Continuing from the previous chapter, here.
With the suitcases and trunk he had had in his car brought into his parents’ house, Asa sat in a plain chair in the guest room that had been given to him (given back, really; this used to be my room), looking out the window at the hills. This time of year, they were largely brown, their layered limestone covered in oak and mountain cedar, in mesquite and scrub brush, and in short grasses already feeling the lack of rain and the brunt of encroaching summer sunshine. Wildflower season was already long past, the glories of blue and red and yellow blooms stretching out to the horizon until the skies at sunrise and sunset bled into the ground muted now, browned in the oven still pre-heating for the broiling to come.
Looks like it’ll be a hot summer, thought Asa, but that’s not a surprise. He shook his head at the thought as a soft rumbling and a draft of cool air announced the workings of the air conditioner beginning again. When a knock at the room’s door punctuated the rumbling, he started.
Before he could answer, the door opened, and Asa’s mother trundled in, gray-haired head turning rapidly to take in how things were arranged in the room. “You’re settling in okay, honey? I know it’s not like it was when you headed off to school, but that’s been a while ago now.”
Asa stood. “Yes’m, I’m settling in alright. And I don’t mind the changes.” He looked at the walls, now in a seafoam green rather than the stark white (and smeared with oil from my hands and soot from burnt sticks I used to keep here) they had been when he was a boy, at the tasteful table and chest of drawers, the chair where he had been sitting. “They look nice, actually. I wish I’d had the good sense to decorate this way when I was young.”
His mother sat in the chair; Asa sat on the side of the bed. “You were a kid; of course you acted like a kid. Why wouldn’t you? But I’m glad you’re okay.”
She leaned forward. “You are okay, right?” Brown eyes looked into his own, wide under raised eyebrows.
Asa nodded again. “More or less, Mom. Not having work isn’t easy, no, and not having had much other than work makes that harder, but, yeah, I’m okay. More or less.”
Asa’s mother twisted her mouth, cocked her head, and dropped one eyebrow as she regarded her son. (Oh, God, that look!) “Asa.” Her voice, despite showing some hoariness, was still sharp. “Don’t blow smoke up my skirt.”
“Well, Mom, there’s not a lot to say about it.” There is, but you don’t want to hear it. “I’ve put in for jobs, but I haven’t gotten many responses–and no good ones. It’s not the best thing to hear only a little, and all of it bad, you know? And it’s not a mark of pride to have a doctorate and have only debt to show for it, either.”
“Asa, you know everything happens for a reason.”
“And sometimes the reason is that I’m an idiot.”
“That wasn’t what I mean, and you know it!”
“No, Mom, I knew what you meant.” And I know you meant well, but it doesn’t help. “But there’s only so happy you can expect me to be when things aren’t quite so good, right?”
“A bad attitude won’t help. It’s like with that one boy you used to know, that Richard.”
“What about him?” I haven’t thought about that kid in years.
“Well, even after all that happened to him, he kept on smiling and moving on, and look at him now. He’s got a job and a family, and he’s doing alright.”
“Is he, now?” Well, that makes me feel not at all better. He can do so well, and I’m stuck out of a job.
“Oh, yes. Maybe you ought to give him a call.”
“Why, Mom? We weren’t exactly friends when I was here before,” I wasn’t exactly friends with anyone, really, “and it’s been nearly twenty years I’ve been away.”
“It won’t hurt you to give him a call. I’ll get you his number.” Asa’s mother stood and left the room.
This is part of why I didn’t want to have to come back, Asa thought. I didn’t like the folks around here when I lived here; I didn’t like how they coasted by on family history or on the steroids or whatever it was the coaches would give them, and now Mom wants me to act like everything was happy and fun.
He sighed heavily and began muttering to himself. “Hell, Richard used to beat the shit out of me after school. I mean, I know his folks abused him badly, but, damn, he didn’t have to take it out on me. And those other assholes who used to help him–the Delgadillo boy and David Smitherson–they didn’t have even that much excuse. Both of ’em were spoiled little shits, getting by because their families helped found the town and still ran a damned lot; they had everything they could’ve asked for. Fuckers.”
Asa looked out at the browning limestone hills again, coughing a bit to clear his throat. But I probably ought to kiss up a bit, if I’m going to stay here for any length of time. The Zapatas and Smithersons probably still run half of town between them, and the Hochstedlers probably run another quarter, too. The Delgadillo boy–what was his name?–is kin to the Zapatas and Hochstedlers, both; he might know some people, and he might feel bad about being such a shit when he was a kid.
He shook his head at the thought and muttered aloud again. “Nah. If he had a conscience, it would’ve shown up a while back.”
The knock on the door sounded again, and Asa’s mother re-entered. “I’ve got that number. Give him a call, honey; you always did stay holed up too much, you know.”
Asa took the slip of paper she handed him. “I might do that, Mom. I just might.”
But probably not. I doubt it’d do me any good to try.
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