"So, which one of us do you think won?" Ingrid piped up while sitting in the front of the car beside Curtis. He quickly glanced in her direction.
"You still want it to be a competition?"
Curtis looked up at the rear view mirror and caught a glimpse of Tony seated at the back, before he turned right.
"I'd say it was pretty boy there. But only because I'm a man too."
"You're being nice." Tony replied, though he did feel somewhat flattered. "I'd say it was Ingrid though. You know why."
"Tony, you don't find wrongful executions to be frightening? Imagine having to die because of the corruption of others..."
Tony sighed while looking out of the window and thinking about the current state of his life.
"I don't know. I guess it doesn't bother me as much as it should."
Ingrid kept her eyes ahead as she continued to speak.
"I wouldn't feel that way if I were you. You don't know how lucky you are..."
"What makes you think that? Aren't you happy?"
"Do you want to tell me what's going on?"
"No." Ingrid rebuffed immediately. "You wouldn't understand."
"Well, alright..." Tony said in resignation. "So, where to from here?"
"I thought we could go to the beach or something. It beats going straight home." Curtis spoke up, prompting his two passengers to sit up in surprise.
"The beach? But we haven't-"
"Who said we had to go swimming? We can stand on a dock and watch the waves."
"Whatever you say..."
Tony's hair was still wet when he arrived home as a result of unexpected rain from when he was at the beach. His mother Maria threw a wearisome but predictable fit upon seeing the state he was in.
"Look at you!" She fussed while throwing a towel over his head and firmly wiping away. "What sort of girl would want a man with hair like this?!"
"Mom, stop. I can do it myself..."
He shoved his mother's arms away and hurriedly evaded her attempt to catch him.
"Where are you going?! Why do you walk away every time I mention your future?!"
Tony had long since learned that it was pointless to argue with either of his parents about such things. He headed into the bathroom to begin blow-drying his hair in the hope that the noise would drown out Maria's voice.
"I raised you for twenty-one years so that I could get something in return! Sophia had already met her husband at your age, yet you have never brought a single girl home! Do you plan on becoming a monk?!"
"Mother, stop trying to rush me into things." Tony responded calmly, despite his inner unrest. "I've only just graduated. I need to find myself a decent job and earn enough money first, don't I?"
Maria's eyes and mouth widened as if she couldn't comprehend his words. She rushed forward in sympathy.
"Money's not important. Why don't you give your friend Dolores a chance? She's been in love with you for years..."
Curtis didn't say a word as he stayed behind the nurse whom had assisted his mother in the bathroom. A bright orange scarf had been tied around the woman's head to hide her hair loss and he felt his heart ache upon remembering the way she'd looked during his childhood.
"Baby, why do you keep coming here just to cry?" She whispered after being helped back into bed and noticing the tears in his eyes. "That's your father's job. You need to let go and build your own life."
His attempt to stay strong failed. He heard himself begin to cry, yet no longer cared whether it made him seem like less of a man.
"I'm not ready..." He murmured unsteadily. "You're only forty-three, Ma..."
"There, there..." She whispered, reaching out to lay her hand upon his head. "Wasn't there a girl you went to school with? I think Diane was her name..."
Curtis considered his mother's words before thinking back to his days in high school. He remembered Diane as the girl with the looks of a Motown star and whom had won the title of Homecoming Queen at the prom.
At the same time, he'd enjoyed being around Ingrid over the past year despite the color of her skin. The confirmation that she wasn't interested in boys like Tony or Don, only seemed like a further invitation for him to make some sort of move.
He planned out what he would say when asking her out, on the way back from the hospital. Even if she rejected him or things went far from well, he had a feeling that trying would still be worth it.
It was rather ironic to think that the first girl to show genuine interest in him as a person would be a blonde haired, blue eyed Swede who had immigrated with her parents at the age of eight.
"I don't know what we would do without you..." Mrs Gustafsson said in admiration while standing back and watching her daughter roll minced meat up into little balls. "We almost want to keep you for ourselves."
Ingrid tried not to be bothered by her mother's praise and just focused on finishing quickly so that she could place the tray of meatballs into the oven.
"I just know you'll be an excellent wife one day. Tell me, is there anyone who has caught your eye lately?"
"Not really." Ingrid lied as she stepped away from the oven and settled again by the kitchen bench. "The only person I have ever liked turned out to be with somebody else..."
Mrs Gustafsson reached out to touch her daughter's hand sympathetically.
"I understand. I've been there too..."
Ingrid feigned a smile while pretending to be grateful for such reassurance, though the reality was that her parents were gullible enough to be fooled into believing that she functioned just like any other girl.
"You're right, mother. I just have to keep waiting, don't I?"