Rachel squirmed excitedly against the vinyl bench. She held the laminated menu in hand and allowed her eyes to rake over her choices. She loved going out to eat. She wasn't sure why, because the food that Nan made for her at home was just fine, but Rachel loved eating in restaurants a lot. There was something about it that just seemed so special and fun. It was like a little celebration right in the middle of the day. It made a meal into an event. Rachel was trying to choose between bacon and eggs and a short stack of strawberry pancakes. The menu had pictures, and all of the meals looked so good. Rachel wasn't sure how she was ever going to choose. Helene was sitting across from her, and Tierney was sitting on her left. Rachel always liked to sit on the inside of the booth. She could lean against the wall, she was closest to all of the condiments and the napkin dispenser, and this booth was right next to a window. Feeling happier and more peaceful than she had in days, Rachel grinned serenely and stared out at the parking lot. It was nearly empty, with only a few cars, other than Tierney's parked against the curb.
"Do you know what you're getting?" Tierney asked.
Rachel whipped her head around. Tierney was smiling serenely down at her. Rachel took notice of a thin blue line traveling across Tierney's left eyelid. It was a vein, the blue of her blood shone brilliantly though the translucent veil that was her flesh.
"I'm going to get pancakes," Rachel said, making her final decision right there in that instant. "The short stack of pancakes and a cup of orange juice."
"That sounds delicious!" Tierney chirped.
She angled her body forwards, directing her gaze across the table at Helene, who was staring fixedly at a spot somewhere over Rachel's head. The flesh around her eyes was slightly narrowed, and she held her thumb sideways in front of her mouth, fastidiously gnawing at an already tender-looking patch of skin.
"Whatcha gonna eat, Hel?"
Helene started, as if she'd been woken from a dream, and then she focused her gaze on Tierney and took her thumb out of her mouth.
"Bacon and eggs," she said, simply.
Tienry frowned and nodded.
"You really need to stop eating your hands, chica. All of those bloody patches look freaking painful. Did you try the polish that I got you?"
Helene pursed her lips and tilted her head to the side.
"That only works for your nails."
Helene rolled her eyes.
"I don't chew my nails....or I guess I must sometimes...but they're usually way too short for me to chew. I end up chewing the skin around my fingers and on my hands. I can't put the polish all over my hands....I don't know. It doesn't bother me that I chew my skin off. It only bothers other people."
"It's just tough not to want to stop you," Tierney said. "I care about you and your poor hands are in really rough shape. You have all of those rep patches of missing skin and your cuticles are always getting infected."
"I know you're just trying to help me, T, but it's a lost cause," Helene said. "It's not like I've never tried to stop chewing my hands. It's like a compulsion. I feel better when I'm doing it. Besides it might be genetic. Nita bites her nails too."
"Definitely not how genetics work, Hel. Nita just learned her nail biting by watching you."
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***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...