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 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 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!

Turning 30, Chapter 9

A small strip club was operating in full swing. A main stage had two poles with a stripper on each, and there was also two smaller stages with a pole and a dancer on them. In the corner opposite of the entrance was a full service bar. The stage closest to the door had a dancer named Cupcakes, who had luxurious pink hair and a cupcake-print bikini. A few men left her stage side, so she twirled around and waited for customers. Ashlynn and Will escorted Tadd inside and sat him in front of Cupcake’s stage. Will proudly commented, “There! The problem is about to be solved! This is the mecca for men with a broken heart!”

Cupcakes stopped mid-twirl when she heard this. “Aw, who’s got a broken heart?” Ashlynn and Will pointed to Tadd, who stared towards the stage but looked unfocused. “Aw, hon! How about a lap dance on the house?”

Tadd shrugged. Cupcakes straddled him and began the dance, but Tadd does not seem to care. Ashlyn and Will watched this awkward interaction for a minute. Ashlynn observed, “It’s like watching Feliz get a lap dance!” Will nodded in agreement. “Well, I’m gonna go get what I came for-nickel beer night!”

“Can you grab me one?” Will requested. He handed her a dime. “Here, first round is on me!”

Ashlynn joked, “Easy there, big spender!” Will laughed and grabbed a chair between the main stage and Cupcakes’ stage. Ashlynn went to the bartender and placed her order, “Two beers, please.”

The bartender replied, “Yes, ma’am.” He took her dime and gave her the beer.

At that moment, a very young-looking girl came over. She was wearing a raccoon-eared cap with a furry, grey bra, a grey mini skirt, and a raccoon tail. She sat next to Ashlynn, and when she requested her drink, Ashlynn thought her voice’s pitch was unusually high. “Beer please!”

The bartender replied, “Can I see your ID, Miss?” She showed it to him. “Okay, thank you.” She gave him a nickel, and he gave her a beer.

The girl noticed Ashlynn staring at her oddly. “I’m a sexy raccoon!”

Ashlynn told her, “Totally normal!”

The girl shrugged. “I know, it’s weird, but guys like it, so whatever.” Ashlynn smiled and turned her attention to her beer. The girl thought she looked sad, so she asked, “What’s wrong?”

Ashlynn responded with, “What makes you think something’s wrong?”

She told her, “You’re at a strip club sitting by yourself, it’s not rocket science!”

Ashlynn couldn’t deny that logic. “He called me ma’am! When did I become a ma’am? He didn’t even ask for my ID.”

She conversed, “I just turned twenty-one, but everyone thinks I’m much younger. That can’t be all that’s wrong with you right now though!”

Ashlynn actually found herself impressed. “You’re good!”

“Everyone always seems surprised when I show I’m smart!” she commented ruefully.

Ashlynn felt bad. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t judge. What’s your name?”

“My real name is Becky.” She extended her hand.

Ashlynn shook her hand. “I’m Ashlynn. By the way, I didn’t come here alone. We came to cheer up my friend who-”

She stopped mid-sentence. Tadd still had Cupcakes on his lap, but she stopped dancing. and had teary eyes listening to his sob story. Since Cupcakes took too long to continue her dance, another girl took over her pole. Will got squeezed out and tried to jump over people’s shoulders to see her. “Oh come on!” he shouted.

“Yeah, I’m here alone.” Ashlynn turned around and took a big swig from one of the beer bottles.

Becky enspeeched, “Everyone goes through ups and downs. Sometimes all the downs come out at once, but eventually it’ll go back up. I mean, no one is sad forever. It  may not go the way you planned, but you’ll find a way to make everything work out. I mean, it’s not like I expected to make a living as a naked raccoon! But since I’ve been here, I’ve made a lot of friends and helped a lot of people. My mom always said everything happens for a reason. You have a purpose here, you’ll see!”

Ashlynn felt touched by her words, but she did not know if she actually believed it. Before she could respond, a cocktail waitress came up to Becky. “Becky, sweetheart, can you return from your break a little early? I think the girls are gonna need a pick-me-up session…”

Becky and Ashlynn looked over to where the waitress pointed to. Tadd was surrounded by four very sad strippers. Tadd wailed, “I’m glad I didn’t give her my grandmother’s ring! She just would’ve pawned it for drugs!”

Cupcakes cried, “That’s so sad!” A couple of the other girls started crying. The men who came to watch the dancers looked very irritated.

Becky reacted, “Oh jeez!” She got up, but before she left, she told Ashlynn, “Hang in there, babe!” She ran behind the curtains of the stage to prepare for her act.

Will, who had heard that comment, came over to Ashlynn and jeered, “Woah! Is someone else coming out of the closet? How come you didn’t kiss her goodbye?”

Ashlynn shook her head. “What’s wrong with you?”

Will vented, “I came here to watch sexy girls dance! Tadd got them all depressed and everyone stopped! It sucks! So, gimme a break, will ya? This fake girl on girl action is all I got!”

The DJ dimmed the lights and put a spotlight on the center stage. “Gentlemen, please welcome to the stage the world’s sexiest raccoon-Randi!”

Becky came out, and all of the men got excited and gathered around the stage. As she began her act, one man reacted with a whistle. Tadd let out a howl, causing the whole show to stop. He began to throw a tantrum, and Ashlynn and Will grabbed him to escort him out. A bouncer went up to them and gruffly said, “I’m sorry, we’re gonna have to ask you to leave!”

Ashlynn retorted, “What do you think we’re trying to do?”

The club fell into an awkward silence. Becky realized she lost focus, so she got control of the room by shouting, “Hey guys! I’ve got ping pong balls!”

The men all reacted eagerly and gathered around the stage. The DJ started the music, and Becky gave Ashlynn a thumbs up to show that she had her back. Ashlynn smiled but also struggled to escort Tadd out. They were at the exit, and Ashlynn realized that she was struggling because Will was lingering, hesitant to leave. “Aw man, ping pong balls!” Will agonized. Ashlynn gave him a hard look, and he eventually helped her get Tadd out of the club.

 

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 6

Ashlynn sat at a coffee shop with a glass of water. She chose the table outside and enjoyed the scenery. The plaza had an old world feel with light stone walls and a cobblestone floor. The windows were made of a heavy metal with fake ivy on the sides. Ashlynn waited, feeling a little awkward. Back first, Feliz came out. Clearly, his hands were full. When he turned around, it was confirmed. Clearly, he was on a lunch break from work because he still wore a nice suit. Out of all of her old friends, Ashlynn had thought he aged the most, but he still looked very handsome. As he handed her a cup of coffee, she felt a little embarrassed. “Thanks for the coffee! I spent the last of my money on a soda.”

He had a croissant with a slice of cheese on a plate, and he pushed it over to her. “This is for you too.”

Ashlynn looked surprised. “I didn’t say I was hungry.”

“You didn’t have to,” Feliz said, “I’m Italian-we’ve got a sixth sense about who hasn’t eaten enough. We get it from our mothers, making sure our family is fed.”

Ashlynn seemed impressed. “So, we haven’t seen each other in twelve years, you take one look at me and first thing you notice is that I haven’t been eating enough?”

“Mama would be so proud!” he half joked. They laughed. “I missed you Ashlynn. I wish I had more time to travel to Manhattan when you were there!”

Ashlynn commented, “I could’ve visited you too, but I got too wrapped up in trying to build a life out there. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I didn’t get forced to stop.”

Feliz took a sip of his cappuccino. “Yes, I heard about everything that went down at your old job. Did they ever catch him?”

“Catch him?” Ashlynn inquired.

“Your old boss, the so called Real Estate King.” Feliz explained, “After they caught him embezzling funds, he went into the middle of Times Square, stripped off his clothes, stole a police car, and ran for Canada. You did not know this?”

Ashlynn shook her head. “I was too busy feeling sorry for myself that I didn’t try to understand what happened. I was so mad that I didn’t wanna hear anything about the company’s news. But I could go on for a while about that. I know your lunch break is only an hour. Well, an hour is a long break, I mean…”

“I understand what you mean,” Feliz responded. “I had the option of taking a shorter lunch break in order to go home earlier, but I like to give my brain a break. Don’t tell my wife that. She often complains that I work too much.”

Ashlynn had forgotten that he got married, and it surprised her in their previous correspondence  every time he mentioned her. “How is Davida doing?”

Feliz got uncomfortable about the subject. “Oh, fine.” He suddenly looked really nervous. “Ashlynn, I’m glad we met in person. There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time.” Ashlynn sat up, intrigued. Feliz took a deep breath. “I’m gay.” Ashlynn did not look surprised. In fact, she kept watching him, expecting to hear more. “That’s it.”

Ashlynn smiled warmly. “I thought you said you had news.”

Feliz felt surprised by her response. “That was my news! I thought I wanted a wife and to make babies with her, you now, everything my Catholic family expects me to do. But, I’m not happy, and I am done lying to myself.”

Ashlynn agreed vehemently. “It’s about time!”

Feliz inquired, “You knew? How did you know? I didn’t even know until recently!”

“How could you not know?” Ashlynn responded. “You dress girlier than I do! And, not to stereotype, but you loved musical theater way too much. I thought it was obvious. I mean, you said you liked girls, but it always seemed so fake.”

Feliz got an extremely guilty look on his face. “My wife doesn’t think it’s fake. She really loves me. It will break her heart to tell her.”

Ashlynn commented, “There’s a lot of heartbreak going on right now. Did you hear about Tadd?”

Feliz replied, “Yes, his Facebook page makes it seem like he is…disturbed…”

“Yeah, he kind of had a breakdown. And he turns thirty in a month. In school, I remember he was the happiest guy I knew, and he made other people feel good justby being around and soaking in his positive vibes. Tadd just isn’t himself right now! We can’t let him hit a milestone in a state like that. So, on Friday I was going to get our old group together for dinner. We could plan out his birthday and cheer him up. Can you come?”

“Well, Davida won’t like it, so I’ll do it! Maybe I’ll get lucky and she’ll dump me so I don’t gotta be the bad guy!”

“Coward!”

They laughed and continued on their catching up session.

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.