Destructively Oblivious

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Chapter 12: Harpy

har·py

/ˈhärpē/

noun

1. an unpleasant woman.

______________________________________

*Asher’s Point of View*

It was barely seven in the morning when I began making my way downstairs, hoping the coffee that Chloe had undoubtedly made was still hot. She had been at my house for weeks and I still didn’t understand how she could wake up at the crack of dawn every morning, while still going to bed at the same time I did.

She was a night owl and an early bird and I didn’t get it one single fucking bit. Living on three to four hours of sleep sounded like torture to me.

I groaned when I’d glanced at my alarm clock, hating the early numbers upon it, but moved past it when I realized it was the first day of our two-week holiday break, meaning I could catch up on any missed sleep in the coming weeks.

The sound of Chloe’s singing voice packed my ears as I bolted down the stairs, towards the coffee brewer. Though I was coming down for a cup of the caffeine, the music was a pleasant surprise and I listened carefully, leaning against the wall as I waited for the oblivious girl to notice my gawking. Her eyes were closed as she fell into whatever lyrics were flowing through her headphones.

The song sounded familiar, although every song sounded familiar to me lately. Dol never seemed to be without some sort of music. What used to be silent car rides to school were now eradicated by her incessant need to listen to the radio and she never left home without headphones, even forcing me to turn back around once when she’d accidentally left them behind.

Though she loved to listen, I’d never heard her perform, until now. Unless you counted her excessively long showers that sounded like a concert was happening live in my bathroom.

Her voice was light and sweet and precise. It was quiet, as she clearly didn’t want anyone outside the kitchen to hear her, but it was powerful. Forgetting about the coffee I was previously desperate to have, I wanted nothing more than to stand there all day and listen to Chloe sing. I was silently urging her never to stop.

Not that my wish was realistic, but it wasn’t granted as she abruptly came to a stop upon seeing me. Obviously surprised, not to mention embarrassed, she ripped her headphones out, the hard plastic slamming down onto the granite counter.

“You scared me!” she shouted, fiddling with her phone to stop the music she was no longer singing along to. Her cheeks were red hot with humiliation, and I chuckled.

*Chloe’s Point of View*

“God forbid I walk into my own kitchen.” Asher laughed quite loudly at how embarrassed I seemed. His face settled on a peaceful smile as he began to pour himself a mug of coffee. “Nice voice, by the way.”

I smiled, my head shake contradicting the expression. “Thanks. It needs some work.”

Knitting his eyebrows together, he looked up at me, the coffee decanter spilling a few defying drops onto the counter after his unanticipated pause. “No, it doesn’t. It’s... beautiful. You should sing more often.”

Grinning at the fact he’d call any part of me beautiful, I took a sip of my coffee, hoping the giant mug would somewhat hide my fire-heated face from unknowingly blurting out the lyrics of a song in front of anyone.

“What are you doing up so early?” I asked, looking down at the book in my hands, a romance story I would have rather not read in front of my ridicule-prone roommate.

“Oh, you see, I’ve been thinking a lot about this.” He sipped his mug, smacking his lips together before he began the explanation. “Because I was usually the first one up, I made coffee in the morning. But ever since you showed up however long ago, you’ve been making coffee first. And by the time I come down, it’s no good anymore. So I figure if I get down here around the same time as you, it’s still good to go.”

I smirked at his logic. “Imagine if you simply heated it back up when you came down.”

Shaking his head, he subsided the coffee discussion, sliding into a new topic. “You’re coming to the beach with us today, yes?”

“It’s December.”

“It’s California.” He chuckled.

That was a good point. Living twenty minutes from the beach in a state that was considered sandy and sunny did have its perks. San Francisco didn’t usually live up to the state expectations and, more often than not, the skies were cloudy and dull. Fortunately, the day had generously decided that the warm sun would shine down upon the beaches.

My head inclined with mock thought as I presented a question. “Have you asked me to go to the beach today?”

He frowned. “I just did.”

I glanced at the ceiling with limited patience. “I mean before thirty seconds ago.”

“No, but I figure you don’t have much of a life since you tend to follow me around anyway.” Sipping his coffee did nothing to hide the cocky smirk. Unfortunately, that cocky smirk was kind of right — I didn’t have anything to do, and I was basically attached to Asher by the hip lately. Though he didn’t exactly seem to mind much.

Despite having nothing to do, I was aiming to prove him wrong and muttered, “Sorry to disappoint, but I have super important plans today.”

Asher’s eyebrows bunched with confusion as he opened the fridge and pulled out a tin of butter. “Doing what?”

“Reading,” I told him with false confidence, holding up the book I’d been trying to finish.

He smiled annoyingly. “Oh, okay. So you have no plans?”

My expression dropped into a scowl and I fanned my book in the air to further the emphasis.

Asher nodded like he understood, but responded with, “We’re leaving at ten.”

Conceding with an eye roll, I stood and moved around the counter, leaning back on my elbows as I watched him pull bread from a cabinet. I sighed. “Can I invite Jamie?”

“Andy insists on it.” He rolled his eyes.

It was no secret that there was some attraction between Andy and Jamie, the strange and quite gross sparks flying the moment the two vulgar personalities mixed.

Confusion marred my forehead. “Andy has Jamie’s number. Why doesn’t he invite her?”

“Because he’s a jackass?” Asher’s comment came out as a question, revealing he too was confused over his best friend’s actions.

Reaching across the counter for my phone, I dialed the number of a boy in grave need of one, massive push in the direction of a girl.

Andy answered, “Hello?”

“Andy, why don’t you ask Jamie to go to the beach yourself?” I questioned, glancing at Asher who found amusement in my forwardness.

The poor guy audibly sighed through the speaker. “What if she thinks I’m being too-”

I let out a discernable scoff. “She won’t. She likes you Andy, a lot. And you like her. You spent an entire night together talking! I don’t think you understand the rarity of that happening with Jamie.”

“Yeah.” He sighed, but I could hear his grin from miles away and his clear giddiness managed to tug my own smile into place. “It was a first for me too.”

“Call her and ask her to go.” My demand left zero wiggle room for argument. “Maybe, if you’re really feeling brave, ask her on a date and stop being a fucking coward.”

Asher laughed at my order. Andy did too, following it with, “You’re spending too much time with Asher. You sound like his echo.”

“Says the guy who follows Asher around like a stray dog,” I remarked, hoping I hadn’t somehow offended him.

Andy chuckled slightly, proving I hadn’t upset him before his voice dropped to a low taunt. “When did you get so bitchy? It’s kind of hot.”

Eye roll as attractive as ever, Asher drew me into him by my waist, close enough as to where he could lean down into the phone at my ear. He spoke into the speaker loud and clear. “Fuck off, Andy.”

I giggled, my breath snagging like a sweater on a nail at his closeness, and pushed his shoulder backward and away. He grinned, going back to the toast he was making.

“Asshole! Okay, I’ll call her.”

I then hung up on the good-intentioned boy who I hoped would take my advice. Asher’s smirk reappeared, this one, if possible, even cockier than its predecessor, buttering his breakfast. “Assertiveness looks good on you.”

I winked, grabbing his freshly made toast and taking a bite of the edge before setting the slice back onto its plate. Obviously displeased, his mouth hung open in shock, not given enough time to react as I turned and ran upstairs to throw on a swimsuit.

The burnt yellow bikini was on the list of things I rarely, if ever, wore. The bathing suit wasn’t ugly, but its owner didn’t have enough self-assurance to wear it without the deprecating thoughts that sounded something along the lines of, “Ew,” along with numerous other variations.

I avoided my face, specifically my own gaze as I stared into the full-length mirror. One of many things I could see wrong with the view was the jagged line that ran down the side of my thigh. Turning to get a better image, I looked down at the thin visible scar. The injury had been pink ages ago, now dull and pale, fading with age.

Sometimes, I would find my hand going there automatically when I recalled the accident that had taken lives. I would run my fingers over its ridges and around its ragged edges. I found myself staring at it a lot, wishing it away. Even years later, it ached like a ghostly echo of the sharp steel that cut it.

I stood in that mirror for a long time, examining each part of myself that my eyes glazed over. Eventually, the gap of time I had had to try out other swimsuit options had come to an end, leaving me in the compact bathing suit that I hoped I wouldn’t regret. Throwing on shorts and a shirt that had about seven dozen coconuts on it, I stumbled my way down the stairs and out the door.

______________________________________

Sunglasses, check. Sunscreen, check. Phone, check. Headphones, check. Towel, check. Wallet, check.

I sifted through the bag on my lap, making sure I grabbed everything I needed as Asher turned off his neighborhood street. My phone buzzing, I glanced at it, smiling at the message I’d received from Jamie.

Jamster: I have the best news in the universe.

ChlHoe: Frank Ocean asked for my hand in marriage?

Jamster: Close, but no. Guess again.

ChlHoe: Mhh. Andy finally informed you that he’s liked you for weeks?

Jamster: Dammit. How did you know?

ChlHoe: :)

Shutting my phone off, content with what my best friend had shared, I watched Asher as he turned onto the main road. I hadn’t been trying to admire, but my eyes got caught up in his appearance, as they habitually did. He’d only had my attention for a few seconds, but I watched as he wet his lips, letting them turn up into a smirk.

“You can stop admiring me now.” His eyes remained fixated on the road, but his heated grin made it clear I had been caught, once again, in the act of ogling. Removing my eyes from him, I looked forward, studying the license plate on the car in front of ours.

He let his smile widen as he finally pulled his eyes to me, studying the side of my frowning face. “You have a real staring problem,” he unnecessarily added.

My head snapped in his direction, my scowl growing. “I wasn’t staring at you! I was staring past you.” I tried to reconcile. It didn’t seem to be working.

He craned his neck to glance outside his window, confirming whether or not there was anything interesting behind him for me to be looking at. After a moment of consideration, he flipped his attention back to the turnpike.

“Wow, that really is the coolest view of a bunch of trees,” he deadpanned.

I crossed my arms and looked out my own window. “I hate you.”

“No, you don’t.” He laughed, still entertained at my expense. When I didn’t respond to his taunt, he pressed his pointer finger against my cheek roughly. “You blush hella easily.”

Without looking, I slapped his hand off my face, listening as light laughter escaped his amused lips. Beats of silence went by before our second act of contact, this time it being Asher’s hand on my thigh, lightly gripping it without warning. My interest in the green blurs of plants outside the window paled in comparison to the hand-shaped tingle on my leg as I stared down.

His eyes still on the road and his oblivion to the way he was making me feel still present, he spoke softly. “I didn’t mean you embarrass you, Dol. I was just teasing.”

I tugged my eyes away from his hand on my thigh, swallowing hard. “I know that. I’m not embarrassed,” I managed between uneven breaths.

He gave me a smile as he swiftly looked at me, noting my still red cheeks. I rolled my eyes, adding, “I know I blush easily. There is no need to remind me.”

He laughed loudly, unintentionally squeezing my leg in the process, which made me jerk forward. I shifted awkwardly in an attempt to cover it up. Unaware of how I was reacting under his touch, he shared, “There’s something very appealing about watching your face turn bright red.”

He glanced over at me as I groaned, “You really know how to make a girl feel special.”

He scoffed, sending a glimpse in my direction before settling his eyes back onto the road. “You should feel special. You’re beautiful, smart, and you get to hang out with someone as hot as me.”

His thumb drew mindless circles on my skin and slowly, without meaning to, he slid his hand farther up my inner thigh. Something unfamiliar inside me pulsated, and I had the intrusive thought to take his hand and move it closer to where I needed it. That thought only lasted a second, and it was followed by a God, Chloe! in my own head.

“You think I’m beautiful?” My smile wide, I looked over at him with broad eyes. My once-normal legs turned to jelly as he continued those delectable circles on my thigh.

Asher looked over at me in disbelief, my statement seemingly more important than the freeway in front of us, before removing his hand from me and regripping the wheel. I forced a neutral expression from the instant lack of contact.

He frowned. “Did you miss the part where I called myself hot?”

“You’re always cocky, it’s nothing new. You think I’m beautiful?” I repeated.

He glimpsed at me, a smirk catching the corner of his kissable lips. “Very. You think I’m cocky?”

“Very.”

______________________________________

As the first ones at the beach, we set up camp close to the water, laying out towels and installing an umbrella into the sand. Upon coming to the conclusion that none of our friends had arrived yet, Asher mentioned food, and I, who’d only had a bite of his toast to eat the entire morning, conceded quickly. Happily, I followed him to a little restaurant on the edge of the pier.

“What are you going to get?” I turned to Asher, who was looking up at the menu, appearing deep in thought over the numerous options.

He broke his gaze from it to look over at me. “Probably a burger and fries.” I nodded in agreement, watching Asher’s attention cut between the menu and me. “Oh, and ice cream.”

My head whipped back at the menu, and I squealed, quite loudly. “They have ice cream?!”

The lady in front of me, who looked to be around thirty years old, twisted around and shushed me, yes, shushed me. Shocked, I pouted, giving the back of her head the meanest look I could conjure up. Asher merely smirked, arrogance reigning his features. Clearing my throat, beyond mortified over my own outburst, I jutted my chin up at the menu.

“I’m going to get ice cream too,” I shared, much quieter this time. At least I thought I said it quietly. By the way the woman ahead of us reacted, you’d think I yelled it through a bullhorn.

She spun around again, clear-cut annoyance on her face. “Quiet your voice down. You’re acting as if anyone cares.”

I was a bit taken back that someone her age could have such bad manners.

Asher took the chance to respond before I could. “I care, so it’s a good thing she wasn’t talking to you,” he remarked nonchalantly.

The man standing next to the insulting woman rotated around, the angry expression on his face matching hers. “Hey, Bud-” The word was very annunciated. “-Do not talk to my wife like that.”

“Then tell your wife not to talk to my girlfriend like that.” Asher’s eyes darkened. Distracted by the word girlfriend for a single second, the statement didn’t keep me from reality for long. My primary focus was the lack of a filter Asher seemed to obtain when he was angry.

“I don’t know when you teenagers became so disrespectful,” the woman spoke up, turning around to re-face the menu.

It didn’t take long for me to forget my quest to make sure Asher didn’t fight and become involved in the argument myself. I glowered, muttering, “You are the one who shushed me! Bitch.”

Quite frankly, I was shocked I had said something like that aloud.

The man took a step towards me, resulting in me taking a step back. “You wouldn’t have been shushed if you didn’t open your damn-”

A protective hand bundling my waist like saran-wrap, Asher pulled me to his side, holding his other hand up against the hostile husband and wife. This couple seemed majorly upset over some ice cream.

Arm still around me, my defender responded in what I could only assume was the calmest voice he could muster. “I think you should leave.”

“And I think you should teach that harpy girlfriend of yours to show a little respect,” he responded with a deep scowl.

Asher suddenly released me as I gasped at what the man had called me, even though I wasn’t even sure what the word “harpy” meant.

Taking a ground-eating step, Asher was nearly nose to nose with the stranger, growling at him to go fuck himself. I collected his hand in mine, intertwining our fingers, hoping to calm him enough to step away from the angry man and his equally concerned wife.

Asher’s hand seemed to pulsate in mine, but he didn’t back down from the man. Luckily, his wife gripped her husband’s bicep, pulling him in the direction of the door, her voice desperate as she tugged. One last yank from the woman tossed the man off balance, and they made their way from the small shop, but not before the man once more muttered something about me being a harpy. I’d have to look that word up when I got home.

Ungrasping my hand, Asher, suddenly grinning, light-heartedly mumbled something about getting his ice cream now, walking up to the register.

As we began to venture back to our towels, earned ice cream in hand, I grinned at him, going over the details of the argument in my head. “You called me your girlfriend,” I teased.

He produced his second hot-ass eye roll of the day and I caught a glimpse of a smirk. “It sounds more severe if you insult my girlfriend and not my friend who screamed about ice cream like she was 5-years-old and pissed off a whole married couple.”

My mouth hung open, the shock deteriorating into giggles. “Jerk!”

He threw his hands up as a defense, one holding an ice cream and the other carrying our bag of food. “I’m the jerk? You’re the one who called that lady a bitch. Maybe you’re not so nice and sweet after all.”

“Wow. Is my good girl charade that bad?” I conjured up my best Asher Freed Smirk, revealing it to him.

He grinned. “Everyone knows good girls are bad girls who haven’t been caught.”

I paused. “Did you just quote 5SOS?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His head jerked in frantic disagreement, taking a considerable lick of his creamy dessert.

“You do too. I didn’t know you were a 5SOS fan!” With my gaze falling on the towels we had left, it appeared our items had been joined by our group of friends.

Asher continued to shake his head at me, refusing to admit what I already knew was true. “I didn’t know you were such a pain in the ass. Oh, wait? No, I did.”

“I should throw my ice cream at you.” I bounced forward, overwrought as I fake shoved the cone onto his dimpled cheek.

He chuckled. “Hey, I paid for that ice cream!”

As we approached the towels and the rest of our friends, my attention hooked on the two people who were once in need of some shoving, snuggled up, arms around each other. Smiling at the new couple, I took a seat beside Jamie, whose head was resting against Andy’s shoulder.

“This seems new. How did this happen?” I feigned innocence. With a wide, thankful grin in my direction, Andy leaned over and laid a kiss on Jamie’s cheek. My mobile eyes fixed on him. “I told you she’d say yes.”

Andy smiled, an eye roll following behind it. “Yeah, yeah. I was being a coward. Whatever.”

He laughed but was abruptly cut off when my best friend leaned into his lips. Energetically, he reciprocated the kiss, pulling her in by the nape of her neck. I awkwardly looked away from the affectionate act, my gaze catching on Asher, who was already looking at me. As our eyes met, he hastily glanced away, pretending to marvel at the coast of the water.

I narrowed my eyes at him but Blake interrupted my thoughts with a smile and a question. “You guys want to go down to the water?”

After the initial nods had been exchanged, Blake and Danny ran towards the open sea. In nothing but a purple one-piece and an arm over her shoulder, Jamie waited on Andy, who turned and hit Asher on the shoulder as he passed. “Are you coming?”

“No, I’m just breathing fast.” Asher found amusement in his dirty joke. I did not. While he laughed, the cringe on my face was evident as I watched Andy continue to the water with his new girlfriend.

Pulling his shirt over his head, marginally distracted by the shore water, I allowed my gaze to drift over Asher’s potent muscle as he peeled the material from himself, every organ in my body twitching.

I was mesmerized by the defined contours of his abs and his bulky arms, neither of which I’d ever seen completely bare for more than a few seconds at a time. His tanned skin was so tempting to touch and I dug my fingernail into the side of my thumb as a way to physically tell my hands to calm the hell down.

*Asher’s Point of View*

I was sure Chloe had no fucking idea what peripheral vision was. It was always hilarious to catch her staring at me; she really did get embarrassed easily.

Regardless of humor, the real appeal was in the moments before I told her I knew she was watching me. I liked the fact that she stared when I looked away thinking I had no idea. If her staring at me clothed made me feel some sort of way, her staring at me shirtless only furthered it.

I removed my eyes from the beach to look at her and she abruptly looked down at the sand as if she hadn’t been staring. I grinned, shaking my head at her awkwardness, but quickly humbled myself. I, too, often found myself staring at Chloe. I just didn’t get caught nearly as much as she did.

She stood, unbuckling her shorts and letting them slide down her legs, her t-shirt ending right above her belly button and the straps of her bathing suit bottoms hugging her hips. This time, I was the one staring and I think my mouth may have fallen open.

Though the thought of looking away certainly ticked over my list of ideas, I continued to leer, watching her slim fingers grip the bottom of the thin tank top and tear it over her head. The swimsuit she had on didn’t leave much to the imagination, not that I was complaining.

My eyes skittered across her skin and I wished then that it were my hands that were moving across her body instead. I memorized the indents of her collarbones and followed the strap of her bikini top downward, forcing my eyes to skip over her breasts during my inspection before I spent the day trying to mentally pray the fabric away.

Her right thigh suddenly in view, I noticed something I hadn’t before and I attempted to change my train of thought from her body to her past injury.

“Damn, that’s one hell of a scar. How did you get it?” I asked. It was clear whatever had caused the old wound was blunt and the tear had been quite severe. She glanced down at it and shook her head, shrugging.

“Can’t really remember.” Before I could say anything more, she set her hands on her perfect hips, which reminded me how much I wanted to dig my fingers into them as I sank into her from behind. I shook the thought from my brain activity, well aware my swim shorts most definitely couldn’t hide a hard-on. She sent the ocean a subtle head tilt. “Ready?”

I swallowed, then nodded. “As ever.”

*Chloe’s Point of View*

When I put my feet in the freezing cold water, I took a step backward, a small gasp pushing from my mouth at the sensation.

“Don’t be a baby.” Asher yanked my arm to pull me farther in, each step freezing a new body part. Smiling, only because I was frozen that way, I shoved his shoulder away from me, forcing him to relinquish my hand from his. Our soaking wet friends were a few feet away, the water up to their waists which, to me, seemed nearly impossible at the moment.

Consequent to realizing I wasn’t behind him, Asher, up to his knees in the iciness, waved me to follow him. My head shake followed after that, sure the big, bright sun that was shining onto the water was a figment of my imagination.

Taking the necessary amount of steps to reach me, Asher made no hesitation bending down and hoisting me over his shoulder.

“Asher! Put me down!” Ignoring my begging and pleading, he continued striding towards our friends, deeper and deeper into the hypothermic depths. “Let go!”

He ignored my request and I wiggled my hips over his shoulder, hoping to annoy him to the point where he’d let me down. I could hear the chuckles of my friends behind me, but all I could see were the muscles of Asher’s back.

"Nice ass, Chlo," I heard Blake say with a laugh, which made me struggle even more.

“Stop squirming so much,” Asher criticized, amusement residing in his tone. When I didn’t listen and continued my relentless movement, I felt the palm of his hand connect with my backside, leaving a painful sting behind.

I halted my movement, my mouth wide and my eyes even wider. I scoffed. “Asher!”

“Yes?” he asked, casually. I scowled at his back, which was all I could do, remaining silent as I attempted to configure a sentence that would persuade him to put me down. When I didn’t speak, he slapped my butt a second time.

Shocked, I began thrashing in his arms, battering my fists against his back. “Let me go! Let me go! Let me go!” I yelled.

Asher started to laugh, highly amused. “With pleasure.”

Without being overly helpful, he simply removed his hands from me, letting me slide right off his slippery, sunscreen-ed shoulder and into the subzero water.

I stood up, shivering at a group of laughing teenagers who I called my friends, my glowering zeroing in on Asher. “I’m going to fucking kill you.”

Leaping towards him, the step back he took to avoid me only threw him off balance, lending him the right amount of coordination to send us both flying. I was thankful he had cushioned me from going face-first into the sand as both fell underwater.

______________________________________

Sitting next to Asher on my towel, I noticed the small half circle my friends and I had formed, each of us gnawing down on some sort of food after the strenuous and inhuman time spent in the bitterly cold ocean. I’d slipped my shorts on over my bottoms after getting out of the water, but everyone else remained in their suits.

Instead of eating the food they were provided, Andy and Jamie’s mouths found comfort in each other, having no shame in their personal world of tonsil hockey. Danny threw a fry at them, perfectly slamming Andy right in the cheek. “You guys are almost as bad as Chloe and Asher.”

Mid-bite into my burger and wondering what I did to deserve that kind of comment, I looked up from my meal. “I’m pretty sure Asher and I aren’t sticking our tongues down each other’s throats.”

Kicking a glance towards the rest of the group, Blake grinned. “Yeah, they wait until they’re home for that.”

A small head shake in contradiction, I looked back down at my hamburger, mortified from the topic at hand. Asher, much less silent than me, clutched a pickle from his burger and chucked it at Blake’s face.

“Do you ever fuck off?” he asked accordingly.

Blake catapulted a wink our way, scrubbing pickle residue from his cheek. “It’s not my fault you two reek of sexual tension.”

Clearly fed up, Asher stuck his hands into the sand below us, releasing a handful Blake’s way, covering him and his burger. I couldn’t hide my smile. Dusting himself off, Blake apologized, small chuckles escaping halfway through. Super sincere.

Attractively stuffing the last bit of burger into my mouth, I noticed a woman approaching. She had bleached blonde hair, an orange bikini with jean shorts, and an orange bottle of something presumably alcoholic to match. Walking up to our half circle, she took a glance towards every individual, her gaze landing on Asher.

So interested in his food that he didn’t notice her until nudged in the arm, Asher peeked up at the beach-waved beauty, his eyes widening as they came in contact with hers. Jamie slid a little closer to Andy in a protective way, though the girl didn’t glance at her boyfriend for more than half a second. Danny eyed the girl up and down, Blake leaning back on his hands to seemingly soak her up.

“Hey, my friends and I have been watching you for a little while.” She flipped around and pointed to a group of girls who giggled and looked away right as she turned. She twisted her pale hair in her finger and smiled. “And they all dared me to give you my number.”

My every muscle went taut as I held my breath, looking directly into my container of fries and wishing the very pretty girl away as if she would disappear before me.

A smirk curling his lips, Asher responded, “Well, I’d hate to be the reason you can't complete a dare.”

She nodded once, grabbing a piece of paper and a pen that was conveniently placed in her back pocket and scribbling her number before handing it to him.

“I’m Morgan. Call me,” she breathed. Another agonizingly slow face scan went by before she finally made her departure.

Danny clapped Asher on the back as they stared down at the number between his fingers. “She was hot, dude, congrats.”

Asher blinked once at the number, half a heartbeat going by before he crumpled the paper in his fingers and tossed it over Blake and Danny’s heads. I widened my eyes in surprise, but my lips twisted into a smile as I watched the two boys turn and leap behind them, scrambling in the sand for said number.

Blake grabbed it first and lifted it into the air in triumph. “Got it!”

Danny scoffed, ejecting a fry at his excited friend, so clearly annoyed he didn’t locate the number first. “Actually, Asher got it. He just didn’t want it,” he voiced, his tone vacant.

As confused as the rest of the group, Andy faced my roommate. “Why did you turn her down? She was h-” Jamie lightly punched him in the arm and he actively changed his wording. “-hella not pretty. Nevermind. I see why you didn’t want her number.”

She nodded contently, returning her head to his shoulder and I smiled, shaking my head at the pair.

Danny coughed out a laugh, his mouth agape. “I think I’m having a fever dream. Asher Freed just turned a girl down.”

Asher grabbed a fry from my container and I gaped as I watched him stuff the innocent food into his mouth. He grimaced at his friend’s reactions. “I didn’t want her number. What is so strange about that?”

“She was sexy, that’s what’s strange,” Blake elaborated. “Are you feeling okay? When was the last time you even got laid?”

Andy’s voice was a tone of mockery as he sang, “Asher’s on a dry spell.”

Asher scowled at his friends, his cheeks adorably turning the faintest amount of red. “Since everybody cares so much, I had sex last night. Thank you very much,” he muttered impatiently.

Confusion morphed my expression and I frowned. Asher hadn’t gone out the night before; he’d stayed in with me and the two of us had watched a movie. Did his reputation mean so much he couldn’t admit it been longer than one day since he’d had a woman in his bed?

Clearly done with the subject matter, Asher stood. He flipped towards me and held out his hand, waiting as I hesitantly placed mine in his and let him lift me to my feet.

He announced, “Dol and I are going to the boardwalk,” and took off walking towards the promenade.

“I hadn’t realized you’d gotten ′laid’ after we finished our movie,” I joked sarcastically as I trailed behind him.

Asher shook his head as we continued to approach the boardwalk. “Maybe I didn’t have sex last night but you absolutely fucked me by putting that terrible movie on. I mentally count that as getting laid.”

"The Notebook is a fantastic movie,” I spat, picking up a handful of sand, no hesitation hampering me as I chucked it at him. “It’s not my fault you don’t understand films that are cinematically rich.”

Still damp from the water, the dry sand stuck to Asher like darts to a board. Gripping my waist, he pulled my back against his sandy chest, wrapping his arms around me and lifting me off the ground. I squealed and he laughed, the sound detrimental to my sanity. He let go of me, his mission complete. My back was covered in sand, each course prickle scraping my bare skin.

Without looking where I was going, I took a step away from him, but the sand that covered the ground slid when I moved my foot and I found myself tumbling downwards until my ass hit the granular coated wood planks of the boardwalk. Needing a second to let the embarrassment float away with my dignity, I let my eyes roll close.

“Are you okay?” I heard Asher’s sympathetic voice ask near my ear. Swallowing hard, I made myself nod, making eye contact with his guilty-looking face. “I didn’t mean for you to fall.”

Standing, he held out a hand for me, the least he could do, helping me stand and dust myself off.

“You play so rough.” I laughed, shaking my head at him, my chest still heavy from the weight of humiliation.

He grinned, nodding once. “That’s how I like it.”

I cringed, then laughed again, smiling as we continued on. Asher took off towards a carnival game, his eyes crinkling in delight.

“I’ll make it up to you.” He slipped his hand into mine, the warmth from the action suffice enough, and dragged me over to the stand. “I’m great at this game.”

Paying a dollar to shoot the bottles, the water hit them directly, and they tumbled downwards. He grinned to himself at the accomplishment, dusting absolutely nothing off his shoulder, self-congratulatory.

When asked which prize he wanted, he, who considered himself the ultimate God of Shoot-The-Bottle, pointed at the medium-sized dolphin stuffed animal hanging. When it was in his hands, he held it out for me, wearing his best puppy eyes. “Please forgive me, Dolphin.”

Grinning slightly, I glanced down at the plush animal and before I knew it, my grin had transformed into a full-blown smile. I chuckled. “Only if you never insult The Notebook again.”

He cringed but reluctantly agreed, muttering, “Fine, but Ryan Gosling is free game."

I frowned. "Leave Ryan alone."

Hours later, Asher had proven himself ultimate God of many boardwalk games and even won Prim a stuffed bear at the ball toss. Laughing, we began to make our way closer to our towels as we passed the group of girls who had bravely given Asher a phone number earlier that day.

There were six girls in total and each beamed in his direction as we crossed paths, waving their hands to greet him. He smiled brightly, eyeing them curiously as his eyes traveled over each pretty face, and body, before we’d passed them by.

I let out a pained laugh. I wasn’t sure why, but jealously was boiling in my stomach by the time he’d torn his interested gaze off the girls and I failed to maintain my wobbly composure as I blurted, “You have no standards.”

I chuckled again, hoping to regain any imitative casualness. Asher, too, laughed at my accusation. “Excuse you. I have standards. Important ones too.”

“Is that why you haven’t tried to sleep with me?” I remarked with a smirk on my face, trying to hide my intrigue.

The question had been gnawing at me ever since Hayden had mentioned it on the ride home days before. It wasn’t that I would ever jump at the possible opportunity to sleep with Asher, but I couldn’t deny that being the only girl he wasn’t attracted to bothered me.

Asher’s smug expression fell into a confused, and a little offended, gaze. He suddenly stopped walking, gripping my elbow, leaving me no other option but to face him.

“You think I haven’t tried to sleep with you because of my standards?” he asked, searching my face. I remained silent, lifting my shoulders in a shrug that I hoped somehow answered his question.

He shook his head with a blatant look of disbelief and, still holding my elbow, stepped closer to me. “Dol, that has nothing to do with it. You- you’re... everything about you is...”

He stumbled over his words, frowning before shifting his sentence completely. “You reach beyond my standards. My standards are nothing compared to you. I haven’t tried to sleep with you because regardless of how many times I’ve thought about kissing you, or laying you down on my bed, or taking this extremely small bikini of yours off...” He leaned in, the move tightening my chest like live wires. “And, I promise, I have thought about it, I’m not going to lose a friend who is far too good for me because I was stupid enough to sleep with her.”

Though many unwanted thoughts traveled through my head, including all the things he’d listed, I smiled appreciatively at him. I nudged his shoulder, indicating we continue walking towards our towels.

“Do you really think I’m too good for you?” I asked him as I broke our moment of thoughtful silence. Mentally contradicting his assessment, I frowned.

With a small smile, he nodded around the vast beach, packed with people from one end to the other, sharing, “Dol, there is not a man on this beach who’s good enough for you.”

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