The morning after World War III, I felt okay and I honestly believed I was. That was until my mom gave her daily rant. On top of that, she delivered a new and improved spiel about coming straight home from school and managing my time better. Alex was still allowed to come over, so I wasn’t fully grounded per se, but the so-called punishment wasn’t very different from my daily life.
If there was something about her new rules that bothered me the most though, it was the fact that she no longer allowed me to walk to or from school when I wanted to. Every day she smothered me more and more; so much so that at this point, she’d have probably struck me down if I took a breath without notifying her beforehand.
But as always, it’s all for my well being.
I sat at the dining room table with the hood of my favorite blue sweatshirt over my head, picking at my scrambled eggs. This morning I didn’t really have an appetite.
“Where’s dad?” I asked Mom, realizing he hadn’t come down for his morning coffee.
“He had to leave a bit earlier today to train new staff. Please eat.”
“I’m not hungry,” I told her, setting down my fork.
“Oh, and for the days you have student council or any committee meetings, Alex will take you home. That is if I’m not available,” she said, further dampening my spirit.
“Why? You’ve never had a problem with me coming home on my own before.”
She was taking away the little bit of freedom I had. I would have much rather walked everywhere for the rest of my life, feeling the fresh air, than being confined in her car with that sickening lavender car freshener and never-ending life lessons.
“You never know what’s lurking in the shadows, or even worse, what’s hiding in broad daylight, Sienna. I just want you to be safe.”
It was the same line every. Single. Time. She was probably afraid that I’d have too good a time walking to school. I’d go crazy. Join a gang. Little did either of us know that a walk to school was the last thing I had to be cautious about this year.
“Get your bag, Si. We’ve gotta head out.”
At school, I noticed Alex and Joseph at the same spot, but I didn’t have the energy to face them today. Shutting the car door, I started for the front of the building, but I wasn’t fast enough.
“Sienna, over here!” Alex called out.
I’d even been spotted with my face covered. I gave her a frantic wave and continued on my way into the building. The day needed to go by as quickly as possible and that meant minimizing my stressors.
Thankfully it wasn’t hard to do, seeing my friend Jasmine’s happy face in History. Jas was one of the few people I’d gotten to know on the prom committee. The sweet five-foot-five girl had almond brown skin and tight coiled black hair that hung above her eyes in the front. If you looked up sugar in any dictionary, you’d see her smiley face staring back at you. I gladly joined her in the back of the classroom.
“Are you lost?... and possibly in need of a new outfit?” she asked, looking warily at my hoodie and baggy sweatpants.
Oh, right, Jasmine was also sassy.
“I’d rather be back here today,” I told her, pointing at the desk beside her. “Out of the teacher’s eye. And I’m more than okay with my outfit, just dressing how I feel today.”
She took her hands and pulled my desk completely next to hers. “What’s going on, Sweets?”
“My mom, she’s just too overbearing, it’s exhausting.”
“Listen, my mom gets on me too, but it’ll be okay,” she said, taking my hand in hers.
I sighed, laying my head on her shoulder. “I hope so. She just has way too many expectations.”
“As long as you’re —”
“Miss Caulley and Miss Martinez, you two look real cozy back there. I hope you were discussing some of the lessons world wars have taught us,” Mr. Evans said sternly.
“Yes, of course we were,” Jasmine replied.
“Care to share your thoughts?”
“Well, the obvious lesson would be that history repeats itself, right? Wars will keep happening until we realize that violence truly solves nothing.” She rose from her desk as she prepared to go on.
“I mean, how many people have to die for someone to finally say ‘maybe we’re going about this the wrong way,’ maybe we should act like humans, not savages and try some verbal communication or better yet —”
“You know what? How about we save those thoughts for your research paper.”
Jasmine nodded and sat down with a smug smile on her face as Mr. Evans resumed teaching. I nudged her shoulder.
“What a boss.”
“Haha, I’m always prepared for a showdown.”
The rest of the time in History went by rather quickly, with Jasmine cracking jokes and trying to cheer me up. After class I made my way to the café for lunch. It was pizza day, which meant I was going to indulge myself with a nice slice of pepperoni.
Joseph and Alex were sitting at the far end of the café. I could have run away again, but I wanted some of my dignity to remain intact. With my tray held tightly in my hands, I walked over to them.
“There she is,” Joseph said, clapping his hands together solidly.
“What’s up with you? You’ve been avoiding us like we’re the Black Death,” Alex added, crossing her arms.
“Don’t take it personally, I’m just not in the best mood right now.”
I put my backpack under the table and took a seat next to Alex, but she didn’t stay for long. Her phone went off and she tapped the screen with speedy fingers before getting up.
“Sorry to cut the reunion short, but I gotta go. Call me later, Sienna.”
Joseph and I waved her off and settled into silence. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all.
“And then there were two,” he joked.
“Yup,” I responded flatly.
“So, talk to me. You kinda went Flash on me the other day.”
Mustering up all the fake sadness and tears that he had, he began to fake cry.
“You didn’t even say goodbye.”
That earned him an eye roll. Only then, I didn’t know how genuinely disappointed he was that the night had ended so abruptly.
“I couldn’t risk making my mother more upset. She keeps me on a tight schedule, Alex knows.” I propped my elbows onto the table and loosened the strings of my hoodie, getting ready to go on a rant.
“Next to my daily school work load, I attend a bunch of clubs. But it doesn’t even stop there. When I’m home, I study for the majority of the afternoon until dinner is ready. After that, it’s back to studying until I fall asleep.”
Joseph looked as if he’d bitten into the rind of a lemon. “Why?”
“Why didn’t I hear anything about a half hour break, or an activity you enjoy doing??”
I let out a curt laugh. “My mom doesn’t believe in leisure time. What about you though, Amigo Misterio?” (Mysterious Friend)
“Amigo Misterio?” Joseph asked, shaping his fingers into air quotes.
“Yes. I don’t know much about you, so please, enlighten me.” I leaned forward, staring at him intently.
“Well, my name is Joseph Vasquez, uh, my middle name is Emmanuel as you know. I’m 19 and I’ve never really had a permanent home or any permanent friends aside from Alex.”
He gave me a small smile trying to shrug off his confession, but his sad eyes betrayed him. I opened my mouth to respond, but he was quicker. “My family lived in Florida for a while when my dad was working as a traveling doctor, hence the frequency of our moves and my school switches.”
I nodded in understanding.
“My mom wanted to stay close, so I’ve lived in places like here in Connecticut to places across the world in Asia. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I just never got that sense of home y’know?”
“Yeah. I totally get it.”
“I don’t know why it’s so easy for me to be telling you this right now, but I’m guessing you want to know the entire story,” Joseph said.
“Really, you don’t have to tell me anything,” I said, waving my hand. “I appreciate you even sharing that, but if this story helps me to understand you, I wanna hear as much of it as you’re willing to tell.”
“Hm. I think it’s that right there that makes it easy,” he said, thoughtfully tilting his head.
“What do you mean?”
“Nothin’... my story is a little long, so it’s a good thing you’ve got food.” He gave me a faint smile before he started up again. “Later down the line, my dad had a sit-down with me and my mom and told us that he wanted to become a cop.” Joseph brought a hand on the top of his head and lightly tugged at the strands of his hair.
“A cop?!” My voice went up a little too high for my liking, but I was genuinely shocked.
“Hah, that was my mom’s reaction too. Nonetheless we’d always give him support.”
“Your dad is a great man. It’s ironic that he worked in the medical field because my dad is a surgeon.” I took a quick bite of my pizza before it got cold. “But whether David is a doctor or police officer, he’s making a difference in this world.”
“Thanks, Sienna. I really appreciate that.”
I smiled at him in response.
“He joined the academy and it was easy to tell he loved it, talked about it every night during dinner,” he said, playing with the edge of his empty food tray. “Before we knew it, he was being offered the position of captain in Florida. We packed up and set off once again.”
He paused waiting for me to comment, but I simply shook my head and told him to continue. “Over there, I was enrolled in this private school, but I was mistaken to think that the uniforms were the worst part about it.”
“What was the worst part?” I asked, leaning in a little closer.
“The students. They made sure I knew where I stood in their little social hierarchy. To them, I was just some kid who was owed a favor.” He shook his head and let out a hesitant laugh.
“It was funny because they couldn’t have been more wrong. My family could have afforded to put me through that school. I feel I’m also talented enough to have gotten a scholarship, but no way in hell was I going to justify myself to people like that.”
I silently praised him. It’s easy to get swept up by your emotions, but harder to pretend certain things don’t bother you. What’s important is that you rise above what others think, disregard their stupid labels, and just be yourself. Joseph did exactly that.
“It was just the matter of giving a ton of extra money to a school I wasn’t staying in. But anyway, there were some pretty decent programs for language, the arts, photography and stuff like that.” His face softened at the mention of the arts and photography. “I studied French.”
“Are you any good?” I asked, cocking my head to the side.
“Oui,” he answered with a wink. “There was a 2 week trip to Paris that’d be taking place near the end of the course. I was pretty damn excited because I had always wanted to visit.”
Oh, Paris. The city of love. Too bad my school had no cool programs like Joseph’s old school did.
“My mom chaperoned, and that was cool because I didn’t have to tour with the group. Dad even took a week off so he could enjoy Paris with my mom of course,” he said, smiling to himself warmly.
“So that would explain all of the exotic photos you have pinned on your wall,” I commented.
“Yeah, for sure. My camera was constantly snapping away, especially in Paris. It was beautiful and the people... they were beautiful, too.”
I noticed the hint of reluctance in his voice, but curiosity made my mouth move faster than my mind. “Beautiful people, huh? Did you meet someone special there?”
“I uh- I’d rather not talk about that right now.”
“Did it end badly?” I pressed on.
“Sienna, I said I don’t wanna talk about it. Back off, okay?”
I winced at his tone and grabbed my backpack from the floor. “Okay... I’m s —”
“Wait, where are you going?” he asked, confused.
“You’ve established a boundary and I’m just respecting it. I need to study anyway, so just forget about it, yeah?”
Joseph called after me multiple times, but I walked and didn’t stop until I was out of the cafeteria.
The next period was immensely slow and I would’ve taken a nap, but my mind kept going back to my conversation with Joseph. Not to mention, my mom’s radar would’ve been colored red. She’d crash through the window like the Kool-Aid man to make sure I wasn’t slacking off.
I was more than relieved when I heard the final bell ring. Free at last. In my mom’s car that was parked out front already, I pushed my bag down near my feet, locked in my seat belt and let my head fall against the seat.
I felt her gaze on the side of my head as she spoke. “What’s wrong? You haven’t called me Mama since you were a little girl.”
“I’m just tired,” I answered with my eyes closed.
Mom didn’t reply, but instead just started up the car and drove us home. I didn’t expect any more or less from her. After all, my dad was the parent who appealed more to my emotions.
“Pa!” I called out as I dropped my bag by the entryway.
“En la cocina, mi amor!” (In the kitchen.) he called back.
I ran with lightning speed through the living room and into the kitchen where I proceeded to squeeze the life out of him.
“Whoa, is everything alright?” he asked, stumbling backward as I held onto him.
“Everything’s alright now.”
“Necesito ayuda con los platos?” (Do you need any help with the dishes?) I asked my dad as I scooped the dirty plates from the table, stacking them on the counter. We’d just finished a delicious steak dinner.
“No, está bien. Descansa.” (No, It ’s okay. Go rest.)
“Bueno.” (Okay.) I washed my hands before heading to my room, skipping two steps at a time on the staircase. With an Alex-like flop onto my bed I let out an animalistic groan that had been sitting in my throat for way too long.
Face down in my sheets, I enjoyed the darkness. That was until a series of beeps knocked me out of my state of tranquility. I lifted my head and thumbed my phone to life. There was a missed call notification, but it was from a number I failed to recognize. I clicked the power button and let my eyes drift close again, but less than five minutes later, my phone pinged with a text.
6:00 p.m./ “Sienna, I hope you’re not upset with me.”
My attention was piqued now.
6:01 p.m./ “I’m sorry, who is this?”
6:02 p.m./ “Oh right. It’s Joseph. I kinda maybe got your number from Alex...”
6:02 p.m./ “Of course you did. Remind me to post her number on the bulletin.”
6:03 p.m./ “I wouldn’t leave her alone until she caved, so don’t go too hard on her... but can I call you?”
Before I knew it, I was filled with both fear and anticipation.
6:05p.m./ Yeah sure.
He didn’t hesitate even a little. A second later my phone was vibrating with Joseph’s number displayed on the screen.