Freedom – A Short Story, Part 2

Have you read part 1?

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     There was already a car in the driveway. It was blocking the carport, so I had to park on the street. I leapt over the dirty streams of rainwater bustling along the curb toward the house.
Even though it was afternoon, the automatic solar lights lining the lawn had lit up already. One bulb was burnt out. The grass around it was tall and seeded. Dad had just gotten back two days before, and he only had two weeks to fix things up before his next fishing charter left.
From the doorway I heard voices and running water. The popcorny smell of rice mixed with the dusty, perfumed air that blew out from the dryer vent. Two pairs of shoes were arranged next to the doormat.
I jogged to my room and slid the envelope under my desk. No reason to tell Mom I hadn’t mailed it yet. I brushed my hair, put on mascara, and headed down.
“Are they here already?” I called as I rounded the corner to the kitchen. The air felt warm, and my armpits began to sweat.
Ryan’s wife was standing next to the refrigerator, holding a plastic wine glass. I was surprised by how short she was; how young-looking. Her cheeks were wide, her forehead was coated with stylish bangs, and her lips were painted a dark burgundy. I’d expected her to be wearing a scarf and sunglasses, like in their Canary Island honeymoon pictures, but she wore a white sweater and jeans.
Ryan hadn’t changed since he graduated high school—six years later and he still looked thin, slouchy, unshaven, and too pale from the neck up. I wondered if he’d shown her any old family pictures. I wondered what she had expected of me.
“Marge,” my brother said with a breathy laugh.
He hugged me tightly against his chest. I realized how much I had missed him.
“God, how long have I been gone?” he said. “You look positively elderly. My god. Oh, so—finally—this is Jacinta. Jacinta, my sister Margaret.”
She didn’t rush toward me and coo “Marg-ar-et!” in an overly sharpened accent, or kiss me on both cheeks, as I had expected her to. Instead she issued a brief hug and looped a lock of brown hair behind her ear.
“It’s so lovely to finally meet you,” she said with her vowels slightly drawn-out. “You look so much like your mother.”
I glanced over at Mom in her frilly, pale-pink t-shirt. She had worn that same shirt to all of my parent-teacher conferences, to my solo in the high school choir, and to birthday dinners at Golden Cove—the one nice restaurant in town. It was the closest she ever came to dressing up. I wished she would really dress up for once, but I knew she wasn’t just being lazy.
When I was younger I used to invite her on shopping trips with friends. Maya’s mom was usually the one to take us to the outlet mall. The closest was an hour away, but it was worth it.
“Want to come, Mom?” I asked as I laced up my sneakers. “Maya’s mom said you and her can shop together while the rest of us walk around.”
“No, no, that’s alright, honey.” She hunched over the hall table and began digging through her plain, black purse.
“Are you sure? Look what you’re wearing,” I said with a giggle.
Mom turned toward me. I ran my eyes exaggeratedly over her outfit.
“I know, I’m out of style. But I don’t mind dressing simply. I’m old. You go on and buy whatever you want.” She handed me a twenty-dollar bill.
“Dad already gave me my allowance yesterday,” I said. A car engine rumbled in the driveway.
“I know. Go on, they’re here. Have fun.”
I tucked the money in my cheap, glittery shoulder bag and kissed her on the cheek. I understood, then, that Mom just wanted me to have more.
“You all look very similar,” Jacinta went on. “All of you have the same nose or something.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, nodding. I leaned against the counter. Our kitchen was too small for so many people. The creaking wooden cabinets and yellowing appliances weren’t meant to be seen; they weren’t meant to be beautiful. I wondered what Jacinta thought.
There was a moment of silence. Ryan started telling us about his two years in Europe, even though he’d kept us updated through phone calls, and we’d heard his stories before. He told us about the hostels he slept in; the money he made working as a bicycle-deliverer for a German florist, a cashier at a French market, and a stock boy at a Portuguese bakery; about the trains he took to explore the continent.
“And that was where I met Jacinta, on the train to Portugal. She was sitting right across from me, reading this book in English, and I started talking to her. I would say we hit it off.” He laughed. “So, she got me a job at her cousin’s bread shop. At his Padaria, that’s what they call them.”
“Now, you’re gonna have another ceremony here, right?” Dad asked, thick, nasally. “So the whole family can come and see?”
“Of course,” Ryan said, and he loudly slurped his wine. “I told you, the ceremony in Portugal was just so Jacinta’s family could be there, and so it could be in her family’s church.”
“I still would’ve loved to be there. The pictures looked beautiful,” Mom said.
She had been furious the day Ryan called us. We’d all sat on the couch, listening to his voice rise over speakerphone: he was in love and would be married in a week. “That’s why he’s kept on extending his trip,” Mom muttered after we hung up. “He was only supposed to be gone for six months! She’s trapped him there in her Portuguese lair. ”
But she’d let him free.
Ryan grinned at Jacinta. “We’ll do another ceremony out on the beach over the summer.”
“I just love the beach,” Jacinta said, smiling. “I’ve always wanted to live on the coast.”
They spoke more about Europe and about Jacinta. She was a registered nurse and had published two short stories in a Portuguese literary magazine. She had lived in South Africa, Thailand, Australia, Turkey, and half of Europe with her big family; five sisters and two brothers. Her parents worked in the Portuguese government. That was why they’d moved around so much.
“Well we’re happy to have you here, Jacinta,” Dad said, emphasizing the ‘h’ sound at the beginning of her name. “Hope you don’t mind sleeping on the couch, though. Ryan’s old bed’s too small for two people.”
“And too smelly,” I added. “Mom’s kept it exactly the same this whole time.”
“We’re so happy to have our son back to use it, after he’s been off wandering for what, two years? Two years, Ryan,” Mom said. She put down her knife and turned toward the refrigerator, where he was standing. “About time you came home. And now we’ve got another one who’s itching to leave. Margaret’s on this kick that she wants to transfer to four-year college. One of the state schools.”
“Seriously, Marge, just save yourself some time and go hop across Europe. You’ll learn a lot more,” Ryan said, smiling.
“How would you know? You never went to college,” I said.
“Hey, hey, hey, I’m just kidding. Wait, so, Mom, do you not want your daughter to go to college? Really?”
“I just don’t think she needs to. She has the horses under her belt, she’s practically running the thing by herself. Good pay, too. Why’s she gonna trade that in for some desk job? And pay all that tuition?”
“I just want to have options,” I said steadily. Because, if I
But then the food was ready. It was only four o’clock but we ate dinner anyway—pan-fried salmon, white rice, baked potatoes, and Caesar salad. We served ourselves in the kitchen and ate in the dining room.
When we’d all sat down, Ryan held up a forkful of salmon. “This yours, Dad?”
“From a few months ago. It’s been in the freezer,” Dad said as his jaw bulged.
“Right, I forgot. It’s not even salmon season.”
“Can’t forget that stuff if you want to come back on the boat.” Dad rubbed his nose with the back of his hand.
Ryan nodded. His eyebrows furrowed and he stared at his plate.
“You—uh—you all got a plan yet?” Dad asked. “Know what you’re gonna do?”
“Well, honestly, we’ve been thinking of California. Near San Diego.”
None of us spoke. Mom had left the TV on in the other room. A male newscaster murmured, and then a commercial came on. It spurted twinkly music.
“It’s far, and it’s expensive, but Jacinta has a friend there who can get her a job at one of the hospitals,” Ryan added.
“And what are you gonna do?” Mom asked him. She folded her hands together and placed them on the table. Her lips were tightening with what I recognized as fear.
“I don’t know yet,” Ryan said. “I’ll think of something.”
Forks and knives clanged against plates. The rice was still a little tough, the salmon stringy. It smelled soggy and yeasty.
Why was Ryan allowed to travel the world, and move to another state, but they made me feel guilty just for going away to college?
I suddenly wanted to jump up from the table, knock over the display cabinet in the corner—full of Mom’s glass sculptures and figurines she bought at thrift stores along the Oregon coast—and run outside, out the sliding glass door to the grassy beach path. I wanted to escape. I wanted to visit Aunt Jane again, to eat in the Portland restaurant where she’d ordered a strawberry daiquiri and slid it over to me. “You look twenty-one. And, hey, one year makes no difference.” She winked. “It’ll be our little secret.” Then we both sat there with our matching drinks, and sipped them delicately through neon straws. I imagined others staring at us—at me—admiring my slender waist and my piercing eyes; the black eyeliner Aunt Jane had drawn on for me.
I glanced at Mom. Her cheeks were red with the effort of chewing.
“Tell me, Margaret, what do you do with the horses?” Jacinta asked. She squinted and covered her mouth as she swallowed a bite.
I cleared my throat. “People ride them on the beach. They pay to rent the horses. Sometimes I guide them when they don’t know how to ride.”
“And tell her about the other thing,” Mom said to me. She waved her hand in emphasis.
“Oh, and sometimes we do therapeutic rides for kids with special needs. Half-price. We just stick around here, behind the house. It’s more so they can be around the horses than to actually ride them.”
Jacinta’s eyes remained unblinking. I wanted to look away, but I thought it might be rude. I thought maybe she was staring at me so she wouldn’t have to lock eyes with Mom.
“That would look very good on a college application,” Jacinta said. Her voice grew softer with each word. “They like that stuff; community service, volunteering—”
“Hey, the sun! Finally.” Mom pointed at the sliding glass door; the rain had stopped. Powerful sunlight blossomed between lingering black clouds. The sky was a wave of fiery light. “Margaret, why don’t we show Jacinta the horses after dinner?” Mom said.
“Ryan and I’ll clean up,” Dad offered.

Check back next week for the finale, Part 3! 

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One thought on “Freedom – A Short Story, Part 2

  1. Pingback: Freedom – A Short Story, Part 3 (The Finale) | All The Winds of the World

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