When I left Klein’s class, I pulled out my phone to check for any messages from my mother. To my surprise there were none. Weird. I quickly grabbed my bag from my locker and stepped outside to look for her car. It was normally parked right in front of the school.
Part of me was curious as to where she could be, because she was always so punctual. The other part of me was doing backflips. I could walk home and enjoy myself!
As I came up on the driveway of my house, I saw my dad’s SUV was parked in it. He should’ve been at work around this hour. Things seemed to be getting wackier as the day went on, but I let it go.
“Pa?” I called out, dropping my bag to the floor in the entryway.
“Mijitaaaaaa,” (Darliiiinng.) he responded from upstairs. I laughed to myself. What was this man up to?
“No tienes que trabajar hoy?” (You don’t have to work today?) I asked.
I waited for him at the end of the staircase and when he came down... man, it took everything in me not to laugh.
“Pa!! What are you wearing??” I exclaimed.
“I won’t be offended if you laugh. I know it’s ugly,” he told me, and we both burst into fits.
He wore a pair of dark red plaid pants and a tucked in mustard collared shirt. The Chelsea ankle boots on his feet were for an entirely different occasion.
“Seriously. Please tell me what’s going on.”
“Well, David called earlier and he wants to go out to have a drink. He said bedrest has been making him loco.” (Crazy.)
I laughed. “Fresh air will do him some good, but it’s only 3 o’clock. Isn’t that early for drinks? And do you really think that was the right look for a guy’s afternoon out?” I teased, giving him a once over.
“Who says we’re drinking heavy? I enjoy a late afternoon mojito as much as the next guy.”
“And are you sure the next guy likes himself a mojito? Maybe he’s a Long Island iced tea kind of fella,” I said, fighting a grin.
“And what would my daughter know about a Long Island iced tea, hm?” he asked, scrutinizing me.
He laughed a genuine belly laugh and pulled me into a hug, kissing my forehead. I merrily wrapped my arms around his torso and rested my head on his chest.
“As long as it’s not Tequila. That stuff will get you messed up. How are you?” he continued.
“I’m good. Really, really good,” I admitted. I felt the happiest I had in a long time.
“How are you?”
“I’m doing well, but I obviously need help.” He pulled away from me, gesturing to his outfit.
“That you do. I think I can help you find something that screams a little less ‘golf instructor’ and something a little more ‘casual but stylish dad.’”
“Vamos!” (Let’s go!)
It took a while, but my dad had finally gotten situated with a much better outfit and I was up in my room catching up on a book. I was at the part where the main character, Ainsley, was finally about to confess to lying to her love interest Jackson about her feelings towards him, right when I received a text from Joseph. It was so hard to pull my eyes away from the pages. So terribly difficult.
6:10 p.m./ Good evening, Mariposa.
6:11 p.m./ Good evening, Mister.
6:11 p.m./ Are you done studying for tonight?
6:11 p.m./ I am. I was enjoying my downtime with a good book until you texted.
6:12 p.m./ Welp! Thanks to whoever invented bookmarks, right?
6:12 p.m./ True. What’s up??
6:13: p.m./ We’re going out tonight. I had the idea of taking Alex out to try to cheer her up.
6:13 p.m./ That’s actually a really good idea. We can all go to Giovanni’s.
6:13 p.m./ You read my mind. He’s supposed to be having live music tonight. I think that’ll be a nice touch.
6:14 p.m./ Would you be ready to leave in an hour?
6:14 p.m./ I sure would be.
6:15 p.m./ Sweeeet. I’ll pick you up in an hour, lady.
6:15 p.m./ See you in a bit, cheeseball (:
I decided to freshen up with a quick shower ’cause I felt a bit gross after sitting in bed so long; not to mention the Cheeto dust I was covered in. About 20 minutes later, I toweled off and moisturized my skin.
The weather was warm, so I decided I’d wear my cute denim skirt with a tucked plain white tee and my classic black and white chucks. Once I laced up my shoes, I plopped onto my bed and looked at the time on my phone. 6:45, not bad.
I figured if I started now, I could read the ending scene of my story. Quickly reaching across my bed, I grabbed the hardcover and stuck my nose in right where I had marked it.
By the time I finished, Joseph had messaged me saying he was outside. I swiped my black leather satchel from the door handle, dropped my wallet and phone in, and headed out to meet him.
“Hey,” he said coolly, pushing open the passenger side door.
I smiled warmly at him. “Hi.”
“Wait- what’s wrong?” he asked worriedly.
“Nothing?” I responded, uncertain as to why he was asking. He extended his hand and gently gripped my chin, turning my face completely toward him.
“You’ve been crying,” he uttered softly.
“Oh! No, no. I just got a little emotional reading the book I told you about.”
I held up my pinky finger and he looked at me amused. He then let go of my chin to stick up his own finger and interlock it with mine. A heart-melting smile grew on his face.
“Okay, so tell me about this book. It must be really intense to have made you cry.”
“Oh, it was. For the longest time the MC, Ainsley, was in love with her college sweetheart Jackson. But her family background made it hard for her to bring him close.”
“How exactly was it hard?”
“Her father in particular had been involved in some shady business. He was after money and Jackson had loads of it,” I said, gesturing my hands for emphasis. “That said, she pushed Jackson away. Told him she met someone new, but in reality she left him to deal with her father.”
“Damn. It must have sucked to leave someone you love, just to clean up after someone else’s mess,” Joseph said.
“Yeah... fast forward years later, they reconnect and her feelings are as raw as ever. At the same time, things with Ainsley’s father have gotten worse so she keeps Jackson at arm’s length, maybe even further than that. But that becomes hard to do when she finds out Jackson loves her back. The chapter I just read in which she finally confesses was insane.”
“What happened?” he asked, turning to give me his full attention.
“He was upset with her for lying to him all these years when he was falling harder every day for her. He was also scared that she’d disappear again with the remaining bits of his heart. So, he goes off on his own to think about whether he wants to take that risk. The chapter ends with both of them crying and being broken up,” I finished.
“I get it now. I’d be crying too.” Joseph said.
“For so long she thought she was protecting him, but he felt betrayed. And when he found out about her father, all he wanted to do was to help, but she kept pushing him away with the same excuse of wanting to protect him. But who would protect her?”
“Exactly. Just from what you’ve told me it sounds super good. What’s it called?”
"Now and Then,” I told him.
“I’m making a mental note. I’ll make a physical note to check out that book later tonight,” he said, tapping the side of his head.
“You’ll love it.”
Joseph reached over to grab his phone off the dashboard.
“Alex’s phone is broken, but I stopped by her house earlier. She should be ready by now.”
“Yay. I can’t wait to see her,” I said, securing my seatbelt.
He stuck the key into the ignition and turned on the engine, revving it a couple times. “I get it. You’ve got a total bad-boy car. No need to show off,” I teased.
“I just wanted to flex this one time,” he said, tossing me a wink before pulling off into the road.
⋅. ✯ .⋅
At Giovanni’s, Joseph took us to our booth in the back while Alex volunteered to grab drinks. The place was dimly lit with warm white lights that cast soft shadows all around. I instantly felt relaxed sliding into my seat. I hoped Alex would feel the same.
“I think tonight will be great. She seemed happy about spending the night with us,” I said.
“Yeah. I think this is exactly what she needs. A good time surrounded by good people who love her,” Joseph said, sliding into the empty space next to me. “Ethan should be here soon, too.”
I smiled at him in response. He placed a quick kiss on my jaw as Alex hurriedly made her way back to us.
“Grab your drinks before they slip outta my fingers,” she said, holding her hands out.
“Thank you.” I took two of the three cups of water from her, handing one to Joseph and taking the other for myself.
Under the table he absentmindedly traced circles on the exposed skin of my thigh, just beneath the hemline of my skirt. I knew there was no intention behind it, but still, I found myself getting a little excited.
“Are you okay?” Alex asked.
“I- what are you talking about?”
“Your face is beet red.”
Instead of answering, I guzzled down my water in the hopes it would cool me down. I felt a certain someone’s eyes on the side of my head.
“Hey, slow down before you drown yourself,” she said, ready to take the glass from me.
“I’m fine. Just really thirsty.”
“I bet you are. Now, if your thirst has been quenched, can we go dance? It’s not exactly the type of music I wore my party dress for, but I’m sure I can get down to it.”
I laughed at her before finishing the rest of my water. I was so glad she seemed to be her old self even if it was just for tonight. She deserved peace.
“Let’s get our ballroom dancing on. I’m taking the lead,” I told her, standing up.
Joseph rose as well to let me out from inside of the booth. Our bodies brushed up against each other as I slid past him. I heard a small sound escape his lips that had me stopping right in my tracks.
When I looked up at him, I was positive I saw beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
“Are you coming with us?” Alex asked.
“Yeah, uh, just give me a second. I’m gonna head to the bathroom,” he said, pointedly arching his right eyebrow.
I had to keep myself from letting out my surprised laughter. Truthfully, I felt for him.
“What’s up with him?” Alex asked, tipping her chin up at me.
“Oh, nothing. He just needs a little water,” I told her with a knowing grin.
Alex and I scooted to a clear space at the front of the restaurant where there was a lovely view of the singer on stage, belting out a jazzy tune. The woman dazzled in a blue sequined dress and had a full head of curls that perfectly framed her round face. She looked straight out of the 1940s.
Alex could barely move because of the death traps she wore on her feet. I took the lead in a box step that was completely off beat, but she didn’t seem to mind. She laughed and swayed with me in the square formation as best as she could.
At one point she wanted to be twirled and dipped like “the girls in the movies.” Her every wish was my command. The twirls were quite easy, but I couldn’t dip her without breaking my back. She was so tiny.
“Alright! Alright! Before we both go down,” she said.
Giovanni passed by the two of us, carrying a steaming dish of fettuccine. “Are you ladies enjoying yourselves?”
“Oh for sure. The live music is great. It’s really setting a nice tone for the restaurant,” I said.
“It’s a little thing I’m testing out. I’m glad it’s getting a good reaction,” he said, smiling widely. “Gotta get this to a table now. Keep doing whatcha doin’ here.”
A bit of time passed and Alex and I were still out on the floor. We were accompanied by a refreshed Joseph, and Ethan, Alex’s “special friend.”
“Sienna, I’m starving. All of this off beat dancing has worked up an appetite,” Alex said with a sigh.
“Hmm. I’ve been thinking about french fries for a while anyway. We can head back.”
“Good. I was about to eat your face.”
I raised my hands in defense. “This face isn’t for eating.”
“Where are you two headed off to?” Ethan asked, casually bobbing to the music.
“Your lady partner here has a rather animalistic appetite,” I told him.
“Trust me, I know. You guys can head to your seats. Joseph and I will go place an order. Want anything specific?”
“Oh no, it’s alright. We can —”
“Uh-uh. Go sit.”
He aimed the last part mainly toward Alex. After all, she was practically wearing stilts as heels. Ethan was a complete gentleman and seemed to have an assertive personality. I didn’t dare protest when he told Alex and I to have a seat. He looked like he just might have thrown us both over his broad shoulders if I had.
Back at the booth, I decided to start the conversation.
“I like Ethan. He’s really sweet and I think he’s perfect for you.”
“Yeah, I think so too. We’ve actually been dating for a little while now. Decided to make it official.” She had the biggest smile on her face.
“Oh, Alex, I’m so happy for you,” I told her, lightly clapping my hands against the table in celebration.
Her eyebrows shot up in surprise.
“You’re not upset I didn’t tell you sooner?”
“Of course not, Lex. New relationships can be very sensitive. I understand you not wanting to broadcast it to the world.”
“This is why I love you. You’re so understanding.”
A few minutes of comfortable silence passed as I sipped on my almost empty water cup before I attempted to dig a little bit deeper into Alex’s mind.
“That day at school when you told me exams had been bothering you — are you sure it wasn’t something else?”
A muscle twitched involuntarily in the corner of her right eye, and her mouth formed a rigid grimace as she quickly tapped her index finger on the table.
“I- I called my dad,” she said, avoiding my eyes.
“He finally answered...”
“What did you say to him? What did he say?”
I later regretted asking one too many questions. If I had known it would set her off, I would have kept my mouth shut. But I was so worried about her.
“Sienna...my mom- I don’t- I don’t know.”
Her breaths started coming out in shallow pants. Tears were quickly streaming down her face and I rushed to her side. She was hyperventilating. I’d never seen her like this. I was scared out of my mind.
“Alex...w-what’s going on?”
She didn’t reply. Her breathing only became more rapid as she shook uncontrollably in my arms.
“Joseph!! Ethan!!” I shouted, drawing the attention of the people seated nearby. I watched Alex’s eyes roll into the back of her head as her lids shut. She became limp in my arms. A choked cry forced its way out of my throat.
The two guys along with Giovanni came speeding over to where I sat with Alex. Ethan took her from my arms and laid her down on the carpeted floor. He kneeled down next to her, placing her head on his lap. I explained what happened and Ethan concluded that she had a panic attack. His sister suffered from them and he recognized the signs.
It was rare for someone to pass out during a panic attack, but the lack of oxygen when she was hyperventilating was a huge contributing factor. Giovanni wanted to call an ambulance, but Ethan insisted she would be fine without. My pulse was banging in my ears. This was by far the scariest thing I’d ever witnessed.
Joseph came to my side and laced his fingers through mine. Nothing needed to be said. My tense muscles instantly relaxed under his touch, but my mind was tangled intricately in a swarm of thoughts.
Ethan dipped his fingertips into Alex’s untouched cup of cold water on our table, and splashed a little bit of it on her face. He did this a few times until she came to. My head instantly snapped around to see Alex’s fluttering eyes adjust to the light as she spoke.
“What’s going on?”
“Hey, sweetie. Sienna told us you passed out. Seems you had a panic attack.” She looked at me mildly confused before looking back at Ethan. “Have you ever experienced one before tonight?”
“N-no. I don’t think I have... b-but can you please take me home. I’m tired. I just want to sleep.”
“Of course.” He turned his focus to us.
“I’m gonna take her home so she can relax. Everything good with you guys?”
“Yeah, we’re fine. Probably gonna head out, too,” Joseph answered.
“Okay. Take care you guys.”
Ethan helped Alex out of the booth and took her hand, leading her to the exit. Before she stepped out of the door, she took me in for a quick hug.
“I’m sorry, guys,” she whispered to me and Joseph.
“Don’t be. We love you, okay?” I said, squeezing her with all of my might. “We love you so much, Alex. Please don’t forget that.”