…Fuck you, John Junior……fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuckyoufuckyouFUCKYOUFUCKYOU……fuck you…Becca’s foot caught on a dried palm frond on the side of the road. She kicked it dramatically toward the scrub and kept walking. Highway 1 was fairly deserted here, where it curved away from the coast, especially at this time of night.There was something off about Florida in the dark, something disconcerting. In a place built for sunshine, where citrus and tourism ebbed and flowed with the daytime temperatures, nighttime was for the inside; for rest, for cooling off, for getting drunk, or getting laid. There was no dull roar of constant cars and rumbling trucks, no heavy machinery or backup beeping, no incessant drone of lawnmowers and leaf blowers. With the birds quiet and the palm trees motionless against the black sky, Florida felt like a place without function; a closed amusement park or a playground after school.Another car passed, slowed, honked a couple of quick beeps, sped off. “Yeah, and fuck you, too,” Becca replied half-heartedly. But she tugged her shorts down in the back all the same. They were part of the gig: short shorts, the tighter the better, the kind where your ass peeks out just a bit in the back; and a too-small bra that pinched under your arms, but shoved your tits up just right under a tight, v-necked t-shirt, knotted in the small of your back to show off your midriff. Tits meant tips. And tips meant the cell phone got paid. Tips meant food, and beer, and daddy’s meds.She quickened her pace as she passed the hulking, derelict Strawn/Green citrus packing house. Even though some conservation group was trying to save it, she thought the place was creepy. Weeds and blown sand had practically turned the pavement to a field, and the stacks and stacks of wooden pallets- some more than two stories high, were in more danger of falling over with each passing day.Some of her older customers talked about how the packing house use to hum with activity night and day. “There were days…,” they would say, that the flatbed trucks would be lined up down the street, waiting their turn in the docks to be loaded with crate after crate of oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines. “There were days…” when you could stand and watch hundreds and thousands of oranges whiz by on the wire-wrapped conveyor belt that punched out near the roof and traveled nearly the entire length of the huge building before taking a sharp turn and punching back in.Two doors further down was the Treasure Coast Inn, one of the thousands of tiny mom and pop “motor hotels” that sprung up along US 1 in the sixties and one of only a dozen or so still in operation by the original owners. In its day, it had been a charming stop for travelers making the long trek from New York to Miami. “Free Coffee! Home-Made Cookies!” read the hand-painted sign, just above the looping, cursive neon “No Vacancy” which had spent more time on than off. Now, the potted palms were long dead and the sea-foam paint was faded and cracked. A muted gold 1970 Ford Mustang with three wheels had been parked outside room six since the early nineties.And in between was Tilly’s, a rambling old clapboard house that had at some point declared itself an eating establishment, gutting most of the first floor for a main dining room and bar. Over the years, a new kitchen and walk-in freezer, three new large dining rooms and a wraparound porch that only wrapped around three-quarters of the place had been tacked on wherever it had seemed possible and convenient, adding a haphazard feel to the ramble. The result was a hodge-podge of mix and match clapboard with old black shutters on modern picture windows, no identifiable architectural style and only a passing resemblance to what it professed to be. Which, depending on the decade, was a restaurant, a tavern, a roadside eatery; even, during the comparative high tone of the boom years, a banquet hall.The boom years were the late eighties, when citrus was gold on the Treasure Coast. Round the clock workers would pour out of the packing house and into Tilly’s to spend their just-earned money on liquor and beer and, if they were lucky, any woman who happened to be around and who happened to be thirsty. And if they were very lucky, from Tilly’s to the Treasure Coast MoTel for sex or sleep, or both. For years, every crate, every table, every room was full.Until the Christmas Eve freeze of ‘89. The oranges died, the workers packed up for bigger cities further north, and the citrus growers were forced to sell off acreage just to break even. The couple that owned the Treasure Coast stopped making cookies, drew down the shades and learned to subsist şişli escort on just a few customers per week. Tilly’s owner, whoever he was, packed up and headed for the west coast, to Tampa, leaving his restaurant/tavern/eatery/banquet hall to fend for itself. Where the death of the packing house had come overnight, Tilly’s and the Treasure Coast lingered, waiting for time to finish the job that the frost had started.Now it was just a rambling old house with tables and a bar, white walls and black shutters sandblasted to a weathered gray by thirty years of coastal storms. Most of the larger rooms had been closed off, and the wraparound porch was disused and crumbling, missing boards in places and half-buried in sand in others.Becca headed for the porch steps, scanning the parking lot as she went. She knew a few of the cars, and of course, the vintage red bicycle with the American flag taped to the seat leaning against the wall. Enough regulars for some decent tips, she reckoned.After the day she’d had, Becca was unusually happy to be at work. The cold glow of the neon beer signs in the windows felt somehow welcoming. It was a bit of normal- a place where nothing changed. There would be the same old people drinking the same old drinks, saying the same old things about the same old topics.Sure, sometimes the looks and comments directed her way were… less than polite, ranging from awkwardly endearing to downright offensive. But Becca brushed that off. These people weren’t drinking for fun. They drank because something itched inside, and they were just trying to scratch- trying to remember something they never had or trying to forget what they couldn’t get rid of. Becca got it. That was life in Central Florida. And as long as they kept drinking and tipping, she was more than happy to let them try to scratch.Besides, she thought, these people are fucking gold compared to that stupid piece of shit…She rounded the building, dodging the loose boards and rusty nails by instinct, to a small disused outside eating area right off the kitchen. It was broken down and cluttered with old crates and a few forgotten trash cans. Beyond the railings, the man-made sandhills (which idiot tourists often mistook for dunes) were overgrown with wire grass and scrub palmetto. If it weren’t for the lone bare bulb over the back door, it would seem completely derelict, a wasteland, as abandoned as the packing house next door.She sat down on one of the rough built-in benches and took a deep breath, trying to soothe the roiling thoughts in her head before heading into the bar.But when she closed her eyes, she couldn’t stop replaying the entire scene……the high-pitched, strident, whimpering shrieks as she stood outside the rocking trailer……the gagging mishmash of Victoria’s Secret perfume and pot smoke and sex when she opened the door……and those fucking pink shoes with the price tag still on the bottom, bobbing back and forth, back and forth…FUCK!!!Becca stood and spun in a jagged circle, struggling to contain the torrent of emotions flooding through her. She wanted to lash out at something, wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, wanted to cry.But she couldn’t do any of those things. She had to work.She wiped at her dry eyes and scooped up her bag from the bench.Fuck you, John Junior.In the kitchen, she threw down her bag in a corner and snatched her usual metal spatula from its hook, holding it up to the light so she could see her reflection. She poked at the corners of her mouth, smudging her lipstick back into place, stealing a glance over the spatula at Camilo, the enormous Cuban fry cook flipping burgers at the grill. He never spoke to her or, as far as she knew, anyone. Why can’t all men be like that?She pushed through the kitchen door and stepped behind the bar, nodding hello to Mary, the older waitress who also got the bar started earlier in the evening. The darkness was easy on her stinging eyes, the coolness soothing after the hot Florida night air. Becca took a deep breath and drank in the smoky-sour atmosphere. There were a few people at the bar, all regulars, and a handful of tables occupied.“Heeey! There she is!” Darryl always sat at the end of the bar, by the kitchen door. He was a retired police chief from Jupiter- or maybe Vero- Becca could never remember which, and it was his red bike outside. Every night, he rode seven miles over the bridge from his place on the beach to Tilly’s. And every night, significantly impaired, he rode it seven miles back. Becca knew he had lost his license somehow, but had never worked up the nerve to ask.“Darryl, ain’t there any good bars out on the escort şişli beach?” She asked, not for the first time.“Well, sure! But I guarantee none of them have bartenders who could fill out that shirt the way you do!”She smirked, also not for the first time. “Such a charmer. Another round?” She collected his nearly empty glass of domestic and wiped up the condensation it had left behind.“How was your day, gorgeous?” he asked. She could feel his eyes on her ass.“Honestly? Pretty shitty.” She tilted his glass and pulled open the tap.“Oh, is Bill okay?”“Daddy’s fine. It’s just…” Becca wasn’t sure if she should be opening up to Darryl this early in the evening. “Just Junior being Junior.”Darryl was finally looking her in the eyes. “Kid’s trouble, you know.”“I know, I know.” She put his beer down on a fresh coaster. “But it’s all done now. For real, this time.”“Hope so.”Yeah, me too, she thought.Sitting in the dead center of the bar, ancient, leather-skinned Vivianne, clad in one of her usual fluorescent bikinis and a faded floral cover-up that reeked of years of stale smoke, was halfway through her gin and tonic. She’d been coming to Tilly’s for years. She had seen it all and done it all- and talked about it all on a nightly basis. Becca often laughed to herself about how there were just two things about Vivianne that were younger than Becca was: the half-crumpled pack of cigarettes she’d bought on the way over here; and her tits, which stood out from her chest, strangely smooth and many shades lighter than the rest of her.Further down, just before where the bar curved back to the wall sat overweight, curly-haired Joey. His eyes darted quickly from her boobs up to the baseball game on the TV and back down to the scorecards spread out on the bar in front of him. He was a math geek and a space freak. Want to know about the latest launches up at the Cape? Buy Joey a beer. Want to stop Joey from going on and on about the relative differences between electromagnetic thrusters and electrothermal thrusters? Too bad- you shouldn’t have bought him that beer. Unlike Darryl, who spoke his mind- and his libido- freely, Joey rarely said much to Becca. But the way he looked at her creeped her out far more than anything Darryl had ever said.All in all, it looked like it was going to be a quiet night, which was exactly what Becca needed. She took a breath and finally felt a bit of peace. Just let things be calm, she prayed. Nice, simple routine. I’ll figure out this mess in the morning. She patrolled the length of the bar, pretending to understand whatever Joey was saying about the starting pitcher’s ERA, making sure there was a steady stream of Seagram’s for Vivianne, and deflecting Darryl’s constant barrage of corny innuendo. Business as usual.The heavy wooden front door scraped open, and two younger men walked in. Becca didn’t recognize them, but she knew in an instant that they were from out of state. They walked to the far end of the bar, shrugging off huge weather-worn daypacks and setting them against the wall along with a guitar in a fancy padded case.Becca headed over and set a couple of coasters in front of them. “Hey guys, what’re we drinking tonight?”The taller one with the scraggly, sandy-blond hair smiled at her. “Depends. What’s cheap?”“Two for one Red Stripes tonight.” Becca reached under the bar and grabbed a couple of squat brown bottles from the fridge. She popped the caps off and set them down in front of the men.“Perfect.” The blond was cute, she decided instantly. Kind of a boyish face, but tanned and thin, with bright blue eyes that popped out, even in the dim lighting by the bar. His friend was a bit shorter and more thickly built, with close-cropped brownish hair and a few days of stubble. Also good-looking.Hmmm… who would you rather…? Becca smirked at her thought, and at the unusual tingle that came from even entertaining it. Well, I am single after all…“Down from up north?”“That obvious, is it?” asked the shorter man.Becca laughed. “A little bit, yeah.”“Well, Vermont originally, but we just came down from Cocoa Beach today.”Joey’s head popped up from his ledger. “Oh, did you stop in at Canaveral?”Oh god- not now, Joey!“Uh, nope. Maybe next time.”“Just passing through, then?” Becca put one hand on the bar to remind everyone that their conversation was with her.“Dunno, probably,” said the taller, after taking a long drink from his bottle. “Haven’t decided, yet. Is this a good place to learn how to surf?”Becca laughed. “I have no idea. Maybe? Wait, you don’t know where you’re going?”“Nope. Just following the coast for a while. See where it goes, see what happens.”“I did mecidiyeköy that once,” croaked Vivianne, with a voice that sounded like rocks in a blender. “Made it as far as Boca. What a shithole.”“Viv!” Becca really wished everyone else would stop talking to her customers. “Boca’s nice!”“It’s a shithole.” Vivianne couldn’t let it go.“You’re not gutter punks, are you?” Darryl leaned in from the far end of the bar and asked the question in his way-too-loud, official police voice.“Darryl!” Becca chastised. The two men looked at each other and laughed. She took a step closer and lowered her voice. “Don’t pay any attention to him. He used to be a cop.”The shorter man leaned around her. “Nope! Not gutter punks, sir!”The taller man smiled sweetly at Becca, “Washed my hair this morning and everything, I swear!” She smiled back.“He seems… nice,” said the shorter. “Lot of crusties down here or something?”Becca shook her head. “Every once in a while. And him, he’s harmless. Just gets a little overprotective is all.”“You don’t seem like you need protecting.”“It’s just kind of his thing. Plus, he knows my Daddy from way back.” Becca rarely had trouble telling when someone was flirting with her. Hell, most of the people who flirted with her were far from subtle. But these guys were different. They weren’t openly gawking at her tits. They weren’t working dirty words into the conversation just to see how she’d react. And when they smiled at her, it didn’t feel like they were trying to get anything from her.But whether they were flirting with her or not, they were easy to talk to, nice to look at, and a welcome distraction from… what was his name?“Well, we’re not homeless, but we are looking for a place to stay tonight,” said the sandy-haired man. “That place next door- the… Treasure Coast? Is that place even open?”“Oh God!” Vivianne rattled her empty G and T glass on the bar. Becca went to get her another. “Don’t stay at that place unless you want bedbugs! Now, back in the day, the place was nice. You could get a r-”“Okay, Viv, okay!” Becca interrupted. “Not sure anyone wants to hear about bedbugs. Or ‘back in the day’!” She poured Vivianne’s Seagram’s in front of her to distract her, stealing a glance over at the two men, who smiled, chuckling, back at her. She wanted to make sure nothing interrupted her little flirtation. Again, her mind drifted back to a happy game of comparisons. She pictured both of the men without shirts, the first long and lean, like a swimmer. The second had muscles, she decided. Muscles to trace with her fingers. And her tongue. She felt herself blushing as she twisted a slice of lime over Viv’s glass. There was no way she’d be able to choose between the two.The heavy wooden front door scraped open, and another young man walked in.He was wearing a pristine white oversized Miami Heat jersey and baggy shorts, along with a bright blue Florida Gators baseball hat pulled sharply to the side. He stood in the doorway as if expecting to be noticed, nodding slightly at no one in particular, scratching the patchy bit of facial hair under his chin. His eyes lighted on Becca behind the bar, and he threw his head back with a huge grin.Oh fuck, no, no, no, no, why, why- “What the fuckin’ hell are you doing here?” Becca felt a white-hot ball of anger deep in her gut. The mood- the temporary respite she had found with the cool darkness of the bar with her regulars, and especially with the two Vermonters- came crashing down in an instant as John Junior sidled up to the bar.“There she is! There’s my girl!” he said too loudly, jabbing both fingers in her direction. He pulled out a stool beside Joey, who angrily shifted a third of his baseball ledgers further away.“Not your girl, Junior.” She stalked away and snatched up Darryl’s half empty glass. She put a fresh one under the tap.“Naw, baby! That ain’t right! That’s no way to talk to your boyfriend.”“Ex-boyfriend!” She grabbed a stack of paper napkins and delivered them to a slightly confused Vivianne.“C’mon, Bec, why you gotta be acting like this?”“Acting like what? How do you think I should be acting right now, Junior?” She was trying to keep her voice under control, but she could feel herself getting louder.“Well, you don’t have to be pitchin’ a fit, for one thing!”“Do you really want to see a fit?”“I just want a chance to explain, babe!”“Ain’t nothing to explain, Junior!”“Well, if you hadn’t stormed off in a huff the way you did…”“You were fucking her on my couch! In my living room! In my goddamn house, Junior! Of course, I’m gonna storm off!”And with that, the temperature in the room changed. Joey looked up from his ledgers and Darryl swiveled in his chair to face Junior.“Oh, god, I need a smoke.” Vivianne grabbed her crumpled pack of cigarettes and headed for the door. Becca didn’t dare glance at the two travelers. So much for a peaceful night now. So much for a distracting flirtation with a couple of hot strangers.