The smell of roast beef hits Ash as soon as he walks through the front door. Tossing his bag onto the floor, he heads up the stairs towards the kitchen.
“Hey, Mom.” At the stove, he grabs a piece of potato from the tray. Popping it into his mouth before his mother can slap it out of his hand. “Hot, hot. Jesus Christ.” He frantically waves his hands in front of his mouth.
“See what happens when you act like a piss ant.” Without sympathy, she hands him a stack of plates and jerks her head towards the table.
“Gee thanks.” He laughs and begins to set the table. Before long, the entire family is sitting around the table watching Penelope piling her plate with food.
“P, dude?” Ash’s eyebrows rise inquisitively.
“What?” She mutters around a mouthful of roast beef and gravy.
“That’s like half a cow.”
“Ash!” Their father scolds.
“Sorry, Dad. What I mean is jeepers, sister dear, you’re appetite sure is hearty these days.” He makes a golly-gee movement with his arm.
“When exactly did you become such a smart-ass?” Their father shakes his head.
“First, Mom calls me a piss ant. Then, Dad calls me a smart-ass. Aren’t you supposed to be the problem child?” He turns to his sister.
“”I’m an angel.” Grinning, Penelope grabs another spoonful of potatoes from the dish on the table.
“A hungry angel.” Her mother remarks from across the table. “Have you eaten today?”
“I’ve increased my runs by almost 5 km. I’m just hungry.” Shrugging, Penelope crunches a piece of broccoli between her teeth. “You have plans for tonight, Ash?”
“Emmette thinks I’m in a funk because of Brooke. So, he’s making me do something with the guys.”
“You have been extremely cranky this week.”
“What’s going on between you and Brooke?”
“Are you serious, Dad?” Penelope’s eyes widening in surprise. “They broke up.”
“Really? I didn’t know.”
“That’s because you never ask me anything about Brooke.” Crossing his arms over his chest, Ash stares down his father. “Why is that, Dad? Why don’t you ever want to know anything about my girlfriend?”
“Ash.” Penelope whispers, pushing her foot against his leg.
“Stop it, P. I want Dad to tell me why he doesn’t take any interest in my personal life.”
“You’re a teenager, Ash. Aren’t you supposed to want me to stay out of it?” Mr. Chisholm shifts in his chair, turning his gaze away from his son.
“Aren’t you supposed to be prying? Telling me about sex, and protection, and stuff? You cared when I dated other girls, so the problem is clearly Brooke. Why is that, Pops?”
“Ash. Leave it alone.” His mother’s voice is soft and she stares at her plate. Clearly upset. Ash slowly realizes that he was probably the only one who hadn’t known what was going on between his father and his girlfriend’s mother.
“I am so sick of this.” Ash pushes himself away from the table, glaring at his mother. “You’re just as bad as he is. I’ll be in my room until Emmette picks me up.” He storms away from the table. At the bottom of the stairs, he flips his bag up into his hand with his foot. Once in his room, he twists the knob on the door into the locked position. A quick push of a button and music blares from the wall mounted speakers, drowning out his thoughts.
Riffling through his bag, he fishes his pencil case out from among the textbooks and binders. He rolls the long thin cylinder of paper from the hidden pocket into his palm. After pushing the window open, he flops into the desk chair beneath it, propping his feet up on the desk. He presses the button on his lighter. The butane flame burns blue, warmth spreading across his face as he brings the flame to the end of the paper. Smoke coats his lungs on a deep inhale. Holding it in for a few seconds before exhaling into a cough.
Rolling his neck, his eyes close as he sinks into the chair. A few more inhales and he tamps out the joint, tucking it into a tin on the desk. He lets the feeling of disorientation settle over his body. The offbeat sound of a local band the only thing he hears. Concentrating on the motion of inhaling and exhaling. He jumps as his pocket begins to vibrate. He fumbles to fish out the phone.
“Sullie.” He sighs into the phone. His voice smooth. His eyes closing again.
“You are such a stoner.”
“You’re not wrong.”
“Get your ass into the backyard. We’re going for a walk.” She chuckles.
“I’m supposed to do something with Emmette in a couple hours.”
“Yes… a couple hours.”
“And right now I’m stoned.”
“And I have chocolate.”
“That you made?”
“Seconds.” Hanging up, Ash pushes himself out of his chair, shoving his feet into a pair of slippers before leaving his room. Penelope looks up from the elliptical machine in the corner of the family room.
“Where are you going?”
“For a walk.”
“In your uniform?”
“What?” Ash looks down, and sees he’s still wearing the white shirt and slacks required for school. Shrugging, he pushes through the door. The cool evening air hits his face, clearing his mind for just a second. Sitting on the low brick wall between their properties, Sullivan swings a bag of cookies from her fingers. Her black and white stockings seeming to glow as she jumps down into the pool of light formed by the gas lamp in the yard.
Without a word, she tosses him the bag and they head towards the grassy hill behind their houses. Normally, they stick to the paths, but when they want to be totally alone, when things seem particularly out of control, they venture down the steep grassy hill to the edge of the river. The evening dew makes the green grass slick beneath the hard soles of inappropriate shoes. Slipping along the grass, Ash feels himself falling.
“Shit.” He reaches out, instinctually grabbing for something to stop his fall. His fingers wrap around the soft flesh of Sullivan’s arm, pulling her down with him. They hit the grass hard. He feels the dampness instantly soak through the cotton of his dress pants. Grass stains dig themselves into his white shirt. A weight slams into his chest, knocking the air from his lungs.
“Ash!” Sullivan squeals, twisting her body to allow his to break her fall.
“Christ! Damn, you are heavy for a little girl.” He laughs from beneath her.
“Asshole.” She beats her fists against his chest. He grabs her wrists easily. Pulling her arms away, Sullie tries to sit up and slides again. Falling back into him, her face stops close his. Everything seems to stop. Frozen in a moment of awkward attraction. Ash reaches forward, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. His fingers lingering against her skin. Hot breath forms dew against skin. They sit, for what seems like hours, waiting. Ash, suddenly, sees this girl, his friend, his confident, as something else. Confusion rips through him. His eyes shift away from her ever so slightly, trying to figure out where these emotions are coming from, but it’s enough. The moment is gone. Sullivan pushes herself off him, rolls onto her back, and tucks her hands under her head.
“It’s pretty out here.” She chooses the easiest possible distraction.
“The grass is wet.” Now that they’re trying not to concentrate on each other, all he feels is the dampness seeping through his clothes.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.” Sullivan’s shakes her head and rolls onto her stomach. “Hand me a cookie.”
“Oh yeah, cookies!” Sitting up, Ash searches for the bag in the grass and pulls out the only cookie to survive the fall whole. He takes a bite and hands her the bag.
“Did you take the only whole cookie?” She looks at the bits and pieces filling the plastic.
“Sure did.” He smiles down at her.
“You’re a prince.”
“This will keep you from getting crumbs all over yourself when you bite into a cookie. I was being helpful. Taking the fall here by eating the crumbly one.”
“Uh huh.” She rolls her eyes, pulls out one of the larger pieces, and pushes herself into a sitting position “How are things?”
“You’re stoned at six o’clock.”
“And clearly things aren’t fine.”
“I had a fight with my dad.”
“Oh.” She can’t think of anything else to say. Suddenly discussing Brooke seems awkward.
“Yeah.” He fidgets with the cuffs of his shirt. “Did you know that my dad’s affair was with Brooke’s mom?”
“No way!” Sullie turns to face him, crossing her striped legs beneath her. “Says who?”
“Penelope. She says everyone knew but me.”
“And me, so she’s probably just being paranoid. If I had known, I would have told you. So would Emmette. Or Frasier. Or any of the guys.”
“That’s what I thought.” Pulling up pieces of grass, his jawbone twitches in annoyance. “She also said that Brooke cheated on me repeatedly last year.”
“Well yeah, that part is definitely true.”
“You didn’t?” Sullivan asks, actually surprise.
“Of course, I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have stayed with her. You of all people should know that.”
“You tended to get a little… let’s say sensitive, whenever anyone criticized Brooke. So I never mentioned it. I can’t believe Penelope didn’t tell you about your dad though. That no one told you. Did Brooke know?”
Shrugging, Ash continues to pick at the grass. Not wanting to show her how upset he really is. Just as he was starting to settle his feelings about his mother and father, this happens. And now he needs to know. He pulls his cell phone from his pocket.
“Ash…” Sullivan reaches forward. He turns away from her before she can take the phone.
“I need to know.” He hits the speed dial he hasn’t gotten around to changing yet.
“Ash?” Brooke’s voice travels through the earpiece. “I’m so glad you called.”
“Did you know about our parents?” He doesn’t bother with niceties.
“What?” Brooke replies, clearly taken aback, “Our parents?”
“Oh, you mean my mom and your dad?”
“The affair?” Her voice relaxes. “Of course I knew.”
“What do you mean of course you knew?”
“He came here all the time. We used to have dinner together. My mom was wrecked when he stopped seeing her.”
“And you were just okay with them having an affair?” Ash’s anger is so strong, it doesn’t even allow his voice to rise.
“Well, my mom is single.”
“My dad wasn’t!”
“He was for a while.”
“And you just never thought to mention it to me?”
“I figured you knew. Since you never brought it up, I never brought it up. I thought it was some kind of unspoken agreement between us.”
“You thought I would keep dating you while my dad was fucking your mom?”
“I don’t really see what one has to do with the other.”
“I cannot believe I wasted years of my life on such a vapid, useless, waste of space. Breaking up with you is the best decision I’ve ever made.” He hangs up, takes a deep breath and drops his head into his hands. “What the hell is happening to my life, Sullie?”
“A shit storm?” Her hand reaches forward, touching his shoulder. Comforting. “Even though we both like to pretend it’s not true, we’re just teenagers, Ash. We do not have our shit together. Shit happens. And we’re devastated. And then we get over it. I’m just sorry you had to learn about everything in one giant poop sandwich.”
“Me too.” Looking at his watch, he pushes himself off the ground into a sitting position. “I want to shower before Emmette comes over.” He reaches a hand to help her to her feet. Their fingers linger against one another a little longer than normal. Annoyed by his inability to understand his feelings, Ash jams his hands as deep into his pockets as they will go. Silently, they walk back up the hill. In the backyard, Sullivan hands him the rest of the crushed up cookies.
“Maybe you can put them on ice cream or something.” She grins. “Take it from a girl who’s had her heart broken. Cookies are your friend.”
“I’ll try that out later.” Taking the bag, he smiles back at her. Before he knows it, he’s leaning towards her. Her hand winds behind his neck to bring her lips to his. The metal of her rings frigid against his skin. Heightening his senses. His hands run up her arms. And suddenly it’s over.
“I have to go.” Sullivan dashes across the yard. Ash watches her vault the low wall with ease. Then she’s gone. He’s alone. Standing in his yard. His clothes limp, wet, and grass stained. Holding a smashed bag of cookies in one hand. The taste of minty lip gloss lingering in his mouth. Sighing, he heads towards his house to shower away a very perplexing evening.