“Excuse me?” Joseph uttered in disbelief.
“Is there a problem?” the waiter asked, setting down the silver tray.
“The problem is that you’re being obnoxious as hell. What makes you think a girl deserves or even wants to be talked to like that?” he retorted, his voice taut.
Sean looked Joseph up and down, and with a curt laugh, concluded he was no competition. “I doubt you’re fucking her, so why don’t you back off and let others have a chance. Kid.”
My skin felt as if millions of bugs were embedded underneath it, and my eyes widened so largely that I thought they’d pop out of my head. Joseph rose from his seat and in the same instant, lunged across the bar for the collar of the man’s shirt.
I cautiously jumped back, my heart hammering in my chest. He gripped the cotton between his fingers so tightly that his knuckles paled. The men’s faces were inches apart.
“Watch. Your goddamn. Mouth,” Joseph warned, each of his words laced with a venomous bite. I’d never seen him like this. I needed to do something, anything to subdue him. The last thing I wanted was for anyone to get hurt, especially because of me.
“Joey...” I called, reaching out to grab his arm. He was so focused on burning holes into the guy with his glare, that when he finally looked at me, he was shocked as if he’d forgotten I was standing next to him.
Freeing the pathetic man from his grasp, Joseph took his hands and caressed both of my cheeks. “Mariposa... I’m sorry.”
His voice was soft speaking to me, and his hands were even softer holding me. Quite contrary to the death grip he had on Sean’s shirt a few seconds ago. I leaned further into his touch, quietly forgiving him even though he had no reason to be sorry. He defended me.
His sorrowful eyes bore into mine and the music faded into a distant hum as I looked back at him, my hands locked around his wrists. I didn’t care that we had several pairs of eyes glued to us following the scene that played out just a couple minutes before.
“Let’s get you out of here, yeah?” he murmured, breaking the silence between us. I nodded, taking his extended hand as he led me out of the building from where we entered.
During the drive back, Joseph apologized profusely. He explained that he just couldn’t stand idly by while “The Rat” talked about me like I was a piece of meat, which I totally understood. I didn’t know what to do myself, and I appreciated him sticking up for me.
“Where are we going? I thought you were taking me home.” I noticed he had taken the opposite route. With his eyes still on the road, he lifted a finger to his lips, hushing me. “I knew it. I knew you had been plotting to kill me eventually.”
“Close your eyes,” he told me.
I did as he said. We drove a little longer before I felt the car come to a stop. He told me to wait as he stepped out and opened my door for me. Gripping his hand tightly to ensure I didn’t stumble, he led me through a door and I heard chimes sound off as it closed behind us. It was reminiscent of Giovanni’s place.
He sat me down in what I assumed was our booth and told me to keep my eyes closed while he went off to grab something. Not too much later, I felt him slip into the open space next to me. It was then that he allowed me to open my eyes.
“Joseph?!” I squealed, opening my eyes to reveal a full size cheesecake laying on the table in front of me. “You know how much I love cheesecake, but I don’t think I’ll finish this on my own,” I said, shaking my head.
“I won’t force you to. This is just me saying sorry... again,” he said with a frown.
“I told you —”
“I’m sorry if I scared you earlier and I’m sorry if I ruined our night. I took you out intending to cheer you up after my first screw up when I teased you back at your house.” He shook his head in frustration. “But I screwed things up again when I exploded at the bar. I’ve made you unhappy more than once tonight and you don’t know how bad that’s eating at me. If I —”
I cut off his superfluous apology when I enclosed my arms around him. He was stiff at first, but later allowed himself to relax into my embrace when I spoke. “You know, for someone with a 3.8 GPA, you can be very dense sometimes,” I mumbled into his shoulder, feeling him laugh against me. “If you didn’t let your thoughts get so loud, you’d have heard me say multiple times that it’s okay. I’m okay. Right here. In this booth. In your arms, I’ve never felt safer or happier, okay?”
He was the first to break away, staring intently at me. “What?” I asked, tilting my head.
My question seemed to snap him out of the daydream he was in. For the first time, he was the one turning pink. Joseph was blushing! and this moment had officially topped him wearing a bowtie. “I... do you want to have a slice before we go?” he asked.
“I’d love a slice,” I answered with a smile.
He dashed off to grab utensils and napkins. I was feeling thirsty remembering I never had time to drink my daiquiri, so I grabbed the attention of a nearby waitress and ordered myself something cold and refreshing.
“What can I get for you?” she asked.
Her thin rosy lips pulled into a warm curve as she plucked a black ink pen from the pocket of her blue apron. I admired the freckles that scattered her pale skin, and her pin straight auburn hair that was pulled into a high ponytail. She was effortlessly beautiful.
“You’re really pretty,” I told her.
“Thank you, but no way,” she replied with a bashful smile, shaking her head in denial.
“You are,” I insisted, but I could tell she wasn’t used to the attention. Much like me. I glanced at the options on the menu and decided on the Long Island Iced Tea. She raised an eyebrow at my choice, but I didn’t pay too much attention to the action.
“That’ll be all, thank you.”
Joseph and my second glass of iced tea arrived at the same time.
“There you are. I was beginning to think you snuck out the back door and ditched me,” I joked.
He sighed, sitting back down next to me. “Sorry, Mariposa. Gio and I had a little chat.”
“Well now that you’re here, let’s dig into this thing, shall we?”
“Let’s do it,” he agreed as he handed me a knife to take the first piece.
Between the cheesecake and iced tea, I was floating on a happy cloud. The drink coated the inside of my throat with an oddly satisfying warmth that slowly seeped into the pit of my stomach.
“Slow down, we don’t want you choking now,” he said, watching me toss back what was left in the cup.
“This is the best iced tea I’ve ever had. Like ever, ever,”
I wore a wide toothy grin. That’s when Joseph became suspicious of me, but I turned around and flagged down the waitress one more time before she crossed the restaurant.
“Take it easy, will ya.” He laughed nervously as he gently removed the cup from my greedy hands.
“Try it yourself.”
“I’ve had the iced tea here. It’s good but not that —”
He froze as the brown liquid touched his lips, his brow furrowing. “Sienna, what’d you order?”
“Hm?” I answered, playing with my thumbs.
“When you ordered your drink, did you ask for a regular brewed iced tea or the Long Island iced tea?” he clarified.
“Mmmmm... the long tea- tea island? It’s kinda sour, haha.”
“How much have you had?”
Sienna looked as if she was counting in her head before she decided on a number, holding up three, then two, and then three fingers again. I went with three and by the looks of it she was drunk. Shit.
“You’ve never had alcohol before have you?”
Instead of answering me, she lay her head on the cushioned back of the booth, smiling at me. I couldn’t help but smile back at her, ’cause she was really freaking pretty. I was about to tell her exactly that, but I shut my mouth as I watched her next move.
She put her index finger into her mouth and sucked off the raspberry sauce that dirtied it as she ate her cheesecake. She released the finger with a suctioned pop, making me groan.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her head popping up with an animated frown.
“N-nothing... nothing. Here,” I said, pushing a napkin toward her. “Use this to clean up instead.”
“Mmm, it’s so yummyyy,” she said, wiping her face.
“It is pretty yummy, huh?”
“You know what might taste even better? Haha!”
“Hm. Better than cheesecake? I don’t know, lay it on me,” I said, folding my arms across my chest.
“Your lips,” she answered.
I choked on the air.
“They look as sweet as honey... and suddenly *hiccup* I crave a lot of honey.”
She lazily draped her hand around my thigh and I immediately tensed. Three glasses of the wrong tea, and she was ready to jump me.
Definitely drunk and definitely a lightweight. I quickly and carefully removed her hand, placing it on the seat.
“You are so cut off for the night. We need to get you some water and a bed!”
“Nooooo. I can’t go home. That’s where my mama and papa are. They’ll ground me,” she protested, clinging to my shirt.
I cradled her head against my chest. “I’d never take you home like this. Besides, I don’t think our parents have missed us yet.”
“So wh-where will we go, Joey?” she asked, her lips poked out in the cutest little pout.
“Are you going to take care of me?”
“Yes. I’m going to nurse you back to health- or at least back to sobriety. Uh, can you stand?” I asked her.
“Yep, just watch me,” she replied, slowly rising from her seat.
“Ta daa!! Ahahaha- whoa!”
And down she went. Thankfully it was backwards into the booth and not forwards onto the floor.
I scooped her up into my arms and nodded at Gio who waved us off. She was as light as a feather, even with those hefty drinks in her.
It was kinda funny when she passed out in my arms and began snoring like a beast. Did that make her ten times cuter? Yeah, yeah it did.
Though the night didn’t go exactly as planned, there were definitely some high points. Little did I know that the highlight of tonight had yet to come.
Arriving at my parents’, Sienna was still fast asleep in the passenger seat. Careful not to wake her, I reached over to unbuckle her seatbelt and scooped her from the car, closing the door with my foot.
I carried her upstairs to the guest room and put her down gently before loosening the strap of her heels and slipping them off of her feet. After that, I went downstairs to grab her some water.
When I got back, I heard what sounded like crying. In the room, I found Sienna thrashing around on the bed. She was still asleep, which scared me even more. What kind of awful dream was she having? I didn’t know whether or not to wake her up, but thankfully I didn’t have to stand beside her like an idiot for a long time.
“Joey?” she whispered, stirring from her sleep.
I placed the water on the nightstand and sat down.
“Hey, I’m right here. You all right?” I asked, moving the wild strands of hair from her face. She tugged me closer so that I was completely filling the space beside her.
“Will you stay with me for awhile? Please?” she asked, burying her face in my chest.
“I’ll stay for as long as you need me, Mariposa. As long as you need me.”
And I did. I lay beside her, rubbing her back until she was calm enough to fall back into a peaceful sleep and then some.
Her phone went off a couple times. It was her dad letting her know she could stay out a little later if she liked, which was great because she needed to rest. But something in me kept shouting to take an extra step to make sure her mother wouldn’t grow suspicious. I decided to call Alex for help.
“Hey,” I hushed into the speaker.
“Why are you so quiet?”
“Sienna is asleep. I don’t wanna wake her.”
“It’s ten o’clock, Sienna would be home by now. Wait! Are you guys sleeping together?!” she screeched into the phone.
“Jesus, you psycho! Are you trying to burst my eardrums?”
I pulled away from Sienna, covering the speaker to quiet the sound of Alex’s voice and my own.
“It’s not like that. But if you wanna get technical, then yes, she is sleeping and I’m lying next to her. She was having a nightmare.”
“You’re losing me, Joe. Are you telling me you drove to her house because she was having a nightmare?”
“No. We’ve been together the whole night. Didn’t she tell you about the dinner?”
“I mean, yeah, but I’m still confused as to how you ended up in bed with her.”
“Alex, it’s a story I don’t have time for right now. I called because I need you to cover for Sienna just in case her mom checks in. Her dad knows we’re together, but you know her mom likes to stay a step ahead. Can you do this favor for me?”
“Sure, sure. That’s what I’m here for, right?”
“Don’t do that.”
I could hear the cringe in her voice.
“Haha. Love you, Lex.”
“Love you too, weirdo.”
I exhaled and locked my phone before slipping it back into my pocket, and Sienna’s phone into the drawer next to me. Now that I had that settled, I could focus on the girl in front of me. She slept for maybe half an hour before she jolted awake.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I- wha- I’m —”
Her response was the vomit that followed her incoherent speech. I hated seeing my little butterfly so bent up, but hopefully she’d take this as a lesson to be a bit more careful when ordering drinks in the future. And I didn’t care that she was making a mess on the floor, I’d clean it up later.
For the time being, I kneeled behind her and gathered her hair into a ponytail, gently rubbing her back as the contents of tonight’s menu came rushing back up; including the iced tea.
“Let it out...”
When she started dry heaving, that’s when I lifted her from the bed and walked to the bathroom down the hall. I told her to take my hand as she slightly wobbled standing on her own two feet when I let her down.
After swiping a rag from the shelf, I wet it with lukewarm water and wiped at her mouth, cheeks, and then her forehead. I rinsed the rag and repeated the process another time. Then, I turned my attention to her clothes. I needed to get the dress off of her because I didn’t want her sleeping in her own sick.
“Hey. We’re gonna have to change you alright?”
She nodded slowly and turned around so that her back was facing me. I turned my head to the right, staring at the shower curtain as I found the zipper on her dress and brought it all the way down. It pooled at her feet and she stepped out of it, holding on to me.
I took her into my arms and brought her back into the guest room, where I laid her down and tucked the covers in at her sides. She quickly drifted off, her hand gripping mine tightly as her snores filled the room.
Sienna... She tugged at the strings in my chest without even realizing; by doing the simplest of things. Smiling, talking, reading, or even now, sleeping. I admired pretty much everything about her, including the stretch marks I briefly noticed on her legs. Everything about her made me crazy, but in the best way possible.