Asian American American Contemporary

“But seriously… you would love climbing. Come with me the next time I go,” Ashlee gushed in between sips of her matcha latte. The contrast between the melon gloss on her lips and the pistachio green of the matcha was mesmerizing. Sheena pondered for a minute if Ashlee hadn’t just ordered the matcha on a whim, that this color pairing was carefully rehearsed.

“Yea. Maybe. We will see. You know I am not huge of heights, Ash,” Sheena said, not able to tear her eyes away from the glass moving to and from the lips.

“Come on, Sheen. Couldn’t you just be open to trying something new for once? This is like Costa Rica all over again.” Ashlee put down her latte and flipped her honey highlights away as if her hair was as exasperated by Sheena as she was.

Sheena bristled. The fifteen years that they had known each other gave Ashlee plenty of ammunition to trot out at inopportune moments to taunt her. And this was a task Ashlee never shied away from. She seemed to have a banner streaming like at the bottom of a news channel with the headlines, ready to pick one out at just the right time to make just the right point.

“OK Costa Rica wasn’t exactly the same thing. Sorry that janky zipline company with those fraying ropes wasn't appealing to me as the cause for my death. Not like I stopped you from trying it.” Sheena paused before she threw in, “I mean, Ash, let’s see if you are even into climbing in a month’s time when Ben pisses you off or the infatuation fades away.”

Ashlee’s lips shrunk, now looking like two pieces of salmon sitting on a sushi board. She tilted her head back slightly, finger combing her hair away from her face, her mocha strands catching the light, illuminating carefully placed wisps of gold.

“Come on, Sheen, that’s not fair. This does feel different with Ben, and I told you this is not the same old, same old. Why don’t you believe me?”

Sheena looked at her friend’s face, her effortlessly spotless skin, a rosy flush highlighting her high cheekbones, her dark lashes framing her almond-shaped eyes, and thought back to the moment they had first met. It was the first day of junior high and Ashlee had walked in with her midriff gleaming in between her cropped tank and jeans with a confident air that belied that it was her first day at the school. She had walked up to Sheena without even knowing she was her assigned buddy to show her around. In a sea of white, Ashlee had been drawn to a familiar Asian face likely assuming instant connection. And she wasn’t wrong. Sheena’s Taiwanese American parents, and Ashlee’s parents from Hong Kong had so many of the same idiosyncrasies, that pretty soon Sheena and Ashlee were the fastest of friends. But while Ashlee had become a crowd favorite, especially with the boys who found her exotic and geisha-like, Sheena hadn’t quite hit that level of popularity. It didn’t bother Sheena back then; she always knew Ashlee and her had a bond that no one around them could replicate, forged over hours of complaining about their nagging Asian moms and their absent, workaholic fathers. Sheena thought about the day Ashlee had walked into her house, tears streaming down her face, announcing that her parents were separating and her father was moving back to Hong Kong. Sheena felt a pang of guilt as she remembered Ashlee asking over and over again how her father could just abandon her like that, as if repeating the question would scratch the lottery ticket and expose the code.

“I do believe you, Ash. It’s just that I tried skiing with you last year because Eric wanted to, and even went to a damn gun range because that jackass Bryan had to shoot guns to feel like a man, so you can’t say I haven’t tried. I just feel like I need to give this one a bit more time before I decide to perch 50 feet above my comfort zone.”

It always amazed Sheena how easy it was for Ashlee to trip into love, with all the wrong men. It didn’t help that Ashlee was always drawn to the same type - tall, athletic, perfectly symmetric face with a strong jaw, white, preferably in banking or Tech. It was like someone had cloned one man and turned his clones loose in every bar in the city, and challenged Ashlee to round them all up.

A clinking sound from her phone distracted Sheena. Glancing at her phone she saw her mother’s message in a speech bubble. “Call me ASAP.”  As if on cue, Ashlee’s phone buzzed, almost throwing itself off the table. “Oh it’s my mom,” Ashlee raised her eyebrow and she hit the green icon with her silver polished index finger and raised her phone to her face.

“Hey ma, can I call you back? I am having coffee with Shee…oh,” Ashlee paused and sucked her breath in, “Oh, oh, ok, ok. Yea I’ll do that. OK ma, talk later.”

Ashlee’s lashes climbed up to her eyebrows as her almond eyes changed shape, gaining height.

“Sheen, I think your mom is trying to reach you.”

“Yea I know, she just texted me saying she wanted to talk. But you know how everything is an emergency for her.”

“I think you should call her,” Ashlee said in a hushed raspy voice that lodged at the back of Sheena’s throat. Dramatics came so easily to Ashlee.

“I’ll call her when I am walking home, Ash…”

“OMG Sheen why are you so stubborn?! Something happened to your dad. You mom needs to talk to you.”

Sheena furrowed her brows searching Ashlee’s face, to see if she was missing a telltale sign from her gorgeous friend. Whether her twitching ears or her bitten lip would give away what was going on. Her friend’s face that day, the day her father left, came flooding back. Ashlee didn’t know how her father, who had up until then given her everything she had asked for before she had asked for it, could walk out of her life like that. How her mother could drive him away with her constant frustrated fits and disdain for her father’s late nights at work. Ashlee had looked up to her workaholic father in a way Sheena had never understood. Sheena’s own father, unlike Ashlee’s who headed up finance for a big pharmaceutical company, worked long days at their family-owned gas station. It wasn’t the job; it was her father’s belief that his only worth in life was predicated on the money he brought into their bank account that bothered her. That somehow his duty to earn subsumed his duty to be her father, to be there, to hold her hand, to walk her through life.

“Sheen, are you listening? Can you please call your mom. Here, I am dialing her now.”

Sheena put her hand over her friend’s phone, her eyes drilling  holes into it.

“Ash, stop. You are being so dramatic. What’s going on? What do you mean something happened to my dad.”

“You should call your mom and find out.”

Sheena couldn’t imagine what could have possibly happened to her father who had survived three burglaries and about a dozen vandalisms at the gas station. But she knew whatever it was, she’d rather hear it from Ashlee than from her mother. Because even though Ashlee’s penchant for perfect men and midriff baring tops irked her, her beautiful friend was the anchor that kept her moored. Even as they had grown into different people since junior high, they kept finding their way back to each other, relied on each other to pick the other up, hold the other one in, and find port in the storm.

January 30, 2021 01:52

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