“Voy a reír (I am going to laugh)
Voy a bailar (I am going to dance)
Vivir mi vida! La la la la (Live my life)
Voy a reír (I will laugh)
voy a gozar (I will enjoy)
vivir mi vida!” (Live my life!)
I thought I’d only be hearing Marc Anthony’s ’Vivir Mi Vida′ on Sunday when it was cleaning day. But here I was on a Wednesday - the morning of graduation - listening to the upbeat dancing tune as I stirred from my heavy sleep. I rolled onto my stomach and folded my arms underneath my pillow, resting my head on top.
The sun warmed my cheeks as it poured through my open blinds. I thought about going back to sleep for half an hour more, basking in this beautiful moment until I heard my bedroom door open. A few seconds later, Marc Anthony, along with my father’s passionate singing voice flooded the room.
“Pa’ qué llorar, pa’ que sufrir. Empieza a soñar, a reír!” (For what to cry, for what to suffer? Start to dream, to laugh!) he sang joyously.
I shifted onto my side, looking up at the tall smiley man before me. He was swaying back and forth in his apron and red fuzzy pajama bottoms. I took in his messy hair and even messier apron splattered with what I hoped was his homemade waffle batter.
“Buenos días, Mariposa.”
I shot upright in my bed so quickly that I hurt myself on the headboard. A shooting pain traveled from my elbow and down to the tips of my fingers, leaving them feeling tingly.
Only Joseph called me that name, and even so it wasn’t often or ever that my dad was around to hear it. However, my surprise didn’t faze him. He kept dancing, stepping in and out and side to side. It wasn’t until he added in a fancy spin that I noticed he’d been holding a bouquet of flowers behind his back. Pale lavender peonies they were. I was more than awake now. My brows formed a confused frown as I rubbed my tender elbow.
“Are... are those for me?” I croaked.
He hummed in response.
I scooted to the edge of my bed as he extended his arm to me. There was a card tucked into the front of the vase and I graciously accepted both. Being careful not to hurt the flowers, I plucked the card out and set the lovely peonies on my bedside table after inhaling their beautiful scent. I looked up at my dad.
“Pa, what are these for?” I asked.
He didn’t tell me, but instead smiled a knowing grin and shrugged before dancing his way out of my room and shutting the door. What a quirky man. I fiddled with the crisp white envelope, poking the corner of it at the palm of my hand. After a minute or two I flipped it over and read out loud starting with the name written on the front:
So that’s how my dad knew. My heart skipped not one beat, but a few. A letter? From Joseph? I slowly raked my eyes over his slanted lines.
“I hope you slept well last night. My original plan was to call and spend the morning talking to you, but I wanted you to sleep in. Hence why I’m writing to you now. I’ve never written a letter before, so please try to keep your giggles and eye-rolls to a minimum. I’m watching you.”
My lips quirked up into an amused smile as I read on.
“First, I want to start off by saying how proud I am to be able to call you my friend, as well as my girlfriend. I mean- how often is it that a guy manages to snag a girl whose insides are just as beautiful as her outside? I’ll tell you how often: it only happens in books or movies.
I also want to tell you how proud I am of you and how much I admire you. From the first day we collided in front of locker 1314, I had a feeling there was a lot more to you than a seemingly shy, clumsy girl who loved to write. I was right.
You’re a girl who is passionate and commits wholeheartedly to anything she decides to do. A girl who laughs at the corniest jokes (I swear) and cries while swept up in a good book. A girl who’d do anything to make sure the people she cares about are happy and stay that way.
Sienna, you’re also the girl who owns my heart. The girl I am so madly in love with, and as much as I’d enjoy having you all to myself, I know I’d be doing this world a disservice.
You are strong and fierce and have such a bright future ahead of you. So today at graduation, spread your wings; after all, you’ve earned them. Show the world who you are. Deliver the best farewell speech that Ridgeview has ever heard and make our class proud!
“You should have added that I’m also the girl who cries at really well written letters of sentiment,” I said to the inanimate piece of paper, wiping my misty eyes. Just when I thought my heart couldn’t ache for that guy more than it already did, there it was- aching, swelling, furiously pumping blood to the rest of my body.
I folded the letter and placed it back in its decorative envelope before setting it beside the flowers. It was still a bit early on this special day, but I wanted to start it off right: with a delicious breakfast. My dad seemed like he was preparing food, but part of me knew there was a 50/50 chance there’d be any done. There are two things that happen in the Martinez kitchen: Cooking and dancing. Both cannot be done at once.
I threw the blanket off my body in one big motion and jumped out of my warm bed, instantly missing it. My stomach was missing food just a little bit more though. I took about half an hour to myself in the bathroom. When I made it to the kitchen, my dad was still dancing! But like I said, only one thing could be done in the kitchen at a time.
“Pa, where’s —” In an instant I was pulled into a dance step.
“Baila conmigo!” (Dance with me!) he shouted.
“Paaaa, no quiero bailar! Quiero comer,” (Daaaad, I don’t wanna dance! I wanna eat.) I replied, giggling as he twirled me around. I gripped his shoulders for stability when I started to get dizzy.
“Okay, okay, I’m cooking now. Have a seat.” His lips left a big, loving kiss on my forehead. “Let’s have a chat while we wait,” he added.
“A chat?” I asked, curiously. Me and my dad always talked to each other; about almost everything, but our conversations were never really orchestrated. They most certainly never started with “let’s have a chat” either. But maybe I was just overthinking it.
My dad’s back was to me as he walked over to the cabinet above the stove and grabbed a jar of coconut oil. There was an audible thud when it hit the marble countertop.
“Are you happy?”
There was nothing casual about his tone. His voice was firm, but it was impossible to miss the tenderness in it, the vulnerability, the deeper meaning behind his words.
“I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, Pa.”
He turned around, cheeks rising and his sparkling amber eyes crinkling at the edges. One of my favorite things about my dad was his smile. His joy. Knowing he was joyful about me and Joseph made me feel worlds better about our relationship.
“He’s a great kid,” he said.
“You’re only saying that because you both geek out over photography,” I teased.
“That is true, but I mean it. Joseph knows what he’s doing. He’s smart and handsome, like your father —”
I shook my head, laughing. “Ya just had to throw yourself in there, huh?” I said.
“Yes, I had to. On a more serious note, I like him. It’s clear to see he values family and he values and really cares about you.”
“And I really care about him. He means so much to me. I wish I could say it’ll be this easy talking to Mom about everything...” I sighed heavily, my heart beat already faltering. “But I feel like it won’t.”
“Mari, it’ll be fine,” he said, popping the lid of the jar of coconut oil and dropping a spoonful into the pan heating on the stove. “She’s at her office right now, but when the time comes, square those shoulders and tell her exactly what you told me.”
I nodded, scooting closer to the table. “I will, Pa. But for now... you gonna make those waffles or not?”
⋅. ✯ .⋅
“This cannot be happening right now. This cannot be happening right now! Alex!”
With a hand on her hip, my best friend stood in the doorway of my room. “What have we gotten ourselves into now, Sienna?”
“Graduation is an hour away and I can’t remember where I put my cap!” I frantically paced my room, likely sweating out my newly straightened hair.
“Relax, kay?” she said, walking further in.
She was much calmer than I was, and looked effortlessly beautiful in her royal blue, one-shoulder midi dress. I wore a matching dress in red. We thought it would be the perfect way to close out our time at Ridgeway. After all, we did start our journey there in matching outfits.
“I can’t. I’ll look like a fool giving my speech with no cap on.”
Alex comfortingly placed a hand on my shoulder, stopping me from pacing. “How about you go downstairs and make yourself some tea? I’ll keep looking up here.”
“Tea does sound good right now...”
“Go, I’m sure your cap is around here.”
“Okay, I’ll be back. Thank you so much.”
Downstairs, I sat atop the counter, scrolling on my phone as I waited for the Keurig machine to finish brewing my herbal tea. The air smelled like blueberries and I couldn’t wait to take that first sip.
“Yum,” I whispered to myself.
“You look so beautiful, Sienna.”
“Ah!” I nearly fell off the countertop. Why did everyone think it was okay to creep up on me? “Mom! Why didn’t you announce yourself??”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” she asked, making her way over to me.
“I’m fine, no heart attack yet.”
“Come here,” she said, extending her arms.
On a normal day I’d have questioned why she wanted to hug me, but today wasn’t a normal day. Deep down I needed this moment, and I knew my mom needed it too. I squeezed her back tightly as she cradled my head.
“I love you so much, Sienna. There is so much I want to say, but soon you’ll be off to get your diploma and I don’t need either of us ruining our makeup.”
I lightly laughed against her, holding on that much tighter. Just from the way she hugged me I knew a good portion of what it was she wanted to tell me. The first thing being that she was sorry. The way she hugged me told me, “You are the best daughter I could have ever asked for,” and I felt myself getting ready to ruin my makeup anyway. All I ever wanted from her was her approval.
“I love you too, Mama.”
She took her thumb and carefully swept under my eyes. “I’m so proud of you, baby.”
“Thank you,” I sniffled. “We can talk after the ceremony.” The Keurig beeped and I filled my favorite mug to the brim, before heading back upstairs.
“Oh, thank God you found it!” I cheered, looking at my cap beside Alex on my bed.
“Thank God? No, thank Alex.”
“Yeah, yeah, thank you. I can’t believe we’re graduating,” I said, sitting next to her with my mug.
“Don’t think it’ll hit me till later,” she said.
“Understandable. Sometimes you can be so overwhelmed with your emotions that you won’t feel anything at all,” I told her, taking a generous sip of my tea.
“Is that blueberry?”
“Sure is.” I passed her the mug. “But careful, it’s still a little hot.”
Alex tapped her phone screen and it read 12:35. “C’mon, it’s almost time to head out. I’ll touch up your makeup if you need it. I’m just gonna call Ethan and see if he’s at Joseph’s place yet.”
“Okay, cool. Let me slip on my heels then,” I said, skipping to my closet. Naturally, went straight for my black stilettos, but I settled on a comfy wedge and took a seat at my desk, waiting for Alex.
“Hey, E... yeah, just finishing up and then we’ll be on our way... okay, sweet. Love you too, bye.”
“Aw!” I squealed.
“I’ve never heard you tell Ethan you love him before. It was cute.”
“Hush before I poke you in the eye with my mascara brush, cause I have a lot to fill you in on.”
“You still breathing in there?” Ethan called out from outside the bathroom.
“No-yes- just gimme a second. My hair’s not looking good right now.” Normally I didn’t worry too much about my appearance being “perfect”, but I was amped up like never before, and not in the excited kind of way.
“We ran out of a second 5 minutes ago.”
“Alright, I’m comin’.” I needed about thirty more minutes, but my mom would’ve had me by the neck if she found out I wasn’t on my way. Outside, Ethan was leaning against the wall looking pissed.
“Are you serious? That’s what you had me waiting for?”
Yeah, he was pissed, but that was the perfect time to mess with him. “You can’t rush looks like these,” I told him, pushing back a curl that kept falling in front of my right eye.
“Your hair looks like that every day!”
“Wrong. My hair is 3 inches too long. I need a cut,” I said, walking to grab my cap and gown off the back of the couch.
“Dude, you look fine. Now let’s go.”
“Fine... like a knight in shining suit, eh?”
“I’m not saying that.”
“You want a kiss first?”
“Yeah, kiss my ass. I’ll be outside warming up the car. Don’t forget your hair gel,” he said retreating down the staircase.
“You said I look fine!”
I held Alex’s hand in an attempt to stop mine from trembling. Our diploma ceremony was held on the football field, and the two of us stood in a tent waiting for the boys to arrive. We didn’t want to take our seats without them.
“Ready to give your speech?” she asked, squeezing my hand.
“Yeah. I’m ready, just a little anxious.”
“Trust me, I can tell by the way your tassel is vibrating on the side of your cap. Everything’s gonna be fine.”
“Huh. I guess Klein was right when he said all of my English presentations were just a warmup for this.”
One day after class was over, he asked me to stay behind. Initially, I thought I was in trouble, but he ended up asking if I’d like to give the year’s farewell speech at graduation. I don’t know, but hearing, “All bias aside, you are the best person to give this speech and send off the senior class,” was a real game changer. Ever since then, I’d been writing and rewriting what I wanted to say until I felt it was perfect. If making Klein cry was any tell, I’d say I did a damn good job.
“He was right. I mean, once upon a time, you kinda sucked at presenting,” Alex said with a shrug.
“You know what, you suck,” I told her, slapping the back of her hand before letting it go.
“I don’t suck anything,” she replied.
“Uh, did I walk in at the wrong time?”
When I looked up, I saw Joseph walk in. I raced to him and jumped into his arms. “Finally!” I exclaimed.
“Hi, beautiful,” he said, kissing my cheek as he set me back on my feet.
Ethan stood at the entrance of the tent. “What took you guys so long?” I asked him.
“Your boyfriend was having a fit about his hair,” he replied, shaking his head.
“Didn’t you say you were going to get it cut yesterday?” I asked, inspecting his fringe. There was a loose curl that I couldn’t resist twirling around my finger.
“I was planning on it, but remember the series you told me about?”
“Yeah. I started watching it and ended up binging the entire first season.”
“I can’t believe it, haha.”
“The Four Musketeers, get your butts out here!” Principal Howard shouted from outside the tent.
“What’s Sotus?” Alex and Ethan asked simultaneously.
“I’ll explain later, we gotta take our seats!”