Turning 30, Chapter 25

Feliz, Cera, Will, Lavena, Ashlynn, and Tadd sat a table in a large chain restaurant. The restaurant was busy and full of happy people. Even though their table had balloons, party hats, and noise makers, the six friends looked pretty morose. Feliz asked the group, “Should we sing Happy Birthday?”

They all replied, “Nah.”

Ashlynn apologized to Tadd, “I’m sorry I didn’t plan a more exciting party. We all got wrapped up in issues-ours and everyone else’s. It’s funny how when someone reaches a milestone how you start evaluating your own life. What kind of birthday could I possibly have with no job and still living with mom and dad?”

Feliz sniffed a little. “You think your birthday will be a bummer? At least your family supports you. Mine disowned me. I can finally start dating who I want, but I will probably still be single when my thirtieth comes ’cause what guy’ll wanna enter that family drama?”

“You think you’ll still be single on your birthday?” Will put in. “I work in an arcade and live with a crazy cat lady-I know I’ll be single! What are the odds I’ll have my shit together in two months?”

“At least you have some dignity!” Cera opinionated. “I’ll be a thirty year old virgin! Probably. I mean, who would sleep with me? I live with my parents too, but it’s worse ’cause I’ve never even had a real job. I’m like a kid, and my birthday party will probably get treated like that too!”

Lavena lamented, “My birthday will probably be an actual kid’s party! I turn thirty the same day as Mrs. Hollingsworth, so who would babysit them? If I had a husband, we could celebrate as a family. Being a single mom is so hard, ad it’s just gonna keep getting worse as I get older.”

Everyone except for Tadd had a glum look on their face. Tadd observed his friends in surprise. He had been so obsessed with his own woes that he didn’t think about their issues. He was there through all of this and saw everything, but he didn’t have the confidence to say anything…until now. “Wow. Look at the effect I had on you. You all think your life is over and that you’re failures. You’re wrong! There’s nothing wrong with us! When you turn thirty, everyone has all these expectations for how your life should look. Your parents, your religion, your family, neighbors, random community members-everyone expects us to have our life totally together. We’re supposed to have a good job, a happy marriage, a perfect body, et cetera. It was okay to not have it all figured out when we were in our twenties; we still had time to go wild and crazy and figure out this whole ‘adult’ thing. Suddenly, thirty hits and at the drop of a hat, we’re supposed to just have it all figured out. There’s still a lot of things we’re figuring out. We’re only human, and we’ve gone through a lot, probably more than most people. Excuse me if our life isn’t put together yet. I’m sure we’d all like to be there, and we tried our best to make it happen, but the things we want are gonna take a little more time than we thought to come to fruition. What, suddenly we have a deadline ’cause other people are judging us? Screw them! We’ll get there at our own pace!

“Feliz, if your family won’t accept you for who you are, fuck ’em! You deserve to be happy, and if being with a man will give you that, then you should find a good guy! Don’t rush it though-the right man will come around when you least expect it.

“Lavena, you ever wonder why so many skeezy guys hit on you? It’s cause you’re desperate, and men can sense that. The right man gets turned off by that and it turns the wrong guy on. If you want Mister Right, be Mrs. Right. Be the strong, confident woman we both know you are! Enjoy single life, and your prince charming will come around!

“Will, if you don’t like your house or job, then do something about it! Find a new place and a new job. Take classes to get a good job so you can afford a better place. That bartender, Leon, seemed to really enjoy his job, and I can totally see you doing that! Be proactive!

“Cera, you can’t follow every rule in the Bible, it’s impossible! You can still be a good Christian and do more adult things. If you don’t wanna follow your parents’ lifestyle, then don’t. Get a job and move out. I’m sure your church has a dating group, and there’s plenty of online religious dating sites. This is how you find a middle ground between being overly devout and being a deviant: go on dates, find a nice guy, and hey, what happens between you is between you and God. Virgin or not, it’s none of our business!

“Ashlynn, no one cares if you’re broke. You’ve done so much good with your time off, and that’s worth more to society than wasting away at some dead-end job. You turned something very negative into something positive. You brought us together, and your saint-like patience changed my life! I’ll be forever grateful!”

Feliz, Lavena, Will, Cera, and Ashlynn beamed. They went from feeling lousy to almost glowing. Tadd made them feel so good about themselves, and it was such a relief to let go of some of their self, and society’s, criticisms. Ashlynn exclaimed, “This is the Tadd we remember! You’re amazing! Thank you so much for that!”

“Yeah, thanks man!” Will added. “You guys think I’d be a good bartender?”

“You’d be a great one,” Feliz told him. “And I don’t want you to worry about paying for bartending school on your arcade salary-I’m paying for it! Just promise me when you get your own bar that my future boyfriend and I get free drinks!”

“You got it!” Will happily agreed. They bumped fists.

Lavena remarked, “You know, I think I’ll go back to school too. I can squeeze in an online class with my schedule. I wanna set a good example for my kids by going to college and going for a career versus a job!”

“I’m gonna get my first real job!” Cera stated, excited by the idea. “Just something to get me experience and pay for an apartment. And I shouldn’t be ashamed for what I do or don’t do behind closed doors. I don’t know when I’ll lose my virginity, but I’d rather take my time and do it right.”

“Let me know when you find a job,” Will said to Cera. “We can find an apartment together-split the costs and be roommates.”

“Okay!” Cera looked elated. They bumped fists too.

Feliz got a text message, and when he looked at his phone, his heart melted. “Nonna said she knew all along and loves me anyways! She’ll accept my future husband, but he can’t know the family’s cannoli recipe. Oh Nonna!” He wiped away a tear.

Ashlynn was so happy that her friends were planting seeds that would grow into something that would make their life grow into something that would make their life better. Now she just needed to figure out where she wanted to work so she could move out too. She wished that she could find an answer as easily as her friends did. As if the universe read her thoughts, Tadd got an email. He read it immediately, and then he breathed a sigh of relief. “I got approved for a small business loan! I haven’t took a gig in so long that I’m a little behind the finances of it all. I got that loan so I could hire someone to do my bookkeeping. So Ashlynn, that was part of your duties at your old job right? Do you think we’d work well together?”

Ashlynn felt thunderstruck. “Are you offering me a job?”

“Yes.” Tadd grinned. “Would you accept it?”

Ashlynn’s heart practically danced. “Oh Tadd! Of course I’ll accept it! You don’t know how much this means to me!”

Tadd shrugged but smiled knowing how happy this gesture made her. “It’s the least I could do!”

They gave each other a hug. Cera, Feliz, and Will also smiled, but it was more of a knowing way. Lavena looked like she was about to burst if she didn’t say something! Feliz, Cera, and Will silently urged her not to do it, but Lavena blurted out, “Kiss her already!”

Ashlynn and Tadd stopped hugging because they felt shocked by the outburst. “What?” Tadd reacted.

“Why would we kiss?” Ashlynn felt like she knew why she would say that but also felt a denial, like she did not want to jump to conclusions.

“Oh come on!” Lavena commented excitedly. “You know how it was so obvious to us all that Feliz was gay? Well, we’ve all known for, like, forever that you two have feelings for each other. Why did it take so long to admit the truth? Quit lying to yourself! You two have a romance budding; you are long overdue for your first kiss together!”

Tadd and Ashlynn gave each other a look of disbelief. When they looked back at their friends, they all seemed to agree more with Lavena. It could not be true. How could she have suppressed feelings like that for so long? She held Tadd in the highest regard, he was the most amazing person that she ever met, but to have romantic feelings? Furthermore, even if she did find a fleeting feeling, she shook that notion because she never felt good enough for a guy like him. Wait, that thought sounded like it agreed with them. It just could not be true! Ashlynn stammered, “I just…it can’t be…I…”

Tadd was on the same page as her. “But I…”

Cera, Lavena, Will, and Feliz now all started to chant, “Kiss her! Kiss her! Kiss her!”

Ashlynn turned to Tadd for answers. Tadd suggested, “We could humor them…”

Ashlynn felt totally awkward but complied. They gave each other a quick peck, but then they lingered. They felt something-electricity. The truth flooded Ashlynn like a dam suddenly sprung a leak. There was feelings-strong ones. Tadd was everything she ever wanted, and she could not believe it took her this long to wake her heart up. Tadd obviously felt the same way too. They kissed each other again, but this time it was longer and more passionate. There was no denying it now-she was in love! They broke apart from their embrace, but they kept their heads close. Ashlynn told him sweetly, “What d’ya know, they were right!”

“How did I get so lucky?” Tadd beamed and grabbed her hand, caressing it gently. Ashlynn blushed-he felt like the lucky one?

Cera and Lavena reacted with, “Awwww!” while Feliz and Will reacted with “Finally!”

Cera raised her glass to make a toast, “Here’s to new beginnings!”

“To the end of blaming society and to the realization that we are society, so we can change it for the better!” Feliz added while raising his glass.

“To our generation, not quite millennials but not generation x-the bridge generation! To generation xy!” Will added while raising his glass.

“To choosing happiness above anything else!” Lavena added while raising her glass.

“To good friends!” Tadd added while raising his glass.

“To a happy thirtieth birthday!” Ashlynn added while raising her glass.

They clinked their glasses together and drank. Tadd smiled from ear to ear. “This turned out to be a great party after all!”

“Happy birthday, Tadd!” Ashlynn exclaimed.

Everyone gave him a hug. They all had a flashback to twelve years ago when Tadd turned eighteen and they hugged him the same way but in their high school’s quad. They came back to this moment and cherished it. It took them a long time to notice a waiter tapping his pen and impatiently waiting for them. “So…are you gonna order or what?” They happily sat and decided what they wanted to order.

It’s funny how ordinary moments become the greatest memories. No one knew what exactly the next chapter of their life held, but they were too happy to care. It took them many years to gain the wisdom that there was no point in worrying about the future-happiness came from enjoying the little moments in life happening right now.

 

The End

Turning 30, Chapter 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yup,” she answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lavena asked, “Do you?”

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

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

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

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

 

Turning 30, Chapter 5

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

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

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

The kid protested, “That’s not fair!”

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

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

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

“You’re old!”

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

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

“Eighty six.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did you say?” his boss probed.

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

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

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