The morning sun had just begun to rise over the silhouetted tree line, frozen mist still lingered in the air. At first glance the diner looked like it was straight out of a 1950s high school movie. The double doors at the entrance were painted a fire truck red, with window frames to match, the buzzing neon sign above the door flickering sporadically. Emily started to feel nervous, her stomach like a cage, housing a thousand angry moths fluttering in an attempt to escape. Her mouth was dry and her breathing was becoming erratic, “calm down! You need to do this!” she told herself sternly. Emily walked up the broken paved path from the street and up to the diner door, up close the diner looked less movie like and more dilapidated, but she didn’t take any notice she always lived by the code “don’t judge a book by its cover” . She pulled the door open, a heavy squeal emitted, like a sort of twisted welcome. She walked in and looked around, the place was empty, only half of the lights were on and she could faintly hear giggling coming from the back, “hello?” She called out, the giggling stopped and was followed by some scuffling and low-toned whispering, a few minutes passed and Then a young girl came staggering out from down a badly lit hallway, tucking her shirt feverishly into the back of her skirt, “hey there, sorry, we, um…. I mean, “I” didn’t know anyone was here, my names Lauren, can I help u?” The girl said blushing. Emily stared at the girl while she explained why she was there, the girl’s hair looked disheveled and her lipstick was smudged down the side of her mouth, she was very attractive and Emily couldn’t figure out why she looked this way, did she sleep here last night? Emily wouldn’t ask her though, that would be impolite.
After chatting for a while the girl showed Emily down the hallway to a peeling green door, the frosted glass pane had “manager” written on it, in what seemed like marker pen, “there you go, he’s in there” the girl said and hurriedly walked off. Emily softly knocked on the door, “come in!” Said an aggressive voice, and after one last straighten of her shirt and a deep breath, Emily entered.
The door was not even completely open yet when the man snapped “shut the door”, Emily moved in quickly, turned and shut the door. “I’m Dwayne, the manager here” he said, Emily turned to face him and her eyes grew wide, he was a fat, older man in a badly fitting suit with a really bad comb over but that wasn’t what shocked her, his lips had traces all over them of the girls lipstick she had previously met. “Why are u staring like that? I mean, I know I’m no oil painting but I’m not that fucking ugly” he said. Emily quickly averted her eyes and softly told him it was nothing, he looked confused but ushered her to sit down.
The chair she sat on felt wet and gave off a rather unappealing stench, she pretended not to notice and smiled at Dwayne.”let’s get down to business” he said
“So here’s how this is going to work, you work thirteen hour shifts with a one hour unpaid break, always arrive ten minutes before your shift starts, your pay is daily and I take fifty percent of your tips, and lastly, do as your fucking told, you got it?”
Emily looked shocked, “sorry, but are you offering me the job?” She asked,
“what does it sound like? Are u stupid or something?” Dwayne said with sarcasm in his voice.
“No, I was just expecting more questions than statements I guess, but can I ask a question? If we don’t get paid that much then why do you take so much of our tips?” Emily was shaking when she asked, she had never challenged anyone before.
Dwayne’s face turned a deep purple colour and he looked like he was about to implode, “I take fifty percent because I work twice as fucking hard as you people do!” Emily realised she had made a mistake and profusely began to apologise. Dwayne began to calm down and his anger was replaced with a sleazy grin, “you know, you could always get the other half of your tips back like Lauren does!” He winked, it made her writhe around uncomfortably in her seat, “would you like to check out my resume?” Emily quickly asked to avoid the current situation, “oh, I checked out all I needed to when you turned to shut the door!” He said.
You could cut the tension in the room with a knife, Dwayne clearly had no concept of social etiquette or at least he chose not to, Emily jolted up and stuck out her hand, “Thank you for the job offer, I accept” she said in a hurry, Dwayne leaned forward without standing up, took her hand and kissed the top of it, his lips left a greasy residue on her skin, “now, why don’t you take these clothes and put them on, our other waitress Rosie called in sick so I need you to start now”.
Emily panicked, if she worked a thirteen hour shift now she wouldn’t have a bus to take home, her brother and sister would not know where she was, and who knows if they would even be able to eat tonight if she wasn’t at home. It would take her at least three hours to walk home from here and she would only be finishing at seven this evening but what choice did she have, she needed this job! She reached over and took the clothes, “where should I change?” She asked “well, I seem to have misplaced the key to the washroom so it looks like you will just have to do it here!” Dwayne said with an evil grin. “Are you going to leave?” She desperately asked, Dwayne began to laugh “I can’t leave you alone in the manager’s office with all the money!, just change, its nothing I haven’t seen before!” Emily froze, “do you want the fucking job or not?” He shouted
Emily did as she was told, she began to unbutton her blouse and then remove her skirt, his eyes were all over her, she could feel her skin burning as he stared, the only person to ever have seen her in her underwear was her mother, well…. until her dad became a drunk and started sneaking into her room at night. She tried not to think about the things that her dad had done to her. She tried to forget about the gaping hole in the side of the bath from the shotgun that ended his life. She tried to push it deeper down in her mind, because her early memories of him were faultless, Emily tried to forget the other side of him, the man she wished she had never known.
After what seemed like an eternity, Emily had finally replaced her clothes with the diner uniform, it was clearly well used and still had the previous owners perfume engrained into the shirt. She pulled at the skirt uncomfortably, it was far too short, Dwayne noticed and said “I had them tailored that way, my girls need to look hot, it brings more customers in”. Emily pretended to smile but inside she felt like she wanted to smash his ignorant, sexist face in. She thought of her sister, they were the same age, she also wanted to get a job and try to contribute but Emily had said no, she needed her to stay behind and look after their brother, and this exact moment for Emily just solidified her decision, she would never want to know that she had put her sister in this type of situation. Emily had decided a long time ago she would work hard and save harder.
Her shift was the longest time she had ever spent on her feet, they ached and pained like nothing she had ever felt. It had been a busy night and had pushed her in more ways than one, the heat of the place, the uncomfortable uniform, the rude customers who never tipped and lastly the several backside slaps she never asked for but couldn’t contest. Dwayne had done no work all night, in fact he had just stayed hidden in his dingy office, he came out and gave Emily and Lauren their pay packets for the night, there was hardly anything in there but Emily didn’t care, she had just earned her first bit of money, it was hers and no one could say otherwise. “Not many tips new girl! You better start working harder or I might not keep you after all!” Dwayne remarked.
Emily had to walk home, there were no busses at this time that went to her part of town, it was a long, dark and very cold walk but nothing could destroy her spirits tonight, she was over the moon, she could finally start to save some money and get her brother and sister away from her crack whore mother and into a life they deserved.
As Emily rounded the block she could see the lights in her house still on, there was music blaring out of the windows and Emily quickened her pace, her heart racing at the thought of what might be happening to her siblings. She burst through the front door, all the same men were still there, and her mother, as usual was off her face on gods knows what. She was holding her baby brother in her arms, pretending to dance with him, a cigarette burning scarily close to his open skin, his head bobbing violently while his cries of help pierced through the air. Emily ran over and ripped him out of her arms, “what is wrong with you mom!! You could have really hurt him!” Emily shouted. “Oh look Jim, the perfect, little virgin is back from her interview! Go on Emily, tell us how you fucked it up!” Emily wasn’t going to tell her mother that she got the job, she was going to lie to make sure she kept the money a secret but before she knew it her hurt and pride took over and she blurted out her success. As the words left Emily’s mouth her mother paused, her evil almost toothless smirk started to fade and was twisted into the resemblance of a smile, something Emily barely remembered from happier times. “Well done baby! I am so proud of you, I never doubted you for a second and I was only joking before, you know momma loves you right?”. Emily just stood there in shock, she hadn’t heard her mother like this since she was barely a toddler. “listen you pricks, get out of my house, I want to spend some time with my Emily! Well……get the fuck out!!” For the rest of that evening her mother couldn’t have seemed nicer.
Emily suddenly shivered and was wrenched from her memory, she hadn’t realised it, but while reminiscing about the day of her interview, she had sat down on a park bench in the middle of a wintery night. Her body must have been too tired to walk and think at the same time. She couldn’t believe that her interview had been three years ago, it seemed like a decade away but in reality hardly any time had passed at all. She stood up wearily and continued on her long walk home. This was the same walk she had done every night for three years, but something about this night was different, she could feel it.
If only Emily had known how right she was, because after tonight, nothing would ever be the same again……