An Ordinary Sanctuary


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3. Leaves

 

It's summer. We're driving along a much quieter main street, in Daddy's truck. Daddy still has a truck. I'm trying to read about the fairy princess, but I can't concentrate. We're driving home from church and my head's buzzing. God is angry; Mr. Burns sounded angrier.

 

I put my book down. “Daddy, Mr. Burns--”

 

“Father Burns, dear,” Daddy says from the front seat.

 

Father Burns,” I say. “He sounded mad.”

 

Mad?” Daddy sounds surprised. “What's he mad about, dear?”

 

I dunno. Like the enemies? And, um, he was saying something about being defenders--”

 

Honestly, David,” Mommy says.

 

He just means that there's good guys and bad guys, dear.”

 

Are we the good guys or the bad guys?” I ask.

 

Mommy and Daddy start laughing. But I really wanna know.

 

The good guys, dear,” says Daddy. “We're the good guys.”

 

They seem pretty sure. But I'm not. The car rolls past a corner and I can't stop looking at a Native man slumped on the corner. He has a rucksack lying next to him and he's sipping out of a brown paper bag.

 

Fucken squats,” Daddy mutters. Mommy reaches over and hits him on the chest. She glares at him and looks back at me, and I pretend not to notice. I know about homeless people, and I know that sometimes people used to have homes and then they don't anymore. But I don't know if they're the good guys or the bad guys, and I'm about to ask Daddy but he asks me something first.

 

So do you wanna stop for ice cream, sweetie?”

 

No thank you,” I say. I'm still thinking about the man on the corner. I'm wondering if he ever has ice cream.

 

Why not?” says Daddy. “You on a diet?”

 

Mommy reaches over and hits him again, and I giggle.

 

Ohh, I forgot. You've gotta keep your figure up for your boyfriend.”

 

Daaady,” I say. “Lance is just a friend.”

 

Uh huh. That's how I got your mother. Well, that and beer.”

 

Mommy goes to hit him again, and we start laughing and I forget all about Father Burns and the man on the corner and the bad guys.

 

“Ash.”

 

Just floating away, and I think that I might want ice cream after all.

 

“Ash!”

 

...why is the car shaking...

 

Ashley came to. She rubbed her eyes and looked up at a tall boy with a mop of curly red hair. He was gently stroking the hair out of her eyes.

 

“Wake up, sleepyhead.”

 

“Laance,” said Ashley. She rolled over and buried her face into a pillow. “Let me sleep.”

 

“Bullshit, I'm letting you sleep,” said Lance. “I just drove across town. Get your ass up and talk to me.”

 

Ashley groaned into her pillow and mumbled something. Lance grabbed her by the back of the shirt and hoisted her up. She screamed.

 

“Sorry?' said Lance. “Didn't quite catch that.”

 

Let me down!” she squealed.

 

“Oh, good,” said Lance. “You're up.” He let her go and she flopped back onto the bed and groaned. She rolled, defeated, onto her side and propped her head up on her elbow.

 

“Who let you in the house, anyway?” said Ashley.

 

“Mama bear. You know how much she loves me.” Lance paused for a second and rummaged around in the backpack at his feet. “Where's the damn...yeah. Said she made this beautiful big spread and you were up here napping.”

 

“She said that, did she?”

 

“Well, slurred it,” said Lance. “She's trashed. Don't blame her. Ah ha! Here's the little fucker.” He pulled out a small metal dish with a happy face imprinted on it. He checked the contents, sniffed, and reached over to crack a window.

 

“So, how was your day?” said Lance.

 

“I said no mushy shit, dude.”

 

Lance stopped dead and glared at her. “Don't you dude me,” he said. “Don't you ever fucking dude me.”

 

“K, brah,” she said.

 

“I'll fucking kill you,” said Lance. “I will knife you in your sleep.”

 

“Don't think 'knife's' a verb, brah.”

 

“Machete style, like just fucking dismembered.” Lance was spreading the herb out gently on her desk now. That was his expertise, or he liked to think that it was. Once, Ashley had the nerve to say that it seemed “a little tight”, and he ignored her for a week.

 

Lance handed her the joint, and he softened when he saw the smile on her face with the eyes that were too red, and kept looking towards the window. He pretended to check his cellphone while she rubbed at her eyes.

 

She lit, inhaled, and the room filled with the sweet fragrance.

 

“I don't know what I'd do without you, dude,” she said, and her voice cracked.

 

“Aw, Christ. Ash, come on.”

 

She bit her lower lip and the sob escaped anyway.

 

“Don't hug me, Ash. I swear to God if you fucking hug me--”

 

She laughed, and he hugged her and feigned a sigh.  

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