High School Soap Opera
I look at the bartender with a mixture of helplessness and anxiety. I can’t use the bathroom without a drink, I can’t get a drink without money, I don’t have any money, and I might be delusional right now.
“Oh!” he exclaims, like he just remembered something. He takes a glass and fills it with ice, then adds water from the fountain. “I forgot,” he says, putting the glass on a napkin and sliding it across to me. “Compliments of the goofy guy at the bar. The bathroom is around there, past the coat check.” I look around, but the only other people at the bar are that couple. I look back at the bartender, and he grins sheepishly. “Go ahead. I’ll make sure nobody spikes this while you’re gone.”
“Thanks,” I say, holding out my hand. “I’m Jenna.”
“Jack,” he says. Instead of shaking it, he gently pulls my hand toward him, then bends to kiss it. I chuckle.
“Well, you’re right about one thing,” I say. He looks up but doesn’t let go. “You are goofy.” I wrinkle my nose, then walk away.
The restroom is actually really nice. It’s not seedy, like I would expect from a place like this. I’ve never been to a night club. I’m surprised Jack didn’t ask how I got in here without ID, or why I would come without cash. Then I realize that most girls probably expect to meet guys who will buy them drinks.
I look in the mirror. Nothing has changed, except that in addition to magically and unknowingly transporting into a soap opera, my pajamas have been replaced with a little black dress. It’s a classy look, with a pearl necklace and red lips. I don’t know how I’m not tipping over in these black stilettos, with satin ribbons tied at the ankles. I guess a perfect sense of balance is part of being in a soap opera, along with a sophisticated sense of style.
While I’m trying to get accustomed to my red lips and black eye liner, which I definitely don’t do usually, Candace comes into the restroom. I hastily turn on the faucet and wash my hands. She stands beside me, opens her clutch, and retrieves a tube of lip gloss.
“I’m really sorry about before,” I say as she’s applying gloss. I take a few paper towels from the dispense. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“You were right, though,” she says. “I was like, I dunno, blinded by his Rolex or something. I’m far too young for him anyway.” I look at her, and she says, “Well, I mean…” she stammers. “Not too young to be here, obviously.”
“Right, yeah. Me neither. I’m… 22?” She laughs.
“Yeah, I’ll go with that.”
“You don’t tell anyone that I’m sevent… um, 22.. and I won’t tell anyone that you are. Deal?”
“Sure,” she says, “but I’m eight-22.” She winks. “Candace.”
“I know,” I say. “I mean, you look familiar. Anyway, hi. I’m Jenna.”
“Have fun, Jenna. Be safe tonight.” She opens the door to leave.
“You too,” I call. I have a feeling she needs to heed the advice more than I do. Then again, I don’t even know what I’m going to do. I can’t afford a taxi, not that I have anywhere to go. I can’t even afford a Coke. Thinking of Jack, I smile. He has already shown me one small kindness. I wonder if I might be able to get another favor out of him.
I return to the bar, and it’s starting to fill up. Jack hands me the glass of ice water, which he had taken behind the bar, probably so he could serve people drinks without having to keep a close eye on it. I smile at him, and he winks. A middle-aged waitress comes by and places a plate of cheese fries beside my glass. She looks like the kind of waitress you’d find in a diner that’s been in the family for years.
“Oh, I didn’t-” But she cuts me off.
“He said to tell you it’s from a secret admirer,” she says gruffly. “I told him he shouldn’t be doing this, but who am I to argue with the boss.”
“The boss?” I ask. I look around. Adaire is chatting up another girl too young for him, but I know he’s not the owner anyway. They haven’t talked about the owner on the show, which means he’s not one of the main characters. Who could it be? I hope to catch someone’s eye, but nobody is looking at me.
Oh well. I never did eat that sandwich, so I’m pretty hungry. I pick a fry that doesn’t have a lot of cheese on it and bite into it. Suddenly Jack is there in front of me. He takes my half-empty glass and gives me a refill, even though I didn’t ask for it.
“How are they?” He nods toward the fries. “Is the cheese okay? I wasn’t sure if you’d want them with cheese or without. I said to put the cheese in a little bowl on the side.”
“So these are from the goofy guy too?” I ask. Before he can answer someone is calling him from down the bar, but I don’t need confirmation to know I’m right.
“If you own this place, why do you bartend?” I ask Jack when he’s close, giving someone a beer. “Can’t you just hire someone to do that?”
“I did,” he says quickly, before moving on, “but he just quit on me.”
I look around, now that I’m relaxed enough to really see. The bar is long, and probably should have two bartenders when it gets busy like this. The room is a rectangle. The front door, coat check, and restrooms are at one end. At the other is a small stage, but there’s nobody performing right now. Opposite the bar are some booths, and scattered throughout the middle of the room are high, round tables. They’re the kind of tables where you have a drink, not a meal.
Jack is flying. I don’t know how he can serve everyone at the bar, let alone all the people around the room. I guess it’s easier before people start getting drunk and belligerent. Candace is here, but she’s with Monet now. They’re laughing it up and talking with a couple of older guys, probably old enough to have been the girls’ baby-sitters at least.
I scan for other familiar faces. Adaire is at a booth with Serenity. She slides a large envelope across the table. It’s the money she stole from her own company, it has to be! Adaire loaned her the money to start her pastry shop, but she wasn’t paying it off fast enough to keep up with the interest rate, which Adaire kept raising. So she took the money from her shop the day before she usually makes her bank deposit, then had Dolf set the place on fire in exchange for a cut. She planned to use the insurance money to rebuild her business, but that’s pending police investigation to find out if it was arson. I’m sure Adaire doesn’t care where she got the cash, as long as he gets his money. She stands and leaves in a hurry, probably hoping nobody saw them together.
For the first time since I got here, I start to think about my situation. Somehow, I am in Spruce Ridge. Not the place they film the soap opera, but the actual town. The characters are real, and they are following the same plot that I watch on TV. That gives me a bit of an advantage, since I already know who they are, even though they don’t know me.
I have no idea how I got here, which means I have no idea how to reverse it to get back. But do I even want to go back? I’m not so sure. My friends are mad at me, and I don’t want to face them, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to stay here for a while. My cover story is that I’m 22, so I don’t even have to go to school.
Maybe this is a gift, an escape from the drama of my life. I can forget about who I am and create a character for myself. Maybe my character is an heiress who has abandoned her family and her fortune to live the life of a regular, middle-class twenty-something and learn the value of hard work and persistence. Maybe she was in a horrible accident and has amnesia. Jenna might not even be her real name, that could be one she chose for herself. And she doesn’t have any ID or personal effects because that would jog her memory, which is too easy.
“I said, are you DEAF?” I jump at the sound of a voice yelling at me. I look up startled and see Dolf standing right there.
“No…” My heart thuds. Dolf is one guy I do not want to upset. He’s already been in a fight today, and he lost that one. His pride is probably a bit battered, and what better way to feel better than to take on someone who can’t possibly beat him?
“You didn’t hear me ask you to move,” he says angrily, “so you must be Deaf.”
“Knock it off,” Jack says, a sense of warning in his voice. Was he always there, or did he come when he heard Dolf yell? “The lady has as much a right to sit there as you do. More, if you’re bringing that attitude with you.”
“If she’s not eating and she’s not drinking, she has no right to sit at the bar.” He slaps some money on the bar. “I’m a paying customer. She’s just-”
“Just in training,” I say quickly. “For the bartender position that just opened up. Jack says I should sit here and observe things for the first night so I’m not overwhelmed when he starts showing me the ropes tomorrow.” I look at Jack with pleading eyes, and he raises his eye brows. “Isn’t that right?”
“Forget it,” Dolf says. “This place is lame anyway.” He turns and heads for the door.
“Training, huh?” Jack asks, looking at me with admiration. I can’t tell if it’s for getting rid of Dolf, or for assuming the job is mine for the taking. “Well, then. I’d better put you to work.”
“Really?” I ask, hardly containing my excitement.
“Do you have any experience?” he asks. Damn. I should have gotten a job at a restaurant instead of coming home and watching this soap opera… never mind.
“No,” I say, then temper it with, “but I’m a fast learner, I always wash my hands, and I really need a job.”
He looks at me, thinking it over, then says. “Okay, but on a trial basis. Minimum plus tips.” He smiles and says, “Welcome to the Stargazer Lounge family.”
“Thank you! You have no idea how much this means to me.”
“Here, take this,” he says, handing me a shallow square bin over the counter. “Bus tables. Dirty dishes and garbage go in here, then bring this back to the kitchen.” He points to another door. “The kitchen staff will take it, and you can get an empty bucket from there. Oh, and we pool tips, so anything left on the table goes in the tip jar at the end of the bar. Good luck!”
Within an hour my feet are killing me. Working a job like this in stilettos? I do NOT recommend it. At least the customers are friendly… and by friendly, I mean they don’t harass me, but they don’t do anything else either. It’s as if nobody even knows I’m here for all the attention they pay me. I hear a lot of conversations that probably should have been held in private, and it makes me think that this is actually a great job for finding out all the dirt. And believe me, this town has a lot of dirt.
Candace got really drunk, and Monet had to take her home. Like, really drunk. Candace’s arm was around Monet’s shoulders because she couldn’t stand on her own, and she was slurring her words. It was fascinating. I’ve never seen anyone that drunk before, not in person. (Here I go sounding crazy again… not that magically entering a soap opera world is all that sane.)
Olivia and John just came in. Lucky for Candace it’s after she and Monet left, and lucky for me they are no longer talking about Olivia’s toothbrush. Thank God, because that was so boring. Instead they are talking about Olivia’s upcoming birthday. He wants to throw her a block party and invite everyone, but she would prefer a sophisticated get-together at home.
Oh my god, Ambrosia just walked in! Olivia and Ambrosia are best friends right now, but it’s a soap opera, so they have a very long history. They were friends as children, and then as teenagers they were more frenemies for a while before they reached this place in their relationship. It wasn’t until Ambrosia almost died by accidental shooting, and Olivia put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding until the paramedics came.
John is keeping tight-lipped about Ambrosia. I wonder how long it took for the drug to be out of his system, and if she succeeded in getting the shares of Adaire’s company or he’s just feeling guilty for cheating on Olivia.
“Excuse me,” Olivia says. She gets up and heads for the bathroom. Ambrosia shoots John a wicked little grin.
“You promised you wouldn’t show her,” he says. “I expect you won’t break your word, even after I sign over the shares.”
“Of course not,” she says, but I know enough about Ambrosia to know that she’s lying.
I go back to the kitchen to return a bucket full of dishes that smell like alcoholic garbage. The waitress that brought my fries earlier is talking to the cook. She must think I can’t hear her, but thanks to a decade of sleepovers my ears are trained to zero in on whispers.
“Not just giving out free food to pretty young girls, now he’s hiring them too? I just hope having that hot little body around here will boost donations to the tip jar.”
“Amen, sister,” the cook says.
I pick up a clean bucket and just make it out the door before stifling a laugh. Me, a pretty young girl? Me, a hot little body? Since when? I’ve never been hit on before, at least not that I know of. Hold on, that whole thing earlier with Jack, and the ‘goofy guy’ – was he hitting on me? I think back to the wink and the bashful look he gave me. Oh my God, he was trying to flirt with me, wasn’t he! I close my eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. If I knew he was trying to flirt, I might have tried to flirt back.
I’ve decided to post my NaNoWriMo novel on my blog this year, chapter by chapter. I hope you enjoy it! And remember, this is all about having fun and writing a whole lot in a short period of time, so please don’t give me “corrections.” I’m not planning on going for publication anyway. Start at the beginning: Chapter One