“Sienna,” Abigail calls my name. “Did you hear me?”
I drop the pencil in my hand, looking upwards to meet my friend’s face through the computer screen. Abigail looks expectant, but I’m afraid to answer because I know her expression of disappointment too well. It was the face she gave me with every invitation I declined, as I opted instead to focus on my studies and college applications. It was not that I did not want to spend time with her or other acquaintances; it would be a godsend to find a source of enjoyment during this summer, given how much of it I’ve spent preparing for life after graduation. Joining Abigail to the party would be a break from the constant stream of application forms and the stresses that centered the uncertainty of college acceptances. However, coming from a low-income home, I was without the similar privileges of those around me--Abigail and my boyfriend included, and in turn, had to recognize my priorities first. I needed those scholarships and grants; without them, I had no future outside this place.
Also, if I was being honest, I did not want to see my boyfriend, Daniel. Though we had been dating since the mid-Sophomore year of High School, I noticed a change in his demeanor these couple months that made me uneasy. He began to assume that my sudden absence this summer was because I was entertaining other boys instead of him. Though that was the farthest from the truth, I felt inclined to assure him of my loyalty. This was done through the use of my body. When he uttered displeasure at the hours I spent studying instead of going out with him, I let him fondle me beneath my shirt. When he insinuated that I was “slutting” it up with the teacher who helped with my college application waivers, I let him touch me beneath my underwear. When he complained about how I dressed for attention, I put him in my mouth. It was all an act to appease him, and despite his best efforts, I never let it get beyond this. Much to his disapproval, I was still a virgin. As it came out, I was a shitty girlfriend. Maybe I deserved his mistreatment.
“Yeah, there’s a party at Riley’s place, right?” It came out a question but I was fully aware of her proposal. Riley was Daniel’s best friend. Hanging around him was mostly filled with uncomfortable silences broken with his attempts at flirting, which Daniel disregarded as banter. However, from the way he stared at me, the humor was lost on me.
I also don’t know how I forgot about Riley’s party, given he throws a big bash every summer the week before the semester begins. Every time I hung out with Daniel this summer, it was all he raved about. Given how busy I’ve been preparing for school, it’s reasonable that it slipped my mind. There were more important things happening in my life right now instead of attending Riley’s party. Besides, any party with Daniel in company ended in conflict, because I was apparently staring at other guys. Because I was a whore. Like I said, there were more important things.
“Daniel said you were coming,” Abigail stated, as she applied the gloss over her lips.
I frowned slightly. Did he? He mentioned the party often, but I was unaware of my attendance being promised. It made me uncomfortable that he spoke for me, especially given the stress I was under. However, what Daniel says usually goes. “I am. Sorry--I probably just forgot it was tonight.”
Abigail’s mood picked up at the confirmation and she started rambling about the night, how she would finally hook up with her long-time crush, Andrew. I offered non-committed responses to her rambles, staring down at the paper on my desk. All I needed was an acceptance letter, financial aid, and I would be free. Free from this disingenuous friendship, as Abigail had been Daniel’s friend before mine. Free from Daniel and the toxicity in our relationship.
Abigail popped her glossy lips together. “Be ready in an hour--maybe wear that dress we got the last time we went to the mall or something. I’m picking you up, okay?”
“I’ll see you.” I smiled. The call ended and I was left with my computer’s screen. I stared at the screen until it went black, then stood and pulled out the very dress she mentioned, leveling it with my eyes.
Feeling unsettled, I prepared for the night.
I should have stayed home.
“Are you nervous?” My mother asks tentatively as I put on my seatbelt. I turn to meet her worried glance and offer a small smile.
It was a question I have become familiarized with throughout these recent months, even more frequently the last few weeks as my first semester of college approached. After receiving both an acceptance letter and a full-tuition scholarship, a wide set of preparation commenced in my home. Because the scholarship didn’t include living accommodations, with a part-time job and the aid of my mom, I was able to find an affordable apartment space with two roommates—Florence and Niall— near the campus. Which led to the current situation, with the final boxes of my belongings in the backseat and my mother’s anxious face in front of me.
“No, Amá,” the lie comes easily.
I was nervous. It was a daunting experience to be alone in the world. For the past year and a half, I had wanted nothing more than to escape this place and to leave everything behind. Nothing was simple. Somehow, only in this position now, I realized I would not shake what happened, but carry it wherever I went. For now, I would press it to the farthest part of my mind and leave it there untouched.
My mother is not convinced, “It’s okay to be nervous, Sienna.”
I smile again. “I know.” A shuddered breath escapes as I glance out the window. “I’m more excited, really. It’s a fresh start.” That was not a lie. God knows I needed it, regardless of the weight it left. I needed a distraction. “I want to make you proud.”
She smiles at my optimism, but then her expression turns serious and I know what is coming. I brace myself. “You had a tough time after—”
“I’ll be okay.”
“You will.” She agrees but continues, “Just know that I’m here for you. Always, Mija.” I grab her hand and squeeze it. “I need you to promise that you won’t drink.”
I stopped drinking months ago but I nodded. “I promise.”
The next moments are reminders to call home every once in a while and to be safe. She repeated various times that she was proud of me. I willed myself not to cry, but a few tears managed to escape despite my efforts. She squeezes my hand once, twice before I settle in the car seat and drive away from the house I grew up in, leaving behind the only place I’ve ever known.
The streets were bustling with energy, as the campus was filled with the buzz of a new semester and the new addition of students. It was different from when I brought my furniture to the apartment, as the community had been more desolate, and now the area was busy and animate with students and their families, along with the abundance of welcoming staff members. While it was exciting, it was slightly overwhelming.
It was during my drive to the apartment, and my enthrallment with the campus life, that I failed to notice the naked torso that suddenly appeared before me.
I jammed my foot down onto the brake pedal, the tires screeching with pressure. My heart thumped erratically in my chest at the almost-collision. It was not even the first day yet, and I nearly hit someone with my car. Had it not been for the adrenaline, I would have panicked being in this position. Again. I had no time to dwell on the circumstances, though I’m sure I would deal with them later.
At the head of the car stood a boy with dark hair. If I hadn’t noticed his naked torso first, it would have been his tattoos. Particularly, a butterfly on his belly. One half of his body carried most of the tattoos—mostly his arm, which had a random assortment of ink designs. His other hand held his shirt, and the button of his pants was undone. A cross necklace swinging on his neck. And his lips—
“Watch where the fuck you’re going!”
I blinked. Excuse me?
I was about to muster a reply to the asshole, because he was the one who ran into the street, but he turned his head sharply and I followed his gaze.
Ah, so that’s why he was running.
Another man was sprinting across the campus and his eyes narrowed as soon as he saw the tattooed stranger in front of me, trailing behind him was a girl buttoning her loose blouse. It made sense now. Tattoos fucked someone he shouldn’t have.
I couldn’t hear his voice but I saw him mouth the word “fuck” before he smirked at me, threw his middle finger up, and ran.
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