Rejection is a bitter pill to swallow, and after having to take it enough times, in order to counteract your tolerance, it begins to grow spines and thorns of the rustiest, sharpest brightmetal.
Unlocking the door to his motel room, Wylhaen Yves surveyed the damage. He’d left it in a state of complete and total disarray in his rush to get to his appointment with IceLights Publishing. The editor he spoke with had been nicer than he’d come to expect, and even offered to call a cab for him after rejecting his manuscript.
He flopped backward onto the bed and lay for a long moment staring at the stained ceiling. The hotel room was little better than a homeless shelter and about as flea-ridden. He could hear his resident rat getting into something in the bathroom, but didn’t feel like getting up to see what it was destroying. He also didn’t feel like getting up and dressed for work. Then again if he didn’t, the landlord would probably throw him out. Already the guy was breathing down his neck for being late on rent payments, which was why he wasn’t complaining about the rat. For all he knew the old bastard planted the rat there to try to drive him out.
Reaching over to the bedstead, he hooked the phone with his little finger and was relieved to hear a dialtone. He knew he couldn’t really afford to make any long-distance calls, but... Well, if he was probably going to get thrown out for non-payment anyway, what’s a few more dollars in the long run? He just needed to hear her voice. A voice for a change that wouldn’t be thick with rejection of even the kindest sort.
“Oh, hi, honey. How are you? Are you okay?”
“Well and good enough for having been rejected again.”
“Oh, no. I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I am too, but what can ya do, right? It’s a good thing elves live so long, eh? I figure someone will eventually accept me if I live enough eons... maybe.”
“It’s the loss of every company that rejects you. They don’t know what they’re giving up.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“Don’t be so sarcastic, I’m serious. You’re a wonderful writer.”
“Yeah, well, you have to say that sort of thing. You’re my mother.”
“You never did listen to me, did you? Head as hard as stone. You got that from your father.”
“Where is dad, anyway?”
“On another run. I’m not sure where he is right now, but he promised to call at the next stop.”
“Tell him I said hi.”
“Of course.” A pause then, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Absolutely. Just not looking forward to work. Very least I hate coming home with more grease in my hair than on the burgers.”
“Then why don’t you just quit.”
“I could, but then I’d be calling you collect from a shelter somewhere.”
“There’s nothing else you could—”
“No, not really.”
“Listen, mom, I gotta go or I’m gonna be late... and I think Gnawthrough just broke something glass in the bathroom.”
“I’ll explain later. Bye, mom.”
Wyl put the receiver back on the cradle, sinking back into his thoughts. He knew she was struggling to not offer to help him. She knew he wanted to do this on his own, to stand on his own, and be his own, come what may. He just hadn’t anticipated all that was coming. Or not coming. That was the hard part. No, no thinking like that. It wouldn’t do him any good. Focus on now. Focus on--
Focus on the pest in the bathroom.
Sighing, he slowly dragged himself off the bed to go see what that damn rat had just broken. It was nowhere to be seen when he stepped in the cramped little room with its bare swinging bulb and cracked tiles, but evidence of his presence was: rat pills on the edge of the tub, and a broken bottle of hair dye. Electric purple spread slowly over the tile floor towards the elf’s feet. Sighing, Wyl grabbed a sponge and started mopping.
His boss decided that chewing him out for being a half-hour late would best be done in front of the entire kitchen staff. Wyl just squelched his desire to snap the man’s head off and feed it to the alley cats and meekly promised to never be late again at risk of termination. He couldn’t afford to risk it, literally and figuratively. Not now.
Apparently there was a running joke with being a waiter, one that looped around every so often just to annoy him. People liked to ask “Struggling artist? Musician? Philosopher?” and any other litany of professions. He used to wince tellingly when they hit “writer”. He didn’t anymore. Now he just ignored them as he scrambled from booth to booth taking orders and delivering food with a forced smile. High Ones he hated this job with a passion unrivaled by anything else he could think of, but it was the only job he could get that didn’t involve wearing a stupid paper hat, although he still found himself asking, “Do you want fries with that?”
Silently he hoped no one noticed the odd coloration of his fingertips and cuticles. He’d been late because he was busy trying to scrub the dye off his hands with only a slight success. His fingers bore a sickly lilac tint, his nails a darker bruise purple. As he cleaned, he’d made a mental note to stop off at the local hardware store and buy as much ratpaper as he could afford and the biggest traps they had. Normally he wouldn’t have minded a rat too much, but this one was the single most destructive creature he’d ever had the displeasure of dealing with.
Soon the lunch rush was on. Dropping a too-hot plate onto a table in front of a scowling man, he turned to tend to the customer who’d just slipped in, his arrival announced by a bell barely audible among the incessant chatter of the other patrons. Chatter that Wyl knew would leave him by end of day with a splitting headache to go with his nausea from the grill smoke and grease.
He trudged over to the far booth and sighed heavily, recognizing one of the regulars. Guy came in every day and ordered something random off the menu, or something not on the menu that had to be made special. He hadn’t ordered the same thing twice yet, and would eat quickly and vanish, leaving a generous tip under the plate. Wyl had never had to wait on this guy before; but then again he was normally on time and got to pick his assignments for the night. All that was left over was booth duty, which NOBODY wanted because it usually involved putting up with nasty teenagers and equally disagreeable antisocial sorts. Like this one, he suspected. Well, at least he’d get a decent tip out of it, he hoped.
**What’ll it be today?**
“What was that? Didn’t quite hear you?”
**I said...** Wyl began, then sighed heavily, annoyed, “What do you want?”
“Ah, much better. Well, that is a very good question. What does any of us want?”
Wyl stared at the elfin man with a cool, blank stare, trying to not scowl. He wanted desperately to whip hip pad and pencil at him and scream that what he wanted was to just get bloody signed, have a nice house and a nice lifemate to share the rest of eternity with. But instead he’s got a fleatrap room with warped floorboards and a psychotic fighting couple upstairs with just a giant, pesky rat to keep him company while he worked a job he hated waiting on people like him. Wanted to, but didn’t. He choked back his response, and forced a Cheshire grin.
“Well, I suppose what I want is to take your order right now, so what will you be having today?”
“How about... you?”
Wyl started to write something, then stopped and stared at the elfin man who was grinning at him like a hyena.
“I said ‘You’.”
“Yeah, I heard that. I don’t think so.”
“What? You won’t fill my order? But isn’t the customer always right?”
“Not this time.”
“I should complain to your boss for being so rude.”
Wyl’s eyes turned black then red as blood and the corner of his lip turned up.
**Rude?** the locksend tore into his customer’s mind with enough ferocity to cause him to wince, **Listen, they don’t pay me enough here for me to put up with being hit on by--**
**Don’t you like me?**
**I don’t even KNOW you!**
**Would you like to?**
**Would you like me to call the police?**
**And tell them what? That I asked a pretty young lad out? Where’s the crime in that?**
**I-- They-- Look, I’m not interested.**
“Very well then... I’ll have the special.”
“Destiny calls,” one of Wyl’s co-workers chirped half-sympathetically as the manager barked his name. The elf just gritted his teeth and returned an empty tray to the kitchen before going to see what his boss was bellowing for now.
“I want you closing tonight.”
“W-What? B-But I’m off in—”
“No, you’re not. I need you to pull double shifts until further notice.”
“I-I-I—” he began, then lowered his head a little, sighing heavily, “Yes, sir...”
“Good. Maybe this’ll teach you to not mouth off to the customers.”
Wyl’s eyes went round with shock. Of everybody in the restaurant, he was the LEAST likely to start spouting off.
“Damned if you didn’t. Don’t think that just because I can’t send doesn’t mean I can’t read a face. I watched you and that regular go at it on a mental battlefield, and I’m saying right now if you do that again, you’re gone.”
Go at it? Mental battlefield? Was this guy serious? He didn’t... the reg had... Wyl struggled to not tell his boss off. Why didn’t he, he asked himself, seething. Why didn’t he tell this guy to take his lousy job and shove it up his... oh... of course. That’s right. Because he desperately needed all the money he could in order to hold onto his roach motel of a residence. He swallowed down his intense need to scream an obscenity at his boss, rip off his uniform, and storm home in his underwear.
“Never happen again...” he mumbled, choking back further comment.
“Good. Now, booth 6 is waiting for someone to take their order.”
He didn’t even bother to clear the dirty clothes off the bed before flopping down onto it. What, he wondered, had he done in his short life to deserve such a hard road. He put no real faith in religion, or even what he was told about the difference between elfin and human souls, but at the moment, he contemplated the theory of reincarnation.
‘I know,’ he thought, ‘I was a very bad person in a past life and now I’m paying for it.’
In the bathroom, Gnawthrough was busy turning over jars into the sink.