Turning 30, Chapter 24

Lavena, Feliz, Ashlynn, and Will sat a park’s picnic table while Michael and Hannah ran around the grass area beside it. The park area had a trail against a high hill. The grass had started to yellow, and the leaves on the tree were starting to change color. Feliz slumped on the table with a glum look on his face. Lavena conversed with Feliz, “Why did she destroy your car? Was she punishing you for your sexuality?”

“No,” Feliz answered. “She was punishing me for making her angry. Of course she was hurt-I broke up with her, and that’s always a hurtful experience. Some people react inwardly for emotions, and some people channel it out. I read that in a Cosmo a long time ago. One time, I got her a workout DVD for her birthday. She thought I was calling her fat and tore up my Sex and the City posters.”

Will commented, “I can’t believe she didn’t know you were gay!”

Michael and Hannah overheard this part of the conversation, and Michael asked his mother, “What’s gay?”

Lavena was not sure how to explain it, so she tried to find the easiest way to appease them, “Uh, it means you’re happy.”

Hannah observed, “He doesn’t look very happy.”

“Okay.” Lavena knew the time had come to explain this concept to the children. “So, you know how men and women fall in love? Sometimes women fall in love with other women, and men can fall in love with other men. It’s probably hard for you to understand…”

“Nope,” Michael replied. “Makes sense to me.”

“Me too,” Hannah agreed. They went back to playing, totally unfazed. Lavena blinked. She could not believe how accepting they were to this kind of thing.

Will complimented Lavena, “You’re kids are awesome! Weird, but totally awesome”

Ashlynn commented, “It’s funny how some people never grow out of that!” They all laughed.

Cera and Tadd came into the vicinity. Cera was holding Tadd to guide him in the right direction. Tadd looked totally lost while he held a flower stem. Cera revealed to them, “I found him sobbing by the tennis courts. Apparently he played the ‘She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not’ game…”

“She loves me not!” he moaned. No one responded except to shake their heads.

Ashlynn talked to him in a cheery tone, “Your birthday is this weekend! What do you wanna do?” Tadd shrugged. “My parents offered to go out for the night if you wanted to have a party. Did you wanna do that? Or something more quiet?” Tadd shrugged again. Ashlynn got depressed. Tadd’s thirtieth birthday was practically upon them, and she had not succeeded in cheering him up.

They all heard some cheerful whistling in the distance. Tears welled up in Tadd’s eyes, and he ran off. Cera volunteered, “I’m already up, I’ll get him.” She ran in his direction.

“I thought he was past this stage.” Ashlynn hung her head, feeling like a failure.

Lavena wondered, “How is it that over two months later he still looks like hell and Feliz has been broken up for a couple days and is in way better shape than he is?” The whistling slowly grew louder and louder as the perpetrator grew closer and closer.

They turned to Feliz, who thought about what she said for a moment. “I had been mentally prepared for this for a long time, and I think Tadd got blindsided. He just needs closure.”

It was uncanny. The person who had been whistling came into view, and it was Brie! Everyone stopped what they were doing and watched her like a ghost appeared. She walked on the sidewalk outside the grass area to a small, white car. She appeared very happy. Her looks had not changed much since high school except for the wear and tear stemming from her hardcore party lifestyle. Even Hannah and Michael stopped playing to watch this moment that froze everyone. Between Lavena, Feliz, and Will, so many mixed emotions stirred up, and they did not know how to react. The were not sure if they wanted Tadd to find her or not. Ashlynn’s blood was boiling. She felt so much hate for that woman. She was half tempted to run over and rip Brie to shreds. She despised her for what she did to Tadd. She did not want Tadd to see her because she was afraid this meeting would make him even more crazy. She also worried that she would lure Tadd away. Tadd could not be happy with Brie, and Ashlynn could not stand the idea of Tadd getting ensnared by her poisonous trance again.

Brie got to her car and appeared to be searching for something. “Where did I put you?” She checked inside and out of her car for whatever she was missing. “Oh wait, I remember!” She went to the trunk and found what she thought she lost. “Ah, there you are!” She pulled out a small baby. Lavena, as a mother, could not hide her disgust at this and made a disapproving noise. Brie heard this, and she finally noticed them. “Oh my gawd, hi!” Brie seemed oblivious to the negative emotions of everyone present and approached them happily, “Do you remember me?”

“We can never forget you.” Ashlynn’s tone was pure ice.

Brie either did not notice her attitude or did not care. She merrily filled them in, “Oh, awesome! I got married, but I think we’re getting a divorce. Married life is so boring! Oh, this is Brandy. I named her that ’cause that’s what I was drunk on when she was conceived!” She had a very obnoxious laugh, which made them cringe. Will stared at her in total confusion, and she finally started to notice the collective mood. “What?”

Will continued to stare at her incredulously. “I don’t get it. Why would Tadd go so nuts over you?”

Brie questioned, “Tadd? Tadd who?”

“Oi!” Lavena exclaimed.

Ashlynn felt compelled to yell at her, to completely tear her apart. How dare she have such utter disrespect for such a good man! However, she did not act on those impulses. Cera had come back, leading Tadd by the arm. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw what was taking place. Tadd did not notice her for a moment. Everyone stood on edge, waiting for an explosion, not knowing how he would react.

When Tadd looked up and saw her, he froze completely. He barely even blinked. He went totally blank, like her presence had removed all sense of reality. His friends could practically hear his heart racing. His mind could not fathom this moment. Cera, Lavena, Will, Feliz, Hannah, and Michael all stood still, again, not knowing how to react. Ashlynn could not move either. She did not know whether to rescue Tadd or let the inevitable unfold. This was really happening, they all thought.

Brie nimbly approached Tadd. “Oh yeah, Tadd! Hi Tadd!” He continued to look at her in utter surprise. There was a long, heavy pause. Brie broke the tension, “Did you miss me?”

Without thinking, Tadd answered, “No.”

“Lies!”

“Untrue!”

Feliz and Feliz could not suppress themselves from saying that. Lavena and Cera concurred.

Tadd finally asked her, “What are you doing here?”

Brie answered, “I took Brandy to the park.”

“Oh, you’re drinking in public again?” he questioned.

Brie laughed, “No! I wish! I get lots of dirty looks when I drink with the baby for some reason.” The more she talked, the more disgusted they all became with her. “I’m in town to sign some legal papers. I’m divorcing Jose.”

Everyone dreading her saying that to him. They all wondered how Tadd would react to hearing that she was single again. Tadd looked as thought he could not process anything that was happening. He asked her, in an accusing tone, “Did you cheat on him too?”

Brie giggled. “Yeah, but he doesn’t know that. Gosh, being back in this town brings back so many many memories! But this town is all used up. As soon as the divorce papers are signed, we’re going to Me-ahm-me!”

“Where?” Tadd’s thoughts were clearly swimming, and he continuously tried to get a handle on this moment.

“Miami!” Brie smiled. Impulsively, she invited him, “You should come with me.”

The dreaded moment had arrived. No one wanted their friend to go with this awful woman. Ashlynn’s head was screaming, but she was too horrified to move. No one could. They silently prayed that he would do the right thing. Tadd’s mixed emotions were agonizing him. He could not process anything. He asked her, “You want me to go with you? What, so you wanna get back together?”

“Well, I’m not a one man can of girl, but we can live together in paradise. You and me, side by side on the beach, going on adventures! Sure, we’ll screw each other, but there will be threesomes, orges, just everything our bodies desire. And you can help me take care of Brandy!” She went up to him and purred, “So, what do you say?”

Tadd mulled over everything. Everyone else was paralyzed. They could not believe this was happening. Ashlynn’s heart thumped hard, and she could not breathe. Everyone worried that they were going to lose him. Tadd agonized over how he felt, and suddenly, it clicked. Everyone saw the light bulb go off in his head, and the anticipation was palpable. Tadd realized he knew how he felt and what he wanted. He cut through the mounting tension and spoke softly, “Brie?”

“Yes, Tadd, baby?” Brie cooed.

Tadd stated honestly, “I’ve been waiting to hear those words since you left. I’ve been going crazy wishing things could go back to the way things were. But my answer is…” Everyone’s pulse climaxed. They watched like their friend was about to get killed. Ashlynn felt faint. Brie smiled victoriously. Tadd concluded with, “…Fuck you!”

Time stood still. Relief slowly flooded their bodies. They could not believe what they were hearing. Ashlynn was practically shaking. Could this be real? After everything Tadd went through lately, they could not believe that he was actually doing the right thing. Ashlynn’s adrenaline was still up as if she survived a collision. This was real. Tadd, for once, felt angry, and it showed. Brie backed up, and she felt like she got slapped in the face. “What?”

Tadd’s body surged with rage, and he unloaded on Brie, “You think you can put me through hell and come back like nothing happened? You’re a manipulative bitch! You know how to charm people to serve your selfish needs, and then you through people away like they’re nothing just ’cause you’re bored? You made me believe that I was something special, and I spent the last couple of months believing that I lost someone that made my life magical. None of it was real. You got what you wanted from me and destroyed me without a hint of guilt! How dare you! Do you even care how much of a crazy person you turned me into? You’re like an animal drifting from one place to the next, living hedonistically. And, what, I’m supposed to follow you and be your little bitch, let you use me and throw me away? I’m not falling for it!”

Brie seethed, “Do you know how many boys would kill to just screw around with no commitment?”

“Yeah, boys do that!” Tadd bellowed. “I’m no boy-I’m a man!”

Brie laughed derisively. “You, a man? You’re a loser! You and your friends were always losers! You grew up to be handsome, so you had potential. So, what, you’re saying that instead of living a life of pure pleasure with me, you wanna be buddies with a bunch of thirty-year-olds with no lives?”

Feliz, Cera, Lavena, Will, and Ashlynn all got offended by that, but Tadd reacted before they could. “They’re not losers! They’re true friends! They stuck by my side even when I acted insane, and they sacrificed most of their free time to help me. So, they encountered some obstacles, but they have goals, and they won’t give up ’til they achieve them. That makes them amazing people. And you-you call them losers?You’re like a hooker without the pay! They’ll make something out of their life, but you, you don’t know where you’re going! You’re the loser!”

“Hmpf! Well, congratulations, you just got dumped by a loser!” Brie stomped to her car and drove off. She quickly reversed, grabbed her baby, stomped back, and peeled off. It was over. Everyone took a moment to let this sink in.

“He’s back!” Ashlynn exclaimed. Everyone gave him a hug. Tadd appeared winded but the sadness and insanity that he displayed before had clearly vanished. He seemed a little depressed, but he clearly had way more thought than he had before. Ashlynn looked him in the eye and told him, “I’m so proud of you!”

Everyone agreed. Tadd felt a little disoriented, like he was coming out of a trance. He blankly asked, “So, now what?”

Cera replied, “We gotta watch over you ’cause now you’re in the rebound stage.”

“Nah,” Tadd stated, “I don’t need to replace her. Not when I have friends like you!” Everyone beamed and gave him another hug.

Turning 30, Chapter 23

Cera cried her eyes out on Feliz’s couch. Feliz and Ashlynn sat by her to comfort her. Cera wailed, “I can’t believe I did that! I just abandoned my faith like it was…nothing! For what? Some uncomfortable, awkward interaction with a stranger in a dive bar parking lot! I’m a sinner!”

Feliz tried to reassure her, “Don’t beat yourself up! You didn’t actually do anything wrong. You’re still a virgin.”

Cera refuted, “I interacted with his…manhood! Even thinking about a man that way is a sin! I’m a terrible person!”

“No you’re not,” Ashlynn expressed, “You just had terrible sex!”

“But…but I…I…!” Cera stammered.

Davida came out of their bedroom in her pajamas. “What’s going on?”

Feliz explained, “Cera is drunk.”

“I’m not drunk!” Cera argued. “I’m sad!”

Feliz told Davida, “She is VERY sad.”

“Oh I see. Well, I can make her some coffee then.” Davida went into the kitchen.

Ashlynn stated to Cera, “Look, no one is perfect. It’s impossible to follow every single rule, and you should chastise yourself for not obeying every minute detail and technicality. The most important thing is to treat people with kindness, and as long as I’ve known you, you have always loved to help others. You can’t put so much pressure on yourself to be perfect. All you can do is try your best to be a decent person.”

Feliz added, “I consider myself to be a good Catholic, but I am not perfect. Like, last Friday, I had some steak, but we’re not supposed to have meat that day. Does that mean I’m doomed? I won’t get into Heaven for that? The little things won’t ultimately matter in the end, so I don’t fret about them. God forgives mistakes as long as the list of good you do for the world is bigger than anything else.”

Cera sniffed. “I feel like such a whore!”

“Mary Magdalene was an actual whore,” Ashlynn pointed out, “and she was one of Jesus’ best friends. She wasn’t perfect, but she was forgiven, and no one judged her. They moved on and did greater things. I”m not a Catholic. I had premarital sex. Do you think I’m going to Hell?”

“No!” Cera saw her point. “And Feliz, our religion is not kind to your people, but I won’t stop being your friend!”

“What do you mean by ‘your people?'” Davida probed. No one saw her come back into the living room with the mug of coffee, and when they realized she was there and that she heard that part of the conversation, they jumped out of their skins. Ashlynn looked nervous, Cera felt guilty, and Feliz trembled in fear. Davida noticed their reactions. “What are you hiding from me? I’m your wife, you owe me the truth! Be honest! Tell me, please! Why won’t you say anything? Speak to me!” Feliz tried to speak but could not get the words out. An email notification went off on his phone. Feliz tried to grab it, but Davida reached it first. She saw the title of the email and read outloud, “In response to Need Help Coing Out. Coming out where?” Feliz could not say it. She asked Ashlynn and Cera, “Do you know what this means?”

Ashlynn shook her head, refusing to be a part of that argument. Cera, because of her lack of sobriety, honestly said, “We all figured it out, even before he did! You know! We don’t need to say anything. You know!”

Davida just looked angry, like she wanted to yell but didn’t know why, so she held it in. Feliz stepped up to her and softly said, “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out…” Davida had a look of denial on her face. She knew what was coming, and she knew she didn’t want to hear it but had to. Feliz took a deep breath and confessed, “I’m gay.”

“No!” All of the fight got drained from Davida. “I can’t believe it! Don’t you love me?”

“I do love you, but I’m not attracted to you,” Feliz told her.

Davida started to cry. “My husband isn’t attracted to me!” She sobbed, but when Feliz touched her arm to comfort her, she shrieked, “Don’t touch me, you pervert!”

“Pervert? I haven’t slept with any men yet!”

“You’re a pervert, and you will soon have to answer for your sin! What did your family say?”

“I…”

“When they find out, they will disown you!”

“I hope they will love me no matter what.”

Davida laughed derisively. “If I can’t stand to look at you, I don’t see how they could want you in their life still. I’m leaving, and they won’t be here for you either, so I hope you’ll be happy with these perverted thoughts because you’ll be all alone with them”

Ashlynn stood up and defended him, “He’s not gonna be alone! He has us! We’ve known this all along, but we never cared! He’s a loving, sweet man, and if you don’t want a friendship with him, it’s your loss! We don’t need your narrow-minded ass around!”

Davida gave her a dirty look and stomped into the bedroom to pack her bags. Feliz sank onto his love seat and cried. Ashlynn put an arm around him to comfort him. Cera stepped towards him, but her legs felt too heavy to move because the alcohol kicked in full swing at this point. She slurred, “You’re not a pervert, I am!” She pased out onto the couch.

That momentarily distracted Feliz, but after a moment, he buried his head in his hands. “I knew this would be horrible.”

Ashlynn responded, “How much longer were you planning to sacrifice your happiness for hers?”

“I wasn’t ready!” he lamented.

“No one is ever really ready. Life happens unexpectedly, and when the universe wants you to open up a new chapter whether you’re ready or not!” Ashlynn exclaimed. “When you get to that pivotal point in your life, you have two choices-drown in the ocean or surf with the tide. That thing you were dreading to tell her is out now. You’re free! You can stop worrying and move on!”

Feliz seemed somewhat appeased by her words. Davida came out with a suitcase. “I’ll be back for the rest of my things when you’re at work. Do your coworkers know?”

“No,” Feliz answered.

Ashlynn corrected him, “Yes, trust me, it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain!” Davida glared at her and left without saying goodbye. Feliz looked relieved that she did not have a stronger response. Ashlynn told him, “You don’t recognize a storm brewing, do you?”

Feliz shrugged. “Come on, I’ll take you home.”

“Are you sure? You probably shouldn’t be alone.”

“Cera will be here all night probably.”

They turned their heads to Cera, who was still passed out. Ashlynn gave Feliz a supportive hug. After a moment, she gathered her things so they could leave. She asked again, “Are you sure you’ll be okay?”

He answered, “It’s gonna be weird, but I’ll be okay. I think the hardest part will be letting go of that loving feeling towards her.”

As they left, Ashlynn looked over the balcony and saw something alarming. “Uh, Davida is smashing your car with a golf club!”

“WHAT?” Feliz ran to the balcony and perched, glaring towards the direction where he was parked. “That bitch! I’ll kill her!” He grabbed his phone and called the police. While he was on hold, he observed, “Oh, hey! The loving feelings are gone!” Ashlynn laughed, and Feliz grinned a little.

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.

 

Temca Academy, Part 21

INT. COMMON ROOM. EVENING.

Anielle is listening to the Temple of Isis music and reading the plant book Toci gave her. Joshua enters.

JOSHUA:
I have something for you.
I was really bored, and I had
some scrap metal, so here.

He hands her an ornate bracelet.

ANIELLE:
You made this?

JOSHUA:
I know it doesn’t look exactly
like Joseph DaVinci’s…

ANIELLE:
Yes it does! It’ one of the most
thoughtful gifts I’ve ever gotten!
Thank you!

JOSHUA:
You’re welcome.

He looks a little embarrassed. Anielle gives him a hug. He hugs back. They linger a little. They hear someone coming, and they quickly break apart. Peter enters. Joshua leaves but secretly stands in the doorway, watching.

PETER:
Ah, I thought you must be
around here somewhere. I knew
you weren’t in your room since
there was a red x on it.

ANIELLE:
Yeah, that’d be my roommate.
She does that a lot.

PETER:
There is something I wanted to
discuss with you. We’ve been
together for a while, so I feel
like I owe you this.

He brings out an engagement ring. Joshua looks horrified.

PETER:
Will you marry me?

Anielle is stunned. She sees Joshua, who runs out. She wants to go after him, but she knows she has to deal with Peter.

ANIELLE:
Oh Peter, how did we let it
get this far?

PETER:
What do you mean?

ANIELLE:
We fell out of love with each
other a long time ago. I’m a
changed woman now. I think you
should know I’m switching majors.
I don’t want to take over my
dad’s company.

PETER:
What? Why not?

ANIELLE:
It’s not what makes me happy.
Turns out helping people makes
me happy. I have to do what
feels right in my gut. And if
I married you, it’d feel like
I was marrying my brother. No,
brothers and sisters have a
strong relationship. It’d be
like marrying a second cousin
that I only see at family
reunions. I’m sure my dad will
give you the company. And if
you’re like him, the only
relationship that will last is
one where you both work together.

PETER:
Actually, I kind of like my
secretary, but I never acted
on it ‘cause I didn’t wanna be
that guy. Do you have someone else?

ANIELLE:
Kind of. I just think we both
deserve a chance at happiness,
and I don’t think we’re right
for each other.

PETER:
I was so sure this is what I
wanted, but you’re so right!

ANIELLE:
Friends?

PETER:
Always.

They hug each other amicably, and then Peter leaves.

 

EXT. DOG HOUSE. NIGHT.

Anielle comes out to meet with Toci, who is gardening.

TOCI:
How’d it go?

ANIELLE:
We agreed to stay friends. I
knew he’d take it well; it’s
my dad I’m worried about.
(beat)
Where’s Joshua?

TOCI:
He went to the store.
(beat)
You’re probably wondering why
I’m gardening at night.

ANIELLE:
Well, that looks like a skycadma,
which is harvested under a full
moon. It’s used to rid the body
of certain toxins.

TOCI:
You’ve been reading my plant
book! Can I tempt you to
switch to my major?

ANIELLE:
No.

From out of the shadows, Babelsama appears.

BABELSAMA:
Well, well, well! If
it isn’t Jeze and Bell!

They draw their scepters (Anielle’s new one is less ornate but looks more powerful).

BABELSAMA:
You’ve won the battle, but
you won’t win the war! I can
still act like a fear monger,
but not from the comfort of
my living room!

TOCI:
Can you stop acting like a
douche? We don’t wanna hurt you.

BABELSAMA:
Then just let me take over! I’ll
give you cushy jobs! How would
you like to be secretary of fiestas?

TOCI:
How dare you!

Babelsama hears someone in the distance and disappears. It turns out to be Circe.

CIRCE:
(to herself)
Come on, turn into a bat! I
know I can! I almost did it
once!

She enters the Dog House.

ANIELLE:
Talk about bats!

Thunder claps and lightning bolts.

 

INT. DOG HOUSE. NIGHT.

George is looking around the hall for them. He is relieved to see Toci and Anielle at the door.

GEORGE:
Where have you-?

ANIELLE:
Get out of the way!

George steps out of the way quickly. Anielle puts a spell on the door. A bunch of hooded men slam into the wall.

TOCI:
Yeah, Babelsama has henchmen.

GEORGE:
Oh good. I was hoping this wasn’t
going to be too easy. Listen, I’m
a little worried about Joshua. He’s
in his room, but he won’t answer my
messages or the door.

Anielle’s intuition tells her something is wrong. She runs to his room. George and Toci follow.