I worked on table arrangements with Michelle and Jasmine until it was time for the meeting to come to a close. Sitting on the floor, I tied up the spools of silk and laid them in neat rows. As I moved to put them into a bin I heard a door shut and then the squeaks of sneakers on the recently waxed gym floors.
“There you are. I lost you for a whole hour,” Joseph said, walking over to me.
“Hey. Yeah, I was running around helping,” I answered as he took a seat on the floor beside me. We were sitting so close that his knee brushed up against mine. Not that I minded. His presence was always comforting.
“That’s a pretty color,” Joseph commented. He dragged his fingers along the soft fabric and I found my eyes following their every move. They were long and slender and traced blind patterns as his hand moved up and down the smooth silk. I’m not sure when I moved, but I saw my hand inching toward his. He noticed too, craning his head to look over at me.
“Do you want to hold it?”
My eyes widened in surprise. “No!” I blurted out, snatching my hand away from his.
“I mean...it’s not that I don’t want to- I was just- I don’t know. I-I would enjoy holding your hand, but —”
“Listen.” Joseph shifted so that he was facing me completely. I was so nervous my ears were ringing. “You can hold my hand, but if you want any more than that, you’re gonna have to wine and dine me first.”
He held out his hand for me to take and I playfully smacked it away, the tension beginning to leave my body as laughs overtook me. “Do you even drink wine?”
“Not at all. How about you buy me a milkshake?”
“Deal. Only if the milkshake is vanilla with crushed Oreos on top... and I get to have a sip,” I said, picking up a spool and placing it in the bin beside me.
“Geez. You wanna hold my hand and drink my milkshake? You’re insatiable.”
Joseph helped me by picking up the three remaining spools. I packed the lid on and pushed the bin across the floor next to the other supplies.
“Mmm. I want cookies now. Come with me to the vending machine?”
He chuckled. “Sure. Let’s get you some cookies.”
We exited the gym and made a left, entering what I called the ‘hall of vending machines’. There were several machines for sports drinks and water, chips, and candy. My eyes roamed over all three until they landed on the blue mini bags of joy, chips ahoy.
“Yaaay, they’re here!” Cheering, I skipped to the machine furthest right. After slipping my dollar in and punching in the code, I claimed my sweet when it fell to the bottom.
“The administrators have the snacks inside switched every two weeks, so this is a blessing,” I told Joseph.
“You should just buy all the cookies that are in stock right now, so you’re not disappointed when a granola bar is taking its place,” he said leaning against the water machine.
“I couldn’t. Surely I can’t be the only one with a chips ahoy addiction.”
He shook his head, smiling. I fidgeted with the package of cookies in my hand, deciding if I should act while we had a moment.
“Joey? I mean, is it okay if I call you Joey?”
“You can call me anything but stupid.”
My lips curled into a grin. “Well, alright Banana Head.”
Joseph laughed and I joined him. “I was wondering... well, my mom was wondering. D-do you want to- would you like to come over for dinner?”
It could have come out more cohesively, but it definitely could’ve come out worse.
“You want me to meet your parents?”
“I’m sorry to spring something like this on you. It’s my mom, she thinks everyone has bad intentions. When I told her about you she said she wanted to meet you and your family, you know, to see what you’re like.” I sighed, palming my face. “Ugh, she’s probably gonna ask you about your ancestry and whether you got baptized or not.”
“Are you done? I’d have said yes about fifty-seven words ago.”
I lunged at him, temporarily rendering him breathless as I squeezed him in a tight hug. He was incredibly warm. It felt like I was hugging a portable heater.
“Really? Oh my gosh, thank you so much. This means a lot,” I mumbled into his shoulder.
A vibrating in my front pocket had me pulling back with haste.
“I gotta go, but come with your parents tonight at 7 p.m. sharp. My mom has a thing about plaid shirts, so stay away from those. Oh! And wear a bowtie if you have one.”
“Dinner with the ’rents at 7 p.m. sharp. Anything but plaid, accompanied by a bowtie. You got it, chica.”
“See you then!”
“So what’d he say?” Alex asked. I asked her to come over to talk about the night’s big event: Joseph meeting my parents. I was more than confident that my dad would love Marlene and David and vice versa. But whether they would like my mom was a different story.
“I was nervous, but he seemed rather enthusiastic.” I brought a blue floral netted collar dress up to my body and waited for Alex’s approval. “This one?”
“So what, are you guys dating now? And god no. Next.”
“Alex?! Of course not. My mom views this a little differently since he’s well — a guy. I’ve never had a guy friend which really shouldn’t make a difference, but you know how she is,” I said, tossing the blue dress on my bed.
I turned back to my closet and my eye caught the sleeveless maroon body-con dress that was tucked away near the back. Alex bought it for me about a year ago, but I never had a reason to wear it.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” she chanted excitedly while I was still debating whether to pull it off the hanger. “We’ve finally got a winner.”
“It’s a little much for just a small dinner, no?” I protested, but she got up from my bed and snatched it from my closet, anyway.
“It’s perfect! Sexy, sweet and sophisticated and the color compliments your skin. Isn’t Joseph dressing up for this too?” she questioned while admiring the lace detailing.
“I told him to wear a bowtie, so yes he’s sort of dressing up. But I doubt he’s going to go over the top for a small dinner. The occasion with your parents wasn’t nearly as formal as this,” I said, dramatically waving the flashy dress in front of her face.
“You’re wearing the dress. I will staple it to your body. And correction, they’re my guardians for one more year.”
“Alex, you’re already 18. Did you forget?”
“Yeah... I think I did. Anyway, that’s beside the point, Sienna. The dinner was another thing they didn’t really care about,” she said, plopping back down on my bed.
“Only thing that matters to them is cruising around going who knows where. They couldn’t care less about who I surround myself with.”
I tossed aside the red dress and sat beside Alex, who looked off at nothing in particular. “Did they —”
“No. They didn’t pick up. I don’t even know why I expected an answer when I never got one before... all I have - all I’ve ever had - was Nani and even she had to leave eventually.”
Nani was Alex’s live-in housemaid and babysitter. She had worked with the Johnson family since Alex was a baby. When Alex’s father, Aaron, went on more frequent business trips, Nani ended up having to work full time to take care of her. To this day, I’m unsure if her mother and father have ever even held her longer than 2 minutes when she was a kid.
Later down the line, Nani’s mother got sick and she had to quit to go take care of her. Alex was already seventeen by that time and since then, Arron rarely came home. He’d send her money every month to get by, but not a single phone call. Not a single ‘I love you.’
“But hey, that’s the way life goes,” she said with a careless shrug. I knew it hurt her more than she let on though. “You, Josie, Lucas, and Joseph are my family.”
“I love you so much, Alex Marie Johnson and you and I will always be family,” I said, closing the gap between us with a hug I poured all of my love into.
“I love you too, Sienna Martinez. I don’t know how to pronounce your middle name.”
I pulled away, laughing. “It’s Mariciela. Mah-ree-syeh-la,”
“Mmm. Mah-ree-see ya later.”
“You’ll get it one day.”
Alex and I talked up until about half an hour before Joseph was set to arrive with his parents. I needed to get myself together. After a quick shower, I pulled on the fitted dress and admired myself in the mirror. I looked pretty dang good. Then, I let my hair dry into its natural waves and put on mascara to make my lashes a little more defined. The final touch, Burt’s Bees.
“Sienna, come downstairs for a second!” my dad yelled up.
“Ya voy!” (I’m coming!) I responded, making my way down the stairs with my heels in my hands. Didn’t want to risk falling again.
“Your mother wants to see you in the kitchen.”
I walked past my dad to find my mom setting the table. “You beckoned?”
“Yes. What time will this young man and his parents be arriving?” she answered, placing a fork near the seat my father usually sits in.
“I told him 7 sharp.”
“I’m just about finished setting up the table. Are we waiting on them?”
“I just figured we’d need time to get ready... and I mean, you’re still wearing your apron, Mom,” I pointed to the floral patterned cloth draped around her waist, covered in what I believed to be my dad’s spicy curry sauce.
“Smart girl. I’ll go get changed now,” my mom said, darting out of the kitchen.
I followed her out and walked over to the couch. It was time to slip on my trusty black stilettos; the only pair of shoes that gave my confidence a rocket boost. My look was complete and in perfect time. Just then I heard the doorbell.
Already? I checked the clock that hung above the kitchen door and it read: 6:50. He was early. Careful not to trip and injure myself, I quickly shuffled to the door. Smoothing my dress over, I took a quick breath and opened the door.
Huh. To think I was worried about the heels knocking me off my feet. Seeing Joseph nearly did the trick. His t-shirt and ripped jeans had definitely grown on me, but him being so dressed up- well, I certainly didn’t hate it. The normally messy waves that fell on either side of his face were tamed in a slicked back style, exposing his forehead. He wore a crisp white button-up shirt folded to his elbows, adorned with a black bow tie. It added the right amount of cuteness to his typically sexy-rugged look. He even wore a pair of shiny black slacks.
“Wow, uh, David and Marlene, hi! Please come in, como estan?” (How are you?) I asked, stepping to the side to allow them in.
“Estamos bien, gracias. (We’re doing well, thank you.) It’s a pleasure to meet you formally, especially since we’ve heard so much about you after you left. This one never stops talking,” she said, not-so-discreetly pointing toward her son.
“Oh really? Looks like I’ll have to speak to him about that loose cannon. Ah, the dining room is just beyond the door straight ahead.”
“Thank you,” David said. Marlene nodded and smiled in my direction. Joseph took his parent’s place in front of me and lifted a hand to run through his hair, but stopped remembering he had styled it. He tightly clasped his hands in front of him, constantly weaving his fingers in and out of each other.
“I know you said only to wear a bowtie, but my mom insisted on the full shebang.”
“Don’t feel bad for being handsome. You’ll impress my mom for sure,” I said, taking another good look at him.
“Have I impressed you?” he asked.
I coyly leaned my head against the doorframe. “Yes. You have.”
For the first time he took in my appearance. His eyes hadn’t looked at anything but my face until then. “You look stunning tonight.′
“Thank you,” I said, ducking my head to conceal the blush creeping onto my cheeks.
After shutting the front door, I led Joseph to the kitchen. When we entered, I saw that my mom had made her way back downstairs and cracked open the red. She and Marlene shared a few words over the food as our dad’s exchanged pleasantries. A few moments later, my mom invited everyone to sit down, and that’s when the fun began.