Sixteen-year-old Autumn is a human heartache. Everywhere she turns people are stomping on her hopes and dreams. Her mom’s a tweaker. She’s lived with her chain-smoking grandmother for as long as she can remember. Even her best friend has issues. Autumn seems to be the only responsible person she knows and she’s sick of putting up with it all.
When she meets Evan, a hot guy without a worry in the world, she can only wonder if he’s for real or just another Dream Smasher.
A girl who no longer wants to care and a boy who cares enough for the both of them. Dream Smashers is a love story, but most of all, it’s about letting go.
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By Angela Carlie
Friday, October 2nd
Hope, wrapped around my wrist in the form of hemp and beads, created by the innocent hands of my mother as a kid—a dream smasher in the making. Frayed and worn, it reminds me that my mother hasn’t always been how she is, and lets me believe that maybe she could someday be a real mom. That thought ranks high on the totally-never-going-to-happen scale, but one can still have hope. Besides, she did a wicked job at making it, so it’s a pretty cool accessory. I haven’t taken it off since I found it stuffed in a junk drawer in her old room.
“Autumn.” Grams’ phlegm-heavy voice snaps me out of my thoughts. “Eat your breakfast.”
Jeannie, a lifelong waitress who escapes her husband every morning by going to work, slides a plate of eggs and hash browns under my nose. According to the whispers from the lips of old ladies, Jeannie sometimes works double shifts to avoid going home.
It’s funny the things you notice that you never noticed before when secrets touch your ears. Like a bruise on an arm that could have come from running into a wall, but now seems more than a simple accident, or a subtle limp that wouldn’t have been given a second thought, but now weighs heavy on the heart.
The aroma of breakfast stirs the monster in my stomach. “Thanks, Jeannie.”
She winks at me and walks away.
Grams turns back to her conversation with her two lady friends, one a retired high school teacher, the other a widowed hair dresser. Smoke billows from Grams’ cigarette, creating thick smog around the group, and she slurps a cup of coffee while they chat about the latest gossip. I never understand how they have so much to talk about. We eat breakfast here every single day, and every day they have at least thirty minutes of chatter to spill.
It’s a typical Friday in the town of Cultus, Washington, which is nestled like a nasty tick into the armpit of the state. With a population of thirty-five thousand, it’s not a small town, yet there is absolutely nothing to do here. Well, nothing that won’t get you into trouble or destroy your life. There’s a reason why this town has a high crime rate and is known for its access to methamphetamine.
The bell on the door jingles, and my best friend, Rainy, walks through. She waves her hand in front of her face and coughs. “Dude, you’re gonna die of secondhand smoke and crap.”
Tell me about it. I don’t smoke, yet I’m pretty sure nicotine seeps from my pores.
Rainy stops at the amber glass to check her bleach blond mullet—ratted on top and long in the back—in the faint reflection before flopping down next to my grandma on the green vinyl bench. She grabs the cigarette from Grams’ hand and smashes it into the ashtray. Grams is too enthralled with her conversation to notice.
“You really shouldn’t eat with them if,” Rainy raises her voice, “all they’re gonna do is smoke like chimney stacks.” She turns back to me. “Aren’t you even gonna ask why I’m early?”
“What time is it? I didn’t notice it was early.” Actually, she’s probably right on time, instead of late as usual. “And why do you look so nice? Why are you wearing a skirt?”
Rainy never wears skirts, but today she sports a plaid hot pink and neon green schoolgirl skirt, complete with a matching petticoat. The skirt may be new but her standard t-shirt and Converse are the same. She says the eighties-look makes her stand out in the crowd. Not that she needs big hair and retro clothes to stand out.
“I have a date after school,” she says. “And so do you.”
Grams’ selective hearing must have zapped her because she snaps her attention to Rainy.
“Yeah. Remember that website I was telling you about?” Rainy pauses as if I should know what she’s talking about. “You know, the one where lots of kids hang out in chat rooms and talk art crap and stuff?”
“No. You never told me, because I would’ve remembered that.” Rainy talks to a lot of people, unlike me, and thinks she tells me things when she really told someone else. She won’t admit to it, but it’s a problem that emerges on a regular basis.
“Yes I did. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. The point is, we have dates and they’re from the chat room.” She grabs a piece of toast from my plate and spreads jam on it.
“What do you mean, we? I don’t know anybody from this chat room, so it looks like you’re on your own.”
“I set you up.” Her teeth crunch into the toast.
Grams thin lips twitch from their ordinary frowning position into a straight line, her effort at a smile. “Do your parents know about this date?” she asks Rainy.
“Of course, Grams. Chaaa.” Rainy rolls her eyes.
Grams nods her head in thought. Her two friends lean toward us, a little more interested in our conversation—like this may be the best gossip of the day. News flash: Rainy forces Autumn to go on a date. Better yet, Autumn agrees to go on a blind date! But that’s not going to happen, so they may as well find something else to whisper about.
“Sorry, I’m not doing that again,” I say to Rainy. “Last time you totally ditched me with that freakazoid at the movies…remember?”
“Come on. He wasn’t a freak.” Rainy grins. “You were just mad that I got the cuter guy, that’s all.” She throws the crust from the toast onto the plate then reaches for my water. “It will be different this time. I saw a picture and he’s hot. Real hot.”
“I don’t care. I’m not going—I’ve got stuff to do.” Well, I wish I had stuff to do.
Rainy scrunches her face in disbelief. “Like what? What could you possibly have to do on a Friday night?” She sighs. “I’m your only friend, dork. Remember?”
“For your information, I have plenty to do and it’s none of your business.”
Grams hacks up a wad of phlegm and spits it into a napkin—totally embarrassing me, as usual. Not that there is anyone here to be embarrassed in front of. Rainy’s already familiar with Grams’ smoking habits. The old ladies whom Grams hangs out with smoke just as heavily as she does. Thus, every morning is a chorus of hacking old ladies. The run-down Matt’s Café is regularly filled with other hackers of the geriatric nature.
“You know you don’t have anything better to do,” Grams says. Her friends nod in agreement. “What are the boys’ names?” Grams points an unlit cigarette at Rainy.
“Evan and Caleb.” Rainy shrugs and lifts an eyebrow toward my direction.
“Their last names?”
“Laverne, I think. They’re cousins. Why?”
The three old ladies banter at each other. “Evan’s Delores’ son.” “She volunteers at the Senior Center.” “Good church-going folk.” “They’ll be safe.”
Rainy lets out an exaggerated sigh. I kick her under the table.
“Go out with Rainy and have some fun.” Grams gives me her serious look. “If you don’t, I’ll have you polishing my spoons all weekend.”
My grandma is famous for collecting antique silver spoons. She fills drawers and racks and cupboards and boxes in storage full of the shiny pieces of metal. She is a member of the American Spoon Club and gets spoons through mail order. She travels to antique stores once a month in search of odd spoons or to find what she perceives as exciting spoons.
“Each spoon has a history,” she once told me. She owns a spoon rumored to have been Hitler’s and one from Abraham Lincoln. She even found some freaky weird spoons that don’t look like spoons at all from, like, ancient times or something.
The last time she forced me to polish spoons was six years ago for stealing candy from the supermarket.
Rainy’s eyes light up. She points at me. “Ha! You don’t really want to polish spoooooons, do you?”
“Gee, thanks, Grams.”
“And when you’re done with the spoons, you can come to church with me on Sunday. You’re sixteen, sweetheart. Take it from me…”
Oh, here we go.
“…you need to loosen up a little and enjoy some good clean fun. You need to go out tonight with Rainy. You also really should start coming with me to church because there are some nice kids there you can make friends with and join the teen church group after school.”
I roll my eyes.
Her finger slices through the air toward me. “I mean it, Autumn.” She lights another cigarette and blows blue air out of her nostrils. “You spend too much time at home worrying. You don’t have to worry about the world, or about me, and you especially don’t have to worry about being like your mother.”
That did it. I stand and grab my book-bag. “We need to go.”
“You’re not going to turn into her by going out once in a while. Don’t run away every time I bring her up.”
“I’m not running away, we just have to go to school.” Lie. I’m not really in the mood to talk about my so-called mother. I jerk my head toward Rainy and she gets up.
“Fine, but just know that you are not your mother. You’re nothing like her.”
Yeah, you said that. “I know Grams.” I bend down to kiss her peach-fuzz cheek. “Don’t spend all day here. Get home and take a nap or something.”
Dear Lord, please watch over and protect Grams while I’m away. Keep her safe.
I march through the door, not looking back to see if Rainy is following. Once I get to the end of the block, Rainy’s footsteps on wet pavement and heavy breathing catch up with me.
“Would you slow down?”
“We’re going to be late.” I turn to wait for her. “Do you even want to go today?”
She steps next to me, out of breath. “Not really.”
“I only want to show up for art class. Do you want to hang with me in the art room while I finish up an assignment or do you have better things to do?”
“Nah, I’ll hang. So, what do you wanna do ‘til then?” She walks double-time to keep up with me. Her short legs can never keep up with my long ones. “Do you wanna go to the falls? Or, how ‘bout the pot-holes?”
I sigh. “Not really. Let’s just go to the pit.”
The pit is an abandoned one bedroom house we lay claim to on a regular basis, just a few blocks from school property. It’s the sort of place that Grams would vomit hot chili peppers over if she knew we hung out there: dark, creepy, broken. But what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Or me for that matter.
We sneak around back and enter through the sliding glass door.
I sit on a wooden chair that we found broken in the back last month. There had been three of them we rescued, just dumped like garbage. It wasn’t difficult to restore them. A little wood glue, some sandpaper and paint, and now we have chairs representing all the primary colors.
The blue chair is mine today, to express my mood. Rainy sits in the red, as usual.
“Come here a sec,” Rainy says. “I wanna show you our hot dates for tonight.” She pulls out her laptop from her bag.
“What’s the big deal about these dates? You know I’m drawing here, don’t you?” I hold up my sketch pad. “He better be Taylor Lautner gorgeous.”
The laptop beeps, waking from its slumber.
“What are you drawing now?”
“Just an assignment for school.” I toss my sketch pad to her.
She looks at it for a moment. “Who’s this?”
“It’s, uh, Jacinda.” My mom.
“Really?” She stretches pink gum from her mouth and twirls it around her finger. “I thought it was you for a minute, but it looks a little different. Is this what she used to look like?”
“Yeah. I found a picture in one of Grams’ albums.”
“Wow. She used to be pretty.”
“Yeah, she used to be.” I don’t remember her being pretty though.
The last time I saw her she was a walking skeleton with skin. She didn’t look like that picture at all. Her black hair, no longer thick and full, had become thin and stringy, like doll hair. The dirt caked under her yellow finger nails turned the tips of her fingers black, and the rash on her face turned her skin red. Her teeth no longer resembled the pearls she inherited, but rather nuggets of coal she dug from a mine. Those that weren’t missing.
They called Jacinda a miracle child because the doctors told Grams she couldn’t have babies. Grams got pregnant with her at thirty-five—almost old enough to be a grandma rather than a first-time mom.
“How’s your brother doing?” I ask.
“James?” Rainy shrugs. “He’s gained weight and hasn’t run away from rehab in over a month. He gets out next week.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“I guess. I don’t think he’ll stay clean when they let him out. Once a tweaker, always a tweaker.” Rainy flips through the pad. “Wouldn’t it be cool if gravity didn’t work for meth addicts and they all floated out into space? They should totally build a colony for them on the moon so we don’t have to deal with them.”
“That’s the best idea you’ve ever had.”
“Besides, he’s still with Angelica.”
Angelica. She’s every guy’s wet dream. Only problem is, if you’re a guy with Angelica, then you do as she does and that happens to be every kind of illegal substance she can get her hands on. She’s always been the go-to girl for parties and she wears her reputation like a cheetah wears spots. For obvious reasons, like turning her brother into a junky, Rainy doesn’t like Angelica much.
The computer announces the arrival of comprehension by beeping. Rainy picks up the laptop. “Are you ready to see your prince charming?”
I stand behind her and wait for the unveiling of my next nightmare blind date. If he’s anything like the last guy Rainy set me up with, he’ll be a total dog. “So, what’s this guy’s name again?”
The computer flashes several pictures, all strangers to me. With a tap of the mouse pad, one picture expands to fill the entire screen. He’s actually pretty cute.
“That can’t be him. It’s probably a fake picture or something. Don’t guys online usually look…how should I put this? Dorky? Or insane?” I ask.
“Shut up!” She snaps around to hit me. “I happen to go out with guys that I meet online and no, they don’t all look dorky. And very few of them look insane. Some of them, well, the ones I go out with, are freakin’ hot.”
“You don’t even know because you are too high and mighty to meet any of them.”
“What-e-v-e-r. I’m not high and mighty. I just don’t go around throwing myself at complete strangers.” I sit back down in the blue chair. “I have standards.”
People that I meet need to have something about them—a spark, a sense of intelligence, or something else to make me want to hang out with them. Rainy falls into the spark category.
“Are you talking about standards like the stupid lady in the fancy old car again? What’s that name you made up for her? Ms. Lightheart?” she asks. “That’s just crazy dreaming. You were what, twelve when you saw her? I think most of that occurred in your head. Nobody has a completely carefree life. Nobody is happy all the time. You just saw her on a good day. I’m sure she lives in the same hell as the rest of us.”
“Oh, great, aren’t you the supportive friend?” I spin away from her. “It’s not her that I set my standards to. It’s the principle. What’s so wrong with having standards anyway? What’s so wrong with having goals?”
I fell in love with Ms. Lightheart the first and only time that she drove through my life. Well, not love in the sense of goo-goo eyes, heart palpations or candy-coated-lip-kisses, but love in the sense of, “Man, I totally want to be like her when I grow up.”
That day, I waited for ever-late-Rainy in the park. The crisp air stung my nose and the sun swaggered low to the ground. Annoying brats just released from their own institutionalized hell, crowded the merry-go-round, the slide and monkey bars.
That’s when the epitome of what I wanted to be drove by. With her strawberry hair pulled back in a dancing yellow scarf, she seemed carefree, like a small girl gliding high on the swings of life. If the traffic light hadn’t turned red, forcing her to stop, I wouldn’t have had the chance to appreciate her from afar.
I may have fallen in love with her car first—a cream colored 1954 MG TF Convertible Roadster. Of course I didn’t know what kind of car it was at the time. I only knew that when I grew up, I wanted one just like it. And when I grew up, I wanted to be her. I wanted her ivory skin hands, her long sleeve t-shirt and puffy vest. I wanted her red hair that reflected gold in the sunlight. I wanted her awesome vintage sun glasses, her car, and her fluffy sheep dog that sat in the passenger seat smiling with his tongue flapped out. Most of all, I wanted her freedom.
Her image burned into my mind that day. It’s what I strive for in everyday life—perfected, carefree freedom. Four years I have attempted to live carefree, and failed. Eventually, I’ll get it right. And I’ll be just like her when I do.
Just like Ms. Lightheart.
Rainy continues to fiddle with her computer. “What? Did you say something?”
“You’re such a dork.” I laugh and throw a wad of crumpled paper at her.
She catches it one handed. “Yeah, but I’m a fast dork.”
Pounding rattles the front door and a man’s voice says, “Hey! Is someone in there?”
I freeze. Rainy mouths the words “Oh-my-God” and puts a finger to her lips.
Duh. Like I would say anything.
“Girls! I know you’re in there,” he shouts. “Open the door.”
Sweat pricks my top lip. I mouth, “Let’s go,” toward Rainy and point to the back exit. She nods in agreement. We gather our things and tip-toe to the sliding glass door.
Just as I reach for the handle, a tall man in black steps to the glass. He bears a knife in his hand and a menacing grimace on his face.
Dear Jesus, help us!
Copyright ©2011 by Angela Carlie
All Rights Reserved
If you'd like to read more of Dream Smashers, it will be available for purchase on Kindle, Nook, and paperback through Amazon on April 4th. Thank you for reading!