I waited patiently, but the way my foot tapped on the floor said that was a lie. Still, I waited. The last bell of the day, the bell for those that had been given detention, would soon ring and Anita’s time in detention would be over. I’d made sure mine would be the first face she saw as I waited at the door.
I’d left my own class early, after the teacher left when she was called to the office. I had to see Anita, see her face. I wasn’t disappointed.
When she came out of the door her face scrunched up in the cutest way and her jaw dropped. I have that effect on people, what can I say? Anita was good though, and the shock was quickly replaced with a grin.
The difference from when we first met to now was so huge; I unconsciously smiled back.
“Hey,” she said, walking over to me. “What are you doing here?”
Her curly red hair was in a pony tail on top of her head, soft, glossy curls caught my attention before I glanced down to see those eyes of her smiling up at me.
I grinned at her. “Since you’re officially out of trouble now, let’s go and do something.”
“What were you thinking?” she asked, curious. She pulled a black jacket out of her book bag as we walked towards the doors and slid it on over her white sweater and blue jeans.
I shrugged. “Just something simple. A walk in the park, maybe? We can get ice cream on the way.”
It was the best idea I could come up with. It was romantic, but safe. The park was convenient, too, because not a lot of people from school went there.
Anita followed me to my car, and I drove us there. There were a few ice cream vendors scattered around. I came to the park pretty often, when I had nothing to do and didn’t want to go home early, so I headed for the guy that sold ice cream near some picnic tables. We sat down and talked, both of us fighting to win the race against our quickly melting ice cream for a few minutes before we got it under control.
“I don’t feel like going home,” Anita said with a sigh after her ice cream was at a level where it wouldn’t drip down her hands.
I felt the same. She spoke before I could say so.
“I’ll have to get back a bit earlier today, though, since I already told Mom detention was over.”
“Was she really mad at you when she heard you were in detention?” I asked, feeling a little guilty.
I knew where she lived, and it made me wonder what her life was like at home. I didn’t think it was anywhere near as privileged as mine, but her mother would still be mad to learn she got herself detention, wouldn’t she?
“It was fine,” she said with a shrug, though I didn’t believe her. “I didn’t even tell her.”
My eyes left the ice cream to stare at her in surprise.
“Wait, she doesn’t know?”
Anita shook her head. “Oh, she knows. I got away with it for a while, since she usually gets home later than me anyway, but she got home early the day the notice came. Of course! Her shift ended early at her second job, and she was home before I could check the mail or delete messages on the answering machine. I got chewed out for it.”
“Second job?” I murmured.
She nodded. “Yeah. We’re not that well off, financially, and she never went to college, so Mom only works low-skilled jobs. She had me early, too, so there was no time to learn any other skills.”
“What about your dad?” I don’t think I’ve ever heard her mention a father, but we all have one, right?
“What about him,” she snorted. “He was only a burden, even worse than I am to her now. I at least plan to repay her, Dad was never much help when he was alive, and he drank himself to death a long time ago, anyway.”
I was shocked by how casually she said it, and I was silent for a long time. I didn’t know what to say. Anita didn’t seem too bothered, though, and just kept licking up her ice cream as she looked around the park.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured after a while. I didn’t want the conversation to end, but I didn’t want to drag out any misery for her either.
She sighed and looked away with a grim smile. “There’s no need for you to be sorry. One, it was a long time ago. Two, Dad never cared much about me, so I consider him a stranger that lived with us. I remember when Mom told me he wouldn’t be coming back. I didn’t feel anything, not said or happy, nothing. All I could think was the house wouldn’t smell funny anymore.” She turned to me with a soft smile. “It’s tragic, but some people just don’t get those picture-perfect families you see on TV.”
I understood that part more than she knew. The relationship between my mom and dad had been unstable for as long as I could remember. There were scenes I saw when I was a kid that I would think back on and cringe over. The memories just made me realize all over again that my parents might have never truly cared for each other. They held on, not for their kids, but for my elder sister, their favorite kid. Now that she’d moved away from home and had mentioned plans of living by herself after college, my parents really might end up getting divorced.
When the arguments first started, the idea terrified me, but now, I would feel relieved because it would defuse the tension at home.
“I almost feel sorry for my mom,” she continued. “She was stuck with a man like that because he got her pregnant. I don’t think he was ever in love with her, and there are times I wonder why he stayed behind at all. Mom raised me as a single mother long before he passed away, while he did odd jobs and used the cash for his alcohol, sometimes even taking Mom’s money for it. We were both different kinds of parasites, but I always planned to make life easier for her later, when I could. That’s why I take school very seriously.”
Still, she took the fall for me for something she didn’t do. At that moment, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. We spent a long while in silence, even after the ice cream was long gone, both lost in our thoughts.
Anita broke the silence first.
“To be honest with you, I haven’t talked to anyone before about the issues I go through at home,” she admitted. “I don’t even know why I blurted all that out. I guess it’s just too easy to talk to you.”
I smiled at her, a little sadly. “Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I haven’t decided yet.”
Then she jumped up and found a trash can nearby to throw the leftover cone in, and I followed. The smile she aimed at me was bright.
“I think we’ve stayed long enough. Mom said she’d be home early today just to make sure that I am, too. I don’t know if she meant it, but I probably shouldn’t risk it.”
“All right,” I said softly, leading the way back to the car.