For the first time in years, I felt exhausted. Good thing it was almost closing time at Dean’s Smokery. I tossed the last of the dirty dishes into the sink and began scrubbing, eager to get home. Today had been a long day, as had every day for the past two weeks. I went to school, attended yearbook meetings at lunch, took photos after school, attended a club meeting every now and then, and at precisely five o’clock, took the bus to Dean’s restaurant to work. Until nine thirty, I was busy cleaning tables, washing dishes, and setting the tables with napkins and clean silverware. And the night wasn’t over when I went home—there was still homework. I didn’t know why I bothered, considering I already had a high school diploma, but I didn’t want the Carwarners to think I was lazy. Weekends weren’t any less busy. I worked most of the time, and the time I had off was spent on my photography entry.
But I actually didn’t mind the busyness. It beat the boredom by a long shot. What I did mind was that even though I was exhausted, I still couldn’t fall asleep at night, which only led to more exhaustion the next day. It was an endless cycle.
Not to mention the tendency to group things in multiples of threes still had no signs of going away. During my time working at the restaurant, I’d been clearing dishes in some multiple of three, bringing out glasses of water three at a time even if I could carry more, slowing my work down, and setting down three napkins per person. I looked down to the sink, where I was washing forks three at a time.
“What is it with you and three?” Startled, I dropped the forks, and looked up to see Dean monitoring me. “Whoa, didn’t mean to startle you there, son.” He slapped my back.
Dean was not the stereotypical restaurant owner, especially one that specialized in barbeque. Far from being tall and big, he was one and a half heads shorter than me, and super lean. His bald head gleaned with the sweat of toiling in the restaurant all day. He was a tough guy, having fought in combat almost a decade ago post September 11th, but due to a severe leg injury after just a couple of months, he’d come back home. That injury caused him to walk with a pronounced limp.
I stared at him in fear, not because he was a scary man—he was actually very friendly—but because I feared he’d uncovered my OCD problem. “What did you say at first?”
“I asked you why you seem obsessed with the number three,” he said. “I’ve been observing you, and you always seem to do things in multiples of three. Some of my regulars have been asking why they get two extra napkins these days.”
Sweat started oozing from my pores. “A-are you going to fire me?” Handing out three napkins per person really added up, and it wasn’t exactly cost effective.
“Of course not, my boy.” He gazed at me with knowing eyes. “But I’ve been meaning to ask you about this for awhile. I’ll get someone else to do the dishes. Come and sit with me.” He took me out the kitchen and sat at the bar. After I’d taken a seat next to him, he set his mouth into a grim line and asked, “How long have you been suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder?”
My mouth opened and closed, and all I could do was look at him, half ashamed, half fearful.
Now he smiled slightly, although his brows were still laced with concern. “I’m not gonna eat you alive, son. Just tell me the truth. I’d like to help if I can.”
“For about two years now,” I finally answered.
“And do you also have any other disorders? Maybe nightmares or insomnia?”
“How did you…” I looked at him in amazement, wondering if he told fortunes as a side job.
“Back about seven, eight years, I had similar problems,” he explained. “Had such bad nightmares that I’d break out in cold sweat, so I eventually just didn’t sleep. I obsessively washed my hands with soap twice before and after each meal, checked the locks in my apartment five times because I swore someone was out to get me.” He made a grimace at the bad memories, “The worst was, every time there was a sudden noise, like a shout or a door opening or closing, I’d grab anyone around me and duck for cover.”
“You make my symptoms sound like child’s play,” I told him. “It must have been horrible for you.”
“It was,” he agreed. “I got fired from every job I had. You can imagine no one appreciates being dragged under a table at the sound of a door closing. Eventually, I had no money to pay the bills and found myself on the street.”
Ah, so that was how he became homeless. Until the Carwarners found him, that is.
“How’d you get over it?” I asked, half hoping he could give me a quick fix solution.
“I’m not sure I ever got over it completely. Sometimes I still have nightmares, and I get jumpy when there’s a loud, sudden noise.” His honesty made my heart fall. “But it got better when the Carwarners found me. When I trusted them enough to tell them about it, Lewis took me to his friend, who happened to be a psychiatrist, and she diagnosed what I had as PTSD.”
PTSD? That sounded vaguely familiar. I recalled learning about it in an introductory psych class two years ago. “Post traumatic something, right?”
“Post traumatic stress disorder,” he affirmed. “Experienced by someone who went through severe trauma, and often manifested in soldiers after war. My guess is maybe you’ve got a similar problem.”
“I was never a soldier,” I protested. “And I just have OCD.”
“OCD can also be caused by some traumatic event that doesn’t have to do with fighting in a war.” Dean considered me carefully. “Listen son, maybe your symptoms will ease up, but it’s possible they could get worse. If they do, I want you to promise me you’ll seek help. The Carwarners are good people, and they won’t look down on you for anything.”
I promised Dean just so he wouldn’t worry so much. But for now, I still wanted to try to overcome the problem on my own. Gramps had drilled it into my head that I was weak if I couldn’t fix it myself, but I wasn’t so prideful to believe the same. The problem was that I couldn’t visit a shrink without revealing my identity. There was patient confidentiality and all that, but there was still a risk. If Gramps got wind that I was visiting a shrink, he’d put me under house arrest.
I didn’t want to take the chance, so I decided to try and solve it on my own for the time being.
I thanked Dean once more for his concern, and turned to go back to the kitchen to finish my duties, only Pete came out the swinging doors first. He looked a lot better now that he was clean-shaven. “Hey Adam, we’re all done in the kitchen, so we can go home.”
“All right, see you boys tomorrow,” Dean said, standing from the barstool and heading upstairs, to where he lived right above the restaurant. “Whoever’s the last to leave, lock the door on your way out.”
Pete and I walked behind the bar counter to where we’d stashed our stuff. After taking off my dirty apron and tossing it into the dirty linen pile, I fished out my backpack from under the counter. “I’ll wait for you,” I told Pete. “We can walk home together.”
“Oh, let me split the tips.” Pete quickly fiddled with his bulgy pockets, taking out bills and coins that the customers had left us. In the process, two photos fell to the floor. “Oh yeah, I meant to give these to you too.” He picked the photos up and handed them to me.
They were candid pictures of Jasmine, and some of them were less than flattering. Nothing I would claim as my work. “What are these?”
Pete turned to me in surprise. “You mean they’re not yours?”
I shook my head. “These shots are terrible.” There was one of Jasmine as she ate a peach. The other one predominantly featured her rear end, as she bended over to tie her shoe. Although I personally admired the view, I doubted she’d feel the same if she saw the picture.
Pete scratched his head. “I assumed they were yours since you said you’re taking pictures for the school yearbook, but I’m glad they aren’t. I thought maybe young people these days just had strange ideas of what a good picture should be.”
“Where did you find them?”
“In the guest house. Living room floor.” Pete shrugged. “Now that I think about it, the Carwarners probably misplaced them. There was a bookshelf with photo albums there.”
I doubted the Carwarners would have kept such terrible pictures, and more unlikely that Jasmine would let the photos survive. But some people didn’t like throwing away any pictures. Maybe the Carwarners were like that, and they just stored albums of the rejected photos in the guest house.
“We should give them back,” Pete said, but I shook my head.
“Jasmine would die of humiliation if she found out we saw them.”
Pete half chortled. “I guess she would. They are pretty bad. So what should we do?”
I tossed them into the trash bin. “We never saw them.”
Pete winked at me. “Saw what?”