Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Four

Chapter Four -

I think I’m frozen staring at her. She’s so different but the longer I stare at her, she’s still the same. Those beautiful brown eyes that haunt me in my dreams brighten when she laughs with her friends. I still haven’t approached her, just leaning against the entrance of the kitchen. She’s dancing with one of her friends on the dance floor. She isn’t drinking which is totally my Brooke. At least that has changed. Even when I attended high school, she was never the follower. I noticed that about her when I would spot her the hallway. She was that girl that outwitted the bullies as they chased her.

The girl I remember when I still attended the high school, Tameka, is dancing with Brooke on the floor. She’s constantly drinking from the red cup Brooke brought her. Her other friend, in the turquoise dress, sits on a couch, hand cupping her chin. She looks so bored. I don’t recognize her. Clyde suddenly appears at my side, drunken grin on his face. He usually one of the first drunk off his ass with all the drinking games going on. It’s a surprise he hasn’t cannon balled into the pool with his clothes on again.

“Hey, Clyde,” I bump his shoulder to get his attention. Best thing about drunk Clyde, he doesn’t ask too many questions. “That girl in turquoise on the couch, who is she?”

Clyde follows my nod toward the cough. “Oh, you mean Barb? That’s Barbara Allen. She joined the high school after we graduated. She’s friends with Tameka and....” Of course he trails off. Even drunken Clyde knows when not to speak her name. Alisha really her made her name like poison to our group.

“Brooke,” I finish for him with a sigh. My eyes flicker around the room again, falling on her. I have never once seen Brooke in a dress. Her legs seem even longer and I ache to run my fingers down her thighs.

“Yeah, her.” Clyde suddenly takes a large gulp of his cup. “You sure have missed a lot. Brooke isn’t the same girl you remember. I think Alisha made sure she wouldn’t be that same girl after that prank. There’s a reason that prank is still infamous.” Clyde claps my shoulder tossing his empty cup toward an overflowing trashcan. “Hope you enjoy the party. I’ve got a date with a girl in hot tub. Catch ya later.”

Clyde disappears out the back door pulling his shirt over his head. I chuckle under my breath watching him leave. It’s refreshing that no matter how much time has past that Clyde Owens will never change. Pulling my hands from my pockets, I take a deep breath. I’ve never been so nervous before. I turn my head and take in the alcohol on the counter. I’ve never needed liquid courage. Girls usually jumped at a chance to be with me. Nerves were never a big deal before. Now, however, it’s a different story. I find myself checking the entire room for people I know aren’t here. My hands are shaking, goosebumps appear on my skin.

I grab one of the bottles from the counter along with a shot glass. Thankfully the sink is mostly empty so I can clean the dirty glass. Glancing at the name on the bottle, Tequila, before pouring one glass to the rim. One isn’t enough and I pour another feeling the burn in the back of my throat. I cough wincing as the alcohol causes my eyes to water. I haven’t had much tequila over the years, choosing the harder stuff instead. I can still remember the taste of vodka on my breath the night I was arrested.

I toss the glass into the sink I screw the cap back on. Brooke is now alone on the dance floor, her movements even slower. Tameka is leaning against the couch talking with Barbara. Barbara is the kind of girl I could see Brooke be friending. Her curling brown hair frames a round face with glasses which she continues to push up her nose. She looks uncomfortable in the dress, constantly pulling at the end to cover her knees. Now that Brooke is alone, I take a deep breath before striding across the floor.

She looks up as I approach and I nearly freeze in place. Her dancing immediately stops. There’s a sparkle in her eye that I still recognize. It’s nice to see that hasn’t been diminished by the past.

“Didn’t expect to see you here,” I whisper in her ear as I lean into her.

She takes a step back, staring at me with those pointed eyes. “Yeah, well, I knew you’d be here. The entire town has been abuzz with Ashford Rocks returning. Got me curious why the guy who humiliated me in front of the entire school would suddenly return when I’m graduating.”

I smirk, but it falters when she folds her arms over her chest. She doesn’t flush or stare at me like she used to. She was so bashful before. She never spoke for one, this is the most I’ve ever heard her voice.

“Maybe I’m back for you.”

She laughs. She actually laughs in my face. There’s a hint of sarcasm in her voice that almost makes me turn around. I’ve never had a girl rebuke my advances in this way. She has me intrigued.

“Like I really believe that. You had me fooled once. Ain’t going to happen again.” She steps closer to me, in my personal space. I immediately catch the smell of her perfume which makes my heart skyrocket. “Nice to see that I can affect you better than you ever could me. Looks like the once great Ashford Rocks, has fallen a peg or two.”

She steps back, smirk on her face. She waves her fingers before turning on the tip of her heel. I watch after her in awe as she joins her friends on the couch. She’s already humiliated me in the middle of the most popular party in town, but all I want is to follow her. Despite her rebuke, I want to keep trying, to follow her to the ends of the earth. It’s then I realize as she comforts her friends, that getting her to forgive me is going to be harder than I thought.

I turn back toward the kitchen glancing back at her over my shoulder. She’s staring at me, but when she catches my gaze, the smirk is back on her lips. I’m not sure if I like this Brooke or the other one more. This version will keep me on my toes more than any girl before her. In the kitchen, I down another shot and head into the back yard. I spot Nathan sitting on the edge of the pool, his jeans rolled up to his knees. His feet are splashing in the water as he downs a shot from a game beside him. The entire crowd yells encouragements as he successfully downs the alcohol. I know he’s already wasted.

One look over at the hot tub and I spot Clyde with a red head. She’s straddling his lap, her tongue in his mouth. They aren’t the only ones making out in the hot tub either.

“Ashford Rocks.” A familiar feminine voice gains my attention. Turning my head toward the voice, I spot a girl with dark hair in a red dress that shows off her shoulders. The straps of the dress are below her shoulders and her cleavage is on full display. It takes a moment before I recognize her with her mother’s facial features. Penelope Rider. Mrs. Rider’s daughter.

“Penelope.” I nod to her. Penelope was well on her way to becoming queen bee. Unlike Alisha, who was the captain of the cheer leading squad, Penelope has been into gymnastics since middle school. Suddenly a small group of girls in bikinis surround her, giggling. Penelope’s eyes narrow at me before snapping her fingers to the girls.

“I’m going to let that slide because you haven’t here. It’s Penny.” She tosses her hair over her shoulder dramatically, smirk on her red painted lips.

“Penny,” I nod, trying to contain the laugh. Wow how the entire student body could let someone like this take up the mantle. Doubt anyone has taken over mine since I’ve been gone.

“I’m sure you’ll see my brother soon. He’s taken quite the liking to your reputation. Said he learned from the best.” The smirk on her lips widens as she takes a careful sip of the cup in her hand. “Glad that you’re back in town before some of us head off to college. Maybe you’ll get to see your handiwork in action.”

Suddenly a small guy in jeans and blue shirt approaches. He whispers something into one of the girls behind her ear. Then he’s gone as if he weren’t there. The girl then whispers into Penny’s ear which makes her eyes darken, but the smirk remains.

“It was a pleasure to see you, Ashford. Glad to know my mother isn’t as delusional as everyone thinks.” She steps closer, her red painted nail trailing down my chest. “Maybe we’ll see each other again later.” She winks at me before walking past me into the house. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a girl, besides Alisha, with that much confidence. She and I both know there isn’t a chance in hell that I’ll see her later for whatever she has in mind, yet she said it anyway. She said it because she knows she can and the entire party is none the wiser that it will never happen.

I chuckle loudly shaking my head as I spot Alisha. She’s dancing in the grass with a bunch of people to the beat of the music from inside. I know she’s drunk, plastered probably. That leopard print blue dress she’s wearing will not get out unscathed. Walking around the pool, I reach Nate, grabbing his shirt by the back. He screams, yells at me, swatting at my hands as I pull his ass from the water and drinks.

“You claim you want to be with her so bad, right?” I’m in his face now. Nathan is the kind person that doesn’t understand seriousness until someone is in his face. I turn him toward Alisha who is stumbling over her own feet, moments from being sick. “Being with her requires dealing with her drinking. Take her home. She’s going to get sick.” Nathan was the person that I sort of put in charge of Alisha in the first place. The night I left that party after graduating, I made him take her home that night when she was drinking too much. She certainly wasn’t going to let me after we had that nasty split.

“I’m in no state to get her home,” Nathan slurs.

I sigh, hitting the cup out of his hand. One nights that I knew Alisha would drink a lot at a party, I didn’t. I always had to make sure that Alisha got home safe. Maybe that’s why I stayed with her so long, she reminded me of my mother and I was the one who had to take care of my mother.

“Then take her upstairs, get you both into a room. Don’t do anything but sleep it off. Take her home first thing in the morning.” I grabbed his shoes from the ground, pushing them into his chest as I pushed him in Alisha’s direction. I could only hope that it worked out this time. Suddenly there was commotion inside the house. I swear under my breath as I follow the crowd which lead to the living room of Clyde’s house.

My heart froze at the sight of Brooke in front of Penny. Penny had a smirk on her face as she stared at Brooke. “We all saw your pathetic attempt to get Ashford to notice you again. Thought you learned your lesson the first time, a guy like Ashford has no room for a girl like you in his life.”

Penny then leaned into Brooke, whispering something. I knew Penny had cut Brooke deeply with her words as the broken look returned to her face. I had seen a similar look in the auditorium that day when she walked out, tears streaming down her face. I promised myself after that day, I would never see those tears again. I would never be the cause of her pain, but I sickening feeling that I had done much worse in the years I had been gone.

“Maybe you should look how you suddenly feel. You’ll never be good enough be more than the girl behind the school.” My eyes are wide as I push through the crowd hoping to make it before Penny drops the cup over Brooke’s head. Unfortunately the gasp that echoes through the crowd of teenagers cuts off my pursuit. I look up to see Brooke’s one beautiful dress stained red from the punch and her blonde hair sticking to her face. “Now you look like the sad drowned cat you’ve become.”

Brooke lifts her head, I see the tears trailing down her face. Just as I am about to come to her side, Tameka steps beside Brooke. I watch as Tameka shoves Penny’s chest, making her momentarily lose her balance before regaining it. “Penelope, we all know that you like to put people down because it makes you feel powerful. News Flash, though, we just graduated. You aren’t the boss of us anymore. You can’t tell us what to do. I hope you enjoyed that because it’s the last time you’ll ever do it again.”

Tameka wraps an arm around Brooke’s shoulders as Barbara comes to their side as well. All three head out toward the front door disappearing in the silence that follows toward Penny. Penny just grins, lifts her cup to the crowd and downs it. Of course all the drunk teenagers quickly chant “CHUG, CHUG!” in sync.

Pushing through the crowd, I realize I’ve seen enough. As I return to my truck, I can’t help but think that despite Penny actually hurting Brooke, I feel like I’m the cause. I need to find out what has been happening since I left.

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