Watch What You Say – by Dalmatia Fleming

Watch What You Say – by Dalmatia Fleming

“Hi Grandpa”

“Hi sweetheart, how was your first day at work?”

…sigh… “I’m exhausted. But it was good. Everyone seemed really nice, and the customers were very patient with me. I got a little confused at first, you know, keeping the waitress’ sections straight and all that. They gave me my schedule for the week; thirty hours to start with, then they will increase me to forty. They’re easing me into it, thank God! And I think I can make some new friends too.”

“Well, glad to hear it Ellen.”

“I’m so thankful that Mac gave me a chance with this job.”

“Well, he owes me one big time, so I would say we’re even now. I told him you’d be perfect for this; you’re very likeable, at ease around strangers, and the young guys from far and wide will have to stop by and check out the new best looking girl in town! So business will be booming!”

“HA! Thanks Grandpa! But I think you’re partial. Maybe I should call Mac, or write him a letter to say thank you.”

“That would be nice.”

“I mean, after all, I’m not really sixteen, fifteen and three quarters to be exact.”

“Close enough.”

“Yeah… I’m starved!”

“Don’t you get a free meal on work days?”

“Yeah, but I totally forgot!”

So began Ellen’s new job as a hostess at Applebee’s. She started to make friends there, that is, in the little free time she had to chit chat with her co-workers and customers. After all, this was the Mecca of the neighborhood.

As time passed, more and more personal questions would be asked of Ellen. Not that they were invasively personal questions, just the kind that people ask as they’re getting to know someone. People just liked her and wanted to know a little bit more about her, the same sort of questions that she would ask of others. Still, she wasn’t sure how long she could stall without looking like she had something to hide.

“Hey, Aunt Deb.”

“Yeah Hon.”

“People are asking me where I’m from, where I went to school, where’s my parents, do I have brothers and sisters, why am I staying with Grandma and Grandpa …what am I going to say?”

“…Well… um… let me think about that… well… whatever you do, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT tell them the truth.”

“…OK… but what should I say?”

“…Um… well… maybe you can say that you were a missionary abroad, and that your parents and siblings are still ‘there’, and that you wanted to experience American life so you came here to live with Grandma and Grandpa. That’s true, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess you COULD explain it like that. But I feel on guard all the time, and I don’t like that. I just want to be like everyone else. I don’t want to stand out.”

“Well, Ellen, look how well you’re adapting to your job and everything. You’re a true success story. We both know that is often not the case. The simple fact that you’re adapting so well just goes to show how talented and smart you really are… just like your Dear Aunt Deb!”

“Yeah, thanks all talented and smart Aunt Deb …but… really, I just want to be like everyone else and have nothing to hide.”

“You don’t have anything to hide, you just have to frame what you say in a way that other people can understand.”

“But I resent having to do that. No one else has to do that. It’s not fair!”

“Hon, everyone puts a little spin on everything they say. Everyone wants to look good to other people and tells ‘little white lies’ every now and then if it makes their life easier. You’re not alone on that front.”

“Yeah, but I’m just afraid I’m going to let my guard down and screw up.”

“You won’t. Anyway, even if you do, the more time passes and the more people like you, the less surprised they’ll be if you accidentally ‘spill the beans’ so to speak”.

…sigh…

“Gracie.”

“Yeah.”

“What time do you get off tonight?”

“Nine.”

“Me too. Wait for me and let’s walk out together.”

“OK.”

“Gracie, you’re not gonna believe this. Ellen and I went to a movie last night and I found out about her mysterious background.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. She used to live in some weird cult. It was a religious commune thing.”

“Wow. That’s exactly what some of us were thinking.”

“Yeah. She escaped and came to live with her grandparents who she barely knew. Never met them in her life until she came here. She only wrote letters and got birthday and Christmas presents from them.”

“Well, I’m glad she got out, how creepy!”

“I know. I guess she was scared. There was a lot of sexual abuse going on, mostly to the girls. She’s got a huge family back there too, something like two sisters and five brothers.”

“Did she say if any bad things happened to her?”

“She didn’t say. But I’m guessing that they did. Pretty sure they did. She’s trying to convince her two sisters to leave too.”

“So does this mean that she’s disowned from her family? I’m guessing her parents aren’t happy about this.”

“Not sure. We didn’t talk about that and she didn’t let on about it.”

“Wow… you know, I would have never guessed she came from this weird background except for all the unanswered questions. I mean, she seems so normal otherwise.”

“I know. How could she seem so normal? She just can’t be.”

“Hi sweetie… what’s with the long face? How was work today?”

…”Oh Grandpa, I think everyone at work knows.”

“Knows what?”

…”You know…”

…”Oh… why do you say that?”

“They’re all acting weird, that’s why.”

“Well, did you tell them anything?”

“Just one girl, Tiffany. I just know she told everyone. I can just feel it. Ever since then it’s been different.”

“Well, sweetie, you’ve made lots of friends there. People like you. They like you for who you are. Does it really matter? It’s all in the past now. You’ve moved on.”

…sigh… “Yeah… I guess”…

” BESSIE…BESSS-SIEEE… ”

“What… what happened?”

“I think Ellen’s left… look… here’s a note and looks like most of her things are gone”…

“Dear Grandma and Grandpa,

I can’t stay here anymore. I have to go back. I’m too home sick and my job is not working out anymore. I’m positive everyone knows. I’m really uncomfortable now.

I love you both so much and am so thankful for all you have done for me. I’ll come back, but it’s not working now. Maybe in a few years I can break away for real.

All my love,
Ellen”

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About bbcstudiowrites

This blog is me archiving the BBC Studio Writers Workshop.

Posted on October 15, 2013, in Fiction, Seattle, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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