Turning 30, Chapter 8

Ashlynn sat alone at a table for six in a busy pizza parlor. She anxiously watched the doors and glanced at anyone who passed by. A young, bubbly girl in a sorority sweatshirt came up to her and whispered, “If you’re getting stood up, you should move to a smaller table. This big, empty table makes it super obvious that you’re all alone!”

“I’m waiting for my friends, not a date!” Ashlynn could tell she sounded harsher than she meant to portray.

The girl looked slightly offended and went back to her table, which had a bunch of college students. Ashlynn heard her say, “God, I hope I’m not that cranky when I’m that age!” Her friends all laughed. Ashlynn rolled her eyes, but it made her think-was she really that far apart from the new generation?

She got so distracted by her train of thought that she did not notice Lavena had arrived. She sat down, looking lost. “I got here so quick! It feels a little weird to come where without the kids!”

Ashlynn laughed. Feliz tapped Lavena’s shoulder. Lavena let out an excited little shrie and they hugged. Ashlynn forgot that she met up with everyone this week, but they hadn’t seen each other in twelve years. Cera arrived next and looked a little intimidated to be ambushed by Lavena and Feliz. While they reacquainted, Ashlynn turned to the sorority girl and said indignantly, “See! I have friends!” The girl rolled her eyes and whispered to her friends, who all laughed. Ashlynn said to herself, “Young people are so rude!”

Lavena, Cera, and Feliz sat down, chatting excitedly. When Will arrived, he hopped in front of the table with his hands in the air showing the “rock on” sign. Lavena, Cera, and Feliz all joyfully got up and gave him a hug. Cera exclaimed, “This is awesome! I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other in over a decade!”

Lavena responded, “Well, I didn’t go to the reunion…”

“I don’t think I got the ten year reunion thing in the mail,” Will commented. “Don’t they usually mail it to you?”

Feliz replied, “Our parents got it in the mail. We got an event invite on Facebook. I went and was rather bored. The only person that recognized me was Tadd. Well, Brie did too, but she thought I was Enrique Iglesias.”

Ashlynn piped in, “Speaking of Tadd, he should be here soon. I gotta warn ya, he’s beyond hot mess status. Don’t expect him to be super excited, but let’s stay excited. Maybe it’ll be infectious. At least, I hope it prevents any kind of screaming fits…”

“If he’s such a killjoy, why’s he gonna help plan a party?” Will inquired.

Cera answered, “I think it’s a great idea. After twelve years, we don’t know what he likes and doesn’t like. But how do you know he’s even gonna show up?”

Ashlynn smiled mischievously. “I forced his aunt to bring him here. She’s also paying for dinner for everyone. Now we’ll be even for five hours of babysitting!”

Feliz asked, “Aren’t her kids all adults?”

“Yup,” she answered.

Lavena put in, “Don’t ask.”
Feliz looked confused but he decided to change the subject. “Well, while we’re here to get to the new us and catch up on how things changed, I should start with an important discovery that I made about myself. Guys, this is difficult to tell you, but…”

Will interrupted, “You’re gay. We know.”

Feliz gave Ashlynn a look. “You told them?”

Ashlynn bemusedly informed him, “No. We all knew. We figured it out ages ago!” Cera, Will, and Lavena all nodded in agreement.

Feliz looked a little confused. “But I dated women in high school! I never revealed my secret feelings!”

“Look,” Will said to him, “You were in closet, but that closet was covered in sparkles and rainbows!”

Lavena added, “Yeah, you were in the closet…with a naked man!”

Everyone laughed heartily. Tadd arrived with a very somber look. his posture was somewhat slumped as he moped over to the table. Cera, Will, and Feliz had not seen him in the state yet, so they had a horrified look on their face. Lavena’s motherly instincts prompted her to wrap an arm around him and guide him to his chair. Ashlynn evaluated him. So far, he didn’t seem like he would rave like a lunatic. She wasn’t sure what to expect from him and kept an eye on his every move. Tadd forced himself to look at the group and say, “Hi.”

No one could respond for a second. Clearly, like Ashlynn, they were stunned to see their once happy-go-lucky friend in a state like this. Eventually, Will chimed, “Hey Tadd! How ya doin’, buddy?”

Tadd looked at an empty plate on the table as he responded listlessly, “I am only half here because my other half is gone. I gave her my heart, but she didn’t want it. So now I’m left with is a life a pain!”

Again, no one knew had to respond. Feliz decided to joke, “You sound like a bad country song!”

Everyone but Tadd laughed. At this point, the waiter came over with a large, New York style pizza. He put it on the table and left. Everyone but Tadd picked up a slice and put it on their plate. Automatically, Lavena picked up a fork and knife and attempted to use them on her pizza. Ashlynn, Will, Cera, and Feliz all stop her by saying, “Woah, woah, woah!”

Will probed, “You’ve lived in New York for how long?”

Lavena just realized what she almost did and tossed away her utensils. “Sorry, force of habit! I’m used to splitting a slice for the kids.”

Ashlynn asked, “You don’t get out without the kids much, do you?”

Lavena admitted, “I really don’t! No wonder I can’t find a man! How am I supposed to get married before thirty at this rate?”

Cera unexpectedly interjected, “I don’t care if I ever get married…I just wanna find a guy to screw!” Feliz, Lavena, Ashlynn, and Will looked at her in disbelief. Cera looked shocked at her bravery and burried her head in her hands.

Tadd, who still stared at his plate, bemoaned, “Brie found a guy to screw! Several actually. And a girl.”

Tadd started to bawl, making everyone immediately uncomfortable. Once again, no one knew how to react. Ashlynn knew that this behavior could be ignored and held her pizza up, “Here’s to our old friends!”

Will exclaimed, “Here, here!” Ashlynn, Will, Lavena, Cera, and Feliz clinked their pizzas together like a toast. Everyone then began to eat.

After a moment of eating, it felt awkward again. Feliz cut the tension with, “So, Tadd, where do you work nowadays?”

Tadd wiped away some tears and stopped crying momentarily. “I own a catering business.”

Everyone looked impressed. Lavena complimented, “That’s great!”

Tadd woefully said, “I wish I never learned to cook! It was what brought us together one fateful day. She tempted me to her evil love with a kind word about my cooking. How can I be so fucking stupid!”

Tadd stared blankly ahead. Everyone else just looked surprised that he didn’t start crying again, but they did stare at him in a stunned silence. Will reacted, “Jesus Christ, Tadd!”

Cera scolded him, “Don’t say the Lord’s name in…” She paused. “Wait, that’s not me anymore. If I’m committed to breaking the rules, I gotta start now. Time for freedom…dammit!”

Everyone but Tadd smiled at her awkward courage. Ashlynn conversed, “My idea of freedom is to start making enough money to support myself. My parents are kind for for helping me out like this, but I can tell living with them again is gonna drive me insane! Earlier today, they found my box of liquor and now they think I have a drinking problem!”

Lavena asked, “Do you?”

Ashlynn blushed. “I don’t think it’s a problem!”

Lavena, Feliz, Cera, and Will laughed heartily again. At that moment, a frat boy walked past their table, clearly lost and looking for his friends’ table. One of the sorority girl’s friends stood up and shouted, “Hey Tony!” He gave him a wolf whistle, and Tadd immediately went into tantrum mode.

Ashlynn’s heart dropped, but she took action right away. “Shit! Well, time to go!” She grabbed his flailing his arms and turned to her friends. “Remember how Brie used to constantly whistle? Every time he hears a whistle…well, you can probably guess.” He fought her grip, but Ashlynn gained control. As she pushed him towards the exit, she told her friends, “We need to take turns trying to cheer him up, ‘kay?” She pushed him out the door.

Cera, Feliz, and Lavena all gave each other a a look that said non-verbally how impossible they thought the task would be. They hear chewing, and they turn to see Will eating the pizza. They gave him a “how could you?” look, and he responded with his mouthful, “What? Am I supposed to waste a perfectly good pie?” They all agreed that he had a point and grabbed another slice.

 

Turning 30, Chapter 7

Ashlynn came to  large, wooden doors with ornate, metal handles. She had a hard time opening the door because of its weight. When it finally loosened up and opened, she almost fell. She was entering a dignified place, so she straightened herself up. She closed the door behind her and looked around. It was a very large cathedral with old, wooden pews. There were two aisles with a red carpet which led up to an altar. The altar had a podium, and candles surround the altar and aisles. The church was pretty empty except for a few scattered people praying.

Ashlynn saw some long, dark hair on the left. She was looking down, and Ashlynn assumed she caught her in the middle of a prayer, so she approached very quietly. As she got closer, she saw that the woman was smiling at her phone. Ashlynn still didn’t want to interrupt and studied her for a moment. After all, she had not seen her in twelve years! Cera did not age the most, in fact, she looked the youngest, but she had the looks that changed the most. She obviously spent more time on her appearance than she used to, and perhaps living life got her more experience that may have altered her physique. She remember how sheltered Cera was before, and she maintained an adamant attitude towards staying that way. Hopefully she broke out of her shell a little, Ashlynn thought.

Suddenly, Cera noticed someone staring at her out of the corner of her eye, and she became very nervous. She quickly changed what she had been doing on her phone, feeling embarrassed but trying not to let it show. “Just looking up a scripture!” She glanced over and did not expect to see Ashlynn. “Oh my goodness! I thought you were a priest or my parents, but it’s you! Wow, I didn’t recognize you at first!”

They gave each other a hug, and Ashlynn sat next to her. “Do I really look that different?”

“Well, last time I saw you, you were skinny and brunette. Now you’re blonde and..” She blushed, not wanting to finish that sentence.

“Thanks,” Ashlynn said dryly. “You look great! But you act the same as ever. Do you work here or something?”

“No, I just…” Cera looked around to see if anyone besides Ashlynn could hear her. When she saw that no one was close enough to catch wind of their conversation, she said quietly, “Honestly, I’m tired of it. Trying to be perfect is exhausting! I feel like there’s so much of life that I haven’t experienced. Actually, just now, I was being a little naughty on my phone-looking at pictures of men!”

Ashlynn responded, “That’s not naughty, it’s normal. I mean, come on, everyone looks at porn once in a while!”

Cera got really uncomfortable. “Porn? Oh no, I was just looking at boys on a dating site. I’m such a sinner!”

Ashlynn stared blankly. “How is that a sin?”

“Well,” Cera explained, “in my religion, thoughts are considered actions, and I’m sinning at the the thought of what I want those boys to do to me!”

Ashlynn looked a little confused, but decided not to press the issue since she was also pretty amused. “Whatever you’re imagining can’t be that bad if you’ve never seen porn or actual action!”

Cera had not considered this before. She mulled it over for a second and changed the subject. “What are you doing here?”

Ashlynn told her, “Well, I’m back in my hometown-unemployed and living with my parents, just like in high school! One redeeming factor is I have a mission to complete. Tadd had a meltdown and his birthday is in a month. I want him to feel happy again ’cause deep down he is still the same guy and shouldn’t celebrate a milestone like this. Tomorrow, we’re all having dinner together to cheer him up a bit and start planning. I hope you can come!”

“Yes, I hope I can ‘come’ too!” Cera laughed and immediately felt guilty. “I have to go to confession!”

Cera ran down the aisle towards the door that Ashlynn came in and went into a curtained booth. Ashlynn followed her. “So, will you be there?” Cera stuck a thumbs up out the curtain. Ashlynn laughed and left.

Turning 30, Chapter 6

Ashlynn sat at a coffee shop with a glass of water. She chose the table outside and enjoyed the scenery. The plaza had an old world feel with light stone walls and a cobblestone floor. The windows were made of a heavy metal with fake ivy on the sides. Ashlynn waited, feeling a little awkward. Back first, Feliz came out. Clearly, his hands were full. When he turned around, it was confirmed. Clearly, he was on a lunch break from work because he still wore a nice suit. Out of all of her old friends, Ashlynn had thought he aged the most, but he still looked very handsome. As he handed her a cup of coffee, she felt a little embarrassed. “Thanks for the coffee! I spent the last of my money on a soda.”

He had a croissant with a slice of cheese on a plate, and he pushed it over to her. “This is for you too.”

Ashlynn looked surprised. “I didn’t say I was hungry.”

“You didn’t have to,” Feliz said, “I’m Italian-we’ve got a sixth sense about who hasn’t eaten enough. We get it from our mothers, making sure our family is fed.”

Ashlynn seemed impressed. “So, we haven’t seen each other in twelve years, you take one look at me and first thing you notice is that I haven’t been eating enough?”

“Mama would be so proud!” he half joked. They laughed. “I missed you Ashlynn. I wish I had more time to travel to Manhattan when you were there!”

Ashlynn commented, “I could’ve visited you too, but I got too wrapped up in trying to build a life out there. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t get forced to stop.”

Feliz took a sip of his cappuccino. “Yes, I heard about everything that went down at your old job. Did they ever catch him?”

“Catch him?” Ashlynn inquired.

“Your old boss, the so called Real Estate King.” Feliz explained, “After they caught him embezzling funds, he went into the middle of Times Square, stripped off his clothes, stole a police car, and ran for Canada. You did not know this?”

Ashlynn shook her head. “I was too busy feeling sorry for myself that I didn’t try to understand what happened. I was so mad that I didn’t wanna hear anything about the company’s news. But I could go on for a while about that. I know your lunch break is only an hour. Well, an hour is a long break, I mean…”

“I understand what you mean,” Feliz responded. “I had the option of taking a shorter lunch break in order to go home earlier, but I like to give my brain a break. Don’t tell my wife that. She often complains that I work too much.”

Ashlynn had forgotten that he got married, and it surprised her in their previous correspondence  every time he mentioned her. “How is Davida doing?”

Feliz got uncomfortable about the subject. “Oh, fine.” He suddenly looked really nervous. “Ashlynn, I’m glad we met in person. There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time.” Ashlynn sat up, intrigued. Feliz took a deep breath. “I’m gay.” Ashlynn did not look surprised. In fact, she kept watching him, expecting to hear more. “That’s it.”

Ashlynn smiled warmly. “I thought you said you had news.”

Feliz felt surprised by her response. “That was my news! I thought I wanted a wife and to make babies with her, you now, everything my Catholic family expects me to do. But, I’m not happy, and I am done lying to myself.”

Ashlynn agreed vehemently. “It’s about time!”

Feliz inquired, “You knew? How did you know? I didn’t even know until recently!”

“How could you not know?” Ashlynn responded. “You dress girlier than I do! And, not to stereotype, but you loved musical theater way too much. I thought it was obvious. I mean, you said you liked girls, but it always seemed so fake.”

Feliz got an extremely guilty look on his face. “My wife doesn’t think it’s fake. She really loves me. It will break her heart to tell her.”

Ashlynn commented, “There’s a lot of heartbreak going on right now. Did you hear about Tadd?”

Feliz replied, “Yes, his Facebook page makes it seem like he is…disturbed…”

“Yeah, he kind of had a breakdown. And he turns thirty in a month. In school, I remember he was the happiest guy I knew, and he made other people feel good justby being around and soaking in his positive vibes. Tadd just isn’t himself right now! We can’t let him hit a milestone in a state like that. So, on Friday I was going to get our old group together for dinner. We could plan out his birthday and cheer him up. Can you come?”

“Well, Davida won’t like it, so I’ll do it! Maybe I’ll get lucky and she’ll dump me so I don’t gotta be the bad guy!”

“Coward!”

They laughed and continued on their catching up session.

Turning 30, Chapter 5

Ashlynn looked at her phone, a cracked Galaxy s7 active, and followed her GPS walking directions. It took her to an old arcade. She double checked her open Facebook page, and it confirmed that this was the right place. She closed everything up and went inside. She had to adjust to the dim lighting in there. Every kind of arcade game that she could think of seemed to exist there. There was so much noise from the various game sounds and kids laughing, screaming, and just having loud conversations that she wondered how she would find him in all this chaos. She really hoped that he didn’t choose this moment to take his lunch break!

Down another aisle of video games, Ashlynn spotted a man wearing a colorful stripped shirt lie the circus tent-themed walls. He had a money belt on and a backwards Mets’ hat. This had to be him. A kkid flagged him down, “Hey Mister, this thing ate my quarter!”

The man turned his attention to the machine. It was confirmed, this was definitely Will. He looked just as she remembered him in high school except for subtle signs of aging. Will studied the screen for a minute and turned back to the kid. “Look kid, I can’t give you your money back just ’cause you died right away.”

The kid protested, “That’s not fair!”

Will responded, “Life’s not fair. If it were, you think I’d still be working here having this conversation? Again. Every day. Ten times a day.” The kid gave him a blank loo, so he changed the subject. “Hey, why don’t you play that game? It’s awesome!” Will pointed to an old Mortal Kombat game.

The kid made a stink face. “That game’s dumb!”

“What, are ya crazy? That was the hottest game back in my day!”

“You’re old!”

Will did not give any indication that this comment bothered him, but he did, however, rant, “You know the great thing about getting old is that you don’t give a rat’s behind about what other people think! There’s no cliques, and strangers’ opinions don’t matter. It’s liberating! And you stop worrying about how you look and keep up with trends. Look at you! You probably took forever to put on those skinny jeans! And is that eye liner? Guys in my day at least wore baggy jeans, way more comfy. You can judge me all you want, but everyone knows this wanna-be hipster generation is way lamer than my generation, and we were the last ones to know what cool really means. Go ahead and judge all you want! Why would I care what millennials think?”

The kid asked, “What year were you born?”

“Eighty six.”

“Well, technically you’re a millennial too! Loser!”

The kid laughed and ran off. Will shouted after him, “Hey, hey! Don’t you dump us in generation y! We’re the bridge generation-generation xy!” When he was out of sight, Will muttered, “Little punk!”

Ashlynn stepped forward so Will could see and hear her. “Don’t take it personally. Kids today have no taste, and I’d rather be called old than considered cool by this generation.”

Will replied, “When did I get old? It feels like it wasn’t that long ago that we were in high school!”

“It was a long time ago, Will,” Ashlynn said. “Is that why you’re talking to me like we we just saw each other? It’s been twelve years, you know.”:

It finally clicked for him that Ashlynn was here and that he had not seen or heard from her in ages. “Oh, Ashlynn! You’re back!” He gave her a jocular hug. “I read in the paper that your job closed down. That’s really shitty!”

Ashlynn agreed. “Pretty much.  Hopefully it doesn’t take me too long to find another job.”

Half joking, Will suggested, “This place is hiring if you’re desperate.”

Ashlynn briefly but unwillingly considered it. “Thanks, but I would prefer to make enough to move out of my parents’ house.”

Will did not get offended by this. ” I hear ya. The only way I could move out of my folks’ place was to rent a room from this old broad, Miss Constantine. It’s the cheapest rent in the state! Seriously, I barely pay anything. But I’m roommates with sixteen cats. No joke, sixteen! I get a huge reduction in rent by feeding them.”

Ashlynn commented, “That’s a lot of cats! But it doesn’t seem that bad.”

Will reacted, “Sixteen cats! That’s low balling it! And did I mention that they don’t eat like normal cats? There’s a ratio of wet food to dry food that I  gotta mix just right? She treats them like humans, and we have to set them all places at the table. Even in the garage! They don’t sit at the tables, they swarm-like rats! Also, I’m pretty sure the house is haunted. I’m getting too old to live like this.”

Ashlynn used this to transition to her point of being there, “Speaking of getting old, Tadd will be turning thirty next month.”

“Oh Tadd? Is he here? I thought he left with that crazy chick!”

“She dumped him. Really, he should’ve dumped her dumb ass before…anyway, he’s not taking the break up well at all. I was thinking it’d be cool if we could get old..squad? Am I using that word correctly?” Will shrugged. “Anyways, I thought our old group of friends from high school could get back together to make his day really special. I also thought that this Friday we could meet for dinner to plan it out.”

Will nodded, liking the idea. “Sounds awesome!”

A man who was obviously Will’s boss went up to him in a huff. “What are you doing? Stop talking and get back to work! You need to go help a kid in aisle three-a machine ate his quarter!”

Will muttered, “Of course there is. There always is.”

“What did you say?” his boss probed.

“Right away boss!” He gave him a toothy but clearly fake grin. His boss sneered and left to another part of the arcade. As Will walked away, he mumbled, “God, kill me now!”

Ashlynn commented, “Gawd, I’m so sick of hearing you say that!” Will stopped in his tracks and gave her an inquisitive look. “Sorry, I spent three hours babysitting Tadd and he…” Will looked more confused. “Never mind, I’ll text you later. Have fun at work!”

“Yeah, that’ll be the day!” Will waved goodbye and walked away to continue working. Ashlynn left the arcade kind of amused.

 

Turning 30, Chapter 4

Ashlynn thumbed through a Food and Wine magazine with a total lack of enthusiasm. She sat on the recliner as Tadd laid down like a starfish on the floor, softly sobbing. There was a knock on the door, so Ashlynn put the magazine down and answered it. She gave up hope that Carla would come by and save her from watching over an emotional lunatic, which made her curious as to who could be at the door. She hoped that Tadd didn’t alarm anyone enough to the point to call the police. What she didn’t expect was to see someone she knew. The woman at the door had gained weight and looked super tired, but clearly it was Lavena! Lavena instantly recognized her. “Ashlynn?”

Ashlynn exclaimed, “Oh my god, Lavena!”

They let out squeals of excitement and gave each other a hug. Lavena then asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Babysitting. Don’t worry, everything’s fine,” Ashlynn explained.

Lavena commented, “Liar! Can I come in?”

“Sure, why not.” Ashlynn let her inside.

Lavena looked horrified to see Tadd on the floor. Ashlynn whispered, “My old neighbor, Carla, asked me to watch her nephew while she ran to work real quick. That was hours ago. Apparently she would rather deal with the chaos at work than…”

“I see…” Lavena’s face indicated that she wanted to as more questions on the subject but changed her mind. “So, why are you back in Long Island?”

Ashlynn asked her, “Remember that great job I got right after graduation?”

Lavena replied, “Oh no, did it shut down? I thought it was doing well!”

Ashlynn chuckled. “I thought so too. Marketing sure made it look that way! So, how have you been?”

“Look at me,” she replied, “Can’t you tell I’ve lost my mind?”

“I still can’t believe you have kids!” Ashlynn told her. “I still think of you as my high school friend. Even though I’m almost thirty, high school still doesn’t seem that far away.”

“It does for me, I feel ancient!” Lavena said. “I haven’t slept since their father left. Don’t feel bad for me, it was my own stupidity for thinking a street racer would be a good father! Then after having a baby and realizing he wasn’t, I slept with him again. I made such dumb decisions when I was young. Now I work all night, take care of them all day, and I will get no sleep until they move out. It’ll be nice to find a man to join our family to help me balance things out!”

“I’m looking forward to getting a good night’s rest.There was too much going on at my old place at all hours of the day to get any sleep. I shared an apartment with a crap load of people to split the rent. There was zero privacy! Not that I”ll get a lot of that at my parents’ house!”

“Your parents’ house? So you don’t live here?”

“No, this is Tadd’s apartment.”

“Tadd?”

Ashlynn pointed to the floor. Tadd was still crying but seemed to be running out of steam. Ashlynn asked Lavena, “You don’t get out of your apartment much, do you?”

Lavena agreed, “Yeah. I mean, I knew he lived here at one point, but I thought he moved out with that ska-”

“Shh!” Ashlynn interrupted. “Trust me, you don’t wanna insult you-know-who.”

Lavena went on, “I said hi from time to time, but he was always with that…lovely girl. No one else existed in his world. After they moved out, we lost touch. I didn’t know he came back. I just came over to see what was making more noise than my kids usually do. And why it stopped.” She looked at her watch. “Oh shoot! Their bus will be here soon. I better leave.”

Ashlynn commented, “I can’t believe you have kids old enough to be in school!”

Lavena responded, “I know! They’re my angels! Hannah and Michael are totally worth no sleep and saggy mom boobs!”

Tadd randomly interjected, “My birthday is in a month. We were supposed to spend it together!” He started to sob harder again.

Ashlynn said to Lavena, “We can’t let him turn thirty like this! Turning thirty is ind of a big deal, and the poor guy has no one. We should try to make him feel better before the big day!”

Lavena replied, “Agreed! We could get the old gang back together. Maybe reliving the glory days will help him get out of this funk.”

As Tadd went back into tantrum mode, Ashlynn commented, “A funk? You’re calling this a funk?”

She shrugged. They hear a school bus horn beep. Lavena asked Ashlynn, “When do you finish ‘babysitting?'”

She listlessly replied, “Not a minute goes by I don’t ask myself that same question.”

“When you’re free, come by apartment thirty seven!” She ran out.

Ashlynn had gotten used to Tadd’s erratic behavior, shrugged it off, and went back to her recliner. The landline rang, and Ashlynn picked it up, “Hello?”

Carla was on the line. “Hi Ashlynn. How’s my nephew doing?”

Ashlynn looked at Tadd, who was pressing his face against the wall moaning, “I wanna die! Why can’t I die?”

Ashlynn told Carla, “He’s fine.”

“Oh good. I’m on my way home now.”

“Sure…”

“See you soon.”

Carla hung up. Ashlynn looked at Tadd and sighed. “So this is my welcome back to Success Lake!”

Turning 30, Chapter 3

Ashlynn thought she was volunteering to babysit a child, but instead, she saw a fully grown adult, a muscular man crying hysterically into a leather couch. The apartment had clutter all over. Dirty laundry laid about in random places, junk food wrappers hid throughout the room, and picture frames got thrown to the ground. Clearly, she walked into a man’s emotional breakdown, and to go from the expectation of watching over a child to this was almost too much for her to handle. She felt like she got suddenly thrown into a war zone, and she was so stunned that she couldn’t move or talk.

Before Ashlynn could process all of this, Carla spoke, “He’s somewhat suicidal after his break up, so just keep him away from sharp objects. Thanks a bunch!”

When Ashlynn came to the realization that she would be left alone with an unbalanced man, she panicked. “But…!” It was too late, Carla had rushed out the door. Ashlynn stared at the door for a moment, not sure what to do. She knew she would have to face her fear sooner or later, so she forced herself to turn around.

The man still cried hysterically on the couch. She didn’t know where to start. This man was going the worst time of his life, and she had no idea what happened or who he even was. She decided finding out his identity would be the best place to start.

She saw him clinging to a decorative pillow but could not see his face. He had dirty blonde hair, which was neatly shaven. That didn’t help much. She felt too awkward to ask the man who he was, and she was not totally sure that he was aware that she was in his apartment. She figured the picture frames on the floor would give her some clues. She unglued herself from the front door and stealthily reached for the closest frame to her. When she flipped the picture over, she got taken completely by surprise.

She peered at her senior class picture. The entire senior class took a picture on the bleachers. She found her own picture at the bottom right corner. She was much thinner back then and still sported the brunette hair. She had her arms around her friends, who all linked together by arms. Next to her was Lavena, who had more pal skin than her, hazel eyes, and red hair. She too had a thin frame. Next to Lavena was Cera, who had long, dark hair, bangs, glasses, and dressed lie a prep school student. Next to her was Feliz, a dark skinned Italian exchange student wearing very flashy colors. Next to him was Will, who had black hair, but no one could tell because he always wear a backwards cap. He also dressed like the typical jock of the early 2000’s.

On the other side of Ashlynn was Tadd. Tadd had baby blue eyes and a very toothy grin. He was the happiest guy that Ashlynn knew, a quality that she always deeply admired. He didn’t try to get anyone to join a religion or force some campy philosophy on people, he honestly made people feel happy and want to better themselves just by the shining example he provided. He was a genuinely good guy. He made Ashlynn a better person just by being such an amazing friend. She then noticed that Tadd had dirty blonde hair,  the same hair color as the man on the couch. Ashlynn first dismissed the notion. There was no way that her happy-go-lucky friend was this emotional wreck weeping like a little girl. She had to check to make sure though. She cautiously broke the ice, “Tadd? Is that you?”

He looked up. His baby blue eyes were bloodshot, and his face was blotchy from crying, but it was definitely Tadd. Tadd finally registered that she was in the room, but his mind seemed a little foggy. “Ashlynn? What are you doing here?”

Ashlynn thought was an excellent question. What was she doing here? She couldn’t believe that she had returned to her hometown, and she really couldn’t process this moment right here. “Not babysitting apparently. What the heck happened?”

“She took my heart! I am nothing without her!” He buried his head into the cushions again. “This still smells like her.”

He started crying again, and Ashlynn reacted with a sympathetic whistle. This, apparently, was a mistake. Tadd began to kick and scream. Ashlynn frantically responded, “What..what did I do? I’m sorry!”

“Brie used to whistle!” Tadd sobbed.

Ashlynn made a connection. “Wait, Brie, the class president?” She looked at the picture that she forgot she was holding. There was a big banner that read “Bad to the core: Class of 2004.” Right under the sign was Brie, a super bubbly girl dressed musch older than her age. She had the perfect skin tone and obnoxiously bright lipstick. She was surrounded by friends whose appearance eerily mirrored hers right down to the vapid smile. She felt flabbergasted by the idea that they ever hooked up and that she may have been responsible for this emotional nightmare. “That’s right, she used to whistle all the time. So, you dated her?”

“I was gonna marry her!” he moaned.

Ashlynn remembered her coming across as really fake and kind of dumb. She would always make herself the center of attention one way or another, and Ashlynn never really liked her for that reason. She couldn’t believe a friend she held in such high regard almost married her! “Why?”

“I loved her, and she saved me from complete loneliness,” Tadd dramatically explained, “After high school, I spent years just being obsessed with my catering business. I didn’t realize how alone I was until I catered for an event she was attending. She made me feel good about myself, and there was a spark. It was like magic, and I fell right then and there. We were so in love that we couldn’t wait, we made love in the dumpsters behind the conference center!”

“I thought you said it was magic, sounds like some dark magic!” Ashlynn remarked.
“Did I just say that out loud? I meant to think it..”

Tadd decided to ignore that comment. “We were inseparable for years. Then one day, she eloped with her drug dealer, Jose.”

“Wait, she was on drugs?” Ashlynn responded. “You didn’t know?”

“She said she did sales, I didn’t know she sold drugs!” Tadd went on, “She ended up in jail, and Jose left her. I went to visit her everyday, and one day, she got pregnant. I was ready to be a father, but the baby came out Asian, which neither of us are..But I was still gonna give her one more chance. One day, after she had been released, I came home from work and found her with…with a…”

Ashlynn helped, “With another man?”

Tadd spat out, “With a dozen men! And a woman!” He began to cry again.

Ashlynn commented, “Wow! Who would’ve thought that our class president would grow up to be a crack whore!”

As soon as the words left her lips, she knew it was a mistake. Tadd shouted, “Don’t talk about her that way! She was my world! She was my princess, the light of my life!”

He screamed angrily and threw books off the shelves in a fierce tantrum. Ashlynn hid behind a recliner, not really sure what to do. She couldn’t believe that someone could turn Tadd into this! A landline by the chair rang, and desperate for a solution, she picked it up, “Yes?”

Carla, who sounded totally frazzled, asked, “Ashlynn?”

Ashlynn felt some relief. “Please hurry!”

Carla revealed to her, “Listen, I know I said I’d be back real quick, but there’s an emergency at the office. I’ll only be like an hour!”

Ashlynn reacted vehemently, “You’ve got to be joking!”

Carla didn’t acknowledge her protest. “Thanks so much! You’re a doll!”

Ashlynn was filled with dread. “But..” Tadd had been pounding on the wall for an amount of time that she couldn’t measure. Carla hung up. Tadd got on his knees and tore his shirt like Stanley from Streetcar Named Desire. She thought about escaping, but before she did, she realized she still had the picture. “Why do I still have this?” She almost tossed it, but she saw Tadd’s happy grin and she couldn’t. Her friends around her wouldn’t want her to abandon him. She whispered to the picture frame, “Now what?”

 

 

Turning 30, Chapter 2

Ashlynn walked down the street absentmindedly sipping a soft drink that she got from a gas station. She felt amazed how she did not have to think about the route she took. It had been a very long time since she had been home, and yet everything was still muscle memory for her. A couple of shops had closed down, bu really, nothing had changed. Ashlynn didn’t really want the soda that much, but she had been feeling a little overwhelmed. She had to start completely over. She had no job, a shared home, and would have to establish a new social scene. So many things had gone wrong lately that she wondered when things would finally start to fall into place.

She passed by an apartment complex. It was two stories with doors close by each other. They looked cheap but well kept. The walls were light orange with a burnt orange tiled rooftop. Ashlynn used to walk by this route frequently because it was her first home. Her parents moved in as newlyweds and she remembered her early childhood was spent here. The walls were gray and the roof was blue back then. She used to play in the carport with her friends since there wasn’t a playground. It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but she liked to pass by and think of fond memoriesof where it all began.

She noticed a woman smoking on the balcony of the second story railing. She had large, curly hair, thick-rimmed glasses, a pudgy body, and office attire. She looked exactly the same now as she did twenty years ago. She was her neighbor, Carla. She would often run into her while she lived there, and since she was such a chatty cathy, she would always stop her as she passed by to start a conversation. Sometimes it got annoying because she was so anxious to play with her friends. Carla eventually noticed that Ashlynn was in the vicinity, and Ashlynn did not realize she was staring and got embarrassed. Carla looked surprised at first, but then she smiled warmly. “Don’t I know you?”

“Yes ma’am,” Ashlynn replied. “We used to be neighbors. Well, I guess technically we are neighbors again. I’m moving back in..in the townhomes down the street.”

Carla conversed, “Oh right, you’re Jon and Patty’s kid! Didn’t you move to Manhattan?”

“I did,” Ashlynn responded. “I was the receptionist for a large real estate agency. But the business went under, and I ran out of money, so…”

Carla finished her sentence, “So you moved back in with your parents. That stinks!” Ashlynn made a face of agreement and nodded. “Ah, Jon and Patty are good people. You’ll be fine!”

“Thanks!” Ashlynn didn’t totally believe that but liked the sentiment.

Carla laughed. “At least you’re handling bad news well. A new chapter opened up for you too.” Ashlynn wondered if Carla was referring to herself or another person. Did she have some emotional baggage to unload on her? She suddenly felt like her childhood self and wanted to run away. Carla, however, caught her off guard by not referring back to that. “Listen, are you busy right now? Wait, you’re unemployed, so of course you’re not busy.”

Ashlynn was slightly offended by that comment. “I could be busy. I’m not, but I could be.” As soon the words left her lips, she knew the notion of her being busy anytime soon would probably turn out to be a lie. She really did not have a life anymore, and that thought made her feel kind of bad.

Carla seemed to sense what she was feeling but didn’t acknowledge it verbally. “Do me a favor, ‘kay? Watch my nephew while I run out real quick. I won’t be gone long.”

Ashlynn shrugged. “I guess I can do that.”

She walked across the parking lot and up the stairs. Carla put out her cigarette and thanked her, “You’re a life saver! He needs constant supervision, and I don’t mind doing it at all. I can even work from home on my laptop. I just need to run to my office and pick up some invoices.”

“Oh, I can handle a little babysitting. It’s gonna be…” Before Ashlynn could finish her sentence, Carla very hesitantly opened the apartment door. Ashlynn’s eyes opened widely in shock at what she saw…