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Artwork by Michelle Dong, staff artist

There is a war going on in the kitchen.

My parents mutter, growl, scream. They spit my name out like a bullet and it ricochets around the apartment dangerously. I take refuge in the restroom, sit at the edge of the tub and count how many tiles it takes to get from the floor to the ceiling. Upstairs, the neighbors have turned their television off. It’s fun for them to listen in on the drama, to hear my parents tear me apart and scrutinize the pieces.

“Your son is going to kill me, Maria,” Dad says.

“He’s your son too,” Mom snaps.

“Well I’m this close to disowning him.”

“Just because he got fired again—”

“Do you hear yourself?” Dad roars. “You’re making it sound like that's a good thing. He shouldn't be getting fired at all! I mean, he's making us look like terrible parents! Not to mention how it's going to look later on in life when he wants to apply somewhere else. And what about the family restaurant? Huh? You think he's going to inherit that place after pulling this little number on us?”

“Ricardo is different, mi amor. He is—”

“He is an embarrassment.” Dad says without hesitation.

Those words find their target and hit me straight in the chest. I count thirty-seven tiles before my tears blur them together into a blue and white mess. It’s all watercolor without enough paint. My parents begin to talk in anxious whispers and I begin to scratch the nail polish off of my nails, chipping away at the black and watching it collect between my feet like dark snowflakes.

Thundering footsteps come up the short hall to the bathroom, and Dad’s shadow appears beneath the doorway. He rams his giant fist against the door, making the contents of the medicine cabinet rattle.

I get up and unlock the door but don’t open it. I lean against the sink. Dad walks in.

He has the kind of deep set eyes that are both comforting and terrifying and a salt and pepper mustache that hides his lips, forcing you to rely on the tone of his voice to read his emotions. He steps onto the white linoleum tiles, his broad shoulders taking up all the space in the tiny room. I shrink back. “You heard that?” He nods back over his shoulder toward the kitchen, where Mom still mutters rapid prayers under her breath, perhaps supplicating God to stop Dad from murdering me.

“I think the entire town heard that,” I say.

He looks away, toward the tiny glass square, a poor excuse for a window. “Tell me what happened.”

“You’ll have to be more specific,” I say. Sometimes, it’s easier to be polite, but there’s no thrill more invigorating than being insolent, especially to a father who’s already quite mad.

Dad squints at me, perhaps trying to pinpoint where exactly he went wrong. “Tell me why you got fired, Ricardo.”

“Ricky,” I correct him.

He ignores me. “Tell me what you did to get fired for the second time in a month. You want me to ask you again? You’re so proud of the fact that you managed to get thrown out onto the streets twice, that you need me to keep mentioning it.”

Mom’s slippered feet shuffle towards us. She peers around the door frame, hugging her chubby arms close to her chest. “Stop yelling at your son.”

“I’m not yelling!” Dad yells. His chest heaves rapidly beneath his polo shirt. Mom walks back to the kitchen silently, like a ghost, leaving me in the bathroom with him to fend for myself. “Ricardo.” He closes his eyes, straining himself to keep his voice low and calm. “I’m going to ask you one more time.”

“You need to stop treating me like a child.” I say.

“Then you better stop acting like one.” Dad growls.

We stand there in the bathroom, just staring at one another. It’s a Mexican standoff, literally. I’m the first to look away and down at my tattered combat boots. “I don't need you to like me.” I say. “I just want you to love me despite my faults.”

“Who said I don't?” Dad mumbles. "I do love you. I just don't understand why you can’t be a good kid.”

“I am good.” I say, and from the pocket of my jacket I pull out the tattered flyer I'd yanked from the announcement board at work, the one I'd made a fuss about, the one that had gotten me fired. He takes it from me, unfolds it. "The company purchased that empty lot next to your restaurant." I say. "Soon, I'm sure, they'll buy you out."

His eyes widen. He looks up at me, taking in my permanent bedhead, my worn out shirt, ripped jeans, shoes. A knot forms in my throat.

"I was standing up for you, dad." I say. "I was standing up for us."

A tear slips down his cheek. He attempts to wipe it away, embarrassed, but more tears start to spill. Soon he's sobbing, looking smaller than he'd ever looked before. I approach him cautiously and then, before he can pull away, I wrap my arms around him.

"I'm sorry, mijo." He says. "I'm sorry, Ricky."

"It's okay." I say, hugging him tighter, pulling him in closer, not wanting to let go. "It's okay, dad."

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