Alissa C. Kleinfield
“Table four wants to order, Jolena. Jolena!” Michelle, the manager of the restaurant The White Rose, tried to get her attention but failed. “Jolena! Table four!”
“Er, yeah. Sorry, Michelle, I zoned out for a moment. Table four, you said?” Jolena shook her head to clear her mind and started walking to the waiting customers.
After the last clients of the night left, she sank into one of the chairs in the room. It had been a crazy shift, with all tables filled and two colleagues calling in sick. Her feet hurt from all the running around.
Michelle walked over to Jolena. “Is everything alright?” Michelle asked. “You seemed distracted today.”
“Everything is fine. I’m fine. I didn’t sleep well last night, that’s all.”
“Go home, Jolena,” Michelle said with a sympathetic look in her eyes. “You’ve worked hard enough for today.”
“But there’s still a lot to do. I won’t let you clean up without me,” Jolena protested.
There was still a lot of cleaning up to be done. The dishes had to be washed, the tables needed to be set again for tomorrow’s shift, and the floors needed to be cleaned.
So there was still a lot to do before everyone could go home.
“No, no, we’ll handle it. It will be fine. In all the years you’ve worked here, you never called in sick, never took a day off.
“Go home, that’s an order,” Michelle said, while grabbing Jolena’s coat and purse, putting them in Jolena’s hands, and pushing her gently to the door.
“Okay then,” Jolena said. “If you really insist.”
After parking her fifteen-year-old car in front of her apartment building, she stared through the front window, her thoughts drifting off. She had been working at the restaurant for seven years now. But she was tired.
Tired of this boring job…she could do better than just waiting tables. Also tired of worrying if she could make it to the end of the month, as it always seemed to be a struggle.
She had started working in the evenings when she was sixteen. She’d had to work extremely hard to get good grades at school while working at the restaurant at the same time.
Her parents had died in a car accident just weeks before she turned sixteen. With no family around to take her in, she’d stayed in a foster home until she was old enough to take care of herself.
She’d had to work to be able to pay for college. Her parents had left her a little money, but still not enough to pay for a full four years. Somehow, she had made it work.
She had graduated two years ago but still worked at the restaurant. She was looking for a job that fit her degree a bit more, but jobs that interested her were sparse. And working at the restaurant wasn’t enough to pay the bills.
She couldn’t sleep; when she closed her eyes, she saw the bills coming in her vision. It kept her awake almost every night. A knock on her window shook her from her thinking.
“Jolena, what are you doing there? It’s three in the morning!” her roommate told her.
Joe and Jolena had shared this little two-bedroom apartment since their second year in college.
They’d both been sick of the student dorms they lived in the first year. They didn’t like the loud, drunk parties being thrown and all the mess that was never cleaned up, so they decided to share a cheap apartment close by.
Jolena grabbed her keys and her purse and opened her door to get out. Joe held the door while she stepped out.
“I better ask you what you are doing here,” Jolena said as she locked her car and started walking to the front door of their apartment building. “I thought you were going to sleep early?”
“Yeah, I know,” Joe said with mischievous eyes and shrugged. “I came across a nice girl at the bar where I was meeting some friends and, you know, one thing led to another. You know how it goes.”
They started climbing the stairs and he started to tickle her at her waist.
“My goodness, you womanizer.” Jolena smiled as she ran up the stairs, trying to get away from his tickling fingers.
“Last week, you promised me you’d slow it down with the girls. What happened to that promise?” She put her hands on her hips, faking being upset. She already knew that he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise for long.
“You know me, it’s like an addiction,” Joe said, while unlocking the door and opening it for Jolena. “I can’t help myself. When I see a nice girl, I just have to talk to her. If not, I can’t function properly anymore.
“I wouldn’t be me if I stopped seeing girls. And if I can’t have you, I need to see other girls to get some love and attention. You know a man can’t do without.”
Joe loved to tease her about it. They both knew their relationship was based purely on friendship. Making it a romantic relationship would be awkward.
Jolena started to walk to her bedroom door and looked over her shoulder with a smile. “I think I’ll go to sleep and try to forget that you said that. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Good night, Jo,” Joe said. He walked to his own bedroom door, turned around in front of it and looked at her sincerely as he continued to speak. “I hope you really sleep well tonight.”
“Good night, Joe.”
The next day, she tried to drag herself out of bed. Last night was no different from all the other nights. Working hard, working late.
Trying to sleep, but instead staying awake, thinking about the bills that were piling up until her eyes were so heavy, she couldn’t keep them open anymore.
Sauntering into the kitchen to make herself a pot of strong coffee and a sandwich, she realized Joe was already gone. She opened her laptop—an extra cost she’d had to save money for. She had needed it for her reports in college.
She started looking at any job offers that were of interest to her. After thirty minutes of searching, she gave up and put her laptop to the side, putting on some music and heading for the shower.
When she got out and walked into their small living room, she saw Joe was back, talking on the phone to someone.
“Yeah, I know,” Joe said to the person on the other end of the line.
Jolena bounced on the couch, starting to play a game on her phone.
“Well, maybe I know someone who would be perfect for that job. I’ll ask her what she thinks and then get back to you, okay?”
He continued to talk to the person on the phone but was looking with an enthusiastic smile at Jolena, trying to get her attention, waving his hand in front of her face.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll call you when I know more. Yes, I’ll call you as soon as possible. Bye, Adina.”
He sat in the armchair next to the couch and looked at Jolena. “I may have found the perfect job for Ava. My sister just called and told me that they are looking for a nurse where she works.
“Adina works as a nurse in a clinic in Miller Creek, in the forests at the base of the Grey Mountains, about three hours away from here. There is a whole community that lives there.
“It’s very closed off from the rest of the world. Ava is always up for an adventure—this just might be something for her.”
Ava was a mutual friend they both got to know when they were in college. Just like Jolena, she was looking for a job, but in this city, it was hard to get a job as a nurse.
Joe was right when he said that she was into adventure. During their lunch breaks, she couldn’t stop talking about the countries she wanted to travel to as soon as she had enough money and got out of college.
After graduation, she traveled to China, and she still talked their ears off about it.
“Well, that job could be right up her alley,” Jolena told Joe. “She really deserves to find a nice job, you know. Why don’t you call her and tell her about it?”
Jolena was sincerely happy for her friend. “Don’t they have a job for me there as well?”
“You are right. I’ll call her after you leave for work. You’re leaving in half an hour, right?” Joe asked kindly. “I don’t think they have other job offers, though.”
He is such a good friend, thinking about everything, she thought to herself. He always made sure she looked after herself, and really cared for her.
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