by Tim Young

Polly hated high school. She hated all the routines: the getting up in the morning, the waiting for the bus, worrying about being late, all the other kids, you name it. She had just turned sixteen years old. Her mom threw a birthday party for her, a surprise party, that Polly learned about an hour before time. When she walked into the darkened room, she yelled "surprise" before anyone else had the chance to. The red, blue, green and yellow balloons fell from the ceiling like colored rain drops.

Polly dealt with her mother like the older sister she never had. Their love was tenuous but from time to time would flare up like a rash, especially when they would catch the other staring, knowing the exact thoughts going through their heads.

Communications was not an ongoing thing between them. Polly's junior year had just begun in September. Her birthday was on Saturday October 4th. As a present to herself she decided to quit school before the month was out since she was now of legal age. The only catch was that she needed her mother's signature on the form the school needed to file away. Polly saved her mom the trouble of doing so.

Mom found out what was going on one afternoon when she pulled into Jimmy's Burger Stand to get a quick lunch. She never usually stopped there, Polly hoped she never would but a person's appetite can often times lead the way. Mom didn't even realize it was her daughter at first, because instead of the ever present jeans and t-shirt, Polly was wearing a white shirt, a black bow tie, black jeans instead of blue and had her long blonde hair piled neatly atop her head with a red and white ribbon.

Mom was just about to sit down at a table when she heard her daughter's voice. Polly was checking on a table across the room and said," is everything all right here?" Then Mom saw Polly flip her tray under her arm and march quickly back into the kitchen. Mom picked her purse off the table and just as quickly walked back out to the car. She had a difficult time getting through the rest of the afternoon as she answered the phones at the State Farm Insurance office. She forgot to write down several messages and had half a headache from not eating lunch.

Polly was napping on the couch when Mom arrived home from work. She was dreaming of driving her own car, living in her own apartment and coming home to her own boyfriend. Mom turned on the TV loud and then shut if off. Polly had changed out of her work clothes except for the red and white ribbon in her hair. She sat up startled by the noise and the rapid cessation of sleep. There was no escaping the questioning eyes of her mother.

"What the hell are you doing with those hamburgers? Have you lost your mind? You quit school didn't you? I knew it. I knew it the moment you ruined your own birthday party." Polly rose up from the couch to move away from Mom but, even surprising herself, Mom pushed her roughly back into the cushions.

"You just sit there and listen to me. Do you know what an old waitress looks like? It ain't pretty. Counting up your dimes and nickel tips, grey hair falling out and into your eyes. What the hell are you thinking of? I'm putting you back in school!"

Polly subjugated the anger and shame she was feeling so she sat there for a moment looking directly through her mother. Then quietly, "You can't put me back in school. I'm legally out. I hate school. All that time and energy and not one dollar going into my pocket, I mean what is the point?!"

As soon as possible Polly moved out and not only out but away. She created her own living space. She was now able to walk to the hamburger stand instead of having to take the bus. She was content. Mom called too often but never did return to the restaurant.

One night at work, a tall, skinny guy leaned on the hamburger counter waiting for his order to be taken. Polly picked up her pad and looked the guy in the eye. She thought of saying something to him about how cool he looked but then decided to wait and took his order. She did ask his name though so she could call him when the order was ready. Johnny told her then slowly turned around to find a seat and wait.

Polly called Johnny over. He pushed his long dark hair away from his face to behind his ear. Polly said, "You must come back again, and soon." Johnny smiled as he let his hand linger on hers' as she passed him his change. Polly never pulled her hand away.