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 13

Ashlynn walked into a posh hotel lobby. The walls were lined with gold, and the walls’ support came from marble pillars. The employees dressed in freshly-pressed suits, and even though they had a lounge, everything was so spotless that no one used the furniture. Ashlynn dressed in a nice blouse and a pencil skirt, which looked nice but did not seem to fit in with the company’s ambiance. Tadd followed her inside, looking sullen but not like his usual sobbing mess. Ashlynn told Tadd, “Thanks for coming with me to my interview! I’m a little nervous.”

“Whatever,” Tadd replied listlessly. “I had to get out of that apartment. Everything reminds me of her.”

“You need new furniture,” Ashlynn observed.

Tadd’s eyes went wide. “No! It’s all I have left of her!”

“Whatever,” Ashlynn muttered. She walked up to the front desk and waited for the attendant, whose name tag said he was Jaime, to finish typing an email.

Without looking at her, Jaime asked, “Checking in?”

Ashlynn replied, “No, I’m here for the interview for part time gift shop clerk.”

Jaime took his eyes off the email. He looked Ashlynn up and down, and he made a disdainful face. “Alright. You must be Ashley.”

“It’s Ashlynn,” she corrected him.

Jaime seemed to not be listening as he looked for her name tag. “Right. Here’s your name tag. Go stand with the others down there, and someone will be by to get you soon.” Ashlynn saw a group of people in formal suits standing by a conference room. Jaime went back to his email without another word or glance her way, so she put on her name tag and went to where he directed.

Ashlynn stood close to the suited people but not close enough to be in their cluster. Tadd found a marble pillar close to Ashlynn and slumped against it. Ashlynn quietly thought out loud, “This is for the part time gift shop position?”

Tadd shrugged. He then noticed her name tag. “Why does your name tag say Ashley?”

Ashlynn told him, “My name defies convention. I’m used to it. I’ll know who they’re talking about. It happens at Starbucks all the time.”

“I can fix it.” Tadd brought out a pen from his pocket and went to Ashlynn’s name tag to fix it.

Just then, a suited man named Peter came out of the convention room. The suited people stood alert and ready to go. From Peter’s angle, it looked like Ashlynn was getting felt up by Tadd. Ashlynn looked up in surprise, and when Tadd noticed this, he quickly jumped away. Ashlynn joined the others, feeling really awkward and also out of place. Peter cleared his throat but made no acknowledgement of this strange interaction. Peter greeted them, “Good morning!”

Everyone but Ashlynn said in unison, “Good morning!”

Peter went on, “I’m Peter, and I’ll be conducting your first round interview.” Ashlynn made a face at that. She didn’t realize there would be multiple interviews for a low level job. “Will you please get into alphabetic order by first name please?” The suits scrambled to get in order. Ashlynn ended up being first, and she was followed by David, Harriet, Mandy, and Zachary. “Very good. Follow me.” In a single file line, they followed him into the conference room.

As soon as they entered the conference room, Ashlynn went past the desks sitting in a semi-circle and past the giant oak desk sitting in the front. Her eyes fell to a table in the center of the room full of goofy hats, and she had a sinking feeling about how this interview would go. Everyone sat down in the order they came in, and once they found their seat, they folded their hands and focused on the front of the room. Peter sat down at the oak desk and pulled out a notebook. Ashlynn already wanted to run away.

Peter began, “Working with the general public means dealing with all kinds of personalities…all kinds!” He obviously meant for that to be a joke, so the others laughed in unison like a sitcom soundtrack. Ashlynn didn’t get the joke and didn’t react. Peter went on, “Let’s get to know you guys. Tell me three interesting facts about yourself, starting with Ashley.”

Ashlynn had been so focused on the already odd circumstances of this interview that she had forgotten that they misspelled her name, so when everyone looked to her, it threw off guard at first. “Oh! Uh, well, my name is Ashlynn-”

Peter checked his notes. “It says Ashley.”

“I can show you my ID.” Ashley felt a little irritated, but then she noticed that Peter and the others gazed at her in shock, so she tried to recover a pleasant demeanor. “Okay, interesting facts…In high school, I-”

Peter interrupted, “Stand up, please.”

Ashlynn stood up awkwardly. “In high school, I won state finalist for a beauty pageant. For the last ten years, I-”

Peter interrupted again, “Project more, please. And, my dear, a little interviewing tip-smiling is important.”

Ashlynn twisted her mouth in what she hoped looked like a genuine smile. “For the last ten years, I worked for the Real Estate King. And-”

Peter commented, “The criminal?”

“He’s not a criminal! He’s mentally ill!” Ashlynn realized after she said it how that really did not help her case. “And I just reunited with my best friends from high school.” She quickly sat down before anyone commented on that.

David stood up and, in an overly cheerful voice, stated, “Hi! I’m David! I got a four point o in college, I got promoted to manager of a McDonald’s during my undergrad years, and my last boss described me as super cheerful.”

After he finished, Harriet immediately stood up and talked in the same tone, “I’m Harriet! I worked in retail for twenty years. I got employee of the week nine times. And, I like challenging myself.”

Immediately, Mandy mimicked them, “I’m Mandy! I graduated with honors. I am enrolled at an online business school for business. And, my worst feature is that I work too darn hard.”

Zachary finished in the same manner, “I’m Zachary! I retired from my role as youth counselor at a small church. My grandson owns a car dealership in Memphis, so he taught me all about the world of sales. Most importantly, I stayed at this hotel before and loved it!”

Peter seemed pleased with their responses. Ashlynn stared in disbelief. Since when was it custom to fight hard for a minimum wage, part time job? Ashlynn wondered if this company actually wanted to hire people were obviously trying to be transparent sycophants. People were putting an extraordinary amount of effort in a position that anyone could do! Peter moved on, “Very good! Such a diverse group of talent! I guess that’s why they say variety is the spice of life!” Again, everyone but Ashlynn laughed in unison. “Now, part of your job is to entertain our guests. So, I want you to tell me your favorite entertainer  and why you picked him or her. We’ll start with you, Zachary.”

Zachary stood up and said proudly, “I like Gary Sinise because he’s such a hard worker!”

Mandy followed suit, “I like Tom Hanks because he is so nice!”

Harriet followed suit, “I like Steven Spielberg because he’s a good leader!”

David followed suit, “I like Shakespeare because of the impact he made on history.”

Ashlynn hesitated. The room stared at her stoically. Ashlynn stood up and stated, “I like Seth MacFarlane.”

“Why?” Peter probed.

“Because he’s entertaining!” Ashlynn had not meant to sound so cranky but stopped feeling guilty, even with the unapproving reactions from the room.

Peter looked a little taken aback. Ashlynn could not believe that this was a real interview. She also wondered if the company cared about honesty because there was no way that these absurd answers actually depicted their honest personalities. She hoped to see some sign of humanity or shame from Peter, but he cleared his throat and went on, “Now, for the final question…”

Ashlynn could not believe they only planned to ask them three questions. She also gave up trying to disguise her bad mood. Peter cheerily talked to the group, “Now, did everyone happen to see the table of hats?” Everyone but Ashlynn laughed in unison again. Peter laughed at his own joke. “Seriously though, I want each of you to pick up a hat, wear it, and explain why you chose it. Harriet, why don’t you go first?”

Harriet went over to the table of hats and immediately chose the hard hat. “I picked the hard hat because I’m a hard worker who’s ready to build her future.” She took it off and sat back down.

Peter gestured to Zachary. “Zachary, you next.”

Zachary went over and gingerly picked up and put on the graduation cap. “I picked this one because I’m goal oriented and ready for my new chapter in life.” He took it off and sat back down.

Peter gestured to Mandy. “Mandy.”

Mandy practically skipped to the table. She put on the princess cap. “I picked this one because I’m a natural leader but also very nice and sweet.” She set it down and basically glided back to her desk.

Peter gestured to David. “David.”

David hopped over to the table and overly-enthusiastically put on a baseball cap. “This one has the hotel’s logo on it. I wear this cap now as I envision my future with this company.” He took it off and sat down.

With much hesitation, everyone turned to Ashlynn, who looked like she was in a trance. She could not fake her interest in their replies. The air became frigid. They could sense her displeasure, and based on her previous responses and current attitude, they seemed nervous as to what she may say. Ashlynn’s filter was off. She decided to be honest.

Ashlynn walked over to the table and put on the witch’s hat. “This one is truly my favorite hat. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, and growing up, I was a witch every other year. There’s a lot of fun memories attached to this hat.” Everyone looked uncomfortable at her answer. “What? Is it so strange to hear a real answer? Sorry for being honest!”

Peter defended them, “The others were honest!”

Ashlynn rolled her eyes. “Oh please! They regurgitated what Google told them was the best things to say at an interview! Is this what you want? Corporate shills who’ll lie and suck up to you just for the ‘honor’ of working here? Yes, I know, you want the right personality for the job, and that’s why you’re formally interviewing people for the very important position of part time gift shop cashier! Really? You’re not going to ask any of us about retail experience? Seriously? Ask me about my customer service skills! Ask me about my cash handling skills! How about computer skills? Job loyalty? I’m sorry I don’t want to pretend that I’m going to make a carer out of a job that offers fifteen hours a week and no benefits! I can do the job well, so if you’re looking for a person capable of that, call me! Otherwise, enjoy your company zombie that knows jack about working in a store!”

Ashlynn stormed out. The room stayed quiet, as if a bomb had just exploded. Before they could fully process the moment, Ashlynn burst back into the room, quickly put the witch’s hat back on the table, and ran out without making eye contact at anyone.

Tadd stared at the door to the conference room. Ashlynn stormed up to him but did not make eye contact. She was still fuming about the audacity of that situation. Tadd coolly told her, “I decided to wait to do my crying. I didn’t wanna make a scene here for you.”

Ashlynn checked back into her surroundings. “Oh, right! So, no crying here, huh? Well, that’s a start.” They started to walk out. As they exited, Ashlynn inquired, “Aren’t you gonna ask me how it went?”

“No. You stormed out in a witch’s hat. It didn’t go well.” Tadd’s mouth twitched a little. Ashlynn looked at him incredulously. All of her anger melted away. She was positive that Tadd had tried to smile for the first time in ages!