Artists of a Different Sort
Justin Schmitt raised a hand, twirling the wrist and opening the fingers. He breathed, then brought up his other hand, which followed the motions of the first. He flinched when, in the other room, he heard a plate shatter. Shakily he drew breath and continued, the music in his headphones proving ineffective with blocking out the loudness less than a few feet away.
Justin discovered dance, particularly illusionary street styles, about two years ago when he saw a few street performers on the curb in town. He was on his way to work and only had a few moments to pay them mind, but when he made it a point to go to work earlier and talk to them, he found himself connect with a new interest that he didn’t know he had.
For hours straight, as soon as he got home from work, Justin would practice. As soon as his bedroom door closed, his headphones would come on, and Justin would enter a different world. Sometimes when he’d get beat up during the day, he’d take his hobby outside, far from his problems. He grew to not even fear expressing himself outside, when usually he was so shy around people.
There were a few times where it was too dangerous for Justin to come home after work, so he’d often wait later into the night, spending his time creating a dance style unique to what moved him. He spent his nights alone making something that he felt touched on the very essence of the night, the moon, and the breeze. It became his own special hideaway, to dance, and it was something he treasured like he did his wallet, his phone, or anything of personal value.
Coming into work one day, Justin immediately went to the freezer and brought out an ice pack. Without talking about it to his coworker, he placed it on his right eye, which was purple and bruised. Using his one good eye, he set out performing his duty making sushi rolls. Justin worked at Mason’s Sushi, a quaint little shop right at a busy intersection. Usually the store bustled with people, but near the evening they could usually count on groups coming solely for a sit-down dinner instead of busy lunch runs during the day. That gave Justin time to think, relax a little (outside of time he spent outside) and even people watch.
“Justin,” said one employee, a big man named Illmia, “what happened to your eye?”
Illmia was one of the usual three people who traded off working evenings with Justin during the evening/closing shift, and the one of those said three that Justin knew the least. So he didn’t mind telling Illmia a lie, that he’d gotten into a bit of a brawl with his roommates and it ended a bit rougher than any of them expected. Illmia chuckled, hoped that Justin would take care of himself a little better, then the conversation was over. It was around then that the bell rang for the establishment and a group of what looked like college students entered, two guys and two girls. There were bar stools around the island that Illmia and Justin worked at, and these students decided to sit there. One of the girls said not too loudly to the other before leaving for the bathroom, a word of advice, not to flirt with the chiefs too much.
This advice came much to the chagrin of the other woman, who apologetically looked at Justin (Illmia was a bit older, the statement was probably more directed towards Justin). Justin played off the moment and asked the group what they would be having. Once they ordered, Illmia began preparing the rolls as Justin made small-talk.
“So you guys are students?”
“Yep!” replied one of the men, “University Pacific, baby!”
“What are you guys studying?”
The man grinned mischievously as he focused his words on the other woman in the group, much like the other girl had before leaving for the bathroom.
“Corey here is an artist, but she’s also a dancer!”
Before Justin could reply innocuously about Corey’s career choice (knowing full-well there was an apparent group effort to hook this woman up with him), the other woman arrived back at the table.
“Oh!” exclaimed the other woman, “already getting Corey to dance for the cute guy, huh?”
Justin was more than confused why this exchange was going on, but played it off as well as he could, making sure though to give Illmia a kick in the shin when he nudged him, offering his own support for this sudden hook-up.
“So, Corey,” Justin replied, “what style of dance do you do?”
“I choreograph songs, more things you’d hear on the radio, not ballet or anything.”
“So are you thinking of finding a career in that? The arts are a hard road to walk if I’m not mistaken.”
Now that Justin was involved in the conversation, the other two students backed off teasing Corey, and Corey looked more interested in talking to Justin.
“They are,” Corey said, scanning the counter as though searching for words on it, then looked up as she continued. “But I don’t really want to leave this town, so I think I’m going to keep arts as a hobby while I work here.”
“And by working here,” the other woman said, jabbing Corey in the side, “she was gonna ask to apply here.”
“That’s MY decision, Christy!” Corey snapped, probably having had enough of her friend’s teasing at this point.
“Well,” Justin piped up, interjecting into this growingly heated talk, “you’re in luck, we are actually in need of another person.”
“Really?” Corey asked, calming immediately.
Illmia nudged Justin, and Justin nodded to him. Right around six was when Justin took over the store by himself, so Illmia was signaling he was leaving for the night. Closing up was part of Justin’s job. He’d been in charge of closing for a while now, he just knew it would be nice to have another person help him. Then he might be able to get home before ten o’clock or eleven at night.
“My shift usually just ends with me closing, so it’d be nice to have another hand clean up around here.”
“Oh, ok,” Corey said, picking up her sushi roll and biting into it, “I’d love to work here!”
Justin set to work doing the dishes as Corey and her friends ate their sushi. Justin’s mind was far from the soapy water and dinner plates that were in the sink, he was thinking about how Corey was a dancer as well. He wondered what circumstances brought her to becoming a dancer, and that consequently made him remember how he arrived on that particular hobby himself. His reverie was broken when Corey spoke up, having finished her food first.
“So what sort of schedule can I work with, if I work here?”
Justin looked up.
“What’s your school schedule like?”
“Oh, I can adjust my classes based on work, this will come first.”
“Well, how many hours are you looking for?”
“At least thirty hours a week.”
Justin nodded, thinking, “I’ll talk to my boss tomorrow, but I think we can get that to work. If you wanted, I need some help with the dishes.”
“Oh, ok!” Corey said, her long black hair swished as she jogged around the counter and grabbed up an apron. Christy looked at Corey but made no quip as she and her other friends got to paying for their food.
“So, how long have you worked here?” Corey asked as she started scrubbing the plates where Justin had been a minute ago, Justin now taking up the plates on the counter.
“Three years, I think.”
“Wow! Did you go through school to work here?”
“No, I never finished college.”
“Oh, why’s that?” Corey asked, looking over her shoulder.
Justin paused, probably too long to have it not look like a coincidence.
“Um, well, just didn’t get to, I guess. Things just didn’t work out.”
There was a pause in which Corey gave Justin a look, then didn’t inquire any further as the shift began to come to a close. Corey’s friends paid for their food and left, wishing Corey the best on her job prospect, then Corey started sweeping the floor as Justin cleaned the floor mats.
“So, now you know that I like dance,” Corey said after a while, “but I don’t know what you like to do.” Corey paused her sweeping and smiled at Justin, and once Justin caught her look, gave pause before answering. Corey had a very real, beautiful smile. He cleared his throat to refocus and answered.
“Um, I actually like dance too.”
“Oh, really?!” Corey asked, amazed. “Can you show me something?”
Justin’s brow knit. He hadn’t shown anyone what he could do, and up to this point dance was always a private thing for him.
“Um, ok, I guess,” Justin said, taking a step back to have some space. He closed his eyes and thought about the moon. He remembered looking up at the moon many times, when he wasn’t welcome at home and needed to be elsewhere until the tension died down. He often felt like the moon, so far from the bustling earth, but ever close enough to gaze down upon it and feel left out. With that he raised his hands, swept out his arms, and danced. He knew generally how much space he had, and was sure-footed as he performed throughout the space behind the counter. After a few moments, he allowed himself to relax and dropped his hands to his sides, opening his eyes. To his surprise, he found his vision was filmy, as though looking through water. Then he realized, to his horror, there were tears in his eyes. In the next moment, before Justin could clear his vision and realize what was happening, Corey appeared in his view, putting her hand on his shoulder. She smiled encouragingly, then spoke.
“That was amazing Justin. I can tell dance means a lot to you.”
Justin nodded, feeling his hands tremble. He shoved them into his pockets and took a breath, trying to appear nonchalant.
“Yeah, it does.”
Corey grinned, and Justin’s eyes widened. As great as her smile was, her grin was even more beautiful. It was like a flower blooming from an ash pit, brightening the room.
“You might be more of an artist than me,” Corey said, hoisting the trash bags over her shoulder as she nodded to the back door, “I’m going to take these out to the curb!”
Justin honestly couldn’t move his feet as Corey left. He was dumbfounded that such an encouraging, energetic woman could have entered his life tonight, of all nights. Either way, he knew he’d have to do more than put in a good word for her, she would be an amazing employee at the sushi restaurant. Picking up the floor mats, Justin took them to the back to store them for the night so the floor could uniformly dry before opening the back door. Corey was just on the other side, startled a little by the door.
“Oh!” Corey said, then looked over Justin’s shoulder, “is there anything else we need to do?”
Justin shook his head. “Nope, I think we’re done.”
“Great,” Corey replied, turning towards the curb.
“So when is your school schedule? How would you want to work that into working here?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,” Corey replied, turning about face once she reached the curb, “I always bend school around my work schedule. I’m not sure where I want to go with any career, so I’m taking my time finishing school.”
“Ah, ok,” Justin said, “then I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, tomorrow.” Corey said, waving before turning towards what Justin presumed to be her house and disappearing into the night.
Justin looked out into the silence for a moment before grunting and turning the other way, looking up at the moon as he made his own way home, thinking about what would await him there. The walk home was almost excruciating; the silence around him and the distance before him felt like a weight on his shoulders, and every second he wasn’t at home was grueling. While usually he stayed out after work to pass the time before finally coming home, tonight he knew he needed to be home soon. He just hoped he’d make it in time. Pushing open the door, Justin was greeted by silence and dark. A slosh of liquid in a bottle over in the corner told him the figure was asleep, and turned for the hallway that led to his room. Before he could make it to the hallway, the figure spoke.
Justin felt all the hair on his body raise up on end.
“You get a bag tonight?”
Justin turned his neck towards the corner and answered.
“I’m going to get some tomorrow, remember Dad? Like what we talked about.”
Justin could hear the wiz coming and moved to one side, but still felt the bottle graze his neck before it exploded over his shoulder. He winced as he felt the alcohol and the glass dig into his shoulder, but turned towards the hall and made for the bathroom as his father in the corner rose, however shakily. Justin knew his dad wouldn’t make it more than a few steps before collapsing, he hardly felt any alcohol in that huge bottle after it exploded behind him. And if he’d been doing drugs today too, which was always a possibility, he wouldn’t be able to even see coherently. Justin still wanted to leave the room, though, and make sure he didn’t have too much glass in his arm. Closing the bathroom door, Justin looked over himself. The right side of his shirt was dark with wine, and some glass had cut into his shoulder. He quickly bandaged it and took his shirt off, throwing it into the trash next to the toilet before turning to his room.
Before opening the door, Justin looked over his face. His eye had healed nicely. He had wondered why Corey hadn’t commented on it, and now he could see why. There wasn’t any noticeable discoloration, and the swelling had gone almost all the way down. He could see out of both eyes, so there was full range of his lids. He smiled at that fact, glad that Corey saw him in such a different light that the light he was in now. As though to add to the effect, Justin heard banging on the door, and he turned with a scowl to the door, raising his fists. He didn’t want to have to come home to another fight, but he wasn’t going to lose this time. Not when he’d met such a wonderful person, the first person he’d shared any sort of connection with in a while!
Dad burst into the bathroom and Justin threw a punch. Not one that would knock someone out, because Justin knew dad was too drunk to feel it. He wanted to re-direct his father’s direction and get past him. He could lock himself in his room and wait till dad passed out from exhaustion, he knew dad was probably sitting around all day and didn’t have any stamina for this fight. Unfortunately, Dad had other plans. He took the punch squarely to the jaw, Justin was sure he heard a couple teeth pop out, then threw a punch of his own that clocked Justin right above the lip. Justin reeled back and his head hit the bathroom counter, then the toilet seat after sliding and stumbling a few more feet. Now he laid on the floor with his head propped up against the toilet, his dad growling over him, imposing, taking up the whole doorway. Shutting his eyes, hot shameful tears of defeat springing into his eyes, Justin balled himself up and waited.