Chapter 11:

October 29, 2015, 4:20 PM

Let's Make Love Bloom


“What’s got you so excited, huh?” Romana asked. We had met up in one of the library’s private study rooms for a sound design review, and lucky for us she’d had the foresight to reserve it. She’d just played for me a new track she’d finished and wanted feedback, but that wasn’t all we had gone over (or still had to). She’d also been experimenting with various sets of bleeps and bloops, potential sound effects for the various actions that would occur throughout the game (jumping, attacking, and so on). By this point, I’d given her a test build so she could implement sounds herself and hear how they felt in action, so by the time they were brought to me her sets were already fairly refined. The hardest part of my job with her was having to pick which sounds to roll with, which inevitably meant leaving some great work on the cutting room floor. But, that’s just how these things go. After all that it was back to the music side of things, and it was right after she played that new tracks of hers that she asked that question.Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” I asked. “That track was really amazing.” And I thought I was being honest—her work was, after all, top-notch. It was a high energy track, meant to get the blood pumping, and to my ears it had done its job splendidly.Bookmark here

“Girl,” she said, shaking her head. “I know I’m good, but I’m not so good that my stuff will get you fired up before you even listen to it. You’ve been giddy as a schoolgirl all day. What’s up with you?” As she spoke, she held a hand mirror up to my face, and for the first time all day I got a good look at myself. I wasn’t just smiling, I was glowing. Any outsider looking at me for the first time would be well justified in thinking I had just won the lottery.Bookmark here

“Oh my God, have I really been looking like that all day?”Bookmark here

“Mm-hm,” Romana said, nodding. “You’ve been humming sweet little tunes to yourself, too.”Bookmark here

“Oh, God.” I buried my face in my hands in a vain attempt to hide my embarrassment. Yes, I was happy, and yes, I had good reason to be, but that didn’t mean I wanted to go around broadcasting it. Because I’d never wanted to broadcast any of that part of myself, but… but why? Why am I still hiding? Aren’t I trying to be more open? Aren’t I trying to be honest?Bookmark here

“Well, girl, I’m waiting. Spill the beans, already! What’s the good news?” I looked up at Romana. Stephen already knew, and everything had turned out fine with him. And Romana was my friend. I trust her. There’s no reason to be coy anymore. Just because I have to hide myself at home doesn’t mean I have to let that action control the rest of my life.Bookmark here

I don’t want to have to hide from my friends. Not anymore.Bookmark here

“Actually,” I said, my heart pounding. I couldn’t believe that I was actually about to do this, but I was far beyond the point of stopping myself. “The thing is… I just found out this morning that I’ve got a second date this weekend.”Bookmark here

“A… a second what?!” Romana’s eyes went wide in shock as she leaned back in her chair. Whatever she had been expecting to come out of my mouth, that had clearly not been it. “I didn’t even know there had been a first, like what the hell, I mean—” Then, just after saying that, her arm shot out and she slammed her laptop shut. (Lacking one of my own, that was the only device we’d been working on.) “Okay, this meeting is officially on hold until I know everything.”Bookmark here

“Uh… okay.” I took a deep breath. This was it: the important bit. No backing out now. Here we go. “So, first of all, her name’s June.” Romana smiled and leaned in, letting her chin rest in her hands.Bookmark here

“Go on,” she said, and from that big, warm grin I could tell she didn’t have a single problem with what I’d just said; in fact, she was egging me on. She was loving this. And that felt good. Suddenly more relaxed, I went on.Bookmark here

“A few weeks ago…” I started, and from there I gave her the truncated version of events: how Oscar had set us up, how we’d recognized each other when I arrived, how we reconciled over drinks, and how, at the end, we’d decided to see each other again. Of course, I stayed vague about the personal details, about what happened in middle school and about all the stuff June had told me about her life, but Romana didn’t seem to mind. In fact, by the time I was done recounting the “date,” she was fully into it.Bookmark here

“Oh my God, that’s so adorable,” she said. “”Lovers reuniting after years apart, it’s like a fairy tale.”Bookmark here

“We’re not lovers,” I said, blushing at the thought.Bookmark here

“Not yet,” she said with a wink, and that did not help alleviate my embarrassment. “Say, did you get any pictures?”Bookmark here

“Actually, yeah. She sort of surprised me with it, but…” Figuring I’d better let the picture do its own talking, I pulled out my phone and showed it to her. Snatching it out my hand, she held the screen close. In just a moment, her eyes went somehow wider and she squealed.Bookmark here

“Oh. My. God!” she said, bouncing in her seat. “This is the cutest damn thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Girl, I can’t even with this!” Slowing moving my hand over like a crane game, I plucked my phone out of her hands and put it in my pocket.Bookmark here

“How do you think I feel?” I said. The answer should be obvious: giddy as all hell, at least on the inside. All the excitement Romana was displaying? I was feeling it tenfold.Bookmark here

“So what was that about a second date?”Bookmark here

“Oh, right.” In all the excitement about just being able to talk about my love life without a care in the world, I’d forgotten the cause of the excitement in the first place. Funny how that works. “Basically, she called me up this morning, said she has a couple of weekend passes to Universal. Asked if I wanted to come along, and of course I said hell yes. So, come Saturday, we’re heading off to Orlando.”Bookmark here

“Damn! Orlando on just second date? She must really be trying to impress you.”Bookmark here

“Maybe,” I said, shrugging. She did have a point. All June had said was that she had them, with no mention of how she got them. If they were gifts or she won them or something then great, cool, no worries. But if she’d bought them? Those things cost a pretty penny, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of her dropping that much money on me.Bookmark here

“I’ll tell you what though, you’ve got me jealous,” Romana said. “I mean, Orlando! Miles and I ain’t so much as gone to McDonalds yet, and here you are, going off and having the time of your life.”Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, how’re things going with you two?”Bookmark here

“Honestly, not great. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s great in bed, but…” Romana sighed, shaking her head. Leaning back in her seat, her gaze wandered to the ceiling. “I don’t know. It’s just like we don’t see eye to eye a lot, you know?”Bookmark here

“What, are you guys fighting?”Bookmark here

“It’s not really fighting so much as… it’s like, when we’re not having fun in bed, we just don’t do a whole lot, like we don’t have much we want to talk about with each other. And I’ve been thinking about it and it’s been bugging me because the only thing I can think of is that our relationship’s skin deep, and I don’t like the thought of that.”Bookmark here

“Have you tried talking to him about this?”Bookmark here

“Nah, too scared. I feel like if I bring it up then that’ll make it real and something’ll have to give, like either we’ll break up right then or something else’ll happen. I don’t know, I guess I thought I could figure it out on my own first. Or at least try.”Bookmark here

“…Maybe that’d be a good thing.” Though I’d hesitated to speak, I knew that Romana needed help, and I felt like I would’ve been a bad friend if I didn’t at least try to offer something.Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“If you brought it up and something happened, I mean. It’s clearly bothering you a lot, and if you don’t do something about it, nothing’s going to change, and it’s just going to keep making you feel bad. So if you bring it up with him and you both manage to talk it through and figure something out then great, you two will be better off than you were before. And if not and you do end up breaking up, well, that probably means that the relationship wasn’t going to last anyway, and you just saved yourself some future heartache. Either way, better to try to fix it now then let it fester, right?”Bookmark here

“Hm.” Romana tilted her head as her gaze wandered; this must be what it looks like when she’s lost in thought. A rare sight—usually she’s so focused. “You’re probably right, but…”Bookmark here

“Knowing what to do and being able to do it are two very different things, right?”Bookmark here

“Exactly, yeah.”Bookmark here

“Well then, just call it food for thought,” I said, flashing her a smile.Bookmark here

“Sure, yeah, I’ll do that.” And she smiled back. “And damn, one date and you’re already doling out that sage advice. Since when were you a love guru?” Since never. If I was, I’d be able to follow my own advice, and I wouldn’t still be feeling that same unease at home.Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

In order to go on this date, the only complication, as per usual, was figuring out what to do about the folks. I couldn’t pass this one off as easy as the last one, oh no. This wasn’t just dinner, this was a full weekend trip. In my whole life, the only times I’d been away from home for days at a time were weekends with Abuela and one family vacation we took to New York. And since Abuela had passed and Padre’s income slowed, the occasions for out-of-home vacations had dried up. How in the world was I going to justify a weekend trip to them?Bookmark here

As always, the first person I consulted on the matter was Masashi. Unfortunately, this time, he wasn’t able to be my alibi.Bookmark here

“Sorry, Oscar and I have our own plans,” he said. We were driving around outside of campus looking for somewhere to eat. We’d tried a bunch of places since our usual hangout had shut down, and we hadn’t been satisfied with any of them. We’d tried every fast food place around, some chains, some locally owned joints, and while the food quality varied from poor to passable, none of their vibes had quite jived with us.Bookmark here

“Damn,” I said, clicking my tongue. Scanning the passing buildings on either side of the street, something caught my eye: a barbeque place that seemed quite intent on pushing its main dish, what with the big sign that only had three giant letters: BBQ. “There?” I said, pointing at it.Bookmark here

“Bleh,” Masashi said, sticking his tongue out. “You know I don’t do barbeque.”Bookmark here

“Crap, right, sorry.” Masashi wasn’t the pickiest eater, but he did have his peculiarities.Bookmark here

“Anyway, I think this is a good thing,” he said as he drove by the barbeque joint.Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“I mean, you can’t be using me as your excuse every time you want to go out and do something. You’re going to have to start doing this stuff on your own sooner or later, and hey, why not start now?”Bookmark here

“Oh.” He did make a good point. Given how close we were, it was hard to think about sometimes, but the fact was, we wouldn’t always be around to have each other’s backs. In just a few short years we’d be graduating college, and then, ideally, we’d be striking out on our own, getting jobs and moving out of state and, if we were really lucky, finding partners who would be with us for all of that. And while I was sure we’d still be a part of each other’s lives, we would no longer be as significant a presence to each other as we had been up until now. And I… no, we, the both of us had to start reckoning with that. “You’re right. Yeah. I can figure this out. I’ll make it work.”Bookmark here

“Good,” Masashi said, nodding. “That being said, I’m down to help you brainstorm.”Bookmark here

“Yes, please.”Bookmark here

Eventually, our protesting stomachs forced us to stop being so picky and indecisive about where we wanted to eat and we settled for the next fast food joint we happened across, which happened to be a Wendy’s. I had no love for the place, but it was better than nothing. All the while, we workshopped ideas about how exactly I was going to wiggle my way out of town, and eventually, I settled on one obvious truth:Bookmark here

I just had to do it.Bookmark here

It was a realization that had been growing within me, but it was only when Masashi made one particular comment on the drive home that I could no longer ignore it.Bookmark here

“It’s crazy,” he said, “how we still have to do all this planning and scheming to get around your parents like they still run your life, or have any say in the matter. I mean, it’s not like they can stop you if you just tell them where you’re going, right?”Bookmark here

“It’s not about that,” I said.Bookmark here

“I know, I know, it’s about not giving them reason to suspect the whole truth and whatever fallout would come with that. But still, it just feels nasty that they’re still exerting so much control over you without even lifting a finger.”Bookmark here

“I…” But wait a minute. Were they? Is that what they were doing? Do they really have that much control over me—or was I just allowing myself to believe that? Sure, I don’t want them to learn the truth, that’s a given. But that doesn’t mean I have to let that fear control how I live my life. If there was something I wanted to do, then God dammit, didn’t I have a right to do it?Bookmark here

I did. I absolutely, one hundred percent did.Bookmark here

“You know what?” I said. “You’re right. I’m just going to do it.”Bookmark here

“What do you mean?”Bookmark here

#Bookmark here

“I’m going to Orlando over the weekend with a friend.” I made that announcement to Mamá and Padre and soon as I got home. They were both settled in the living room, eating takeout while watching the evening news. “She’ll be picking me up early Saturday morning, and I’ll be back late Sunday.” If you were to take a video of the room right as I spoke, you might mistakenly believe the camera had frozen. Mamá was left with her mouth hanging open, a spoonful of rice hanging in the air only halfway to her mouth, while Padre’s brows were furrowed, his full cheeks stuck mid-chew. Satisfied that I had made my authority on the matter clear and not wanting to give them a chance to lodge any protest, I only had one more thing to say.Bookmark here

“I’ve also had a long day, so I’m heading to bed early,” I said. “Good night, and love you both.” With that, I swept from the living room long before they had a chance to process what had just happened and returned to my room to settle in for the night. Of course, I didn’t expect that to be the end of the matter, but at least I’d taken a firm stance and given them every indication that this was not up for debate. Predictably, after changing into my pajamas I heard a knock at my door. Not wanting to come across as combative or hostile I invited the knocker in, and a moment later Mamá was standing in the open doorway.Bookmark here

“Hey, Sara,” she said, taking a couple steps inside. “So… what’s this about Orlando?”Bookmark here

“Like I said, going with a friend over the weekend.”Bookmark here

“To do… what?”Bookmark here

“You know, hang out, have fun. That sort of thing.”Bookmark here

“Oh, okay,” Mamá said, nodding. Her narrow gaze and twitching right eye told me she was confused and had a lot of questions she wasn’t asking. Go on, Mamá. Hit me. I’ll take all the questions you can throw, and I’ll be honest and beyond suspicion for just about all of them.Bookmark here

“It’s just… sorry, who is this friend?”Bookmark here

“Ju—Juniper,” I said, realizing at the last moment that there was a non-zero chance she’d recognize the name June.Bookmark here

“I see. Have I met this Juniper?”Bookmark here

“Nope, never. Just a friend from college.” Alright, so that one was mostly a lie, but come on, I was going to have to throw out a few of those to get through this.Bookmark here

“And by over the weekend, you mean…?”Bookmark here

“She’s got a hotel booked.” That part did have me a tad nervous, though not for any reason she’d suspect.Bookmark here

“Okay, it’s just… you know, we can’t help but worry. You don’t ever go out on your own, and… well, we’re just worried about you.”Bookmark here

“Mamá, I’ll be fine. I’ll be with a friend, there’s nothing to worry about.”Bookmark here

“I know, I know, it’s just… why don’t you at least come home for the evening and do all your hanging out and having fun during the day? It’s not that far a drive.”Bookmark here

“Mamá, please, she’s already booked the hotel. I’m not going to flake out on her, that’d be so rude.” Not to mention, to me, any car trip that lasted over an hour was that far, and I think this one was going to be at least two.Bookmark here

“But—”Bookmark here

Mamá.” I stood as I spoke in a firm tone—not yelling, but not yielding any ground. “I love you, and I know you’re worried, but you have to trust me. I will be fine. I am going, and that’s the end of it.” Mamá opened her mouth, looking like she wanted to say more, but before she could figure out what exact words would get me to stay, Padre appeared behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder.Bookmark here

“It’s alright,” he said. “Our little girl’s growing up. Let her have her fun.” Surprised, Mamá turned to face him, and I was just as surprised as her. Between the two of them, I had always thought of Padre as the control freak—and yet there he was, backing off, releasing control of his little girl. I had fully expected to have this argument with him, not her, but instead he ended up being the one to diffuse the argument. After staring at him with an even narrower gaze, Mamá sighed, shook her head, and placed her hand atop his.Bookmark here

“Oh, alright,” Mamá said. “Just promise me you’ll be careful, okay?”Bookmark here

“Of course,” I said, smiling.Bookmark here

“Come on,” Padre said, keeping a light grip on Mamá’s hand as he guided her out of my room. Grabbing the door handle, he turned to me. “Good night, little one.”Bookmark here

“Good night,” I said, and with a smile he closed the door.Bookmark here

That had been easier than I had feared it’d be for years. How long had I been afraid of having what ultimately amounted to an inconsequential conversation? And if I had been so wrong about that, who knows what else I didn’t need to be afraid of? All it had taken to take this step was a little courage. Maybe all I needed now was a little more.Bookmark here

Okay, a lot more. Asserting my right to go do my own thing was one thing, but coming out? Nope, that wasn’t going to be so easy.Bookmark here

Still. This was a good start.Bookmark here

After I was sure they had retreated to their room for the night, I pulled out my phone and sent out two texts. One was to Masashi: “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.” The other was to June: my address, with the attached message “I’ll be ready to go bright and early.”Bookmark here

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