Chapter 11: Antique
1. an object that is collected over many years and decades that’s value gets higher as time goes on.
*Chloe’s Point of View*
On a windy Wednesday afternoon, Asher and I were walking along the street into downtown after school. It had been a long day and I had to practically beg my roommate to abandon his car for a few hours in the school parking lot and take a walk with me downtown but finally, he conceded.
The weight of being embarrassed during my final period felt like bricks on my still constricted chest and, since Asher had contributed to the humiliation, joining me in getting some fresh air was the least he could do.
He was on a long-winded rant about the professed asshole sub we dealt with previously that day. “All I’m saying is she had no right to be intrusive. Especially after she was so fucking rude.”
I laughed once, the short-lived sound echoing louder than I’d intended. “She wasn’t fucking rude. You were being uncooperative.”
“I wasn’t trying to be,” he feigned. I laughed again, harder this time, and reflected back on the class period we had experienced.
Sitting next to Asher, I, along with many other students, noticed his feet settling up on the desk. No one except the sub seemed to mind the comfortable sitting position and she eyed him carefully as she taught, clearly showing distaste for the relaxed posture he was taking part in.
“Young man, please remove your feet from the desk.” Not having been older than thirty-five, the woman spoke like someone much older than her. Maybe it had to do with authority like she figured she’d have a better chance of him listening if she used the tone. Whatever it was, it didn’t work.
Asher kept his feet on the desk, pretending as if he hadn’t heard the woman speak. I glanced his way, watching him as he covered the bottom corner of his paper with unreadable sentences, not paying attention to class in the least. The fact this kid got straight A’s never seized to surprise me.
“Excuse me!” Speaking much louder than the first time, any student’s attention who she hadn’t yet caught was surely paying attention now. Asher stopped writing and looked up at her, poker face in view.
“Remove your feet from the desk this instant,” she repeated, her voice harsher.
Glimpsing at the boy who was pissing her off, I noticed Asher didn’t move even a centimeter. In fact, he raised an eyebrow at her as a taunt instead.
I didn’t appreciate his neglect for the substitute and I let out a long breath, tapping his arm with the end of my pencil. When I had hooked his attention, I gave him a stern expression (the one I gave Jamie when she was acting like a child, as he currently was) and used the pencil to point to the floor. The action was an indication for the silent words of, “Put your feet on the ground, please.”
After a moment of hesitation, he rolled his eyes and did as I inaudibly asked, his feet hitting the floor with a jolt. The sub started to address Asher but turned and acknowledged me instead.
“Thank you,” she stated with a rustle. I nodded as she glanced over at Asher. “It’s nice you have a girlfriend that you actually listen to. Someone has to keep you in line.”
The class chuckled at the comment and my ears picked up on the whispers that were right on their heels. Shaking my head, I looked at Asher, the less soft-spoken of the two of us, to make it right.
He sighed, the breathy sound torn with impatience. “She’s not my girlfriend.”
A voice echoed from the back of the class and, as of recently, it was not a voice I liked hearing. “Of course she isn’t. Why would he want her when he’s had me?”
Turning my head in the direction of the sugar, spice, and everything obsessively nice sounding voice, my eyes landed on Asher’s apparent stalker, formally known as Olivia. I wondered if she was still curious about how my day was going, and if and when she’d send another presumed assistant of hers to ask me.
She had her elbow on the desk and her chin in her palm, fawning over the guy sitting next to me. I couldn’t blame her. My roommate often had my attention as well.
Asher didn’t give the needy stalker a courtesy glance, the recognizable voice enough for him, massaging the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache.
In the desk pairing on the opposite side of Asher, Andy offered an answer to Olivia’s question. “Less risk of STD, maybe?”
I smiled at him as a silent thanks and he winked at me, running a hand through his dark curls at the same time. The class laughed at his remark, as did I, and upon seeing my amusement, Olivia locked eyes with me, letting her long nails bounce against the wooden desk. “What are you laughing at? I’m not the one who Asher’s going to get pregnant!”
My laughter dissolved into a scowl, but my reaction was nothing compared to Asher’s. He turned towards her suddenly, his hand slamming against the hard surface of his desk. “Do you ever shut the fuck up, Olivia? Seriously.”
Mindlessly, I set my hand on his arm, catching his attention, shaking my head at him when I had it. Though I could barely stand Olivia’s comments, the distraction to the period was more than enough to fume the small, anxiety-ridden voice inside me that wanted everything to return to the way it was minutes before.
Crossing his arms, Asher leaned back in his chair with a pout. I smiled at the sight. As much as I hated when he would cause a scene, I loved the fact that I seemed to be the only one who could reduce him into a moping, sensitive little kid.
The sub cleared her throat, pulling the class’s concentration back to herself. “I don’t care who’s dating who or who’s not dating who. I care about this.” She pointed back at the board packed with crazy notes and random facts. “Focus.”
Tugging myself out of the memory, I turned to Asher walking on the street. “You didn’t pay attention the entire period and didn’t take your feet off the desk when she asked.”
“But I did eventually take them off,” he stated, the Didn’t I? in the sentence, silent.
“Yeah, after I asked you too.” I nudged his shoulder, my eyes rolling towards the sky.
His lips cushioned a grin. “Sue me for caring more about what you have to say then.”
Pursing my lips in the hopes to ignore the smile they were tugging, I thought about what he had shared.
Asher glanced at my almost grin, his smirk visible. “You think I don’t care about what you have to say?” I looked over at him, finally breaking out into a joyful smile. He tilted his head to the side adorably, his voice filled with mockery. “Does that make you happy?”
Laughing out loud, hopefully more attractively than it sounded to me, I shoved him to the side and into the direction of the colorful drink store. “Don’t get your hopes up. I’m smiling because there’s a smoothie stand.”
I grabbed his shirt sleeve and quickly walked into the little shop. Glancing over the fruity, multi-colored options, I leaned my shoulder slightly into Asher’s bicep, snapping his gaze to me. “What are you going to get?”
Shrugging, he nodded at the menu. “Same thing I always get. Peanut-Butter-Mood.” I searched the menu for it, revealing that I’d never had one. Asher remained silent to my confession and I swiftly glimpsed his way to find him staring at me wide-eyed. “You’re kidding.”
I rolled my eyes, a grin on my face, and asked him why I’d kid about that.
His face began to mirror mine, a smile slowly making its way up. “They’re the best. When I was younger, my dad used to...”
Wherever he’d been going with the story faded abruptly into silence.
Frowning, I grabbed his arm to turn him back towards me. “Don’t stop. When you were younger, what?”
He hesitantly began to reinstate the memory, rubbing his head. “My dad used to bring me one every Friday when he picked me up from school.”
“That’s sweet.” I hadn’t realized until that very second, but Asher had never mentioned his father before. With how he had reacted sharing the single memory, I decided against asking anything more about it.
We both ordered, but only one of us was content with the drink we got. Asher had ordered his favorite and appeared perfectly happy despite the apparent memories behind it. I, on the other hand, had ordered something called Stupendous Strawberry, which happened to be a stupendous waste of money, seeing I didn’t actually like strawberries.
I’d ordered the first thing I saw so that I could avoid standing awkwardly with Asher, who had fallen silent since he’d mentioned his father. The drink was sour and the tart taste morphed my face into a cringe when it hit my tongue.
Still quiet, the two of us continued walking deeper into the downtown area. I glanced at Asher, trying to confirm he wasn’t upset with me after I’d forced him to momentarily relive the past. Thankfully, he looked at ease as he happily drank his smoothie. I tried to pry my eyes from him, but I couldn’t bring myself to look away.
His gaze bounced innocently from store window to store window, browsing the displays as his fingers drove through his hair like he knew a strand was out of place. I looked from his eyes to his lips to the curve of his nose, studying each feature like I was to be tested on it.
As I watched him, I began thinking back to days before when the two of us had nearly kissed in his kitchen. That had been close. Too close. I had no explanation for what had happened, merely that I had lost control of myself and almost let it get the best of me. After Amy and Prim had walked in, he and I never confronted the topic, and I was grateful for that.
Much to my displeasure, as I admired Asher, thinking about the strange moment days prior, his confused eyes met mine, catching me in the act.
With his lip curled into the smirk he did so well, he held out his drink. “Do you want to taste it?”
I tamed the urge to tell him that I would have rather tasted him and blinked the unwanted thought away before nodding at the drink offered. Handing it to me, he watched closely as I took a sip. Whilst only containing peanut butter and bananas, it made for a fantastic smoothie, much better than my strawberry one. I glanced down at the straw before leaning in and taking another generous sip. Asher only laughed.
Nodding downwards at the pink drink in my hand, he submitted a question. “Can I taste yours?”
I stared at him. “Taste my what?” Feeling incredibly stupid at that moment, I shook my head. “My smoothie, duh. Sorry.”
Asher chuckled at my idiocy and took the smoothie from my hand, sipping the fun orange straw. “This is really good,” he said, taking another short sip. “It’s even better than mine.”
I shook my head, shocked he’d find pleasure in such a disaster of a cup. “It totally isn’t. This one is amazing.” I took a third sip from his smoothie.
A dimple tacking onto his cheek, he subtly swung his head from right to left. “Wanna switch?”
I shrugged to remain nonchalant, though I’d never heard a more incredible idea. “If you really want to.”
Asher nodded and took another sip of the strawberry massacre.
*Asher’s Point of View*
As Dol went on about her excitement for the upcoming holiday break, I forced myself to take a fourth sip of the worst smoothie I’d ever tasted. It didn’t take a genius to realize she hated the strawberry drink and that she only ordered it because she was uncomfortable with what I had shared. Subtly was not her thing. And despite it being a catastrophe of fruit, I was going to pretend to enjoy this smoothie if it killed me.
“Can I ask you a question?” Chloe said suddenly, her beautifully wide eyes looking directly at me.
I relished in the way it felt to be under her delicate gaze before shifting nervously, afraid she’d bring up the topic of my father that I’d stupidly mentioned in the juice shop. I inwardly froze.
“You just did,” I responded like the jackass I was. She giggled, and I softened, nodding. “Ask away.”
“How do you know Olivia?” She knitted her eyebrows curiously. For Christ’s sake, I almost wished she’d asked about my dad instead.
My voice stuttered like a broken engine as I attempted to find an appropriate response to her question. Olivia didn’t mean shit to me, that was important to tell her. Up until recently, she had been nothing but a mere fuck once in a while but even that wasn’t happening anymore, and I debated the multiple ways I could inform Dol of my past hook-up.
“S-she- Well, she and I...” I was getting nowhere and Chloe’s face was growing more confused. I ripped off the bandaid, fearing I’d do more damage the slower it came off. “We used to- have sex... occasionally.”
I didn’t look at her when I said it, but when I heard a slight gasp, our gazes met.
“You did?” she asked, her expression a mix between a cringe and a frown.
“In the past.” I felt the need to emphasize those words.
Her head tilted and she took the orange straw between her teeth. “Why’d you stop?”
I shrugged, unwilling to share any more information on the topic of the blonde. Luckily, Dol stopped halfway through her following question when she saw a new Mom and Pop Shop opened up and I was immediately grateful for the distraction.
She gasped, staring in awe at the small building. “Is that an antique store?” As we got closer, I realized it was.
“Oh my God!” she squealed, the high-pitched tone hitting my ears so loudly I almost took a step backward. “I love antique stores!”
A smirk on my face, a noticeable fuzzy feeling made its way into my chest as I watched the adorable girl in front of me. The fuzzy feeling exited immediately and was replaced with a sharp cringe. Who the fuck describes a girl as adorable?
I took another sip of the hell-ish smoothie as I kept the smirk on my face. “Really?”
She smiled widely as we approached the store. “My family used to travel sometimes. Whenever we would, my dad would keep little things from each town for me and my... my brother. Little old toys and books. It was...” Her voice faded as a sigh tumbled from her mouth. She took her eyes off me and returned them to the store window, glancing around at little knickknacks on thick shelves.
“It was nice,” she finished, and I remembered the shelf of snowglobes and ornaments she had set up in her room.
I noticed that was the first time she’d ever brought up her dad, besides the day she’d told me about the dolphin keychain he’d given her. I didn’t delve deeper into that topic, thankful she did the same for me during my momentary childhood reflection at the juice shop. My eyes stayed on her face, watching her bright eyes look around the store like a child on Christmas. When I felt my lips twitch into a smile, I nodded.
She had finished her — my — smoothie and thrown it away in a trash can a few yards away before coming back to the window, pointing out some gold thing that looked like something resembling both a bracelet and a picture frame. I couldn’t quite tell.
She was so focused on the store she didn’t notice me throwing away the gross smoothie in my hands, half full. Staring through the window, she looked at everything on display and turned back to me. “Do you mind if we go inside?” she squeaked.
I looked over her anxious features, wondering why she thought I’d ever say no to something she was excited about before I presented my most ample smile and replied, “I didn’t come all this way not to be able to see what they have.”
I used my hand to gesture inside and she smiled. Mindlessly, she grabbed my palm, opened the door, and yanked us in. My hand was immediately devoured in the warmth hers had to offer.
We started at one end of the shop where the old clothes were. The store wasn’t something I would walk into if I weren’t with Chloe, but they did have some relatively cool shit. Her hand still in mine, she dragged her fingers through the ratty clothing, heaving me farther into the shop.
She stopped at a bookshelf of torn, decaying books, tugging one from the shelf to read the cover. Above all else, the books seemed to hold her attention the longest and she took to flipping through the pages of a century-old copy of Pride and Prejudice.
Too distracted by overpriced antiques, Dol failed to notice the group of students from school who had entered the shop and were watching us hand in hand with each other. I cringed. This probably wouldn’t end well.
If Chloe saw them, she would insist on leaving the public eye for the rest of the day. For an unexplainable reason, she was humiliated by any attention at all.
I nearly wanted to go up to them and explain why we were holding hands in the first place, that it was just an accident, but it was a poor excuse of a reason. I knew she and I were pushing against boundaries we shouldn’t have been anywhere near.
I ended up drawing her around a corner, out of sight from the nosey group. Even if I got just a few more minutes of holding her hand, it was worth it.
When we were deep in the store, an old-looking piano caught my eye, not that there was much else in the dusty old place that managed to catch my attention. What was at one point shiny black chrome had aged into a chalky dark color and the white keys were tainted by a rusty orange that outlined the corners of each.
Curious, I wondered if years of use had any effect on its sound. Chloe’s intrigue proved that it hadn’t when she removed her warm hand from mine and sat down at the bench, playing a choppy version of Hot Cross Buns. She cringed at the sound; I smiled at her effort.
I took a seat beside her. “Here, try like this,” I suggested before placing my hands under hers. “Ready?”
She had a small smile as she nodded, her eyes glued to our fingers interlaced on the instrument as I began pressing keys, moving her hands with my own. I attempted to play Für Elise as beautifully as I possibly could with my hands winded around hers, hoping to impress her with a talent I hadn’t visited in years. Decade-old nostalgia washed over me as memories hit me like bricks in the face and it felt like my heartbeat was keeping time with the piano.
I slowed my traveling fingers, halting Chloe’s as well, and she let out a soft giggle that sounded even more beautiful than the instrument.
“And he plays piano,” she voiced, overly amused. “Is there anything you can’t do?”
I chuckled, pretending to take a moment to think. “I’m not very good at poker.”
Or expressing how I feel, especially regarding you.
“Then I guess you and I will not be hitting any casinos.” She laughed, before asking, “Where did you learn to play the piano?”
She slowly removed her hands from the keys but kept her fingers interlocked with mine. She gave my hand a gentle squeeze, which loosened a smile onto my face.
“My dad taught me before he left,” I confessed, mentally telling myself to shut the hell up afterward. What was this, Show And Tell? Expose Your Fucking Feelings Day?
“Before he left?” she asked, intrusively. She winced after she spoke like she wasn’t sure why she’d asked that, then attempted to hide her recoil. She couldn’t, I’d already seen it.
“Yeah...” I swallowed, not knowing what she wanted me to share.
I considered telling her what I assumed she wanted to hear, about how my dad’s multiple affairs were what left him out on his ass. Then I thought about how she’d react upon learning he made no effort to contact his kids after he was kicked to the curb.
I wondered if she’d look at me differently knowing even my own father didn’t want anything to do with me. I wondered if she knew what it was like to have a mother distracted by heartache and work. I wondered if she would understand how it felt to call my dad as a child and have it go straight to voice mail, to mail him letters that would always return to sender, to be ignored by both my parents as if I had never existed at all.
I never felt real again after he left, until recently.
Regardless of the attention I received from those around me, I felt like a ghost. I had no shadow on a sunny day, I had no reflection looking into a mirror, and I had no way of explaining any of that to Chloe because I knew it made no goddamn sense.
Instead, I repeated the information she already knew. “He left.”
When I was a kid, I never had any interest in playing instruments. That was until I saw my dad play Symphony No. 9 on my grandfather’s ancient piano. Because of my young age and my desire to be exactly like my father at the time, I grew an immediate interest in the piano and my dad taught me as many songs as he could over the next few years. I enjoyed playing, sure, but that wasn’t why I did. I just liked spending the time with my dad. I never played after he was gone.
Not only could I play multiple songs whenever there was a piano present, but I could also bring up past childhood trauma to make the moment with whoever I was with extremely awkward. Two party tricks in one.
Chloe's face was filled with an emotion that I couldn’t even begin to place. When my chest throbbed with sudden pain, I realized I didn’t want to share anything more. I stood, hoping she wouldn’t question what I’d said. I dragged her towards the jewelry section of the store, thankful she didn’t ask anything more of me. I had nothing more I needed to say.
She was distracted easily by the colorful jewelry and I observed her eyes linger a bit long on a necklace hanging neatly from a hook. Chloe gazed into its crystals like it had spoken the most loving words to her that only she could hear. The necklace was a basic silver chain, the end holding thin sheets of turquoise and blue glass. It was a delicate-looking necklace and Dol appeared memorized with it in her hands. And I was memorized imagining it on her.
She finally tore her eyes from it to look at the other jewelry, mentally opening up her options. They were all very comely, none remotely similar to the necklace. I knew Dol felt the same because, after every glance towards a different shelf, her eyes always found their way back to it.
*Chloe’s Point of View*
The necklace looked familiar, almost identical to one my father had given me when I was younger. The memory of losing it was fresh in my mind, the pain that came with the memory nearly as agonizing as the loss was years prior. The price tag said 250$ and I currently had about four in my wallet, which meant I could barely afford one more smoothie from the juice shop.
I realized I needed to work a few more shifts at the diner. While I used to fill nearly all my free hours working, I’d cut back recently. I hadn’t realized how much that would affect my paycheck and I hoped only I could see how little I was running on cash. I didn’t want Jamie trying to lend me money like she had multiple times in the past and the last thing I needed was Asher coming to the realization that my mom didn’t fund my bank account.
I eventually had to pull myself away from the necklace and back around the corner; it was too tempting to stare at.
A dusty old metallic rotary phone caught my attention after that, the ancient sixty-dollar extension looking like it was only worth six cents. Asher took an interest in the same phone, picking it up and holding it to his ear, not removing my hand from his as he twirled the springy cable between his fingers. The way he was looking at it made me chuckle and his gaze jumped between the cord and me.
“Imagine having phone sex on this,” he eventually said.
I couldn’t help but burst into a parcel of laughter. Asher stared at me with a grin on his face, the phone still at his ear.
“Stop it!” I laughed, trying to catch my breath as I reached up for the phone in his hand. He lifted it above his head, far out of my reach, and let out a breathy laugh.
“Do you think people had phone sex in the early 1900s?” he asked, in all seriousness. He brought the phone to his ear, talking directly into it as if someone else was on the other line. “Babe, I know it’s World War 1, but I just can’t get you off my mind.”
Instantly, as if beckoned, my laugh electrocuted the air. I actually had to hold my stomach I was laughing so hard. I didn’t know why I found such humor in the topic, but all of a sudden, my breath came in quick gasps. I waved my hand in the air as a way to flag apology.
I tried again to catch my breath and snorted instead, staring at him wide-eyed, shocked the sound escaped me. The noise only furthered his enjoyment, causing laughter to leave his lips. I wasn’t sure why, but his laughter filled me with joy.
The lady behind the counter, who looked even more ancient than the phone, had apparently had enough of us both. She put a finger up to her mouth, the shush sound echoing. Facing away from the wall of phones, and Asher, I had a hand over my mouth and was able to get myself under control long enough to apologize for disturbing the peace of her little store.
Joke over and willpower restored, I flipped back towards Asher, the eye contact between us maintained for as long as the moment would allow before the exuberant sound flit between us again. Not a chuckle, or a smile, but blissful, whole-hearted laughter. I guess I didn’t have as much willpower as I thought.
Hand still in mine, Asher tugged me from the little shop, keen on not bothering the little old lady behind the counter.
“So, are antique shops as boring as I’m sure you imagined they are?” I asked, pressing my cheek into his arm as I leaned against him, too comfortable being that close to him for my own good.
“No, not when I’m with you.” Asher chuckled, swinging our hands gently as we made our way down the street.
Our laughter had been replaced with peaceful smiles, continuing to talk about the joke as a stranger turned the corner a short ways in front of us, grinning when he saw Asher.
Giving each other the strange guy-nods that they usually did, the unfamiliar teenager clapped him on the shoulder as he passed by. “My man! Never thought I’d live to see the day Asher Freed had a girlfriend.”
Asher and I both quickly looked down at our hands as if noticing for the first time that we were holding each others. At the same time, we both snatched our hands away. Asher turned towards the guy who had passed.
“Adrian! We are not dating,” he confirmed to the boy, who was already halfway down the sidewalk.
Adrian spun to us again. “Really? Coulda’ fooled me. Guess I haven’t lived to see the day yet.”
He chuckled and took off in the other direction, oblivious to my annoyed expression. Like he could feel the irritation misting off me, Asher slowly turned to face me, his nose scrunched up nervously.
His expression overtook with a sudden panic as he blurted, “You grabbed my hand.”
Exasperated, I thought back on the correct statement. He wasn’t wrong. And that served to make me even angrier. I hated the stupid rumor, and at the same time, I was basically encouraging it.
I groaned, “Esto es muy estresante.”
He sighed. “Translation?”
I slumped my shoulders, shaking my head. “I’m not exactly following my own advice.”
He stepped closer and released an anxious breath. “Please don’t move out.”
Shaking my head, the head that was fuzzy from his close proximity, I tried my best attempt to reassure him I wouldn’t. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m just frustrated, okay? Can we please go home? My head hurts, and I have work in an hour.”
Contemplating the differences between my life before I met Asher and after, I wondered how much more drastically things would change throughout the next few months. I walked back towards school not knowing the answer.