Turning 30, Chapter 20

Ashlynn hung out in Lavena’s living room. The mismatched furniture, though in good condition, looked as though she got them free from various online sites. Lavena has random decor, and although the house is blanketed in toys, it appears very clean and well maintained. Lavena also had several framed pictures of her two kids,and they could be heard playing in the back rooms. Both Ashlynn and Lavena were on their laptops. Ashlynn commented, “I can’t believe how many people post ads for jobs and have huge descriptions but never say the name of company! Who applies for these jobs?”

Lavena laughed but kept scrolling on her laptop. “I love these dating sites! It’s like shopping for men!” Michael ran up and stared at her. “Oh, I got a message. It’s from Ramrod sixty-nine. Oh yeah, that sounds like my future husband!”

“Mom!” Michael said.

Lavena ignored him to finish her thought. “My profile clearly says that I want someone who would make a good father…”

“Mom!” Michael repeated.

Lavena, again, ignored him. “So he says ‘You can call me daddy!'”

“Mom!” Michael repeated.

Lavena kept talking even though Michael continued to repeat himself. “Isn’t that lovely? What kind of mom do they think I am? As much as I want a man, I am a mom first! These guys are my angels-I love them so much!” Michael’s repetition finally got under her skin, so she screamed, “WHAT? What is so important that you feel you need to keep interrupting me when I’m talking?”

“Can I go to the bathroom?” Michael requested.

That question flabbergasted Lavena. “Since when do you need my permission to go potty?”

Michael answered with another question, “Did you fix it?”

“Fix it? What hap…?” She put down her laptop and decided to investigate for herself. She made a beeline for the bathroom, and a moment later, she yelled, “Are you kidding me?” Lavena stormed into the living room. “Hannah, get your butt in here!” Hannah sheepishly walked into the living room. Both kids hung their heads guiltily. “Who flushed Spiderman down the toilet?”

Hannah inquired, “How did you know it was Spiderman?”

Lavena put her hands on her hips and gave Hannah a stern look. “You can see part of his arm still. Hannah! Why did you do that?”

Hannah abandoned all pretense of innocence. “He broke my Tiana doll!”

“I tripped on her by accident!” Michael defended himself.

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“SHUT UP!” Lavena interjected. They recognized that tone and came to attention. “You’re both in trouble! And you’re going to get punished as soon as I’m not angry enough to land an episode on us on Snapped!”

Michael and Hannah gave a remorseful expression, and Lavena paced to try to calm down. Ashlynn joked, “I can see what you mean about them being angels!”

“Of course they have a dark side-they get half their genes from their father!” Lavena stopped pacing and thought for a moment. “It’s Sunday, so I can’t call the super. Michael, Hannah, you’re on time out! Ashlynn, can you keep an eye on them while I try to unclog the toilet?”

“No problem,” Ashlynn consented. Lavena looked irritated but somewhat mollified as she went to the bathroom to fix the toilet. Michael and Hannah stood in separate corners of the living room, and Ashlynn kept an eye on them as she scrolled through Facebook. Michael tried to peek, and all Ashlynn had to do was point at him to get him to behave. Suddenly, she saw something troubling on her screen. “Uh oh!”

From the bathroom, Lavena shouted, “What did they do now?”

“Nothing,” Ashlynn explained, “But I noticed that Tadd used to post things on Facebook several times a day, but he hasn’t posted anything in a couple of days. And the last thing he posted was a Sylvia Plath poem…”

Lavena came into the living room with the plunger in her hand, and she looked kind of scared. “But we just saw him! I guess that was a couple days ago…”

Ashlynn started, “He hasn’t returned my texts either. You don’t think he would…”

Lavena and Ashlynn looked at each other with fear. They rushed out of the apartment. Out of curiosity, Hannah and Michael followed them.

Ashlynn and Lavena burst into Tadd’s living room, fearing the worst. Their hearts were pumping, but they felt a rush of relief to see Tadd laying on his couch watching the music video for “Gangsta’s Paradise” in a trance-like manner. He reacted to their entrance by gazing at them in confusion. Ashlynn, relieved, said breathily, “Tadd! You’re okay!”

“Physically or emotionally?” Tadd asked, half joking. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”

Lavena explained, “You haven’t texted us in a while, and we saw this depressing poem on Facebook…”

“Oh that,” Tadd told them, “I reposted that ’cause it’s supposed to raise suicide awareness. But they cut off my internet three days ago, and I’m running low on texts and data. I’m having trouble paying my bills since I’ve been too depressed to take any catering jobs.”

Ashlynn sat by him on the couch. “You’re scaring me! You love to cook, I remember that from when we were kids. Wouldn’t you rather be doing that right now? Why are you here watching old school music videos?”

Tadd told them sadly, “I watch this one all the time. It was…our song!”

Lavena reacted, “Your song? Wha…?”

Hannah went up to Tadd and told him a story, “When I was in kinny-garten, everyday, we would walk in, put our backpacks away, and listen to Miss Rastmusen talk, and then we go do worksheets, and then we went to room two to play, and then we did learning games. Then it was recess. Then we would do more work…” Tadd tried to hid his confusion and listened politely. Ashlynn looked amused while Lavena felt like she should say something but let her keep going to see if she was going anywhere with this. Hannah continued, “and we lined up. If we did good, Miss Rastmusen would give us a sticker. Then we did free time. The mommy would come get me. Miss Rastmusen gave me a hug goodbye. It was my favorite thing.”

“Uh huh…” Tadd tried to follow the logic of her telling him this story.

“But then it was summer, and I didn’t go to school. I was so sad ’cause my friends were gone, and I missed my teacher. Then it was first grade. It wasn’t the same as kinny-garten. There was no room two, and also, the worksheets were harder. My teacher didn’t hug me. But it was okay ’cause I saw my friends again. I finded new things I liked about first grade, like Mrs. Underhill taught us about animals! It was weird, but I liked different things.” Hannah concluded, “Sometimes good things go away, but it’s just a for a little while. It’s not the same, but you find your new favorite things and feel better. You were happy before, but you can be happy again. You just need to find your new kind of happy!”

Everyone was surprised by the depth of her story. It ended up having a very touching, heartwarming effect. Tadd’s eyes well up, but they do not look like sad tears. Michael and Hannah give him a hug, which he found surprisingly comforting. Ashlynn and Lavena both cooed, “Awwww!”

Lavena was close to tears herself. “My angels!”

Ashlynn felt very touched by the emotions of the moment, but her thoughts on the subject got interrupted by a text message. She looked at her phone and frowned. “Uh, guys…!” They all gave her full attention because of her tone. “Cera signed us up for a speed dating event…”

Lavena growned, “I’ll go call the babysitter!”

Turning 30, Chapter 19

Ashlynn, Cera, Lavena, Will, Tadd, Feliz, and Davida went to a club. It was fairly crowded, and the dance floor was clear except for contestants in a dance competition. Lots of people were gathered on the sidelines to cheer people on, which is where Ashlynn and her friends hung out. Will complained, “The drinks are too shoddy to be this expensive, and it’s too crowded to dance!”

Lavena added, “We’re the oldest people here, and we sound like it too!”

Ashlynn chided them, “Guys, it was Tadd’s idea.”

They felt bad for complaining. Will apologized, “I’m sorry, Tadd, buddy. Are you finally showing some personality?”

“We went here on our first date,” Tadd said wistfully.

“Guess not,” Will responded, disappointed.

Cera observed, “Lots of cute guys here though, mmm!”

Feliz got into a sort of turpor looking at the dancers. Davida noticed this and grinned. “I saw that.”

“What?” Felize snapped out of his trance.

Davida did not seem upset but slightly amused. “You were checking out her ass!”

Feliz did not deny this. “Yes, well her costume is all wrong. It’s not at all flattering to her figure, and the color is horrible for her skin tone!”

Davida affectionately bopped his nose. “I’m so lucky to have a husband with a strong sense of fashion!” Will, Cera, Lavena, and Ashlynn exchanged uncomfortable looks.

For a moment, they all watched the dancers currently entering the contest. Tadd unexpectedly remarked, “These dancers suck! You guys should enter!” He pointed to Ashlynn, Feliz, and Lavena. They felt a jolt of surprise at the suggestion.

“Us?” Ashlynn reacted, “We’re not at all prepared. We don’t even have a routine.”

Lavena said, “Unless you mean that routine we did for dance class? The one that got us third place in the talent show?”

“That routine?” Feliz conversed. “Gosh, I hadn’t thought of that routine in years!”

“I did,” Lavena admitted. “Sometimes I do it for exercise.”

Ashlynn spoke, “I may still know most of it…”

Feliz told them, “I think about it sometimes, you know, fond memories.” They paused, and Feliz excitedly confessed, “I do it all the time!”

“Me too!” Ashlynn and Lavena said in unison.

“Let’s do it, girls!” Feliz directed.

“Yeah!” Ashlynn and Lavena agreed.

As they went down to the judge’s table to sign up, Will reminisced, “Oh yeah! I remember that dance now! It was corny but awesome! This is gonna be good!”

The judges had them go on next. When the previous group finished and got their applause, they left the dance floor and Feliz, Lavena, and Ashlynn went on and stood in a triangle, posing dramatically. The DJ announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome our next contenders for the cash prize swees-Ken Doll and his Barbies!” The DJ played the song “It’s Gotta be You” by the Backstreet Boys. Their routine was very obviously a high school dance routine, but it fit so well with the music and was such an awesome throwback that the crowd went crazy.

Will, Cera, and Davida swayed to the music as they watched. Davida sighed happily, “Look at my husband go! Isn’t he manly?”

Will looked at her like she was insane. “No!”

At the end of the routine, they posed dramatically again. The crowd cheered wildly. Ashlynn glanced over to her friends, and she saw Tadd smiling. He was genuinely smiling! That made her heart flutter more than the awesome performance. For the first time since his ex left, he found a reason to smile! Ashlynn felt thrilled.

Later on, Patty and Jon sat in their living room anxiously. They wore pajamas under their robes, and they kept looking at the clock. They hear some noise outside, and they perked up. Clearly, someone had trouble with some keys. Jon opened the door, and Ashlynn stumbled in. Her purse fell down, but she managed to stay up. She had a trophy wrapped in her arm. “Oh, hello!” Ashlynn slurred. Jon helped her stand straight and handed her the purse.

Patty stood up with her arms folded. “Oh great, you’re drunk again!”

Ashlynn felt a little offended. “Hey! Most of the time I’m not drunk. Okay, so today I’m a little tipsy. But we got free drinks to celebrate!”

Jon lectured, “You’re not acting very responsible. How are you planning to do well on job interviews if you’re constantly hung over? I thought you missed earning money!”

Ashlynn refuted that, “I did earn money! We won the dance contest! Me, Feliz, and Lavena split a thousand bucks!”

Patty replied  sarcastically, “Oh, that’ll look great on a resume!”

Ashlynn rolled her eyes. She could not believe all the joy from earlier was getting taken away right now. Jon, who was somewhat vexed, said to her, “We were worried about you! Do you have any idea what time it is?”

Ashlynn looked at her wrist blankly. “I can’t read my watch.”

Patty scolded her, “You’re too old to be out all night drinking like this!”

Ashlynn countered that with, “Well, you complain when I drink here, so I went somewhere else.” Patty and Jon exchange a look. “What? Do you want me to stop drinking?”

Jon answered, “You’re an adult; we can’t force you to do anything…”

Ashlynn enspeeched, “Then stop trying! I went through something stressful, so can I be human and react a little? So, I have a couple drinks at night! So what? Considering everything, I could be reacting a lot worse. I could drink in the daytime. Or I could become completely depressed and not function in the real world! I am trying to start over, but it’s not easy. I didn’t come back here to get judged! What do you want from me? You want me to get married and have two point five kids, and a little house with a white picket fence in the next few months so I can maintain the image of what you think I should be like before I turn thirty? I’ll get my life together in my own time! You want me to act my age, but you keep treating me like a child! You keep asking me to change! When can I just be myself? Is that ever gonna be socially acceptable?”

Ashlynn stormed off to her room. Jon and Patty ran to the door. They felt bad for causing her to feel so upset. Patty apologized, “Look, Ashlynn, we’re sorry we hurt your feelings. We love you, and we want you to be happy. It just seems like you’re going down the wrong path-a path that won’t take you to your goals. But you’re right. You’re an adult, and you need to do things your own way. Even if you make mistakes, you need to go through the motions. Mistakes are how people learn, I always tell my students this.”

Through the door, Ashlynn yelled, “I’m not making any mistakes! I don’t know why this is important, but I’m going with my gut. This is what I need to do to get a happy life. You need trust me.”

Jon compromised, “We do, sweetheart. Just do us a favor…Can we see a tiny bit of effort to better your future? More job interviews, driving lessons, anything! Please!” He sounded a little scared.

“Fine!” Ashlynn shouted through the door once more. Patty and Jon looked at each other, worried, and they walked away. On the other side of the door, Ashlynn sat against the door, crying. She felt really overwhelmed. She knew they had a right to be worried. She never told them that when she does think about the future, she feels frightened and kind of hopeless. She never told them that she often cried herself to sleep each night. She had no idea where her path was leading her. She applied to at least one job each day, but nothing seemed to be working out. The handful of interviews she got were a joke. She almost felt like the entire town was under a spell to not give her a job. This position she was in was almost alien. She worked in her last job for over a decade. She even conducted some second round interviews on behalf of the company. To be on the hunt again was bad enough, but she was so used to being an independent woman, and now she completely depended on her parents. This was a hard experience, and she was scared where she would end up.

She questioned her actions recently. She spent a lot of time trying to help Tadd get out of his dismal mental state, but she wondered if she should spend more time working on herself. She couldn’t do it though. For whatever reason, her instincts gave her an intense feeling that helping Tadd would lead to something bigger. She couldn’t stop, she knew she had to see this through to the end. Overall, she did not consider herself going down the wrong path. She was doing all she could to get her life together, and she was taking things one day at a time. What more could she do? She looked up and out her window at the full moon. The future seemed so vast. All a person could do is their best, which she had been doing all along. She didn’t know where she was going, but even if she did end up failing completely, she wouldn’t go down without a fight. She didn’t know what to do but wait for an opportunity to come across her path. If she kept going, she was bound to think of something, right? She let out a sigh, got into her bed, and let herself decompress.

 

Turning 30, Chapter 18

Ashlynn and Lavena escorted Tadd into a group therapy session. They were clearly in a community center art classroom. The walls were lined with different types of artwork, and various supplies were overstuffed in a closet in the corner. A whiteboard with children’s handwriting rested on the wall by the door. A lot of the desks were pushed against the window-lined walls. The rest were in a circle in the center of the classroom, and all of the seats were occupied except for the three closest to the door. The room was fairly quiet, and so it felt somewhat awkward stepping in.

The man leading the group looked like he normally would be somewhat intimidating. He had the stocky build of a former football player, and he had a military crew cut. But he did not come across as menacing because of his pink polo, reading glasses, and soft voice. He began the session, “Welcome! You’ve taken an important first step to recovery. We are a safe environment, and we will not judge your past or your feelings. We only have one rule here-positive vibes only!”

The group chanted back, “Positive vibes!” They pushed out some would-be vibes from their hearts. Lavena and Ashlynn, even though Tadd was sitting between them, exchanged worrisome looks.

“Let’s introduce ourselves to our newcomers. I’m Frank, and I run group therapy sessions here two nights a week. I also teach psychology at the community college, and I coach my son’s little league team. Let’s go in order.” Frank gestured to the woman next to him.

“I’m Zoe, and I’m a marketing manager for a local bank. I’m here because I lost my my husband in Vietnam.” She blinked back some tears.

Lavena gasped, “He died in the war?”

Zoe reacted, “What? No! Gosh, we were in elementary school during Nam. My husband and I took a vacation last summer, and we were sightseeing around the city. I was taking a selfie by this statue, and I heard him mumble something about cigarettes. When I looked up, he was gone. No idea what happened.”

No one spoke, but Ashlynn found that story to be anti-climatic. A chipper young girl next to her went next. “My name is Hilary. I’m a junior in high school. I’m here to brave through a broken heart.”

Tadd perked up at the idea that he may have an ally. “Did someone stomp on your heart too?”

“Yeah.” Hilary recalled, “It was my dad who did it. For my sixteenth birthday, I wanted a silver Mustang convertible LT, and he got me…” she sniffled, “a red one!” She sobbed. Tadd looked deflated.

A guy that looked very weedy with his skinny arms, thin, curly hair, and wire-rimmed glasses, went next. “My name is Mick, and I collect buys. The bugs took over my house one day, so I’m learning to let go of them.”

A very dignified-looking man went next, “My name is Malcolm. I’m a curator at the Museum of Natural History. I’m trying to get rid of my fear of clouds.”

“Clouds? Seriously?” Ashlynn thought outloud. Frank gave her a stern glare, so Ashlynn fibbed, “I mean, clouds! I totally get that!”

An eccentric man next to Malcolm went next. “I’m Don. I start fires.” Tadd and Ashlynn almost jump from the nasty surprise, and Lavena, who sat next to him, shifts away from him.

Everyone stared at Lavena, who blushed. “Oh, it’s my turn. I’m Lavena, and I’m a mom of two. I’m here to support my friend Tadd here. I don’t really have any big issues. Don’t get me wrong, my life isn’t glamorous or anything. Sometimes I get sad ’cause I support my kids by myself. It’d be nice to have a husband, but-”

Don interrupted, “I’ll be your husband!”

“No! Like seriously, no!” She held up her hand to him. She moved on, “But most of the time I’m fine.”

Don leered, “Yes you are!” Lavena had a disgusted look on her face but avoided eye contact with him.

Tadd trembled a little. “My name is Tadd. I run a catering business. Why am I here? Well, I fell in love with a beautiful woman, and she broke my heart. I’ve been told I’m not taking the break up well. It’s true, I haven’t really made any progress!”

Ashlynn defend Tadd against his own put down, “That’s not true! You stopped throwing tantrums in public. That’s something!”

Tadd disagreed, “Last night I was howling on the roof!”

Lavena tried, “You weren’t howling. You just cried, and no one was around. I mean, I heard you, but…”

Frank tried to tie the group together again, “At least you’re here. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step towards healing!”

Tadd’s eyes welled up. “I will never be okay! I have a hole in my heart, and I will never be the same person!” Tears started to flow down his cheeks. “No! I will not make a spectacle of myself!” He started to sob. “Oh god, here they come!” He wailed, “I will never be happy again!”

Tadd’s crying made other people in the room upset. Hilary cried, “Daddy! Daddy, why?”

Mick twiddled his hands anxiously. “The snake owner took them. My bugs! He’s using them to feed the snake! My poor bugs!”

Zoe looked horrified. “The shopkeeper’s husband wasn’t Asian! He kind of reminded me of…oh no! Julius! How could you?”

Malcolm absent-mindedly gazed out of the window. “Oh god, the clouds!” He hid under his desk.

Don threw up his hands in frustration. “That’s it! I’m starting a fire!”

“That’s enough!” Frank’s voiced boomed. Everyone stopped in their tracks. “No fires! Get back to your seats! Please stop crying!” He told Tadd, “I’m sorry, you have too many negative vibes. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” Tadd kept crying but non-verbally agreed to leave. Ashlynn and Lavena get up to help him. “Wait, you guys don’t have to leave. Ashlynn, it’s your turn!”

“Hi. I’m Ashlynn, and I’m leaving!” She grabbed Tadd’s arm, Lavena grabbed the other, and they headed to the door.

As they left, Don shouted to Lavena, “Wait, Lavena, my beautiful treasure! You wanna fuel my fire?”

Lavena turned around and had a disgusted face. “‘Kay, I don’t know what that means, and I don’t care!” The three walked out.

In the hallway, Lavena muttered, “I can’t believe Yelp gave this place five stars!”

“I’m hopeless!” Tadd moaned.

They stopped in their tracks. Ashlynn went in front of him and looked him dead in the eye. “You are not hopeless! You won’t fail ’cause I won’t let you! I don’t care how slow your progress is, you are moving forward! It’s okay to feel hurt, anger, depression…you’re human! You’re allowed to have those feelings! Fine, so maybe it’s taking longer than usual to move on, but I will not let you give up! Do you hear me? We’ll stick by your side no matter what! Don’t let anyone make you feel inferior! You will win this! Do you understand me? You will win! I promise!” Tadd nodded, but he had tears flowing again. Ashlynn gave him a hug, and Lavena did too.

Their tender moment got interrupted when Don’s voice echoed in the hall, “I just need some matches…” The three quickly scurried out of the building.

Turning 30, Chapter 17

Ashlynn sat at a table in a small bar. It was dimly lit but still fairly classy. The table tops were granite, and the chairs were metal and tall. The walls were decorated with grape vines, fairy lights, and empty, vintage wine bottles. A couple of men sat by the bar, and a few people were sprinkled around the tables, but the bar was pretty empty. Ashlynn still felt shocked from what she learned about her parents’ history. Despite their seedy past, they both still made something out of their life. They accomplished so much in their twenties. Ashlynn looked at a baby picture that she had saved on her phone. Her mother dressed so conservatively, and her dad had on his work clothes. They looked so normal! There was a date on the corner of the photo, and Ashlynn figured out that her mother was twenty-seven and her dad was almost thirty. That took her a moment to process-she was now the age her dad was when she was born! It felt so weird because none of that lifestyle felt possible for her yet. She wondered when she would feel like a real adult.

Ashlynn’s eyes wandered to an old man that entered the bar. He wore a khaki raincoat with a matching fedora. He put his coat on a rack by the door, but there was no room for his hat, so he carried it to the bar. He sat at a stool at the corner of the bar. The bartender went up to him and inquired, “The usual, Herb?”

“Myrtle’s favorite, thirty years and counting.” The bartender handed him a glass of wine, which he had already ready under the bar counter. “Oh Myrtle!” He started crying on the bar. Ashlynn’s heart sank. Not only did she feel sorry for the old man, but it made her think of Tadd. Herb lost Myrtle right when they were born, and he still had not gotten over it. Tadd’s progress had been going so slow. Could this be his future? No, she was determined not to let that happen.

This thought distracted her so much that she did not see a man approach her table. He appeared to be in his forties, but he didn’t have a wedding ring. He wore suit pants with an oxford shirt, whose sleeves were rolled up and the top button popped open. He smelt strongly of whiskey, and he had a lopsided grin. Ashlynn cringed. He greeted her with, “How you doin’, doll?” Ashlynn did not answer. “Mind if I join you?”

“Please don’t,” she pleaded.

He sat down next to her anyways. “I love this bar! So quiet and classy. It’s great for people our age!”

Our age?” This association caught Ashlynn off guard.

“Yeah,” he replied. “You’re what? Thirty five?”

Ashlynn told him, “I’m almost thirty.”

He laughed, “You’re just a baby!”

“Baby? A moment ago you thought we were the same age!”

“You’re only twelve years younger me. Twelve years isn’t much, but it feels different, you know?” He winked at her, and Ashlynn felt grossed out. He asked her, “So, what do you do?”

Ashlynn almost answered with her old job title out of habit, but she remembered she didn’t do that anymore. So much had changed in the last three weeks! She tried to think of the sophisticated answer to unemployment, but she could not think of the proper euphemism. She sat for a second, trying to come up with something. Just then, Feliz came up to the table. “Hey buddy, take a hike!” The man looked like a deer in the headlights and shuffled away. Feliz took his spot and smiled Ashlynn. “Rough day?”

“You must be psychic,” she said sardonically.

“So, you’re mom was a…?”

“Yes.”

“And your dad has a big-?”

“Yes!”

“Basically, you had a conversation about your life choices, and it turned into a chat about your parents’ genitals?”

“Yes.”

Ashlynn put her head on the table out of embarrassment. Cera came up at this moment. “You’re so lucky, Ashlynn!” Ashlynn held her head up and gave her a look of the deepest confusion. “My parents’ story is so boring. They met at Catholic school, got married at eighteen, and only have sex for procreation. You can learn so much from your mom! And she’s a teacher now!”

“Oh my god!” She buried her head in her hands again.

Feliz observed, “Cera, I don’t think you are grasping how awkward this is for her. She’s done things, so she can picture her parents’…Well, you don’t have any concept of the subject. Have you ever seen a penis?”

Cera blushed at the word penis, but then she thought of something. “Wait, you just figured out you’re gay! How many penises could you possibly have seen?”

Ashlynn picked her head up at that question. The girls looked at him curiously. Feliz confessed, “Well, nothing in person, besides my own. But I put this ad on Craigslist…”

“Noooo!” Ashlynn grinned.

Cera frowned. “But you’re not divorced or even separated yet! You won’t cheat on your wife, will you?”

“No!” Feliz explained, “I put an ad in the strictly platonic section. I just wanted to find a friend who was in my position, people I could relate to, like group therapy. I don’t think men know what platonic means. Half my responses were dick pix!”

“Wait, gay guys have that problem too?” Ashlynn reacted.

“Ashlynn, they’re gay, but they’re also men,” Feliz told her. Ashlynn nodded like he had a point.

“Maybe I should put an ad out like that…” Cera mused.

Ashlynn commented, “You don’t need to put up an ad to see penises on the internet.”

“That’s not what I had in mind,” Cera said. “It doesn’t seem like it would be hard for Feliz to find a guy to hook up, and an ad worked well for your mom..”

“Don’t remind me!” Ashlynn shuddered.

Cera concluded, “If I wanna lose my virginity quickly, maybe I should put up an ad!”

Feliz advised her, “Honey, you don’t wanna meet strangers off the internet; it could be dangerous if you aren’t careful, and you’re way too inexperienced to stay out of trouble. For you, find a guy in person so you can really read them. And don’t you tell me that it sounds too hard. You’re attractive enough where you don’t gotta work for it!”

Ashlynn agreed, “We don’t gotta try at all. Men are easier to turn on than computers! You don’t gotta push a button to turn them on, they’re already turned on!”

“But how do you know when they’re in the mood?” Cera looked confused.

Feliz revealed to her, “Because they’re a man. Men are horny and ready to go one hundred percent of the time!”

Cera asked, “But you’re a guy…Does that mean you’re horny all the time?”

“Hell yeah!” he answered enthusiastically. Cera seemed a little surprised and awkward.

Ashlynn advised her, “If you want a man right here, right now, find someone right here, right now! All you have to do is find a guy you like, stand next to them, and say the two magic words-I’m drunk!”

Feliz disagreed, “You don’t need to be that clever. Be straightforward. Just say  ‘Let’s have sex.’ If he’s straight, he’ll go for it.”

Cera got nervous. “I don’t know if I could be that bold!”

“You can do it!” Ashlynn encouraged her. “Trust us, you don’t gotta work hard for it if you want some strange.”

Feliz nodded. They saw a cute guy sitting a few seats away from Herb, and Cera steels herself up to go for it. Before she left the table, Feliz grabbed her arm. “Wait, you look like a total nun. Show off a little skin, it adds cream to coffee!” He loosened a couple of buttons on her blouse and hiked up her skirt a little. He pat her shoulders encouragingly.

Cera stiffly walked over to the man and sat next to him. He raised an eyebrow since she emitted a lot of anxious energy. She quietly mumbled, “Do you wanna have sex?”

The man genuinely couldn’t hear her. “I’m sorry?”

A little louder but still very shaky, Cera sputtered, “Sex! Sex! You want…?”

The man thought he was catching on to her message but still seemed a little confused. “What?”

In life, once in a while, there’s a weird moment when the whole room gets quiet at the same time for no real reason. All at once, the song changed and therefore, the music stopped for a moment. Everyone’s conversation came to a standstill. Cera, who did not realize any of this shouted, “You wanna have sex with me?” The whole room stared at her. Cera turned completely red and ran out of the bar.

Ashlynn and Feliz gathered their things to make a quick getaway. Feliz opinionated, “We just drove her straight into the arms of a therapist!”

Ashlynn said seriously, “That gives me a brilliant idea!”

“You got any stroke of brilliance out of all this?”

“Tadd will be thirty soon, and I’ll be damned if he spends his sixieth birthday in this state. If we ant him to make progress, he needs therapy!”

Feliz agreed. They were about to leave the bar when Feliz stopped them. “Wait, we didn’t pay for our drinks.”

Ashlynn admitted, “I have a tab.” Feliz looked quelled, and they ran after Cera.

Turning 30, Chapter 16

Ashlynn was lying upside down on her couch with her head hovering over the floor. Her parents had the same furniture that they had when she was a kid. The couch matched the love seat, both were tan with black, plaid-like lines. They had a dark brown recliner facing the television. The entertainment stand was small, and next to that was a collection of DVD’s and VHS tapes. On the other side of the entertainment center was a cat tree where a gray cat slept. Ashlynn had the Golden Girls on the TV, but she appeared too lost in thought to be paying attention to it. Jon walked in and cocked his head, trying to figure out what his daughter was doing. “Are the Golden Girls more funny upside down?”

Ashlynn glanced over to her father’s direction but did not move out of that position. “I just blew my brains out trying to think of what to do about Tadd.”

Patty, who had overheard this, entered the room and stood with her husband. “Who’s Tadd? A new boyfriend?”

Ashlynn got completely taken aback by that question. She lost her balance and fell to the floor. She crashed into the coffee table that was in front of her, which woke up the cat. The cat howled and ran across the living room, running over Ashlynn’s body. Ashlynn picked herself up and sat on the couch. “Really?”

“Well, is he?” Patty inquired.

Ashlynn replied, “Tadd is my friend from high school. You don’t remember him at all?”

Jon remembered, “Oh yeah, he sounds familiar now. Too bad. We were really hoping you found a potential husband.”

Ashlynn raised her eyebrows. “You jumped from boyfriend to fiancee pretty fast!”

Jon and Patty sat on the love seat, but Patty spoke, “We need to talk about a few things now that you’re getting older. First of all, if you don’t use your baby factory soon, it’ll shut down forever!”

Ashlynn could not believe that they were having this conversation. She could not even fathom that notion at the moment. “What?”

Jon backed Patty up, “It gets harder to conceive a child when you’re in your thirties, and the pregnancies can be complicated. You’re our only daughter, and we want grandkids…”

Ashlynn did not entertain the idea. There was no way she was going to think of having kids at a time like this. “Too bad, you’ll have to wait. You want me to have kids? Really? I don’t even have my own place! Let’s focus on one thing at a time!”

“I don’t think it’s normal for a girl your age to not want a family,” Patty stated.

Ashlynn felt indignant. She always took things one day at a time and did not want to rush into a major life decision. She wanted a career, and if she got married right now, she would be a housewife. A traditional role of being a being a little wife and raising kids in a small house with a white picket fence did not entice her. She wanted to be married with kids one day, but it would not be conventional. She wanted an adventurous sort of life and did not want to pursue that right now. She simply told them, “I’m fine being single.”

Jon said, “Sweetie, we just want you to be happy. You don’t seem very happy.”

“Of course I’m not happy! I just hit my head!” Ashlynn pouted.

Jon pat her knee. “Look, you’re our baby. Yes, we still think of you that way. Even Sophia looks at Dorothy that way, and obviously everyone on the show is considerably older than us. When we see our child suffering, our hearts bleed. It’s painful to see our baby unhappy.”

Patty added, “You’re past the stage in your life where you dick around while trying new things and investing your time in stupid stuff. It’s time to think about what would make you happy and have a balanced life.”

Ashlynn thought about this for a moment. “Well, I supposed a good job would make me happy. Then I could get my own place and my own life.”

Patty debated this, “Yes, that’s a part of being well rounded. But family is important too, and how fulfilling would your life be by yourself?”

Jon agreed, “There’s no reason why you couldn’t build your career and find a boyfriend. A man could be a great support system for that, like Naveen was for Tiana in The Princess and the Frog.”

“You watch Disney movies by yourself?” Ashlynn kidded, “Practicing for those grandkids you don’t have?”

“Cartoons relax me.” Jon pouted.

Patty steered the conversation back to the original subject, “You don’t wanna focus on just your job, especially a job you don’t care about. I made that mistake before. I sold my soul to earn a lot of money. When I met your father, I realized that money wasn’t the most important thing.”

An idea struck Jon, “Have you thought about buying some space in the personal ads?”

Ashlynn almost had to translate that in her head. “Buy space in the personal ads? I don’t think I’ve heard that expression in over a decade. Most people just use dating sites and apps now.”

Jon grimaced. “Thanks for making me feel old, sweetheart.”

Ashlynn felt a little bad. “Sorry, Dad. I know how that feels. How do you deal with that feeling?”

Jon answered, “I go visit Pop in the nursing home. All his friends call me young man!” Ashlynn laughed.

Patty remarked, “I love that idea!”

“What? Visiting Pop?” Jon phased.

Patty shook her head. “No. A personal ad, or whatever kids use nowadays. Ashlynn could have some luck with that. I mean, it worked out for us, right?”

Things started to not add up for Ashlynn. She seemed to have come across something, and it didn’t make sense to her. “Wait, wait, wait! Earlier, you talked about selling your soul for a high paying career, but you told me when you met you were a waitress. You guys told me that Dad was in college studying for his finals for his engineering classes. He got hungry and couldn’t concentrate on an empty stomach. So, he brought his study material to the diner. You took his order, and, instead of a tip, he left his phone number. Where’s the personal ad?” Something dawned on her. “You lied Why would you lie? Could the way you met really be so bad that you kept a secret?”

Patty and Jon looked at each other, and Jon spoke, “Honey, I think it’s time we told her the truth.”

Patty consented, “You’re right.” She went under the entertainment stand and brought out and an old scrapbook. “I’m not ashamed of my past, but we made up that story because we didn’t wanna get judged.” She opened up the book to a certain page and laid it on her lap. “See that ad in the corner?”

Ashlynn looked at the page from an old Penny Saver. The page had a bunch of call girls that were all pretty but wore trashy styles of the early 1980’s. Patty pointed to a woman with huge, curly hair and black lace lingerie. Ashlynn laughed, “That hooker looks like you, Mom!” Patty and Jon had a somewhat guilty face. “Oh…my…god! You were a…? Ugh!”

Patty confessed, “I was never a waitress. I had a waitress costume though!”

Ashlynn decided to ignore that because she did not want that image in her head. She read outloud, “Hi! My name is Fantasy because you can live out all your dreams with with me. Big dicks only, please!” She glanced back up. “Wow! Mom, you were definitely a…So, it’s 1983, Mom is…Fantasy. Dad was, what, lonely? I don’t need to know why you were looking for a…” She cleared her throat. He seemed as thought hat he was about to explain, and Ashlynn interjected, “Don’t tell me! God, I don’t need to know that! So, why did you pick her? Was it love at first sight? Like, she was too pretty to be a…”

Jon slowly admitted, “Well, I wanted to live out this fantasy of-”

“La, la, la!” Ashlynn interrupted. “But Dad, why would you reply to an ad that said big dicks only? I mean, it’s not like you have a…”

Jon started, “Well, actually, I do have a-”

“Ew! Just stop!” Ashlynn  threw the scrapbook off her lap. She could not look at them. It was a lot to process. She could not believe her parents had a past like this. “So, what was the point of this story? You want me to start hooking?”

“No!” Patty explained, “I devoted my life to my career.” Ashlynn made a face when she called prostituting a career. “Meeting your father made me realize that I wasn’t happy. Change is tough, but having someone by your side as you make the transition could really make a huge difference. I quit that job, and we used my call girl money to put ourselves through college. It was scary at first, but we are both still working ,and we have a family and plenty of money and friends. You need to find a way to create that balance for yourself so you can be happy and start enjoying your life.”

Ashlynn knew that they were right, but she could not begin to fathom finding her prince charming when she was in a situation like this. She had no job and lived with her parents, a former prostitute and her customer who had a big…She could not finish that thought. “I’m gonna be sick!” She got up and grabbed her shoes and a jacket.

Jon asked her, “Where are you going?”

“I got your point, but right now I gotta drink ’til those images are out of my mind!” She looked back at them and shuddered. She grabbed her keys out of a bowl by the door and ran out. Patty and Jon heard her say, “Ew!”

 

 

Turning 30, Chapter 15

Will, Feliz, and Tadd were hanging out in Wills room. It was fairly small and cramped, but he he kept it clean and made a visible effort to keep it warm and welcoming. He had a futon, which he had in the couch position for guests, and a television set across from the couch. The couch faced the window, which showed it pouring rain. By the closet, he had a small dresser, which was overfilled, and a miniature refrigerator by the door. There was not very many decorations save for some Mets and Giants memorabilia. Feliz sat on one side of the couch while Tadd moped on the side closest to the door. Will was next to the refrigerator, squatting as if he was about to get some beer, but Feliz and he had their eyes glued to something exciting happening on the television. When the play was over, which did not go in their favor, Will remembered why he was by the fridge. “Beer anyone?”

Feliz accepted his offer, “I’ll take one.”

Will handed him a bottle and took one for himself. He sat between Tadd and Feliz. Will looked at Feliz and made a joke, “Beer and football…if I didn’t know any better, I would think you’re totally straight!”

Feliz laughed, “I’m gay, not a chick!” Will laughed at that. Feliz said seriously, “I’m good at disguising it. I had to hide it from my family my whole life. I even fooled myself!”

“Hey, I was joking! I’m not ignorant. Just like any other stereotype, being gay doesn’t mean you automatically act a certain way. But your asshole friends will always use it as a cheap joke.” Will grinned as he took a sip of his beer. “But seriously, your wife is smokin’ hot! Her body is just bangin’! You don’t want any piece of that?”

Feliz sipped his beer and thought about it. “I love her DKNY boot-cut jeans! I won’t lie, I’ve thought of stealing them from her!”

Will smiled. “See, it’s shit like that. You would say and do stuff like that all the time. That’s how we knew you were gay. How could your family not know? Like, seriously, they have no clue?”

Feliz shrugged. “Some people can’t face reality. They will go great lengths to ignore the truth.”

Tadd sniffled a little. Will, while eyeing Tadd, commented, “Tell me about it!” Tadd turned to them and appeared as if he wanted to say something sad or pathetic. Will pointed a finger at him and scolded him, “Don’t you throw a tantrum again! You’re stronger than that! C’mon!”

Tadd shifted uncomfortably. “No, I wasn’t going to…Could I have a beer?”

“Of course!” Will sounded relieved at his reply. He got up and got Tadd a bottle of beer. Tadd opened it but did not seem to want it much. Or, at least, he could not summon the strength to lift his bottle and have fun. Feliz and Will suddenly sat up and glued their eyes to the screen again. They started rooting on their team and then yelled in disappointment. Will remarked, “Man, this is breaking my heart!”

Feliz responded, “The Giants are down, but they’ll bounce back.”

“No!” Will reacted. “I mean Tadd. Man, Tadd, you used to be the guy! Like, if you wanted a party started, you were the guy to call. What the hell did this girl to do you-give you a lobotomy?”

Tadd defended himself, “You don’t understand! You’ve never been in love!”

Will and Feliz wanted to argue, but they thought about it and silently agreed that he had a point. The Giants got a first down, and Feliz and Will reacted happily. Feliz mused, “I thought I was in love. Davida, I love her as a person, but I was lying to myself about how I felt. Do you think I’ll find Mister Right now that I’m getting older?”

Will drank some beer before answering. “You have your own place and you have a good job, I don’t think your age will make a difference. Plus, I wouldn’t worry about a serious relationship so soon after your marriage. Play the field a little, have some fun! Marriage is overrated anyway!”

“Is that why you’ve never been married?” Feliz asked.

Before he could answer, Will’s bedroom door opened, and Miss Constantine walked in. She had wiry red hair and huge, old-fashioned glasses. Her clothes were at least two decades out of fashion, and she seemed to have a little trouble walking due to arthritis and a stout body. She reprimanded Will, “You forgot to feed my cats!”

Will refuted the claim, “No! No! I made sure to feed them before my buddies came over.”

She corrected him, “You didn’t feed the garage cats. They’re hungry!”

Will argued, “I walked by their bowls and saw food!”

“That’s old food! It’s been sitting out all day and it’s dried up.”

“Well, obviously they can’t be that hungry.”

“Would you eat food that’s old and crusty?”

“No, but I also wouldn’t eat food out of the garbage like I saw Furby do this morning.”

“Can you feed them now since you’re just sitting here?”

“Just sitting here? I’m watching…” Will changed his mind about arguing. “Yes, Miss Constantine.”

“Thank you.” Miss Constantine left the room.

Will turned to Feliz. “That’s why I’ve never been married!” He left the room in a huff.

When Feliz and Tadd were alone, it felt somewhat awkward. Feliz turned his attention to the game and started shouting at the the television. Tadd mumbled, “Excuse me.” Feliz did not hear him because of what was happening in the game, and Tadd didn’t seem to care. He slipped out of the room.

After a minute or so, Will returned. “Oh sure, I leave the room for one minute and I miss a good play!” He sat back down on the couch. “The garage cats are indoor/outdoor cats, so if they were really hungry, they’d go catch their own food, right?”

Feliz sniffed the air and made a disgusted face. “You smell like fish.”

Will grumbled, “Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I can’t get laid. Forget the smell of cat food, the house has seven litter boxes! Seven! Girls take one whiff and bolt!”

“Can’t you just do it at the girl’s place? Or a hotel?” Feliz suggested.

Will explained, “You can’t keep avoiding taking her to your place. Women figure out pretty quick if you’re hiding something from them. I don’t blame ’em; if a girl wouldn’t take me to her place, I’d assume the worst. Once in a while, I can find a girl who’ll overlook past all this crap in the house, but then we run into another obstacle…Once, I brought home this hot chick who loved cats, so you think it would be a sure thing! Don’t get me wrong, at first it was. We were going at it like crazy…and then Miss Constantine bursts in…” Will imitates Miss Constantine’s voice, “Will? Are you okay? I heard a lot of heavy breathing and thought you were having an asthma attack!” That made Feliz laugh. Will concluded, “No, I’m like almost thirty and I still live like this! What girl’s gonna sleep with me now?”:

Feliz joked, “You could marry a sugar mama!”

“Yeah really!” Will took a swig from his beer and watched the game. He set his beer down next to another one, and that’s when he noticed something. “Where’s Tadd?”

It just clicked for Feliz too. He eyeballed the room and was surprised to see he had not returned. “He said excuse me and left the room. I figured he was going to the bathroom.”

They had a small moment of panic. Before they could decide what to do, they heard a small noise outside. They sprint to the window and peered outside. They saw Tadd outside crying melodramatically in the rain. Will and Feliz shook their heads. Feliz remarked, “When I break up with Davida, I hope she is not like this!”

Will joked, “She won’t. She’ll be a very pleased woman ’cause I’ll do her all night!” Feliz glared at him. “What? You don’t like girls! Is she off limits still?”

Feliz fired back, “She would never do it in this house!” Will’s glee instantly turned into a mild depression. Feliz apologized, “Okay, we’re even. Awkward bro hug?”

“Yeah!” Will grinned. They gave each other a manly hug. They remembered Tadd was out there still, and Will directed, “Come on, let’s bring Tadd in before he drowns.”

 

Turning 30, Chapter 14

Ashlynn walked into a vibrant gym with Cera and Lavena. None of them are wearing work out clothes, and Ashlynn felt a little out of place, but she reasoned that they weren’t going to be there long. Ashlynn had just finished telling her friends the oddness of the interview she went to yesterday. Lavena asked, “Were you on Candid Camera?”

Ashlynn replied, “I could not make that up.”

“Sorry it was such a waste of time,” Cera told her.

“It wasn’t a waste of time!” Ashlynn exclaimed. “Don’t get me wrong, the interview was a total joke. But it made Tadd smile!”

Lavena phased, “He smiled?”

“Sort of,” Ashlynn admitted. “Well, he moved his lips. He wanted to smile!” Cera and Lavena exchanged looks of doubt but said nothing. “Look, he went a whole afternoon without making a scene! He told me he was holding off for me. He chose to keep his composure!”

Cera commented, “I don’t think throwing fits in private means he’s getting better. It worries me that he won’t talk about his feelings.”

“Guys don’t talk about their feelings,” Lavena said. “Except if they’re horny or angry. What I wouldn’t give for Tadd to just fly off the handle!” Ashlynn and Cera gave her a quizzical look. “Just for a change of pace.”

Ashlynn commented, “You guys can think what you want. Tadd showed signs of life yesterday. We’re getting through to him, and that makes me happy.” Again, Cera and Lavena exchanged looks of doubt but said nothing.

At that moment, a very handsome but very young, very muscly guy walked into the gym. Lavena silkily remarked, “Speaking of happy, hello!”

Cera cooed, “Wow! He’s gorgeous!”

He walked past them and all three girls blatantly checked out his body. He was very well built from head to toe. They paid attention to him as he walked up to the young, bubbly girl at the front desk. “Hi! I wanted to rent a basketball.”

Ashlynn conveyed, “Maybe I should get a job here. Then I could handle his balls!”

The three women giggled like school girls. The young man turned around when he heard that. They pretended to be really interested in something on Cera’s phone,. He turned back around. The receptionist relayed to him, “To rent equipment, I need an ID.”

He inquired, “Would a school ID be okay?”

“Sure,” the receptionist complied. He opened up his wallet and handed it to her. She looked at it for a bit. “Oh! I graduated from there two years ago!”

Right as Ashlynn brought out her water and took a drink, he commented, “Oh cool! I love it there! I just made the sophomore basketball team!” Ashlynn, out of surprise, swallowed her water the wrong way. She started choking, and when she tried to cover it up, it just appeared very awkward. The receptionist looked a little disgusted, and the boy looked over in mild concern. The situation resolved itself fairly quickly, so the receptionist handed him a basketball. “Thanks!” He walked off.

Cera broke the awkward silence, “If I had any idea he was so young…”

Ashlynn expressed her astonishment, “He’s fifteen! Fifteen! He’s also fifteen years younger than us! We were in high school when he was born!”

Lavena reacted, “My god! We’re twice his age! He’s almost a man, and we’re twice his age! I thought we were too young to be cougars!”

“I don’t think we’re too young for anything anymore,” Ashlynn remarked. “Except reitrement. At least we have that going on for us.”

They noticed that the receptionist staring at them strangely. She asked them, “Can I help you guys with something?”

Cera told her, “Yes. We wanted to get a list of classes.”

“Sure!” the receptionist obliged. She handed them a piece of paper and pointed to it. “For you ladies I highly recommend the power yoga class. It’s a great way to stay in shape!”

“Oh, it’s not for us,” Ashlynn explained to her. “Our friend, Tadd, is going through a bad break up and needs to get out of the house more.”

Lavena observed, “Wait, you just called us fat, didn’t you?”

The receptionist’s eyes went wide. “Oh no, no, no, no! I didn’t mean to offend you guys. Just a lot of women your age sign up for classes like that.”

“Why?” Cera asked.

The receptionist answered, “Well, it’s getting closer to the holiday season. What’s at the end of the holiday season? New Years! What do people do at New Years?”

Ashlynn joked, “Get drunk?”

Lavena added, “Get groped by strangers?”

The receptionist maintained her professionalism, but clearly she wanted to roll her eyes. “Resolutions! What’s the number one resolution in this country? Actually, I’ll answer that. Weight loss.”

Cera inquired, “So, women our age come in here a lot to take those classes because…?”

The receptionist finished her thought, “Well, apparently it gets harder as you get older. Like, if you don’t do it now, you better be happy with your body as it is ’cause most likely it’s here to stay.”

The three women looked down at their body and analyzed it. Cera seemed reasonably pleased, but Ashlynn and Lavena looked less confident. They looked at the paper she handed them. Lavena asked, “So, you said it was ‘Power Yoga’?”

Ashlynn and Lavena roped Tadd into attending the class. Tadd wore black sweats and a black tee shirt, Lavena wore cotton shorts and a tank top, and Ashlynn wore a spaghetti strap with an off-brand Addidas pants. They all carried old towels too. When they walked in, everyone in the class had on very slim-fitting yoga pants with matching workout tops. They also all had yoga mats. Everyone was either meditating or stretching. Tadd, Ashlynn, and Lavena felt under dressed and under prepared. Lavena whispered, “Should we stretch or…?”

They sat awkwardly for a moment. The yoga instructor walked in and sat her yoga mat in front of the class. She looked very nice and at peace with herself, and everyone could tell she was older but a much younger appearance. The class stood in the center of their mats in very straight postures. The three did the same on their towels. The instructor began, “Namaste, class!”

“Namaste!” they chanted back. The other three felt awkward since they did not know the routine.

The instructor noticed this. “We have some newcomers! Welcome! This is a very fasted paced class, but do not worry! Simply mimic my moves, they are easy enough.” They mentally prepared to keep up with her. “Okay…chair!” The instructor and the class bent their knees and angled their bodies and arms so it created a ninety degree angle. Tadd, Lavena, and Ashlynn studied the class to get the pose correct. Before they could finish the pose, the lady instructed, “Twisting chair!” They put their hands together and twisted their backs so that their elbow touched their bent knees. Tadd, Lavena, and Ashlynn had trouble maneuvering their bodies so that it made the pose without falling. The instructor continued, “Step your left food back for twisting lunge!”

The class did it easily. Lavena and Tadd gave up. Ashlynn sort of got it down and got excited. She immediately fell down into the person next to her. The instructor continued to call out poses as if nothing happened. Ashlynn picked up her towel. “I’d rather be fat!” She walked out.