When I got home from school, I ran straight for the mailbox. A couple of weeks ago I requested information about the L.A. County Film School after I watched a video tour of their facilities on their website. The school had state of the art sound stages, editing labs, and film sets. They were stocked with the latest film cameras and equipment, unlike my school. I formed part of the AV club where we produced the morning announcements and taped all the sports games, but the only equipment the school owned was an outdated Panasonic HVX 200 and dinosaur Mac’s. It took forever to edit video footage on those things.
A large white envelope greeted me when I opened the mailbox. It was thick and heavy with information. I ripped open the package and flipped through the colorful pages filled with pictures of the Hollywood sign, Capitol Records, and shiny happy film students working the cameras. I skipped through most of the book until I found the tuition section.
I almost dropped the mail when I saw the number: $45,000 out-of-state tuition per semester.
What. The. Hell. Are these people serious?
They must be insane if they believe anyone could afford this. Where do they expect I get the money? Out of my ass? I ran past the front door to my room where I dropped my backpack on the floor and went straight for my bible tucked away in the bookshelf. Opening it, I grabbed the money I had stashed inside a makeshift hole. Counting my hard earned cash carefully, it totaled nine-hundred and eleven dollars.
My mood plummeted. I threw the money in the air, making it rain.
I slumped against the wall, money bills falling at my sides. The thought of getting stuck in Dixon almost made me cry. I could ask my dad for the money. But it was a long shot. He could barely afford the studio apartment he rented in Hawthorne.
I had to figure something out. I was determined to get out of Dixon even if I had to sell my soul to the devil.
Later that day, I spent the evening sketching in my leather binder eating ramen noodles for dinner. I was still reeling over the tuition for the L.A. County Film School, and nothing I did was helping me feel better.
It was days like these where I found myself missing my grandmother’s homemade flour tortillas. The woman was a fantastic cook. She made the best Mexican bread and tamales in her whole block back in L.A. I wished my mother had inherited her cooking skills. We were lucky if she made us pancakes.
Glancing over to the living room, Isaac was glued to the couch hypnotized by our flat screen. My mother was in the kitchen washing dishes vacantly staring out the kitchen window. She wasn’t due at the hospital for another hour, so she usually hung out in there.
Happy Birthday to me.
As I glumly twirled the noodles around my fork, I suddenly wished I was anywhere but here. I was stuck at home like any other Friday night instead of enjoying it with my friends or at football games like a regular teenager—even though I hated football games. I just wanted to get out of the house.
I found myself wondering if Dawn and Julian ever made it to Eve’s Paradise. It sounded more exciting than this. My life was officially depressing.
“Isaac, have you finished your homework?” my mother called from the kitchen.
Isaac didn’t break contact from the TV.
“It’s Friday,” he replied with a mouth full of food. “No homework.”
That’s it. I stood up determined to do something—anything—tonight. I wasn’t going to let my life zip past me while everyone else had fun. I strode into the kitchen with a sense of purpose, trying to gather up the courage to ask my mother for permission to go out. But I stiffened as soon as I saw her, the words got stuck in my throat. I glanced at the trash bin and noticed it was full. So I made myself useful and decided to take it out. Maybe she’d notice how helpful I was without her asking and she’d take pity on me.
“Can I...” I began. “Can I go to the movies with some friends tonight?” I didn’t have any plans yet, but I figured I’d plan details later.
“Friends. Do you mean Dawn and Julian?” My mother always made sure to add an extra note of harshness when she mentioned my friends by name.
“No,” she replied sternly.
“But why not? Aren’t I allowed some sort of freedom?” I argued. The last time she let me out of the house—with permission—was with Jane and her family. My mother trusted Jane because her father was the pastor at our church.
“When you’re living on your own, in college, and paying your own bills you can do whatever you want Alexis.”
“Yeah right. I bet the ball and chain around my ankle will follow me there too.” I slammed the trash bin shut. “I don’t understand why you don’t trust me. I can’t even go out because you’re afraid—” I stopped mid-sentence.
“Go ahead, finish what you were going to say.” My mother signaled with her finger.
My jaw tensed. I wasn’t sure if I could finish the sentence, but the anger inside my body boiled, I exploded. “You’re afraid I’m going to screw up like Priscilla.”
My mother’s face tightened at the sound of my sister’s name. “It’s not you I don’t trust, it’s the world around you.”
I wanted to scream. The drama my sister caused took an emotional toll on our family, and I get she didn’t want history repeating itself, but I wasn’t my sister.
“You’ve been telling me that since I was ten. Don’t you think it’s getting a little old?” I snapped.
She turned her attention back to the dishes. She was clearly avoiding me.
“Why don’t you just admit it,” bitterness spewing out of every word, “you’re afraid I’m going to make the same mistake as Priscilla.”
She tossed the sponge aside sighing in defeat. “Honestly, yes. I am afraid. I’m not going to bust my ass at work all night, worrying about what my sixteen-year-old daughter might be doing at the movies or who she’s with. Your friends are bad influences. Dawn is a little promiscuous and Julian is a pothead!”
“That’s what you’re afraid of?” I said tossing the trash bag on the floor. The garbage spilled all over. “Aren’t you afraid you might be pushing me away? Or that I might run away like her?”
Tears started to swell in my mother’s eyes. It was odd to see her show any emotion. Priscilla had been gone for seven years now, we didn’t know where she was. Or the identity of the angel boyfriend.
“Fantastic!” my mother screamed. “Look at the mess you made!”
Just as I was about to say something I would regret, Paul stepped in wearing his usual military green jacket with a sweaty and greasy undershirt that had seen better days. I scrunched my face in disgust as he walked past me to the refrigerator.
“What are you two fightin’ about now? I can hear you hollerin’ from outside,” he said in a Southern drawl that always annoyed me. Paul may have left Dixon behind long ago, but the Dixon accent followed him everywhere. And it’s funny because retired First Sergeant Paul Torrez wasn’t even white. He was a good ole southern boy who didn’t know he was Mexican until he turned twelve because someone at school kept calling him a beaner.
“Nothing,” my mother said. “Do you want something to eat?”
Paul searched the refrigerator then slammed it shut. “My beer’s gone.”
“You probably drank it all.” My mother insisted. “I can send Alexis to the store.”
“I’m not going anywhere for him,” I spat.
He turned to me narrowing his dark eyes. “Did you drink my beer?”
I glanced at my mother and shook my head in disbelief. She turned away focusing on the dishes again. I wanted to sit there and argue with Paul and call him out on everything he’d been doing to Isaac and me while my mother was at work, but I knew it was a lost cause. The last time I told my mother Paul locked us out of the house because Isaac was ‘too noisy,’ she brushed it off and said she would talk to him, but I’m assuming she never did.
“I don’t drink beer.” I balled my hands into fists, looked at my mother and said, “And by the way, I’m seventeen today.”
I spun around then ran up to my room slamming the door behind me. I slumped onto my bed, closed my eyes and visualized what life would be like if I didn’t live here. I envisioned myself living with my dad in Los Angeles possibly attending a film school and mingling with like-minded people who appreciated indie films, grunge music, rock, and metal.
I stared at the poster right above my bookcase of The Virgin Suicides. I felt repressed like the Lisbon sisters, confined by the four walls of my bedroom, and isolated from the world. The only way out of this prison was through my balcony.
I rolled over on my bed and noticed an old picture on the side table. Inside was a photograph of my sister and me standing in front of my mother’s red Expedition. Her copper hair was tied in a messy bun above her head. Even though we shared the same DNA, Priscilla and I looked nothing alike. She had a cute button nose covered with freckles while my nose was long and narrow. My grandmother used to call her Canela when she was little, which meant cinnamon in Spanish. Apparently, red-heads ran in our family.
I quickly noticed a small tattoo of a symbol I couldn’t make out between her dumb and index finger. I reached for the picture frame to take a closer look, but a soft rapping coming from my balcony door startled me. I flipped around and gasped when I saw Dawn peeking through a crack in the curtain. I thought by now she and Julian would be in the city sipping drinks with exotic names at Eve’s Paradise.
I got up and opened the door. Dawn walked past me wearing a body-hugging sequence mini-dress that left nothing to the imagination. I opened my mouth in shock but not totally surprised. Dawn enjoyed male attention, and she went to great lengths to get it. How she managed to climb my balcony in her peep-toed pumps was beyond me.
“What are you doing here?” I asked raising an eyebrow.
“I’ve come to rescue you, my dear,” she said in her best British accent. “How do I look?”
“Like a streetwalker.”
“Thanks.” She smiled and colored her lips blood-red in my vanity mirror.
“I know what you’re doing,” I began. “I told you I’m not going back to Eve’s Paradise.”
“Change of plans. Marisa from gym told me about a new teen club that’s opening in downtown ATL tonight. Birthday girls get in for free.”
“I don’t believe you,” I said with my arms crossed. “You told me a very similar lie last night.”
“Okay, fine. I’m going to Eve’s Paradise. Will you come, please?” Dawn pouted her lips like a sad puppy. “Dawn wants to party.”
I couldn’t help but smile at how ridiculous she looked.
“No. I’m not going back to that club”—I shook my head—“no way.”
“Give me a good reason why?” Dawn asked. “Why do you hate the angels so much? What have they done to you?”
“Nothing.” I lied. “There’s something about them that totally freaks me out.”
“What? The fact that they have wings? They look human, like us.” Dawn reasoned. “And they’re so sexy.”
“You mean Dylan is sexy?” I asked. “Why can’t we go to the movies like normal people?”
“Because movies are so boring!” she groaned. “I mean, I get you’re a film nerd, or whatever, but I like parties. Look I’ll make you a deal: you come out with us tonight, and I promise I’ll go to that film festival in Atlanta you’ve been bugging me about all month.”
I thought about it. I wasn’t sure if a film festival and an angel nightclub were equal exchanges of bribery.
“Yeah, no.” I began to walk away from her when said something that sparked my interest.
“I’ll give you my mom’s Super-8. It’s been sitting in our basement collecting dust, I doubt she’ll miss it.”
I’d been drooling over the Canon 1014 Zoom Super-8 since we found it while we were spring cleaning Dawn’s basement. It was in pristine condition—still in the original box from 1978. I could already imagine the short films I could shoot before leaving for Los Angeles next year.
“With the box of film?” I asked.
Dawn let out a frustrated and much too annoyed sigh. “Yes, that too.”
I turned around, bounced back in her direction and sat on the bed.
“Fine. Make me over, Fairy Godmother.” I grinned.
“I’m gonna make you look better than Cinderella so you can hook your Prince Charming tonight,” she said perking up.
“Whatever.” I rolled my eyes. “Just keep it simple and natural.” I wasn’t a fan of the current make-up trends—the contoured faces, caked on foundation, fake lashes, and heavy eyeshadow. I preferred the natural look. It was easier to maintain, and it didn’t take long to achieve.
“What are you wearing, anyway? Lingerie?”
“Maybe.” She pushed up her bra shaking her breasts as she winked at herself. “I would go naked, but where’s the fun in that?” She stood up adjusting her dress. “It’s like, giving away the groceries for free. Know what I mean?”
“You must be very poor.”
“Come on, let’s dress you up and make you look pretty.”
I rolled my eyes again but the sound of footsteps coming toward my bedroom startled me. I had the sneaking suspicion it was my mother checking in on me. I panicked and motioned Dawn to hide under my bed. There was a knock on my door before my mother opened it.
“Hey. Who were you talking to?” my mother asked with an attitude.
“I was talking to Jane about homework.” I flashed my phone at her. “We have a huge paper due soon.”
“Oh,” she said. “I’m going to work. Make sure Isaac doesn’t stay up ‘til midnight watching TV.”
“Okay,” I replied. My mother stood there for a moment like she wanted to say more but changed her mind. She left without wishing me a happy birthday.
Dawn pinched the crap out of my leg from underneath the bed. I muttered a cuss word and suppressed a painful cry then kicked her back in response. After a few seconds, Dawn came out of hiding and fixed her dress.
I playfully punched her on the arm.
“We almost got caught!”
“Ow!” She laughed. “I’m the Queen of Deception my dear. I can hide in any nook and cranny.” She walked into my closet to sift through my clothes. “Good lawd," she exaggerated. “It’s like stepping into a time machine. It smells like teen spirit in here. Whose wardrobe did you steal? Alanis Morissette?”
The fact she even knew of Alanis Morissette surprised me. She picked up my favorite maroon pair of boots flashing them before me.
“Doc Martens?” she asked, puzzled.
The boots belonged to my sister who was obsessed with the nineties. A little fact I’d never told Dawn. My love for the movies of that decade came from my sister. She introduced to me to Clueless, Mrs. Doubfire, Edward Scissorhands, and Hook. From the moment I could walk, I looked up to Priscilla. While I was weird and awkward, Priscilla was beautiful. The boys went wild over her.
“What? The nineties are making a comeback,” I argued taking the boots.
“Where? In Venus?” Dawn took off her peep-toed pumps and offered them to me. “Here.”
“You seriously think I’m going to be able to walk in those?” She paused for a moment thinking her decision through before putting her pumps back on. “You’re right.”
She went back into my closet and seconds later came out with a pair of nude strap-on sandals with a small heel I hadn’t seen since sophomore year. She took out a metallic pink pouch full of makeup from her purse, dabbed a maroon matte lipstick on my lips and applied some mascara.
“Now you look presentable.” She handed me a slinky black lace crop top from her bag. “I don’t think Queen is going to cut it.”
“More underwear,” I said hesitantly taking the top. I slipped it on suddenly feeling naked and vulnerable. I covered myself in a black and red plaid long-sleeve despite Dawn’s look of disapproval, and let my chocolate wavy locks lose.
I was ready.
By the time we left my room, it was almost ten. I was impressed by Dawn’s acrobatic skills as I watched her easily climb down my balcony. I sensed this wasn’t her first rodeo.
We headed down the street and took a sharp left where Julian was parked next to the Dixon cemetery.
“It’s about time! You bitches had me waiting here forever!” Julian complained. “This cemetery gives me the creeps.”
“Chillax princess, the club doesn’t get exciting until midnight anyway,” Dawn said hopping into the passenger seat. “Haven’t you ever been to Barcelona?”
“Girl, we live in the South. People are in bed by nine here,” he replied with a little too much sass. Julian turned to me checking out Dawn’s artistry. “You look like a hot tamale. You’re gonna have to fight the boys off with a paddle,” he said with a snap of his fingers.
“Oh God, I hope not,” I snorted taking a seat in the back. “I’ll make sure to wear my resting bitch face to scare them off.” I smiled.
Dawn turned on the radio and started dancing along to the beat of an electro-pop song. My heart began racing like it did every time I snuck out.
What was I doing? Being reckless and irresponsible. I was heading back into the lion’s den, and based on my first impression of the angels, they were…tempting.
But I wasn’t Priscilla.
My will was stronger. Besides, there was a Super-8 camera at stake here. I had to tough it out one more night if I wanted to get my hands on the silver beauty.
I shut the little negative voice inside my head. My muscles finally relaxed as Julian turned the Beetle on shifting the gear into drive. Before I knew it, we drove off into the night. And there was no turning back.