Before, After, and Then

Friday

 

WHO ARE YOU?

That was our writing prompt, and it glared out at all of us. The puke green marker squeaked as Ms. Redd cursed us with yet another unwanted assignment. Although a short, squat lady, she was the dominant teacher in the small school that had plopped itself in the middle of nowhere.

Her old fashioned clothes , glasses balancing precariously on her nose, and yardstick poised gracefully on her shoulder like a cobra, ready to attack the desk of a dosing student made her a poster-teacher for the New Teachers that started here right after they ended college.

“I expect a whole page,” Ms. Redd reiterated. “This is due at the very beginning of the class on Monday. That gives you the whole weekend; therefore,” she glanced pointedly at a few slumping students who straightened under her piercing eyes, “I look forward to no less than perfection.”

“Could we do more than a page?” asked a boy in the front of the class. His status as Class-A nerd, pocket-protector adding to this title, left the teacher expecting this question.

Tom, the boy, never wanted to be anything less than excellent. So, in his mind, a simple one page writing assignment actually meant a short novel that he wrote because he “forgot” to stop at a page.

Another boy, less eager than Tom, groaned at the prospect of homework over the weekend. This boy was Andrew Sim. His eyes bulged out at you while the rest of him was slim and sweaty. A girl named Patty sighed so long that I wondered if she’d ever run out of breath.

“This is bogus!” I heard someone stage whisper and heard Hamilton Gene’s cackle follow closely and guessed that it must be Rudy Nehus. Hamilton’s infamous laugh was not even the poor boy’s worst quality.

Beady eyes and a button nose got lost in his chubby face. His lips were in a constant pucker, as if he were trying to kiss the air. A stomach bulged out at his midsection then disappeared as scrawny legs that must have screamed from the weight made their debut.

Once again, I let my eyes scrape over the classroom to catch glimpses of my classmates and who they were. Suddenly, a thought occurred to me, and my hand rose.

“Yes, Ashton?” the teacher asked, smiling indulgently. She seemed pleased that it was my hand raised, and not some other hooligan’s.

“What if we don’t know exactly who we are?” I inquired simply. It wasn’t as if I was trying to be a nuisance; my curiosity to the subject just could not go without being quenched, and the teacher appeared to understand.

“Well, that would be a problem, wouldn’t it? That’s why I’m giving you all weekend, though. I’m sure you’ll all have plenty of time.”

Okay, so Ms. Redd liked me. I don’t think I’d ever come across a teacher who didn’t. I was a smart, quiet student- save the occasional question- and I turned in all of my work on time. I wasn’t the most loved student, but I was generally liked.

A part of me, though, wanted to see what it would be like to fail a test or get upset over a trivial assignment. I called this side Ash, and she had fire for hair and a sparkle in her green eyes that glinted in the afternoon sunlight.

The me that I let everyone see, though, settled for a simple red ponytail and simple green eyes. I rarely got upset and found solace in success. The part of me I’d yet to meet, though, was the part that could be a regular teen and not feel bad about it.

Monday

 

My paper slipped to the desk lightly. Ms. Redd smiled as if she anticipated reading it, and it seemed slightly more real than the smiles she’d given the others. As I made my way back to my seat, a breath of wind exhaled into the classroom and ruffled my curls.

The simple smile of content that donned my face was matched by no other student. This Monday morning, they all wanted to be asleep in their beds. A bird scrawed in the window as the warm breath of spring settled comfortably around me.

At the end of the procession of children, I noticed a boy that I’d never seen before. A simple stud gleamed in his right ear and another flicker of something silver flashed as he turned his head slightly. When he reached Ms. Redd’s desk, he mumbled a few words, and she stood.

“Class,” she called out, “can I get your attention please?” This turned out to be unnecessary, as even the most inattentive students already had their heads turned in her direction. It seemed to fluster her for a second.

“This is,” Ms. Redd cleared her throat, and it sounded nervous, almost, and then continued, “Connor Shields. He’s transferred here from Hampton; why don’t you sit next to Ashton?”

Everyone mumbled an unhappy welcome and watched him as he took the seat next to me. “Ashton, eh?” he asked quietly as he sat down. When I nodded, he continued.  “Well, stay the hell away from me.” Then he flipped his longish black hair out of his eyes, and I saw that they were blue right before he cut off eye contact.

Ash screamed for me to hit him, to do something at least, but I squashed her. Just then, the teacher began speaking again, and the lesson started. Not even a glance was exchanged by Connor and me for the rest of the period.

An electric bell buzzed over our head, and we shot up from our seats to hurry off to the next plastic chair we’d be sitting in. Kayleigh was waiting at the door of my math class. As my best friend, she wasn’t and obvious match. She was frivolous and overly theatrical, but she wasn’t any more delicate than a baby cottonmouth would be.

Her natural daffodil shaded hair, intense green eyes, and perfect figure were the envy of every sensible girl in town and the makings of many boys’ lustful dreams as well. She was passionate about anything she took the time to make an opinion on, and she had a hardhead to go along with it.

“New kid,” I told her vaguely. “He sits by me in English.”

“Oh, come on! Give me some details! Hair color? Eyes? Muscles? Don’t leave me absolutely clueless! You’re supposed to be my best friend. Best friends are supposed to dish about guys!” She stared at me, assuming that her you’re-Supposed-To-Be-My-Best-Friend speech had worked.

“Sounds like trouble to me,” I told her truthfully. “He’s got a nose stud, and an earring. Black hair, silver-blue eyes. Didn’t really notice if he had muscles or not.”

“Come on! Ugh! You have got to be kidding me. Sometimes I hate my parents. They’ll never approve of him.” I waited patiently for the sigh I knew would follow, and she didn’t disappoint me a few seconds later.

“It’s not the end of the world, Kay,” I promised her. “He’s not that cool, really.” I rolled my eyes at her appalled look, and then turned my attention to the front of the class before she could drag the conversation on any longer.

The rest of the day was spent dodging the not-so-secret whispers about Connor, and when I finally got off the bus, I was relieved to be away from the gossip.

At the table sat a half empty bottle of booze and a woman who dared call herself my mother. I took a chance and asked, “Mom, is Dad up in his studio?” As if he ever left, I thought to myself.

The woman-thing stared at me and then, all of a sudden, she was crying her eyes out. I was beyond knowing why anymore. Anti-depression pills taken with alcohol made people weird, I supposed.

Trudging up the stairs, I could almost believe that I was in some other world. Dad wrote in his studio nearly 24/7, but when he’d hit a block, he’d clean the whole second floor. He hadn’t yet dared to venture beyond there.

The miscarriage had changed everything… the only thing left untouched was my bedroom.

I crept into the studio without knocking, knowing that if Dad was working, he’d only resent the interruption. As it turned out, though, he was just flipping through an old book abstractedly.

The pages looked worn and brittle; browning from what I assumed was age. The leather cover had definitely seen better days. “Hey, Dad, are you stuck on your story?” I asked carefully, and he looked up with an empty smile.

“Yeah, I don’t know what the main character’s conflict should be.” He looked back down into the book, and I knew I’d lost him.

I slid my gaze over the shelves, scanning for a book to grab. What ended up in my hand was a set of some of Robert Frost’s work. I tickled the pages as I flipped them through my fingers, walking out the door and down the hall.

I quickly pulled down the steps that led to the attic so I could get into my room. This was where Ash came out. An unmade bed hunkered in the far corner, and clothes posed in disheveled piles all over the floor.

My vanity must have fought with the little makeup I owned because it was stained with blush and a little eye shadow. The makeup, exhausted as it was, now slept under a blanket of necklaces I never really wore.

On my dresser, my radio stood proudly out from the piles of junk that even I wasn’t sure I would go through. I flicked it on and listened to the music sooth my aching muscles. For the first time today, I let out a sigh of relief and felt the tension drain out of my muscles.

Every now and again, I’d flip the station, searching for a more interesting song or something softer. Then, I settled down to read the book I’d grabbed from Dad’s studio.

 

At the sound of my name, I started and flicked my eyes toward the doorway. There, standing with tear tracks through her half-done makeup and the lines of pain that etched deeper every day, was my mother.

“Mom?” I asked, startled to see her. I stood up to go to her, but she stepped back a bit. I stopped and waited for her to say something…anything. Still she just stared, so I tried again. “Mom? Is everything ok? Are you ok?”

“Your dad won’t come out of his studio. Tell him he needs to come out and help me with the baby.” Her face was empty and her movements were disjointed. There must be a bigger reaction from taking pills with alcohol than I thought… Mom never came to the second floor; even the suggestion sent her into hysterics.

“Mom, let’s go downstairs. We’ll get you into bed, and everything will be ok.”

“NO!” she screamed. “No, make your dad come help me with Adam. Make him!” Then she collapsed, sobbing into my carpet. I shot out to her immediately.

“DAD!” I shouted, kneeling beside her. It would take a few minutes before my shouts would register, and if he was too deep into his writing, I might even be on my own.

It seemed I was in luck, though because five minutes later, he barreled into my room and saw me crouched next to Mom, trying to pry her from my floor. When he saw me struggling, he pulled me away gently and took my place. He started to murmur in her ear.

“Come on, Sarah; come on, and I’ll help you with Adam. We have to go downstairs first, though, okay?” They stood together, her movements still jerky and unfinished, but he held steady as a rock. He glanced behind at me a last time before they started down the steps.

After that, I was so on edge that no amount of reading or music could settle my frayed nerves. For a few moments, I’d putter around picking things up and setting them back down, but I never stayed doing a     single thing for too long. Before Mom had come in, I hadn’t realized the time passing, but now I was painfully aware of every second that ticked by as I stood helplessly.

Finally, I gave up and just plucked my mp3 player from the vanity, slid the small book of poetry in my back pocket, and tripped down the stairs. Muffled sobs came from Mom and Dad’s room, and I could tell that Dad was doing his best to make it a little better.

I stepped out the door and just started walking. My feet must have known where we were going because about two blocks into what seemed to be the bad part of the neighborhood, I sped up and kept going. Somehow, I ended up in front of an old park that had definitely seen better days.

The swings looked about ready to snap at the chains; the slide was metal and rusted a deep red. A little wooden playhouse stood sturdy save the broken steps. A short way from the solid wooden structure a small basketball court squatted. The nets were ripped, and the cement was slightly cracked, but it didn’t look too worse for wear. Directly in the middle, orange ball in hand stood a boy that I recognized immediately.

My feet pushed me toward the swings, and I tested one before I sat myself down on it. Out slid my book of poetry, so I bent and opened it. My headphones were in and I started reading. Occasionally, my eyes would stray to where Connor stood.

Even from this distance, you could see the sweat glistening on his bare torso. His basketball shorts hung low but seemed to be secure around his waist. He kept trying for shots from the three point line, but the ball had decided to taunt him. It would swing itself around the rim and then decide that it wanted back out. Each miss seemed to make him get tenser. I assumed it was anger.

With every shot he made, I wondered if he knew I was watching him. I was nearly positive that he didn’t know. Surely he’d acknowledge me if he did. Then I recalled English. Okay, maybe he wouldn’t.

Suddenly, the next time I looked up, it was dark and Connor was gone. The lights had flicked on and now lit the park with an eerie flickering glow. I knew I should get home, but some part of me begged to stay. It, that part, got squashed under my normal authority, though, and I headed home.

Somehow, I found my way back easily, but the whole way I was bracing myself for the punishment I always got for staying out late without permission. When I got home, though, it sank in again that this was After; no one ever noticed I was gone now that Mom was drinking herself stupid, and Dad was staying in his studio constantly.


 

Tuesday

Kayleigh ambushed me as soon as English was over. “He’s got a brother!” she told me so seriously that you’d think it was the one fact that could end global warming. Then again, to her it might.

“His name is Chris. He’s in my last class, and he’s even better than Connor! Can you imagine?” Insert dramatic sigh here. I rolled my eyes and held my tongue so I didn’t tell her that yes; I could imagine someone better than Connor.

I listened patiently to her gush about golden hair and blue eyes. Just about the time that all her lovey-dovey crush crap was making me ill, we walked into class, and one of her many other friends dragged her away from me.

Somewhere after that the teacher began the lecture, but my hand must have been the only thing hearing it because it was deftly scribbling notes that looked nearly perfect. Mr. Hatcher smiled and slapped me on the back as I passed through his door to art class.

Mrs. Silvia was my favorite teacher, and when I got into the classroom, she nodded toward the board and smiled. It was a free day.

We could draw in our personal sketchpads or use oil paints on canvas. She didn’t care as long as we were doing some sort of art. I slipped my own personal sketchpad and various pencils out of my art cubby and went to sit down.

I flipped to a new page and began to sketch. At first it just seemed like random lines, but then they turned into an arm and a shirt with a neck and another arm attached. Eventually, Connor Shields stared out at me from my paper with the smirk that hinted he knew more than you ever would. I went to tear it out and throw it away, but then Mrs. Silvia came by.

“That’s beautiful Ashton. You really captured him,” she told me approvingly. She smiled her white toothed grin and flowed away in all her gray haired glory.

Mrs. Silvia was sixty-three and still gorgeous. Her hair shone in the sun, and she seemed to always be immaculate despite teaching art and painting a little herself.

In the end, I left Connor in my sketchpad. I was proud of Mrs. Silvia’s praise. When the bell ended, I attempted to flow out of the classroom like the old woman but succeeded in only feeling dumb.

The halls sang with an electric energy that was odd for a Tuesday, but then the wind started whispering hints of a fight. For all those with fifth period lunch, such as me, excitement spurred them on.

For some reason, I wondered if Connor was in the fight, but I didn’t have to think on it for too long because Kayleigh showed up in seconds with the promise of gossip in her eyes. This time I didn’t even have to prompt her. She just let loose like the flood gate at the dam right outside town.

“Ayden insulted Chris, and Chris warned him off. Ayden just wouldn’t shut up, though, so Chris told him to meet him at lunch!”

I was only barely listening because I was too busy thinking that if I touched Kayleigh right then, I’d probably get an electric shock. She was nearly vibrating she was so pumped. It was obvious that she thought even more of Chris now that he was a “tough guy.”

If I didn’t know Kayleigh as well as I did, I’d probably assume that she was falling in love. Luckily for me, I wasn’t that oblivious. No, this was Kayleigh in minor crush mode.

I rolled my eyes at her, and started going the opposite way from the fight. At which point, I was forced to explain why watching two boys fight over a simple insult was stupid. In her usual Kayleigh style, she informed me that I was insane.

I laughed and made my way to the gym. It was empty, as I’d expected it to be, and I pulled out the art supplies I’d hoarded away while Mrs. Silvia wasn’t looking. It was just a new sketchpad and some old pencils, but I still felt bad for stealing from the art class and teacher I loved so much.

As I looked out on the basketball court, a picture formed in my head, and my hand flipped to a new page and pulled out a gray pencil. About fifteen minutes later, I had Connor standing in the middle of the cracked ball court from the previous night.

His black hair mingled with the darkening sky, and the tanned skin of his torso rippled with tension as the ball arced through the air. The browned net stood vigilant waiting to reject the ball.

“You draw?” a voice asked, startling me from my thoughts. I was Rebekka Cavanaugh. She was one of Kayleigh’s many friends, but she was the only one of them that actually talked to me, even if it was in passing.

I snapped the book closed before she got the “brilliant” idea to come look at the picture I’d been drawing. “Not often, it seems to be a new hobby of mine.”

“You work with confidence,” she informed me, “and if you’d asked me, I’d have said you’d been drawing for years.” For some reason, this seemed to perplex her.

I furrowed my brow, confused. There was no hint in her voice that informed me if this was supposed to be a compliment or not. I began to pack up my stuff. The sketchbook nestled against my other books happily, and then the pencils stood proudly next to it.

“Oh yeah,” I said, glancing up at Rebekka. “Who won the fight?” It was a last thought on my part, but I figured that it couldn’t hurt to ask.

“Chris, actually. Even though Ayden’s bigger, Chris has more experience. It was over in about ten minutes.” I grinned. Kayleigh would be on Cloud Nine. I walked out of the gym with a little spring in my step.

For the rest of the day, though, Kayleigh was nowhere to be found. Slowly, I lost my spring. I was beginning to wonder where she was when the last bell rang.

The first step out of the classroom, and suddenly, she was there. However unexpected it might have been, it was still welcome. Her blonde hair bounced around her shoulders playfully, and there was a glow in her cheeks. One word popped into my head- Chris.

“Chris and I talked after the fight, and he invited me to join him tonight.” She paused, and I grinned for her. “He’s taking me to see a new movie.” She was psyched and I didn’t want to break that, so I “forgot” to mention that Tuesdays were our study nights.

“Have fun,” I said instead. “I’ll want to hear all about it tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” she asked incredulously. “You’ll be my first call as soon as I get home and he leaves!”

I laughed, knowing that she wouldn’t call me. She’d be too busy analyzing everything he’d said to her just so she could decide that she’d made a fool of herself. Then, she would come to me tomorrow with apologies, needing some reassurance.

I’d smile and figuratively pat her head, letting her know that, no; she did not make a fool of herself. Her call of goodbye popped my thought bubble and sent me off to the hell hole called home.

Home in one piece, I didn’t even glance around. In my room, I dropped my bag. My hand dug into it, closed around my sketchpad and pencils. I shoved them into a small bag and scraped up my MP3 player.

This time, I had no doubt about where I was going. That dilapidated, old park was calling to me, and to be honest, so was the prospect of seeing Connor again. My feet took me where my head knew I wanted to go. The swings still stood. The cracked court still crouched wickedly, posed almost as if to eat its occupant. In the middle stood a boy, tension roiling through the muscles in his shoulders.

When I sat on the swing, I popped in my headphones and pulled out me sketchpad and a worn down charcoal. As soon as it hit paper, it took me away from the park and into the drawing. As soon as I came out of it, I knew I hadn’t drawn Connor.

It was something a little closer to home… A woman stood in a rankled tee and smiled out at me. Her hair fell around her shoulders in a messy, mass that somehow still made her look beautiful. Her cheeks were the color of a new pink rose bud. Her eyes smiled, and her name was Sarah… or to me, Mom.

I named the picture “Before” and signed the bottom. She used to look like that, before the miscarriage. Dad used to come out of his studio to tell her how beautiful she was and kiss her. Now everything was different.

“You draw,” a voice that was much too close for my liking asked. Connor was behind me, peering over my shoulder. I snapped the book shut, and he gave me an odd look. “Any other pictures in there?” He made as if to grab it, and I hugged it to me.

“No,” I informed him. “I do not draw.”

“Really now? Then what do you call that little thing you were doing with that charcoal and those colored pencils?” I glared.

That’s when Ash decided to come out. “Go miss some baskets, why don’t you, and leave me alone?” Now he looked mad. The muscle in his jaw was ticking. Without looking back- for fear of staying or being hit, I wasn’t sure- I put my things away and walked off.

The “After” Sarah was sitting on the couch when I got home. She smiled bleakly and waved me up to my room as the TV blasted reality television. When, after I put up my stuff and got into bed, I fell asleep, I couldn’t help but dream of Connor.


 

Wednesday

The strong smell of colognes and perfumes was choking me. Never had I liked the bus. For some kids, that’s the one time of the day they do their homework last minute, or finished their makeup.  In my mind, if I wanted to choke to death, I’d find a nice serial killer and let him do the honors.

The only good thing was that I was one of the last ones on. Only one person got on after me- Kayleigh. Today was no different. She bounded onto the bus with her usual flare. She claimed the seat beside me, and I sat listening to her apology.

This time, though, she’d had a wonderful time on her date with Chris. He’d been the perfect gentleman; they’d made each other laugh, and absolutely every wonderful detail had gone perfectly. By the time she got off the bus with me, she was planning who to hook me up with.

“Kayleigh,” I stopped her after we were off the bus. “I am perfectly fine with being single.”

“Sure you are, Ashton, but you’d be even better if you were with a guy!” Luckily, the bus was running late, so we ran into first period History right as the lecture started. That forced her to stop talking, and I breathed a small sigh of relief.

Then we split up for second period, and I was already dreading sitting next to Connor after what I’d said last night. I still wasn’t quite sure if he would hit me. I consoled myself with the fact that I was a girl, and he wouldn’t risk hitting me and having every other guy in school beat him up for it. My consolations kept me okay until I walked into the classroom and saw him. Then, they all collapsed.

He wasn’t looking at me; instead he was turned toward Richard, no doubt listening to some old football story. From his posture, you could tell he wasn’t really paying attention. Restless fingers tapped the desk repetitively.

As I was on my way to the seat next to him, he glanced up, and my step faltered slightly before I forced myself on. His raven colored hair shone in the lights even though they were fluorescents, and his eyes seemed more silver than blue today.

I found myself at my desk rather suddenly and was sitting down when a note materialized on my desk. I knew that it must be meant to pass on; I never got notes, so I opened it quickly to see who it was for. When I saw my name, I paused slightly and then kept reading.

 

Ashton,

    I miss intentionally.

                          C

 

The note was small and to the point, but miss what, I wondered. The only person who could have given it to me was Connor, but what sense did that make? So, quickly, I scratched a not back to him.

 

Connor,

     Miss what?

                      Ashton

 

It took no effort at all to get it to him without getting caught by the teacher. She was busy writing grammatical mistakes on the board. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought, I caught Connor smiling as he read my note. I waited for the rest of the class to get a note back, but one never came.

As I walked with the crowd out the door, though, I felt something being slipped into my pocket. When I slipped my hand in a few seconds later, a slip of paper greeted my fingers.

“Ashton!” Kayleigh squealed when she saw me. “I know just who to hook you up with! Dillon!

I raised my eyebrows at her. “Dillon Copeland?” I asked. The picture of the baseball captain tore my happiness in two. “Come on! First of all, he’d never agree to it, and second, don’t you know me better than that?”

“Seriously, he’s hot! Plus, you don’t know what you want. Guys are my forte, not yours, and Dillon is perfect for you, trust me. He said that if I could get you to say yes, he’d take you on a date tonight.” She had said all of this in a single breath, and it exhausted me.

We stepped into the math room and made our way to our seats, Kayleigh waving off her other friends. While she was saying something to Amber Hamlin, I pulled out the slip of paper.

 

A,

  Meet me at the park. I’ll explain.

                                         C

 

I felt a smile take over my face as I refolded the paper and slid it into my pocket. When I looked up, Kayleigh was gazing at me curiously. Before she could speak, I cut her off.

“Tell Dillon that I’m sorry, but I have plans tonight.” The smile started to disappear from my face, though, as I began to remember my earlier worries. Still, I knew I’d go and meet him.

“Who with?” Kayleigh asked. “What are you going to do? Dinner and a movie? Just a dinner? Just a movie? A walk?”

“We’re going to talk, that’s all. He’s going to explain something to me.” I knew saying he was a stupid move on my part as soon as the word left my mouth. The rest of school was spent listening to lectures in class and fighting off Kayleigh’s inquiries after.

I let out a breath I'd felt like I'd been holding all day when I stepped off the bus. Looking at my house for the first time in a long time, I saw something I'd never noticed before.

Parts of the bricks were crumbling away, and the shingles were fighting to cling to the roof with the last life they had in them. The walkway rocks were crooked and cracked. Something that vaguely resembled dirt clung to every part of the house. It made the place seem dead.

Today, I didn’t even go in. I just made my way to where it seemed nothing could touch me. The park loomed before me a few minutes later.

In the middle of the court sat a boy with a nose stud and black hair. I dropped my bag by the swings, and made my way toward him. He didn’t stand as I approached, just watched me. In his lap was lying an old, worn out basketball.

I ended up standing next to him, and even though he was silent, I was sure he was angry at me. Suddenly, he stood, and I found that I was now the one looking up so our eyes would meet. He stood just a few inches taller than me.

He spun the basketball nimbly on his finger, and then he tossed it into the basket without taking his eyes from mine. It swished through the net, and bounced away from us.

“I miss intentionally,” his deep voice informed me as I stood staring at him dumbfounded. And then his note suddenly made sense to me.

“Why would you mean to miss, though? You’re obviously amazing. We could use your talent on the basketball team!”

“I want my family to get off my back about joining the basketball team here, too.” He sighed, almost sounding frustrated.

“You could be our star basketball player, though! Our team might even go to state for once. Why on earth wouldn’t you want to be on it if you’re that good?” Good, wow, what and understatement. The boy had it all- looks and killer basketball skills. The girls would be all over him in no time.

“Look, just drop it. Just because I’m good doesn’t mean I like it, ok? Now, I told you something, so you have to tell me something.”

Oh great, I thought, maybe I should have taken Dillon up on his offer. I made a face at him. Why should I tell this boy I barely know anything about me?

“Just tell me who that woman you drew is. That’s all I want to know.” He said it simple, like he was asking my favorite color.

“My mother,” I told him. I wasn’t sure why I’d actually said it. I’d decided I wouldn’t answer, but it just popped off my tongue. What could it hurt, I asked myself? It wasn’t like he was ever going to meet her. How would he know she didn’t look like that anymore?

Connor started to make his way to the little, old playhouse, and I found myself following him. Despite all my worries, his almost magnetic pull still tugged at me. The two voices in my head were battling again.

In the end, my cell started buzzing in my pocket, and I pulled it out, ending the battle of whether to follow Connor or not for the moment. Caller I.D. said Dad.

“Hey, Dad,” I said. “What do you need?

“Why aren’t you home yet?” he asked, obviously angry. “You can’t make us worry like this! Don’t you think your mother has enough on her mind without this?! She’s worried sick!”

I thought of the red eyed thing on the couch and scoffed. She couldn’t even remember who I was half the time, let alone where I was. My mouth opened to say this, but I bit my tongue and controlled the urge.

“Of course, Dad. I’m so sorry; I didn’t think. It was a momentary lapse of reason. Give me ten minutes, and I’ll be home.” It’d only take me about five, but I didn’t want to leave just yet.

Without a goodbye, he hung up, and I flipped my phone closed. I felt eyes on me, and I looked up to meet them head on.

“So,” Connor said, “I’m a momentary lapse of reason, huh?”


 

Thursday

After yesterday, I found myself drawing more often, and I found myself drawn to the basketball gym again. It was likely to see me with music in my ears anyway, but now I found myself craving it.

I had to remind myself that it had only been last night that Connor and I had sat and talked. We’d stayed at the park until after dark, but my father never called back.

No doubt he’d been immersed into his character’s newest drama, all worries of his teenage daughter gone, and thoughts only for what his characters would do next. I had found him sitting in his studio, eyes wide and bloodshot when I finally got home.

When my eyes focused on the picture, the picture in my mind stared back out at me from my sketchpad. Lunch was fast fading as my pencils skimmed and dented the paper.

Today, we were playing basketball in the gym, so I patiently waited for the bell to ring and the kids to file in. I pulled out my colored pencils and started filling in the blacks and whites of my dad.

Sixth period P.E. was the smallest class with only ten people, and as I sat on the sidelines, waiting to be picked for a team, my thoughts drifted to Connor. Not for the first time, I wondered why he wouldn’t want to make a basket- why he’d miss intentionally.

“Ashton,” I heard my name called out irritably, and I looked up into the coach’s hard eyes. She pointed at a group of four, and I realized that I’d been picked.

The bell killed our spirit not too long later and sent us skittering in all different directions. I could find Kayleigh or just head to the Newsroom. The paper was an “essential part” of our school spirit, so Kayleigh and I had decided to help take some of the load off the other four kids running it.

All I did was hand out assignments, one of those, do-nothing jobs. It fit me just perfectly. I decided suddenly to go find Kayleigh, breaking off my thoughts completely, and spinning to a new train of thought.

“Ashton,” Kayleigh called from across the Newsroom five minutes later. I was almost late for class only making it into the room seconds before the bell trilled over our heads.

“Where were you?!” I asked irritated. “I was looking everywhere for you.”

“Oh,” she deflated, “you were? Chris walked me to class. I told him you’d probably already be here.” At the mention of Chris, though, she pepped right back up.

“So, y’all are official now, good for you.” I heard the slight bitterness in my voice, but sighed when Kayleigh failed to.

Painfully, I made it through seventh hour and then eighth. The bus ride choked me with B.O. and hairspray reapplications.

Today was the day I had to clean up for Mom’s weekly inspection, so I waded through the beer and pill bottles. Silently, I tackled it.

Three hours later, I was running away. The house was clean, and mom was sober. Still, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I needed to get away from Dad’s pretending and Mom’s emptiness, needed to escape the agent’s questioning eye searching for answers she didn’t really want to know.

This time, though, I wasn’t headed for the park. In truth, I hadn’t a single clue where I was going. In the cold, through the cold, I ran with the hope of never needing to stop. Even when I bowled someone over, I stood and tried to begin running again. Well, until the person grabbed my wrist firmly, but still somehow soft.

“Ash, stop.”

“Connor?” I asked, and stopped fighting. My eyes focused. “What are you doing?”

After the hours of talking to him, I was comfortable. He’d taken to calling me Ash not long after we’d started to talk, explaining that Ashton was simply too long.

“Seems that I have more of a right to ask that since you just knocked me over.” He smiled crookedly.

“Just going for a run,” I lied, but he let me, sensing my tension most likely.

“You run like a guy,” he told me. “I think from now on, I’ll call you A.J.”

Last night, he’d found out my middle name was Jade. “I do not run like a guy!” I denied indignantly. He smiled and we began to walk.


 

“Before”

                When I was eight, I got a bicycle for my birthday. It was red, and I absolutely cherished it. My little fingers curled and uncurled around the handles as I pedaled down the sidewalk.

I remember looking back and smiling at Mom, and for just a second she smiled back before her face changed and she was screaming and running toward me. Well, I guess in my little eight-year-old mind, I thought she was mad because I started pedaling furiously to get away from her. It wasn’t until I looked back forward that I saw the car.

It screeched to a halt, barely missing me, but catching my back tire and tossing me from the bike. Mom screamed at the driver as she hugged me too her. I began to squirm. She was holding me too tight.

Yeah, I’d been scared at the time, but all I wanted to do now was get back  up on the bike after I got a Band-Aid for my scrapes, and kisses on them too. Mom didn’t let me back on for four days.


 

Thursday

When Connor asked me when I’d been most scared, I told him that story. We’d been walking for about two hours now, alternating from silence to telling childhood stories.

It was a lie. Sure, before the miscarriage, that would have been true, but this was After. There was a distinctive line between then and now. My almost death at age eight seemed trivial now. Sometimes life is harder to accept that death.

“A.J.?” Connor asked. I looked up and smiled apologetically. He gave me a lopsided grin. “I said we’re at your house.”

I realized he was right. “How did you know where I lived?” I asked suspiciously, but he just pointed to the mailbox with our last name posted on the side of it. I smiled sheepishly. “Oh.”

My dreams that night were of Connor and me. We were talking at the park, playing basketball, and laughing at each of my miserably bad shots.


 

Friday

Waking up Friday morning, though not easy, was simpler than my usual fight to keep from going back to sleep. It was a sad irony that now my dreams had become something I enjoyed, and I was sleeping less.

My phone was lit up when I grabbed it. On the screen it was flashing the missed call, and I began to flip my phone open. Caller I.D. said Rachel, my sister. Why had she called? Then I remembered the agent and sneered.

Rachel was good at running away. To tell the truth, she’d always been amazing at it. At 24 years old, she was in denial. Her own kid was doing great, and her husband, Kurt, was in this wonderful, stable job. She couldn’t imagine that in a bad situation because her life was going perfectly.

I pushed my phone into my pocket and started down the stairs. It was time to tell Mom-Thing to take her meds, but all I found was an empty bottle of booze and missing car keys. Because I could hear Dad pacing in his studio, that could only mean one thing.

My feet pushed me outside, and in a matter of seconds, I was chasing taillights. They swerved dangerously, and like an out of body experience, I heard the screech of tires and the sound of metal grinding on metal. I tried to run faster.

There was nothing I could do, though. By the time I reached the cars, I saw blurred shapes through my tears. Five of the shapes stood around the totaled cars. I ran at the mangled red one, and even tried to crawl through the shattered windshield, slicing myself open on broken glass. Someone carried me back, though, whispering inaudible words into my ear.

“Give her to me, Con. I’ll be able to hold her longer. C’mon, man,” a low voice ground out next to me.

“No, she needs someone she knows right now.” I heard Connor’s voice over the rushing in my head, and it only took a few seconds to register that I was in his arms.

“Connor, don’t make me take her from you. She’s not stable right now, and you’re going to fall if you keep her.” I felt rough hands trying to drag me from Connor’s arms, but I clung desperately to him.

“No,” I whimpered. Finally, I opened my eyes. I must have looked terrified. “I’ll stand. On my own,” I clarified when the other boy tried to move in Connor’s place to hold me up.

“Jeremy, leave her alone,” Connor backed me. He set me down as soon as the Jeremy-Guy let me go.

Jerkily, I made my way toward the nearest porch, and Connor followed. My hand slipped into his of its own will, and squeezed it gently. Still, the cuts on my palm made it painful.

“He’s strong, I guess,” I told Connor. He gave me an odd look. “Jeremy, he must be strong.” I nodded over at the guy, judging that he must be about twenty. His golden hair was cropped close, and his eyes reminded me so much of Connor’s.

“Military training does that to a guy,” Connor replied softly. “He’s following in Dad’s footsteps. We just hope he doesn’t follow too closely.”

I glanced at him, completely confused. “He’s my brother, my oldest brother that is.” Confusion still dominated my features, and then he realized what I was confused about. “Dad died in Iraq.”

“My Dad’s a writer,” I looked at him as sirens blared in front of us, and then continued bleakly, “but he might as well be just as dead as yours.”


 

Reflection

That day, Mom got what she wanted. She passed on to, maybe, get to see her baby Adam. Four hours of Life Support, and I made Dad pull the plug. It wasn’t fair to keep her somewhere she obviously didn’t want to be.

Then, with Connor by my side, I spoke up. “You’re just as dead as she is Dad!” I told him. “Except your life support is writing! Maybe we should take you off it, and see if your heart can beat on its own.”

Maybe Mom’s death was a gift and a curse. You’d think that in a broken, unresponsive family, another death would mean hitting rock bottom, but for us, it was the beginning of an uphill battle.

We’ve seen the before and after pictures, now we’re working on what happens after that. Before, after, and then. Right now, we’re working on Then.

Connor’s still around. Actually, he’s pretty much been glued to me since the accident. I don’t let anyone call me Ashton anymore; it’s A.J.. Dad has got a real job, and he keeps promising that he won’t get consumed with his writing again.

Dad also keeps trying to make Connor and me a couple, and maybe someday it will happen. Jeremy went off to war about a month after the accident, and I was there to help see him off.

I don’t know. I figure that in a few months, I’ll look back at the Then picture, and it won’t seem so bad. For now… it’s still in the sketching stages, not really ready to show you yet.


Comments:
 
sagitta   sagitta wrote
on 8/17/2011 2:25:44 PM
Nice.... I like this poem.

sagitta   sagitta wrote
on 8/17/2011 2:24:52 PM
I read it. Nice.

sagitta   sagitta wrote
on 8/17/2011 2:23:30 PM
I liked this poem...

sagitta   sagitta wrote
on 8/17/2011 2:19:57 PM
I like this poem....

sagitta   sagitta wrote
on 8/17/2011 2:18:57 PM
Goood...

12
BellaLuna
Short Story
Other
writing BellaLuna
It's pretty simple... unless you're not me. Then it's just plain confusing.
Bookmark and Share

You must log in to rate.
Rating: 8.0/10

Synopsis
A miscarriage. An alcoholic mother on anti-depressants. An out-of-touch dad. One teen girl who isn't quite sure where she fits in. Then, all of a sudden, she finds art, Connor, and trouble all at once, and she searches for a way to balance it out. In the end, it works out, but not in a way so sweet...
© 2014 WritingRoom.com, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
WRITING | POETRY WRITING | CREATIVE WRITING | WRITE A BOOK | WRITING CONTESTS | WRITING TIPS