This is a regular column featuring original fiction by and for teens, provided by Figment.com, an online community writing site for young people.
When I finally reached the stage in my life in which I could get a driver's license, my goals were modest. I had no intention of using it to get up to no good, my intentions were pure. For the first time in my life, I could do normal, everyday things without being accompanied by my parents or another older adult. The world was my playground.
One of the first things I did was go to a restaurant by myself. It may not seem like much, but in my own head this was stepping out and asserting my own independence. The first restaurant I went to was a small, Greek-owned family restaurant on the main street in town. It was hardly anything special, with the typical big menu filled with cuisine of many different types, all of which could be prepared to reach a level of at least mediocrity.
I was seated in a booth near a window. The host of the restaurant gave me a funny look as I sat down, and I could see him wondering to himself whether I was going to ditch the minute the check came. As a quiet show of good faith, I took my wallet out of my pocket and shifted through it openly, mouthing to myself as I counted. He seemed to accept that I had every intention of paying my bill, and didn't seem to pay much attention to me for the rest of my meal.
The waitress was a tall, thin girl with pale skin and mousy brown hair. I could see through her smile, and straight to the bruises up and down her arms. She was trying her best to cover them, pulling her long sleeves down every time the bending of an elbow or a stretch across the table would cause them to ride up. I could see that her skin was splotchy and bruised. Although she did everything she could to appear composed and warm, the sadness in her eyes was palpable.
I ordered a spinach benedict and black coffee. She forced that smile of hers, nodded, and walked away to leave me to my own devices. All I could think about while I waited for the food was the waitress. Many scenarios crossed my mind on how she came to the state she was in, but I realized after a few minutes that I was kidding myself. She was obvious being mistreated by someone, whether it be a boyfriend, a relative... I had no way to know, and it frustrated me to know there was nothing I could do about it. It wasn't my place to speak up, to ask if her she was okay, or to tell her that there is help available for her, or to tell her that she doesn't need to put up with anyones abuse. I felt overwhelmed with sadness as I continued to sit there by myself and dwell on this total stranger.
"Can I warm you up?" I heard her say, breaking me away from my thoughts. I looked down to see that I had drained my coffee cup.
"Yes, thank you," I said, pushing the cup to the edge of the table so she wouldn't have to stretch to refill it. She thanked me for the minor consideration, and went away again.
The rest of the meal is a blur. The food came, and I ate it. I can't remember if it was even any good, but it probably was. My mind was elsewhere. When she came back to the check, she said thank you, the host will take the check, no need to rush, thanks for coming in. The usual speech you get if the waiter or waitress is even half trying, and she was gone to attend to other patrons.
I dug out my wallet and thumbed through. I had sixty dollars. The bill was only just below ten, but I left two twenties on the table and wandered up to the register with the bill and the remaining twenty, paid, pocketed the rest of the change, and walked out to the parking lot.
Only a few steps from the door, I heard it swing open behind me and turned to see that the waitress had followed me out, holding the two twenties in her hand.
"I think you made a mistake, you left me too much here..." she said.
"No mistake," I said.
She hesitated, and I could see that she didn't know what to say. It was hardly a fortune, but I knew it was unlikely she saw tips like that often.
"Don't worry about it, its just money," I said and walked to my car.
I never came back to that restaurant, but I still think about her. I wonder to this day if she heard a single word that I didn't say. I hope she kicked him to the curb, picked herself up, and found someone that could help her. Maybe she still works there, maybe she learned to fight for herself and is finally happy, but I don't think I'll ever know.
- Matt Heckler, Chicago, IL