I sat in History, the one subject I shared with Alex and Joseph. The first half of the test consisted of multiple choice, while the second half was an essay. The last multiple-choice question on any of Mr. Evans’ tests was always a freebie. Today’s question was: “Why are you here?” Ironic. I stared at the words on a freshly printed sheet of paper for maybe 10 minutes. Why was I here? It certainly wasn’t -
A) Because I want to be.
It wasn’t —
B) Because Mr. Evans is the best teacher.
Which was false. Klein was the best teacher. But it honestly wasn’t C either.
C) Because I love taking 2-hour long exams.
Why was I here?... I hastily flipped to the written section of the test, causing a few of my peers to pivot their heads in my direction. I read the essay question and furiously dragged my pen across the lined paper. 350 words later, I dropped my pen on my desk.
“Mr. Evans, I’m done.”
“That’s great, dear, but the rest of the class is still working. You’ll have to sit tight for now.”
I stood up from my desk and this time, specifically Joseph and Alex’s attention was caught. Their faces read: “What are you doing??”
I was doing what I should have done a long time ago.
“Sir, there’s somewhere I need to be.” One of my feet made it out the classroom door before I was given a final warning.
“Miss Martinez, if you leave during testing I will have no choice but to notify your parents as well as the administration.”
I let his words sink in and took a deep breath. I’d deal with the repercussions when I reached that stage. When I exited the building my heart spiked. I had never done anything so reckless. About an hour later I arrived at my doorstep, my adrenaline dwindled by the second into something much more tame. Determination.
“What is going on?? Walking out of your exam?!“My mom stood by the couch, radiating heat like a hot pan taken off of a stove.
“I didn’t leave without finishing my work.”
The look of incredulity on her face was a picture. “That’s not the point, Sienna. You’ve been getting beside yourself. Skipping school? What’s next, drugs?”
I couldn’t believe the words coming from her mouth. And she wasn’t even done yet.
“Oh, and don’t think I haven’t caught on to you and that boy by now. You always tell me that you’re doing this and that with Alex, but you’re always coming home with Joseph. It always ends with him, and you know — it’s beginning to make sense. He’s driving you to act out like this. Isn’t he?!”
I thought the wildfire within me had died down, but that statement is what set me ablaze again.
“Don’t you dare bring Joseph into something that has nothing to do with him.”
“When he is corrupting the future of my child, I think it’s more than necessary to bring him up.”
The difference between the woman who carried me for 9 months and Joseph, who I’d known for a little less than a fraction of that time, was astounding. He cared about my well-being and my dreams. He believed in me and loved me for who I am, not who he wanted me to be.
“The only person who is corrupting my future is you! Harvard is your dream and every day it shows. Instead of working towards a perfect average I could have been doing what I loved. Spending time with those I love... finding out who I am. I bet you didn’t even know how much I enjoyed writing until I mentioned it to Marlene. Why? Cause you never took the time to get to know me that well. But I no longer care about that either.” I let out a bitter laugh. “I’m over this.”
I started up the stairs to my bedroom and my mother followed me. I snagged a change of clothes and a few other essentials I may need, packing it into an overnight bag. Though, I was sure I’d be staying away for more than one night.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Her voice came out an octave higher than a squeak with each word.
“To Alex’s house.”
I walked past her and snatched my navy blue hoodie off of my door handle. Her eyes widened in shock, and it was now her turn to be amused.
“You don’t get to leave this house.”
“Well, I’m going to! I’m not happy here!”
Her demeanor changed immediately. A deep frown settled on her lips and her brows were tightly knitted together. She slowly brought her hand to my chest where my heart rested, and a single tear slipped from her eye.
I froze hearing the name. The only thing I could hear was the thumping of my heart in my ears. My mother hadn’t called me that since I was a little girl, and I felt my armor beginning to crack at her tactile expression of remorse. Still, I had to go. I couldn’t let this stop me.
“I’m gonna call Pa before I go. I’ll be back soon.”
She didn’t stop me as I slung the bag over my shoulder and slipped past her, quickly making my way down the stairs.
⋅. ✯ .⋅
“Hey. I was wondering when you’d show up.”
Alex greeted me at her door with a half smirk, as she casually rested her head on the doorframe. She looked tired and I felt her eyes tug at a certain string of my heart.
“I needed a little reprieve,” I said, returning her smile as she stepped aside to let me in.
I made my way on the familiar path to her cozy couch and kicked off my shoes. Alex walked past me and into her kitchen, later returning with two mugs. It was obvious what was happening. She must have prepared the hot chocolate before I came over. I gave her a bittersweet smile.
Hot chocolate was our go-to drink when things got rough, no matter the season. I gladly took a mug from her, holding it tightly in both of my hands.
Once it hit my tongue, I savored the taste of the liquid smooth chocolate that had a hint of cinnamon. It was the peace I needed during such a chaotic day and I couldn’t stop myself from groaning at the warmth spreading through my body. It reminded me of the very first mug of hot chocolate I had in this house.
It was a chilly autumn evening. Aaron was out of town and Nani was taking care of a rather upset 14-year-old Alex. My mother received a phone call and Alex was on the other end asking if I could go over for a little while.
“Muñequita, ven acá!” (Sweetheart, come here!) my mom shouted from downstairs.
“Hi, Mama,” I said, reaching the landing.
“Would you like to go over to Alex’s for a little bit? She’s feeling a little down.”
“Claro!” (Of course!)
I hadn’t seen Alex in almost two weeks and I missed her so much.
“Bueno, come down to get your shoes and coat. We’ll head right over,” my mom said.
I flew down the stairs, my ponytail swinging left and right. I couldn’t wait. My mom held out my purple zip up jacket for me and I eagerly pulled it on. Next, I slipped on my bedazzled bubblegum pink high top converse and tied the laces as fast as I could.
“Listo?” (Ready?) she asked.
With that, I skipped out the door and all the way down the street with my mom in tow until I reached Alex’s block. We crossed the street, and the fallen leaves crunched and crumbled beneath my feet as I made my way down Alex’s driveway and up the steps of her porch.
She was waiting by the window and immediately opened the door to give me a constricting hug. It was then that I knew the greatest power could come in even the smallest of packages.
Once my mom waved me off and I was settled in, the sweet woman brought out two steaming mugs and set them on the table before me and Alex.
“Hot, hot, hot. Why don’t you two wait a while?” Nani warned.
Alex and I didn’t mind waiting at all. The Cheetah Girls was tuned in on the TV, and we were completely enveloped in it; singing along and trying our best to get the dance moves right.
When the mugs cooled we took a break from jumping around and generously sipped our hot chocolate. It was then that everything seemed okay. Things in our world were alright, even if it was just for a moment. That chilly evening had grown a lot warmer.
“Is it as good as the first time?” Alex asked.
“Almost better than,” I replied, settling back on the couch. She took a seat next to me and folded her legs underneath her.
“Are you ready for this chisme (gossip) session to begin?” she asked.
“Of course ‘chisme’ is the one word you managed to learn from me.”