Future Shock

By: Elizabeth Briggs

Part I

The Present





Wednesday

I can already tell this is one of those moments I’ll later wish I could forget. But like everything else, it will be burned into my memory forever.

“Elena Martinez, correct?” The pasty-white manager looks over my application with a frown. I stare at a piece of lint on his hunter-green polo shirt and shift in the hard wooden seat.

“Yes.” Remember to smile, I think and force my mouth to curl up. A dusty, round clock ticks overhead. 3:56 p.m. Two minutes faster than the watch on my wrist.

A waitress in a red skirt the size of a belt heads to the table next to us. If they hire me, I’ll be wearing that uniform too. Ugh. But I’ll take whatever job I can get at this point.

As the waitress takes the couple’s order, the woman’s high-pitched voice slices through the restaurant noise. “Can I get the bacon cheeseburger, without mayo but with mustard…” She goes on for another thirty seconds, replacing and adding so many items that she might as well make up her own menu item.

“How old are you?” the manager asks me, even though my age is right there on the form.

“Seventeen.” His eyebrows shoot up, and I quickly add, “But I turn eighteen in two months.”

He drums his fingers on the table and glances over my application again. My stomach growls at the smell of fried food wafting from another table. I haven’t eaten anything since the free lunch at school.

The air-conditioning kicks on overhead with a loud rumble, blasting cold air down on me. I rub my arms, wishing I’d worn a shirt with long sleeves. I would have if Los Angeles wasn’t in the middle of a freaking heat wave in the beginning of March, and if I had time to go home and change after school. No way was I spending the entire day in long sleeves, sweating all over myself. Besides, this is the nicest shirt I own.

The manager notices my movement and stares at my arms, his eyes narrowing at the sight of my tattoos. Definitely should have worn a different shirt. Why didn’t I bring an extra one to change into? Or a sweater?

“Have you ever stolen anything?” he asks.

“No,” I lie. Memories flicker through my head. At thirteen I stole five dollars from a foster mother’s purse to pay for food. At ten I took a chocolate bar from a different foster mother’s secret stash. At eight I swiped my father’s bottle of whiskey and threw it in the trash. But this manager doesn’t need to know any of that.

“Have you ever done drugs?”

“No.” This isn’t a lie. I don’t mess with that stuff.

He stares me down, like he doesn’t believe me. “Do you have any restaurant experience?”

“No.” Yet another pointless question. It’s all on my application—a big, fat zero. This is not going well. I can’t afford to screw this interview up. I force another smile. “But I can learn.”

He frowns but doesn’t answer. I start to fold my hands on the checkered tablecloth but stop when I see how greasy it is. At the next table, the couple laughs. The sound gets under my skin, like they’re laughing at me, even though I know that’s ridiculous.

The manager finally stands up and offers his hand. “Thank you for coming, Ms. Martinez. We’ll let you know.”

Yeah right. I stand up and shake his warm, wet hand. He has a limp handshake. My father would call him a pendejo. But Papá is in prison for life, so what does he know?

The manager pulls his hand away and that’s it. Another job interview over. I grab my backpack and start to walk toward the exit. I pass the other table and they laugh again. Maybe they are laughing at me.

What am I going to do now? I’ve been all over the city and have spent every free minute after school applying for jobs. No one wants to hire an underage, inexperienced, tatted-up Mexican girl. Even McDonald’s turned me down. If I don’t find something soon, I’m screwed.

In two months I’ll be kicked out of foster care, forced out of my current home, and most likely will have to drop out of school. My time’s running out fast, but I refuse to end up like some of the other foster kids I’ve known who aged out of the system. Living on the streets. Knocked up. Hooked on drugs. Sent to prison. Dead.

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