This is a continual story about the struggle of an aspie girl for independence. To read the first chapter, click here
Waves crashed against the wooden ramp with a roar that muffled the screams, squeals, laughter, and whistles. Gaby held on to the black metal banister and made her way cautiously on the slippery ramp, navigating around dinners seated outside restaurants under umbrellas, shouting to be heard over the ocean’s noise.
A sign saying ‘Help wanted’ caught Gaby’s attention. The word ‘help’ was dry and crumbling, and the word ‘wanted’ was only slightly moist and barely fulfilling. It tasted like cottage cheese.
Gaby started toward the restaurant, feeling no fear. A calm settled over her. It was very simple, just like Kyle had said. All she had to do was walk inside the restaurant and ask if they need help. It was the most basic and unsophisticated form of communication; talking. It was also a simple and noncommitting way to communicate because she wasn’t asking to be accepted or loved. It was just business. It was such a simple task, it was boring.
As she pulled the heavy glass door open, she was amazed to notice her hands were shaking. Her knees turned to jelly. Her legs were cold and numb. She frowned, realizing she was afraid after all. She let herself into the artificial cool and the dull hum of the air conditioner that muffled the genuine noise of the ocean and eliminated the authentic heat.
Gaby leapt out of the way as a waitress rushed toward her, balancing two trays on both arms, holding them high. Gaby started toward the cash register cautiously. Boisterous laughter erupted from the tables that lined the restaurant, voices shouted greetings, and silverwares and glasses clanked together.
Gaby was grateful for the air conditioner’s hum. Although it lacked the beauty natural sounds had, it drowned out the noise, turned it gentler and faraway, like an illusion. There’s something about distant noise that emphasizes the silence better than total lack of sound.
A tall, thin young woman leaned on the cash register, talking to another woman and a man. The three were moving their hands as they spoke, deep in conversation. Gaby hesitated.
The woman turned toward her. “Can I help you?” she asked. She had a nametag with the word ‘Manager’ on it. Such an airy word, a bit sticky and bitter, though.
Gaby froze. She had a sudden urge to flee. Images of her room and the park flashed through her mind. She longed for the safety of her house, the solitude, the routine. She dug her sandals into the polished floor that reflected the fluorescent lights above so she wouldn’t run. She tried to speak but couldn’t.
“I’m looking for a job,” she finally managed to say.
The manager looked her up and down. Gaby knew her clothes weren’t an issue. It didn’t matter that she wore purple jeans and a T-shirt with a picture of a blue-eyed, orange feral cat leaping out of a garbage can, surrounded by magenta and indigo patches. She figured the manager knew Gaby would wear work uniforms if she got hired anyway. She wasn’t working yet. She was just looking for a job. It wasn’t official.
The manager hugged the man and the woman. They kissed on both cheeks and left. Then the manager turned to Gaby. “You’re in luck,” she said in a slightly high-pitched voice. “One of our girls just quit yesterday, and we need someone right now.”
She took Gaby to a back room and gave her uniforms that were too large for her. The shirt reached her knees and hung like a tent around her, and she was given a belt to keep the skirt from sliding off her waist.
“The customer is your God,” the manager, Evelyn, explained to Gaby. “If a customer yells at you, tells you your mother is a whore, you don’t answer. If you want to wait until the end of your shift and beat the hell out of him outside, I don’t care. But when you’re on my payroll time, if you have to kiss the customer’s butt, that’s what you’ll do.”
Gaby nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“And when a customer leaves,” Evelyn continued. “You say, ‘Thank you for visiting the restaurant, sir. Please come back again.”
“Yes,” Gaby whispered. Did people really do this every day? There was a hollow in her stomach. She crossed her arms so Evelyn wouldn’t see they were shaking.
“And if you get robbed at closing time,” Evelyn said. “To prevent getting hurt, you should treat the robber with the same courtesy you would a customer.”
Gaby looked up, surprised. Evelyn’s purple earrings caught the light, the same color as her lipstick. “You want me to ask a robber to please come back?” she asked, incredulous.
Evelyn rolled her dark brown eyes in their ridiculous circle of pencil and eyeshadow. “Don’t get smart.” Her voice sounded more high-pitched than before. “I can be your best friend or your worse enemy. Don’t ever forget that.”
Gaby felt a wave of heat creeping from her neck to the top of her forehead. She resisted the urge to cover her face with her hands.
Evelyn got to her feet in one smooth, fluid motion that Gaby envied. It reminded her of her own awkwardness and clumsiness. “I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear your last comment,” Evelyn said as she led Gaby to her station. She told her to watch the other girls for fifteen minutes and then serve customers herself.
Gaby wiped her sweaty hands on her skirt and shaded her eyes from the blinding sunrays outside the glass doors and the horrible, artificial glare of the fluorescent light. The other workers looked like robots. She had no idea what they were thinking or feeling. Fifteen minutes later, Evelyn appeared at her side and told her it was time for her to serve customers.
An old couple let themselves in and strolled to a seat. The man wearing a wide-brimmed hat. The woman with dark sunglasses. Gaby’s legs froze. She filled her lungs with air and forced herself to walk over to their table. She tried to smile, but her face muscles were frozen and wouldn’t cooperate.
“What do you want to order?” she asked.
The man looked up at her with watery green eyes in a round, dark face lined and withered with age. “What the hell kind of attitude is that?” he yelled, slamming his fist on the table. Heads turned in their direction. A girl in her late teens who had her leg thrown over her mother’s hip stared, wide-eyed.
Gaby had no idea why he was so angry. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
“What do you mean what’s wrong?” The man hollered. “I’m older than you are, and I demand respect. When you see a customer, you greet him.”
“Hi,” Gaby said.
“What do you mean ‘Hi'”? the man yelled. “Is this your idea of greeting?”
“Any problems over there?” a man wearing a headband with shoulder-length dark hair called from a nearby table.
Gaby felt trapped. She had no idea what she was supposed to say. She dug her sandals firmly into the floor to stop her legs from trembling. “How am I supposed to greet you?” she asked in a small voice.
“You mean you don’t know?” The man was shouting even louder now, and Gaby resisted the urge to cover her ears. A hush fell over the restaurant. People were whispering to each other and pointing.
“He’s not supposed to explain it to you,” the woman told Gaby in a hoarse smoker’s voice. “He’s not your daddy or your psychiatrist. You’re supposed to know these things on your own. You’re a big girl now.”
“Never mind,” the man snapped. “Get us two orders of chicken meals with soup. And while you’re at it, tell your manager to get you some better manners.”
Gaby turned and fled, her heart pounding. Just as she gave the cook the orders, four teens slammed in through the door, two boys and two extremely overweight bleached blond girls wearing light blue shirts.
Gaby hurried over to their table, dreading having to greet them. But the girl seated on the right spoke before Gaby had a chance to say anything. She ordered a plain hamburger. The other teens didn’t order anything.
In a few minutes, the hamburger arrived. Gaby took it to the table and put it in front of the girl. “Enjoy your meal.” Gaby smiled.
“I didn’t order the hamburger,” the girl said.
“But you did,” Gaby said. “You asked for a plain hamburger.”
“I asked for it,” the girl on the left said. “We switched places.”
Gaby pushed the hamburger toward her. “Sorry,” she said.
“How come you didn’t know which girl asked for the hamburger?” one of the boys asked. “She was talking to you. You were looking straight at her.”
Gaby shrugged. “They both have the same hair and are wearing the same clothes, and they’re both the same weight. It’s easy to get confused.”
She turned and started away. Something soft hit the back of her head. She turned to see the hamburger at her feet and the boy kicking his chair over with a thud. They teens sauntered to the door and out.
Just then, the cook called out the older couple’s order. Gaby slid on the floor toward the overturned chair, picked it up and righted it, rushed toward the hamburger, snatched it off the floor and dropped it in the garbage can. Then she turned to the old couple’s trays.
She picked up the one tray and placed it on her left arm, but she had no idea how to pick up the second tray. She made a few unsuccessful attempts at sliding her right arm under the other tray. Another waitress about her age hurried by and put the tray on her arm. Gaby thanked her and walked toward the couple.
She placed both arms on the table and tried sliding the tray off her left arm with the help of her right pinkie finger.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the man asked.
“Getting those trays off my arm,” Gaby told him. “Just give me a minute here.”
The tray was moving slowly, the soup sloshing in its bowl. One more inch, another one. And then the tray slid off her right arm, and the bowl of soup banged into the table, sending the hot liquid flying in all directions, landing on the man’s pants, the woman’s sunglasses, and soaking Gaby’s shirt, hot and scalding. She yelped.
“You’re an idiot!” the man roared. “A misfit. My five year old grandson would’ve handled these trays better. They must be desperate to hire someone like you. Where did they find you, in the loony bin?”
Gaby held the scorching shirt away from her body, but the hot liquid has already seeped through to the skin. The air conditioner buzzed loudly in the total silence that fell over the restaurant. The ocean rumbled outside.
“I knew there was something wrong with you the minute I saw you,” the woman told Gaby.
“I’m so sorry,” Gaby whispered. “I didn’t mean to do it. It was an accident. It was difficult to…”
“Are you a retard?” the man with the headband asked.
“She’s got that strange look in her eyes,” a heavily pregnant woman called. She was balancing a baby on one hip and a toddler on another.
“I demand to talk to your manager right now!” the man roared. “And tell her I’m suing the hell out of this place.” Gaby was getting lightheaded. The walls were swaying.
Evelyn appeared at her side. Her eyes scanned the crowd and went to rest on Gaby. “What’s going on here, dammit?” She put her hands on her hips.
The dinners leapt to their feet, men, women, older people, teens. They started shouting and waving their arms. “The girl with the dead look in her eyes dropped the trays. Look at the mess she’s made.” “She insulted two girls, called them fat with a strange dull voice, like a robot.” “They threw a hamburger at her. She’s lucky they didn’t beat the daylight out of her. I would’ve.”
The toddler on the pregnant woman’s hip was screaming, shoving chubby fingers into a slice of chocolate cake and smearing it all over his face. Gaby was reminded that it takes one wail from a single wolf to get the whole pack to create the jungle symphony. She covered her ears with her hands. The wind whistled outside.
“Get out,” Evelyn yelled. “Get out of my restaurant.” She tugged at Gaby’s apron, and her fingers brushed against Gaby’s stomach. Gaby screamed and leapt backwards, slamming into a table. “Hey!” a rough male voice shouted behind her.
Gaby jumped sideways and struggled to get the apron’s knot open at her back. Evelyn laughed, showing small teeth streaked with purple lipstick. The customers laughed.
A boy of about six hurried toward Gaby, circled her, and got the apron’s knot open easily. Evelyn threw her head back and roared with laughter, her teeth glittering in the fluorescent light.
Gaby spun around and fled. A woman’s voice trailed behind her. “Retards should be drowned at birth.”
And then Gaby was outside, the wind whipping sharply at her face, and the roar of the ocean drowned out everything else. She stumbled on the ramp. Her legs were shaking badly. She leaned on the banister and rested her forehead against the hard metal.
Finally she straightened and looked at the ocean to calm herself. Sunlight glittered on the foam, and the ocean was colored by different shades of blue, light and gentle near the shore and getting darker and deeper as it rolled toward the horizon. Gaby took a deep breath of the slightly salty air, a scent so mild that she could only smell it when the wind blew in her direction. If the breeze wasn’t strong enough, the smell seemed like a figment of her imagination.
She calmed her nerves and resumed her walking on the ramp. She felt detached, distant. What happened didn’t matter. She’s put it behind her. She’s gotten over it. Down at the shore, a barefooted, shirtless fisherman handed several fishes to a feral white kitten with orange stripes as thin as threads on the sides of its body. She could only see them when the sunrays shone on the kitten from a certain angle, turning them into sparks. A seagull circled the kitten, looking wishfully at the fishes but keeping a wary eye on the little fluff ball.
That’s when she saw the sign reading ‘Fast food.’ Fast was a liquid and slightly sticky word, and the word ‘Food’ was heavy, deep, and dry. Gaby opened the glass door and let herself into the noise of ringing, cash registers clanking, talking, laughter, screaming toddlers, footsteps, and cashiers calling out orders. It seemed like a beehive, every bee with its task, working together to keep up a mutual territory.
Gaby walked to the register. The cashier’s face was covered with black hair so thick that he resembled a werewolf. Only his brown eyes were visible.
Gaby opened her mouth, but the words wouldn’t come out. She filled her lungs with air and whispered, “I’m…” She stopped, cleared her throat, and said, “I’m looking for a job,” in a voice that quivered only slightly.
The cashier turned his head toward the kitchen and called out. In a minute, a short stocky man in his late twenties walked toward Gaby and introduced himself as Nike. He led he to a side room where she was given extra small uniforms that fit her fine.
“We need a salad girl here.” Nike’s voice was a deep baritone. “Someone fast and energetic.”
“I won’t have to hand the trays to customers, would I?” Gaby’s voice caught on the last words. She gripped the chair’s arms hard.
“No.” Nike smiled, showing very white, even teeth. “We don’t have waitresses here.”
“You’re sure I wouldn’t have to deal with customers?” Gaby asked.
“No. You’re the salad girl, that’s all. Relax. There’s no need to be nervous. Larry will show you the ropes.”
Larry turned out to be the werewolf. He lined the table with empty bowls and picked up a box of lettuce. Standing close to him, a mild sour odor of sweat drafted toward Gaby’s nostrils.
Larry started filling the bowls with lettuce. “There,” he told Gaby. “This is how you do it. Ever worked in a fast food restaurant before?”
Gaby shook her head, too shy to speak. Larry was looking her straight in the eye, and she turned her head. Outside the glass doors, a Collie ran on the ramp among the dinners. Someone threw it a piece of chicken.
“Ever worked anyplace before?” Larry asked. She shook her head. “You finished high school?” She nodded. “You live with your parents?” Another nod. “Got a boyfriend?” She shook her head. “Ever had one?” She shook her head again.
She figured these were common questions that people usually asked strangers, if they were working with them. Larry was trying to be friendly, or maybe he was bored.
Every species has its own codes of behavior for the event of two creatures meeting for the first time. A cat would avoid an unfamiliar cat and treat it with fear and suspicion, at first at least. A dog would sniff another dog, and sometimes they would play, or fight. A human would ask questions.
Larry let her make salads herself. She snatched the lettuce and filled the bowls, her hands making a swooshing sound as they slashed through the air, creating a breeze. Moving as fast as she could and pushing herself to the limit was so liberating. It was addictive.
“Wow,” Larry said. “I’ve never seen anyone move that fast. Are you on drugs, uppers?” He gave her a crooked smile.
“Adrenaline’s the only drug I need,” she told him. “It’s the best drug there is because it’s natural, an evolutionary trait that kept our ancestors alert so they could hunt and escape Saber tooth tigers.”
She started toward the tomatoes box, but Larry leapt toward her and blocked her way. “I can get you some real drugs,” he said. “Interested?”
“No, thanks,” she said, wondering if Larry saw himself as a coyote offering food to a newcomer about to join his pack.
At lunchtime, they took their meals and went to the employees’ table on the ramp. The other workers joined them. Skip, a short skinny man in his early twenties with very short blond hair. He was athletic and light on his feet, and seventeen year old redheaded Mary, who wouldn’t let go of his arm. Her long hair kept falling in her pale blue eyes, and she kept pushing it away with the back of her hand, slowly and tiredly, as if she were moving underwater.
Larry sat on the other side of the table, facing Gaby. “Why aren’t you on facebook?” he asked.
“How do you know that?” She tasted her hamburger and made a face. It tasted salty in the ocean air, but it didn’t seem to bother the other workers. She watched Skip add salt to his fries.
“I have an internet on my cellphone,” Larry said. “I checked you out.”
This made her feel guilty, because she hadn’t checked the other workers’ profiles on social media. She wondered if it was expected of her, like offering a guest a drink.
“Yo, Gaby,” Skip said. “Say where you from, gal?”
“The north side.” She held on to her plate with both hands as the ramp shook under the onslaught of the waves.
He nodded. “Kinda fancy place, ain’t it?”
“It’s all right.” She fed a seagull that landed on her table a small piece of hamburger and watched it fly away. “Where are you from?”
“South side, what they call The Jungle.” His face twisted as he talked. She didn’t know what that meant. “Ever been there?”
She shook her head.
Skip grinned. “I bet your parents wouldn’t let you go there. Hell, that place’s more dangerous than those school trips where kiddoes keep falling off cliffs and drowning every damn year.”
“I almost went down a waterfall once,” Gaby said, recalling. “We got into to the river with tires we were supposed to sit on, and mine kept turning over, so I got out of the river and walked in a deserted area. Then I got back in the river to find my classmates, and then the current was so strong, I barely pulled myself out. The teacher didn’t even notice I was gone, nor did she pay attention when I rejoined them.” The gum-chewing teacher who took a nap while Gaby patted two grazing bulls, her own personal petting zoo.
Skip threw his head back and roared with laughter. “You could’ve went down headfirst, gal. They’d be finding a body with a smashed head floating in the damn river.”
Gaby laughed. She remembered Kyle’s friend Paul joking once about how he’d seen his whole life flash before his eyes when he let his girlfriend drive a few months after she’s gotten her license. Paul had said there wasn’t one electric pole or tree she hadn’t collided with. Everyone had laughed then, including his girlfriend. No one had seemed upset. Kidding about danger is normal and socially accepted, then.
“Hey, Skip,” Larry said. “How come you keep talking Gaby’s ear off? You’re hitting on her or something?”
“No way.” Mary pulled Skip closer, choking his arm with a bear hug. “He’s mine. You hear me? Mine!”
Skip smiled. “Say, my girl here just be getting out of prison after pulling a knife on another girl because she be hanging around with me too much, and you ask if I’m hitting on Gaby?”
That was a joke too, of course. Once Kyle had announced to everyone that Paul has gotten a vacation from the zoo in which he lives so he can come over and visit, and that he’d have to return to the baboons’ cage at the end of the visit. Paul had thought it very funny.
When their break was over, and they went back into the restaurant, the heat was stifling. Gaby kept escaping to the freezer on intervals. She was put on the drinks’ station. People kept asking for large drinks with plenty of ice. She could see the line of people stretching outside the glass doors. They were talking and laughing. Their voices turned into a hum.
Skip and Mary kept calling for drinks on the microphone. Several times she mistook Skip’s low, deep voice muffled by static with the steady, slow hum of the ocean. Sometimes she mistook Mary’s high-pitched, squeaking voice for a seagull.
Skip abandoned his position at the cash register and marched into the drinks’ station. “Where the hell is that bloody orange drink I called for three times?” he yelled.
“Sorry,” Gaby muttered, feeling her face getting hot. “It’s so loud in here.”
Skip slammed his fist into the drinks’ station. A paper cup filled with cola toppled over. He gave her a long look she couldn’t read and then sauntered away. She could see the dent in the metal. Her heart was pounding. This wasn’t normal behavior. Even she knew that. But she couldn’t quit that job because it was the only one that would take someone like her, the only one she hasn’t messed up, yet.
It was late afternoon when her shift was over. She crossed the ramp, stopped to pet a wandering German Shepherd. Then she took the five squeaking stairs down to the shore and walked a while, picking up seashells. She made a necklace out of them which she hung with a shoestring around her neck.
She got on the sidewalk and started toward her station when she heard shuffling footsteps behind her. She turned. It was Larry.
“Though I’d walk you to the bus station,” he told her.
She figured it was the thing to do with a new worker, but she was mentally drained after being around people all day. She desperately needed her home, her privacy, the security and solitude of her room. And Larry kept dragging his feet ever so slowly. She wished he’d hurry up.
He got with her on the bus and dropped next to her on the only available seat. People kept getting on the bus. They were forced to stand, holding on to chairs.
“Where do you live?” she asked Larry.
“On the west side,” he said.
She frowned. “You’re taking the wrong bus, Larry.” But the bus had lurched forward wildly, throwing standing people forward.
“Thought I’d tour the north side a bit.” He yelled to be heard over the roar of the engine and teens hollering to each other. She wished he wouldn’t talk to her in all that noise. Listening to him was hard labor. Why did people do that?
The bus stopped abruptly at a red light, throwing people forward. A woman in her sixties fell on the floor. People shouted at the driver angrily.
Larry shouted, “Summer festival starts tomorrow. Everyone will be heading for the beach. There’ll be about a zillion people there. It’ll be fun.”
The remark filled Gaby with dread. Images of noise and crowds flashed through her mind. She wondered what it was like to be a herd animal, surrounded by dozens of sheep and cows constantly, but she knew these creatures gained a feeling of security from having as many creatures of their own species around as possible.
It all came down to evolution. It was the real reason why human like to throw huge parties and visit big cities, why they say, “There’ll be plenty of people. It’ll be fun.” Powers in numbers. This rule applies especially to weaker creatures like humans, who can’t defend themselves with sharp teeth and nails.
The bus kept filling up with people. Teen girls sat in each other lap, and the bus driver kept driving like a cowboy. She breathed a sigh of relief when she got off the bus.
Larry got off with her.
“Why you got this job anyway?” he asked. “What are you going to do with the money?”
“I want to leave my house and live independently,” she told him.
“Why? Do you have problems at home?”
She told him what happened with Angelina and Gina. Larry bared his teeth. She knew it was a grimace. She’d seen a classmate being bitten by a Doberman on a school trip when she was seven. She didn’t understand why the girl was smiling when her shirt was soaked with blood. Her mother explained that it was a grimace and not a smile.
She’s also claimed school trips were perfectly safe.
“So you say your parents forced you to go out with this girl, Angelina?” Larry rubbed his beard slowly. They had reached her building by then. The hibiscuses that framed her yard exploded in white, yellow, pink, orange, and bright red in the sunrays. They weren’t blinding anymore. The sun was lowering toward the buildings, and shadows lengthened.
She was glad to watch Larry walk away. Being around him made her uncomfortable, but she didn’t think twice of it. Being around people always made her feel uneasy anyway, especially people she didn’t know. She hated meeting new people.
This is a continual story. Next chapter will be published next Saturday. Thank you for visiting this blog. Hope you liked it. If you did, Share it!
Are you or your young aspie struggling to find or keep a job? This easy to read guide is packed with valuable information on interviews, how to look for the right job, dress code, lightening, and more. To learn to secrets needed to survive on the job, click here