“See you later, guys."
I wave goodbye to my friends Elle and Isa as I turn down the street towards my building. The farther I move away from the school, the more worn and old everything looks. Not quite as clean, not quite as well kept.
By the time I reach our high-rise, the street isn't great, but it isn't unsafe. It’s on the right side of the invisible line after which it really isn't a good idea to go out alone at night.
I walk into the lobby with the peeling wallpaper and dingy flooring. There was a seating area at one point, but the furniture has long since been taken away. Either by people who needed it or by the landlord who probably sold it for a few bucks.
The elevator is as old as the building, patched up every time it gives way.
I step inside and push the button for our floor. I hold my breath the whole way up, hoping I'm not going to have to call the landlord to fish me out of the elevator shaft.
It's happened before.
But I make it all the way up and the elevator doors slide open for me without even a squeak.
I walk down the hall, my footsteps silent so as not to set off the sound activated advertisements installed in the hallway. It's a skill I've developed over the years that really saves on annoyance.
I stop in front of our door, which is almost sparkling clean because Mom makes sure it stays that way. It makes the rest of the hall look worse in comparison. Pressing my thumb into the scanner to open the door, it doesn't do anything. No whirring, no telltale light.
"Come on," I mutter, hitting it on the side with an impatient thump of my fist.
Probably not the best thing to do to it, but it's been on its last legs for six months now. We've been trying to squeeze out every last bit of use we can before we have to replace it. Hence the thumping. The sound activates some of the ads displayed in the hall, chipper voices sounding and garish colors flashing, trying to get my attention.
Great. I don't know why they bother buying ad space in this particular building anyway. It's not like any of us really has any money to spend on anything but rent and food.
The third hit from the side of my fist finally has the scanner whirring into some semblance of life.
"It's alive!" I mutter under my breath. I sigh, waiting as it scans my print.
A new one would definitely do this faster, but they aren't cheap. Plus side—I get a sense of accomplishment from just getting through to the thing.
The door slides open and I walk inside the cramped apartment. It's two bedrooms, with a small kitchen and postage stamp living area, but I suspect the second bedroom may have originally been designed as storage. The joys of space being at a premium these days.
Though I'm lucky to have a bedroom of my own. It isn't like we're swimming in money from Dad's art, so I appreciate that my parents tried to find some space to give me privacy.
I'm thinking about what I want to eat and what homework I have to get done when I notice movement in the living room. It's my parents. They're waiting for me, their faces set in stern lines.
My heart immediately clenches. This can't be good.
I quickly run through everything that happened in the last couple of days and can't think of anything they'd be mad about. But it's hard to predict sometimes. They have so many rules and restrictions sometimes it's hard for me to keep track. Recently, their love is starting to smother me, to be honest.
"Hi?" I try with a tentative smile.
They glare at me, always a unit.
I sigh. Yup. This isn't going to be fun.
"Sit down, young lady," my mother orders, pointing at the patched chair set across from the threadbare sofa. "We have to talk."
"Right now? But I just got home from school—can't it wait?" I say, trying to at least get a reprieve from whatever lecture they want to give me.
"Sit," Dad says tersely.
Great. I sit, rubbing my palms on my jeans, my mind continuing to whir with the possibilities. I've been really careful to come back before curfew, I know my grades are good… What could have prompted this kind of response?
"Did you watch something on your Heads Up Display? Perhaps about twenty minutes ago?" Mom prods, her eyes narrowed.
Twenty minutes ago? I frown.
I came straight home from school, not wanting them to worry. I didn't even cue up my HUD because I was walking with Isa and Elle…
My stomach turns over. Oh no.
The porn clip she sent Isa and I.
My face flushes with embarrassment at the thought that my parents know I've seen it. That naked, writhing couple.
Oh God. I wish I could just sink right into the floor right about now.
"Yes," Dad says, nodding. "We know. You know we have the parental controls set up on your HUD."
"Why would you even watch filth like that?" Mom demands. "We want you to focus on school—that kind of thing has no place in your mind!"
"It wasn't my idea!" I cry out, frustrated. "Elle sent me the link and I didn't know what it was until I opened it!"
"Do you think we were born yesterday?" she scoffs. "And maybe you shouldn't be hanging out with friends like Elle if this is the trash they draw you into."
"You can't mean that. You've known Elle as long as I have!" She's been one of my best friends since elementary school, though Mom and Dad have been starting to look at her with some suspicion as we grow older.
Like they're not sure she's the best influence on me. Sure, we don't always see eye to eye, but I love her like a sister.
"We still haven't heard an apology. You need to take responsibility for your actions," Dad adds. "We're going to disable your HUD for a week as punishment."
What? A week? Now I start to get irritated.
"How am I going to do my homework without it?" I demand. "I do all of my assignments using it!"
"We'll enable it for two hours each night, under supervision," Mom says, her voice firm. "This is nonnegotiable."
I throw my arms up in the air, beyond fed up at this point. Being punished for something that isn't even my fault is ridiculous.
"You're being completely unreasonable," I try again. "I didn't go looking for porn and even if I did, I'm eighteen! A legal adult! I can watch it if I want to!"
"Not while you're under our roof you won't," Dad says calmly, his face tight with anger.
The familiar wave of helplessness and frustration when I talk to them these days is overwhelming. I know they love me. And I love them. But they still treat me like a child. Like I can't think for myself or decide what I want.
"You already had me at my age," I point out, needing to shine light on the hypocrisy of it all. "You'd already had sex, gotten pregnant, and had a baby. And you're on my case about a porn clip I didn't even want to see in the first place? Why do you have to be on my case all the time! I feel like I'm being smothered!"
Mom's face turns white as Dad's darkens in anger.
"That's enough," he barks, wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
"That's exactly why we don't want you growing up too fast," Mom says quietly, her eyes entreating. "You're the best thing that ever happened to us, but we want you to have more than we do. We want your life to be better, we want you to have more opportunity. We want what's best for you. Don't you see?"
Guilt trip. As usual. No discussion would be complete without it.
Letting out a frustrated huff, I get up.
"Where are you going?" Dad demands, standing as well.
"To my room. Or is that not allowed either? Should I stay in front of you where you can watch my every move?" I shoot back, stalking over to my door.
I'm so done with this. They don't say anything as I shut the door behind myself and fall onto the narrow bed. It's all that can fit into this cubby that masquerades as a room.
I have the urge to scream at the top of my lungs, but I settle for punching the pillow instead. I'm so tired of always being held back from everything! From attempting anything! I find myself shying away from things before even trying them because I know my parents won't like it.
I try to be good, coming in early, studying hard, staying away from boys. But nothing ever seems like it's enough for them.
It's exhausting. Draining, frustrating.
I want to do more. I want to experience life. And I know as long as I'm here, they'll never let me do that. They can't. It's not in their natures. They'll always be hovering, trying to watch my every move, control what I'm doing and who I'm doing it with.
Sighing, I turn over onto my back, staring at the water stained ceiling, wondering when I'm going to actually be able to live.