Home > The Mixtape(7)

The Mixtape(7)
Author: Brittainy C. Cherry

I’d seen Ed send people packing for being a few weeks behind. He was a cutthroat kind of guy, all bite and no bark. Except for when it came to Reese and me. I was completely aware of the murky legalities here, and I knew the situation couldn’t go on forever. Plus, there was no worse feeling than knowing you owed a person something. I wanted no debt against my name, for me and for Reese. For the time being, I was thankful for Ed’s generosity. He had a bit of a soft spot for Reese, and he always said that I reminded him of his own mother. She had been a single mother, too, so perhaps Ed saw himself in Reese.

He couldn’t take pity on us much longer, though, and I had to come up with a way to get him almost $2,000 in two days. I wouldn’t have the money until Friday, and even then, rent would take up most of our check for the upcoming two weeks, leaving little room for gas and food.

I took a deep breath and tried to keep from breaking. It felt like an everlasting battle. If I caught up on one thing, another was falling out of place.

“If you need money, Emery—” Abigail started, but I shook my head quickly.

I’d taken a loan from her in the past, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it again. I couldn’t keep relying on others to give me a break in life. I had to stand completely on my own two feet. I just wished I knew how to walk better.

“It’s okay, really. Everything will work out. It always does.”

“You’re right, it does. But if you ever need an extra inch to get yourself to tomorrow, I’ll be here.”

Just like that, my heart cracked and healed all at once. The tears I’d fought daily to keep from falling began sliding down my face, and I turned away from Abigail. I was ashamed of myself, embarrassed by our struggles.

Yet Abigail wouldn’t allow any such thing. She wiped away my tears, shaking her head. Then she said five words that were so simple, yet so meaningful. “You’re not weak; you’re strong.”

You’re not weak; you’re strong.

How? How did she know what I needed to hear?

“Thank you, Abigail. Truly. You’re a saint.”

“Not a saint, just a friend. Which reminds me, I better get going to meet a friend for coffee. You have a good day!” She turned and skipped away like the fairy godmother she’d always been.

I hurried over to Reese and took the box of doughnuts from her grip. Two and a half were missing from the box, and honestly, I was surprised it wasn’t more.

“Sorry, Ma. I couldn’t stop it. They are sooo good! You should have one.”

I smiled and almost got a sugar high from the smell of deliciousness. But I refused, because if I didn’t eat one, she’d have more for later. I’d learned quickly that motherhood meant saying no to yourself so you could later say yes to your child.

“I’m good right now, babe. Now, go wash up. We have to get you to camp on time.”

She hopped off the sofa and raced to the bathroom to clean herself up.

While she was gone, I studied the rent notice in my hand, and my mind began swirling around, trying to figure out what could fall behind so we could fall ahead on rent.

Don’t overthink it, Emery. Things will work out. They always have and always will.

That was a concrete belief I held in the deepest parts of my mind, because I was a woman of statistics, and the stats were on my side. When I thought back to the hardest times of my life, when I thought I wouldn’t have made it through, somehow I had done exactly that—I survived.

Our current situation was nowhere near as bad a place as I’d been in before, so I wouldn’t mope; I’d keep moving forward. It wasn’t a dark cave I was in—I was simply dealing with an overcast sky.

At some point, the clouds would shift and the sun would shine again. Statistics never lied—at least that was my hope.

Plus, there was some comfort knowing that the sun never truly left; it just stayed hidden some days. Until those clouds shifted, I turned to music. Some people turned to yoga or working out to clear their heads. Others went for walks or wrote in a journal. But for me? My key to breathing was music and lyrics. Music always spoke to me in ways that nothing else ever could. Song lyrics always reminded me that my feelings were worthy of being felt, and I wasn’t alone in my fears. Somewhere out there, another was feeling the same woes.

That was comforting in more ways than I ever could’ve described—just the idea of knowing that sadness wasn’t only felt by me. Or that my happiness wasn’t mine alone. There was a beautiful stranger somewhere across the world, listening to the same song as me, feeling both happy and sad all at once.

As we headed out the front door, I found a paper bag resting on my welcome mat. Inside were random food items, with a note on top. “Just thought you guys could play Chopped later this week, Chef.” A note, clearly from Abigail. It wasn’t the first time I’d received a paper bag with random food items beside my door from my neighbor. Chopped was a show that Reese and I watched often with Abigail. The concept was to take items that seemed random and create a meal from said items.

Abigail knew that my dream was to become a chef someday, and those little bags of food she left for us were not only to feed us physically, but to feed my soul too. I glanced into the bag and saw a baguette, a small honey ham, four sweet potatoes, and peanut butter.

Then, there was a note with one of Abigail’s therapist thoughts:

Asking for help doesn’t make you a failure.

Just like that, the sun peeked through the clouds a bit.

“Reese! Let’s get a move on!” I hollered, checking the time. I hurried and put the ham in the fridge. No time for tears of gratitude. My only mission was to get Reese to camp before nine a.m.

Each day on the drive to drop Reese off, I put on Alex & Oliver’s first two albums. I only ever played the first two, though, because in my mind they were the best ones. There was an authenticity to their sound before Hollywood wrapped its money-grabbing hands around the duo. Alex and Oliver Smith were lyrical geniuses, though their record label hadn’t allowed them to showcase their true gift. They’d just forced the guys to become cookie-cutter superstars. The majority of their fans loved the new stuff; again, there was a huge market for cookie-cutter music. If there wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a thing.

But us original fanatics? We saw the change. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Oliver was a host on some TV music contest soon enough.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of their new sounds, but I had quite a personal connection with the first two albums. Those albums felt as if they told the earliest chapters of my life.

Faulty Wires by Alex & Oliver was the soundtrack to my youth, and it meant the world to me. It was sad to think after the tragic events a few months back that we wouldn’t get any more true, authentic music from the duo. I’d been holding my breath in hopes of Oliver returning to his true core, but from the headlines, it seemed as if, after the tragedy he’d experienced, Oliver was on a downward spiral with no real drive to ever come back to life.

Last time I heard, he hadn’t left his house in the past six months, having become a complete recluse.

I couldn’t blame him, really.

I, too, would’ve spiraled.

As I played Alex & Oliver in the car, Reese sang along to the lyrics she had yet to understand. Lyrics of first loves, and hopes, and demons. Lyrics of struggles and triumphs. Lyrics of truths.

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