Four red lights blinked in each corner of the bedroom. She took a deep breath and stepped in casually, dropping her backpack in the leather lounge, engulfed in survey.
“There’s your Spanish textbook. Nelly took it by accident. You two better keep better track. You’ve been mixing up a lot lately.”
“Sorry, dad,” she whispered.
He nodded, “At least you’re going to your classes.” He left the door open.
Elena unzipped her empty backpack and shoved the textbook inside. Nelly was at lacrosse. Elena wondered how the drop-in went. She’d have to assure her sister they’d take a two-week break.
She slouched onto her bed feeling the small piece of metal in her naval. She swore in her head. The closet auto-lit up like a fridge. She thought better. The entire room was empty with the frigid feeling of a Homegoods floorplan– floral sheets, floral wall art, floral flowers on the bureau.
She heard the front door click close. She floated down the stairs. Her father was there before her.
“Latin again?” he asked with his arms crossed.
“Sorry, dad. It won’t happen again.” Nelly was looking at her sister.
“Wash up,” he instructed. “Your mother is making pumpkin pie for dessert.”
Mashed potato Monday like always, they protested with their eyes. Their gaze took them up the stairs to Elena’s bedroom where Nelly returned Elena’s textbooks.
“My bag is too heavy, Ellie.”
Elena rolled her eyes.
“We’ll hold off for three weeks.”
Nelly sighed a relief. “Why can’t we just skip our own classes?”
“How was it when he came by the school? Was he mad?”
“Thank God for overcrowded schools.”
“‘Thank God,'” Elena mocked.
“I’m gonna take a shower.”
“Just wait,” Elena whispered. She glimpsed over her head.
“I know,” Nelly whispered. “I thought it was third period. I missed Math for your Science and then I got to Latin with your Spanish book. I’m sorry. I’ve been so stressed about–”
“Don’t worry about it. Let me know if you need me for lacrosse.”
Nelly laughed. “Where were you during Science anyway?”
After dinner, their mother gave them their long hug and they went to bed. Silent sleep. The most silent sleep they were ever going to have. Elena dreamed of rowdy nights ending in plopping into bed with some sweaty guy all over her. Not everyone’s fantasy but a fantasy. One of many reveries she maintained trapped in the unguarded fence of scrutiny.
The next morning, Elena gamboled to the front door telling her father she was going to be late.
“I want you to think about being early and smelly and I want you to think about being a valued asset who is merely delayed.” He was good at justifications; lessons never intertwined. “Hurry now,” he chimed.
She took her pants off first remembering the towel hanging over her shoulder. She slid the towel off her shoulder and swung it over the shower rod. She glanced at the red blinking light in the corner. It shined off the mirror lighting up the entire bathroom at night. She took her underwear off and stepped into the tub turning the knobs that induced her thoughts. She tossed her t-shirt and bra out onto the bathroom mat and stood under the water until it was time to dry off. She did so behind the shower curtain. Her mother was waiting for her when she got out.
“Honey, you know your father hates when you do that.” Her mother’s voice was soft and shrill, tremoring with invoked anxiety.
“Mom, we’re seventeen years old for Christ’s sake.”
“‘Christ’s sake’ this, ‘Christ’s sake’ that,” her mother said opening her arms for a hug. She brought her daughter in. “You two are such beautiful girls. We’re just trying to protect you.” She whispered into her daughter’s ear, “It’s going to change soon.”
Elena clutched her fist, piercing the palm of her hand with the belly ring. She smelled her mom’s hair– lavender like always.
At school, before the second bell, Elena learned of her seventh period substitute teacher. She asked the girl who sat next to her to cover for her.
“Will you throw your voice for me?”
“Throw my voice? That’s not a real thing.”
The cafeteria was loud.
“It is! You just.. throw your voice.” Elena had never been as personable as she was when she needed something.
“Very detailed instructions you gave me there.”
“Just cover for me please?”
Elena was off campus before two sneaking through the patio into a crowd of brushes that separated the cerebral from the suburbs. Outside of his house, she stuck her belly ring back in and rang the bell.
“You made it,” he smiled.
“You skipped Spanish again,” she smiled back.
“You’re skipping Spanish again.”
She swung his front door shut. Relief.
“I just skip one class,” she bragged.
He leaned into her layered Old Navy tank tops clutching the denim jacket draped over her forearm. He threw it somewhere. It slid across the vinyl flooring and wrapped around the wheels of his workout cycle. She was tall and lean in her low-rising jeans revealing a trembling happy trail. He walked his fingers around her hips and hugged her close to his torso.
He cleared his throat. “I’m sick.”
In bed, they talked.
“Who I actually am doesn’t matter. Everything is a reaction to what I would have done. I knew they never would have but I know now they never will.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. You’re interesting you know.” He rose up. “I’d tell you to leave but this is around the time you’d tell me you gotta go.”
“I do gotta go,” Elena said, depressed. “Mr. Grenier,” she announced one final time.
“Miss Smith,” he announced back. “Gosh, you gotta take someone’s last name.”
Elena looked away. Her nervousness settled on searching for her underwear. It landed perfectly on his north-facing windowsill.
“Make it mine and I’ll give you an A for the semester.”
He watched for her reaction, one arm behind his head, a smirk crawling up his face. Elena chuckled nervously for him, fully knowing better.
When she got home, her mother was on the phone. The phone was covered in flour. It was Tilapia Tuesday.
“It’s FOX!” she smiled.
“Yes, yes. My husband will be home. And Helen and Elena will be here too. No need to bring lights! Their skins are so radiant. Oh, and their hair so shiny.”
“And Neil is your husband’s name?” Elena heard the stark show-business voice of a producer through the receiver.
“Yes, Neil Smith. We’re the Smith’s!” Her mother was glowing.
“And would you describe him as right-wing? The Right-Wing Patriarch? Does that sound accurate?”
Elena’s mother hesitated, stammering, “He’s definitely the patriarch. We’re more traditional here in Agawam.”
The producer chuckled, “Most evidently!” They both shared in laughter.
Elena went to her bedroom and thought. She dozed off at the tightly-made foot of her bed. Her father tapped on her door, waking her up in a soundless upheaval.
Homework, Elena thought.
“I didn’t see you do any homework, Ellie.”
“Sorry, dad. I’m getting to it.”
“Get to it. When you’re done, your mother finished dinner. I have something I want to address.”
Nelly was in her bedroom washed up and drowned in thick cotton. Elena winked at her and then grimaced behind their father’s back. Nelly blushed, smiling.
They dove into their dinners, complimented Nancy, and then Neil set his fork down and folded his fingers.
“I won’t have our privacy punctured for some get-rich-quick deal. The prize for some public, exploited experiment does not account for the humiliation that would follow. Think about our girls, Nancy.”
Elena noticed her mother’s untouched food. Her head was lowered into her bleak plate, her body language carrying a more maltreated tone than any other night.
She gave her mother a long hug by the dishwasher. The camera clamped to the windowpane above the sink auto-adjusted to their movement.
“It’s going to be alright,” her mother said dismayed.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s alright or if it’s not alright. It’s got to be alright.”
“You’re right,” her mother shuddered. “You’re strong like your father, Ellie.”