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?”