Chapter 5

Chapter 5

A Chapter by K Renee

“Did you have a good Christmas?” I ask, and once again there’s that sound of running water but no fountain in sight. 

“I did, thank you for asking,” Jordan replies. “I know you and your mom don’t celebrate any holidays but I still hope you had a good day. Did you visit your dad? Does he celebrate the holidays?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t see him or anything but he wrote me a letter and sent some money. I bought some candy at the vending machine with it.” 

“Did you eat it?” 

“Yeah. I shared it with Q then we played video games. It was a lot of fun.” 

“That’s good, Ashley. I’m glad you had fun. What did the letter say? How did it make you feel?” 

“Same thing he always says. Sorry he wasn’t around. Sorry he works so much. That he’s glad to be a family.”

“You don’t seem to be happy about the family part. Do you not see him as your family?” 

I pull my knees to my chest and think about it while Jordan starts typing away on her laptop. This is what she calls my comfort stance and she makes notes of whenever I do it. I didn’t notice it was a thing until she pointed it out, but now I think knowing about it helps me come to terms with my feelings, even when I’m unsure of them. So I answer truthfully: “No, I don’t. My mom is my family. Q and his grandma are my family. Even Miss Cohen and the others on the 5th floor are my family now. But no, not my dad. I don’t feel anything towards him, honestly. I don’t hate him and I’m not mad. I just...don’t feel anything. Like he’s still not a part of my life.”

More typing. “They say a woman becomes a mother when she finds out she’s pregnant, but a man doesn’t become a father until he first holds his child. You never got to have that special bonding moment with your father so any feelings, or lack thereof, that you have towards him are completely understandable. So many strangers have come into your life in these few months, but he seems to be the only one not making much of an effort to become part of your actual everyday life. 

“Now, you were saying before that being on the 5th floor made you nervous, and gave you flashbacks to Praxton Hills. Do you still have those feelings?” 

“Sometimes, but when I do I remember what you always say. Focus on the now, not the past. Or even the future. Observe, describe, participate. Where I am, who I’m with, what I see, what I hear, and what I feel. It, you know, brings me back to reality. Praxton Hills can’t hurt me anymore.” 

She smiles. It always makes her happy to know that I’ve used her techniques. It’s almost like her job is to help people or something. “That’s good. I’m happy to hear that.”

“I’ve been trying to teach my mom that same technique for when she’s having some of her moments, but she doesn’t always like to listen when she gets like that.” 

“How is your mom?”

“She’s good. I think she’s getting better since I’ve been out of the house more. I go to Oakland Lofts a lot just to hang out with Q and the others.” 

Jordan types some more and we’re both silent for a moment. She taps her fingers together as she chooses her words carefully. Great, here we go again. “Your mom calls before our sessions and asks that we talk about the charges.” 

This isn’t a surprise. I know she does this and I try to dance around it every time. I know she blames herself, but I really wish she wouldn’t be so nosey about something that has nothing to do with her. I already do everything she asks; things that she says will help me. But sometimes her trying to help makes it worse. I just want all of it to go away. It’s not about the past or even the future. It’s about the present, so why do they keep trying to bring it up “She can hear all the details at the trial,” is all I say, and after I don’t want to talk anymore so I pull out the deck of cards and hand seven of them to Jordan. 

Our hour finishes and when I check my phone I have a few text messages. “You’re so strong and I love you,” says the message from my mom. 

“Thanks, I love you too,” I reply. “I’m going to Q’s. Be home later.” Next I have a message from Q asking if I’m still coming over after my appointment. “On my way now,” I reply.

Finally, I have a message from Bradley. “Are you still down to meet me at the bus stop tonight?” he asks. 

“Yeah, I’ll be there,” I reply, and head out. Oakland Lofts is farther from the clinic than Southbank is so I’ve started taking my bike. Walking is cool and all, but if I only did that I would never get anywhere on time. 

Inside the lobby Q is there in front of the mailboxes stuck into the wall. He’s sorting through letters and smiles when he sees me. “What’s up man?” he says. 

“Nothing much, anything good?” I say. 

He flashes me an envelope. “Only if you want to pay our electric bill.” 

I flip the pockets of my jeans inside out to reveal a whole heap of nothing. “It would be my pleasure,” I say and we both laugh. I check the box for 521 and there’s nothing inside but dust. “Franky never gets mail,” I say and we start walking to the elevators. 

“When I was a kid I always got so excited for mail ‘cause whenever I got a letter there was usually money in it from some relative I never met. Now, my grandma says the only good mail is no mail. It’s always bills or ads. Like this.” He flashes me a colorful brochure addressed to his grandma that’s covered in shining coffins. Put your loved ones to rest in style; it reads in bold red letters. 

“Holy s**t,” is all I can say. 

Q snickers. “I know. I mean, who gets off on reminding old ladies that they’re gonna die soon?” 

“Your grandma is doing really well for her age.” 

“Yeah, she really is. I’m happy for her.” 

We reach the 5th floor and the winter break chaos is going strong. Miss Cohen of 502 has her apartment door open and the kids run wild up and down the hall. Three of them run past us and would have crashed into our legs if we didn’t step out of the way. “Watch where you’re going!” Miss Cohen calls out. She’s sitting at her open door and pouring drinks into paper cups and handing out cookies to the younger kids. “Hey boys,” she says. She’s small with short brown hair in a ponytail and looks a lot younger than she really is.

“Hey Miss Cohen,” Q and I say together.

“How’s business?” asks Q.

Miss Cohen stretches out her arms and fans to the gaggle of children littering the halls. “Living the dream,” she says and almost sounds sarcastic, but that’s just how she is. I know she really is happy with her life. Q says that she and her husband tried to have a baby of their own for years but never could. Eventually they adopted their daughter, Julian, and after that started the daycare that has been rummaging through the halls of the 5th floor ever since. Things are just a little extra crazy now because of winter break. Everything will go back to normal once classes start again next week.

I see Julian inside in the living room playing video games on the couch with some of the older kids, mostly middle schoolers, and some of her friends who I don’t know very well but have come to recognize through the halls. She and her friends are seniors, and much nicer than the ones at Canyon View. 

Julian is really pretty with short black hair and mixed brown skin that's lighter than Q’s. She’s a little bit shorter than me and super talented. Q and I love it when we can hear her singing through the walls. She notices us and waves and we wave back before stepping out of the way of more running kids. 

Everyone on the 5th floor is really nice and part of it reminds me of when my mom and I moved into Praxton Hills. Marcus in 508 is Julian’s boyfriend and a freshman in college. He lives with his mom and younger sister and has plans to transfer to a university in a couple of years when he can take Julian with him. 

Next door is Mr. and Mrs. Leighly in 510. They’re older and retired like a lot of people in the apartments due to a senior discount but their two daughters come to visit all the time with their kids. They’re a really cute family and I’m happy for them. 

I’ve learned that the guy with the heavy boots is Mr. DaMarco in 216 and he seems nice but he’s really quiet and doesn’t leave his apartment much. He lives alone and owns an online clothing line and spends all day everyday fulfilling packages so when he hired extra help for the holidays we volunteered for some easy money. Except, it wasn’t that easy and it was hard to breathe because his apartment smells like smoke. He has a cat though so that was cute. 

“Do you guys wanna come in?” Julian calls out through the chaos. Q and I look at each other and both agree before going in. We shimmy past Miss Cohen at the door and step over so many toys I feel like I’m in a little kid’s greatest fantasy. If the daycares I went to growing up were this cool I probably wouldn’t have turned out the way that I did. These kids don’t even realize how lucky they are to have someone like Miss Cohen in their lives and that makes me happy for them. 

The others sit on the couch taking turns playing a racing game. Only four people can play at once while six people gather around. I guess Q and I now make eight. 

“What are you guys doing tonight?” asks Julian. 

“Crack,” I answer and Julian and Q laugh while the middle schoolers look at me with widened eyes. I kinda forgot they were there and now I feel bad. 

“Are you a boy or a girl?” one of them asks. 

“I’m a boy.” 

“Then why does your hair look like that?” 

“Because he’s cool,” answers Julian. “Maybe if you become cool one day you can have hair like that too.”

“Nuh uh!” he whines. “I am cool.” 

“Sorry bud, majority rules,” says Q and the middle schooler whines harder. 

“See ya later guys,” laughs Julian and we make our way out of the apartment before the bomb goes off.

We get into Q’s room and can still hear the whining of middle schoolers and pounding of footsteps up and down the halls. Kids laugh and yell and someone is crying about hide and seek not being fair when there aren’t many places to hide in a corridor. 

“Man, I can’t believe I’m actually looking forward to school starting again,” says Q. “I’m really excited for you to meet my friends. You’re going to love them.” 

“Yeah, I’m excited too.” 

Q reaches over and grabs an action figure from his nightstand. I recognize it from the pictures he’s shown me before it was released. I know he was really excited for it to come out. “Look what my grandma got me for Christmas,” he says. He hands it to me and I’m delicate with every touch. This thing was a limited edition so I know it wasn’t cheap. “I know I asked her for it but I really wasn’t expecting her to get it.”

“You mean Santa?” I ask and he laughs. 

“You’re right. I sat right on Santa’s lap and demanded he get me this figure. And he told me to get lost because my a*s was bony.” 

I laugh. “So that’s why your grandma had to get it for you instead.” 

“Yeah, I was a naughty boy. You know, be gay do crimes. What about you? What did you get for Christmas?”

“Oh, I’m not Christian.” 

“I mean, neither am I but good luck telling that to my Grandma.” He’s not wrong. I told Miss Quinn that she didn’t have to get me anything for the holidays but last time I saw her she sent me home with a whole goodie bag for my mom and me. 

“Your grandma buys you things just for getting up in the morning,” I say.

“Hey, getting up is hard. Do you know how lucky she is? I could be a crack addict or something.” 

“Wait, you mean you’re not?”

“No, I just look like this.” I laugh and Q laughs too.

I’ve been coming here a lot the past few months, more than just every other weekend, and I’ve been coming over almost every day since winter break started. Q has gone over to my place a few times, but there’s not as much to do and I don’t think Carrie likes it because after I have him over she doesn’t show herself for weeks. I haven’t had him over since Jasper came back, and I don’t know how well that could go unless he stays hidden. I know the first time I saw a ghost confused was an understatement. Sometimes I feel like people are better off not knowing they exist. Death is something we all have to go through, so why add more mystery? 

Q’s computer is hooked to the TV and we had to do a few modifications for it to reach. We couldn’t get the Bluetooth to work when we were first setting it up so we took the TV from the dresser and put it on the shorter nightstand so the HDMI cable could reach. It was hard to do at first and now Q’s room is hard to navigate around but after today the game will be finished and we can put everything back and play something new. Usually we play on a console but sometimes even the wireless remotes cause trouble and we’re not sure why since they can work without being connected to the Internet. I guess that just comes with living in an old apartment. Sure it looks new, but the bones of Oakland aren’t. 

We finish the game and at the end Q and I are feeling all types of ways. I’m sad that it’s over but I know I had a lot of fun playing for hours with my friend.

Q leans back on his bed. “Man, that ending kinda sucked,” he says. “Like they have to do a sequel now, right?” 

I shrug. “It would be cool if they did but not everything gets a happy ending.” 

“Um, aren’t you Mr. Happy Ending?” 

“No, I’m Mr. Bright Side.” 

“What’s the difference?” 

“Looking on the bright side doesn’t mean everything is happy. It just means making the best of a bad situation. Like with this game. They lost some of their friends and that’s sad, but they still have each other. And being happy with those who survived is what those who died would have wanted.”

Q puts his hands behind his head. “I don’t know man. If I was Thomas, I’d be pretty pissed. He basically died for no reason then when they had the chance to bring someone back they chose Will, who was a tool throughout the entire game. I mean, if I were him I’d feel betrayed by my friends.” 

“See, I think that’s a sacrifice Thomas was willing to make. Like, bringing Will back saved his friends, and I think Thomas is the type of guy to think that a life without friends isn’t a life worth living.” 

“Yeah, I guess. But he still didn’t have to die. The writer just killed him off to piss off fans.”

“Yeah...yeah, you’re probably right. It seems like he didn’t know how to write an ending but I still like to support indie games.”

“Oh yeah, me too. Definitely.”  

The sun has gone down and the snow is really starting to fall. I love the snow and winter but I hate how early it gets dark. Looking out the window you would think it was well past midnight but instead it’s barely dinner time.

My phone goes off through my back pocket and the vibrations feel like a call but when I check it it’s just a bunch of text messages coming in all at once. I guess I lost signal for a while there. Going through my texts most of them are from my mom. “Working the night shift tonight...Are you there?...Where are you?...Did you get my texts?...Are you at Q’s?...Are you with your father?...Ashley answer me...You’re really worrying me pick up your phone.” 

“Your mom is a stage five clinger,” Q notes. 

“Yeah, she just gets worried,” I say, and it’s understandable considering everything we’ve been through. I give her a call and she answers on the first ring with a sigh of relief.

“Jesus Christ Ashley you worried me to death. I was about to walk out of work to go look for you.”

“Sorry Mom. I’m at Q’s and we’ve been having signal problems all day.” 

“Oh, good. I’m not going to be home for dinner tonight so you’re on your own.” 

“Yeah, I saw your texts.” 

“Alright just wanted to make sure you knew. I love you.”

“I love you too.” I hang up and put my phone back in my pocket. 

“You can have dinner here if you want,” Q suggests.

“I actually have to go in a few minutes,” I tell him. 

“Alright, no problem. I’ll see ya around.” 

“Yeah, see ya later.” 

*

“So you’re not coming back?” Bradley asks. He sits on our usual bus stop bench and I have no idea how he’s not cold. Snow has piled on his afro so he must have been sitting here for a while in only his shorts and light jacket. I’m wearing a hoodie over a couple sweaters and some gloves and I’m still shivering. 

I shake my head. “I’m transferring to Oak Hills after the break.” 

“Yeah, I can’t say I blame you. We haven’t really made life easy for you.” 

“It’s alright. Maybe one day you can meet Q. He’s really cool and likes a lot of the same shows as you. I think you’d love him.” 

“I don’t know man,” he says and takes his hands out of his pockets to wipe the white from his hair. It’s been years and his skin is still so scarred. They’re a completely different shade from the rest of his body and appear as smooth as ice, but I remember seeing them when they were blisters. I thought he’d never be able to use his hands again and I remember him crying and telling me that same thing. He had to wear those casts for so long too. It was just salt in the wound after all he went through that night. He catches me looking. “Do you remember it?” 

How could I forget? “Yeah, I do,” I answer.

“That s**t haunts me in my dreams.” He leans forward and looks to his feet. “And my dad...he ain’t been the same since.” 

“Yeah, I know.” My mom is the same way. She’s been nice these past few days, but when she gets mad...I don’t recognize her.

He smiles weakly and shakes his head. “I’m gonna miss seeing you around, man. Even though I know we treat you like s**t.”

“You’ll still see me. Things don’t have to change. At least not completely.” 

“I don’t blame you for leaving. But things have to get better, right?” 

“Right...right?” 

“Right.” He’s silent for a moment, tapping his fingers as the snow gently falls. It really is beautiful and I can see the details of each snowflake under the street light. Things are good. Or, at least they will be. I wish Bradley could see it. This is the only life we get; the only time things make sense. After this, who knows? Fleeting spirits, or trapped as nothing in the void. I want to enjoy every breath while I can, or at least make the most of what I have.



© 2020 K Renee


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Added on September 5, 2020
Last Updated on September 5, 2020
Tags: ghost, haunted, paranormal, horror, supernatural, mental illness, dark, mystery, fire, lgbt


Author

K Renee
K Renee

About
Maybe one day I'll figure out what to put here. more..

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Chapter 1 Chapter 1

A Chapter by K Renee


Chapter 2 Chapter 2

A Chapter by K Renee


Chapter 3 Chapter 3

A Chapter by K Renee