For the next week or so, I spent a lot of time on my own. It wasn’t that I was avoiding Joseph or Alex for that matter, I just needed a clear headspace to think. Eating lunch in Klein’s room helped and I caught up on the work I let accumulate. Shocking, I know.
When I wasn’t in school, I was up in my room either reading or sleeping. A spiritual vacation was what I needed, some time away from the chaos of my world and I made sure to give myself that. Regarding my mother, my goal was clear. This life was my own but for so long I deprived myself of the amazing luxuries it had to offer. Including the affection of a person who cared about me, and it was all because I feared my mother. I was just a pawn in her game and I could have either let her continue to have control over me or learn how to play the game... or better yet, not play at all.
Joseph, on the other hand, well, he was an entirely different story. I didn’t realize how much of my time was spent with him or how the majority of my days consisted of us studying or venturing off in the evenings together until he was gone. He was no longer lighting up my phone with texts asking me random questions like, “what’s your favorite sound?” Or, “you know the phrase ‘best thing since sliced bread?’ Well, what do you think was best before sliced bread?”
He wasn’t sending me random smileys or memes from his favorite page on Instagram and god, did I miss that. I missed him. I knew what I wanted to do next, but I needed a little encouragement. And I knew just the person to go to for a pep talk.
Thursday at school.
“Sounds like a case of a rebellious teen,” Klein commented, leaning on the front of his desk.
“No. Rebellious teen stage is like fourteen through sixteen. I’m eighteen and I just want my own life!”
He looked at me with his arms folded across his chest. “Have you tried reasoning with your mom?”
“Yes, and the conversation always ends with me being a ‘disrespectful child’ I don’t get it.” I paced between the classroom door and the edge of Klein’s desk.
“She can hold me hostage in our own home and control my life, but when I want to express my feelings I’m suddenly disrespectful?? Bullshit!” I shouted, slamming my hand on the desk in front of me.
“Whoa now, language, Miss Martinez. It’s still school hours,” he said, tapping his watch.
“I’m sorry... I don’t normally swear,” Feeling hopeless, I slouched into the desk I had just assaulted.
“I won’t tell you that you need to conjure up a manipulative plan to get what you want, but maybe try to catch her on a good day?”
“There’s no such thing. She’s always waiting to pounce.”
“Then take that risk. Tell her straight up what you want while being respectful of course, and she’ll respect you. She may give you what you’re asking for and more.”
I nodded. But he just didn’t know my mother the way I did.
“As for Vasquez... don’t let him go.”
“What? How do you —”
“Every time you present in front of the class, his eyes are glued to you. Kinda like the way my eyes are glued to the tv screen during the Super Bowl.” He pretended to throw a football across the room and taunted the imaginary crowd watching him. That was why he was my favorite teacher.
“Or the way my eyes are glued to Amelia when she’s doing the simplest of things like reading or fixing up her hair. That boy hangs off your every word.”
He smiled warmly at his thoughts while my mind flew away to another place. A place I’d been previously terrified to be in, only this time I felt like things could really be okay. Instead of suppressing the feeling in my chest, I wanted it to keep growing. I wanted to know where it’d lead me. Luckily, I ran into the topic of conversation himself later in the day. He approached me as I left my last period class.
It’d been two weeks since we talked, or really saw each other with the exception of brief hallway appearances. Being close to him again made the sun come out from behind the clouds of my muddled mind.
Joseph stopped in front of me, sliding the strap of his backpack onto a shoulder. “Hi.”
“Hey,” I replied.
“How are you?” he asked.
“I’m okay. But you, you look a little worn out.” The sunken rims under his eyes were prominent, and I frowned at the sight.
“Ahh... yeah I haven’t been sleeping too well,” he admitted.
“Why?” I hoped it had nothing to do with what happened between us.
“You know, exams and stuff.”
“Right, finals are on their way. I should have warned you that the teachers are merciless around this time. Don’t even get me started on the size of our history review.”
“Haha. I bet you don’t even need the review, you’ve got this.” He gave me a half smile, and I found myself smiling along with him.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I said, with a shrug.
He shook his head, chuckling lightly. “Smartass.”
“When I wanna be,” I quipped.
“So what have you been doing these days? I haven’t seen you since...” he trailed off, letting the sentence float up into the air.
“I’ve been doing some thinking, a lot of thinking. I’ve also been trying to quickly handle any last-minute prom preparations. Then, there’s the foreign language final.” I leaned against the wall of lockers behind me. “I have to create three mini landscapes of each of the countries I chose to study about. As if learning the language itself wasn’t hard enough.” I shook my head. “My fault for trying to be ambitious.”
On Joseph’s face was the look of intent he always had when I rambled. “Sounds like you’re overdoing it. Isn’t there anyone who can take your place on the committee for a little while?”
“I don’t know. It’s usually me who keeps things in check.”
“Ask Jasmine. I’m sure she’ll be more than honored to fill such worthy shoes.”
I glanced down at the shiny tiled floors, feeling conflicted. “Please don’t put me on a pedestal.”
“Look at me.”
I lifted my head and my eyes traveled to his hair, ears, and nose before finally his eyes. They were sincere, dim but sincere. “I’m serious. You’re incredible. You deserve a night off, try a few nights actually.”
“Why are you still being so nice to me when I upset you?”
He sighed. “You didn’t upset me. You just frustrated me, Sienna. But I can be frustrated or upset with you and still care about you.” My heart lurched. Could he be any more perfect?
He raised his arm to hug me, but at the last minute opted to soothingly rub my shoulder. “No te preocupes, Mariposa.” (Don’t worry, Butterfly.)
“Here. Why don’t you shoot Jasmine a text and ask her if she’d mind taking the reins for a bit? There are only two or three meetings left, right?”
“Yeah. We’ll be going over the checklist today. Principal Howard was supposed to drop in, too. Oh, and I know there was an issue with one of the standing speakers, but we may not even need them. At least I hope so... prom is tomorrow night and the last thing I want is for —”
“Okay, this is the part where I tell you to relax.” This time around, Joseph didn’t hesitate in comforting me how he wanted. He grabbed both of my cold hands and held them tightly in his, stroking their backs with his thumbs. My body instantly began unwinding. “You’re worrying about nothing. Everything will be great, okay?”
I let out a calming breath and nodded, looking down at our clasped hands. They fit together like a lock and its key. “Alright. I’ll text her now.” Slowly, I let go of Joseph’s hands and pulled out my phone.
2:17 p.m./ hey. I was wondering if you’d be able to cover my spot in the next few meetings. I may have bitten off more than I can chew with school and things and I’m struggling to keep up with it all.
She responded within a minute, and like Joseph had predicted, she was more than happy to cover for me.
2:18 p.m./ Of course I can, beautiful. I hope all is well with you. 💞
2:18 p.m./ thank you, you’re the best. I’ll see you soon (:
After pocketing my cell, I turned to look at Joseph. “Thank you.”
“For what?” he asked.
“Just- thank you. For everything.”
He nodded, smiling a type of smile I’d never seen before. “You’re welcome. I’ll see you, okay?”
“Yeah. See you.”
I watched him retreat down the hallway, unable to fight a smile. There was no way I’d let him go again.