Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Three

Chapter Three -

When I return to the house, mom is still asleep. It’s nearing noon as I walk through the door. The exhaustion plagues me once more as I fall into a chair at the kitchen table. As I reach for my cigarettes, I realize I didn’t stop by the smoke shop for another pack.

Damn.

My fingers drum over the kitchen table as the urge to smoke creeps in. I roll my eyes. There were months I couldn’t afford even one cigarette. It was hell to quit cold turkey for two months, but I was capable. I’ll wait until I get back out of the house to get one pack. Running my fingers through my hair, I look over mom’s house. The place is a mess. She likes the clutter always told me when I was younger, she found things easier when it was messy. All she had to do was think of the last place she had something and it was usually there. Unfortunately, the sight of the messy house bothers me and the urge for a cigarette pushes me out of the chair.

I start in the living room. Mom’s hoarding of the multiple magazines has gotten out of hand. When I still lived here, I made sure she had a good handle on it. When I check the dates for some of the magazines, there months of not two years old. Finding the box of black garbage bags, I drop them inside continuing throughout the living room. Ever since mom’s accident she’s become rather lazy only carrying about her pills and sleeping. There were plenty of times I came home from school to find her passed out on the kitchen or bathroom floor. The memories make me shiver. On more than one occasion, it took me an hour to make sure she was alive because I was so scared. None of my grandparents are living and my sorry excuse for a father is rotting away in prison. If she died when I was in school, I would have been put in the system and never seen again.

Cleaning the living takes an hour and a half. Afterward, I fall on the couch which has been cleaned off from the piles of trash and older magazines. Before I can get comfortable, however, the phone in the kitchen starts to ring. Anyone of importance that calls my mother calls her cheap cell phone which is somewhere on her person at all times. That being said, she has a cheap old cord phone hung in the kitchen. I quickly stand hoping like hell it doesn’t wake mom.

“Hello?” I ask, my voice a big ragged from jogging to the phone.

"Well, I’ll be,” the familiar voice says on the other end. “I thought thought Nate was fucking with me. It’s all over town that you’re back in town. When the hell was you going to let me know?!”

I chuckle, leaning comfortably against the counter. Sometimes I wish mom would update her phone into a cordless one. “Honestly, didn’t think any of you would care, Clyde. Plus, I don’t honestly know how long I’m going to be in town. Not to mention, I thought you’d be busy with the end of the year party.”

“Party doesn’t take much planning.” I could just imagine Clyde rolling his eyes. I hear the crunch and know that he’s eating while on the phone. On the weekends from school, Clyde never woke earlier than noon. I suppose with his parent’s money, he has seen the need for college or a job. I suspect he’s still in pajamas eating from a bag of chips at the bar in his house. ”Speaking of the party, I’m calling to invite you. Nate ain’t gonna believe that the rumors are true. Let me guess someone saw you at Lucky’s?”

“Mrs. Rider,” I snicker.

Clyde suddenly breaks into laughter. “Man, you’ve missed a lot. She’s no longer Mrs. Rider. She finally divorced his ass. They share custody of the kids. She’s engaged to Vice Principal Paul.”

My eyes widen. “That’s a damn shame. Anyway, you’re party still the number one place for graduates?”

“Damn straight. Still going strong. Not sure how well this group of graduates will take to the party. Though, I should also warn you in case you want to avoid her, Alisha comes every year.”

I almost groan out loud. When I broke up with her after the situation with Brooke right before graduation, she didn’t take kindly to the breakup. I never knew the extent of her cattiness until I was on the receiving end. Though I know Clyde and Nate must still be friends with her if she’s attending the parties after so many years.

“Thanks for the warning.” I glance at the corner at the sound of my mother’s coughing. She’s once again wearing that ridiculous ratty pink robe. She glares at me and it takes me a moment to realize it’s not me on the end of that glare but the phone itself.

"I should probably tell you something else, but I think Alisha can inform you of that bit. Don’t know if it will last with you in town.” Clyde’s voice continues in my ear but my focus is on my mother. She falls backward in her recliner, pulling out her cigarette case. I cut in on Clyde’s rant as he tries to explain new dynamics going on in town.

“What time is the party, Clyde?” I ask, twisting around, staring out the dirty kitchen window above the sink.

"Some people show up early, at seven thirty, but I like to say the party doesn’t start until eight. It gets pretty packed around eight thirty. I have it so late because of parents and the dinners. Guess I’ll see you around eight fifteen. Not late but not early either.”

“You know me too well. I’ll see you then. I’ve gotta go.”

I hang up the phone without waiting on his reply. Mom turns on the TV in the living room before she lights up a cigarette. The smoke immediately drifts up around her.

“Guess you’re going to that party again.” She says matter of factly. “Falling in with the same wrong crowd as always.”

There’s no possible way to explain it to her. If I told her my plans to make Brooke forgive me, she’d wonder why after all this I suddenly cared. She’d know immediately that my trip home wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. That I’m not in town for a quick family reunion. Not to mention, she’d hound me for more information about Brooke. I never told mom much about Alisha but she found out enough on her own. It’s save to say mom has never liked Alisha much from what she heard about her.

“I’m not going there for them. Going to see if someone else shows up that I want to see. Believe me, ma, the last thing I want is to fall back on old habits.” I tell her as I start cleaning up the kitchen. I hear her huff, but she doesn’t comment. She won’t say another word about my friends. She’s said enough and she knows it.

~*~

The road leading up to Clyde Owen’s house is full. There are cars in the road, on the curb, and even in the grass. Clyde’s parents bought the house during Clyde’s sophomore year which is the year he started to throw the parties. It started out as a party every weekend his parents went away. Then they started their yearly trip toward the end of the school year right before summer vacation. They were always gone a month, they even missed Clyde’s graduation. Though according to Clyde, his grandmother recorded the entire thing and they watched it together when they returned. Part of me missing the motorcycle I had. Maybe if I drove that up the winding neighborliness road, I wouldn’t get so many strange looks.

One thing I do know is that my chosen outfit will be easily recognizable. Mom kept some of the old clothes I left behind. Not gaining much weight in the past three and a half years, I could still fit into the shirts. A familiar gray shirt I wore to school with the dark blue collar still fit like a glove and had my name spray painted on the back which was covered by the dark hoodie I wore. That would be a change for everyone. The addition of a dark hoodie instead of a leather jacket. I used to wear my father’s jacket for years but I stopped my senior year. It just so happened to be the year I met Brooke that I stopped wearing it.

With so many vehicles covering the road, I’m forced to park away from the house. I’m actually thankful for the walk. I can clear my head and take a drag before entering the past. I’m nervous. I’ve never been this nervous. My palms are sweaty. The only time I was ever nervous as this was the second day of seeing Brooke in my place. That was another thing that always bothered me. I hated when other people were around my smoke spot at the back of the building. Yet from the moment Brooke entered that special place, it was as if she was meant to be there.

The entire street is filled with not only cars but music. Clyde’s sound system is loud enough that entire block could hear it. He’s lucky that his parents bought the house with no neighbors that sits on a cliff overlooking our tiny small town. The music covers just about everything but approaching and departing cars. Only the elite in high school could ever stand Clyde’s parties. They were never for the faint of heart. He’d have the hardcore alcohol and enough bedrooms that people could exchange them for a couple hours apiece. Clyde’s house was the place I met most of my conquests in high school. By the time I got to high school, I had already lost my virginity and was looking for more experience. Some girls in high school were willing to try anything at least once. There were plenty of kinks that opened my eyes in high school that girls in clubs just didn’t get.

I smoked one cigarette on the way to his house. My steps are slow, purposeful. I wouldn’t be Ashford Rocks if I didn’t show up late and smelling of smoke. I want her to find me, seek me out through the crowds. I hope she’s changed. The Brooke I once knew would never attend a party like this but if she’s still hanging with the same girl as before, I change a guess she’ll be here. Almost all graduates are. Freshmen were never allowed at Clyde’s parties which is the reason I didn’t see her the night I left. I said goodbye in my own to everyone that night at the party. By morning, I was gone, out of the state having left the party early. Not like anyone really noticed in the first place. The nicotine tastes bitter but I get it down allowing the smoke to filter around me.

By the time I’m standing outside of the house, my hands are shaking. It’s been so long that I stood near this house. So long that I felt the beat of music from the large sound system or drank from the punch bowl in Clyde’s kitchen. Not to mention that love seat in the basement near the pool table where I remember making out with at least three different girls in one night. I can almost still taste Alisha’s peach flavor lip gloss from the night after junior year. I pinch the cigarette again staring at it as the light at the tip turns orange. It drops from my hand toward the grass where I snuff it out with the tip of my boot. I stretch my neck and shake out my arms letting the nerves flow freely. The front door is open with the music pouring out as a few people make out on the porch swing.

I nod toward a few people but they don’t recognize me or are already too drunk to even know their names let alone mine. The moment I step inside, the smell of puke, beer, and chlorine assault my nose all at once. Glancing to my left at the door, I see the large living room full of teenagers dancing and grinding on each other. Unfortunately I don’t recognize the music anymore than I did when I attended high school. Alisha was always the one that kept up to date on the music artists and titles. Suddenly a loud yell echoes through the house and I move in that direction, but I don’t make it to the sound.

“ASHFORD ROCKS?!”

I turn my head to see a kid I don’t recognize staring at me. He’s wearing a dark blue shirt, red cup in his hand. I know he’s drunk, the red cups were always the alcoholic type.

“Hey, kid,” I smirk at him. Half of the room has gone quiet and the obvious game of beer pong stops in the kitchen. I hear the ball ping off the counter bouncing twice on the tile floor. Clyde follows the ball himself, the neck of a beer bottle in his hand. He looks up after grabbing the yellow tinted ball from the floor noticing the silence around him. His eyes are wide when he finally notices me.

“ASH!” Only my closest friends got away with calling me Ash. Not many people could say they had that luxory of calling me by a nickname. Clyde rakes a hand through his hand, tosses the ball back into the kitchen, takes a swig of beer, and walks toward me. “I was beginning to wonder when you’d show up, man,” he says clapping me on the back. Clyde has always been loud, childish, and disorganized. He was one of our teachers worst nightmare which is probably why I immediately latched onto him early. He wasn’t like Nate, who got in trouble because it was fun, Clyde just worked at a different speed than everyone else. Nate and I assume it was mostly thanks to his privilege background.

“This place is a mad house. The entire drive was packed. Had to walk.” Clyde laughs, takes a long drag off the beer, and escorts me toward the kitchen. “I should warn you, man,” Clyde suddenly said at a corner from the kitchen. “Somethings have changed. I promised I wouldn’t tell you, let them do it, but I just thought I’d warn you.”

Clyde’s hand rests on my shoulder as we turn the corner. At first I’m thinking that maybe something happened with Brooke. Maybe she’s moved on. It would hurt like hell, but I’d see her happy and I’d leave. I probably wouldn’t even stay in the rest of the night. I’d move on just as she had, turning myself in to the nearest police station before my employers could catch me. Yet, when we enter the kitchen the sight before me almost shocks me. I barely recognize her now without the sneer on her face and ice in her eyes. Alisha Carter leans her back against the counter in a skin blue leopard print dress and blue heels. Her dark hair hangs over her shoulders as she places the tip of the beer bottle at her lips.

Alisha never used to drink beer. Always complained that top would ruin her lipstick. Only when I got her drunk would she not care about what her appearance looked like. Can’t say it’s a good thing that she’s obviously changed. She looks up, but before her eyes can meet mine, an arm slithers around her waist. I follow the arm toward a man I recognize as Nathan one of my best friends in high school. I always knew that fucker had a thing for Alisha but back then, they both always denied it. It wouldn’t surprise if they had been sneaking behind my back with their linger gazes. Then again they were always at each other’s throats. Nate never understood why I kept Alisha around, why I hadn’t dumped her ass after the first lay which was my usual routine. Alisha was the kind of different I needed at the time. She wasn’t always clingy and with her at my side, I didn’t have to sling off advances left and right. She was good for my image, nothing more.

When Nate’s lips smashed into Alisha’s gloss shimering lips, I didn’t feel a single thing. Not even a hint at jealousy which told me all I needed to know. Alisha was a free woman, she didn’t have to worry about me. Yet, I know how her mind works.

“Nate, Ali. Look who decided to show!” Clyde yelled to the entire kitchen. The beer pong had already changed rooms as I could see them setting up in the dinning room. There was a splash behind me and I glance toward the sliding glass doors that lead to the large swimming pool and hot tub at the back of the house.

“Ash?” Nate’s voice sounds just the same. I look back at him, smirk, and look between him and Alisha.

“Nice to see you too got over that sexual tension,” I laugh, my smirk growing wider. As I expect, Alisha sneers and angles her body away from Nate. Nathan sighs, drags his arm behind her on the counter, always within touching distance. Never took notice to that before. Probably even did that back then. “Nice to see you both, though.”

“Whatever,” Alisha stands taller gripping her plastic cup. “I’m not dealing with this right now. Find me later, Nate.” She wobbles a bit as she leaves the kitchen rolling her eyes as she leaves. Obviously she’s still bitter.

“Damn. Thought after almost four years, she’d get over it.” I watch after her as she disappears into the crowd.

“You ought to know her. She doesn’t let anything go,” Nathan sighs, reaching into a chip bag crunching a chip between his teeth. I wonder if his teeth are still has bad as they were when we were in high school. Nathan had started smoking in an effort to piss his parents off at fourteen, a year after I did. His parents always thought I was bad influence.

“Figures,” I shake my head, glance at the counter. It’s full of punch, snacks, and spilled drinks. “How is everyone?”

Nathan chuckles dryly as Clyde is called away. Clyde participates in all party games as the host. Calls it his civic duty as party host to enjoy every aspect of the party. “We both know you could care less about any of us. You left. Alisha’s bitter about that. Did you know we just recently got together officially? Of course you don’t. It took her that long to trust someone again. We were screwing for a couple years off and on between relationships, but she would never settle. Guess I didn’t measure up to the great Ashford Rocks.”

Safe to say she’s not the only one bitter.

“Damn, Nate. Way to sound like a chick.” I still know the buttons to press when it comes to these people.

His nostrils flare as he looks at me. “We both know the only reason you left is because you couldn’t handle your own shit. Maybe you should have told Alisha you were in love with that freshman, she might not have done it if she knew you would leave. Doesn’t matter though, that prank has the best since.”

The glint in his eyes makes my heart sink. He grabs a cup, fills it with punch, and leaves me standing in the kitchen. Hard to believe at one time I actually cared what these people thought of me. Now, I can see them for who they actually are. An uncomfortable feeling seizes me. Back in high school I was never actually alone. Everyone idolized me instead of the football stars. Sure for the first week of every won game they were superstars, but they were never interesting enough to take the spotlight off me. It’s strange to be a nobody when I used to be somebody to these people. I walk around the counter hoping a beer will calm me down.

“Wow how the mighty have fallen.” The voice is feminine, yet I don’t recognize it. After grabbing a beer from a cooler, I twist around. There’s a girl standing in the entrance of the kitchen in a black and peach color dress. Her hair is blonde and in a pony tail braid. Something about her is familiar, but I can’t place it.

“Do I know you?” I ask her leaning over the counter as I twist off the top of the bottle.

“Once upon a time,” she says glancing toward the bag of chips. She appears to be debating whether or not to slide her hand inside.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” I say, sipping my beer. “Clyde’s parties are notoriously known as germ central. I personally know of a few people that got STDs that originated at this party. Just know if you stick your hand in there, who knows what disease will follow you home.”

She looks back at me and I see those brown eyes. They do something to me that I haven’t felt in a long time.

“Thanks for the head’s up.” She walks around the counter, lowers to her knees and I notice the heels that match the skirt of her dress. She grabs two beers and stands heading back into the living room. I watch her with my eyes trying to figure out why she looks so familiar. Why this feeling is gnawing at me. She approaches two other girls. One girl is in a turquoise color dress and the other is in a blue top and black skirt outfit. The girl in blue top appears scold the blonde as I take in her dark skin and dark hair. Even she’s familiar and the name pops into my head a moment later.

Tameka Mitchel. She was the girl that became friends with Brooke right before the prank. They met in passing in the hallways when Brooke was looking for me and my locker. I always knew when someone was looking for me and that meant Alisha knew as well. Once Alisha knew there was nothing I could do then.

It takes me a moment to realize who the blonde girl is. She’s different. She’s changed. I did say I hope she changed. Yet, this girl I don’t recognize. For one, she spoke to me. When she glances over her shoulder into the kitchen, our eyes meet and it’s no mistake.

I’ve found Brooke.

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