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Jan 9th, 2011
It was Sunday morning and Ashley, Chloe and Brenda were all bundled into Ashley’s small sedan on their way back to school. The first stop was the airport, where they’d drop Chloe off. The petite blonde was studying theater and fine arts at Denison University in Ohio and had a five hour flight to catch.
Ashley chewed her lip as she drove, wanting to tell her friends about seeing JJ again. It was the fair thing to do, since they’d all been friends and everyone had been upset by JJ’s leaving. She probably should have spilled the beans at the slumber party, but the information had been so new, she’d kept it to herself until it really sank in.
“You gonna chew your lip like that the whole way there?” Chloe grumbled from the passenger seat. She was curled up against the door, the hood on her grey hoodie pulled over her head. She was a dedicated night owl, so being up and around at 8 am was just a little too early.
Ashley immediately stopped gnawing her lip, but turned to look at her friends. “I have something to tell you two.” Brenda looked up from her book, and Chloe grunted.
“I ran into JJ this last week.” Ashley wasn’t prepared for their reactions. Chloe sat up straight and pushed her hoodie back, her pale blue eyes wide. Brenda dropped her book and leaned so far forward her chin was practically on Ashley’s shoulder.
“Oh my god, when?” “Where?” “Did you talk to her?” “Is she really back?” “Where did she go, why didn’t she ever call us?” “Please tell me she’s okay.” “Why didn’t you say anything before now?”
They shot questions at her, and Ashley fumbled to answer. “It was Friday at the grocery store. She was in line behind me. She looked okay, you know, all in one piece. I didn’t really talk to her, I was in shock I guess. Actually, I kinda yelled at her.”
“You yelled at JJ? I’ve never heard you yell. Not even after the stripper incident.” Chloe shifted to sit more squarely in her seat. “Have you ever heard Ashley yell?” Chloe asked Brenda, who shook her head.
“No, never. What in the world made you that upset?” Brenda pushed her brunette braid back her shoulder, only to have it slip over the opposite side.
Ashley braked for a red light and blushed. “When I saw her, I was completely speechless. I mean, we all thought we’d never see her again. She looked at me and said ‘Hey Ashley’ in the same tone she’d said hello to the cashier with.” Ashley shrugged and accelerated when the light changed. “It pissed me off that that’s all she had to say the first time we see each other in ten years.”
Brenda, ever sensible, nodded. “That would have pissed me off too. Yelling probably wasn’t the best idea though.”
“I didn’t really yell. I just kinda snapped at her. It was too surprising. I wasn’t prepared for it at all.” Ashley looked over at Chloe, who was watching her.
“Do you think she’s back because her dad died last year?” Chloe asked, her sharp eyes watching Ashley intently.
“I have no idea. Like I said, I didn’t really talk to her.” Ashley changed lanes so she could get on the freeway.
“Are you gonna talk to her?” Chloe pressed, but Brenda shot her a look and butted in.
“If you have a chance to talk with her, since you still come back to town more often than us, tell her we say hi, and that we’ve missed her.” Brenda patted Ashley’s shoulder and sat back again.
“You’d better tell Rebecca and Sarah too. They’ll be upset that they’re out of the loop.” Chloe advised, then sensing that the conversation was being dropped, pulled her hoodie back up and zoned out for the rest of the ride.
Two weeks later Ashley was driving back home for a weekend of peace. She’d been so busy with school, track, and her part time job that her only free time was when she slept. She was beyond ready for two days of nothing.
The drive took less time than usual, traffic light and the weather perfect. Ashley found herself home before her mom so, while she hauled her duffel in, Ashley made plans to meet Debbie for a late lunch. When she’d emptied her bag and started a load of laundry, Ashley hopped back in the car and drove to the local Home Depot where her mother worked in the floral department.
Walking through the doors she inhaled the familiar smell of lumber and plastics. Waving to a few familiar faces, Ashley wandered the aisles, making her way slowly to the back where the landscaping department and flowers were kept.
Turning a corner she stopped short to avoid a collision with another shopper. “Oh, excuse me, sorry.” Ashley apologized, looking up into the woman’s face. Her heart skipped and her throat dried up.
“It’s all good, you didn’t hit me.” JJ replied taking a step back, her basket rattling.
Ashley nearly stepped around JJ and continued on her way. Remembering what Brenda had said, Ashley paused. “It’s good to see you again, you know. Everyone missed you.” She spoke quietly, looking JJ up and down discretely. Her dark hair was cut short, buzzed and faded on the sides with much longer strands left çankaya escort up top.
JJ moistened her dry lips before she spoke, the flash of her pink tongue sending butterflies into a frenzy in Ashley’s tummy. “Yeah, it’s good to see you too.” Her voice was different, husky and lower than Ashley remembered.
“What brought you back to town?” Ashley asked, curious despite her nerves. She knew she’d have to arrange a skype call with the girls later to catch the girls up.
“Mack died about a year ago,” Ashley nodded, remembering hearing the news, “I’ve got to get the old house fixed up so it can be sold.” JJ stuck a hand in the pocket of her jeans, worn men’s jeans, Ashley noticed.
“I haven’t been by there in forever. Does it need a lot of work?” Ashley moved to let another customer pass by.
“Yeah, it needs a ton of TLC. I’m hoping to get it on the market before the end of the year.” JJ cocked her head to the side, her dark eyes traveling down Ashley’s body.
Ashley blushed a little, but spoke, “Well, I’m guessing you’ve got more shopping to do, so I’ll let you get back to it.” JJ nodded, dark hair falling forward into her eyes.
Ashley had only taken a few steps when JJ spoke again. “It was really good to see you, Ashley.” Ashley looked over her shoulder at JJ, nodding because her throat felt too tight for words.
She met her mom just inside the double doors of the gardening section and the two women set out for a quiet lunch. Debbie was quick to pick up on Ashley’s funky mood and asked about it when they’d sat down with their subs.
Ashley shrugged, “I ran into someone unexpected and I’m not sure how I really feel about it.” She unwrapped her food, but just picked at the bread.
Debbie frowned, “It didn’t happen to be JJ, did it?” She unwrapped her sandwich, separating the halves.
Ashley looked surprised. “How did you know?”
“Mother’s intuition. You never cried over any of your boyfriends, so I don’t think seeing any of them would have you feeling confused.” Debbie popped a fallen olive into her mouth. “And I saw her walking through the store.”
Ashley sighed, “Yes, it was JJ. I just…I don’t know. I felt like I was finally over the whole thing. It’s been a few years since I’ve thought of her constantly. Old memories aren’t painful anymore, you know. It took so long to get over her leaving and now it’s all back. Like someone ripped the bandaid off and took half the scab with it.”
“It takes a long time to heal, Ashley, especially when you don’t have the answers to your questions.” Debbie shared a sad look with her daughter, sipped her drink, and then continued. “Sitting down and talking, if she’s willing, might be the only way to put this behind you completely. I’m not saying that this will fix everything and you’ll be best friends again. Too much time may have passed for that. The best you can hope for is answers, and maybe giving her the same.”
Ashley couldn’t help the doubting tone in her voice. “You really think she’ll want to know what I’ve been doing for the last ten years?”
“She might. At least give her the benefit of the doubt.” Debbie patted Ashley’s arm before finishing her sandwich.
Ashley walked her mom back to work then returned home to finish her laundry and work on the essay she’d brought along to finish. After she’d finished her work, she fired off an email to her friends to set up a skype night. That cleared up the rest of her day to mull over what her mother had advised.
Sunday morning found Ashley running, as most mornings did. She started early, before the sun had risen and didn’t plan to be home until after the sun was up. She ran and ran until her thoughts blanked out and she was completely focused on the rhythmic pounding of her feet and the complimentary thump of her braid on her back.
She was on her way back home when she took a left instead the right she normally would have. Running down along the sidewalk she came upon the old Jameson house. She’d been by there a few times after JJ’s ran away, but not since she’d left for college. Instead of an empty driveway there was a huge industrial dumpster placed crookedly on the slanted cement and a big black truck parked at the curb.
The house was in need of major care, clearly having been neglected for some time. Ashley couldn’t imagine having to take on a project as huge as this, but JJ had seemed confident she could handle it.
The front door banged open, startling Ashley. JJ emerged with a roll of old carpet on her shoulder. Ashley watched JJ haul the carpet to the dumpster and toss it in. The years really had changed JJ. While she wasn’t much taller than Ashley she was no longer the gangly child she’d been. Muscles bulged in JJ’s arms and sweat soaked the thin undershirt she wore so it clung to her, revealing a sleekly muscled torso. Her entire eft arm was covered in an intricate tattoo, but Ashley couldn’t tell what it was.
JJ spotted Ashley on her way back keçiören escort to the house and paused, seemed to hesitate then came forward, removing the facial mask she wore over her nose and mouth.
“Hey.” JJ shucked her gloves and ran fingers through sweaty hair, combing it back from her eyes.
“Hi. I went for a run and found myself in your area. You were right, this place needs some love.” Ashley gestured to the house then peeked at J’s arm. It was a bunch of lines, delicate lines that twisted and curled along her arm, complementing the swell and curve of JJ’s muscles.
“Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass more than anything, to be honest.” JJ looked back at the house with barely hidden disgust.
Ashley looked up in time to catch the look. “If it’s such a hassle, why bother at all?”
“Because Mack left it to me, so it’s in my name now. If I leave it, then I’m the one who gets fined by the city for neglect and vacancy. I’d rather deal with it right away and be done with it once and for all.” JJ turned back to Ashley while she spoke, tucking her gloves in her back pocket.
Ashley found herself hesitant to ask JJ about sitting down like her mother had suggested, so she kept her mouth shut, which led to a silence that was becoming awkward. “Well, um, I’ll let you get back to work. I’m sure you’ve got a lot to do.”
JJ sighed and nodded, running her hand through her hair again. Ashley looked up at the old house again as she turned to walk away. It was hard to believe this was the place where JJ had grown up, the place where she should have been safest, only to have the opposite environment.
“You’re welcome to stop by again, if you have time later.” JJ called, still standing where Ashley had left her.
“I’m going back to school today, but I might stop by next time I’m in town.” Ashley smiled, waving at JJ. “Take care.”
“You too.” JJ waved back and watched Ashley start jogging, then running down the sidewalk. Shaking her head JJ turned away from the enticing sight of Ashley’s taut ass bouncing with each step. There was work to be done and ogling asses wasn’t gonna get it done.
She replaced her gloves and mask before re-entering the house. It had taken a week to bag up and throw out all the garbage in the place. The exterminators had taken the better part of the following week to clear the house of the pests and insects. Luckily, most of the nests had been amongst the rotted garbage, so much of the house was untouched by bug problems. It had been getting the leftover bugs to flee before they could start making nests and homes that had been key.
Now that the place was bug and rodent free, JJ was left with ridding the place of the outdated and trashed carpet and cabinets. It had been pretty cathartic to tear up the cabinets, taking a crowbar to them and even a sledgehammer to the old Formica countertops. The carpets were filthy so they were getting the same treatment. Cut into manageable chunks with a box cutter, she was methodically rolling up and throwing away the old shag carpet and the completely ruined padding beneath.
She’d found concrete under most of it, but in the hallway, bathroom, and kitchen, there was beautiful hardwood flooring. She wasn’t an expert, but it looked like it needed a good buffing to be good as new. She’d have to remember to ask about that next time she went to the hardware store.
JJ walked back to the master bedroom where she had just one last chunk to roll up. Yanking sharply to rip it up at the edge, JJ started rolling up the carpet, leaving the pad behind. It would get its turn. She threw herself into the work and by the end of the day had the rest of the house carpet free. It was hard work and JJ was incredibly tired as she trudged to her truck.
She ignored the neighbors who were getting home and staring. She didn’t care what people thought, especially not when she was filthy and tired. Climbing into the truck she gunned the engine and pulled away from the curb. She wanted a hot shower and a good meal. In that order, right now with perhaps a strong drink to follow.
JJ rolled her window down on the ride home, the crisp air chilling her skin and blowing through her hair. It felt good after sweating her ass off all day. What the cold air didn’t do was keep her mind off Ashley. They’d bumped into each other twice in as many days. It was a small town, but shit, it wasn’t that small. JJ braked for a red light and ran fingers through her hair. Today had been Ashley’s doing, but yesterday had been by chance. Was there a reason for them seeing each other like that? Did Ashley expect something from her?
JJ shook her head and laughed at herself. She certainly hadn’t expected Ashley to grow up to be such a stunner. Whenever she’d thought of Ashley, she’d looked the way she had at twelve, with skinny arms, knobby knees on long coltish legs and hair that refused to behave. Now Ashley’s hair was long and JJ’d seen it loose two days ago, a curly blonde mane. Those etimesgut escort long legs had filled out with strong muscles and her body had the slender curves JJ herself had never really grown into. Where JJ’s own hips were slim and decidedly boyish, Ashley’s hips were curved and perfectly proportioned to the rest of her body. Yeah, little Ashley Turner had grown up all right.
The light changed and JJ accelerated a little too fast, shooting out before anyone else. She wasn’t very comfortable with this train of thought. It made her want to go find Ashley and apologize for everything. For the silence of the last ten years, for never coming back, and for acting like nothing had happened when she did return. A part of her wanted to go back to the way things had been between them. No more awkward silences or stilted conversations, but whispered secrets and smiles. Holding hands and kissing in the dark.
“Stop it. That’s never going to happen.” JJ shifted in her seat and looked at herself in the rearview mirror. “You’re here to do the house and get out. Nothing else.” She changed lanes sharply and made the next right turn into a small strip mall shopping center. She parked at Eddie’s, a small and run down looking liquor store. She slid out of the truck and walked into the store, ignoring the old men who looked up from their chess game. She went right to the back where the Wild Turkey sat on the top shelf. She still had to stand on tip toe to reach it, but this time she would be the one drinking it, not Mack.
Eddie didn’t look like he’d changed in the last ten years, his gnarled fingers gripping the bottle to scan it. His cloudy grey eyes watched her as he took her money and made change. “You look like your mother. You drink like your father. Watch it or it’ll kill you too.”
JJ took her change and the booze, leaving the store without a word. “Crazy old man.” She muttered, laying the bottle on the bench seat of the truck behind her tools. She backed up and drove back to her home base, the modest hotel room feeling much too small tonight.
After a hot shower and vigorous scrubbing JJ dressed in clean jeans and a tee, covering up with a thick hoodie. She traded the dirty work boots for old red high tops and slipped her wallet and keys into pockets. JJ took the beanie out of habit, pulling it low over her ears. She smoked a quick cigarette on the way to her truck, flicking the filter away before climbing back in.
She ordered a hearty meal at the old diner, smiling at the older black man who cooked the meal and came around from the kitchen to hand it to her. “Thanks man.” She picked up her fork and knife, and started to cut up the steak.
“You probably hear this all the time, but you look just like your momma. Except for the haircut, course.” The man blinked eyes that looked a bit watery. “Your momma used to work for me, before she married your daddy and had you, of course.”
JJ paused and looked up at the man, surprised at the information. “I didn’t know that.”
The gentleman sat down heavily, his long body folding into the booth with some difficulty. “I expect there’s quite a bit you don’t know about your momma. I don’t think your daddy was too happy to talk about her.”
“No, he never talked about her.” JJ shook her head and continued cutting the steak, hunger finally overcoming her surprise.
“He was a good man, but losing your ma like he did ruined him.” The man shook his head and patted her arm. “I wish you’d know him before that.”
JJ stabbed a bite of steak on her fork, “I wish I had too.”
“Al, we need you back in the kitchen.” The waitress smiled at JJ, winking when JJ smiled back.
“I’ll leave you to eat in peace then, missy.” Al patted JJ’s arm again and standing, shuffled back behind the counter.
“You let me know if you need anything,” the waitress tapped JJ’s table then drifted off to take another customer’s order.
JJ let her eyes drift down the woman’s back and linger on her legs, but knew that the flirting wasn’t going anywhere. The woman was older than her and certainly attractive, but JJ wasn’t a fool. She’d spotted the wedding band.
JJ cleared her plate and downed the soda before leaving enough cash on the table to pay for the meal plus a hefty tip. She nodded to Al before pushing the door open to leave. She smoked half a cigarette before driving back to the hotel, standing outside her door to puff on another before heading inside for the night.
Inside she shed her clothes, tossing jacket and jeans in the single armchair and kicking her shoes underneath. In just her undies and a tee shirt she grabbed the Wild Turkey and T.V. remote and stretched out on the bed.
Sipping from the bottle and flipping channels without really watching, JJ lost herself in her thoughts. She’d known that bumping into Ashley was a possibility when she’d returned, but JJ hadn’t really expected to see the other girl. Now that she had, all those old memories were surfacing.
She and Ashley had been friends for four years, the best of JJ’s childhood. It still astounded JJ how quickly they’d bonded and become friends, especially considering the age difference and her own less than social attitude. And the other girls in Ashley’s group, JJ had considered them friends as well. Did any of them still live in Sierra Falls? How had they taken the news all those years ago?
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