After work, Gio met her on the bench holding something behind his back. He stood as she drew closer and his cheeks imploded.
“Hola. Sopresa!” He pulled something from behind his back and handed it to her, something hard wrapped in a white, plastic shopping bag with the handles tied into a make-shift bow. “Sorry, didn’t have time to wrap it.”
“What is this for?” Andrea shook her head and raised an eyebrow.
“I told you. It’s a surprise. Open it.”
She sat on the bench and Gio took his seat beside her. Untying the “bow” she reached inside and pulled out the gift—a picture frame. She traced the smooth black wood of the rectangle frame then moved her finger to caress the words Mi Amor etched into the glass above the floating stock picture of a man and woman hugging.
She blinked trying to hold back the tears. “It’s beautiful.”
“I thought you’d like it.” He kissed her then pointed at the frame. “It’s your first college decoration. For your dorm room.”
“Thank you. But you didn’t have to buy me anything.” She replaced the frame in the bag.
“It’s to celebrate your scholarship.”
Andrea stared the bag in her lap and the tears rolled down her cheeks.
Gio lifted her chin with his fingers and tilted his head. “Why are you crying?”
“I don’t know.” She wiped her eyes with a fist. “I-I never cry.”
“Did I make you sad? I didn’t mean to. I wanted to—”
“No. You didn’t make me sad.” She set the bag next to her on the bench and wrapped her arms around Gio’s neck. “You make me happy. I guess I’m not used to having someone care about me this way.”
“Get used to it.” He hugged her and laughed. “If there’s one thing my family knows, it’s how to take care of people.”
“I noticed.” Andrea joined his laughter.
“C’mon.” He pulled her by the hands and stood. “Let’s get out of here.”
She grabbed the bag and let him lead her by the hand into the lighted lot. Inside his car, she pulled him to her and kissed him, running her fingers through his hair. He smelled like warm bread from work but tasted even better.
“I thought you didn’t like the groping?” he teased, moving his lips to her neck.
“In front of my boss and customers. In private, you’re fair game.” She held him by the cheeks and pulled his lips back to hers for a second round.
“You are dangerous.” He backed up, his eyes extra dark in the unlit car. “Maybe I should drive before I disrespect you and pull you into the back seat.”
“Well,” Andrea glanced in the back with a grin. “There is a lot of room.”
His eyes flew open wide and she laughed out loud.
“Hmm. Dangerous.” He started the engine and turned on the headlights.
Winking, he backed out of his spot and drove toward her trailer. The ride was too short. He pulled into her park and almost up to her trailer before Andrea raised her usual objection.
“Listen.” He pulled to a stop right in front of her trailer and next to her dad’s junker. “I love you. I want your parents to know that.”
“My dad is… difficult.” And racist. And ignorant. And mean.
Gio turned off the headlights then the car. Andrea’s heart rose to her throat. He was going to make her do this.
He took her shaky hands into hers and looked at her. “I. Love. You. They’re your parents. Don’t they want you to be happy?”
“My dad wants me to do what he says. Pretty sure he doesn’t give a crap about what makes me happy.”
“What about your mom? I know you said she’s been gone and has her issues, but doesn’t she want you to be with someone who will always be there for you?”
“Mom is… unreliable.” The porchlight came on and Andrea squealed. Gio rubbed her cheek then kissed her lips.
“It’s going to be fine.”
But as her dad threw the dented screen door open and stepped onto the small porch followed by her mom, bile rose in Andrea’s throat. This would be anything but fine.
Gio opened his door and Andrea copied him, stepping out into the frigid air and trying to draw a breath. At least her parents both had on clothes and could stand without swaying. They must not have hit the bottle too hard yet tonight. Still hungover from the party at Lucky’s Saturday.
Her dad’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Gio then he limped down the steps. He glared at her for a moment and shook his head. Her mom followed but at least she tried to look friendly.
“Who’s this?” her dad asked.
Gio held out his hand. “Hello. I’m Gio Ruiz.”
Andrea moved to Gio’s side, staring at her dad, praying that at least he didn’t haul off and start swinging. But her dad took Gio’s hand and gave it one quick pump.
“M-mom, Dad, this is my boyfriend.”
Her mom nodded to Gio, giving him a shaky smile. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same.” Gio looked at her dad. “It’s good to meet you, too, sir.”
Sir? The only ones who ever called her dad that were the police before they arrested him.
“Yeah,” her dad replied. Then he glared at her. “I thought you were at work.”
“I was. Gio works there, too. At the Sub Shop. He gave me a ride home, so I didn’t have to ride the bus alone.” She glanced at his face for strength. “And he wanted to meet you.”
Gio slid his hand into hers.
Oh, God. Please do not kiss me right now.
He nodded to her dad. “I have to get home. But I’m glad I got to meet you both.”
“Yes, we are, too.” Mom laid a hand on Dad’s forearm like she wanted him to agree.
He nodded and turned to Andrea. “Come inside.” He turned and walked toward the door.
Mom met her gaze with wide eyes then gave Gio another shaky smile. Then she followed her dad into the trailer.
Andrea swallowed hard. This wasn’t over.
“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Gio asked, pulling her to his chest.
The muscles in her shoulders tightened and she couldn’t draw a full breath. Gio rubbed his hands up and down her back then kissed her forehead.
“Uh, yeah. Every bit as awkward as I thought it would be.” Just not as violent, so win? “I think you better go. It’s late anyway and I have homework to do.”
And I need to face the firing squad.
“Me, too.” He squeezed her for another moment then dropped his arms. “I am glad I got to meet them. I hope they don’t give you too hard of a time.”
“You were very respectful.” It was more than her dad deserved, that’s for sure.
“That’s good but it’s you I want to make happy.” He kissed her, erasing at least some of the chill that had seeped in.
“You always do.” She jumped as the porch light flashed off then on again. “I-I gotta go.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“Yes.” She walked backward toward her steps. “I work after school.”
“Me, too.” He opened the car door and the interior lights illuminated his face. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” That truth added to the warmth from his lips on hers. As he drove away though, he took the heat with him. Taking a deep breath, Andrea opened the door and stepped inside.
Her parents sat on the couch. Dad didn’t immediately lay into her so that was a good sign. She took a few steps toward her bedroom—escape before the shit hit the fan.
“Sit down.” Her dad pointed to the beat-up armchair. “What the fuck was that all about?”
“What?” Andrea sat and lifted her chin. “You met my boyfriend. That’s all.”
“That’s all,” her dad mocked in a high voice. “How long have you been seeing him?”
Andrea shrugged. “A few weeks.”
“And you only tell me now?” Her dad’s face took on a mottled red look.
“Well, I wasn’t sure if we would s-stay together.” She glanced at her mom. “But we did so I thought you should meet him.”
Her mom cowered on the couch, eyes wide and lips pressed together. Andrea willed her to stay that way with a shake of her head.
No such luck.
“Honey, he seemed like a nice kid.” She patted her dad’s leg.
“Did you know about him?”
“Uh, well,” her mom looked at her. “Andrea mentioned she’d dated someone a couple of times, but I didn’t—”
“You knew she was dating a Mexican and didn’t say anything?” Her dad slapped her mom’s hand from his leg with a loud crack and stood from the couch.
She squealed and held her other hand in front of her face. “I’m sorry.”
Andrea jumped up, too. “She didn’t know, Dad.”
“You’re both fucking liars. Hiding shit from me in my own house.” He pointed at her mom and she flinched back into the couch. “I should’ve known letting you back would be nothing but a hassle.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to hide anything.” Her mom’s eyes filled with tears and she scooted forward to the edge of the couch. “Y-you know now. A-and he seems nice so that’s good, right?”
Gio could be the president and it wouldn’t matter to her dad.
“I don’t give a shit how nice he is.” The calm left his voice and he yelled halfway through his rant. “She ain’t datin’ someone like him. And you ain’t gonna tell me what I should think is good.”
“He’s done, that’s what he is.” He walked over and jabbed his finger in her face. “You stay away from him.”
“Don’t talk back to me.” His face turned red.
“I am not going to stop dating him. Gio loves me, and I love him.”
“Oh please,” her dad scoffed. “I know what he loves. He loves nailing a white girl who’s like her mother. Too stupid not to fall for his lines and tell him no.”
The air left her chest in a rush. Her dad basically called her a slut. Called her stupid. Implied that Gio didn’t love her.
To hell with that.
She glared at him, crossing her arms over her chest. “I’m smarter than you. I’m going to college. And at least I have a job. And I’ll date who I want to.”
He slapped her across the face. Andrea’s head snapped to the side and her mom gasped.
“I said, don’t you talk back to me.”
She wiped the trickle of blood from her cheek where his ring had cut her. She’d heard that sometimes enough trauma will make people snap. Make them do crazy things that don’t make any sense. Like her mom coming back to get beat again and again. Andrea smiled as the snap occurred in her. No matter what she did, her dad wouldn’t accept Gio. And she didn’t care if he did.
“What’re you going to do?” The fire in her chest torched the chill from earlier and exploded in her face. “You gonna beat me like you do Mom?”
“Gonna throw me against the wall and show me who’s boss?”
“I said, shut up.”
She held up her bloody fingers. “Gonna show me what a man you are because you can make your daughter bleed?”
He grabbed her by the shirt and pushed her down onto the chair. It skidded across the faded linoleum and bumped into the kitchen table.
“Stop!” her mom yelled, jumping between them.
Her dad slapped her, too, sending her onto the floor and slamming her head into the bottom of the refrigerator.
“Get the hell out of here!” her dad screamed. “Go shack up with your boyfriend for all I care. If he’s man enough for you then he can have you. I don’t need this shit.”
Her dad turned on his heel and left through the door, slamming it behind him. His car fired up and the loud muffler-less engine faded as he drove away.
Andrea stared at her mom crying on the floor, heart pounding and head spinning. For the first time in her life, her mom had stood up for her. And for the first time, her dad kicked her out. Now what?
She gingerly touched the cut on her cheek. “You need to get out of here, Mom.”
“And go where?” She pushed up from the floor and leaned against the fridge. “I’ve got no place else to go. And I’m not leaving you here alone again with him.”
“Don’t worry.” Andrea stood and grabbed the frozen peas from the freezer. “I’m leaving, too.”
“Where will you go?”
Andrea snorted. Mom’s protection only went so far. She didn’t even offer to go with her.
“I…” Where would she go? She didn’t want to call Gio yet. She had to get her head on straight first.
“I’m going to Jenny’s.” Andrea walked over to the wall and grabbed the receiver on the phone. She punched in Jenny’s number. After a couple of rings, she picked up.
“Hey. It’s me.” Now that the fight had left her, the tremors returned. Her voice shook like the hand holding the phone to her ear. “Uhm, would it be okay if I s-stay with you tonight. Maybe a couple nights? And could you come pick me up at my house?”
“Yeah, sure. What happened?”
Andrea pressed her lips together as the tears filled her eyes. Jenny hadn’t even hesitated. She was officially and forever forgiven.
“I’ll tell you when you get here. I need to pack a few things.”
“I’m on my way.”
They disconnected and Andrea went to her room. She grabbed her track bag and filled it with a few pairs of pants a couple shirts and sweaters, and her running shoes. Crossing the hall, she grabbed her toiletries and stuffed them into the bag as well. She went to the closet and grabbed the blue dress Jenny had given her and put it in the bag so her dad couldn’t return it for cash or sell it.
Setting the bag on her bed, she lifted a small section of the carpet she’d cut and tossed it to the side. She pried up the subfloor she’d also sliced through and reached into the secret hole to pull out the pile of money she’d been saving. Too young to start an account without her parents, she’d had to make do with a homemade safe.
“At least Dad never found it.” She replaced the board and carpet then stuffed the money into the bottom of her bag.
She looked around her room for anything else she wanted to take with her in case she didn’t come back. The thought shook her enough that she had to sit on the bed.
In case she didn’t come back? Why would she come back? Her dad would never change. He would always be an asshole. Would always hit her mom. Would always treat Andrea the same. Why in the hell would she ever come back? But she knew.
Because that’s what her mom did.
“I will not be like her.”
“Like who?” her mom asked from the doorway.
A bruise already formed by her mom’s eye. Andrea rubbed her cheek, her fingertips tracing the cut. In the same spot as her mom’s.
“I gotta go.” Andrea pulled the strap of her bag onto her shoulder then brushed past her mom and back into the living room. Gio’s gift lay on the kitchen table where she’d left it. She scooped it up and held it to her chest.
Lights flashed across the walls as Jenny pulled up in her Trans Am. She honked once and Andrea waved out the kitchen window that overlooked the front of the trailer. She turned to her mom standing in the middle of the living room looking as lost as Andrea felt.
“Thank you, Mom. For trying.”
Five little words with the weight of a lifetime behind them. Because no matter what her mom did or didn’t do, she had at least tried these last few weeks. That was the best Andrea could say about her. She tried. Even if it wasn’t enough.
“Give him a few days to calm down. He’ll come around.” Her mom wrapped her arms around herself. “He’s… he’s under a lot of stress you know. And in pain from his back and, well. He’ll calm down.”
The same excuses. The same bullshit. Mom always blaming herself when Dad acted the way he did. Andrea’s stomach clenched as she remembered her part in this fiasco though. She’d egged him on. Like her mom did sometimes.
Maybe Ally Sheedy was right. We all become our parents. It’s inevitable.
Andrea slipped out into the cold and didn’t look back.
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