The Citizens of Tabor Isle (2015)

Chapter 2

Rihka sped down Sensville as though she was being chased. She was already late for her shift at the café and couldn’t afford to lose her job. Her parents still sent her money it was true, but it had dwindled considerably since both her brother and sister – the gifted ones – attended Sector 10 schools in the valley. Sector 10 boasted the cream of the crop from all across the Republic and prices for attendance were not short of astronomical.

          “Sorry!” she shouted over her shoulder after almost knocking over a vendor. Sensville was a street lined with stalls of all kinds, selling everything from the latest knock-off clothing, to foul-smelling days’ old cured beef that was popular among locals. Rihka manoeuvred her way past those gathered in front of Lady Luck, a billboard-sized screen that revealed the results of those gambling their way to higher positions in society, dodged three schoolboys so focused on the holographic video game sprouting from one of their arms, that she would have barrelled right into them, and finally stopped at The Crater’s back door.

          She took a deep breath, wiping sweat from her mocha skin and pushed the wooden door open. Immediately she was hit by the strong scent of crepes being fried in rich butter and her stomach growled. She hadn’t done herself much of a service giving Majin part of her lunch that morning.

“Boss won’t be happy,” Luce the cook said as she entered. Her blonde hair was pulled into a high bun and judging from the stacks of crepes accumulated, Rihka figured they had a full house. She was just about to reply when Cameron, one of the waiters, burst in,

“Luce, four more to table six, they want chicken livers in theirs,” he shuddered, “No idea how people eat that garbage,” he said flinging his arm out with flair. He was as flamboyant as they came and Rihka had often wondered how he managed to pull off the extreme colour mixing he was well-known for. Seeing her, he folded his lips and shook his head,

“Girl, you are going to get it. What is this? Three times this week already?”

“Don’t remind me,” she mumbled, quickly retreating to the staff changing quarters and trading in her white blouse and pleated sky blue skirt, for the more risqué black mini-dress that was a requirement of all female servers. She’d resisted the idea when she’d first tried out for the job, but a year in and Rihka had gotten accustomed to the get-up. Plus her boss Max might be a dirty old man whose leery looks could raise a few eyebrows, but he’d never tried to make her do anything she didn’t want, which was more than she could say for some of the employers she’d had in the past.

“Take those to table ten,” Luce said as soon as she returned.

“Sure thing, don’t want the others on my ass too,” she said, quickly readjusting her ponytail. She did as she was asked, picking up two silver plates as she went. The metal ‘out door’ slid open as she approached it and Rihka stepped into the chaos that was the afternoon feeding at the establishment. The Crater was so-named after the Ignis City explosions of 2133. The engineering and mechanical feat it had been to bring the remaining seven Cariblands together as one republic had left its mark and now twenty years later, there were still many places that had large cracks and chasms as evidence. The Boulvedere family had decided to make a profit off theirs and diners could choose to sit on either side of the mini-ravine that ran right through the café’s floor. Gifted and Undesirables alike came to dine at the café, well-known for filling crepes with anything the heart desired and often a little extra.

She skilfully avoided other servers, took one of the three bridges over to the south side and made her way to table ten. Her stomach dropped as she approached and realised who was sitting there.  Four guys around her age sat joshing each other and Rihka felt herself involuntarily slow down. Their crisp white shirts with matching crescents and khaki slacks, told her they were from one of the valley schools and she swallowed hard, not looking forward to her duties.

“Hello, your orders are ready,” she said and four pairs of eyes looked up at her, making her immediately more uneasy. She tried to busy herself by looking at the digital requirements that glowed at the edge of each plate.

“Two peppermint cream filled,” she said, glancing at the table to see where they should be placed. Finding the matching place, she set the plate down, which stopped both it and the place setting from glowing. “One sushi and powdered cheese . . .”

“You can put that one right over here,” said one, pointing to his lap. Rihka smiled graciously,

“Does that mean you’d like to order another sir?” she asked sweetly and his buddies laughed at her quip.

“She got you there Devo,” one said, slapping him on the back.

“One macaroni pie and chicken fusion with . . .” she began again, but the one called Devo wasn’t finished.

“Where are you from pretty? (place?) (place?).  I know you’re not from the Valley, I wouldn’t have missed that face,” he said with a snarky smile.

“Or that body eh boys?” another chimed in. Rihka tried to quell her uneasiness which was slowly turning into frustration.

“Sirs, it’s really busy in here as you can see and I need to see to other customers,” she said stiffly, barely managing a smile.

“Hey, hey,” Devo replied, “We’re paying good money too, don’t want me calling management do you?” the look he gave her was so smug an  d entitled that it was all Rihka could do not to throw their remaining orders in his face. She dealt with these kinds every now and then, Valley students who thought they owned the world and everyone else was dirt beneath their feet. “Now that’s out of the way, you didn’t answer my question,” he looked up at her expectantly and all his friends except one mirrored his gaze.

“Come on Devo, leave the chick alone, probably doesn’t need us ruining her day.” Rihka turned to look at the one who’d spoken. He’d been pretty quiet before and she’d only just properly noticed him. His green eyes were warm and friendly and tanned skin meandered over lean muscles. Devo held up his hands in protest,

“Always the bleeding heart (name) and I’m pretty sure her day’s already ruined, I mean she works in this place,” Devo guffawed and the other four joined him. (name) looked up at her apologetically.

“Sorry about this, we’ve had a full week of exams and they’re just blowing off some steam,” he said. Rihka however, had already launched into ‘I’d throw you all off a bridge mode’. She looked over at his laughing friends coolly.

“Two more with fried chicken dumplings and one with grilled vegetables and lemon zest.” After she’d placed the plates in their places, she held Devo’s gaze. “I’m not from any of the places you mentioned, I’m from Ember Island.” The boys laughter stopped immediately, until Devo’s cheeky grin resurfaced.

“I’d still tap a stupid girl, but we couldn’t do it at my house, my parents would want to know if I’d gone mad.”

“Come on Devo, that shit’s not called for,” (name) said, but Rihka held up her hand.

“I don’t need you to defend me. You though, might need someone to defend you,” she said, pointing at Devo. She turned, hiding a grin at the stricken look on his face. Ember Island was well-known for its gangs and though one on one Devo might be a worthy opponent, on his own would be a completely different matter. Rihka usually hated revealing that she was from the island and didn’t have ties to any of these gangs, but as the Gifted lumped them all together anyway, a little scare tactic wasn’t hard to come by.

“Rihka Melawe!” she almost jumped as she heard the boss shout for her over the intercom system before she’d even gotten back into the kitchen properly. She rushed to his back office, which was tucked away down two flights of stairs.

“Yes Mr. Boulvedere, I’m so sorry I got here late again, the airbus was late, then I got a citation at school so I had to stay behind and . . .” she stopped, realising that he wasn’t even listening to her. He was looking out of the room’s lone window, watching as people’s shoes walked past.

“Do you know why I hired you,” Mr. Boulvedere asked, still not looking at her.

“I had experience working in restaurants before and showed aptitude in your tests,” she said as though rehearsed. She watched the curve in his back that from this angle and encased in a red tee-shirt, made his entire skinny frame look almost like some kind of skin and bones hangar.

“That’s what’s in your file yes, but why did I hire you Miss Melawe?”  He was the only one in her life that used her last name and Rihka always found it strange to hear it. Residents of Ember Island more or less forsook their given names, especially if they failed both Tests and were deemed unfit to work among the Gifted. Rihka shifted uncomfortably from one leg to another.

“You saw something in me?” she answered shyly.

“Perky breasts yes, firm buttocks yes, I knew you’d do well with the male customers,” he responded, turning to her and Rihka flinched. “That’s not the only reason though. I hired you because each time we give one of you a break, it reflects positively on my business. I am seen as a charitable figure, which goes a long way in my bid to eventually run the board of Ignis City restaurateurs,” he said, hollow dark eyes gazing out at her from deep sockets.

“Oh,” she said, uncertain where he was going with the conversation. He enlightened her.

“Each time I have to let one of you go, it results in mounds of digital backtracking and answering multitudes of questions, when I’d rather be having my brains blown out, do you understand where I’m coming from Miss Melawe?” Rihka bowed her head in apology,

“Yes Mr. Boulavedere, I get it, I won’t be late again,” she said firmly, hoping she could stick to her word. She turned to leave, when he added with a light drawl, “If you are, don’t bother coming back.”

Come back to Chapter 3…

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