kids were always moody and unruly due to the monsters eating at their tiny stomachs. The parents, though they tipped well, were often rude and impatient. She quickly realized that the coveted shift came with not only the price of a heavy pocket but also the price of swollen feet and black-rimmed eyes.

Now suddenly a married woman, she was questioning why she was even working the shift. She knew that Jim would excuse her if she asked to not work. He was her friend before he was her boss but, Annabelle didn't want to be that person who took advantage of a sweet man, yet the day proved hard for her to concentrate on. She couldn't seem to stop thinking about the recent change her life had taken. Only 24 hours ago she was a single, desperately broke woman. Now, as she counted the small change from her recent customer, she smiled knowing she'd finally see more soon.

"You can take your lunch break now if you'd like." Annabelle looked behind her to see Dina nudge her head towards the back room. Dina gave her a knowing look which usually meant only one thing- Jim wanted to see her. Annabelle sighed as she glanced down at her wristwatch. It was near three and she had a call to make. Hopefully Jim's talk with her would end quickly.

Annabelle left her tray in the corner and slipped quietly away to the back room of the diner. Jim's office was hidden at the end of the hallway, just after their kitchen. As she got closer, she noticed his office door was slightly ajar. She was suddenly nervous as she knocked.

"Come in." Jim's hoarse voice came through the door and Annabelle answered by entering. He looked up from his mounds of paperwork and smiled at Annabelle walking carefully into his office. His yellow stained teeth were illuminated by the haze of the office light that also seemed to age him by ten years. His widows' peak and furry goatee gave him a darker edge that she knew was just a cover for his caramel center. His face held small red blotches around it, common with a man of his late age and years filled with smoking and stress. His softer edges and paling skin warmed Annabelle because, when his arms wrapped around her like they were right then, she knew she was home.

"My dear Annabelle, when did you get in?" Jim released Annabelle after laying a gentle kiss on her head. She smiled up at him, glad to see that his happiness hadn't left him. Jim knew when she had arrived. He always knew when all his employees arrived, but Annabelle knew it was his way of starting their conversation so, she obliged him.

"I came in around eight thirty." He nodded and pointed for her to sit at the chair in front of his desk. Annabelle sat down, not pulling her eyes away from Jim. She was suddenly apprehensive. It wasn't uncommon for Jim to call her to his office during a shift but, Annabelle couldn't help but be wary.

"How have you been?" He asked her, sitting in his own seat. Though his eyes were still and his tone level, somehow his words struck her cold. She wondered if he knew.

She gulped. "I'm alright."

He nodded again and tapped on his worn table. "I'm curious about something and I was hoping you'd be able to help clear some things up for me."

"Su-re," she stuttered.

"I was wondering if you knew why my daughter would leave ten minutes before the end of her shift and without so much as a goodbye to her old man."

Annabelle could feel sweat layer the tip of her forehead. This was it. This was the moment Jim scolded her for the first time in her life. She hung her head as shame and worry filled her bloodstream. "I'm sorry," she whispered.

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