Ten After Closing
by Jessica Bayliss
Genre: YA Thriller
TEN MINUTES BEFORE CLOSING: Scott's girlfriend breaks up with him in the café's basement storeroom because he's late picking her up for the big end-of-the-year party. Now he can't go to the party, but he can't go home, either--not knowing his dad will still be in a drunken rage. Meanwhile, Winny wanted one night to let loose, away from her mother's crushing expectations. Instead, she's stranded at the café after her best friend ditches her in a misguided attempt at matchmaking.
TEN MINUTES AFTER CLOSING: The first gunshot is fired. Someone's dead. And if Winny, Scott, and the rest of the hostages don't come up with a plan soon, they may not live to see morning.
Told from both Winny and Scott's perspectives, and alternating between the events leading up to and following the hold-up, Ten After Closing is an explosive story of teens wrestling with their own challenges, thrown into circumstances that will test their very limits.
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Three Minutes After Closing
I glance at my watch. Three minutes after ten.
God, how long have I been down here, staring at crates of mustard and bags of non-GMO kale chips? As if that will somehow erase the memory of my girlfriend’s words, still a tornado in my mind.
Correction: my ex-girlfriend.
I force my brain to shut the hell up and straighten from my slumped position against the wall. Cool damp has seeped into my shirt from the bedrock lining the basement where Becky just dumped me. The sickly feel of the fabric sends a shiver through me, and I untuck my stained work polo to give my skin some breathing room.
Too bad all my problems aren’t as easy to fix.
Stretching my spine, I roll my head. My neck and shoulders are definitely feeling the two hours’ worth of work I’ve done tonight, though not as bad as they’d be after a full shift. And it’s not over yet. I head toward the doorway and the creaky stairs beyond, skirting the trap door that leads to the sub-basement. After the crack it let out when Becky stood on it before, I’m not taking any chances on it holding my weight. I don’t need a broken leg to go with my busted life.
“Hey, Scott. You okay down there?” Sylvie calls from the top of the storeroom stairwell. Not out of anger—she’s too much of a softy for that. But if she catches on that something’s up with me, it will be just like the time I showed up to work with my wrist wrapped in an ACE bandage; she gave me the worried-mom look for weeks, offering her ear if I wanted to talk. Offering to talk to my parents.
“I just want to help, Scott,” she said, when I brushed her off for the umpteenth time.
“If you want to help me, then keep giving me shifts. The more the better.”
Her renewed worrying will just make the whole thing worse, which is the last thing I need tonight. First the crap going on at home. Then Becky. And the night is still young—plenty of time left for me to get run over by a car or abducted by aliens.
“Yeah. Be right up!”
“’Kay. You have a visitor. A special visitor.” The door swishes shut overhead, cutting off what sounds way too much like a giggle.
Could it be Becky, back for round two? Nah, she’d storm right down here if she still had a piece of her mind left to sling my way. Whoever it is, I’ll deal with them, do my work like everything is fine, and then get out of here.
I freeze halfway up the stairs.
And where, exactly, do I think I’m going after work?
Not home, that’s for sure. After this afternoon and my mom’s voice message, I’m not planning on walking through that door until at least two or three, when he’ll be out for the count.
There’s still the party, but can I even go now?
Yeah, I can go. If I want to make a scene. Becky’ll be raring to start something in front of everyone, especially once she downs a couple of those God-awful hard iced teas. I can see her now, just like the day we had the showdown over the prom. Becky in her cheer uniform, looking hot and cute, with her hip cocked, right hand on her waist. Sweet but feisty. Until you take in her expression. That’s where the venom shows.
Have fun working all the time and still being broke.
I don’t need that shit. Not Becky’s whatever face and definitely not my name, acid in her voice. I already got that enough times tonight.
And what if she’s with someone else? Ricky Belsen, maybe.
I shake my head. She wouldn’t do that, but still, plenty of guys would love a chance to get with her.
My muscles turn to lead, heavy and slow, and my hands are twin twenty-pounders hanging at the ends of my arms. Any fight I had in me earlier is gone, along with what little stomach for celebration I’d managed to scrounge up. What do I have to celebrate anyway? It’s not like I’m allowed to make plans like everyone else. Do I really want to hang with all those drunk assholes as they go on and on about next year? Schools, majors, frats. Sucking it up wasn’t so bad with Becky there to distract me, even if I was usually the only straight edge at the party, but no way I’m subjecting myself to that now.
I’m tired of changing the subject when my friends start talking about plans for the future. How the hell do you explain sitting on three college scholarship offers just because you’ve got a messed-up family? Especially when that family would kind of prefer you go if only they didn’t need you to stay? That’s a question I’m not willing to answer. Not for anybody. Not even Winny.
But if the party’s a no, then what? Doesn’t matter right now anyway. I’ve got a good half hour of work to look forward to. Plus my mystery visitor.
I’d better get going. Everyone else will want to get out of here on a Friday night—like I did twenty minutes ago.
My shitty life will still be there waiting when my shift is over.
I plod the rest of the way up the stairs, but before I even reach the kitchen, I realize something is off.
I pat my pocket. Damn. My phone is still down in the basement, tucked on the shelf between the plastic forks and knives for our take-out orders. Useless as the busted thing is, I turn back to grab it, but no more than three steps down, a scream stops me. Sylvie? I do a jump-spin combo, throwing out a hand to keep from tumbling backward down the stairs. Once I’m sure I’m not going to break my neck, I bolt the rest of the way up and through the door to the empty kitchen. Oscar and I cleaned up in here over an hour ago, when we stopped serving all but soup and pastries.
Shouts. Bangs. Laughter, but not the good kind. Is Sylvie crying? My fists clench.
“You slimy son-of-a-bitch!” That’s Oscar. “I don’t give a crap if he’s your brother!”
“Oscar, no!” Sylvie shouts. “Ryan, please. No, Oscar, stay here! Don’t go near them. Please, everyone. Please, just stop!”
A new voice speaks, but softly, and I can’t make it out. Everything on the other side of the door goes quiet, too quiet. Now, all I’m getting is mumbling. Can this day get any weirder?
I peer through one of the windows set in the swinging doors, not sure I want to know what flavor of drama is happening out there. “Oh, shit,” I whisper, and my warm breath bounces off the glass back into my face.
My special visitor is nowhere to be seen, unless it’s one of the three men blocking the way to the café entrance and the quiet street beyond. There’s Ryan, his blond hair and freckled complexion almost a perfect match to his sister’s. But who the hell are the other two? Something tells me they’re not here for a late-night scone. If they’re tight with Ryan, they’ve got to be asshats like him. Whatever went down between Sylvie and her brother in the past, it couldn’t have been pretty. His drop-ins, which have gotten more frequent lately, always end with Sylvie in tears, or in a screaming match between her and Oscar, who doesn’t like his brother-in-law any more than I do. The tension when Ryan worked here made every shift miserable. I know I wasn’t the only one who was glad when he left.
How did Ryan and his friends even get in here? I check my watch. Nine minutes after closing. The doors should have been locked. Oh, right. That’s my job, and I’ve been in the basement, sulking.
This little standoff isn’t looking like it’ll wrap up any time soon. I should just slip out the back door and jet. But I’m not done with my tasks for the night. If it hadn’t been for Becky and her bombshell, I’d be all finished and long gone. Now I’m stuck waiting for this family drama to play out.
As if I don’t get enough of that at home.
But I can’t leave Oscar and Sylvie alone to deal with this, and it’s some major shit, for sure. Sylvie’s in full-on sob mode. Oscar is behind the counter near the door to the kitchen, his back to me. The way he’s standing behind Sylvie, with his arms around her waist, brings me back to the afternoon, and memories of a power drill. Only one reason why Oscar would hold his wife that way: he doesn’t want her to run toward Ryan and his friends. He’s afraid she’ll run toward Ryan and his friends.
The question is why.
Ryan is ranting about something, but the words die before they reach the kitchen. Only his cold tone slices through the glass and wood. His friends flank him, a shorter guy who’s silent and still, and a tall, skinny dude who’s antsy as hell.
What’s Ryan doing hanging out with those two, anyway? Forget the fact that he’s at least five years older than them; they look like he picked them up on the streets. Scabs and sores dot the taller guy’s sickly pale face, and he keeps shifting his weight from foot to foot and hiking up the jeans that hang off his narrow hips. The dude is seriously thin. The other guy—stockier, and way cleaner than the tall dude—wears a black leather jacket over a white tee and jeans, even though it’s warm enough outside for shorts. And he’s got on a pair of aviators, like no one told him the sun went down hours ago. He says something to Ryan, who shoots the guy a glance before returning his attention to his sister.
This is all probably nothing, but best to hang tight, just to be sure. At least whatever’s going on will kill some time.
“You heard me!” Ryan shouts, and I jump.
Maybe I’ll be calling 911 today, after all. I grope for my phone again, but it’s still in the basement. I’m about to head back down to get it when Sylvie screams, “No, no! Please, don’t!”
I pause and spin to peer through the window again. Everyone’s in motion. Oscar blocks my view of Ryan, but I’ve got a new angle on his friends. And what his friends have in their hands. Now I know why that dude needed a jacket on a warm June night.
My stomach turns inside out and my heart slams to my ears as I stumble away from the door. “Oh, shit. Oh, motherfucking shit.”
That’s when I hear the first gunshot.
She has authored thirteen novels and several short stories that appear in anthologies such as BEWARE THE LITTLE WHITE RABBIT, FRIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and ZOMBIE CHUNKS and in such literary magazines as Sanitarium Magazine. Jessica is a Senior Editor for Allegory Magazine.
In the psychology world, she has more than fifteen years of experience and training in the cognitive-behavioral model. She’s a psychotherapist, a teacher, and a researcher. One day it hit her: Why not combine writing and psychology? Just like that, PsychWRITE, her series of lectures, workshops, and coaching services for writers was born. Her blog features motivational posts for writers that combine her passion for writing with her love of psychology.
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Firsts is a great way to think about Winny’s and Scott’s stories in this book. They’re two soon-to-be graduates who are facing the new in life and aren’t quite sure how they feel about that. Even before armed gunmen change everything for them when they enter Café Flores just minutes after closing time, Winny and Scott are people taking first steps toward becoming different people.
Sometimes it takes the unimaginable to learn who we really are.
But, don’t go away from this note thinking TAC is only about their personal journeys; this book is a strap-in and hold-on-for-the-ride kind of read. From the moment I began plotting TEN AFTER CLOSING, I had two big things on my author checklist: deliciously tense life-or-death moments and lots of swoony romance. Mission accomplished.
As my debut novel, TEN AFTER CLOSING still has plenty of first-moments in store for me. Like Scott and Winny, I’m now facing the new and taking my own unimaginable ride. Unlike my characters, though, I know exactly how I feel about it—I’m loving every single minute.
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
Many of my books start out as concepts that I’m writing for my YA self. Back in the day, I loved thrillers and anything paranormal/horror. I LOVED the movie TOY SOLDIERS, which was also a book, though I didn’t know it at that time. I watched the movie back before I started writing TEN AFTER, and OMG, it was still so good. The thing that was always missing for me, though, was female characters. It took place at a boarding school for boys. So, I decided to write a book that contained all those deliciously tense moments I loved in TOY SOLDIERS that also added the swoony romance I felt was missing.
Winny and Scott come from different backgrounds, but both are in a similar situation at the start of the book—both have really big decisions in front of them, and they’re struggling to feel empowered to make those decisions and take action. Winny is stuck in a passive place—she’s let her parents decide much of her path thus far, going with the flow for so long, she isn’t sure how to shift out of that mode. Scott’s been quite active in trying to change his situation, but he’s struggling to see that the way he’s going about it isn’t working. Both are thinking about how others will respond if they put their needs first and are fearful of being assertive. Of course, the life-changing hostage situation at Café Flores impacts how they see things. I really wanted to show them coming to new decisions by the end of TAC, but I can’t say any more without spoilers.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
This is a fast-paced hostage thriller, so I hope readers can't stop turning pages. But, after all the violence that has happened in recent years, particularly centering on teenagers, I also wanted to show a teen character who is in pain and has a chance to use violence as his means of revenge but who opts for a different route. I wanted to highlight the theme of abuse and, in particular, the perpetration of abuse across generations. As a psychologist, I work with trauma survivors daily, including people whose trauma situations, sometimes, involve things they’ve done that they deeply regret—they often have immense shame and anger, and they carry that, even when it’s not theirs to bear. Obviously, I’m talking about Scott’s story here. I really wanted to show him wrestling with the idea of letting go of the anger and blame he’s placing elsewhere, because that’s what will allow him to let go of the anger, blame, and sense of paralyzing responsibility he places on himself that isn’t his to bear. It’s about letting go of the darkness that fuels the painful emotions so that there is room for the good ones. Though this never pardons the person who’s hurt us, the process is healing. Forgiveness CAN BE for the person who’s hurt us, but it’s ALWAYS for ourselves. Therefore, it's also a story of forgiveness and a story about how we really aren't as different from our enemies as we think. Finally, it's a love story, so I hope readers will enjoy some swoony romance.
How does this book make a contribution to the Thriller genre?
AC is written using an innovative structure. It's told middle-out, in diverging timelines, so the reader can follow the hostage crisis Winny and Scott are stuck in as well as see the events leading up to the moment armed gunmen entered Cafe Flores. Even before that, this was the most momentous day of Scott's and Winny's lives.
What authors have particularly influenced your career and why?
This book was particularly inspired by the book/movie TOY SOLDIERS, which came out in the early 1990s, and which I loved (still do). I just remember sitting there, unable to breathe as all these intricate plans were laid out and carried out and, of course, went awry. I wanted TAC to have that feel--delicious tension, complex plans that one small error would ruin. I'm also greatly inspired by Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Maggie Steifvater, Molly Harper, Christopher Moore, and more authors than I can ever mention here.
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