Hazed (Hazed & Unfazed #1) - Brittany Butler

HAZED

A Novel

One

Every fiber of my being yelled that I didn’t belong here—my hand falls numb from pressure, I realize I’m using my gear shirt as a security blanket and release my hold. The adjacent porch advertises beer and a rusted truck harnessed with an improvised tow, bounces from the lot with a car. The entire scene playing before my face is the very one I spent my Sunday mornings hearing of. They crammed hatred into my ears like a scolding, hot branding iron.

Don’t fall into that lifestyle. It’s the devil’s trap.

Now I sit in my car, crumpled newspaper ads in my hand, starring at the bar, anticipating my ticket to hell upon arrival. My father’s voice rings through my head; I can almost feel his hard glare, the stern shake of his head as I glance at the newspaper then back at the building.

“Am I sure?” I ask aloud, hoping someone would answer.

But I know the answer to that. I’m more than sure. This job will allow me the freedom I so desperately crave. One short weekend stands in the way of my first semester in college. I kill my car, and my thighs peel from the leather seat. East Texas is baking again. The thermometer in my shiny, red Volkswagen reads over one hundred degrees. The heat wave hasn’t allowed the temperature to drop under ninety this week.

The grim bar sits in front of me with promises of money and freedom. Tugging on the hem of my shorts, I stand on the porch, inspecting the new angle. I fuss with my auburn hair, raking my fingers through the chipped ends before I open the heavy wooden door.

The bar is bright—not what I expected. Signs decorate the dark walls. The black marble bar top is shiny and clean; chairs are stacked neatly on the tables. It’s so…quiet. I have never seen the inside of a bar in the day, so I take my time looking over the sights.

Well, if I’m being honest I have never seen the inside of a bar, period. Unless you count movies, but that’s just how it is where I’m from. My hometown hosts less than a thousand people, allowing each of them access to personal information. Being the daughter of a preacher, I’m under a watchful eye. Every member of the community spilled into my dad’s church every Sunday morning, they were either living by the bible or making sure you were. But all of that is about to change. I moved an hour away to Nacogdoches into a dorm on campus, and this job is the missing piece. Aside from holidays, I now have absolutely no reason to go back to that place—my own personal hell.

“Taylor Thompson?” I turn to see a dumpy gentleman holding a clipboard. The lighting casts a glare on his bald head, his cheeks sag into a deep scowl. His handkerchief wipes down his face, removing the beads of sweat from his shiny forehead.

“That’s me,” I say, smiling.

“Let’s do the interview in my office,” he says, turning from me.

“Randy! Miller tap needs to be refilled!” A deep voice booms from the kitchen.

“Gotcha,” he replies.

I follow him into the cramped, unruly office located behind the kitchen. He takes a seat in a chair, motioning for me to take the other. He lifts a cup from the desk and pulls my application out from underneath. With a brush of the paper, he pulls glasses on and skims over the details.

Clicking his tongue, he says, “I read over your application. Basically all I need is to confirm your availability.” He tosses the paper on the cluttered desk and leans back; folding his arms on his stomach, using the plump article as an armrest. His head leans down and peers at me above his glasses.

“Afternoons during the week and free all weekend,” I say, sounding more like a robot than a peppy college student. He murmurs something inaudible as he presses his pen to the paper.

“Can you start tomorrow?” He asks, writing the information on my application.

“Yeah!” I say eagerly. His face is neutral, not showing any sign of happiness, so I contain mine. He probably has dozens of students come and go, moving from job to job. But none of them are like me. Their parents are thrilled to hear the news of their employment, whereas my dad would disown me.

He rises and sticks out his hand. “Driver’s license and social,” he says.

With the authority in his bored voice, I yank the cards from