Antonio and Johanna in Crosstown Traffic

The following is a short story that takes place after the events of It Starts: at Home, told in the perspective of Johanna’s father Antonio. With that said, there are a few spoilers in this piece, but I believe that just because you know how something is going to end, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey. So read at your own discretion.

Antonio and Johanna in Crosstown Traffic

I wish the courthouse wasn’t so far from our house, and that the justice system moved faster than traffic today. Having divorced my wife seemed to have given me and my daughter more problems than we escaped from. Earlier today, she begged to not be part of the court hearing, and with the way she is yapping away on her phone with some boy makes me wish I caved in and let her stay home after all. If I had known the snow ploughs were going to be late today…

No worries, though, I got my friends The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix to help wash my ears out from the teenage dribble that drips from her mouth. Not too loud, though, because then she will feel like she needs to compete with the car radio, thus ruining my enjoyment of “old people music” as she puts it. As if she had any valid opinion on music, being one for video game soundtracks. That’s not real music. Where’s the singing?

Some jackass tries to squeeze into my lane and I accelerate nearly kissing the bumper of the car in front of me. Teach him to change lanes without signaling. I get that at this speed it’s more obvious when someone wants to squeeze in, but he has no clue what I’ve been through this morning.

“Hello?” Johanna says, and repeats again after looking at her phone. Even if the screen is pitch black, she still attempts to see if she can still get a response. But nope, she is met with an empty battery. She fishes for her charger in the glove compartment and plugs it into the USB socket under the radio.

A bell sound rings from her phone to signify that it is about to charge. Static buzzes through the speakers and zap!

The car stereo shuts off. I bang it a few times, even try unplugging Johanna’s phone and turning the stereo back on, but it doesn’t budge. Crap, it blew a fuse.

“Well,” I say. “Looks like we’re going to have to put up with the sound of the engine and endless horn honking. No more technology to distract us from the beauty of this moment.”

Johanna shoots me the cut eye, the look I still can’t get used to due to how vicious it looks, and how it reminds me of her mother. Sometimes, it does, sometimes it doesn’t. It depends on the severity, though right now, it’s pretty severe because we have talked about my non helpful form of humour and I let one of my “jokes” slip out. She hates it, and I’m kind of sick and tired of using the “but she’s a teenager, she’s supposed to hate everything,” excuse. I want her to love or at least tolerate something. Even if it’s her lamewad father.

“Look, I’m sorry,” I say. “It was very stressful back there.”

Lawyers make me nervous. And Miranda’s lawyers really did a number on me, pointing out how negligent it was of me to not report any abuse on her part until much later. As if that was the issue, they act like what Miranda did to our little girl is nothing compared to me simply not reporting it sooner.

“Yeah, what’s wrong with you?” Johanna says. “Can you ever, like, finish a full sentence?”

“Excuse me,” I say. “I need to be doing all the talking for the both of us, and I’m sorry if I’m not as verbally equipped as Ms. Social Justice Rep.”

While I admire her for having tried her best to earn a position on student council, and got it, I will be forever disappointed in her for stepping down from everything she worked toward.

Johanna sighs and sinks deeper into her seat.

Finally, some movement on the highway. We at least get to pass one possible exit, but one not close enough to our new apartment yet.

“Seriously, though,” I say. “Is everything okay?”

“That’s what you always ask,” Johanna says. “I’m fine like I always say. Jeez, you treat me like some kind of fickle kid.”

“Yeah well, do you see how you’re behaving right now? It’s just a question.” I say. “Don’t want to be fickle? Stop reacting like you are.”

Johanna’s face twists into a frown and she fights her facial muscles’ desire to keep the expression permanent. She neutralizes her face and for a moment, I could see the little girl she used to be. Innocent, calm, and free. It’s my fault. I let Miranda treat her the way she did and I stood by doing nothing for years.

Until now, of course.

“The whole divorce has been hard on me, and I know that’s no excuse, but I want to let you know that I love you very much.” If that means anything to her anymore.

“What?” Johanna says laughing. “Don’t pull that on me right now. Now is not the time.”

“Then when is it?” I put the car in park so I can rest my foot on something else than the brake pedal. Looks like we’re not going to move any time soon.

“I don’t know, just not now.”

“You know what your problem is? You spend an awful amount of time complaining about what you don’t want, but you don’t even make it clear what you would want instead.”

Johanna lets out a large exhale.

“Say something. Anything. Whatever comes to mind.”

I wait.

“I just want this to be over,” she says.

“What?”

“The court stuff and still seeing mom after everything that happened.” Johanna leans her head on the window. She looks at my reflection, but I don’t say anything. “I’m scared that I would have to live with her instead.”

I fight my urge to complain about how she should stop complaining about being with me if she doesn’t want that alternative to happen. I bite my tongue.

“And why did we have to move?” Johanna says. “Once I finally get to have friends over, it has to be in this tiny and cramped apartment instead of our old house.” I take in a breath, ready to speak, but she interjects. “And I know, we have to save money in order for us to be able to live at all. I’m not old enough to work yet, but I know you want me to as soon as I can, and I’m scared. What if I can’t keep a job while going to school, too? I don’t want to end up being useless to you.”

I begin to feel guilty for having lectured her about providing little to no utility to our living arrangement as just another mouth to feed. My intention was never to make her feel unwanted. I just want her to grow up a bit and learn how to take on some responsibilities, because that’s life. If I pay for our apartment, make our food, she should at least help around the place instead of sulking. But all this time…where the hell was I to sit down with her and ask why she sits around not doing anything?

I wish I could tell her that everything will be okay, but I can’t guarantee that. I settle for something else.

“I know how you feel,” I say. “And I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thanks…”

“No problem–”

“..and not just for listening right now. But for everything else. Keeping me safe and…everything.”

When she looks over to me, finally giving me basic eye contact, that’s when I realize that I wasn’t settling for anything. I’ve been settling all along for platitudes and lectures, and it’s only now I’ve begun to understand that after all this time, I should have just taken the time to understand how she feels.

Johanna sighs and gives me a glimpse of a smile. One day I’ll get a full one from her, but for now, I’m more than thankful for as much as I can get.

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