“Gonna use my arms, gonna use my legs, gonna use my style, gonna use my sidestep, gonna use my fingers, gonna use my, my, my imagination…oh…cause I’m gonna make you see there’s nobody else here, no one like me, I’m special, so special, I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me……”
It was one of those songs that she didn’t know the name of or who was singing, but it always made her feel happy. One of those songs that seemed to enhance the vibrancy of the mid-morning sunshine and new day ahead. She could clean the entire house if they’d just keep playing it over and over again and, every once in a while, she’d hold up the duster to her mouth as she passed in front of the mirror and mouth a few of the words to her reflection. Before she did any of that, though, she better go ahead and hit the “alarm” button on the radio before it woke Jimmy. This was going to be a good day.
She propped herself up on the bed and held on to the nightstand with one hand as she reached down for her braces with the other. The new ones were a lot easier on her feet than the ones she had before, but forced her to have to buy shoes that were two sizes too big. The other good thing about them was that the metal just ran down the sides and the rest was made out of leather, so they weren’t near as heavy and didn’t force her to walk like an astronaut.
Lately, she’d been showering at night because it seemed to help her sleep but she liked to wake up at the same time anyway just to make sure she got some breakfast before work. The smell of bacon grease and frying eggs hit her as soon as she entered the hallway and she just hoped there was enough left in the pan to even mess with. Papa’d fixed some waffles the day before and all she could scrounge up when she got in there around 7:30 was a half eaten semi-circle that someone had left on a plate in the sink and covered in blueberry syrup. Jimmy never did wake up in time to eat breakfast and she guessed they just assumed since she worked in a cafeteria that she could just eat there everyday, but it wasn’t free. They’d take it out of your paycheck and if you weren’t careful you’d have the whole thing eaten up by the end of the week.
She was relieved to find three strips of bacon and a couple of fried eggs on a plate with a grease-soaked paper towel placed over the top of it to keep it warm. At least they’d left her something. When she pulled open the microwave, she noticed an extra biscuit on a crumb-filled piece of aluminum foil and wondered why someone would even have put that in there. It was one of those great big kind that pulled apart in layers so she tossed it on top of her eggs and threw the piece of foil in the trash. There was some coffee left in the pot so she poured herself a cup and took it over to the coffee table with her plate, flipping on the TV and hoping to catch a few minutes of Good Morning America before she had to leave. Robin Roberts was pretty good and she liked Diane Sawyer, but neither one of them were Joan Lunden. Joan just had one of those faces that made you happy, kind of like she imagined her mother would look like. If she wasn’t a good host, then why had they let her interview every US President since Gerald Ford?
Papa had shown her a picture once of her real mother when she was little, but her head was turned to the side so that you couldn’t really see her face. Her hair was light blonde and about shoulder length with the bangs combed off to one side. People always used to say that Bethany had her eyes but that the nose and dark hair definitely came from Papa before he went gray, which was the only way she’d ever known him. She asked him once if her mother looked anything like Joan Lunden and he told her not really, but that he guessed she kind of did.
“Be sure and turn the TV off before you leave,” Papa said, having snuck up behind her while she was daydreaming. She heard the click of the latch and turned around just in time to see him shut the sliding glass door behind him. He was wearing the same gray coveralls that he wore every day but Sunday and the red and black flannel hat she’d bought him from Cabela’s last Christmas with the flaps that come down over your ears. The first thing he’d do when he got out there is check all the houses and make sure they had plenty of seed. He couldn’t be getting up and re-filling it a bunch of times throughout the day because all the commotion would scare the birds away. Once he’d gotten them filled to the top, he’d come back in for another cup of coffee and then take it out there with his binoculars and notebook and sit in the same chair until dinnertime. She thought it’d be weird, for some reason, if she was still there when he came back in for his coffee, so she flipped off the TV, walked back to her bedroom to put on her uniform and headed out front to the bus stop.
She could tell from all the cars that it was already pretty busy, but it wasn’t near as bad as it used to be. They used to have her walking around with a pitcher of tea and a pot of hot coffee all day, filling people’s glasses as they ran low. It was hard enough for her just to support her own weight, let alone be on her feet all day long carrying around all that extra. As soon as one of the cashiers retired, she asked to be moved over and was told she could, so now all she had to do was sit there in a chair at the end of the food line and ring people up as they entered the dining area.
Her parents had been taking them to Furr’s for as long as she could remember and Papa knew the old manager so he put in a good word for her when she turned sixteen. Blake had been transferred to another location since then, though, and the new guy, Darren, was a total asshole. Wouldn’t even let her take a break unless she helped bus the tables on her way out.
“Mornin’ Bethany,” he mumbled as he made his way past her and out into the lobby to kiss up to all the old folks and retirees that insisted on eating all of their meals two to three hours earlier than normal people. They all loved him, including Mama and Papa, who never could understand what it was that she didn’t like about him. It’s because Darren was always nice to them. He was even nice to her when other people were around, but it was a completely different story when they were alone. He was a little rat-looking fellow, so skinny he walked with a hunch and had those little black beady eyes that made his face look even more pale than it really was. His hairline was receding, despite the fact that his boyish figure made him look ten years younger, and what hair he did have was an ashy blonde that he wore spiked up on top.
He’d tried to come on to her once back in the break room. She was just minding her own business, trying get a Coke out of the machine when he came up from behind and bumped into her on purpose. There’d been at least three feet between where she was standing and the table, so she turned around and asked him what his problem was. That was when he did it again and then wrapped his arm around her mid-section and pulled her up against him.
“Get away from me!!” She slapped at his hand and did her best to maneuver out of his grasp. “Pervert.”
“What’sa matter?” he laughed, raising both of his hands up as if someone had pointed a gun at him. “Too good for an old guy like me? There ain’t nobody watching, we could go back in my office for a little while. Take a break.”
“Go to Hell,” she told him right about the time Sandra came around the corner.
“You hear how she talks to me?” Darren looked at her and laughed as if nothing had happened. Sandy just shook her head. She knew what a jerk he could be and probably figured he’d said something to deserve it.
She thought about quitting or telling Jimmy about it, but Papa had already lost his job and they needed the money pretty bad. If Jimmy found out, he’d probably put the guy in the hospital or worse and it wouldn’t do them any good to be down two incomes. That was probably why most women didn’t report stuff like that, she guessed. Couldn’t afford to go without a paycheck.
It was pretty busy, as she’d suspected, but it made the day go by faster. One older gentleman had even tried to give her a tip, but she couldn’t accept it. Before too long it was time for her lunch break so she called Sandy over to relieve her for about half an hour. As she made her way through the kitchen, over the constant rhythm of metal pans and muffled voices, one voice in particular found its way to the forefront.
“And just where do you think you’re going?” Darren asked, having snuck up behind her again like he always did.
“C’mon, Darren, I’ve been working hard all day. It’s time for my break,” she explained.
“You think you’re the only one that’s been working hard?” he asked.
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” she said.
He tossed a dirty dishrag at her and pointed to a stack of two-by-two gray tubs over by the sinks. She reluctantly caught it and felt the cold dishwater splash against her face. Grabbing a tub from the top of the stack, she turned and headed towards the dining area.
“Run, Forrest, Run,” he shouted as she entered the lobby.
Bethany stopped dead in her tracks and heard the dish tub hit the floor as her fingers loosened. Before she could even think to try and compose herself, a tear formed in each eye and she felt the warmth trace a line down each cheek. It wasn’t so much that he’d teased her. She’d heard enough of that in high school, even the Forrest Gump joke had been so overused the last four or five years that it hardly had any affect at all. It was just that she was tired. Physically tired, mentally tired, just tired. That and the fact that the old man had seen it all. The same one who’d told her she looked nice today and tried to offer her a tip. The same one who smiled real big at her as she made her way through the swinging doors and back out into the lobby with the tub and dish rag. The same one who hadn’t once looked down at her legs the entire time and the same one whose eyes now wore a look of confusion and bewilderment as they scanned her entire body from head to toe. It wasn’t so much that he’d teased her. It was that no one had the right to take the smile off that old man’s face. She was tired of people feeling sorry for her.
She left the tub on the floor where she’d dropped it and was sure to wipe her eyes before she turned and pushed her way back through the swinging doors. Darren was still smiling that weasley little smile and started to open his mouth to say something when she plugged it with the dirty dishrag. Good God almighty he was pissed. You’d have thought she’d slapped his mother right there in front of him. As she shoved past, he grabbed hold of her, like he had that day in the break room, but this time in front of several employees and pulled her up against him. He was so mad he couldn’t even think straight.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” he whispered in her ear, biting the tip of it with his teeth as he pulled away.
“I want to take a break,” she said, not being able to get through the last part without her voice cracking. The tears followed and this time there was no hiding it.
“I’d like to see you back in my office,” he said.
“Let me go,” she twisted and pulled, but his grip was too strong. “Please, Darren, I just want to go home.” By this time a small audience had formed and he’d cooled down enough to realize for the first time how much of a scene he’d been making.
“Get your stuff and get on out of here,” he whispered coldly into her ear, this time keeping his mouth at a safe distance. His breath was like someone dropped a peppermint into a pile of horseshit. “You’re fired.”
As he turned back towards the lobby, no one moved a muscle. All eyes were on his. She half expected him to yell at them, too, but he didn’t. Just pushed back through the swinging doors and when they opened she could see that even a few of the guests had become aware of what was going on, or at least that something was. Just before it shut again, her eyes met the older gentleman’s one last time and she could see that he knew and it broke her heart.