Code Red

Nerdy, New York based programming genius Dave Velasquez leads a quiet existence. He's well-liked at work but lacks a social life. He's loved by his family but lives on the other side of the country. He's brilliant at his job but has little to no ambition. At least not until a unanimous vote at work lands him the offer of head of the programming department in California. The promotion comes with a sweet apartment, a considerable raise, and driving distance to his home town and family. But it also means leaving behind the woman he is in love with and the friends he's finally starting to make in New York, and it turns out more challenges await him when he arrives on the West Coast.

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4. Chapter Four

May 5th, 2014

Once I turned on my phone, I was glad I’d decided to do groceries and laundry before attempting to sort the chaos of digital input. My Facebook, which I rarely used, was blowing up with wall posts and private messages from people I hadn’t talked to in years, my mailbox showed fifty unread e-mails besides the usual persistent spam, and the regular message button showed another thirty new texts.

I sorted out the messages that had gone to my phone number first and was relieved not to find any from my immediate family that I should feel bad about ignoring. After marking all my received e-mails as read without actually reading them, I did a quick scan of Facebook and then tried to convince myself that I really wanted to call my parents and talk to them.

Of course I was always happy to hear from them, but I knew I’d feel awkward regardless of whether they already knew about my promotion or not. Since Tamara had been quick to contact me and I knew she went by their place regularly, I couldn’t imagine they hadn’t already heard.

So I took a deep breath, pulled off my glasses and sat back against the wall with my left knee pulled up to help rest my arm: it was going to be a long call.

My mom picked up halfway through the first ring, “Hello Davie!”

I’d been prepared for the whole Hi Mom, it’s Dave scenario but clearly my sister had finally succeeded in teaching her that when someone called your cellphone, you could usually see who it was and they’d know who they were calling.

“Hi Mom,” I said instead, smiling involuntarily and checking my watch. It was a quarter past six here and would be a quarter past three there, towards the end of the afternoon race, “Is this a bad time?”

No, not at all,” she assured me and I could imagine her rapidly waving her hand as if to bat my words away. “I’ve been waiting all day to hear from you. Congratulations, honey!”

This would’ve been so much better to talk about in person; the faint static of the line between us made things unnecessarily awkward. “Thanks. I would’ve called sooner but today’s been kinda hectic.”

I’m sure it has,” she said. Perhaps she could sense my discomfort at the ecstatic tone of voice, because this time she spoke a lot softer and a lot more teasingly, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell us. What kinda son are you not to tell your mom and dad?”

Even in the quiet box that was my studio, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Sorry. I wasn’t allowed to disclose anything. Rich people have lawyers and shit.”

David Lucas Velasquez, if you’re gonna a manager, you’re gonna have to learn not to talk like that,” she said lightly.

I wished I could reach across the country and give her a hug, have her kiss my cheek and then wipe the lipstick off because the knew I hated the sticky feeling of it. When I’d first moved to Massachusetts, I’d been really homesick for about a month before the sense of loss had lessened, and after four years out of California I now only ever really felt it when I’d had a bad day at work, I was in pain, or I knew they’d all be together at a given moment when I was alone.

I told my mom about the new position, about the benefits that came with it, and about moving back to what I considered my home state. She asked all the appropriate and inappropriate questions as moms do and then yelled at my dad to come talk to me himself. We spoke for a while and he told me he was proud of me before handing the phone back to my mom.

So when are you moving out here?”

“Um… I’m going in about a month to check on the place they’ve offered me. Just for a weekend. And then assuming everything’s alright I’ll move out a couple of weeks later. I’ve got about a week to get settled before I start again.”

Do you need us to help you move?”

I thought about it for a moment despite having mulled it over countless times before. “Well… NewTech, or maybe Hammond & Sons, are paying for all my stuff to be loaded, transported and off-loaded… but I’d be really happy if you’d help me paint and stuff in case that needs to be done.”

Of course,” she said immediately even though I’d technically given her no concrete date or time. “Just let me know when and where. I’m sure Tamara and Jesse wouldn’t mind pitching in as well. I’ll ask them when they drop off Jayla tomorrow.”

The way she mentioned my niece was so casual that I daren’t ask why my sister and her husband would be leaving their two-year-old with my parents when my sister was still at home with my nephew. Instead, I protested, “Oh no, Mom, don’t do that. I’m sure they’ve got enough going on in their own lives right now. I can always hire someone to do it.” Even being the one saying it, I cringed at how that sounded.

She laughed and no words were spoken between us for a while. Then she said, “I’m so excited to get you home, Davies.”

“Me too. I miss you guys.” While it might not be true in my everyday life, it definitely was right now when I was sitting in my room with the cooling spring air sifting in through the mosquito net on the outside of my window frame and the low hum of a car engine in the distance.

We miss you too, honey. Right, Charlie?

Yes. We miss you, buddy!” my dad yelled in the background.

I chuckled to myself and picked at a loose thread in my sock with the hand that wasn’t holding my phone to my ear. That arm was slowly going to sleep, but I felt like the call was drawing to an end anyway and thought I’d just wait it out.

As if on cue, my mom cleared her throat. “Look, honey, a family of seven have just walked in so I’d better get to it. I can call you later if there’s anything else we need to talk about.”

“No, that’s okay,” I said, nodding along as if she could see me. “I’ve gotta get up at four-thirty tomorrow so I probably won’t be awake by the time they leave.”

Ugh, that’s early. Make sure you get some sleep.

“I will.”

Talk to you soon, honey. Love you.

“Love you, too.”

After that I just sat for a while with my back against the cool wall and my phone still in my hand and felt pathetically dead inside. It was heavier than my occasional longing to be with my family in the surroundings I’d seen growing up and I wasn’t sure what had sparked it. You’d think that instead of being sad that the last time I’d seen them was at Christmas, I’d be thrilled that it would only be another few weeks until I saw them again.

When a yawn forced my jaw wide open, I decided to start moving, knowing that if I didn’t I’d end up falling asleep without having dinner. So I made my way to the kitchen, boiled water for pasta, chopped up mushrooms, zucchini and onion and diced some chicken, which I then fried while the penne were softening in the bubbling water.

It was by no means a gourmet dinner but it was good enough for me, so I sat down at my two-person dining table and ate it without thinking. Having grown up with a family-owned restaurant in connection to the house, I knew a thing or two about cooking and didn’t mind doing so if it wasn’t just for myself. In college I’d enjoyed impressing my friends with meals when they’d clearly expected my attempt to turn into a pizza order a lot later than dinner was intended, but now that I lived by myself I could barely be bothered adding salt and pepper.

A thought struck me then: I could’ve invited Helen to have dinner with me.

This immediately made me shake my head at myself. First of all, she’d mentioned having to meet her friends and probably wouldn’t have offered to let me tag along even if I’d expressed a desire to do so. Second of all, supposing I could get her to agree to let me cook her dinner, what would we talk about? Besides work, I wasn’t sure we had much in common. What exactly I based this suspicion on I had no idea because, in all fairness, I didn’t know her very well and had never had as long of a casual conversation with her as today.

My thoughts were running wild, so I went to wash my plate and silverware, have a sip of water, take a leak, and brush my teeth before I headed back to my bed. As I stuck the charging cable into my phone, Jayla and Mason’s smiling baby faces screamed at me and reminded me of Tamara’s e-mail. I still hadn’t replied to it or any of the other ones I’d received throughout the afternoon.

I wriggled out of my clothes and pulled on the ugly F*ck Google, Ask Me T-shirt Jeff had gotten me when we graduated from high school, then put my glasses on and scrolled through my phone contacts in search of Tamara’s name. Taking a deep breath and praying I wasn’t accidentally waking up her kids, I pushed the FaceTime button and tried to ignore the reflection of my face staring back at me with withheld breath.

A little, electronic noise let me know the call had been accepted only a second before my sister’s face appeared on the screen, a smile stretching her lips across the lower half of her face. “Con-gra-tu-la-tio–” she said, stressing each syllable to the point where it almost sounded like she was singing. A loud squeal drowned part of the last syllable and Tamara laughed, holding out her phone and reveling Mason on her lap, his face wide open.

“Hey there, Mason,” I chuckled. “Oh, and Tam, too.”

Mason, say hi to Uncle Dave,” commanded my sister cheerfully, set her phone down against something on the table and lifted the baby’s chubby arm to wave it back and forth a couple of times.

Uggle Day!” At the corner of the screen I could see the top of Jayla’s head as she came bouncing in.

My sister picked up her toddler and grinned at the camera. The purple skin between her eyes and the bridge of her nose was a little lighter than it had been at Christmas, but the days of caking up her face with foundation, powders and whatnot were clearly over and she looked a lot younger for that reason.

“Heya, Jayla,” I said, waving with my free hand and then lifting it to rub my face.

Since when do you wear glasses?” Tamara blurted.

I paused for a second, confused. I’d been using glasses for pretty much anything that required me to look at a screen for a couple of years now, but of course it wasn’t often that my sister got to see me working with screens. My phone was sometimes the odd exception unless I needed to do a lot of reading.

“Since twenty-twelve,” I told her with a grin. “I started getting headaches whenever I’d been behind my computer for more than an hour so when I started working I decided to get my eyes looked at.”

Nice,” she said, her standard reply. “They look good on you.

“Thanks.” I didn’t know what else to say, so I decided to change the subject, “How’re you all doing?”

We’re doing fine, aren’t we?” She was looking at her children. Mason didn’t look at all happy to be sitting still and was bouncing persistently against her arm while Jayla was staring at the phone with wide eyes. “Are you a little shy, Jay?”

My niece shook her head violently but didn’t say a word, which was odd considering her usual chattiness and the excited exclamation of my name a moment earlier. “She’s usually so talkative,” Tamara explained to me.

“Just like her mom, then?” I said teasingly.

Definitely not like her uncle, at least,” she retorted. “You were always so quiet.”

I laughed. “You didn’t leave much room for me to speak.” Of course it wasn’t entirely true. There’d always been enough attention and time to go around in our family, but my sister had always been the more vocal one of us and I’d never minded. She could talk for hours and hours on end without actually having much to say, and I was usually content with listening because I didn’t have much to share.

Aw, poor you. Do you feel neglected?”

“Always. Let’s see if you can avoid having Mason end up the same way.”

The hand that was holding Jayla in place curled, showing only a straight middle finger that I knew my nephew wouldn’t know what meant and my niece couldn’t see from the way her head was angled. I accused my sister of being a terrible role model, then asked for a more specific update on her life.

She told me Jesse was teaching at Cabrillo High, my old high school, now and was happy about it. Then she complained that she felt like she was up to her elbows in baby poop because Mason was constantly filling his diapers and Jayla was slowly starting to learn how to use the potty. After letting her daughter down to play with instructions not to leave the kitchen, she explained that Jayla was quick on her feet and they constantly needed to keep an eye on her and that Mason was starting to crawl and roll around in trying to follow his sister around.

I already knew Jayla was an active kid with a taste for adventure. During Christmas, my parents had taken Jesse and Tamara on a quick trip up to the furthest pastures and I’d offered to watch my niece. It had been easy enough for as long as I could keep her entertained with music videos on my phone, but as soon as she got bored with that she’d been up and running. It had been particularly challenging for me because I couldn’t very well pick her up or make her hold my hand without compromising my balance, but it had worked out eventually.

A word of advice,” Tamara said when the topic of her family had been exhausted for the time being, “if you’re ever considering having two kids with diapers at the same time, don’t.

“Kids aren’t really on the agenda for the time being,” I assured her, “but if that ever comes up, I’ll be sure to remember.” Having kids wasn’t something I’d given much thought because, firstly, I’d never had a girlfriend for more than a couple of months and the last one had been in college, and secondly, I didn’t want to risk passing my little issue on to somebody else.

What about women, then?” she inquired as if she’d been reading my thoughts.

I thought again of Helen and shook my head. “Nope. Now would be a pretty bad time to start dating anyone here.”

Boring.”

“Practical,” I corrected her.

Love isn’t practical, Davie-boy. It’s messy and impractical and wonderful.”

“You’re such a hopeless romantic.” Tamara and Jesse were high school sweethearts so of course she was an advocate for romance.

I didn’t not believe in it, but I did think the timing needed to be right for things to work out, and now would be the worst time ever for me to start looking at my options. If I even had any options.

Before we could delve deeper into the fascinating topic of my non-existent dating life, Tamara scrunched up her face and lifted Mason to sniff his heavy rear end. Even through the camera, I could tell his diaper was full.

This stinks,” my sister announced. “I’ve gotta go change him. Do you want me to call you back?”

“Nah. I need to get some sleep,” I said. “I’ll text you tomorrow.”

Right.” She turned Mason towards the camera and waved his little hand again, “Goodbye Uncle Dave. See you soon.”

I gave a lazy wave in response. “Bye, little poopster. Say hi to your dad from me.”

 

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