I stood off to the side, quietly watching Joseph maneuver around. The air smelled of spices and herbs. He opened up a wooden drawer and pulled out a spatula before centering himself in front of the stove.
His back muscles flexed as he skillfully cooked away. I could have stayed in this spot admiring him all day, but he caught me eventually.
“Hey, I didn’t hear you come in.”
The laugh that left my mouth was dry and nervous. “Oh... yeah, hi.”
He nodded at the stools across the kitchen. “Go sit. Your omelette is almost ready.”
I made my way over to the marble kitchen island and pulled up a stool.
“Wait,” he said, turning the knob heating the delicious smelling egg to the lowest setting.
As he walked over, I stood from my seat. Like a statue, I froze at the feeling of his hands on my waist. The heat from his fingertips warmed me through the material of my — well, his — sweatpants as he carefully tightened the drawstring.
“There you go,” he said.
His hands lazily slid from my body as if he didn’t quite want to let me go.
“Thanks... and I-I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to think clearly until I know what happened last night.”
“Yeah, of course,” he said, straightening up.
“First off, we didn’t sleep together. Well, technically we slept together but we didn’t... y’know- I mean, I would never- Okay, let me start over. Do you remember the Tavern?”
“Uh, yeah. The place with the fruity drinks and The Rat.”
He chuckled briefly. “Yeah. When we left, I took you to Gio —”
“Giovanni’s for cheesecake,” I interjected, remembering that part.
“Exactly,” he said with a nod. “There, you mistakenly ordered and guzzled down three Long Island Iced Teas which are made with like five different types of booze. They hit you pretty fast, and it wasn’t long after that I was carrying you out in my arms.”
I shook my head, utterly embarrassed. Leave it to me to get smashed my first time drinking and make a fool out of myself.
“Our parents were still together at your house and I didn’t want to risk sneaking you inside and getting caught by your mother,” he said, combing a hand through his almost fully dried hair.
“I took you here to sober up. As for your clothes — they were covered in vomit, so I had to undress you before putting you to bed.”
That explained why I was half naked.
“When you were asleep you were making these noises and I assumed you were having a bad dream... so I stayed upon your request and held you until you were calm enough to sleep again. After that, I fell asleep beside you, but I left before you woke up. It was innocent.”
I stared at him for a while trying to process all this news. There was no reason to doubt he was telling me the truth because he’d never lied to me before, but the girl he described was just so unlike me. I’d never act so recklessly. I heaved a long, frustrated sigh and rubbed my eyes until I saw stars.
Joseph took care of me. Alex was fine and my parents had no suspicions. So why didn’t I feel better about all of this? Why was I on the verge of freaking out? Why did this feel so incredibly wrong?
“You okay?” Joseph’s voice was low and gentle as he took a step forward.
“I don’t know, I feel guilty.”
“I’m keeping secrets from my mom a-and from my dad, and he’s done nothing but protect me this entire time. Now I’ve just spent the night at some guy’s house because...”
I trailed off as the worry on Joseph’s face vanished and was replaced with indignation. I messed up.
“Is that what I am to you? Just some guy??" he asked incredulously.
I took a step towards him but he immediately declined.
“I didn’t mean it that way. I —”
“Look. All I want is for you to be happy, but you’re still acting as if you have to report your every move back to your mother. You’re letting her dictate your life when she isn’t even around.”
I knew I really upset him because he was raising his voice, something he rarely ever did.
“Here I am going out of my way to put a smile on your face and make sure you’re okay, but you always ruin it. Why is that? Why do you always sabotage yourself?”
His jaw clenched and released multiple times.
“It’s because I’m scared!” Is what I wish I’d have said, but I pushed him away. It seemed easier. “I didn’t ask you to do any of this. I can take care of myself.”
He let out a humorless laugh.
“Really? You can’t even walk across the street without your mother practically holding your hand. Sienna, you’re 18 years old, when are you gonna start acting like it? Better yet, when are you going to allow yourself to be happy for a change?”
My hands found my hair and tugged anxiously.
“I need a break. I need a break because once you came around, my life did a complete 180. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore!" I shouted, my hands flailing about. “I was fine with being a girl who reads books all the time and who didn’t do adventurous things. But now I’m confused. Now, I’m feeling all these things that I never had before. It’s... it’s...”
“What things? I might be feeling the same way... just talk to me,” he begged.
“I- Joseph... I can’t do this. Maybe my mom was right all along, but I was just too stubborn to see that she’s been trying to steer me right. I don’t need distractions. Maybe we should just stop —”
At his words, I felt my chest tighten. He was making this hard for me to do.
“Thank you for the medicine and the clothes, but I think it’s best I go.”
“Will you at least let me drive you home?”
“I’m sorry, I need fresh air right now...”
At that point I might as well have been talking to the floor ’cause that’s the only place my eyes would focus on. I couldn’t bear to look at Joseph, because if I did, he’d have seen the truth.
He’d have seen that I wanted nothing more than for him to hold me close and tell me that everything would work out fine. That I was stressing about nothing.
Not bothering to put on my shoes right away, I scooped them into my hands and slipped out into the bright light of the early morning. I broke down into tears, and I didn’t know if it was because we had a fight and ended our relationship that was never really a relationship to begin with, or because everything he said was one hundred percent right. Or both.