Chapter 10: Rumor
1. a circulating topic or story that may or may not be far from the truth; a possible lie.
*Chloe’s Point of View*
“He let you lay on his lap?!” In a tone that could have disturbed classes, woken up newborns, and certainly frightened me, Jamie’s loud proclamation echoed the narrow, student-filled hallway. I flipped all my attention from my locker, wishing I hadn’t enticed the dramatic girl with my hot, lusty night that involved getting my beauty sleep in the relaxation of Asher’s freezing car.
“I was exhausted! It’s no big deal.” Securing my locker in irritation and slight regret, I stormed away from Jamie, who caught up a few moments later, and we both headed towards the cafeteria. Slamming down onto my regular seat in the noisy, control center for student lunch, I watched Jamie pop off the lid to her colorful noodles.
“Remind me again. Why aren’t you taking advantage of the fact you live with a hot guy who likes you? It makes no sense to me.” Jamie shoveled a spoonful of macaroni salad into her mouth as she questioned my life choices.
I brought my water bottle to my mouth to take a swig, my mind momentarily imagining a world where I didn’t mention my evening of cat naps in zero-degree weather.
“Did you miss the part of the story where he made out with someone else in the hallway?” I glanced down and pushed my plate of pizza away from myself, wanting nothing less than the grease-packed slice after recalling that scandalous moment.
Jamie only scoffed. “Did you miss the part where you were talking to Hayden Larkin and he flipped out?”
My eyes rolled toward the heavens. “He’s protective. He’s like a more annoying version of Tate.”
She smirked. “C, I promise you, he’s not trying to play your older brother.”
The remark prompted me to frown as she chuckled. Glancing around the table, I ensured none of the guys were intruding on the conversation before I continued.
One week prior, Asher and his friends decided to eat lunch with us on a whim. Andy had walked Jamie all the way to our lunch table and, instead of turning around and heading towards his own section of the cafeteria, he sat down and the two of them continued the conversation they’d been having. Asher strolled into the cafeteria next, grinning when he saw Andy at my table before taking a seat beside me.
The rest of the boys followed, and suddenly, as each day passed, our table was where they ate lunch. The cafeteria seemed intrigued by the fact the four guys were sitting with us instead of at their usual table, packed with football players, squeaky cheerleaders, and people who would peak in high school. Asher and his friends didn’t mind the attention, of course. Luckily, the groups of hungry pupils were getting used to the boy’s new seating arrangements.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Sophia Jenkens standing before me. Her sandy brown hair shone on her shoulders, the highlight on her face almost like staring into the sun and I mentally questioned why she had approached me.
“Hey, Chloe!” she exclaimed. I greeted and returned her welcome before she continued with, “Olivia and us girls were talking and we were wondering how your day has been.”
She pointed back at the table she’d come from, overflowing with girls who had the time and money to spend on becoming that attractive. Olivia Harvey, sitting at the head of the table, waved her french-tipped nails in our direction, her full lips puckering into a sly smile. With evilly bright eyes and cream-soda-hued hair, I felt she had more to ask me about than just my day.
I frowned at her, narrowing my eyes as I repeated her name in my head. Olivia. I'd been racking my brain for an Olivia since the night of the party, and as I stared into the snake eyes of the one across the room, I was sure I'd found who I was looking for.
My eyes returned to Sophia and I smiled. “It’s been fine.”
“Awesome!” With a pause that did nothing to ready me for the next sentence, she added, “The girls also noticed you hanging out with Asher Freed a lot and, well, we all wanted to know if you two were dating?”
I could hear Jamie snicker behind me. As I questioned my own life choices this time, my head was shaking with heated contention. “Oh no, no. We’re not. Just friends.”
Sophia let out a sigh of relief and a small chuckle. “Oh, good! That’s the answer I was hoping for. It’s a relief I don’t have to give Olivia bad news when I go back,” she finished. I almost felt bad for her. She was legitimately afraid to give her friend lousy news.
Before I could reinstate that I was not in a relationship, the unavoidable Asher Freed walked up to the table. He set his lunch down and took a seat beside me, eyeing the girl at the tableside.
“Hey, Dol.” He turned to Sophia. “Hey...” He’d forgotten her name, and his acknowledgment melted into an awkward silence.
“Sophia,” I helped in a whisper.
“Sophia, hi,” he finished. Sophia grinned at him, oblivious to the name incident, and my smile nervously bounded between the two of them.
Against my silent prayers, Jamie spoke up behind me. “Asher, Sophia was here to clarify that you and Chloe weren’t dating. Would you like to speak on that?”
I could hear her lips tilting as she spoke. Jerk.
Asher tore his eyes off Jamie and returned them to Sophia, more narrowed than before. “Would it matter if we were?”
“We’re not,” I clarified once again, simultaneously sending Asher a glare.
Sophia shook her head, revealing a wide smile to us before she scurried back to her table and to an angry-looking Olivia.
Asher swung back to the table and I twisted towards him, my mouth opening to say something but closing when nothing came out. Scowling, I stared at my uneaten pizza.
Asher took a bite out of his own and lifted a brow. “Wanna tell me what’s got you all pissed off?”
“No,” I spat out.
He sighed, placing his slice down and shifting to me. “Will you tell me anyway?”
“You just...” I huffed in what sounded like a frustrated laugh. “You make me so angry.”
His lips rose into a smirk. “I know that already.”
“You couldn’t just say we weren’t dating?” The tone of my voice was tighter than usual, my straining timbre evident to any present ear.
He shrugged, ignoring the agitated squeak he had fueled me to produce. “What? All I said was-”
Cutting him off, my voice came out cold, less squeaky. “I know what you said. You said an open-ended question that could mean anything, including that we are dating. Which we aren’t. That’s how rumors start,” I said in one breathless and offended sentence.
In response, he rolled his eyes. “Who the fuck cares about rumors?”
With frustration knotting my chest, I emphasized, “I do!”
Jamie enjoyed the show we were putting on, grinning ear to ear, and I could already quote the lecture she’d receive from me later.
“Maybe if you didn’t care so much about other people’s opinions,” Asher snarked.
His argument did nothing to tame my inner fumes, instead only adding propane to them. I stood from the table, giving my pizza slice one last good shove, and exited the loud cafeteria, met by immediate silence as the front doors closed.
My legs feeling shorter than usual, I only made it so far before the doors opened and the inside cafeteria chatter attacked the courtyard silence, shutting away a second later. The strap of my backpack that was off my shoulder was secured in an unknown grasp and I was yanked a few steps backward, turning around to find the person who could win an award in bad timing.
“Let. Go.” I tugged my backpack away from Asher, but he refused to drop it.
“Come on, Dol.” He tugged harder on the strap. I tugged back. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
I huffed, the sound flitted with frustration as I breathed out, “Sophia is the second person in three days to ask me if we’re involved. People are already wondering if we’re sleeping together and you’re going to make it fucking worse.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and snatched my bag away, which slipped out of his hands effortlessly because of how distracted he had become. He immediately grabbed it again and the bag became the innocent bystander of a tug-of-war between us.
When he refused to let go, I let my shoulders plummet. “Ash, people are getting the wrong idea about us. They think we- they think I-”
Asher let out a tedious sigh as he recognized what I was failing to say. “It doesn’t mean that what they think is true and it’s not.”
I felt tears of frustration prickle my eyes and I knew I had to get out of this conversation before my sensitive side reared its ugly and embarrassing head. I took a deep breath to make sure my voice didn’t shake, not wanting to add to the irritation I already felt. “Asher, give me a second. Please.”
He paused, invoking me to believe he wouldn’t follow through with our unspoken agreement. But after another moment, he nodded and dropped the strap of my backpack, allowing me to make my way to my next class.
*Asher’s Point of View*
With a whistle under his breath, Blake unashamedly gawked at the backside of a girl who was passing outside my parked car that he, Andy, and I were relaxing inside, waiting for Dol to get out of class.
“Elyse, fucking, Manger,” he groaned.
The three of us were skipping last period, taking the time to instead listen to Blake eye-fuck every girl who passed the car. I decided I’d be skipping my last period when I realized I couldn’t get Chloe, or her humiliated reaction, off my mind throughout the rest of lunch.
She looked so embarrassed to be romantically associated with me; it made me sick. I really had made a reputation for myself and, in doing that, I had unintentionally built a wall between Dol and me before I’d even met her.
I narrowed my eyes at the girl Blake had prowled, eyeing her obvious good looks, including her blonde locks and the pound of makeup on her face, all of which was impressive. Because of the fact that she was both human and breathing, that made her exactly Blake’s type. He sighed as she turned the corner.
Shrugging, I shook my head at him. “She was fine. Nothing to write home about.”
“You’re annoying lately, you know that?” he asked me as he brought a joint to his lips, slowly inhaling the tempting smoke before passing it to Andy. “There was not a goddamned thing wrong with that girl. The only reason you’re not feigning is that your dicks occupied trying to get between Chloe’s legs.”
In that second, I wanted nothing more than to stick my foot up the idiot’s ass so hard that he’d cry. I’d had enough of my friend’s constant and relentless jokes about Dol and my friendship. That was all it was: friendship. And if the stupid hooking-up rumors kept going around, Chloe would barely let it qualify as that.
It wasn’t my fault Mrs. Carlin had made a hot daughter, nor was it my fault that my breath caught when she was around. I couldn’t catch a fucking break.
“You’re both pussies if you ask me, getting into relationships so early in your careers.” Blake shook his head at both Andy and me, not understanding the impulse behind caring for another person.
I growled, “I’m not in a fucking relationship. Stop saying that shit.”
If Chloe ever heard him speak about the two of us that way, she’d be packing her bags and moving in an instant.
Andy nodded in agreeance to what I'd said, adding, "And Jamie and I are just talking right now, you ass. At least I can settle on someone I like. You’re just going around begging trash to let you inside them,” he told Blake, taking a deep inhalation of the blunt before offering it to me, to which I declined.
Andy shrugged when I didn’t take it from his grasp, bringing it back to his lips. I turned my attention to the group of girls passing the car, listening as Blake let out a low groan in his chest like he was ready to jump out of my car and chase after them. I scoffed at his reaction before I shifted to Andy, who appeared lost in thought.
“Thinking of Jamie?” I joked in a ridiculed mock.
“Thinking of Chloe?” he asked me back in the same tone, which I definitely should have seen coming.
I frowned. “We’re friends.”
Blake’s expression dropped into a smirk as he took the joint from Andy. “You and I are friends and yet, I don’t picture myself ripping your clothes off at any point in the future.” He took another inhale of smoke, slamming his fist against his chest when he broke into a chuckle mid-exhale. “Don’t act like you don’t masturbate to the thought of her showering in the next room.”
“I don’t,” I clarified, wide-eyed.
Blake twisted to me with a grin that looked like he’d said too much. “So you’ve never gotten off thinking about her?”
I frowned again. “We’re not talking about this.”
With a chuckle, he brought the joint back to his mouth. “I don’t blame you for wanting her. She’s a fine piece of ass, for sure. If I were you, I would have already-”
“Do. Not. Finish. That. Thought,” I muttered before I allowed him to thoroughly piss me off.
“Alright, Blake, enough. He’s gonna shove the damn joint down your throat.” Andy laughed.
I was grateful he was there before I’d completely lost my mind. I wouldn’t mind knocking Blake down a few pegs, preferably with my fists.
I heard the muffled sound of a bell and watched students scatter from the school building, indicating it would be moments before Dol approached my car. Quickly, I ushered the guys out of the vehicle so they’d be long gone before she arrived. The last thing I needed while she was pissed off was to have Blake make another one of his dumbass comments.
A few minutes passed and students began to disperse from the parking lot. Just as I picked up my phone to ask Chloe where she was, a text from her popped onto my screen.
Don’t need a ride today. Walking home. Cya soon, it read.
I frowned, shoving the device into my pocket and heading home alone for the first time in days.
*Chloe’s Point of View*
School dwindled to an end, not a moment I had within my last class to reflect on the situation at lunch. Sending Asher a text about walking home, I flipped my phone to silent and began my hike. Not wanting to walk on the open street, I decided to take the slightly longer way home through downtown.
Walking along the street of stores and boutiques I paused in front of a jewelry store window, unable to stop myself from staring. Knowing I needed to get home, I gawked at the mannequin, the diamond bracelet clinging to its wrist catching my attention. It was gorgeous. And expensive.
“Pretty, right?” Like any human with a tolerance for fear, the unknown voice from behind threw me. I turned around to put a face to the sound that had scared me out of my unpure daydream with that far-to-expensive diamond and came face to face with the attractive boy.
“Hey, Hayden, right?” I asked a question I already knew the answer to.
The boy in front of me smiled and nodded, confirming. His hair, no longer tinted with party lights, was a dirty blond, his blue eyes bright, his smile cordial. The friendly teenager seemed like the type of person that people attracted to. Someone who didn’t need to open his mouth to get people to like them. It was his presence; light and approachable.
“That’s me. And you’re Chloe.” I nodded to confirm as well, and he began again. “I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but I was hoping after the party that I would see you again. I guess today is my lucky day.”
I grinned, my shoulders lifting, the hard day’s events slowly fading with each approaching sentence. “I guess so.”
His smile was undeniable. “I have to be honest, it would be even better if you’d accompany me to lunch.”
Looking at the clock tower in the distance, an authentic smile perked my face. “Well, it’s 3:30 in the afternoon.”
Hayden’s face scrunched up in a cute way that made me giggle. “A late lunch?”
Suddenly remembering the slice of pizza I never got to start, let alone finish, I took him up on his request, saying, “Call it an early dinner.”
He smiled, leading us towards a small restaurant on the corner as we continued our conversation about parties and late lunches.
“What do you like to do?” he asked, both forearms resting on the table as he leaned inward.
I thought about my numerous hobbies for a moment, none of which sounding interesting enough to lead with.
“I like to read a lot,” I decided upon, granting him a relieved smile when his expression melted into understanding.
His smile was beaming, as was mine as he showed an interest in something I liked. “Really, me too. What kind of books do you like?”
I chuckled as I tucked hair behind my ear and mumbled, “Cliche, I guess. You know, the girl likes the boy, the boy is kind of a jerk but the girl hangs off his every word and after a lot of trouble, they get together.”
“Ah, the contemporary romance stories?” His smile widened.
Trying, but failing to contain my smirk, I gave an unaffected shrug. “I guess I’m just a hopeless romantic.”
“I guess so,” Hayden gleamed. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s cute.”
Warmth flooded my face due to his compliment and I worked quickly to change the topic of the conversation. “What about you?”
He laughed. “What about me?”
“What do you like to do?”
He thought for a moment, not taking long to come up with the extent of his answer, which was, “I don’t know. Any free time I get I use it to study.”
“How fun,” I teased. “I’m surprised you managed to fit a party into your busy schedule.”
He smirked, the action reminding me of Asher in some sort of way, except his held more sincerity while Asher’s held more asshole.
“I am too. I guess the universe was leading me to you,” he explained in a soft tone.
I couldn’t contain my smile, though I looked away from the table, shaking my head and letting out a small laugh at his cheesiness. Regardless of my humor, his words had erupted a flood of butterflies into my stomach and I internally struggled to not fall for the boy right there and then.
By the end of lunch, if I had one word to describe Hayden, it was perfect. He was kind, and sweet, and funny and I had enjoyed the time we spent together. We had talked endlessly about everything there was to talk about: food, traveling, futures, the party we had met at the week prior. When we exited the restaurant, Hayden offered me a ride, and knowing it was a five-minute drive against a half-hour walk, I accepted.
As I gave him the address and watched him pull onto the freeway, he sent a small head tilt in my direction. “You know, it was great to talk to you, especially without your bodyguard.”
I raised an eyebrow. “My bodyguard?”
“Asher?” he established with a laugh, and I cringed at the memory of my roommate scaring him off with his threatening glare the night of the party.
“Oh.” I chuckled nervously. “He’s not my bodyguard. Just a good friend.”
“Asher Freed? Good friend? I’m surprised.” Hayden held a steady smile as he spoke, but I could hear the suspicious underlays of his tone.
I shrugged, wishing the topic had never been brought up. Talking about Asher with Hayden felt strange like I was telling him information he wasn’t supposed to know about.
Despite the distinct absence of tension in the car and Hayden’s nonchalant expression, I felt like the air had grown thicker between us as I responded, “Most people are. Our moms are friends. I’m staying with him for a few months while my moms out of town and I guess we’ve grown closer.”
Hayden’s eyebrows knitted inwards. “You’re staying with him?” His eyes flickered out towards the road and he looked as if he had solved an obscure riddle he’d been pondering. “I thought I recognized the address you’d given me.”
I nearly told him I was staying with Asher because of a bet but decided I didn’t want to share that much information about the childish act that provided me a living space.
“Oh, you’ve been there?” I asked instead.
He frowned. “Let’s just say I’ve given some poor girl a ride home from there in the past.” I opened my mouth to respond, unable to, but luckily Hayden continued with a teasing smile. “I’ve never had a girl ask me to take her back there, though.”
“Him and I, we’re friends, that’s all.”
Hayden looked far from convinced as he pulled into the driveway of the Freed household. “I’ve known Asher for quite some time and I have to say you’re the first girl he’d made an attempt to be friends with. Most times, he’s straight in their beds. I guess you should feel grateful. That’s quite an honor if I do say so myself.”
I sent him a close-mouthed smile and verbally agreed, grabbing the door handle as I was plagued by a surge of ungratefulness. I knew he was right — I should have felt grateful Asher wanted to maintain a friendship with me rather than sleeping together once and ignoring one another, and a part of me was. Another part of me, the slightly larger part, was offended he’d never even tried.
We were around one another from the moment we opened our eyes each morning to the moment we shut them each night, and he had yet to make an attempt on me the way I knew he attempted on every other girl in the Bay Area. I hadn’t realized at the time that turning him down for a date the very first time would squash any of his physical interest at all.
As I walked up the porch steps, I wrestled between genuinely enjoying the growing friendship he and I had and unhappily wondering why he wasn’t attracted to me the way I was to him. Confused, I debated which was worse: having a roommate who actively tried to get in your pants or having a roommate who wanted to get into everyone's except yours.
I unlocked the front door and tore myself from that string of thoughts, as it wasn’t the situation I was supposed to be thinking about anyway. The walk home was supposed to clear my head of the spreading rumors about Asher and me but my brain was so full of conflicting thoughts I didn’t know how to solve any of my current problems.
I slipped off my jeans the moment I stepped foot into my room, sliding into the comfortable shorts that had awaited me patiently all day. I swept my finger along the bottom of my shirt, nanoseconds away from peeling it over my head when the door to my bedroom swung open without warning, revealing my very nosey roommate.
He had a stunned expression, not the least bit concerned that he walked in on me with zero consideration. “Where have you been? Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“I’m changing!” I waved the pajama shirt in the air to indicate he leave, but he only repeated his questions from before. I pulled my phone out and cringed at the double-digit number of missed calls before sighing in his direction. “I’m sorry I didn’t answer the phone. Now get out of my room.”
Making no effort to leave, Asher was stationary, his eyes boring into mine as he muttered, “No. You left during our conversation at lunch and we have to talk about this.”
“Fine, stay then,” I snapped, re-gripping the bottom of my shirt and yanking it over my head before I had time to ask myself what the hell I thought I was doing.
With eyes as wide as tennis balls, Asher’s face was stunned as he stared at my plain white bra. I tugged the bra strap that had fallen from my shoulder and snapped it back into place then shrugged, shirtless and uncomfortable, trying to cover up the distress I’d felt from my own thoughtless actions. “Nothing you haven’t seen before, right?”
Asher didn’t answer my question, watching me throw on another shirt and continuing to stare directly at my chest like the thin cloth wasn’t even there. I rolled my eyes and did the magic bra trick to get it off and out of my shirt before I slid past him and made my way down into the kitchen. He followed close behind, finally out of his bra-induced trance.
I leaned against the counter and watched him make his way down the stairs. He stopped a few feet away from me, taking one deep inhalation to continue his interrogation.
“Where were you?” he began.
“I was out to lunch. You know, because I never got to actually finish.” Hearing my words, his face filled with regret and his eyes fell to the ground. I frowned at his comparable expression, shaking my head as I slowly offered, “Asher, maybe I should go stay with Jamie until my mom gets back-”
Before I could finish my sentence, or blink for that matter, I was plucked from the floor and set atop the counter. Asher, with one hand holding my waist and the other tightening around my thigh, stood between my legs and, upon the contact, I struggled to regain my bearings.
“No,” he said plainly.
“No?” I gave him a questioning look, the word fumbling from my mouth.
“No.” He nestled himself closer and the teenage girl inside me cartwheeled over thoughts I shouldn’t have possessed towards my roommate. “I want you to sit still for a single second, and listen to me. Got it?” Bearings still not restored, I nodded. “Nobody thinks we’re together. And even if they did, you shouldn’t stop talking to me just to prove something to yourself. You’re my friend, Dol, my good one. And I’m not going to let a bunch of fucking idiots ruin a good friendship.”
Friends, I repeated to myself as my skin began to throb from his touch.
My mind was wandering into dangerous territory as he made himself at home between my thighs and I grappled to locate my previous statement between all the blurry lines inside my head, stating, “People do think something is going on between us and I don’t want anyone talking about us. Ever.”
“Am I that bad?” Asher’s smirk said my comment had meant nothing to him but it was clear to me that I’d hurt his feelings with my remark.
Shaking my head, I closed my eyes for a moment, backtracking, attempting to exercise the control he was stripping me of. “Of course not. But you’re not exactly changing your... habits. And that’s just from what I’ve seen this weekend. I don’t want to look like the idiot who’s getting played by Asher Freed.”
“I know.” He nodded. “And it won’t be a problem. I promise. But don’t leave.”
Seemingly fully aware he’d left me speechless, he watched me nod in concede. I wasn’t going anywhere. I think we both knew that all along.
A blanket of silence fell over us, the air thick enough to suffocate me, and all I could hear was my own blood speeding through my veins. It wasn’t an awkward tension between us, it was something far different. I watched Asher watch me, his eyes boring into mine. He blinked, his tongue darting out to touch his bottom lip as his gaze fell onto my parted lips.
“Chloe, what are you thinking about right now?” Asher whispered. His voice was slow, his speech controlled.
I gently shook my head, unable to admit the truth: I was thinking about him. I was thinking about leaning into his mouth, kindling the flame between us by allowing myself to take what I wanted. I was thinking things I had never thought before about anyone, things I didn’t even realize I was capable of thinking. The way he was looking at me, I could understand how no sane woman could resist him.
I began chewing on my lip, sure that I was drawing blood as I imagined his mouth on mine as it had been days prior; a moment that I had replayed in my head repeatedly for three days.
His eyes met mine again and I swallowed at the intensity of his gaze, unsure I’d be capable of pushing him away if he attempted anything. I knew that the answer was no when his glazed eyes were once again studying my lips and he began leaning forward.
Under the sharp scalpel of impulse, I gave in. I closed my eyes as he moved towards me, attentive to how close he was, hyper-aware of each part of his body that was touching mine. My thighs involuntarily squeezed together to pull him closer.
His hand gripped my thigh even more rigid than before and when I thought I’d feel his lips on my own, his forehead fell against mine instead, the tips of our noses touching. Without hesitation, I lifted my chin to find his lips. Just when I could feel the heat of his mouth, when I felt his top lip barely brush against mine, there was a loud, unmistakable sound: the front door opened.
Asher stepped backward, and I leaped off the counter, watching him throw himself back to casually lean against the opposite side of the kitchen right as Prim rounded the corner.
“Hello!” She smiled at us both, squealing as Asher leaned down to pick her up from the ground.
“How was school, Weasel?” He smiled, completely unaffected by what had happened. I, on the other hand, was still trying to catch my breath. Amy walked into the kitchen a few moments later.
She smiled brightly at both of us. “Hey, you two. How was your day?”
“Fine,” Asher and I said simultaneously, not daring to look at one another.