Moriah Gill, a friend of a friend’s daughter, asked if I would meet with her to discuss what I do. She’s a writer, who hasn’t written in a while and wanted to start writing regularly, maybe even publish a book. Sure, no problem of course I would.
We met and discussed stories, books, movies, music, and a whole bunch of other stuff. She is funny and smart, and I like her. Plus, she’s the same age as my oldest kid, and I’m always on the look out for potential daughter-in-laws, lol.
She’s rewriting and finishing a story she started back in high school, I think. She writes a chapter a week or every other week, as she holding down a full time job, and a boyfriend. She emails me her chapter the night before we are scheduled to meet at one of my favorite coffee shops, Kick Butt Coffee.
I enjoy working with Moriah and I like her story so far. We just finished discussing Chapter 7. It’s a story about a girl and a boy, no surprise there, and mental illness.
Moriah has given me permission to share Chapter 1 with you, so I am. Sharing. Here is chapter one of Moriah’s untitled story.
A minor chord.
B flat chord.
The first three chords of my favorite song by one of my favorite bands, Mixxed Chemicals, blares from my speakers. As the music starts, I strum my well-loved seafoam stratocaster and bob my head to the rhythm as my fingers slide along the strings; my feet keeping the rhythm. In my head I count down the measures to the bridge of the song, determined to get it right this time. Coincidentally, that’s my favorite part of the song. Suddenly, the music stops and I’m left strumming alone. Turning around towards the door, I see my mother in my doorway, hand on the volume knob. I lay my guitar across my lap, and face her completely, still seated on my bed.
“Hey, Mom,” I say, at least thankful I didn’t have to hear myself butcher the next two measures.
“I am not a peer you ‘hey’, Ashlynn. Greet me with some respect.” She cocks an eyebrow and brushes her long brown hair off of her shoulders as she waits. I briefly close my eyes and roll them so she doesn’t see. I don’t need that lecture. I try again, more to her liking this time,
“Hello, mom.” I try my hardest to sound polite and respectful. “What’s up?”
“Hi,” my mother sing-songs. “I can tell you were really rockin’ out in here.” She emphasizes rocking out as though it was the world’s most shameful activity. And maybe a disease. “But, it was a way too loud. Maybe try learning something with a bit more flavor, you know, something soulful. Not all this rocker stuff. You act like you tryin’ to be a white kid. I know the Lord is testing me. Rock and roll is the Devil’s playground.”
Avoiding eye contact, I nod and ignore the few tears that spring. Years of hearing the same comments had taught me there was nothing I could say that my mother would take as a reasonable answer. For a moment she was quiet.
“Anyway.” My mother continued, snapping out of her holy revelry. “Mason just called. He wants you to come over. Don’t stay too long, Ashlynn. And don’t be up in his room.”
“Sweet!” I’m putting my guitar back on the stand the second she says his name. I hear my mom mutter under her breath as the leaves my room; though it’s nothing decipherable.
“I love you, too.” I say; doubting she hears me.
I grab my messenger bag and sling it over my shoulder. I take a quick glance in the mirror. I see my brown skin, black boxy glasses, black/brown chin length pixie bob-cut, and skinny profile. For some reason, to my mother all of these things are a contradiction; things that shouldn’t go together. I try patting my hair down, to take away some of the edge and it just looks flat- and feels boring. I shake my head shortly and let the hair tousle as it will. I shrug to my reflection and turn my light off on the way out. As I gallop down the stairs from my attic-sized room, my mom yells at me to be home before it gets dark and to keep my phone on. While in motion I grab my cell and make sure the volume is on and wave it in her direction.
A stuffy, yet humid breeze attempts to rustle the fall leaves as I walk down the pathway from my front door onto the sidewalk and up the driveway parallel to mine. I blow down the inside of my black t-shirt in attempts to keep the Texas heat from sticking to me. Wiping a small bead of sweat off of my back, I feel grateful to live so close to Mason. Then again, I always feel supremely lucky that I get to live next door to my best friend. It’s every teenager’s dream. Our bedrooms are even facing each other, so we can see each other’s rooms. We got more of a kick out of it when we were youngers, but it’s still pretty cool. And I never have to worry about getting a ride or not having enough time to hang out. Our setup is perfect. Mason always says we paid major shizz in our past lives to have karma this good. When I get to Mason’s house I cut across the grass and ring the doorbell. I do an impatient hop-dance from one foot to the other while I wait. Seconds before my finger touches the doorbell a second time, Mason swings the door open.
“Hey.” He says.
“Hey, yourself,” I reach my arm out to poke his arm and the cross my arms across my body. I pause for a beat, “You wanna take a walk with me? I know we were supposed to finish that thing its just-”
Upon seeing my face Mason frowns, “Yeah, sure. Everything okay, Ash?”
“Nothing isn’t okay, per se,” I follow him down the walkway. “it’s just that before you called I was practicing. And then my mom came in and was doing her usual things. Saying all the shit that she says. Like, giving me shit for what I like and stuff.”
“Ah, typical mother-monster stuff. Why doesn’t she ever take a break? Damn.”
I nod. “Yeah. I’m just like, what the hell? What did I do? I can’t help what I like, it’s just part of me. I can’t help who I am.” Sighing, I join Mason on the sidewalk. His sky blue eyes look at me with kindness and they tell me he sympathizes with me. Of course this isn’t the first time I complained about my mother to him. It’s kinda getting to the point where if it were a relationship that you both know is going nowhere so you tell your friend to just end it, but I can’t really do that in my situation. So he just listens. For a few moments we walk in silence.
“Do you think I’m weird? Or like too different?” I let my voice get quiet as I let the question float in the air.
“Define weird,” Mason says with a twinkle in his eyes so I know he is about to say something to make me laugh. I feel a smile play on my lips, but I tell myself not to laugh at whatever he says just to spite him. “Cuz I’m pretty sure you do weird shit all the time. Like you count stairs. I know nobody does that. Hhmm, let’s see you’re determined to wear leather all year round so you keep your leather jacket in the car in case you ever need it. Sometimes you think noises can substitute for words, which they still can’t! And then there’s the fact that- hey!!” Mason yells and laughs as I push my shoulder into his and knock him off the sidewalk and into the empty street. “What was that for?” he feigns innocence.
“You know what that’s for. It’s for not being helpful!” I say playfully blocking him from stepping back onto the sidewalk.
“Whatever. You know I’m helpful! And don’t think I didn’t see you laugh!”
“DAMMIT!” I yell dramatically, laughing. “I was determined not to laugh.” We turn a corner and walk in a single file line on the stepping stones that lead to our neighborhood park.
“But of course you laughed,” Mason starts, “I’m hularious!” He pronounces it with a ‘huh’ in the beginning because he knows I can’t stand it. I laugh again and shake my head.
“Anyway, to answer your question” Mason waits until I am seated on the swing next to him and fully facing him before he says, “hell yeah, you’re weird girl!” Mason exclaims.
“You. Are. The. Worst. Person. Ever.” I say to Mason mad-amused and punctuate every word with a handful of rubber woodchips. Mason pretends to cower on the swing, laughing hysterically at himself.
“Okay, okay, I’m done. Come back,” he pats the now empty swing that still sways slightly from having held my weight. I eye him suspiciously. He holds his hands up in surrender “I’m done being silly. For real, come here.” He holds out his hand. I return to my swing silently.
For a few seconds neither of us say anything, we watch the sun pinken as it glides towards the horizon.
“You are awesome, Ashlynn. You’re the coolest person I know, okay? Are you a little weird sometimes, sure. But, isn’t everyone? The real question isn’t what other people think of you. What matters most is what you think of yourself.” Mason replies like he does every time, in that ever-patient tone. “Never let other people define you, Ash. It makes you less special.” I smile at Mason’s advice. That’s one of the reasons I love having him as a best friend.
Mason moves from the swing beside me to in front of my swing. “Never change who you are. For anyone. Ever. Okay?” he says seriously. He moves my hair from my eyes and puts it behind my ear, where it normally doesn’t stay. This time it does. “You know, one day, you’re gonna have to rely on yourself to realize how much you’re worth. You’re amazing.” Mason smiles at me. I start to say something but Mason stops me. I stare into his eyes and realize that he is serious. I see something behind the familiar blue of his eyes. I don’t know what it is but I want to. Before I can ask him about it he says, “Come on.” Mason takes my hands and helps me rise from the swing. As we walk he says, “Do you know what really really matters?” I can already hear the joke in his voice so I smile.
“What really matters, Mason?” I prepare for another goofy comment. He surprises me.
“My opinion. And I think you are super-cool.” he makes a silly face and I smile. Once again he’s made my day.
Back at Mason’s house, we watch TV in the living room. The floor plan of his house is pretty much a mirror reflection of mine, and feels extremely similar. Every now and then I forget who’s house I’m in. During a commercial break Lynn, Mason’s mother, enters through the back door and walks into the kitchen. She kicks her heels off and drops her oversized designer bag on the counter.
“Hey, Lynn” I say, turning around on the couch to face her.
“Hey, sweetie. What are you guys up to?” She reaches into the fridge and grabs a peach flavored carbonated water.
“Oh, you know. Riveting reality television.”
“I’ll bet,” she says with a wink. “You guys ready for tomorrow?” In response, Mason shrugs, and I shake my head.
“Never. Is anyone ever really ready for Tuesday?” I pose the question. “It’s like a joke of a Wednesday. You think you’re halfway there, but not really. I know it just started, but I think I’m already over this year. Teachers and counselors are going to start asking what kind of plans we have for college. I’m so not ready for that. It just feels like too much pressure.” As I talk Mason stands and stretches.
“You think too much.” He says, playfully tossing a couch pillow at my face before he strides to the kitchen. Mason hugs Lynn. “How was your day, mom?” he asks. They chat shortly, and I pick at my sweater and halfheartedly listen. Ever since Mason’s dad passed and his older brother Josh moved, Mason and his mom have been a two- person family. They take care of each other well.
“It’s so good to see you, Ashlynn,” she says as she reaches to give me a hug. I politely manage to dodge a mouthful of her long, wavy blond hair
“Hey, Lynn. It’s great to see you, too.” I say with a wide smile. Lynn leaves us upon the premise of changing. In her absence, Mason sits on the counter.
“This year’s gonna be fine. We’re already like two months in. It’s just gonna be more of the same. You know?”
“I don’t know. I possess the talent of practicality. You don’t. Then again, you kinda don’t have to. You already know what you want to do when you graduate. I don’t.”
“You’ll find out what your calling is when you need to. It’ll probably just come to you.” He shrugs and hands me the bag of carrots over the counter. “That’s how most good things happen to people. They always state they weren’t looking for it.” He concluded before noisily biting into a carrot.
I peruse the freezer and decide on strawberry ice cream. I scoop too much into a bowl and eat it on the counter across from Mason, my legs crossed.
“You know what, I think I want some ice cream. Share?” Mason stands again and moves to open the drawer and grabs a spoon; abandoning the bag of carrots on the island.
“Jeez, Dude. Get your own! Nobody told you to get carrots! Mehh” I explain trying to push him away but putting my palm in his face. You eat like…. a cow! Always grazing!”
“From what I can tell you keep up pretty well yourself, Ms. Aurora”, he jokes.
“Hey mom,” Seeing Lynn breezing towards the kitchen I let his quip slide without a complimentary kidney punch.
“Headed to yoga, guys. Will you be okay by yourselves?” she asks like she does every Monday.
“Sure,” Mason says. “Okay. Sweet, see you in an hour. Text me what you want for dinner and I’ll pick it up, okay?” She says giving me a hug.
She kisses Mason on his head like he’s still six years old. “Love you, guys.”
“Bye, Mom.” Mason says leaning on the counter next to me.
“I love your mom. She’s so funny.” I tell Mason as he spoons strawberry ice cream from my bowl into his face.
“I think she’s overworking herself. But she loves you, too.” he says. I sigh.
“Why is she so cool? Like, seriously, why isn’t my mom half as cool? Maybe our moms should have dinner and some of her coolness can rub off on mine…. shit, and she’s in great shape.” I laugh as I imagine them having a nice little lunch together. Hmmm…
We eat our ice cream is silence and for a moment my thoughts drift off again as I watch celebrities fighting on mute. As I zone out, I notice Mason is staring suspiciously into the bowl.
“Whatchya thinkin, thinker?” I ask.
“Not much.” He says, snapping back into the moment. I lick the back of my spoon.
“Not with how hard you were just staring into this hella empty bowl! Tell me one and I’ll tell you one,” I offer laughing.
“Okay, you first.” He says, turning his blue eyes on me.
“I was watching them fighting and making my own dialogue. It was great. you should have been there.” I motion towards the TV with my chin.
“Alright. Well, I was …. thinking about learning to play pool.” he nods with contentment. I shake my head and laugh.
“That’s so random. And I don’t believe it.” I say.
Mason shrugs. “So, it was my thought.”
“I call bullshit.”
“Call it what you want. That’s all there was.” Mason takes the bowl and our spoons and puts them in the sink. For a moment he leans with his back against the sink, his eyes examining me.
“What?” I eye him suspiciously in return.
He shakes his, “Nothin.” I can tell he’s thinking hard about something. Moreover, his face flushes quickly and he turns back around and rinses the dishes.
“Your face is red.” I tell him, teasing.
“It’s probably from the strawberries” Mason says with a sarcastic grin. I laugh and walk back to the couch.
I make it home right as it’s starting to get dark. Before I even make it into the house, I hear is my little sister yakking away at my mother’s eardrums.
“Mommy, can I have a cookie, pleeeeeeasssssseeeeee?” she begs. “Please, please pleaaaaaaassssssssse!!!??” She changes her voice so it goes up and down in the most annoying way. I know she’s trying to wear my mom’s patience down so she will give her a yes. I walk into the kitchen and size up the situation. My mom’s back is turned towards the stove, making dinner and my little sister is sitting at the bar, five feet away from her asking to snack before dinner. My mom guards the sweets and cookies fiercely. She’s passionate about eating good foods and not too many sugars. Naturally, that doesn’t work with the sweet tooth of a fourteen year old.
Jackie, my little sister tries again, “I promise to eat all my dinner…” I smile at her. She nods her head towards the pantry, where the sweets are. I nod in agreeance before I mosey over to the sink to wash my hands.
“What’s for dinner mom?”
“Spaghetti and caesar salad”
“Mmhh, sounds good,” I say while tearing two paper towels for my hands.
“Please?” Jackie asks again. I sneak into the pantry to “throw away my paper towels and grab three — four chocolate chip cookies from the plastic Tupperware my mom stores them in. I do so silently and exit the pantry in record time. My sister raises her eyebrows? I nod. I slide two cookies into my messenger bag and slide the other two into Jackie’s lap. She smiles at me with her face full of freckles and I can’t help but smile back.
“Lemme know when it’s time for dinner, guys,” I say leaving the kitchen area and starting up the stairs to my room taking two stairs at a time.
“Dinner is in an hour, Ashlynn. And be sure to come down here early so you can set the table.” My mother yell after me.
“Yes ma’am,” I acknowledge as I walk and munch on my last cookie.
I take a left at the top of the stairs to my attic room and close my door. My bedroom isn’t actually an attic, but it resembles one because of how it is sort of small it is. And there is only one window. It’s triangular and is attached to a perfect little windows seat, which is the best spot in the room. I nestle into my favorite spot on the far right side of the window and rummage around a few hoodies and socks to find my music journal. I do a quick re-read before I start a new set of lyrics. I am still writing, though almost at a stopping point when my mom calls and tells me it’s time for dinner. Reluctantly, I join her and Jackie on the couch, in front of the TV for dinner. I’m thankful this is one of the nights we watch our shows during dinner. Between still harboring a few feelings towards my mom from earlier and thinking through lyrics in my mind, I don’t really feel I have the capacity to do the whole “My day, your day”, too. I eat swiftly, thank my mother for dinner, put my plate in the sink and dash back upstairs to my haven. It’s Jackie’s night to do the dishes so I get lucky.
Writing is going slowly. Nevertheless, I startle and scribble messily across my page when my phone starts buzzing somewhere on my bed. I find my phone under the clothes I was wearing earlier, that I ditched before my shower. I knock them onto the floor, but into a neat pile as I answer the call and then recline on the bed.
“Hey,” Replies Mason’s voice. I hear clicking in the background. “What are you still doing up?”
“Oh, I’m just writing a bit. Wait, still doing up? What’s that mean?”
Mason laughs shortly. “You realize it’s like 2 o’clock, right?”
“Wait. Really?” I look at the time on my phone screen. Shit. “Shit. Oh well. I haven’t been able to sleep much lately anyway. At least this way I’m getting something productive done, right?” I hear Mason snort a laugh on the other end of the phone.
“Something like that.” More clicking, less talking.
“So what’s up? That why you called?”
“Yeah, that’s why I called,” he says sounding distracted. “because its two.”
“So let me get this straight. You look at the clock and say, ‘oh, look it’s two a.m. What a perfect time to call Ashlynn.’” I say sarcastically.
“No. your light was on, you goof. It’s been on around this time for like…. the last two nights. I just got a little …. concerned.” he says quietly. I pause, not knowing anyone knew. I smile a little, grateful he’s always watching out for me.
I reply, sans the stark and sarcasm, “Yeah, just insomnia.” I reiterate and a little yawn escapes from me.
“I’m sorry. Is there anything that I can do to help?” he offers.
“No thanks. I think I’ll be fine. Thanks, though. Thank you for thinking of me…at two in the morning.” I close my eyes and smile.
“So why are you still up?”
“Don’t act like you don’t remember the new Halo just came out, girl.” He says playfully. I did already know. The controller clicking gave it away.
With my mind disengaged from focusing I can feel just how tired I am. I get up to turn off the light, leaving on only my bedside lamp on. I walk over to the window that overlooks a tiny portion of the street, but mostly Mason’s driveway. Mason’s blinds are open and I can see Mason in his room. If we hadn’t been best friends since the beginning of middle school this would feel super stalker-y. Mason is shirtless, but wearing the same skinny black jeans from earlier. His lengthy, lean form leans against the wall with one foot supporting him; his back to his closet. With both hands jostling the controllers, his chin and shoulder scrunch up to hold the phone.
“Dude,” I say.
“Your hair looks like shit. It’s like…all over the place.” I chuckle. Mason and I have a running joke about the unfortunate botched haircut he received at the beginning of the summer. Well, I have a running joke. He let his older brother talk him into going to a new place instead of doing it himself like he usually does. They gave him weird layers…it was pretty bad. Granted, it’s halfway through October and his haircut has grown out nicely. Now it just looks kinda rugged, and with his light scruff it looks pretty nice.
“A disgrace to dirty blondes everywhere” he says dramatically with an eye roll. He acknowledges me with a head nod and flicks me off with the controller still in his hands. We both laugh.
“Whatever. I think I’m going to try to sleep. Bye.” I hang up. Mason waves to me and I wave back before closing my blinds. I crawl into bed and sleep with the lights on.