The quiet music on the road could have gone perfectly with the brightly lit world outside of Ashley Greer’s window as her father sped down the high way keeping pace with the cars around him. It was hot in the car like the air outside had seeped through the closed windows and infiltrated their vents to heat the car up no matter how cold they made the air. The scowl reflected back at her in the window but could you blame her? This was the sixth time her father uprooted their lives and tried to be cheerful about “seeing new places” but Ashley was more than ready to shriek. While she wasn’t a typical social butterfly,she’d made such good friends back North in the comfortable atmosphere and temperature of Massachusetts. Looking up with what she considered a mighty scowl she rolled her window down and it was instant, how the cold air in the car was sucked out and the humid air outside to slam into the car like eager hands wanting to take all the space in the car.
“Come on, kid! Close the window! There’s no need to be sweating our asses off now before we even get to the house!” Her father sighed the words trying for cheerful but they came out rather snappy when he met her gaze in the rear-view mirror and she looked away rolling her window up. “Look, kid, I understand you’re madder than hell about the move but when you see the house, you’re going to love it! I promise!”
Ashley merely turned her attention to the window like it had something more interesting to stare at and it did, for a split second, when the scenery of trees flew past them only to reveal a large sparkling span of water. From what she could see it was dark, deep lake water that could be much deeper than she could guess and it shined water at her like a playful wink. Then the trees came back though much less dense than before as they approached the neighborhood her father had been bragging about to her mother in between silent answers from Ashley who truly wasn’t talking to her father right now. To be honest she had thought her mother would be on her side when it came to moving but her mother had been brought to the house long before Ashley did an she had fallen in love with the place.
So that left her alone in her world of rather bitter resentment when it came to moving. The trees remained in backyards though they were sparse, green lawns flashed at her with the cement of the sidewalks appearing to move slower than the road and homes but she was feeling dread beating her heart now. Ashley felt her lips pressing together as tightly as her arms over her chest as the blinker turned on, ticking quietly until her father turned down the bright street that would be her knew address the moment she stepped out of the car. She took a shaky breath through her nose, lashes fluttering down while she composed herself by counting to ten then backwards to one. Again. She took a deep breath when she reached then counted backwards again before opening her eyes again when her mother’s voice broke the silence.
“Did your father tell you that the whole second floor is yours?” She looked up curiously at her mother who smiled with tentative cheer when she twisted in the seat looking at Ashley. “I see he didn’t. There’s two bedrooms upstairs, yours and the guest bedroom and there’s a rather elegant bathroom up there too! Your father and I have the master’s bedroom close to the back of the house, it’s like the kitchen with a sliding door only the one in the kitchen is to the patio. Your father and I’s sliding door goes to the backyard.”
“It sounds weird. Shouldn’t the one in the kitchen lead to the backyard? What was the dude who built that house thinking? It’s stupid.” Ashley replied looking out the window feeling her brows pulling together tightly when a wave of panic crested in her chest making her stomach knot up. It didn’t feel right for it to feel like summer, to have the air conditioning on when at her old home it had been late Fall which meant heaters were on.
“It’s a nice house, Ash, you’re going to love it I promise.” Her father jumped in when a wide smile made the corner of his eyes crinkle as he pointed forward. “In fact, that’s it right there!” And before she could honestly stop herself, she fell for her father’s little trick when she looked in the direction that her father had pointed too.
It wasn’t a huge house but medium, bordering on small with a chain link fence around the white house and she took in the yard which stretched towards the back of the house like every other home in this neighborhood. Her eyes were drawn to the second floor wondering if her mother was simply pulling her leg about something serious like that and she tore her gaze away. Just because it was a nice house did not mean this would be home to her. She remained silent when her father pulled into the driveway, her arms tight across her chest when she unbuckled herself staring at the trailer the movers had left in the driveway. She jumped out of the car as soon as he parked, her door lightly bouncing before she grabbed her duffel bag next to her and her backpack then slammed the door as her parents climbed out.
The heat was excruciating on her skin, hard to breath even as the thick hot air tried forcing itself into her lungs and it was like an exercise to gulp the heavy moist air. The sky was a blue that stretched on limitless, the grass vibrant under the sun and not a cloud marred the sky as she looked around the rather cookie cutter neighborhood. She could hear people chatting nearby, their laughter carrying on the warm breeze that caressed her skin like a welcoming home she didn’t want. She marched up the walkway aware of how hot the ground was on her bare feet but she didn’t want to put those stupid flip flops on yet for it would be like defeat. Admitting it, screaming flip flops were her new reality of foot wear here and she refused to give in.
“Ash!” She looked over just in time to drop her bag to catch the glimmering keys effortless, surprised when she looked at her smiling father. “Why don’t you do the honors and unlock the front door? Mom and I will be in a bit but I expect you to help with unpacking boxes today before we do dinner.”
“Whatever.” She huffed the word under breath when she picked out the house key which she was right when her father nodded and turned away to her mother. She slid the key into the lock, twisting it with a click when she nudged the door allowing it swing open and she bent down grabbing her bags before tugging the key out of the lock. The house was fairly simple with what she assumed was the living room on her left and the den on her right that led to the kitchen and no doubt the back of the house like her mother had mentioned but her feet carried her up the stairs. After walking on the burning Florida ground it was a welcome relief of the cool wood beneath her feet as she jogged up the stairs only to stop at the top of the stairs. There were indeed only three rooms, a bathroom, guest room and what she guessed was her bedroom that she walked into hesitantly.
Her floor was bare of a rug so her feet remained cool against the wooden floors but it felt nice, a cool air clinging to the abnormal heat on her skin when she stared at the poster bed. Tied to the four poles on each of the corners were pale, almost wispy curtains that were definitely see through and tightly meshed when she grabbed a fistful to feel the texture. She tossed her bag onto her bed and her duffel bag at her feet when she hesitantly crawled up onto the bed which remained quiet and firm underneath her. The blankets were a pristine white so fresh they glowed when she laid out on the large bed, arms stretching out away from her sides as she stared up at the ceiling. The only one up here, huh? Her parents truly were kissing ass if they thought this would make her happy and yet as much as she wanted to scream at her parents now, she bit her tongue for her parents’ happy chatter sounded downstairs.
Did she really want to start a fight? Truly? No, she wanted to suck it up and grow accustomed to her new bedroom and spend the day, night even, making it her own even if it felt like her father might uproot them any moment. He was known for doing that out of nowhere right as Ashley was getting comfortable in her flesh and with other people around her. Even when her therapist urged her father that Ashley’s anxiety, her reclusive behavior, would merely suffer each time he uprooted her but each time he merely said it wasn’t his fault. Ashley blamed him, oh she did, but at the same time she knew exactly what it was that her father was searching for every time he uprooted them for a new sparkling place. He was looking for home.
And this was going to be her new home for God knows how long then once she’s comfortable her father is going to just uproot her once again. Sitting up she slid down to the edge of the bed standing back up sighing to herself when she unzipped her bag tugging her clothing out. She had more of her stuff in the trailer but she honestly didn’t feel like dragging box after box upstairs and she could live with the clothing she had in her bags and she had her little plastic bag containing her toothbrush and other necessities so why bring boxes up? She found herself losing focus as she pulled shirts and pants out that her hands moved on their own so perfectly, she found herself staring in awe at the clothing sitting on the bed. The house had air conditioning, she knew it did, and yet she was sweltering in her hoodie that had kept her from being too chilly in the car only now it was suffocating with the heat and she shoved her hand in the pocket grabbing her phone then tossing it on the bed.
She tugged her arms out of the sleeves, grabbed the bottom of the sweater tugging it above her head throwing it to the floor with zero care of it then tugged her fingers through her hair. Then she walked in exaggerated, large stepped pace to her dresser tugging the drawers open then walked back to her bed picking up as many shirts as she could manage then threw them in the drawer. She then went back scooping up her bras and underwear tossing them in as well before shutting the drawer then opening the bottom drawer for her pants which she threw in as a bundle. She would use the middle drawer for her pajama’s, when she brought them up from the trailer in the box, she knew they were in and sighed. She walked to her rather large window, looking out at the brilliantly hued world wondering if her eyes would ever adjust to the brilliant greens and the large limitless sky that seemed much larger here.
Knuckles lightly rapped on the door and she twisted to see her mother standing in the doorway, a light smile curling her lips. “So? Do you like it, Ash? I know it’s a big change but it’s so bright and cheerful here. It feels huge here like we have the entire world to run through and there’s still more space for us to discover.” Her mother sighed as she strolled into the room frowning at the clothing peeking out from the drawers and then walked up to Ash. She hugged her from behind, on hand on her upper arm rubbing it affectionately. “You’ll get used to it, sweetie. I know you will.”
“Yeah, I always get used to it. I just don’t want to be uprooted again, my bad luck might come back if we keep moving again and again.” Ashley mumbled then looked out the window, biting her lip for a moment before she looked down at the lawn outside. “I know Dad says he’s looking for home but...but sometimes it feels like he’s running from something. It’s tiring having to pick up and go all the time.”
“He’s not running from anything; he’s just got a restless soul while you and I are happier when we have a solid home. It’s just how he is, Ash, and he wants nothing more than to give you an amazing home that you can be proud of.” She turned in her mother’s arms, meeting her eyes and pinched her lips together to keep from saying something rude. “Now, why don’t you check out the bathroom? Last I saw it’s amazing up here! Dad and I are going to start unpacking.”
“Okay.” Ashley sighed the word like she always did but unlike every other time she did her mother stood right in front of her still. She was looking at Ashley, her eyes flicking over all the features on her face like she needed to make sure they wouldn’t change and let out a breath. “What? Is there something wrong with my face?”
“No! No, I’m just thinking.” Her mother replied with a rather quick tone, her hands reaching up tucking her hair behind her ear and she frowned when her mother’s fingers caressed her jawline. “You’re just becoming more beautiful than I remember, growing up so fast! I just feel like I need to look at you once in a while because you change so fast it feels.”
“Oh.” Blinking Ashley looked away from her mother for a moment then met her gaze again, curious of her the reactions she was getting. “Sooo, are you making dinner tonight? Or are we eating out? I’m pretty hungry right now so the sooner we eat the sooner Ashley will be happy.”
“Well, when Ashley refers to herself in the third person, I think it’s fair to say Dad and I have some talking about where to get dinner from!” A wide smile spread across her mother’s lips that was mirrored on her own face, her mother’s eyes twinkling like she held a secret and was enjoying the game. “I’ll be right back, weirdo.”
“Thank you, my life-birther! I would oh so appreciate the sustenance you could provide sweet Ashley before the sun sets on the horizon!” Ashley replied with vigor, her tone rising in just the right places and a laugh burst out of her mother as she walked across the room. She loved the sound of her laughter; it was always so high and rung like bells.
Her mother was gone faster than she thought, her feet thumping on the hallway floor before going down the stairs as Ashley walked out into the hallway. She weaved back and forth on her feet with her indecision before she walked forward flicking the light on for the bathroom then stepping in. It was a rather simple, white walls and white tiles, the toilet was a pristine sparkling white that looked as if it had never been used once and the sink was freezing under her fingers. The mirror was more beautiful than anything in the room, it was a simple mirror with a frame that looked as if it was made out of vines or inspired by them with their gentle curves but the color was of shimmering gold. The only color that wasn’t white in the whole bathroom and Ashley found herself adoring this mirror more than any other she had seen before.
Her eyes roamed the frame curiously, her hand lifted to touch the smooth frame like it would disappear in an instant and the cold of the frame proved its confirmation of reality and she smiled lightly. Then her eyes caught her reflection in the mirror and she found her smile turning into a rather displeased frown as she looked away from her reflection for a moment but her eyes were drawn back to it. She had been told, all her life, that she was the duplicate of her mother and yet she couldn’t find a single feature that wasn’t her father’s in that mirror. His cheek bones, the shape of her eye brows that had always been a touch thicker than other curls but a perfect shape many of them aimed for, his lip shape with the cupid’s bow being the most of her mother. Even her nose, jaw and chin, all him! She had her mother’s pale coloring, yes, but that was the extent of what Ashley figured she had inherited from her mother which was just plain cruel in what the genetics turned into.
Her mother was beautiful beyond words, not one word she could think of would be enough when describing her mother and not a single way could be delivered without awkwardness. She sighed turning away from the mirror touching the smooth glass of the shower stall before tugging it open, staring up at the rather large shower head and she reached up touching the cold metal head before stepping back shutting the door. She walked out of the bathroom with leisurely steps when she twisted towards the stair case thumping down them lazily, making each step deliberately loud and as she got to the middle of the stair case her father looked up rolling his eyes playfully. She continued her way down, hands brushing the railings on either side of her before she got to the third to last stair and leaped off. The impact tingled up her ankles and calves which she tried walking off as she moseyed her way to the kitchen where her mother was slicing open a box of utensils.
“Ash, would you mind separating the forks and knives for me? It’ll make it easier and faster for me, I’d really appreciate it!” Her mother spoke so fast she barely kept up with the words before she walked up to the box with a nod. Just as it seemed they were getting a break as the open front door lightly swayed a sharp knock on the wood had Ashley squinting and her mother shot her a warning look. “Alright now listen to me, Ash, that’s one of our neighbors so don’t go insulting or looking at the woman strangely. You’re not the only one that wants friends this time round, so can you do that for me? Please?”
Ouch. Ashley flinched but tried hiding it by picking a handful of utensils up to sort through, keeping her eyes down at her hands while her mother’s flip flops slapped against her feet rhythmically as she walked away. Often times it was easy to forget just how eager her mother was to have friends as well, but unlike Ashley who had that luck, her mother often made great friends for a while and all was well. Then the envy would be aimed at her mother for having a “handsome husband, beautiful daughter, beautiful home” etcetera and next thing she knew her mother was being dropped like hot rocks. While she claimed to be okay with-it Ashley knew that it hurt her mother each time, she had a good friend that dropped her quickly due to some petty envy or something of the sort but Ashley never really thought about her mother having friends. She pursed her lips at the stab in her chest that she tried to rub away but it refused to leave, throbbing like a bug bite and she frowned while parting the forks and knives before reaching into the box for another handful as her mother shuffled in.
“Ashley, this is Mrs. Jones! She’s our neighbor to the left of us, she has a son your age and a daughter just a year younger! April, this is my daughter I was telling you about!” Her mother exclaimed with such joy, such pride when she gestured to Ashley that she blushed looking down at the table sheepishly. “We’re still unpacking as you see but I would love it if you and your family would like to come over for dinner sometime! I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been shopping yet!”
“Oh, Hailey, that’s just fine! I don’t expect you to pull out a five-star dinner or anything of the sort out of nowhere!” Mrs. Jones replied then smiled at Ashley, who was wishing the heat would die out of her face, and she looked up then down awkwardly while wondering if she should say something or not. “Your daughter is just as lovely in appearance as you, she clearly takes after her mother! It’s nice to meet you, sweetie! I should have my son come over for introductions, wouldn’t you say, Hailey?”
Her mother’s eyes shimmered for a moment while Ashley’s face burned uncomfortably and her fingers trembled lightly when she dropped a fork that clattered with the rest. “Um, Mom I’m just going to grab a couple of my boxes and unpack my room, okay? It was nice to meet you, Mrs. Jones.” She barely choked the words off when she was walking briskly between her neighbor and her mother, who looked at her worriedly.
“I’m sorry, Ashley isn’t very good with new people, she’s a very easily wound up girl and I should have warned her sooner that-” The words behind her disappeared as she walked into the brightly lit outdoors and sprinted over the burning ground to the trailer. She wanted to get inside and get her stuff unpacked just so she could feel more at ease in her skin before dinner.
“Do you need help?” She nearly screamed at the voice to her left, jumping away from the trailer with quick steps backwards and her box crashed to the hot driveway spilling her books over the ground. She scolded herself for reacting like this person was a venomous snake rather than a human and she felt her face growing hot again at her irrational response. “Um, you alright there?”
“Yeah! Yeah, uh,” She cleared her throat bending down to place her books back in the box like her feet weren’t totally burning on the hot ground when the person in front of her bent down. She peeked up cautiously, taking in the dark shaggy hair and she looked down unsure of if she should look at him directly when they both stood up and she had to actually stare up at the guy.“I’m Ashley Greer, just got here about seven minutes ago.”
A wide smile revealed probably the whitest teeth Ashley had ever seen when his hand stretched out and she brought her own up to grasp his. He gave a firm pump of their hands then smiled tucking his hands into his shorts pockets as he met her gaze. “I’m Luke Jones, my mom is in there with yours. She wouldn’t stop gushing about this beautiful woman who moved in next door and kept insisting I had to make a good impression with her daughter!” He looked down then up with his smile turning more towards a wicked grin. “So how am I doing so far?”
“You-I- Ah, you’re doing fine!” She squeaked the words out over a stutter that had the wicked grin shifting to one of pure joy it seemed and she looked down at her books then up then down only to settle for up one last time. While she wasn’t big on it, eyes were the one thing that always grabbed Ashley’s attention and his were a curious shade of blue, not so much gray but more like the two colors came together to make the shade. In the sun, they were blue, but the shadows that came once in a while had them looking almost gray which had her speechless for a moment. “Oh, uh, if you don’t mind, um, grabbing that box and following me you can come set it down in my room.”
He grabbed the second box of her books with such confidence that she was impressed for that split moment. “Lead the way, Miss Ashley!” She found her lips twitching up into a smile as she walked quickly across the burning ground towards the front door and Luke managed to keep pace. She saw her mother’s rather happy look when she caught Ashley’s gaze and nodded when she ran up the stairs with Luke steps behind her and she sighed to herself under her breath. The last thing Ashley needed was her mother assuming some kind of romance would blossom between her and Luke, it was the absolute last thing to ever happen.
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