Del just texted us.
“I lost my job today,” Marissa read. “LOL, love you.” She shook her head, making her flashy rose gold earrings jump in wide surprise.
I shrugged. We both knew Del. Her job wouldn’t have lasted a month. Or, in this case, two weeks and six days. But who’s counting?
“She needs to stop making this a habit,” Marissa said, twisting her lips into a salmon-colored line. “Why can’t she stick to something she actually knows how to do?”
Delilah, or Del, was the color orange. She was organized and disorganized at the same time, with all of her fancy, mismatched outfits running to one place or another. But they actually looked beautiful when scattered in her room, like an abstract painting. Her bedroom walls were scraped into different colors, with the left wall exposing the red layer, then the orange layer, then the green. I loved her hair; bright red and pink highlights. Her shirt never agreed with her pants, and that was perfectly okay for us.
I mean, it was okay for me. I was organized, but I don’t make a fuss about it. Marissa makes sure everything goes in the right spot, like tapping the right piano keys or plucking the right strings in the guitar. Her hair was always either tied up in a thick bun, or loose and curly. I assumed her color was a light shade of navy blue. Or is it just plain navy blue?
“It’s fine,” I answered. “Let her do what she wants. She’ll find something.” I knew that was only me hoping it was true.
“Did you clean your room yet?” My older brother Dil glanced in my room and sighed. He clutched his phone in his sweaty palm, clearly annoyed. “Dinner’s in five, and you’re not allowed to eat until—” He gestured his free hand to the mess. My mess. My beautiful mess.
I threw one of my stained shirts I left under my suitcase at him. It went flying toward his chest. He threw it back, and since I was crouched on my knees, it soared under the ceiling until it feathered on my hair. Blood-colored hair.
My brother left the room. I could sense his smirk. Or maybe he was texting.
My mom carefully sat down on a beige chair, watching me eat. I didn’t ask. Conversations with Mom always ended in lectures.
“Honey,” my mom started. I looked up. “You cleaned your room, right?”
I suddenly felt annoyed since that was the second time I heard the question. “Mhm, I guess.” I attempted to grab the cauliflower with my fork. “Why did you make me, though? I thought you said my room looked creative—“
She held up her hand. “I know what I said, Delilah. But after a while, we were both worried that when you go off for college, you’ll get a little too creative in your dorm.”
I glanced around. “We?” My father took off years ago. I looked at Dil, who was hiding behind his phone screen. My eyes glared at him, but he was still hiding, so he didn’t see. I hoped he sensed it behind that ugly phone case.
“Don’t blame your brother for what you are doing,” my mother warned. “And I heard you got fired from your job today. That’s the third time, this month!”
I shrugged. I wanted to say baking was hard. But she continued.
“Today, starting now, you’re going to redecorate your room. I already put some of your things in a donating box. You’re going to make everything more organized.” She added, “And Marissa will help you find another job. Maybe an ice cream shop so you can sneak free ice cream.” She chuckled.
My eyes didn’t blink the whole time she talked like I was in a trance. But what I was hearing was real. I’m really going to have to give up on everything I loved.
Dil put his phone down. “Don’t you think that’s too much of a punishment? It’ll be hard for her to restart what she had done for years.”
Yes, brothers rock!
Mom just laughed. “Punishment? I’m trying to help. She needs to learn to be more organized. For her future. For everything.”
Trying to help? I could be more organized if you just damn told me to!
I knew I sometimes had a temper when I had a feeling I wasn’t being understood. And that’s exactly what happened today.
“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.” I stood up. But I can believe she’s doing this.
But why are you doing it?
Because you’re worried about my future?
Or because you don’t want a daughter with a crazy, wild mind?
I shook my head. Stop thinking stupid thoughts.
“Delilah, we’re trying to help.”
“We? What, you’re going to pay Dil to help my ‘problem?’ I’m just different, that’s it. I like crazy colors, weird styles, giving myself challenges and changes. And now you want me to become ‘normal’ like everyone else, when you have a special daughter standing in front of you that doesn’t care about what anyone else thinks?” I had to say it slowly; the lump in my throat shaped like a circular dice disabled my ability to speak.
I accidentally bumped my elbow to my plate, and I heard it crash to the ground with an unsatisfying clash.
I hated it when my brother had to see me cry, so I ran the hell out of there. I promised myself I would never come back out of the spot my legs urged me to hide in.
“I’m so proud and disappointed in you at the same time,” I said, turning to Del. “I would’ve killed to hear that speech. But the plate? You had to knock over the plate?” I tried making her smile.
I could tell she also tried. “It was an accident. My eyes stung and I couldn’t see.” She looked thoughtful as if replaying the scene in her head. “But I still can’t believe I have to redecorate.”
“It’s just redecorating,” I offered.
“Yeah, but it’s not just redecorating. It’s like redecorating my whole life, my future. All of the weird colors in my room were like memories. They were a part of me. I was a part of them.”
“But anyway,” Del changed the subject, running her fingers through her tangled hair. “Job. You’re over here because of the job. Teach me everything I need to know, Sensei.” She bowed.
I smiled. I might have underestimated her. “Well, first, do you have anything in mind right now? A job you want to take a ‘lil look at?”
“Hmm, alright. A barista? Cashier? A…” I squinted at the screen. “A Fashion retail associate?”
“Fired, fired, and haven’t tried it yet.”
I replied, “I think you’d be great at it. You have funky style, but if we try working a little harder, you’d be more…I thought of a word. “Professional.”
Her face faltered. “So you want me to be boring? You’re just like my mom.”
I was about to protest, but I saw a familiar inky blue car coming in our direction. “Del? Is that you’re mom?”
She turned around in surprise, and I was too because she wasn’t supposed to come to pick her up for another thirty minutes. I saw Del’s face turn from surprise to immediate distress. I squeezed her hand.
Del called out, “What are you doing here?”
Her mother waved at her uncomfortably, and suddenly Del’s expression was unreadable. She muttered in my ear, “I’ll see you later.”
I was about to whisper back, but she already dashed away. Soon I’d be all alone again, but that’s okay, because I’ve found myself smiling. Del’s eyebrows unclenched, and even just from that, instant weight lifted off of my shoulders.
My thick hair suddenly made my neck sweat. Was I dreaming?
Can you feel real sweat when you’re dreaming?
It’s been two days since the dinner conversation. I dreaded each day, wondering if Mom will make me start redecorating now.
Nothing’s real in a dream, so I guess it’s not possible. But you can feel sweat in a dream, like imaginary weight pulling you down. Like the dread I felt every day. It’s like the sweat.
Why am I thinking about sweat?
“I’m sorry, Delilah.” I realized we were standing outside of our driveway, and that she was talking for four whole minutes.
I didn’t ask why she’s apologizing. I didn’t need another 4-minute talk and probably an extra minute lecture of paying attention when the other person was rambling. I didn’t need to try to think about sweat again.
“I can’t believe how desperate I was to change you, like your father tried to change me.”
I knew how hard it was for Mom when she talked about Dad, so I gave her an awkward hug around the neck and shoulders and whispered it was okay. Then, “am I still going to redecorate my room?”
She blinked rapidly for ten seconds to reclaim her vision. “Only if you want to,” she whispered. “But I won’t force you.”
I knew she still had a tiny bug in her heart that she wanted me to redecorate.
“Mom, I won’t change a thing about my room. But I’ll be more organized if you want to. I promise.” I added, “I’m also interested in a job. Marissa helped.”
She cried again, and I didn’t know if they were proud tears. But they were contagious, and soon little drops fell down our cheeks and some on our thighs, and we cradled each other tightly as if that would make them stop spilling. They didn’t, and I knew they never would even if we stayed in this position for days.
I didn’t even know what we were crying about anymore.
A few bird chirps and car noises later, we grabbed each other by the shoulders and walked to our home without shame. When Mom opened the door, I thought,
I took challenges, but maybe not enough changes.
Then I grinned and walked in. It was time to start redecorating. Something that wasn’t my room.