Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Two

Chapter Two -

My bedroom door opens and bangs against the wall. I bolt upright in my bed, sweat peppering my forehead. My body still feels sore thanks in part to falling asleep in jeans. I look around in the darkness of my bedroom at the cloud of smoke hovering at the entrance. A woman stands in gray stretch pants, pink, and white shirt. Her dark hair is in a braid as usual with a headband at the front to keep the bangs from her eyes. The wide dark yellow rim glasses rest on the top of her head as she squints in the room past the smoke from the cigarette between her fingers.

She takes a large drag from the stick as she stares at me. I sigh, using my hands to push myself up. The room is blurry for a moment as I catch a yawn.

“Ashford,” she says, her voice gravely. “That truck out there yours?”

I nod to her question without a word. I’m still trying to figure out how much tell her. I already the first thing she’ll say. You’re following in your father’s footsteps. It’s what she’s always said over the years. It just got worst after the accident at her job. Trying to maintain a steady income as a single parent wasn’t easy. Mom held down three jobs, two during the week, and one on the weekend. It was that damn job over the weekend, at a fast food place with a wet floor that she slipped and fell. It took one single fall to change the mom I once knew into the medicated woman before me.

“I get it,” she says dropping her arm from her face, allowing the smoke to drift into the hallway. “I don’t even want to know what you’ve gotten yourself into this time. Keep me out of it.” With that, she turns, leaves the door wide open, and heads back toward the front of the house.

She always leaves my bedroom open. After my first stay in the detention center when I was I fourteen, she started to keep the door open as if that would keep me out of trouble. The only problem with her ingenious plan was the fact that as soon as she took her pills, she was passed out on the couch or bed. I toss my legs over the side of the bed, yawning and staring out the dark window. I assume it’s almost sunrise. She probably only got home a few minutes ago. Thankfully she’ll probably pass out in her chair with her new meds in a couple hours.

Pushing off the bed, I stand up, stretching my arms over my head. I’m itching for another cigarette, but I know I should quit. I’ve been saying that for two years already, but my fingers brush over the pack in my back pocket. It’s crushed, but I know there were at least two cigarettes in the pack earlier. Leaving the room, I stop by the bathroom before heading into the kitchen. Surprising the hell out of me, my mother is tossing the bad food into a bag ready for the large trash can on the side of the road. Her cigarettes and baggy sit on the rickety black and white checkered table. Mom had a thing for fifties furniture. Even the clock above the sink was a fifties style. Probably another obsession for her to spend her money on.

The clear glass ashtray on the table held a still burning cigarette which covered the off smell in the kitchen. She finally came in the open side door wiping her hands off, limping slightly, and coughing up a storm. She closed the door behind her, covering her mouth as she coughed into her hand.

“Sorry, ain’t no food in the fridge. Didn’t know you’d be here.” She pulls out a chair and turn falling into seat. The chair across from her, she pulls out as well lifting her leg onto it. I tear my gaze away grabbing the lighter from the table to light the only cigarette remaining in my pack.

“Yeah, but you’re here,” I state falling into the chair across from her, feet prop on the table.

She glares at me over the table, her eyes falling on my feet. “I know I told you as a kid, no feet on my table.”

I roll my eyes pulling my feet from the table. The smoke begins to gather around us as we both smoke. Ashes fill the tray as the silence blankets us both. “You look like you’ve lost weight,” I mutter as my cigarette begins to draw up.

She makes that humph noise as she glances at me and stubs her own cigarette out in the ashtray. “You have a lot of room to talk. Anyway, get off my case. You ain’t here. You ain’t dealing with this. How have you been?”

“Around,” I smirk at her which only ticks her off. Annoyance blares from her eyes as she slides her leg off the chair. “Seriously, mom, I’ve been okay. That’s all I’m going to say. I’m here in front of you, safely.”

She looks at me. She’s pulled her glasses back over her eyes, but when she looks at me this hard, it’s over the top rim of her glasses. “I’ll take that answer for now.” She pushes the glasses back up her nose, grabs the back of the chair pushes herself up. “If you need some money, I’ve got a stash in the can on top of the fridge. I’m sure you’re favorite diner is open, usually is with that twenty four hour service. I need some sleep. I’ll see later tonight.” She grabs the cigarette case and the plastic bag of different color pills. “Oh,” she suddenly says pausing to look at me again. “If your friends from high school call, steer clear of them. That Nathan and Clyde have been up to no good. Though I know you’ll hear from Clyde if he knows you’re in town.”

I grin at her. She hasn’t forgotten. Clyde might have the childish one of us, but he had good reason. Clyde has minor wealthy parents and every graduation since we entered high school, he held the graduation party at his parent’s place. They always left two weeks early for their month long summer vacation. Clyde hasn’t had to work a day in his life thanks to his parent’s money. Mom remembers all the parties and the cops being called. Those were pretty good times. I’d get pretty drunk and when the cops showed up, the few of us that got caught had to deal with underage drinking charges and the night in a drunk tank. Clyde’s reputation always kept him supplied with a lawyer on stand by.

“You got it, ma.” She rolls her eyes as she slowly shuffles toward her bedroom. I notice in my absence she’s gotten out of the bed to do a few things. Even if those few things happen over a large stench of time. I let my eyes close as her door closes. The image of Brooke in my mind’s eye makes me smile. When my eyes open, I decide against the shower or food. There’s something else I’d much prefer. I need to get rid of this pent up energy. After being closed up in that truck for the past day and a half, I need to feel the stretch of my muscles. Stubbing out my own cigarette, I return to my room and change my clothes into basketball shorts, a white wife-beater, hoodie, sneakers, and my MP3 player. In the hallway, I can my mother’s small TV from her bedroom loudly playing a rerun of her favorite show, Friends.

Jamming the earpieces in my ear, I head out the front door breathing in the fresh morning air.


I stand before the foggy mirror, my breath rough. Clutching the edge of the sink, I shake my head against the memories. I had forgotten what running in the area does to me. Seeing all those places gone of the familiar faces. I’m no longer the same person I used to me and seeing those places reminds me of that person. That person who only cared about what people thought of him. Sometimes I feel that person creeping back up in my thoughts and actions. I’m standing here in the middle of my mother’s bathroom because of those actions.

Looking up, I use my hand wipe away the condensation from my reflection. Sighing, I stand straight and wipe my face with the towel around my neck. Checking the cabinet behind the mirror, I find a razor and grin. Clearing my head, I get to work cleaning my face for the first time in months. The hair on my face had grown out shielding my features from most people I met. I’d only ever let it grow out for a couple of months before shaving it again. By the time I’m done, my stomach is growling but my face is smooth. I get dressed in the bedroom pulling my boots on as they are the only shoes I own.

Mom’s bedroom door is unlocked as usual. I peek in on her which reminds me old times. Her pink robe is thrown over her dresser and the TV is still going. She’s snoring loudly with the fan and central air blowing steady on her. Staring at her, I stand a little longer. Despite our differences, I know my mother like the back of my hand. When everyone else was gone, she stuck around. She might not have always been the best mother, but she did her best and I can’t fault her for it. I quietly close the door again. I leave mom’s hidden stash in the coffee can on the fridge knowing I have my own money. Might as well spend it before they find me.

The sun is bright and warm as I climb into my truck. The needle is almost to empty reminding me that I’ll need to fill the tank. I head in the direction of the best diner in town. There’s already a bit of business inside Lucky’s. The revolving four leaf clover sign is fading and barely rotates above the restuarant. The sight of the old place brings fond memories but also sad ones. Lucky’s was the only place late at night that would serve a teenager coffee. Some times I didn’t even sleep and spent time finishing homework last minute in the comfort of the booths. Staring through the windows, I know the older morning crowd is filtering through. Sliding out of the truck, I head inside sucking in the delicious aroma of coffee and fried bacon.

“Just sit wherever you like,” the waitress says as she runs between two booths. “Your waitress will be with you soon.”

I just made my way to the empty booth at the far end. The booth still looks the same. It’s not the largest booth, that one is in the opposite far corner. Though this one kept me company on many long nights surrounded by textbooks and a notebooks. Sitting down, I grab the menu wondering if my usual breakfast platter is still the same.

“Hello?” a red head waitress stands beside the table. Her uniform is short stopping on her knees. Combination of green and white to match the Lucky theme. “What can I get you?”

I finally spot the platter explain in detail what I want before adding a coffee to the end. She nods, turns, catches a yawn before disappearing behind the counter. I watch the people in the other booths talking about work, the weather, and the graduation in a few hours. The waitress returns with my coffee before disappearing again toward another booth, this one with kids. The first cup is gone within ten minutes, the caffeine making me jittery.

Right before the waitress brings my plate, the door opens and I watch the woman stepping inside. She’s in a nice dress, her dark hair down to shield her makeup ridden face. I watch as she steps to the counter and it takes a moment to figure out why she looks so familiar. Mrs. Rider. She became a permanent fixture my last year of high school when her twins started at the school. She was always there to pick up her kids, ran the PTA meetings when no one else would, and even tried to date the vice principal. She might have technically still been married to Mr. Rider at the time, but they were separated. If I could remember correctly, the fraternal Rider twins would be graduating with Brooke today. Penelope and Leonardo also known as Penny and Lenny Rider. I remembered Mrs. Rider because everyone talked about her, even the students about how much she flirted with the Vice Principal. Plus, every time she saw me, she always asked about my mother. They used talked when mom worked as a bank teller. Mom knew just about everyone once upon a time.

After talking with the girl behind the counter she began to rock on her heels. Looking around the diner, I watch as her lips purse. Another thing about Mrs. Rider, she was extremely noisy. She had her nose in just about everything and was an enormous gossip. As her gaze drifts toward me, I see the recognition on her face. She immediately heads in my direction.

“Ashford Rocks,” she says, her voice taking on a bit higher pitch. “I thought that was you. What a pleasant surprise. I haven’t seen you in almost four years. You left shortly after your graduation.”

“Yes, mam.” I nod, sipping my mug. “I actually came back to town for the graduation. Hoping to catch up with some old friends. Though I don’t think I’ll actually attend the graduation.”

What better way to inform the entire town of my arrival than a gossip like Mrs. Rider.

“That’s too bad. I’m sure some of the graduates would love to see you. I hope that you enjoy your time back. How long do you think you’ll be staying?” she began to pepper me with questions.

“You know what,” I chuckle pushing the mug away now that it’s empty. “I’m sure actually. Depends on how my welcome goes over with certain people.”

I spot the waitress over Mrs. Rider’s shoulder as she approaches.

“Oh,” Mrs. Rider says stepping aside. “I should let you eat your food. It was a pleasure to see you again, Ashford. Maybe I’ll see you again later.” She nods at my grin before returning to the counter. She takes the large brown paper bag and walks out the door pulling out her cell phone.

I cut into the waffle with a smile on my face. By the time I get home, the entire town will know I’ve arrived.

Hope you’re ready, Brooke.

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