Tiffany Jimenez


Jen Mei Soong

Red Flags

Tiffany Jimenez

I can no longer rely on my father to tell me what milestone is up next. He won’t pick up my phone calls. He won’t respond to my text messages. I’ve been left on read for two months and counting. My kitten seems to be growing just to show me that time is passing and I still can’t figure out what’s supposed to happen next.
          Neither my sisters nor Peter understand my fixation.
          “You’re thirty-two, Miranda, not sixteen. Parental permission is not a prerequisite to adulthood.”
          “I’m not looking for permission per se.”
          “Then what are you looking for?” Peter won’t make eye contact when he says this, and it reinforces my sense that he doesn’t know what in the hell he’s searching for either. I glance over to where my sisters are sunbathing but they aren’t paying attention anymore. Sabrina has turned onto her stomach and Maggie is aggressively skipping each song just as it starts. I want to yell at her to at least give one song a chance but then I remember my predicament.
          I sit up in the bright pink donut floaty and the sound of me trying to maintain balance feels undermining. There’s been a record heat wave for the past two days but I still can’t find comfort in the pool. It’s too much of a production to trim my mane, to ensure that my back acne hasn’t flared. As I slip through the donut hole, I throw my phone, protected in a heavy-duty waterproof bag, over Peter’s head towards the shallow end.
          “Wisdom, Peter. I’m looking for some hard-earned knowledge.” I heave myself over the pool’s edge and make my exit. In my periphery, I see Peter nosedive and pull out my phone. Water spills from its loose clasp. My father would ask me what I expected. Or ask me whether it was worth it. Or maybe he’d ask Peter if he still likes me after I did such a bratty thing as throw a thousand dollar phone in water. I’m not sure how Peter would have responded. My father tends to ask a lot of rhetorical questions. Or at least that’s how I hear them.
          “Here’s some wisdom for you: don’t trust as-seen-on-TV pieces of shit.” Peter walks out of the pool, phone already removed from the “waterproof” pouch, and beats me into the kitchen where he sticks it inside a bag of rice. “Your sisters haven’t heard from him lately either, you know.”
          “You and I both know that’s not a comfort.” I say this even though it is. I grab at Peter’s waist and he presses his hands on top of mine.
          “How can your hands be so cold?” He winces when he says this but he doesn’t let me go, and I want to ask him how has he mastered the art of being cold and yet hot enough to keep me around, but instead I shrug and say, “Who knows?”
          I leave Peter in the kitchen after kissing his shoulder, snagging the bag of rice with my phone on the way.
          “Leave the phone in the bag!”
          Peter and I have been together for about two years but we are not really together at all. He calls it love-dating, as in, we keep the love alive by dating one another while he continues to also go on dates here and there with splashes of other people who he never names and who I never ask about. Why am I okay with this? Sabrina thinks it’s because I haven’t found someone I like better. Maggie thinks it’s because I like having a temporary anchor. Neither of them really cares. Peter is nice enough and he has this lovely family home that he graciously shares when he’s not with these other splashes of people. Plus both of my sisters are preoccupied and have husbands. I joke sometimes that I’m not sure liking someone is the prerequisite for marriage given their example but they shrug off my jokes as easily as they shrug off my issues—you stoke the embers of your problems, they tell me. I’ve started considering this now that Maggie is going to be a mother. I’m rather excited to see her become a mom. I’m excited about the promise of a do-over. Whose do-over, I’m not quite sure yet, but I’m hoping it’ll be someone deserving. I’m also hoping I’ll stop offering Maggie cocktails and that my kitten will turn into a cuddly cat.
          My last conversation with my dad had something to do with this: How I seemed to struggle with hanging on to good jobs but flourished in hanging on to bad acquaintances. He doesn’t like Peter. I’d argued that these good jobs—executive assistant, communications associate, event coordinator—were boring after the first year or so. That the potential for growth relied upon a level of contentment that scared me. He didn’t seem to get it. And to prove it to me, he stopped trying to understand.
          I search the rooms for a spare laptop charger. I forgot to bring mine and my laptop’s dead. Neither of my sisters have the needed cable, but seeing Sabrina’s laptop open on the side table is just like seeing an invitation to use it.
          It’s already open to where I want to go, too. Peter let his latest girlfriend’s name—Leighton—slip over breakfast yesterday and I have been battling the urge to look her up. Before clicking enter after typing in her name, I tiptoe to the door to shut it. Right before I sit down, I tiptoe back to the door to quietly push in the lock. Just in case. As I type in the first letters of Peter’s side-piece’s name, I see that Sabrina has also been curious. I’m surprised that she was paying attention—I could barely stay focused as Peter rattled on about this random hotel’s strawberry butter and homemade croissant—and I don’t know whether to feel validated in my curiosity or annoyed. Why would my sister be interested in this girl other than to lord her image over me? She must be stable with a six-figure income, she must have a home she purchased with more than twenty percent down… These thoughts don’t have enough time to deepen because once her profile’s loaded, all there is is a year-old photo of her and a dog. A dog whose golden hair is melding into hers and covering her face up to the point that there is no point to this photo. It could be anyone beneath that hair. I can’t help but feel disappointed. I’ve taken this risk just to see an illusive and probably self-conscious girl who has a cute dog and nothing else to share.
          “Why’s the door locked?” I nearly pee myself as Peter jiggles the doorknob. I hurriedly type in oil painting classes, misspelling all three words, toss the laptop into the cushioned chair and open the door.
          Peter doesn’t look at the computer. He smiles as he cups my cheeks and pulls me into him. He looks directly at me when we kiss and there’s something to that. He doesn’t need to push away any hair to see my face. He doesn’t need to push away an animal jealous and furious that the attention has shifted away from them. He doesn’t have to because I am here and open and fully gripped.
          “Contentment is multi-faceted,” my dad had said. “We should all strive to be content, Miranda. Think of it this way: contentment is a form of acknowledging our gratitude for what we have.”
          “Would you ever get a dog?”
          Peter’s eyebrows cinch and his grasp loosens.
          “I mean, wouldn’t it be nice to have a dog? I think I want one.”
          Peter lets me go and glances over at the chair with the computer. “Really?”
          “Really! I want people to think we look alike, too. I want it to have shaggy brown curls that crowns its face.”
          Peter’s expression seems to acknowledge that I’m telling him something. Instead of letting him get there on his own, I push it. Like I always do. Because what’s there to be “grateful” for when I don’t really have anybody—not even a dog—loyal to just me?
          “What do you think?”
          Peter laughs and moves towards me again. He pets my hair and I growl. “I think the dog will be cuter.”
          My bite lands harder than I’d meant for it to. Maggie arrives to the room first. Peter is cursing and holding his finger while I crawl underneath the bed. I reach out to grab for Maggie’s leg and am grateful when she doesn’t pull away but instead leans in a bit.
          “Let me get something to clean that.” She delicately lifts her leg out of my grasp and when I try to reach out for Peter’s, he spits in my direction, missing, and exits. I almost touch it with my bare hands in an attempt to scoop it up and out of the carpet but I gag. His spit, his carpet. Not my problem—
          I hear yelling. Mostly Sabrina. A door slams shut. I consider crawling to the door to re-lock it. That way I can safely escape out of the window. But I remember my car keys are in the kitchen. That my favorite dress is hanging in the master closet. “Things are just things,” was another phrase my dad liked to employ. “Not at all,” I used to retort. “How can they be if that’s what this career you want me to have pays for?” My dad would laugh and suddenly turn serious as he said: “Invest in brain exercises.”
          The rug burns my knees as I crawl out from underneath the bed, careful not to touch the spit. I grab Sabrina’s laptop and hit the back button. Blondie and blondie stare back at me with one eye each. And that’s when I see the merit of the photo. Her recognition that she and her dog resemble one another. And I like that. I wish I had something as simple as a perfectly curated photo that encapsulates a good portion of my personality. I can see why Peter would date someone like her after so many years of dating me.
          No one comes back to the room and when I finally venture out to the kitchen, I see a blood-speckled piece of paper on the counter. “Be back soon,” it says.
          It takes me a moment to remember my phone is in a bag of rice back in the bedroom. It takes me a longer moment to see that two cars are missing. Maggie’s and Peter’s. Mine and Sabrina’s are still neatly parked beside one another in front of the house.
          I know Maggie’s number by heart (she is the eldest sister), and call her from the landline.
          “Sabrina forgot her computer.”
          “Sabrina isn’t with me.”
          “Where are you?”
          “On my way home.”
          “I wouldn’t worry about Sabrina—” Maggie’s voice clips just as our dad’s does when he’s holding back. It’s important to think before you speak, Miranda. It’s important to weigh out how people will take your words. “Jeff is fixing up lasagna bolognese. Get in your car, you won’t be too far behind me.”
          “That’s really nice but I bit my boyfriend and I should be here when he gets back.”
          “I thought you weren’t exclusive.”
          “I’m exclusive and I bit him.”
          “I really don’t think that’s a big deal.”
          Maggie’s kindness feels like an opening. “Okay, let me write a note.”
          I use the same pen and paper Peter’s note was on. I flatten it out a bit better using a sprinkle of water from the faucet. The pen bleeds slightly but I’m careful to make the words legible. “Sorry about your finger. Will call you once my phone is functioning. SABRINA: sorry to have left before you.”
          I pack my bag quickly because I never really unpack, just my dress and toiletries and rice-bag phone to grab. As I reenter the bedroom to grab my phone, Blondie and Blondie are staring at me from the screen. Notifications begin to flash in the upper-right hand corner and it’s just as my dad told me: signs are everywhere if you just open your eyes and pay attention.
          “Contentment,” I’d told him, “is the easy way out of happiness.”
          “Then why,” he had finally asked, “are you with a guy like Peter?”
          I didn’t need to read the messages between Sabrina and Peter. I didn’t need to smash the computer. I didn’t need to flee through the window instead of a perfectly functioning door. But I did. And I’m pretty sure it was the perfect sign.

Tiffany Jimenez is from the San Francisco Bay Area. She earned her BA in Creative Writing from UC Santa Cruz, and her MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California. She is the author of the novella, The Moment You Remember, You Forget and she is the recipient of a Prairie Schooner Virginia Faulkner Award. Other than being an ardent supporter of the imagination and the art of storytelling, she writes a lot, laughs a lot, startles easily, and loves potatoes.