Dorian couldn’t stop singing. Now that he was with a group of like-minded Borrowers with the same passion as him, he found himself humming and singing at all hours of the day. It was soothing and good practice for the next rehearsal.
The saddest thing was that practice was only once a week. He was lucky when there were two practices back-to-back the week he and Tiron were hanging out. They were going to increase practices for an upcoming performance, but that wasn’t for at least another month and a half. It didn’t stop him and Tiron from practicing together, but his Borrower friend still had other obligations and chores.
Dorian, thankfully, found an alternative to keep his music addiction satiated. He remembered Ashlynn had some weird circle device she called “Alexa” which she could ask to play music. He knew how to use it because they used it all of the time when they were all… together… happy…
This is what he started using.
For the past two weeks, Dorian would slip into Ashlynn’s apartment right after she left for work and start practicing. Sometimes he would just sit and listen to music while other times he would sing along at the top of his lungs.
There were only two other times that he was almost caught and, unfortunately, he had lost track of time and left the device on as Ashlynn arrived home from work. He suspected Ashlynn knew it was him, but she hadn’t said anything to Soren or Rey about it.
It was early in the morning and Ashlynn had just left for work. Perfect. He didn’t bother bringing his bag or tools since there was a direct route from the countertop to the wall. There was also no point in checking for the human of the house because she was gone. He had the entire apartment to himself. A nervous thump began in his chest. Which song would he listen to first? He stretched as he sat down in front of the circular device. He had just the song in mind.
“Alexa,” said Dorian. The lights came on instantly, awaiting his command. “Play Bohemian Rhapsody.” The device’s lights flashed for a moment before the song began to play. The teenage Borrower laid against the ground and closed his eyes after turning down the volume slightly to enjoy the lyrics. Dorian tapped his feet to the rhythm to that song, and the next which was a new song he heard called “My Happy Ending,” and the next, and the next.
At one point, he stood up on top of the device as if it were a stage, back to the open air behind him, as he sang at the top of his lungs some song Tiron told him about called, “Hall of Fame.” They were planning on doing it as a group just for the guys, but Dorian was behind in learning it.
Dorian sang along with the lyrics while practicing some of the moves Tiron taught him. If they were going to do this soon, he needed to be at the top of his game.
The young Borrower was so absorbed in the moment as the music claimed his focus that he didn’t hear the familiar jingle of keys or the footsteps of Ashlynn as she came inside, listened for a moment, and peaked around the corner to see Dorian dancing and singing his heart out.
It wasn’t until the song ended that the hair on Dorian’s neck stood on end and he spun around to see Ashlynn standing there mere feet from him.
It was by pure chance that the other clients canceled their showings for the rest of the day. Ashlynn, slightly frustrated, made her way back home to telework and finish some paperwork. She slipped the key into the lock and turned, making her way into the apartment with ease.
“I’m home,” she called softly. No response. Ashlynn set her bag on the couch and stretched. She was about to call out a second time to announce herself when she heard music playing from the kitchen. Did they forget to turn it off again?
She approached the corner leading into the kitchen as she listened to the music. Something was different about it. There was another voice singing along with the lead vocalist. It wasn’t Soren. She knew that much. She glanced around the corner and saw the last person she expected - Dorian.
He was singing at the top of his lungs - and he was really good. When did he get so good at singing? Has he been practicing all of this time? Is he the one who has been leaving the music going when he leaves? Why didn’t he say he liked music so much? Ashlynn started thinking about getting him something to play music. Maybe some headphones or speakers attached to an mp3 player?
Then again… maybe he wouldn’t like that.
Dorian had been acting weird ever since she had come back into their lives, rarely coming out into her apartment while she was there. Still, there he was, standing on top of the “Alexa” device singing and dancing like the Borrower she knew him to be. She wondered what happened to make him act so differently toward her, but she didn’t have time to ponder long.
The song ended before she knew it and, in an instant, she realized she had been staring for too long. Dorian’s body became visibly rigid as he spun around quickly to see Ashlynn peering out from around the corner.
“Hey,” she said quietly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. You sound really good. Great actually. When did you start singing like that?”
Dorian’s features hardened as he nervously glanced toward the electrical cover near the base of the wall before looking back to Ashlynn.
“You didn’t say you were back,” he said briskly while ignoring her question, which made Ashlynn bristle internally. Why did he brush her off like that? She took a breath before exhaling and trying to push down the feeling.
“Sorry, I guess I wasn’t loud enough when I came in,” she said quietly. There was a tangible awkwardness lingering in the air as Dorian continued to stare at Ashlynn. Now Ashlynn knew there was definitely something wrong. “Um… Dorian? Do you mind if I ask…”
“I’ve got to go,” said Dorian suddenly as he turned and started walking toward the wall cover. This didn’t sit well with Ashlynn at all.
Ashlynn knew she wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with and that, oftentimes, she wasn’t as tactful as she wanted to be when confronted with conflict. She had some time to think about how to ask the question, but she hadn’t planned for Dorian to walk away from her like this. Out of frustration and concern, Ashlynn stepped forward and placed her hand on the counter so that if Dorian made a run for the wall cover she could stop him.
“Hey, wait just a second,” she said firmly. She lowered herself to be at eye-level with the counter so Dorian didn’t have to crane his neck to look at her. Ashlynn remembered to do that much at least to keep from being so intimidating to the teenage Borrower.
Sadly, it didn’t work as well as she wanted. Dorian immediately turned to face her, a glowering look on his face.
“What?” he asked sharply. Ashlynn noted his tone was pointed and frustrated, but it was covering up something else.
“Firstly, I feel like I’ve broken some kind of unspoken rule and am being punished for it. Care to clue me in? Because I thought I was doing everything I could to make you all comfortable and, for almost two months, I’ve gotten nothing but the cold shoulder from you,” said Ashlynn, keeping her voice low and calm. Admittedly, she could have been more eloquent, but her own emotions were starting to get in the way.
Dorian folded his arms across his chest, an obvious defensive move, and continued to stare with his jaw locked firmly in place.
“Secondly, let’s not use that tone with one another. Speaking from personal experience, it is only going to cause problems - believe me,” Ashlynn continued. At this, Dorian’s pale blue eyes snapped up to Ashlynn’s blue-grey gaze.
“Believe you? You’re asking me to believe you? After everything that’s happened?” demanded Dorian. He shook his head, arms now firmly at his sides with his fists clenched, and started walking toward the cover on the wall.
Dorian couldn’t believe it. She had the audacity to say “believe me” after she lied to them. She didn’t deserve to be believed anymore. How could she ask that of him?
His pulse was skyrocketing having her so close, and the last thing he wanted was to have a conversation with her. The teenage Borrower barely made it to the wall when Ashlynn’s hand reached up and covered the wall socket.
Panic coursed through his body. Dorian had no weapons and no way to get down to the ground on his own. He whipped around to see those same accursed blue-grey eyes staring at him. With all of the force he could muster, he glared at her.
“Move your hand, Ashlynn,” he said forcefully. Her eyes steeled in fierce determination. Still, her tone was level and controlled.
“Not until you tell me what is going on,” said Ashlynn.
“Save your breath. It isn’t worth it. Now, let me leave,” demanded Dorian. Ashlynn sighed before looking deep into the combative teen’s eyes.
“What did I do wrong? Please, Dorian, let me try and fix it - whatever it is. I can’t make it better if I don’t know what to do,” stated Ashlynn, her voice sounding like she was pleading with him.
So… she really wanted to do this now? Fine.
“You want to know what you did?” spat Dorian, hands shaking in frustration. “You’re pretending like everything is okay. You’re pretending like nothing happened to us after you left and that we can just pick up where we left off.”
Ashlynn was quiet for a moment, obviously thinking through her response carefully to not upset Dorian and to not upset herself.
“I didn’t think anything was wrong. I saw Rey and Soren, and neither of them said anything about this. I’m sorry you think I’m pretending, even though that’s not what I’m doing. To me, it feels like we picked up where we left off,” replied Ashlynn quietly.
“Well, whoop-de-freakin-do for you. Life went on for you when you left,” Dorian shouted, overexaggerated sarcasm and force in his voice as he continued. “Did you even think about what would happen to us and the others when you moved away? I mean, at the very least you could’ve left medicine or a way to get in touch with you. Or, you know what would’ve been great? If you told that little monster to leave us alone!”
Ashlynn’s heart stopped. A twisted, gnarled sickness writhed in her gut.
Austin was Katie’s kid who Ashlynn babysat a couple of times years ago. It was Austin who found Brady, Dorian and Rey’s father, and ultimately injured him to the point where he couldn’t recover. Katie had told Ashlynn years ago that she was going to move out of that apartment complex, which was one of the reasons why Ashlynn felt alright with leaving.
Had they not left?
Ashlynn felt like she had been punched in the gut. Her senses coming back to her, she blinked just in time to see tears welling up in Dorian’s eyes. Were they from sadness, anger, or frustration? Maybe all three. Ashlynn blinked a few times and realized her own eyes were gathering tears of their own.
“Dorian… what happened?” she asked quietly.
Ashlynn’s voice sounded broken. Good. That’s exactly how Dorian felt.
“He happened, that’s what. After you left, he started designing traps and ambush points. We tried to stay away from the apartment and we tried to warn the other families, but that didn’t stop some of them from going there to get supplies they needed,” snarled Dorian. “If you hadn’t left, we wouldn’t have needed to go in there. If you hadn’t left, you could’ve told that kid to back off - that we’re not pests or pets for his amusement. If you hadn’t left, we wouldn’t have had to rescue my friend and then they wouldn’t have had to leave!”
Ashlynn was in absolute shock. Her shoulders threatened to start shaking from tension. It felt like her head was spinning. Involuntarily, her arm went slack from holding the electrical cover closed.
Dorian’s friend was seen, caught, and needed to be rescued. Why hadn’t Soren brought it up? Was it because he blamed her too?
“Dorian… I had no ide…” muttered Ashlynn.
“No. Just don’t,” interrupted Dorian. “We had a good life together. Okay? Everything was great when you were with us and everything was terrible when you left. We lost friends when they needed to migrate. We lost Lucy, who could’ve been saved with medicine. We lost you… and you promised…” tears were now spilling over the rims of Dorian’s cheeks. He had never said all of these things out loud before. Finally getting to vent his frustrations - his anger and sadness - was almost too much.
“Promised?” echoed Ashlynn. Dorian sniffed and wiped his eyes with the back of his arm, leaving wet tear stains through the light blond hair on his arm.
“Yeah, you promised. You promised we’d always be together, and then you left. You left us on our own to fend for ourselves even after you knew what we’ve been through. Were we not good enough? Is that it?” sniffed Dorian. Dorian’s arms instinctively started wrapping around his torso, subconsciously trying to comfort himself.
“Oh Dorian… no that’s not it at all,” said Ashlynn soothingly, emotion constricting her voice. Her hand, which rested on the counter, involuntarily inched toward Dorian until her palm was almost pressed against his back.
“We were family, Ashlynn. All four of us were a family. When you left, it felt like I was losing my mom again. It felt like when we thought we lost Soren and when I almost lost Rey. When Soren lost Lucy - when we lost Lucy - I thought we were past the breaking point. It felt like everything was falling apart.” Dorian was shaking with emotion. Every thought, frustration, hope, fear, and sickening loathing had been suppressed for so long that now it came spewing out with the slightest provocation from Ashlynn.
Tears in his eyes, Dorian found that his loathing and frustration against Ashlynn was quickly dissolving into distraught sorrow.
“We loved you, Ashlynn. You don’t leave the ones you love,” choked out Dorian. “Just tell me how. How could you leave us?” Dorian suddenly felt a warm pressure against his back. He didn’t need to look to know it was Ashlynn’s palm pressing against him. He saw her hand approaching for some time now - and he let it happen. He even dared himself to lean into the gentle comfort he used to cherish.
“Dorian,” said Ashlynn softly. “I’m… I’m sorry. I didn’t want to leave you - any of you. We all talked about it, remember? With the new families moving in and you all getting along with them so well, we thought it would be good for you boys to stay and live with other Borrowers your age. You were so excited to meet other kids your age, and I felt so bad for even thinking about taking you away from your new friends.”
“I remember,” sniffed Dorian. “I… I know it was the right thing. I know you didn’t mean it like that. I just know I’ve been angry and hurt and confused ever since you left and now that you’re here I can’t figure out how to go back to the way things were like my brothers. I feel so lost, Ashlynn…”
Dorian, for the first time since Ashlynn came back, turned into her palm and pressed himself against her. Without hesitation, Ashlynn’s fingers closed around his frame as she lifted him up and brought her lightly closed hand to her chest, tears starting to stream down her face. She turned and leaned against the counter, bringing her free hand up to cup the hand Dorian was in. Ashlynn listened to Dorian’s attempt to stifle his crying as she barely managed to control her own emotions. Several prolonged minutes passed between them before Ashlynn dared to speak up after both of them collected themselves.
“Dorian, I am so sorry,” she said just barely above a whisper. “I shouldn’t have left. It’s the biggest regret of my life - not staying and being there for all of you. I promise I will never let that happen again, if you’ll let me.”
“But… I don’t know how to go back,” muttered Dorian. Ashlynn pulled her hand away from her chest as Dorian rotated in her palm so he could face her. Her fingers unfurled just enough to give Dorian enough room while also keeping him cupped in her hand.
“We don’t have to go back. We just have to move forward. If… if you want to that is,” Ashlynn said as she wiped her eyes with her free hand. Dorian looked up into Ashlynn’s blue-grey eyes and once again found that same comfort he did so many years ago. He nodded timidly, looking slightly embarrassed.
“I’d like that,” said Dorian. “On one condition.”
“Oh?” Ashlynn said with a small smile pulling up the corner of her lips. “What’s that?”
“You have to make a promise and never break it. Promise you won’t leave us again. Promise we’ll stay together, no matter what. Okay?” stated Dorian. “And don’t say it unless you mean it. I… I don’t think me, or Rey, or Soren can go through that again. Promise?”
Soren? Soren can’t go through it again? Ashlynn put those thoughts in the back of her mind as she nodded and locked eyes with Dorian.
“I promise. As long as you’ll have me, I will never leave you – any of you – again.”