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Braxton stared straight ahead, a gentle hand resting on her knee.
“are you sure about this?” Jared asked softly. At his friend’s nod, he opened his door, taking a deep breath before sliding out from behind the wheel. The day was hot, and he was glad he’d put on a pair of cargo shorts rather than the jeans Braxton wore. But then again, since she’d come home from the hospital a week and a half ago, Braxton was usually buried in clothing: thick sweats, sweatshirts, jeans and sweaters. He wasn’t sure how she wasn’t burning up to death in the late summer heat.
Braxton, for her part, was nervous, her palms sweating. She eyed the chain length fence surrounding the junkyard, a few weeds poking through towards the ground. She wiped her palms on her jeans, not feeling the August sun beating down on her head and t-shirt-clad shoulders.
“Ready?” Jared asked from beside her. Braxton nodded, not taking her eyes off the junk that lay beyond the fence.
They walked toward the opened gate, the distant barking of a dog floating on the breeze, as well as the quiet murmurings of two men deeper into the yard. Jared pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolding it and turning it so the writing was right side up.
“Okay, he said that it was back in quadrant B.” He looked around for a sign or map. “So, where the hell is quadrant B?”
“Over here,” Braxton led them over to a long piece of plywood that had been mounted to the fence, an aged map of the junkyard printed on it. She smoothed out the wrinkles in the paper, using her finger to lead the way. She tapped an area marked in faded orange. “Here it is.” She glanced out over the yard to find the corresponding area. “Back that way. Come on.” She grabbed Jared’s hand to get him following, dropping it once he was beside her.
They walked in step with each other, both quiet. Braxton’s thoughts were a whirlwind of activity in her head. Over the last week, she’d gotten herself settled back into life, people dropping by the house on a daily basis to say hello and wish her well. That surprised her, as she’d never realized how many people in her life she actually talked to on a daily basis, and who apparently cared.
“Did you go to the crash site?” she asked quietly, shoving her hands into the pockets of her loose jeans. She’d been told that she’d dropped far too much weight in her ordeal, and Braxton could tell, as everything was huge on her. In some ways she liked that; swimming in baggy clothing was almost like a constant hug.
“Yeah,” Jared said, starting to feel very uncomfortable. That was one image he did not want in his head to start with, let alone to have to relive.
“Was it bad?”
“Brax, you really don’t want to hear the details. I don’t want to upset you.”
“If I would be upset by it, Jared, I wouldn’t have asked,” Braxton snapped, brows drawing in frustration.
Jared managed to bite off his retort when he saw the orange bomb come into view. Well, what was left of it, anyway. He felt a fist grip his heart and squeeze, leaving him breathless. Braxton saw the car at close to the same time, her face paling even more than it already was.
“My god,” she whispered, slowly approaching what had become a giant piece of orange scrap.
Jared wanted to comfort his friend, but he was still stung from her biting words. Normally laid back by nature, the past week and a half had been trying for him. Yes, the doctors had told them that Braxton may not be herself, and yes they said she may even be somewhat moody or sometimes combative, but Jesus! Just about every other word out of her mouth, when she spoke that is, was some sort of biting remark or bit of sarcasm. So he wouldn’t lose his own temper, her stood back, allowing Braxton to deal with this on her own. If it looked like she were going to fall, he’d pick her up. As usual.
Braxton stopped her forward progress, taking in the clump before her. The only thing on the car that still resembled a car, was the back end. One taillight section was still in place, the other smashed beyond recognition. The front right fender was nothing more than a squashed soda can. All the windows were busted out, or hanging on a thread, except the left rear window, which strangely, didn’t have a scratch on it.
She slowly made her way around toward the front of the car, noting the windshield, which was still scattered across a lonely country lane. Bits of dried blood could still be seen around the edges of the window frame. She reached out a finger, touching the sun-warmed metal, yanking her finger back almost as if it had been shocked:
She could feel the wind in her hair, forced in through the shattered windshield. She holds on, the steering wheel cutting into her palms, she holds on so tight. A scream, wrenched from her throat as she feels her stomach roiling as the car makes another roll. Free. She feels her body life, then the pain of a stinging cut as shards of broken glass tear into the skin of her face and arms. Flying…
Braxton gasped, a hand reaching to cover her stomach, as nausea gripped her. She hurried to a pile of scrap, her stomach rebelling in a stream of liquid goo that landed with a sickening plop.
Taking several deep breaths, Braxton felt a comforting hand on her back, rubbing slow circles. “It’s okay,” Jared murmured,
Gulping in fresh air, Braxton wiped her mouth on the back of her hand, wiping it on her jeans, then meeting concerned blue eyes. “Jesus, Jared. How the hell did this happen?”
Jared shook his head. “Not sure. The cops think maybe you almost hit something. That’s what your tracks show, anyway. They were all over the place, till finally the orange bomb plowed off a slight incline.”
Braxton glanced once more at the car before turning away, beginning to walk back toward the gate, and the safety beyond. “I don’t remember. I don’t think I want to.”
The house was abuzz with excitement when Jared pulled his car to the curb. A van was parked in the driveway, the sliding side door and back double doors open. Boxes were stacked inside, along with miscellaneous stuff- pillows, plastic grocery bags and a white dry erase board.
“Looks like the new roomy is moving in,” Braxton muttered absently as she trotted up the stairs to the porch. Inside, Alicia was hugging Carrie.
“Hey, you two. So glad you got home. I’m outta here.” Alicia grabbed Jared and Braxton, bringing them together in a group hug, which Carrie joined. “Gonna miss you, stud,” she said, placing a solid kiss on Jared’s lips. She then turned to Braxton, giving her a second hug, holding her close. “Take care of yourself, Brax,” she whispered into short, blonde hair. “Please.”
Braxton nodded, eyes closed as she absorbed the embrace. Alicia had been their first roommate, and a close friend. She’d miss her greatly, but was happy for her newfound happiness.
“Be happy, Al,” she said, pulling away from the darker woman, just enough to look up into smiling brown eyes. “Be beautiful, and come back and see us.” One final hug, she let Alicia go.
Jared stood back, having more than enough of the love fest going on before him. He glanced over towards the stairs, mouth falling open when he saw the woman standing at the top. Faded jeans hugged narrow hips, holes torn in the knees. A flat belly was well documented by the tight, ribbed tank top, which swelled into firm, unhindered breasts. Light brown hair fell around strong shoulders. But what got Jared the most were the piercing blue eyes that was taking in the scene down in the living room. He caught her gaze, which held for a moment before she turned, breaking the contact, then disappeared into Jared’s old room.
“Holy shit,” he whispered.
“What?” Braxton asked, following his gaze and seeing nothing but an empty stairs landing.
“Nothing.” Jared glanced over at Carrie, curious to what her reaction would be to the new girl. The small brunette had obviously seen the new roomy, too. He smirked when she met his gaze, sticking her tongue out at him before turning and heading to her room.
Braxton’s attention turned up toward the stairs again when she heard muffled music from a stereo start. Turning her attention back to her roommates, she faked a smile, wanting nothing more than to be alone after the afternoon she’d spent with Jared. She felt edgy and irritable. Grabbing a water from the fridge, she headed upstairs, leaving her friends to stare after her.
Door closed firmly behind her, Braxton grabbed the remote for her TV, flicking on Court TV and tossing the remote to the bed. She walked over to the window, sipping her water as she watched Alicia climb into her boyfriend’s car, then speed off into the later afternoon.
Turning away, she flopped down next to her remote, stretching to reach her college brochure from the bedside table. She was due on campus the following morning to sign up for her classes. As she searched through the catalogue of courses, her advisor circling the ones she suggested Braxton take, the blonde realized that not one single class interested her. She’d gone to college because she’d wanted to go, wanted to get out of Ivanwood. She hadn’t stopped to think about what she actually wanted to do once she got there.
It had been a struggle within her own mind for three years. Her advisor had suggested she take one of those tests whose results would tell you what the taker is good at, and where they belong career-wise. Braxton’s results had pointed toward a career in English. The problem was, she hated her classes, and had no idea what to do with that degree once she’d earned it. Her options were basically to go into teaching, which held no personal appeal, or to go into some sort of writing, i.e. journalism. No thanks.
Braxton sighed, turning over onto her stomach, flipping through the catalogue. Legs bent, her feet lazily swinging, clicking against each other. Grabbing a pen from the bedside table, she tucked it between her teeth, absently chewing as she perused her choices. Her brows drew as the music next door grew louder, vibrating the wall that her and her new roommate shared. She tried to ignore it, but after a few moments her irritation outweighed the need to not make waves.
Rolling off the bed, Braxton walked over to the wall and pounded with her fist. After a moment, the music still hadn’t stopped. She rolled her eyes with an exasperated sigh. “Damn it.”
Braxton headed to the door, throwing it open and walking the few steps to the door that was the wall perpendicular to her own. “Hey,” she called, trying to be heard through the door and above the music. Her fist followed, pounding three times. No answer. She was about to pound again when the door was pulled open. Braxton stepped back, pinned to the spot by two very blue, and very irritated eyes. She said nothing, just waited. “I need you to turn the music down. I’m in the room next door,’ Braxton pointed toward her open door. “It’s a little loud.”
The woman stared at her for a moment, then stepped back into her room, muttering an apology before the door was closed in Braxton’s face.
“Jesus, she’s rude,” she growled, slamming her own bedroom door. Immediately the music was turned off, silence reigning. Braxton started as the door next to hers was yanked open, heavy steps slamming down the stairs, then more silence.
“Damn, this car is touchy,” Braxton muttered, grimacing as she ground the gears in Jared’s borrowed car. She wasn’t used to a stick, and was immensely relieved once she reached the college campus. She was afraid Jared’s transmission would fall out before she got it parked.
Cutting the ignition, she stepped out into the warm late morning air, staring off into the sky. She looked forward to winter, preferring snow to the hot sun any day. Before she locked the car door, she shrugged out of her zippered hoodie, tossing it to the passenger seat before slamming the door shut and heading off toward the admin building where her advisor was going to meet her.
Walking down the halls, which were quiet as summer classes had ended, and it was still a couple weeks before the fall term began, was strange for Braxton. It felt good, though. It was something she was used to, something that felt right and familiar. Her shoes thudded dully on the polished tile before muffled steps walked over burbur carpet as Braxton reached the conference room that branched off the registry area.
“Hi, Brax. Welcome back,” Dr. Martha Reynolds said from the round table she was sitting at. She indicated the orange, plastic chair that was placed across from her own. “Have a seat.”
Braxton sat down, tossing the catalogue she’d been studying the night before on the table. “Hey, Dr. Rey. How goes it?”
“Good. Interesting new do,” the older woman said, taking in the short blonde hair, the bangs of which had fallen into green eyes.
“Yeah, well…” she ran her hand shyly through the short locks. “I wouldn’t recommend a head wound. Not all it’s cracked up to be.”
Martha chuckled, opening the file folder that was sitting on the table in front of her. “Okay, kiddo. Let’s get down to business. I was thinking that the Ethnic Lit-“
“I want to change my major.”
Martha glanced up, looking over the rims of her reading glasses. “Excuse me? I don’t think I heard you right.”
“You heard me right, Dr. Rey. I don’t want to do this anymore. English.” She flipped open the catalogue she’d perused the night before. “I think these kind of look interesting,” she tapped the page she’d dog eared.
“Braxton, these are art classes.”
“I know.” Braxton studied her hands for a moment, which were fidgeting together on the table, folding and unfolding her catalogue. “When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an artist,” she said softly, unable to meet her advisor’s gaze. “I used to draw all the time.”
“Why didn’t you pursue it?” Martha asked just as softly.
Finally Braxton looked up. “I wasn’t allowed to.” Braxton cleared her throat nervously, again looking away.
Martha studied the girl sitting across from her for a long moment. She remembered when she’d first met with Braxton, three years ago. The young girl, fresh off the farm from the rural streets had been so frightened, barely able to meet anyone’s gaze. She had a shy smile, and her beautiful green eyes had been filled with careful optimism and awe of her new surroundings outside, what Martha suspected, was an overbearing parent’s reach.
When the professor had heard about the accident that had happened on the last day of classes, she had been devastated. Finding out that Braxton had survived it, and had regained her consciousness had been a happy day for Martha Reynolds. She cared about Braxton Crowley. The woman sitting across from her now didn’t resemble that girl at all. In many ways, she didn’t recognize Braxton at all.
“You know this will set you back. Probably a semester, maybe an entire year,” Dr. Reynolds cautioned.
Braxton nodded in understanding. “I know. I just can’t do this,” she said, indicating the circled classes in front of Martha. “I’ll never be happy in English.”
“Okay.” Martha smiled, understanding shining in her gray eyes. “Let’s get you set up.” She reached across the table, patting Braxton’s hand.
A new schedule on the passenger seat of Jared’s car, and a smile on her face, Braxton pulled on her sunglasses and cranked up the car’s impressive stereo system. She tapped her fingers against the wheel as she drove through town, checking out what had been missed for the entire summer. She saw people walking the sidewalks, kids laughing and carrying on together. A man mowing his lawn, baseball cap shading his face from the intense rays of the midday sun. she outright laughed at a group of kids who were having a water fight with balloons and a hose. They screamed and laughed as they enjoyed the careless days of summer break. Little did they know of the responsibilities they would soon face in the real world.
Driving past the park that was near the house, Braxton noticed a familiar looking van parked in the lot. It’s driver sat on the grass, back against a tree. The light brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail, dark sunglasses covering what Braxton knew were blue eyes. Their newest roommate seemed to be relaxing in the mild temperatures, long legs encased in cargo shorts.
Braxton slowed, curious as to what the solitary woman was doing. She’d only seen her the one time the night before. She didn’t even know what her name was. She certainly hoped the woman wasn’t as unfriendly as she appeared, or it was going to suck in the house. That was one thing that Braxton had always felt fortunate about; everyone got along, and had been close. Carrie, Lydia, Alicia and Jared were the only ones she socialized with. Other than Andrew and his loser group of friends, that is.
Driving on, Braxton’s thoughts roamed from the new roomie to her ex. She hadn’t heard from nor seen him since the fateful night of his party. He hadn’t shown up at the hospital during the entire time she’d been in her coma, nor had he gotten hold of anyone to see how she was doing.
“Asshole,” she muttered.
Margot pulled the plug in the chipped double sink in the kitchen. As she watched the dish-dirty water swirl down the drain, she leaned on the counter, clearing her mind of any thoughts. She could hear Fletcher off in the living room, the tissue paper-thin pages of his bible turning every once in awhile as he read through Mark. He was jotting down notes for his sermon coming up on Sunday.
She quickly rinsed the suds out of the sink before her husband yelled at her for using too much water, her gaze flickering to the window in front of her. The night beyond acted as a wonderful mirror to keep tabs on him. She could see his somewhat fuzzy reflection, bent over his work, the lamp light next to him showing off his thinning hair.
The freshly washed knife in the strainer caught Margot’s attention, the overhead light glinting off the blade. She closed her eyes, trying to push the fantasy from her mind. More and more lately, especially since returning from her time with Braxton, Margot’s mind had been filled with unpleasant thoughts. Things she should never be considering. No good, Christian woman would.
“You don’t in there?” Fletcher called out from the living room. “You’re burnin’ electricity, Woman. Come on in here if you need the light.”
Margot’s eyes squeezed shut. “Be there in a moment,” she called out softly, though knew Fletcher heard her from the stillness in the house. “Gotta dry the dishes,” she said absently, her hand reaching out for the knife, fingers wrapping around the worn wooden handle. It felt heavy and sturdy in her hand, a droplet of water rolling down to melt into her hand.
“What was that?” Fletcher asked from the doorway, tugging off his wire rims.
Margot started in surprise, guilt making her drop the knife back into the sink. “Uh,” she said, swallowing several times. “I said I need to dry the dishes.” She glanced at her husband over her shoulder. “Would you like some dessert? Coffee, maybe?”
Fletcher studied the woman who’d been sleeping next to him for the past twenty-odd years, wondering what was wrong. He saw a stranger staring back at him. Margot’s eyes darted to and fro, unable to keep his stare. “No,” he finally said. “Just turn out the lights when you’re done.”
“Okay. Honey.” Margot forced a smile, which faded as Fletcher turned around and walked out of the room. He plopped down in his chair, the aged springs groaning slightly under the tall man’s weight.
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