It’d been 4 days since Alex called her father and revealed he’d be returning home. My eyes almost popped out of my head when the words left her mouth. It’d also been 4 days since the end of final exams and the start of graduation rehearsals. Alex had attended the rehearsals, but once they were done, she spent the remainder of her days at home.
As much as Joseph and I hated leaving her alone, she insisted she would be okay. She just needed time to focus on the impending arrival of her father, and I knew that alone was enough for her to worry about.
I didn’t pray often in my life, but that very night I stayed up late and prayed. I prayed and prayed that Alex would find her peace. I prayed Aaron would have mercy on her, because I truthfully didn’t think her heart would be able to handle getting twisted up by him anymore. Only time would be able to tell what happened, though.
It’d also been 4 days since I returned home. Being back was interesting to say the least. There was a suffocating amount of tension in any room occupied by my mom and me - that is if my father wasn’t there as a buffer. The only thing that really changed significantly was the fact that me and my mom no longer tried to speak to one another. We didn’t speak at all. That’s the only way we didn’t argue.
It honestly didn’t bother me a lot, but I guess it was because I hadn’t had the time to worry about it. I’d been preoccupied with other things in my life and I wanted to make sure I was prepared for the next phase of it.
I knew my dad wanted us to have a serious talk eventually, but I hadn’t put too much thought into that. I mean- why did we need to talk? I spoke my peace. I said what very well had to be said. It was she who never apologized to me.
If she wanted to talk, I expected her to initiate that conversation, but I was not going to sit around waiting for it to happen. My time - especially now - was too precious to spend dawdling.
In about 2 days I’d be graduating. I’d be walking across the football field out of my adolescence and officially into adulthood. I was scared out of my mind but excited nonetheless for what was to come. Having to pick up my cap and gown made everything that much more real.
4:30 p.m./ Hey.
4:30 p.m./ Hii, are you here?
4:31 p.m./ Yeah, I’m parked out front.
4:31 p.m./ Okay, let me slip on my shoes. I was in the living room binging my drama series.
4:32 p.m./ Sotus, right?
4:33 p.m./ Uh-huh. I’m rewatching the first season :p
4:33 p.m./ What episode are you on?
4:33 p.m./ I’ll tell you in the car. I’m coming out right now.
“Pa! I’m heading out to pick up my cap and gown!” I shouted upstairs to my dad.
“Nos vemos, mi amor!” (See you later, my love.) he shouted back as I slipped out of the door.
As promised, Joseph was waiting for me out front. He was leaning on Lucy’s shiny red hood with his hands shoved into the pockets of his ripped blue jeans. He was whistling a random tune. When he heard my front door closing, he craned his head in my direction and flashed me a killer smile showing all of his teeth.
So adorable. So sexy. How could someone be both adorable and sexy at once?
I skipped down the concrete stairs of my porch and walked into Joseph’s now extended arms. He held me for a minute, squeezing me in his warm, strong embrace before beginning to pull away. However, I stopped him halfway, gently grabbing the back of his neck, and greeted him the way I really wanted to.
“Mmm...” Joseph groaned against my lips as they descended on his.
“Your mom could come out and see us like this.”
Despite his verbal protest, he was no longer relaxing on the hood of his car. He stood tall now with one hand on the small of my back and the other combing through my hair as I kissed him again.
“No me importa... te extrañé,” (I don’t care... I missed you.) I mumbled back, tugging on his black polo.
I slowly pulled my lips apart from his, placing a few kisses along his jaw and then one final kiss on his cheek. He gazed down at me, panting. His soft honey skin was infused with crimson.
“...hey...” he said, his voice gruff.
I let my arms fall over his shoulders.
“That kiss reminded me of one of those airport scenes from the movies. Y’know, where the girlfriend is leaving but the boyfriend does whatever it takes to get to her before her plane departs and then BOOM! Dramatic airport kiss,” he said, playing with my hair.
“You are such a cheeseball,” I replied, giggling like a 12-year-old girl. “I just wanted to give you a proper hello.”
“Mmm. Well, hello, beautiful. Let’s grab Alex and head to the school. If you had extended your greeting any longer, I don’t think we’d have made it anywhere. You’ve got me excited now,” he said, nuzzling my neck.
“Is it bad that I wouldn’t even care if I didn’t get my gown? I mean, I’d walk across the field in a cupcake onesie and a straw hat if it meant I could spend another minute wrapped up in you.”
“Doesn’t sound so bad to me, but I think Marlene would want her son looking clean cut,” I said, smoothing down the collar of his shirt.
“No doubt about that. After all, she did have me wear a three-piece suit for picture day in the first grade,” he said, chuckling.
I smiled as Joseph reluctantly let me go. He then followed me to the passenger side of his car to open my door.
“Thank you, Sir.”
He winked in response.
He jogged to the driver’s side and hopped in. We both buckled our seat belts.
“Oh, why did you want to know what episode I was on for Sotus?” I asked.
“I wanted to see if it was too late to join you in your binge,” he replied, pulling out onto the road.
“Join me? As in, watch it with me??” I questioned, looking at him puzzled.
“Yeah, why not? It looked pretty interesting based on the trailer you showed me. Besides, I’m always down to explore the things you like. That and the fact that I really wanna know what goes down between Arthit and Kongpob.”
I stared at him with my mouth dropped wide open. He knew the names of the main characters of one of my favorite Thai dramas and he pronounced them pretty damn well. He must’ve done some outside research. I couldn’t believe he was so invested already.
Without thinking, I reached over and lightly pinched his bicep. In turn, he shot me a confused glance.
“I had to check to see if you were actually real and not a frighteningly realistic figment of my imagination.”
“Oh, I’m real, you better believe it.”
⋅. ✯ .⋅
Once we picked up Alex, I moved from the front seat to the back to sit with her.
“Hey,” she replied stiffly.
“You okay? I was beginning to get worried when you hadn’t responded to any of my messages.”
“Oh yeah. I don’t have a phone at the moment.”
“I forgot Joseph told me that. What happened to it?”
“The screen is shattered. I’ll have to get a new one, but I’m fine with being unable to reach right now. The people I love can easily find me and vice versa, so that’s all that matters to me,” she declared, giving me a warm smile that I returned.
I looked up in the rear-view mirror to see Joseph smiling too.
“How have you been?” I asked.
“I’ve just been trying to focus on not thinking I guess. I’m trying to take it day by day but finishing this school year is my priority right now,” she said, sighing as she clasped her hands together.
“I hear it. You’ve made it this far, so there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll be able to make it to the very end,” I said.
“I agree. I’m so proud of you, Alex. You’ve got to be the strongest person I know,” Joseph chimed in.
“Thanks guys, but you’re a big part of the reason why I’ve been able to be strong. I don’t know what I’d do without you, I really don’t... and I don’t ever want to find out. Promise me you guys won’t leave me after graduation.”
She was holding my hand in both of hers. I was going to laugh at her for being so silly until I discovered her eyes had welled up with tears.
“Oh Alex, of course we won’t. You’ve got us for life. You have a permanent place in my heart which means we will never be too far away from one another. But I don’t plan on going anywhere far anytime soon. What about you, Vasquez?”
“Neither do I. Much like my girlfriend, you’re kind of stuck with me,” he replied with a comical shrug. “Love you, bestie.”
“... screw it. I love you too, bestie.”
I thanked Joseph for taking the long way to school. Me, him, and Alex spent the entire ride talking and laughing and ultimately crying, but I could say it was something that needed to happen. I could also say there’d be a hell of a lot more crying on graduation day.
When the three of us made it inside, a tsunami of emotions hit me. I told the two to go ahead of me, because I really needed a moment for this to sink in. In two days, I’d be here for the last time and that’s it. That’s it...
After waving to my favorite security guard, Jeff, I slowly made my way out of the lobby and down the corridor. I ran my fingers along the cool metal of every locker I passed until I reached number 1314. My breath came out shaky as I twisted the lock a few times, putting in my combination.
I had cleared out most of my belongings a couple days ago except for a couple of reading books I couldn’t carry, and a photograph that was taped to the back of my locker. Tears sprang to my eyes once I carefully removed the photo to get a better look at the pair of freshman girls posing in it.
Alex and I were so excited to start high school together we coordinated matching outfits a week before. Long sleeved purple shirts tucked into a pair of high waisted denim jeans, adorned with purple suspenders. We tied the look together with black and white chucks. My mom had done both of our hair up in French braids with purple and orange bands securing the ends. Man, we were so fly.
The two of us were hugging. Alex had her arms wrapped tightly around my neck and only one of my arms made it around her, so more or less it looked like she had me in a headlock and was choking me out. Still, I think it was one of the best photos we’d ever taken together.
I laughed at the way Alex was smiling. Her eyes were shut, and her mouth stretched from one ear to the other. All of her teeth were on display. She was so happy. I on the other hand had my eyes firmly fixed on the camera, but my left cheek was squished against her face. My smile didn’t resemble a smile, but instead a contorted grin. I promise I was just as happy as she was.
“We really grew up, didn’t we?”
I turned around to see Alex holding two body length bags secured on hangers in her hands. Our gowns. She looked at the photo I held.
“We really did,” I said, wiping away a tear. “I can’t believe it.”
“I can’t either. This doesn’t feel real at all.”
“We’ve been through literally everything together.”
“From our first bras to our first heartbreaks.”
“I’ve personally never worn a bra, but I can relate to the other part.”
Ahh, Joseph. Alex laughed at his comment as he made his way over to us, his gown in hand.
“What’re we looking at?” he asked.
“Just a little memento,” I replied, handing him the picture.
“Ay, mira a mi mariposa pequeña.” (Oh, look at my little butterfly.)
Alex and I watched as he retrieved his phone from his back pocket and held it over the picture. Click! Saved.
“This is great. So great that I need a copy. I’ve seen endless baby photos of Alex but never any of you,” he said.
I grabbed the two books from my locker and shut it, letting my hand slide down it slowly. The three of us then started down the hallway.
“Now it’s my turn. I demand baby photos,” I said to Joseph.
“Oh, haha. Yeah, I don’t have any...”
“That are of you with clothes on. I swear this kid never liked wearing pants. Always running around the house with his ass out,” Alex said.
I almost dropped the books in my hands because of how hard I was laughing. Joseph simply shrugged.
“It’s called free will.”