The warm summer sunrise had turned last night’s rain to a stickiness that hung in the air, thick like honey, and almost as unpleasant to walk through. I shielded my eyes from the glare of the morning light as I surveyed the yard from my perch at the top of the back steps.
I’d felt the calling this morning when I’d been yanked from my dream by the sound of banging pots and pans that echoed from the kitchen. It was just now starting to dawn on me how unusual that was. Who’s cooking?
I already missed my pleasant dream – riding my horse across an endless plain, the wind in my hair and all that. I was glad it had ended when it had; I knew that the nice dream would most likely have turned to a nightmare if I’d kept going, replaying a painful memory I could never quite shake, in wakefulness or sleep.
Still, it had ended abruptly when it was still pleasant, and it made me itch for a ride through the sweaty morning. I could see light steam rising from the puddles in the yard now, and I wrinkled my nose as I realized that I would most definitely not be spending any other time outdoors today.
I stepped off the porch and crept towards the stable. I took a deep breath and peered inside, checking to make sure that the neighbor boy that my mother had just hired to tend to the horses had finished his work for the day and was no longer around.
It wasn’t that I disliked Joaquin. In fact, I liked to think that I didn’t actively dislike anybody. And there was nothing unusual or strange about him at all, apart from, perhaps, his rather unique name. Which, come to mention it, was the quality that made it all the more embarrassing that I had never noticed we had three classes together last year. I’d only realized it when my friend Stephanie had pointed him out, chortling and saying something that, knowing Steph, was probably not a very nice thing to say.
Ever since then, I had been too embarrassed to say anything to Joaquin at all. I’d been avoiding him entirely, making sure to take my horse Felicia out riding only after he’d finished his job of tending to the horses for the day. But today was too muggy and the forecast was calling for too much heat to wait until the afternoon to ride.
I silently cursed as I saw him across the stable. He was hanging something on the wall and his back was to me. I hesitated a moment before I tiptoed across the building to where my boots sat, being careful not to make too much noise or startle the horses.
I snatched the boots up and turned to beat a hasty retreat. The sound of my footsteps had alerted him to my presence; he paused and turned around, but then turned back to his work.
I stopped. I should have said something to him, I knew that – but what? What could I say? I’m sorry I didn’t realize you existed? Yeah, right.
“Hey, Joaquin,” I squeaked. It was neutral, it was polite. It would work.
He grunted in response, mumbling something I couldn’t make out. He reached up to grab something off a shelf above him, making the hem of his shirt ride up a bit. The skin at the small of his back was splotched in various shades of black, blue, purple, and yellow. I couldn’t help but gasp as I saw how nasty it looked.
Joaquin’s hands flew behind him to pull his shirt down over the bruises. He didn’t turn around, but I saw his shoulders rise and fall as he took one deep breath, and then another.
“Was that from…” I began, but thought it wise not to finish my question. I knew who had done it; the star football players could get away with murder in this town. I knew they picked on him, but I hadn’t realized that bullies still beat people up, in this day and age. “I’m sorry,” I whispered at last.
“Don’t be,” Joaquin snapped, turning his head towards me, but keeping his eyes on the ground. “I don’t need your pity.”
I wanted to say something, anything, to make him feel better, but I know it was futile.
Since I was no longer in the mood to ride, I trudged back to the house. I slid into a chair in the dining room just as my mother emerged with a plate stacked high with pancakes. “You… you cooked!” I exclaimed, surprised.
She smiled cheerfully and chirped, “from scratch!”
I squinted at her. “What’s the occasion?”
She responded by simply shrugging as she turned back into the kitchen, humming to herself.
“She’s gone off the deep end,” I informed my twin brother Ben as he plopped down across from me.
“Well, if that involves homemade pancakes, I’m not complaining,” he said as he began to shovel down his breakfast.
“Do you think she’s… met someone?” the thought both sickened and excited me. My mother had not dated anyone since my father had died when I was a kid. At least, as far as I knew she hadn’t. I’d overheard her and Aunt Katherine talking a few weeks ago about how Mom needed to “get back out there.” All she’d said was “oh, I don’t know…” and Aunt K. had chastised her.
I wasn’t sure what my serial monogamist aunt knew about finding a real match, since from my understanding she’d seen a string of no less than five men over the past ten years and had never married. But I mean, maybe that was what she wanted. She was a working woman, a city dweller that oozed sophistication and worked for one of the top environmental law firms in the country, so she was also highly opinionated and intelligent.
In a way, I aspired to be like her, complete with her designer wardrobe and handbag collection. Sometimes she’d send me hand-me-downs with tags that read Yves Saint Laurent or Chanel or whatever, and I’d melt a little just touching them. I was far too terrified to ever wear them out of the house, though – what if something got on them and ruined them? I wouldn’t dare risk it!
My mother emerged from the kitchen then, carrying yet another stack of pancakes. She set them down at an empty chair before sitting in front of her own stack. “Why are there four settings?” I asked her nervously.
“I invited Joaquin to eat with us.”
“Oh,” was all I said. Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry. I used my fork to pick at my pancakes without taking a bite. I looked at Ben out of the corner of my eye, and he wasn’t even pretending to be interested in his food. He looked like he might throw up.
My mother looked at us and frowned. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
The door opened before we could answer, and Joaquin took his place at the table. He, Ben, and I sat in a tense silence. My mother looked from me to Joaquin to Ben to Joaquin without saying a word, but it was clear she felt the tension. Her disapproval and confusion was written all over her face.
Joaquin finished his pancakes quickly and mumbled a small thanks to my mother before he scurried out the door. Once it closed, she put her fork down and glared at us. “So, which one of you is going to explain what that was about?” she demanded, in her deadly-quiet-oh-shit-she’s-really-angry way she gets.
I opened my mouth to speak, but, to my surprise, Ben beat me to it. “Omar and some of the other football guys pick on him. And he hates me by association.”
My mother raised an eyebrow. “And why do you associate with bullies, Ben?”
Ben let out an exasperated sigh. “You don’t understand, mom. If I defend him, they’ll just turn on me. I need to play football. You know I need to land a scholarship.”
Mom pursed her lips in disapproval, but she knew he was right. Being the curator of the town’s only tiny museum wasn’t exactly netting her enough income to afford to pay for two college tuitions at once.
“And what about you, young lady?” She turned to me expectantly.
I sighed and said, “I feel super awkward… I didn’t realize I knew him from school. He’s quiet and keeps to himself, though, so it was easy to miss him.” I shrugged.
“Could you make more of an effort to reach out to him?”
“I dunno… maybe… but I don’t think he wants to be friends with me.” I was still reeling from the way he’d snapped at me earlier. I don’t need your pity.
“You don’t have to be friends,” Mom chastised, “but you do have to be polite. He’s doing me a huge favor, cleaning the stables and feeding the horses because neither one of you wants to do it, and I don’t have time. Appreciate his hard work, please, and be nice. That’s all I’m asking.”
I pondered my mother’s words in silence for the rest of the five minutes it took me to scarf down her delicious pancakes.
Nice? Of course I could be nice. My sister was much better at it, though; always had been. She was Mom’s golden child. Not that Mom’d be able (or willing) to tell you which of us was her favorite, but I could still tell. It was subtle. Aunt Kat told me once that it was probably just the difference in the relationships between a mother and daughter and a mother and son.
I glanced at Hannah, chewing my pancakes as quickly as I could so that I could get away from both of them. Mom liked her better because she reminded her more of Dad. She took after him, that’s for sure, with her dark hair and freakily green eyes. I just looked like Mom, with rather mousy, dirty-blonde hair and blue eyes.
She liked Hannah better because she was quiet, respectful, and kind. Not to say that I’m not a good person, but Hannah seemed to have always been on a whole other level. At least, until she got to high school.
Her friends, simply put, were huge bitches. I knew that Hannah wasn’t like them, but it got on my nerves that she still bothered with them. Honestly, I’d always thought it was important to stay true to yourself.
You’re such a hypocrite, Ben.
I sighed and stood, whisking my empty plate away and stuffing it in the dishwasher. I trudged back through the dining room, grabbing my keys that I’d left on the table last night as I passed through.
“Where’re you off to?” Mom asked.
I shrugged. “I dunno.” It was honest. I was planning to drive around until I figured out something to do to calm myself down.
My mom frowned. “Okay,” she said slowly, “please be back by dinner!” I saw Hannah eye Mom suspiciously; she never cooked us dinner.
“Okay,” I said as I hurried out the door.
I drove around for a while until I found myself at Cuppa Joe’s Café, the favorite local coffee spot downtown. I ordered and carried my coffee over to a seat by the window, feeling the heat radiate through the cardboard cup. A hot coffee, even though it was a stupidly hot day. Iced coffee had never been my thing.
As I sipped on my coffee, I looked around the room, taking silent notes about the people in the shop. At a middle table was an older couple sitting silently, enjoying one another’s comfortable company. On the other side of the place, two young women talked animatedly over their cappuccinos. One of them was bouncing a baby on her hip, and every once in a while she’d turn her attention to the child, cooing over it affectionately, which made it grin adorably.
As my gaze came full circle, it fixated on the young man in the corner directly across from me. He had a prominent brow, which was slightly masked by his large glasses. It was furrowed in concentration over his phone as he typed something that was obviously important. A tattoo of a rose peeked out above the collar of his tee, which made me imagine what the rest of his ink looked like beneath his shirt. I felt my cheeks grow hot, but for some reason I couldn’t look away.
I watched as few dark strands of hair fell into his face and he blew them out of the way without lifting his hands. He didn’t tear his eyes from the screen, his thumbs tapping furiously without stopping. At this point, it was obvious he was typing a super long message.
I leaned forward in my seat unconsciously, studying him, as I realized I’d seen his face before. Where do I know him from??
He must have felt my eyes on him at last because he lifted his head and our eyes met for a brief second. I quickly averted my gaze. I cursed silently and ducked my head as I felt my cheeks flush. I scrambled to my feed, grabbed my nearly-empty coffee cup, and hurried out of the shop, tossing the cup in the bin on my way out the door.
A/N: Betchy’all thought I was lyin’ about this update, huh?! It’s only been like 4 months!
This was originally supposed to be Hannah’s generation, but then I kind of fell head-over-heels in love with Ben’s story just as much (if not more!) than Hannah’s. I also really like the first person style, so we’ve got two voices speaking. Hopefully it won’t get too confusing or tiresome. As of right now I have them switching off only about once or twice per chapter max.
Also, to make it super clear: Oliver is dead, so we won’t be seeing him ever again. At all. I know, I’m sad too. Maybe someday I will have it in me to finish the first generation story. Maybe someday. Not today.
I really, really don’t like Ben’s face. He looks young (which is fine, he’s 18, they all look young) but also has that weird nose-shadow thing that I can’t figure out how to fix without making his face look stupid. So he’ll probably get an upgrade. He’ll also eventually #glowup because he won’t be 25 and looking like a highschooler. I honestly love Hannah but she looks older than her, and they’re twins! I also adore Joaquin’s face, even though we didn’t see it this chapter. He also doesn’t look like a highschooler!
Anyway. Lots in store for this generation, so excited! Love y’all for sticking with me!