“Girl, you aren’t going to win the lottery.”
I flinched at Sheila’s sharp voice, burying a frown when I spotted her watching me. Her eyes had narrowed so much that she looked like a hawk, save for her thick, sky-blue eyeliner. She snagged a lipstick tube from her pocket and popped off the lid to reveal the mauve shade she’d chewed off her lips earlier, during the match.
“It’s a waste of time,” she continued, applying the lipstick in a mirror she’d propped up near the dish sink. “You might as well flush your money down the toilet.”
I ignored her. That was always the safest angle to take where Sheila was concerned. As far as I knew, the sixty-year-old had worked at Hare & Hound since the day she was born. In the six months I’d been working here, she hadn’t taken a day off—not once. Sheila might be right about wasting my money, but I wasn’t going to spend my whole life working in a rundown pub in Berkshire.
Business had died down since the match ended. Only a few regulars remained, nursing the wound of the local football club’s defeat. Most were blaming the sky-high August temperatures for the loss. As it was, I’d propped open the walk-in freezer to cool off. The heatwave had suffused the air with a heavy humidity that verged on suffocating. I craned my neck in an attempt to cool off before looking down at my last chance at salvation. The scratchcard wasn’t about getting rich or getting out, though. Even West Bexby, with its one traffic light, had double the cost of living of other small towns—due mostly to its location between Oxfordshire and Greater London. Rent and the electricity bill were due tomorrow. I had enough tip money for only one. I flipped the ten-pence I was holding, sent out a prayer for luck, and scraped off the last silver box.
I sank against the wall and stared like I might be able to will the clover outline I’d uncovered to be the horseshoe I needed.
Shelia chuckled before making a clucking noise. “I told you—”
Before she could dish another serving of advice, the swinging door that separated the kitchen from the bar burst open. Eliza, the pub’s only other waitress and one of the few people who seemed comfortable in the small town, swayed in with a tray of dirty dishes. She dumped them in the sink with a teeth-rattling crash.
I shoved the ticket into my apron before she could turn to see it.
“Hanging out without me?” She wiped her hands on her checkered apron as she studied me. Eliza could have left the Berks. She was smart enough to go to university, pretty enough to be a model, with her glossy brown hair and dark, round eyes, or curvy enough to have landed a husband. Instead, she seemed content to follow Sheila’s example and work at the pub. Like me, she transplanted here. Like me, she didn’t want to talk about why. It made her an ideal flatmate and friend. “Everything good, Kate?”
“Yeah,” I forced a smile. “Shelia was just giving me a little advice.”
“Again?” Eliza glared at her with a look as frosty as the air wafting from the open freezer.
Sheila opened her overly lipsticked mouth, but before she could respond, a bell clattered over the entrance, alerting us to incoming patrons.
“Your table, Sheila,” Eliza said with a grin that spread like the Cheshire Cat’s. Sheila grumbled as she saddled toward the dining room, but she kept her eyes downward. As soon as she was gone, Eliza pulled a pack of cigarettes from her apron. She held it out, but I shook my head. She opened the backdoor a crack and stepped one foot out as though this counted as being outside before lighting one. “So, did you win?”
“What?” I asked. “Win?”
“That scratchcard I saw when I came in—did you win?”
Shit. Apparently, my sleight of hand hadn’t been fast enough. There was no point in hiding it now. Besides, facing her tomorrow when I was short on what I owed wouldn’t be any better than admitting it now. “Nope.”
“How much?” She flicked ash from the end of her cigarette.
“A hundred pounds.” Shame spiked inside me, burning molten in my chest and throat. I tried to ignore it, but I felt the heat seep across my skin. The trouble with being fair-skinned was how easily it reacted. My chest. My neck. My cheeks. By now, they were all red and splotchy from all that escaped shame. It was a map of my failures painted for her to see.
“I got you,” she said, as though this was both not a big deal or an ongoing problem. It was both.
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