Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Six

Chapter Six -

I immediately detour heading toward the escalators hoping to follow her. However, my eyes drift down toward the moving steps and my voice falls into my throat. My throat squeezes tightly as my lifts to step on top. Ever since I was kid, I feared my shoe lace getting stuck in the revolving stairs. That was probably because of my mom’s best friend, Debrah, had a bad sense of humor. She was watching me one day, we went to the mall, and in order for me to always remember to tie my shoes, she always threatened that the big moving stares would trap my laces in them. That irrational fear has heightened as I got older and realized that things like that actually happen.

Once I safely at the top, my eyes search the floor. I spot her down the walk way besides Tameka. There are crowds between us thankfully and I can follow behind them without either of them noticing. Until Tameka grabs Brooke’s arm, pulling them both into a shoe store. When I peek inside, I notice it also has jewelry which Tameka immediately shows off to Brooke. As they converse, Brooke probably rolling her eyes under the shades, I use the time to take her in. She surprised me just last night at the party that I didn’t really notice much difference. This time, I’m seeing her outside of school in an environment that normal teenagers wouldn’t mind. Yet, Brooke has never been a normal teenager to me. Always beyond her years if I’m honest.

She obviously wasn’t planning on visiting the mall by her appearance. Her blonde hair is tied in a messy pony tail. Dark wash jeans, thin hoodie shirt covering what I can barely see is a purple tank top. Its simple clothes like she’s wearing that make me fall for her all over again. My guilty pleasure has always been a girl that would throw on the first thing her fingers touched. I have never been a fan of much make up or the girls that take hours to leave the house. It was always a point of continuous between Alisha and I. Toward the end of our relationship, we were meeting at places instead of me picking her up.

I lower my gaze toward my shoes as they turn, heading out of the store. As I follow them once again, I finally notice the white bag in Tameka’s hands. They’ve already been to the music store on the bottom floor. Only place in town to get a decent pair of earbuds or the latest CD from your favorite artist. They suddenly pause for a moment outside of another store. This time Brooke shakes her head repeatedly toward Tameka. Yet Tameka doesn’t seem to want to take no for an answer, tugging on Brooke’s arm. Then Brooke, grabs her fingers pulling them from her skin. Whatever Brooke says seems to do the trick. Tameka shakes her head in disapproval before entering the store.

I follow Tameka with my eyes and realize the name of the store. Victoria’s Secret. Not Brooke’s kind of store apparently. Returning my gaze to Brooke, I watch her sigh, lifting the shades to her hair. She pinches her nose, rubs her eyes, and pulls her shades from her face. Her small thin fingers push the shades into the large pocket on her shirt that covers her abdomen. Suddenly she turns toward the large railing which covers sections of the second floor from the bottom. She leans on the railing her arms folding over it, looking down at the first floor. My lips twist as I watch her. She’s still as fascinating as she was three and a half years ago. Biting my lip, I can feel my heart beating harder in my chest as I decide to approach her. One look at Victoria’s Secret, Tameka is no longer in sight. Hopefully she’ll stay gone long enough for me to speak with Brooke. The last thing I want is that girl to witness my epic fail, which is probably what’s going to happen.

The moment I get close to her, she freezes. Her posture becomes ridged. “I was beginning to wonder when you’d get the balls to come over.”

I turn leaning over the railing. “When did you know?”

“When we came out of the last store? Felt your eyes on me. Plus, Tameka is pretty good at noticing when someone is following her. She didn’t know it was you. Probably wouldn’t have left otherwise.” Brooke turns, I see her out of the corner of my eye. Turning my head, I face her completely. When I look at her eyes, she’s different. She’s not the girl from last night that was confident in facing me. The spark that I recognize remains but it’s buried very deep in her eyes. Those same brown eyes that have haunted me in my dreams are colored my dark circles underneath. We’re both quiet as we look at each other, noticing the differences almost four years makes.

She shakes her head, turning her gaze away. “Why Ashford? After all this damn time, after everything...” she trails off, shaking her head harder. I notice the small pebble gather at the corner of her eye. Reaching out, I attempt to wipe it away, but she beats me to it. She hits at my hand, quickly wiping her face. “Just go away, Ashford. Leave me alone. You’ve done enough.” She moves so fast, trying to get away, but unlike in the past, I’m not willing to let her go so easily. She moves quickly, passing the Victoria’s Secret, and ducks into another store. Without checking the name, I head inside and almost wish I hadn’t. If Brooke was uncomfortable in a lingerie store, I can only imagine how she would feel in a store like this.

The entire back wall is filled with different sex items yet the other wall is filled with novelty T-Shirts. Brooke has obviously chosen either the best or worst hiding place in the world. I sigh as I walk through the dimly lit store searching the racks. I’m about to give up searching and find Tameka instead, when I hear a voice I wish I hadn’t.

“Well, well, look what the rat dragged in.” I search frantically around the store until I find her. Alisha Carter. She has a name tag pinned to her shirt, but she looks even worst than Brooke’s appearance. Alisha has added so much makeup to her face she looks worst than plastic surgery gone wrong. She snickers toward annoyed Brooke hiding behind a rack. “You finally understand where you belong. Nothing more than a piece of merchandise waiting for the next bidder.” I watch as Alisha rolls her eyes, reaching for Brooke’s hand between her manicured fingers. “After all these years, I still don’t know what he sees in you. You’re horribly pathetic. Your clothes are cheap, even your hair is as dull as your personality.”

Brooke glares strongly at Alisha, but laughs in her face. I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing before me. The thing that I do notice that I never had before is how Alisha makes other people small to make herself feel bigger. I know from personal experience about Alisha’s insecurities. She talks about Brooke’s appearance, but Alisha, herself, second guesses her appearance on a daily bases. I remember that very well and it was the reason she tries so hard when getting ready to go out. It bothers me, however, that Brooke not once denies her claims, tries to speak up. Despite how fair away I may be, I can see how much Alisha’s words have hurt Brooke.

Before she can inflict anymore damage on Brooke, I approach, grabbing Alisha’s wrist. She freezes, looks back at me, her eyes wide. Looking at Brooke, I nod my head toward the door. She looks between Alisha and I for only a second before speeding out of the store. Alisha huffs, rolling her dark, cold eyes. I release her arm watching as she rubs at the spot more annoyed that hurt.

“Somethings will never change,” Alisha mutters under her breath before pushing her dark hair over her shoulder. “What brings you here, Ashford?”

I roll my eyes at her, that fake sweet voice. At one time I fell for that charade, but not anymore. “Cut the shit, Alisha. Why are you still bothering her? Haven’t you caused enough damage.”

Alisha laughs, tapping her nail against her chin. “That’s right blame it all on me. I’m sure that’s how Brooke sees it all.”

I sigh, shaking my head. “Alisha, why don’t you grow up a little? You’ll never get out of this town if you keep acting like the high school queen bee you obviously aren’t anymore. You want to talk down Brooke all you want, but take a look in the mirror. Your life hasn’t panned out the way you wanted so stop trying to make everyone else feels as bad as you do.” She glares at me without a saying a word. Her dark eyes used to slice me in two because I cared so much what she thought of me. Not anymore.

“Oh, and another thing,” I say, stepping into her personal space again. “Leave Brooke alone, or a few things from our past will get out, that you don’t want.” I step back, brushing myself off. She looks surprised and I can see her trying to shuffle around in that skull of hers what kind of dirt I have on her. “Also,” I continue, smirk turning into a smile. “Get off your high horse and give Nathan a shot. That boy has been following your coat tails since high school.” She glares at me this time, but I can see the sparkle in her eye. It’s different from what I’ve always seen in Brooke. I knew the moment I said Nathan’s name what she felt for him. “Nathan isn’t me, Alisha. Give him a chance, he might surprise you.” I pat her shoulder before turning around. “Just remember what I said about Brooke!” I wave my hand behind my head as I walk away.

I find Brooke with Tameka shaking her head trying to explain to the girl what happened. They both go quiet as I approach. “Are you alright?” I ask toward Brooke.

Tameka looks between us both before stepping away. She shares a look with Brooke before sighing. “I’m going to give you guys a minute. I’ll just be over there.” Tameka points toward a dark green bench before moving toward it. A Victoria’s Secret bag has joined the music store bag.

“Brooke?” I ask, looking back at her after following Tameka with my eyes.

She sighs, folds her arms over her chest. Her gaze is on her shoes, kicking at the floor. “Thanks for sticking up for me in there. You didn’t have to.”

“She shouldn’t treat you like that.”

Brooke scoffs, meeting my eyes once more. “She wouldn’t if you hadn’t let her off the leash three and a half years ago. You refused to see how she was back then. Not much as changed, she’s just more cruel.” Brooke shakes her head, disbelief in her eyes. “You honestly haven’t changed at all, Ashford. You couldn’t own up to your mistakes back then and you can’t now. It’s disheartening really.”

She looks over at Tameka who’s obviously texting on her phone at the bench. “I guess it was nice seeing you again, Ashford, but I’m not making a habit out of this. Let what happened in the past, stay in the past. Goodbye.”

She leaves toward Temeka before I can stop her. As they walk together, disappearing around the corner, I realize getting Brooke to forgive me is going to be much harder than I thought. My eyes drift from the corner back toward the store, where I see Alisha walking behind the counter. As I watch her, an idea forms in my mind. The only way for Brooke to know I’m serious is correct every wrong I did to her. That even means that Penelope Rider is going to get an uncomfortable visit from Ashford Rocks.

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