Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Near the back of the bus she sat staring out the window into the deep blackness and her own reflection. She wondered if she’d even be able to see anything if the fluorescent lights weren’t on. It wasn’t all that late; there was just that little outside. Mara got tired of trying to stare past herself so she lit her cigarette and exhaled the first puff at the “No Smoking” sign on the door in front of her. Not that it mattered to her, but there was no one else on the bus other than her and the driver.
When Mara boarded the bus he greeted her warmly in that instantly friendly way that she hated. You can’t act like someone’s friend without even knowing them, was always her thought. She simply gave him a bored look and he seemed to get the message. As she turned, Mara noticed the driver shaking his head with a look that said, “Same old story.”
“You in some kind of trouble?”
“What?” Mara replied.
“You’re runnin’ from something aint you? I figured you must be in some sort of trouble the way you break the rules like they aint there at all.”
This observation wasn’t new to Mara. It was true, she was a rule breaker. And if actions spoke louder than words her attitude was yelling, “Back off!”
“Well, what is it?”
“What is what?” Mara answered with obvious annoyance in her voice. Normally she would just tune out and ignore him, but something about this bus driver’s presence made her respond. Most people left her alone once they realized she was less than agreeable. For some reason this driver spoke like he already knew her and wasn’t putting up with her crap. Mara almost liked the fact that he was standing up to her. At the same time, it made her fight back a little more.
“What is it you runnin’ from?”
“I’m not running,” she lied. She didn’t like that he seemed to know so much about her already. And wasn’t afraid to say something either. “I’m just drawn to Happy Valley for it’s politics and great antique stores,” she added sarcastically.
He merely responded with that same look from before as he shook his head. Mara was relieved when he gave up. There was still an hour left till they arrived in Happy Valley and she couldn’t possibly stand having a conversation that long. So instead Mara sat and tried to think of nothing. Thinking about the future was a bad option; especially when she thought about the present.
Mara Massey was a 17 year old runaway fresh out of high school. She was an average student with no plans of attending college. She wasn’t athletic or talented. To the world, she was going nowhere. Mara saw herself as destined to be a sandwich maker. She was ok with that as long as people weren’t expecting more than a sandwich. At least, this is what Mara told herself. Really she had no dreams or aspirations, but still this feeling that she was supposed to do something. Something more than making sandwiches, that is. This feeling frustrated her more than people who claimed to be fans of Orange Street Circus without knowing their 4 album names and the album they recorded under a different band name.
Mara was no music guru. She didn’t play an instrument and was never in a band. And she never took a class on music, but boy did she listen to it. Constantly searching for new artists and memorizing band members, song names, album titles, and even years songs were released. You could call it her only passion, though it was hardly a passion. It was just something to pass the time.
The bus started to slow and Mara looked up to notice street lights. Finally, she had arrived in her nowhere town to be no one. It came to a halt and Mara grabbed her bags and trudged up the aisle. While heading to the door she realized she no longer knew what she wanted. Part of her couldn’t wait to get off the musty old bus and away from the driver who knew too much. Yet, all of a sudden Mara wasn’t so sure of what she was doing. Despite her new found inner turmoil she reached the door and began down the steps.
“Welcome to the start of the rest of your life,” Said the bus driver as he closed the door and pulled away. Mara was left standing under the streetlight at the bus stop with his words tumbling around in her already jumbled mind.
Welcome to the start of the rest of your life, she thought as she picked up her bags and headed to the flashing motel sign. The rest of your life…
Friday, July 17, 2009
“Are we going in?”
“There’s something about my parents I think you need to know.”
Kristi, who already had one leg out of the car, pulled it back in. She sat and waited for Sean to explain himself. He was never one for theatrics. She rarely saw him without a smile on his face. Something was obviously bothering him. His lips were moving, too subtly and randomly to be forming any words, but they were obviously rehearsing something.
She waited. She played with the hem of her skirt. She checked her make-up in the mirror. She checked her hair. She adjusted her shirt, twisting it just to the left.
“My parents think I’m gay.” Sean finally blurted.
Kristi sputtered laughter. “What?!” She cackled. “Why would they think that?”
“I told them I was.”
Kristi howled with laughter. “Why?”
“I was trying to make a point,” said Sean’s brown eyes were smiling, even if his lips weren’t.
“And you’ve never corrected them.” Kristi turned in her seat to better face Sean.
“It never quite seemed like the right time.” Sean had to laugh at that.
“How long have they thought you’re gay?” Kristi’s green eyes twinkled with awe.
“January.” Sean said sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to tell them. I didn’t wake up that morning and say, ‘I’m going to fake coming out of the closet today.’ They were just railing on about same sex marriage and how another state was putting it to a vote and how they wished the president – or whoever has the power to do so – would just step in illegalize it. And I was like, ‘I don’t know how you can say that. I don’t know how protestant Christians can be at all comfortable relinquishing religious ceremonies to any government! It doesn’t make any sense to me! Do you really want the government deciding who can and can’t get married? What’s next? Who can and can’t get baptized?’ It’s the same thing, except we’ve attached these tax breaks and these legal matters to marriage.” Sean shook his head.
“And then my dad’s like, ‘why do you care?’ And my mom’s like, ‘it’s not like it effects you.’ And I shot back, ‘it does effect me!’ ‘How,’ my mom said, ‘you’re not gay!’” Sean locked eyes with Kristi. “’Yes I am!’ I shouted back.”
Sean scratched at his black goatee. “You should’ve been there. Stunned silence. I had to repeat myself. They didn’t believe me, but I had said it at that point, I didn’t want them thinking I was a liar.”
Kristi raked her fingers through her shoulder-length blond hair. Was she nervous? Excited? She wasn’t sure, so she laughed. Sean heard her uncertainty.
“They live here in Happy Valley and pass judgment on the rest of the world. Nothing effects them here. They live in this little bubble! And they’re scared of everything! Democrats, blacks, gays, Mexicans, Muslims or anyone that looks like they could possibly be from 'that area' of the world,' freaking Hollywood! They get so worked up over subjects and topics that will not ever effect them. Why? Because they shield themselves. If two gay men can get married, how will it affect them? Other than giving them something else to complain about as they slip into senility, it won’t. Why? Because they don’t even know any gays. But it goes against their sensitive ideals so . . .” Sean took a deep breath. “So I thought I’d put a face on it.”
“To challenge their worldview.” Kristi understood.
“To challenge their worldview.” Sean nodded.
“Do you have any gay friends?”
Sean shook his head. “Not that I know of.”
Sean shrugged. “I hate closed-minded idiots. And I like freedom. And in order for me to have freedom, everyone else has to have freedom too. And if God gave us the freedom of choice, then who are we to take that away from somebody else?”
The right side of Kristi’s mouth tugged into a grin. “Then who can I be?”
Sean knew the answer immediately. “A feminist! And if you could work in something about a woman’s right to choose . . .”
“But what about us?” Kristi asked. “What’s our relationship?”
“I think we’re in love with the same man.” Sean said simply.
“Oh,” said Kristi with a sarcastic pout, “I thought we were going to be acting.”
She pressed her lips into Sean’s and then bounded out of the car. Sean wasn’t going to say it, but the thought occurred to him that this might be love.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Ainsley switched hands as she poured a sweet tea so she could get a better look. Sitting at Table One was a young family. They were bored and anxious. The mother was trying to entertain her little boy with cubes of ice she had fished out of her cup with her straw. The father was shuffling a stack of menus as he kept glancing over his shoulder, hoping to see their server return.
Ainsley shook her head. “I dunno. Who’s table is it?”
“The new girl,” Teresa said, putting her hands on her hips. She scratched her forehead as she tried to remember the new girl’s name. “Jessica.”
Ainsley scanned the small diner. Jessica, of the black and pink color scheme, was nowhere to be seen.
“I’ll go take care of Table One.” Teresa sighed, loosening her apron. “They’re going to want to be seeing a manager anyway. You go find Jessica.” Teresa slammed her apron onto the counter top.
“Drop this off at Four, would you?” Ainsley handed the sweet tea to Teresa. “Thanks,” she said before Teresa could object.
“Ainsley?” Teresa called before Ainsley could even take a step.
Ainsley turned back to her, her eyebrows up, asking “what?”
“Where do you get your hair done? I love that haircut of yours.”
Ainsley smiled appreciatively and a little self-consciously as she tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. Teresa was lying. It was a lie Ainsley appreciated, but it was a lie. Teresa was such a good liar, the way she shook her head and marveled over Ainsley's hair, that Ainsley began to wonder if she was sincere.
Whatever it was, Ainsley didn’t have time for it. It was only half way through the lunch hour, all of her tables were full, a line was forming at the door and a waitress was missing. She feigned embarrassment and turned away, doing her best to walk a jog.
Table Four looked at her with wide eyes that asked, “where’s my tea?” Ainsley smiled, didn’t break her stride, and pointed over her shoulder, to Teresa. Table Five had just been delivered their two orders of pasta primavera. They would be needing drink refills and an extra basket of breadsticks in the next few minutes. Table Six sat eagerly awaiting her arrival. She wished she could ignore him, but she had to smile.
“Miss?” said the eighteen year-old boy.
“Ooh,” said Ainsley, screeching to a halt. “I am not a ‘miss.’ I couldn't have been older than two when you were born.”
He had a young face, dotted with pimples and growing in a splotchy beard. He would lose the pimples one day, but he was always going to have that face and he was never going to have that beard. Guessing his age was impossible.
“Sorry,” said the boy, scanning Ainsley’s chest for a nametag and not finding one. “I don’t know your name.”
“It’s Ainsley – what can I do for you?”
“I’m done,” said the boy, pointing to his empty plate.
“Ah.” Ainsley fished her pad out of her apron, thumbed to his ticket, tore it, and handed it to him. “You just pay at the register. Have a great day.”
“Um,” said the boy, not letting her leave. “You were really good.”
“I do my best.” She said sincerely.
“I would like to, uh . . .” the boy was nervous. His cheeks were blushing. “How could I show my appreciation?”
“Actors respond to applause, comedians respond to laughter. Waiters and waitresses respond to tips.” Ainsley smiled.
“Yeah . . .” the boy dropped his head and stared at his receipt. There was a hesitation in his voice that made Ainsley curse herself. The boy didn’t have any money. He had ordered a grilled cheese and a glass of water. "What if I took you out on a date, instead?"
Ainsley laughed, but not mockingly so. "That seems an awful lot like rewarding you for all my hard work."
The boy couldn't help but laugh, too.
"I like your pluck, but I'm going to have to say 'no.'" Ainsley spotted a large pad of paper sitting in the booth beside the boy. “Are you an artist?”
“I’m an art student,” offered the boy feebly.
“That’s your Steno pad?” Ainsley nodded past the boy’s lap.
“Um . . .”
“Draw me a picture.” Ainsley suggested. “Then, when you’re dead and famous, I can sell it and retire.”
The boy laughed and shrugged, “sure.”
Ainsley escaped the boy and ducked into the women’s restroom. “Jessica?” She called. “Jess?” She peered beneath the bathroom stalls. Empty. Ainsley spun out of the restroom and headed for the backdoor. That’s where she found Jessica.
Jessica, sixteen years old, sat in a ball just outside. Her hands were trembling and her eyes were welling up tears.
“Ainsley! Hey! Hi!” Jessica pulled up her shirt and wiped her eyes with its collar.
Jessica shook her head. “There’s just so many of them! I had three tables! Four people at one, two people at another and three at the other! They wanted water with no ice, water with lemon, unsweet tea, sweet tea, Coke, Doctor Pepper, a hamburger hold the pickles, a hamburger with extra pickles, spaghetti with marinara, Alfredo sauce to dip the breadsticks in, salad with dressing to the side, salad with extra dressing, macaroni and cheese instead of a side vegetable, extra this and . . . and . . . and . . . I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m prone to panic attacks and they were asking questions and I’m supposed to be able to answer them and . . . and . . .”
Ainsley sighed. There was not going to be any speeding through this problem. She leaned against the wall and slid down it to sit next to Jessica.
“It’s okay.” Ainsley put her arm around Jessica and rocked her. “It can get kind of scary. Is this your first job?”
Jessica nodded and wiped away more tears, feeling more foolish.
“My first job,” remembered Ainsley, “was in this three-storey restaurant. The first floor was a bar, and the second and third floors were the restaurant. My goodness,” she shook her head, “could it get crazy.”
“Where’s that at?”
Ainsley shook her head, “back home. New Orleans.”
“You’re from New Orleans?” Jessica hiccupped.
“Why on earth would you ever move to Happy Valley?”
“Katrina.” Ainsley said, a crack in her voice revealing more more emotion than she wanted. “But don’t you worry,” she covered, “I’m going back some day. Now c’mon. You can’t let your fears shut you down like this. Because everything you’re afraid of is still in there, waiting for you. On your feet!” Ainsley stood and then pulled Jessica up. “This is just The Dinner Table. Nothing too scary in there. But if you disagree, I’m here for you. Teresa’s here for you, and if you’re nice to her, Beth’s here for you.”
“Boyfriend left this for you,” said Teresa as the girls walked back in. “Sorry! I didn’t realize what it was. I almost threw the thing away!”
Ainsley unfolded the piece of paper Teresa was handing her. The boy, the artist who couldn’t afford a tip, had decided to draw her. She couldn’t tell if it had been a quick sketch or something he had labored over – and she wasn’t sure which she preferred.
“Five wants breadsticks,” Teresa grumbled.
Ainsley refolded the art, stuck it in her apron, and went back to work.