On Sunday afternoon, Ashley walked down the street, curling her hair round her fingers. She hadn’t told Lauren and Anneka where she was going. Well she had, but she lied, saying she was going to hang out with the guys. This felt like something she had to do by herself. She’d tell them once she officially got the job. She walked up to the cafe and pulled open the door, brushing her hair from her face.
“It’s the waitress! How you doing?” Yasmeen had graduated from leaning on the counter to sitting on it, phone in hand.
“Hey, I’m good, you?”
“Oh, been better, been worse, y’know how it is.” Yasmeen put her phone down and slid off the counter, grabbing Ashley’s arm and steering her towards the mysterious door.
“Err, where are we going?”
“Don’t worry, a couple more girls came in when you left, so you’ll have company. Wait in there.” Yasmeen opened the door and pushed Ashley into a corridor with three doors leading to different rooms. One toilets. The second, a kitchen/bakery of sorts. The third, a room with three red sofas, a plastic spider plant and two girls sitting on one of the sofas.
“Hello.” Ashley said awkwardly, and the girls looked up.
“Wow, you’re so pretty!” The girl who had said it had light brown shoulder-length hair and very blue eyes.
“I take it you’re a waitress-to-be as well?” The other girl, with short purple hair and grey eyes, was looking Ashley up and down.
“Yeah, I’m Ashley.”
“Adele.” The blue eyed one said.
“Laura.” Purple-hair-girl huffed.
“Great! Everyone’s here. Are you ready, girls?” Ashley jumped and whirled round to see Magda laughing in the doorway. “Gave you a fright, did I?”
“Just a bit.” Ashley breathed out, her hand on her chest.
“Sorry about that. Alright, you girls will be trained with plastic objects rather than the real thing, because we are cautious people here. But listen up, because this is your only lesson and you’re all working for an hour this evening. Understood?”
“Yes.” They chorused, and she handed them all trays.
She walked home with Laura and Adele, all of them giggling after their training, which turned out to be hilarious. “For when you really like who you’re serving and have to laugh at everything they say!” Magda had announced, then pretended to be the customer. By the time they had to actually work, they were skillful tray holders, and did Magda proud. She handed them all their wages and high fived them. Now, high on hilarity and pride, the girls were walking to their respective homes, and becoming friends. Adele was seventeen, but she lived on her own because her mother was in rehab. Laura was saving up to get her own place. They all swapped numbers and agreed to meet up outside of work sometime.
“Hey, guys, I’m home.” Ashley called, walking into the living room.
“Where have you been?” Anneka asked, loudly. Lauren shushed her.
“What’s up? Were you worried?” She looked at her phone. No, she wasn’t late.
“Tracy came by to ask if you were home from work?” Anneka looked at her pointedly. “Work, Ashley? Why? Why didn’t you tell us?”
“I only officially got the job today. I didn’t want to jinx the interview.. I was going to tell you, like, now.”
“We told you that you didn’t have to work.” Anneka stood up, but Lauren pulled her back down.
“No, mummy, I wanted to. It’s not an attack on you.” Ashley made her voice soft.
“Ashley, I can’t let you go.” Anneka stood up again. Lauren sighed.
“No. You’re too vulnerable. Maybe when you’re eighteen.” Anneka looked at Lauren.
“This doesn’t have to be an argument, Anneka.” Ashley looked her in the eye. “Don’t make me say it.”
“There’s nothing to say. You will quit that job, and you will continue with college.”
“Anneka, I thought we agreed not to do this!” Lauren stood up and faced Anneka.
“I can’t do it, Lauren, I can’t. I won’t.” Anneka looked Lauren directly in the eyes.
“It’s not the same, Anneka, I thought we decided not to make a fuss.”
“NO! IT IS THE SAME! I CAN’T LOSE ANOTHER CHILD, AND I WON’T!!!” Anneka yelled, and then moved forwards and took Ashley’s hand. Lauren looked at her feet.
“You can’t stop me.” Ashley’s voice was firm, and she pulled her hand away, turning away, grabbing her bag and walking out the door.
Tracy opened the door, and saw Ashley’s face. She looked her up an down. Her eyeliner was smudged on her cheeks and her eyes were puffy, red and bloodshot. Her hair was wet and tangled, sticking to her face. There was blood on her fists.
“Tracy…” She began, and faltered. “Can I…?” She didn’t need to say anymore.
“Yes. Come in.” Tracy stood to the side to let her in.
“I really…” She couldn’t speak.
“I know you do.” Tracy shut the door and pulled her in for a hug. Ashley started crying again.
“I love you.” Ashley whispered between sobs.
“I love you, too.” Tracy replied, her voice strong and steady.