The sun struck Ashley’s eyes despite the pok-a-dot blanket she pulled over her head. She’d become accustom to it since sleeping in her twin bed pressed against the west wall of her bedroom. Her reason to get up early as an alarm clock for all those yet to wake, the light crawled along the small mirror kept at her headrest which shined over to the other side of the room at nearly the same time it’d hit her. She’d see it first, barely.
The wavy, diffracted light spatter hit a white pillow on a neatly made, undisturbed pok-a-dot twin bed pressed against the otherwise unlit east wall of the bedroom.
When the sun’s warmth made it too hot under the covers, Ashley threw them aside messily and stretched in her PJs cheerily yawning, “Rise and shine.”
After swing kick jumping her way out of bed, she made for the tiny connected bathroom and perched herself acrobatically on the edge of the yellow plastic stool she needed to reach the sink. Picking her toothbrush out the dry calcium speckled glass on the left side of the faucet, she brushed with vigor.
When she spat and flicked her toothbrush dry she inadvertently got some on the empty glass to the right of the faucet which she wiped down with the same towel she used for the corners of her mouth.
Then the cherished smell of eggs in butter wafted through the ventilation and she rushed out in her PJs to wrap herself round her mother’s left leg. The pan fumbled in her grasp a moment. After quieting Ashley’s many loves and air kisses and thanks, she was told with finality to sit at the table and wait for breakfast.
She was delighted to be served first and have her choice scorching bacon strip the second her mother let it go of the plate.
As she ate, her father walked in, kissed her mother, then her with a peck on the check which she flipped into a hug upon the side of his chest which she refused to relinquish till he hugged back with his left arm. But then he wrapped round her with his right in such a worried hold that Ashely forgot to breathe.
When he did let go she stared at the unset tablespace between her and her father’s plates. A look up and Ashely realized her parents had been exchanging worrisome faces.
Over breakfast her father managed to talk about school despite a pained smile listening to her cheer over art class.
Her plate clear, she thanked her mother and followed the suggestion to clean up and change out her PJs. Ready for the beach she slipped into a sun yellow shirt shuffling about her knees paired with a wide straw hat.
Out in the hall she eyed her metal hand shovel and bucket thinking over the look of her soon to be fabulous castle. The Disney castle was a favorite as were those she’d seen in her favorite picture book—the one with a dragon perched before an underground chamber full of hamburgers he’s actually happy to share.
But after hoisting the bucket into the air with both hands and much strength, her mother let it down and told her, “We’re going for a drive today. You can play at the beach later.”
And before she could make sense of the change or complain much she was in the car passing time with the notebook marked with every state in the US. Eighteen were circled; Florida with a DUH and tongue out smiley face out next to it.
Ashley was diligent scanning out the left rear window to out the slim visage from the right. Always her mother’s eyes darting off the rear-view mirror as she made those scans.
They pulled up in a tiny strip mall which included a McDonalds with a play place and a tutoring center (amongst a few less overtly marketed stores). She kept focus on the play place to forget the C- she received on her last math test; a daunting experience being her first below a B in any subject.
Twisting round, walking backwards, she kept her hopeful eye on the play place as long as she could till her mother pulled her passed a glass door and into a waiting room. It didn’t look like a tutoring center with school posters and pencils around, but more like the dentist’s and doctor’s offices she was used to.
The fish tank in the center of the room held her focus as her mother went off to, “Let them know we’re here.”
It was a joy watching the tiny goldfish duck in and out of the tall castle. A rainbow fish waved a thin sail on its back in charming rhythm. A pair, orange and black striped, moved beside one another on their lonesome between two short corners of the tank. They flipped their movements simultaneously, trading the outside position to press the other against the wall. Their bodies a perfect match, they blurred to one big fish bashing against their enclosure.
Ashley’s mother pulled her from the fish tank, out the waiting room down a tight hallway. Thinking only of the big fish, she found herself seated on a soft couch beckoning her to nap. Be weightless, still. If not for just a thoughtless minute.
“Ashley? Ashley?” her mother pulled her heavy head upright refocusing her gaze on a smartly dressed woman with thin glasses across from her. She sat patient, hands folded atop crossed legs. “Ashely,” her mother chimed, “this is the woman who’ll talk to you about the things you’re feeling. Remember last week when I said you’ll be talking to a woman who’ll…”
The words slipped from Ashley’s ears without a memory to place them on.
After a few short answers about her morning and drive over, the smart dressed woman, who wore a flowery nametag that read Dana, asked if it was okay for the two of them to talk on their lonesome. The only person who needed the slightest convincing was her mother who, after being told, “We won’t talk about any boys in school. Scout’s honor,” and receiving a chuckle from Ashley, departed with a big hug.
The woman let the air settle after the door closed. “So, are we ready to talk?”
Ashley’s heart squeezed cold. “Sure. About anything.”
She nodded back. “Anything?”
But Ashley didn’t know how to start.