by Rebekah Matthews
Every year when summer starts you hire at least four or five new girls to work at your Red Lobster. They are still in college and they drop their trays of food because it's too heavy for them to carry. You're supposed to make them pay for the food they ruin, take it out of their tips, but you don't. Your restaurant is in the top 5% of Red Lobsters in the country so you don't need to listen to anyone. The girls love you, they say you're like their big sister. You are prettier than they are—you deliberately choose to hire the ones with flabby arms, flat breasts, crooked teeth. Sometimes, in the restroom, you teach them how to put on make-up. You've taken a few of them shopping. When you get home from work, those nights, in the summer, you smell like their perfume and your boyfriend wants to hear all about them—in what ways they've broken the dress code and how short their skirts are, the secrets they tell you when they're crying to you because some customer said something cruel to them. Sometimes he asks about them while he's fucking you. He likes to make fun of them, and you never hesitate to chime in, but secretly you don't particularly like to make fun of them.
Your shift ends at 11, and one of the girls wants to take you to her favorite wine bar. She's blonde, even blonder than you, and her fingernails are dirty and she never makes very much in tips; you're worried you will soon need to remove her from working tables because she keeps forgetting the menu. She has blackheads all over her nose that you've fantasized about squeezing out.
She drives you to the wine bar. She drives like she serves food, overly cautious but also still somehow thoughtless, braking in response to the slightest change in traffic. When she turns into a nice residential neighborhood, you begin to grow suspicious. "Where is this place?" you ask.
She pulls into a driveway. "Surprise," she says, laughing. "The wine bar is my parents' house."
"Well," you say.
"They're not at home. They're on vacation. Come on. Please? I'm really tired of drinking alone." Nothing sounds worse to you than spending your Friday night in a deserted suburban house—you hope there aren't cats, you are allergic—if there are framed family photos on the walls you worry you'll turn into your boyfriend and mock her life in an eager and transparent way--but you also don't know how to say no to these girls; so if it is possible for a nervous 21-year-old blonde girl to hold anybody hostage, you are something close to trapped.
No cats inside. The family photos aren't on any walls, they're on a stand behind the couch. She turns on the TV and you start drinking together; every 15 minutes, almost on the dot, she has go get up to use the bathroom. She says, "I have a really small bladder, alcohol makes it worse." Her parents' wine is actually pretty good—it leaves legs on your glass when you swish, the way it's supposed to, and she says it's from Spain. Everything will be fine, you are beginning to believe. But after a few glasses she comes back from the bathroom and says she wants to show you her bedroom. When you're walking down the hallway, she says to you, "I don't want to have sex with you or anything."
You are a little taken aback, though not completely shocked. "That's okay," you say.
It's when you see her room that you know you've made some kind of major fuck-up. There's a Hello Kitty blanket on her bed, on her wall a poster of puppies running around in a field, a music box with a frozen ballerina. The worst is that apparently she collects dolls; there's a whole row of them sitting on a little bench, smiling at you with their painted plastic mouths. You realize she's one of those girls who doesn't want to grow up, and she believes, for whatever reason, something in you is going to indulge her. She was wrong in that perception, though; she has to be wrong. You refuse to comment on the room and suggest going back to the living room to watch some TV. She looks disappointed but she doesn't push you.
After an hour has passed it's almost 2 AM and you have put in enough hours; if you leave now she will never know anything is wrong. "Hey, so, I'm going to call my boyfriend to come pick me up," you finally say. "It's late and I'm getting tired."
"Okay," she says. "I'm glad you came over."
You wait together on the couch in the living room. She tucks her legs underneath her. When your boyfriend pulls up in the driveway, she has to get up to use the bathroom again. "Sorry," she says. "I guess I'll see you at work tomorrow."
"Yeah," you say, and you're about to let yourself out the front door, but you watch her open the bathroom door and the skirt she wore to work today is really short, you can almost see her underwear if you tried. It's when your boyfriend honks that you feel a surge of hatred for him. He borrowed a thousand dollars from you last week to buy a pool table. He complains that his boss at his accounting firm treats him like his bitch. He always says that word in a certain disgusted way, bitch. You say to the girl, "It's funny how much you have go to the bathroom."
"It's funny?" she asks.
"It's cute," you say.
She smiles and covers her mouth with her hand. She says, "I think that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me." You understand she wants you to her hug her goodbye, so you do, patting her back awkwardly. You gather your purse and say goodbye and when you get into the car with your boyfriend, he kisses you on the mouth and asks how your night was. You give him all the details, including her creepy room, though you leave out the part about her going to the bathroom so many times and you don't really know why. You roll down the window. The air is getting colder. She'll go back to school soon. You could fix so many things about her. This time you won't.
Rebekah Matthews lives in Boston, works in textbook publishing, and usually leaves parties early. Her stories have appeared in such publications as LITnIMAGE, Prick of the Spindle, and Storyglossia. More information about her writing can be found at http://rebekahmatthews.com.