The restroom light burns like the holiness of God and Tommy squints. He knuckles his eyes. “Oh, Jesus.” He trembles, blinking wetly at the white blur of his shirt in the mirror, his pale skin, his fair hair, the spotlight above him a gauzy halo. He’s surprised that his pupils aren’t smoking in the glare, they’re so dilated, the blue swallowed whole. He presses his face to his palms, rasps the stubble on his jaw. Closing his eyes only amplifies the static in his head, the electric pins and needles in his spine.
He counts back. Six days. The symptoms are definitely worse.
Steps in the passage. Tommy jerks upright and lunges to secure the lock, bruising his fingers as it snaps and clatters to the floor. Screws poke headless from the hinge. The handle turns. Shit. He jams his foot against the door and strains to control his voice. “Sorry!”
“Hurry up, you useless bastard, we’ve got customers.” Bryce.
Heat rushes up his body, adrenalin like a flash flood cramping his muscles. Bryce rattles the door before shuffling away, his mutters fading. Tommy groans and stumbles back to the sink, careful with the faucet, not wanting to break that too. He cups his hands to splash his face.
Cold water used to help when the adrenalin surged. If pins and needles got bad, he went for a run. Deep breaths dulled roaring static. For three months he had managed the symptoms without drawing attention. Sure, Bryce gave him a verbal warning and his mom noticed snapped window latches and broken door handles but Tommy’s not the only crappy waiter at Lourdes and his folks’ place is old, falling apart. But none of the tricks work anymore, not since the seizure, and it panics him.
He wipes his face on his apron and blinks. No change. His eyes still ache, his ears still roar, and his heart stamps in his chest. Bryce will fire his ass, for sure.
Kitchen sounds echo through the wall, the chink of glassware, china, knives and forks, laughter rising and dying, and beyond that he imagines the gravel in Bryce’s voice, cursing him up one side and down the other. Bryce could replace him in three seconds flat even this late in the summer. Plenty of high school grads, like Tommy, slope in daily with their laser-printed resumes and mouths full of above and beyond work ethic bullshit.
Tommy came with that and a plan: make enough to get out of his folks’ place and into a loft, maybe Williamsburg, wherever. Gabe says he can hook him up; a space with great light where he can lay out his boards, room for an easel. Somewhere to bring a date home ... maybe a model. Gabe drips models, girls who can’t wait to take their clothes off for him, dreaming of being immortalised in paint then immortalised in sheets. Tommy might not have an Irish accent, rock star looks and gallery exhibitions drawing names, dollars and art world clout but he has paint under his nails and that’s a start.