Falling into Us Read online
“Can’t you ignore it?”
She shook her head. “That’d only be worse. ” She breathed deep with her eyes closed, then answered it. “Hello? No, I’m—oh. I—I—I…yes, Father. I’m sorry. I’ll be home right away. ” She hung up and pinched the bridge of her nose.
“He knows I left with you. ”
“How? What’d you tell him when you left?”
“That I was going out with Nell. I was going to call her and let her know to cover for me, but when I got in, I saw you and forgot. He figured it out somehow. I don’t know. This is bad. ”
“What’s going to happen?” I took her hand and laced our fingers together, ignoring the twinge when her fingers brushed my split knuckles.
“I don’t know. Trouble. ” She visibly retreated into herself, so I just held her hand as I exited the freeway and re-entered going back the other way.
We’d gone farther than I’d realized, and it was a good half hour before we even hit the exit for our end of town. I pulled into a McDonalds parking lot, told Becca to sit tight while I ran in and cleaned up. Half a roll of paper towel later, my face was clean, my nose bent but no longer bleeding, my cheek split wide and ugly. I pulled the truck across the road into CVS, grabbed some Band-aids, and stuck one over the cut on my cheek. I had a spare jersey in my backpack, so I tossed out my bloody T-shirt and slipped the jersey on, not missing how Becca’s eyes were riveted to my chest and abs while I had my shirt off.
When we got to Becca’s neighborhood, I didn’t stop at the entrance like usual.
“Where are you going?” She sounded puzzled.
I shrugged. “He knows, so why bother hiding?”
I pulled into her driveway and got out with her. I wasn’t about to let her face trouble alone, not when it was brought on by me. She kept glancing at me sideways as we approached her front door, as if waiting for me to bolt. She didn’t realize that no matter how bad her dad was, he couldn’t possibly be scarier than mine. I waited at the door while she opened it, then followed her in.
“You don’t have to do this, Jason,” she whispered to me as we crossed the threshold.
“Yes, I do. ”
Her father was a big man, barrel-chested with a bit of a belly, mostly silver hair slicked back, and small, dark, hard eyes. “Who are you? Why are you in my home?”
I stepped forward and held out my hand. “I’m Jason Dorsey. I’m Becca’s boyfriend. ”
He took my hand automatically, shook it firmly, then dropped it when I said the last part. “The hell you are. My daughter will not have a boyfriend. You leave now. ” His eyes burned into me. He was clearly used to intimidating people, and he didn’t like that it didn’t work on me. “You are the nuisance who has been distracting my daughter from her studies, coercing her to sneak out at night. She will not be seeing you anymore. ”
“Maybe if you gave her a bit of freedom over her own life, she wouldn’t have to sneak out, you ever think of that? I’d be perfectly willing to tell you exactly where we are and what we’re doing, sir. With all due respect, I’m not a bad influence. I like your daughter a lot, Mr. de Rosa. The only reason she ever snuck out was because you wouldn’t let her leave the house otherwise. ” He opened his mouth to argue, but I spoke over him. “I don’t mean to tell you how to do your job as a parent, sir, but I can tell you this much, that the harder you try to control every little thing Becca does, the more she’ll rebel. Give her some freedom, and she won’t have to break the rules. ”
He glared at me, clearly infuriated. “I am her father. I will decide. You are no one. ”
Becca touched my arm. “Jason, I appreciate what you’re doing, but please, let it go. ”
Mr. de Rosa took a step closer to me. “You leave now. You will not be seeing my daughter again. Never. ”
Becca stepped between us and stared up at her dad. “Father, please. He’s right. We’re not doing anything wrong. I’m still studying, still getting good grades. Give us a chance. ”
Her mother, who had till this point been sitting silently at the dining room table, stood up and crossed the room to stand next to her husband. I saw a lot of Becca in her, with curly black hair framing an older version of Becca’s facial features. She spoke quietly in a foreign language that I belatedly realized was Arabic. Becca was clearly following the discussion as her father replied in the same language, arguing heatedly, frustrated. At some point during his argument, Becca’s father switched to Italian, and when her mother responded, it was in that language. I even caught a few words of English scattered throughout. It was dizzying to listen to.
After a few minutes of back and forth between her parents, Mr. de Rosa turned his gaze back to Becca and me. “This goes against my better judgement, but your mother has prevailed upon me to give you a chance to prove your responsibility. Both of you. ” He fixed his gaze on me. “I don’t like you, Mr. Dorsey. You seem like a rough character, and I’m not convinced you’re not a bad influence on my daughter. ”
“Well,” I began, choosing my words carefully, “I’m sure we can agree that Becca is a good influence on me. But I’m not a bad kid. I have a straight-A average, and I’m first string on the football team. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. ”
“What happened to your face?”
I swallowed and then focused on believing the lie I was about to feed him. “A game of pick-up football with my buddies. A tackle went wrong, and I caught a forehead to the face. ”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “You’re sure it wasn’t a fight?”
I nodded. “I’m sure. Coach is very strict about that stuff. I’d be benched for half the season if I got suspended for fighting. ” Which was true, just not applicable to my situation. “If you get in trouble with the office, you’re benched. If your grades drop below a C average, you’re benched. I’m hoping for college scholarships on both football and grades. ”
Her father nodded, seeming to be satisfied. “I will allow you one chance with my daughter. If she’s late, once, if she fails to check in at the predetermined time, or if she is not where she says she is, then it is over. Do you understand me, Mr. Dorsey?”
I nodded, tamping down the triumphant feeling. “Yes, sir. I do. ”
He hesitated, then shook my hand again. “What position do you play on the football team?”
“Wide receiver,” I said. “I currently hold the district record for most receptions in a single game, as well as the most receiving yards in a season. ”
He seemed suitably impressed. Glad to know those records were good for something at least.
“What is Becca’s curfew?” I asked.
“Ten—” Mrs. de Rosa interrupted him with a single word, and he suppressed a sigh of irritation. “Fine, eleven on the weekdays. Midnight on the weekends. But if her grades slip—”
“They won’t, Father, I promise. ” Becca bounced slightly on her toes, happiness bubbling over but still contained. “Can we go back out, then?”
“Out for a drive, maybe stop and get some milkshakes,” I suggested.
“Do you have any points on your record?” he demanded.
I shook my head. “No, sir. No points, no accidents. I own my truck, actually. ” I wasn’t sure why that was relevant, but I wanted to impress him. Stupid, maybe, but if I couldn’t get my own father’s approval, I sure as hell would try to get everyone else’s.
He nodded, then waved a hand in dismissal. “Fine. Go. It’s 9 p. m. now, so you have two hours. ”
I took Becca’s hand, and we walked as calmly to my truck as we could. I backed out carefully, feeling Mr. de Rosa’s scrutiny. It wasn’t until we were back out on the main road that Becca cut loose with an excited squeal that startled me into laughter.
She unbuckled and slid across the bench to press up next to me, clinging to my arm and burying her face into my shoulder as she