SATURDAY... my head was pounding as if someone had repeatedly smashed a hammer against it the previous night. I slowly sat up in my bed and let my eyes adjust to the light. But when my vision regained focus, I realized I wasn’t in my room. Without hesitation, I lifted the blanket covering my lower half.
“Oh, thank god.” I sighed, relieved to find my bra and panties where they should be, but I was still confused as to where the heck I was. My addled brain failed to recognize the surroundings. On wobbly legs I stood up and noticed two Advils and a delicious-looking glass of water sitting on the bedside table.
I sat the pills on my tongue and pressed the glass to my lips, allowing the cool clear liquid to run out and coat my dry throat. After downing the water in three huge gulps, I put the glass back down and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand.
“God, I am never drinking again,” I muttered, trying to physically shake off how bad I felt.
“That’s a shame. After last night, I feel like you should let loose more often.” My heart stopped beating. There was no way that was his voice I just heard.
“Joseph?!?” I shouted, yanking the sheet from the bed to cover my body.
I was surely perked up despite the throbbing pain in my head. He stood before me in nothing but a towel that hung sinfully low on his waist. I turned my back to him because I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on talking; not when water droplets cascaded from his dark wavy hair and down his toned chest, only to slide down and disappear underneath the towel.
“What happened last night?! Why am I not at home? Why am I half naked and why are you mostly naked??” I asked him.
“Shit. I’ll be right back,” he said, bolting from the room.
When he returned his chest was still bare, but below he wore a pair of loose gray track pants. Still pretty distracting.
“... how’re you feelin? You look a little red.” His hazel eyes flashed with a hint of worry.
I awkwardly cleared my throat, embarrassed that he was the reason why my cheeks were three different shades of pink. “Oh, it’s just- my head hurts really bad, but the pills should kick in soon. Thank you for leaving them.”
I wrapped the thin white sheet tighter around my body, afraid it would come undone despite my death grip on it.
“No problem. You’re a fan of Long Island Iced teas, but you can’t keep em’ down,” he said, sliding his hands into the pockets of his pants. A slow smirk grew on his lips that said: I know a lot you don’t.
I cradled my face in my hands. “Oh no, what did I do?”
“It was insane. You hopped up onto the bar counter and gave the crowd a show to remember.”
“W-what do you mean a show?! I didn’t do anything sober Sienna wouldn’t do, right?” Joseph’s smirk only turned into a mocking grin. “I-I didn’t do anything... dirty did I?”
“Oh, you were filthy.”
“W-wha?...” My voice came out in a broken whisper.
“I’ll tell you everything you want to know about the other night, but for now you can take a shower. I left you a t-shirt and a pair of sweats. They may be a little big, but should fit you mostly,” he said, starting on his way out of the room.
“Wait- where will you be?” I asked, shuffling toward him.
“In the kitchen getting you something to eat. The pills will sit better on a full stomach.”
“Oh, no, it’s okay. I’m not really hungry.”
“Please, don’t lie to me again. I know you’re hungry because anything you ate last night, you threw up before you passed out.” His voice was firm as he stepped forward and gently gripped my chin. I didn’t dare protest any longer, or else I’m sure he would have resorted to spoon-feeding me. “Oh, and there’s extra body soap and towels above the shower on the right-hand side,” he added.
My lips tugged into a slight curve. “Thanks, Joey... for everything.”
He smiled back at me in response, partially revealing his teeth before disappearing out the door. Once he was completely out of sight, I sniffed myself and discovered that I had reeked. How did he get so close to me without gagging?
Scurrying off to the bathroom, I shut the door, hit the knob on the shower and stepped out of my heavy garments. Under the warm flowing water I spent ten minutes scrubbing myself clean. The other ten minutes consisted of me thinking about Joseph. The image of him in that towel was impossible to erase from my mind.
As I was shampooing my hair, I wondered how the police hadn’t shown up at his house yet. Once I was 30 minutes late returning home and it was a nightmare. I could only imagine what my mom would have done not hearing from me for an entire night.
Feeling clean and much more alert, I dried off and slipped on my underwear that were thankfully still in good condition. Here and there, my eyes searched around the sink for my purple toothbrush, but I remembered I wasn’t at home. My finger had to do.
Back in the room, I stuck my feet through the wide holes of Joseph’s sweatpants. Their length covered my feet. To match, I threw the shirt over my damp hair and knotted it at the bottom. It was the comfiest outfit I’d ever worn.
For a little while I sat in bed lost in my thoughts. Soon enough those thoughts again became all about Joseph, this time about how distracting the smell of his clothes was. Vanilla and pine consumed my senses, making me want to be near him.
“Ughhh!” I groaned, falling back onto the mattress.
It felt like there was a coil winding itself impossibly tight in my stomach and it drove me crazy. I needed to talk to my best friend and I decided that’s exactly what I’d do. There was one thing stopping me though: I didn’t know where my phone was. Something told me to check the bedside table, and thankfully I discovered it in the drawer laying on top of a box of tissues. When I dialed Alex’s number, she picked up on the first ring.
“I’ve been waiting for you to call!! Are you home?” she shouted from the other end of the phone. I cringed, physically not ready for that type of volume.
“Uh, no,” I said, twisting the ends of my wet hair with my free hand. “I’m- I’m at Joseph’s house.” I paused, awaiting her to pester me with a million and one questions, but they never came. Instead she said:
“Okay cool. When you leave, come straight over so we can talk. Don’t worry about your parents, I’ve got you covered. Have fun, love you bye!”
I wanted to ask Alex why she was so uncharacteristically short with me over the phone, but I let it go and prepared myself to go see Joseph. Facing him was inevitable.
In the kitchen, 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 shortly. “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?”
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 have 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.
Needing to talk to Alex as soon as possible, I ran all the way to her house and didn’t stop until I was on her doorstep. I knocked for maybe ten minutes before giving up. She wasn’t home, so I called her.
“Hey, where are you?”
“I’m sorry, I know I said we’d talk, but I forgot I made plans to study with a friend.”
“Don’t worry, it’s fine. I’ll leave you to it.”
I really wanted to talk to my best friend, but it was good that she was studying. Alex has never been one to really spend downtime on schoolwork and I was proud of her for changing. Proud of her for learning that it’s important to try at something even if you don’t think you’ll succeed.
Making my way down the steps of her porch, I blew out a breath. Ultimately, figuring out my feelings was something I needed to get through by myself. No one knew the answer but me.