Destructively Oblivious

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Chapter 13: Virgin

vir·gin

/ˈvərjən/

noun

1. a person who had never had sex; someone who has never been touched or used for pleasure.

______________________________________

*Chloe’s Point of View*

I woke up that morning as early as usual, heading downstairs to put on the coffee. I pried open the newspaper, scanning articles and weather reports as I sipped my mug, anxiously waiting for Asher to wake up and join me. The early mornings didn’t bother him the way they had before I moved in and, in the time I’d been staying here, he’d made a habit of waking up to chat with me over morning coffee. Every day, he and I grew closer, friendlier.

I still woke up long before him, so I would stand in the kitchen, impatiently waiting the extra time it took for him to rise.

A while later, I heard the patter of feet race down the hall at the top of the stairs, but the feet sounded far too small and were moving too quickly to be Asher. I craned my neck just in time to watch Prim, who was already dressed for the day, bound down the stairs.

“Chloe!” She snaked her arms around my waist as she smoothed her cheek against my stomach. I returned her embrace before lifting her and setting her on the counter in front of me.

“Good morning, Prim. You’re up early.” I scanned her outfit, amused she’d begun her day before sunrise, and let out a quiet laugh, questioning her. “Where are you headed?”

With the sweetest smile, she asked, “Can we go ice skating?”

Prim, like her brother, had a certain charm to her that was hard to dispute and I found myself nodding before I allowed the idea to mature. She cheered and I frowned, realizing I had no means of transportation or even any money, seeing I hadn’t gotten paid for the week yet and my last paycheck was as good as gone.

I smiled, trying to play off my own panic of potentially disappointing the small girl. “Have you asked Asher to go?”

She glanced at the ceiling in the direction where her brother’s bedroom sat, then sighed wearily, sharing, “I tried. He was too tired and told me to come bother you.”

I rolled my eyes at Asher’s backfired plan to quiet his sister and pulled her from the countertop, signaling that we go wake the tired teenager. Her hand in mine, she giggled as we entered his room, and I gaped at his bare chest, rising and falling with each breath. Redirecting my gaze, I aided Prim in climbing onto the end of his bed. She let out another entertained laugh as she began jumping up and down on the mattress.

“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!” She sang into the quiet air, shaking the bed with a forceful quiver.

Asher groaned, flipping from his back onto his side and burying his face in a pillow. “Jesus fuck, Primrose!”

I shook my head from his terrible language, gently swatting his pillow-covered head with the back of my hand. “Don’t swear, Ash.”

He again turned onto his back, tearing the pillow from his face as his tired eyes flickered between his sister and me. “It’s too early to ice skate,” he derided, but it sounded more like a plea.

“No!” Prim pouted, her brother’s comment ceasing her bed-jumping. “They’re all open early.”

Asher rolled his eyes as his sister hovered above him. “Oh, then I meant it’s too early to wake up.”

“You don’t even know what time it is.” I chuckled as I crossed my arms over my chest, awaiting his excuses.

“I have an incredible internal clock,” he tried.

“Okay, then what time is it?” I questioned.

“4:23 AM.”

I glanced at the alarm clock on his bedside table. “6:34 AM.”

“Still too goddamn early,” he mumbled. Slowly but surely, he made his way into a sitting position, the blanket falling from his exposed chest into his lap as he rubbed his closed eyes. Opening them, he squinted at me. “How did I let you become such an important part of my life?”

I didn’t have time to answer with my original, ‘I don’t know, but mistake on your part,’ because of Prim jumping up and down once more as she repeated her previous inquiry. “Can we go ice skating?! Please!”

Asher finally nodded, his glare vanishing and a grin curling on his lips as he stared at her. “If you can get Dolphin out of my room, then yes.”

Prim said nothing more. She leaped from the bed, yanked on my hand, and hauled me out.

______________________________________

Paying for tickets two hours later at a place called Icy Palooza, Asher led us into the small stadium where the ice rink was located. Feet already covered in the bleached white skates, he helped his sister tie her own.

He stood, wobbling slightly because of the thin skates before grabbing Prim’s hand and pulling her to her feet. She held herself high and sturdy, wearing the little ice skates that came with two blades and much more skating confidence because of them. After he had made sure she was balanced, he turned to help me stand.

We all wobbled our way over to the rink, stepping onto the slippery ice trap. I had never been the best at ice skating, but I figured I was okay at it. Thinking that over, the memory of myself as a young child landing painfully onto my back, slicing my arm, and bleeding all over the ice came to mind. I hadn’t been since.

I winced at the thought and skated on, making sure I held the edge of the rink while waiting for Asher and Prim to step in. As they did, Prim instantly slid and tipped backward, the destiny of her butt hitting the ice interrupted as her hand in Asher’s helped her stay up straight.

“Whoa there.” Asher chuckled, helping her maintain a sturdy balance.

He gazed up at me clasping the side of the rink as if letting go would put my life in jeopardy. He hugged Prim’s extended hand steady in his own as we gradually made our way around the rink. The two were a few steps behind me, the little girl taking small, uncoordinated steps instead of gliding, seemingly holding Asher back.

“Asher’s really good at ice skating.” Hearing the little girl’s disclosure, I spun to face them.

“Oh, is he?” Relinquishing my eyes onto my roommate, I watched his face overcome with fret, his head shake differing from his sister’s declaration.

“Yes, you are, Asher!” She shifted back to me, a proud smile threading her features. “He took lessons.”

Mouth falling open, I glimpsed over at a cringing Asher. “You did not.” I laughed, unwilling to believe it.

Dipping his head at an overly controlled speed, he admitted to the ostensibly painful memory. “My mom thought it would be fun if I tried out for a season when I was eight. Let’s just say I’m not cut out for the sport.”

“Please show off your talent,” I begged.

He scowled. “Fuck you.”

Her infamous Freed puppy eyes secured in place, Prim stared up at her older brother. “Please Ash-Ash...”

Asher was still, a long-drawn moment passing by before he ultimately managed to snatch his eyes away from her and up at me. I didn’t make it any easier when I pushed my bottom lip out into a pout.

“Please Ash-Ash...” I whined all the same.

Exhaling a shaky breath, he shoved Prim’s hand into mine, skating in front of the two of us. Having her on my arm slowed me down, making it easier for Asher to race ahead of us.

Though his back was all that was in view, I was sure his face was a grimace, showing evident distaste for the act. Beginning more significant strides in front of himself, he snapped to a stop, spinning high-speed on the ice. The circles came to a halt as the teenage boy faced us, his face exactly how I had pictured it.

I would have been lying if I said I wasn’t impressed. Asher looked like he was contemplating self-destruction mode. I smiled at his troubled expression. “Wow. Nice job, Ash-Ash.”

He rocked his head back in forth in furious opposition, taking minimal glances at the skaters around us.

“I’m going to lie down and let all these people run me over with their skates,” he griped. I let out a harsh laugh at his dark vision, and he crossed his arms, skating extremely well backward. “Now that I’ve had to share one of my embarrassing secrets, you have to share one of yours.”

“You didn’t share your secret! Prim did.” I gasped, unable to fathom the idea of giving him anything more to tease me about.

His eyes dropped to his secret-sharing sister. “Okay, Weasel, what’s one of Dol’s embarrassing secrets?”

I too looked down at Prim, unknowing as to whether or not she knew anything humiliating about me. She thought for a moment, her shoulders lifting in concede. “I don’t know. She eats the crust of the bread first. That’s kinda weird.”

It was not exactly what I thought she was going to say, but nonetheless, I was embarrassed having the seven-year-old call me out. Asher, his eyes narrowed in utter dismay, lowered a brow in my direction. “What the hell?”

“What?” I shrugged, hoping to play off the unusual concept. “It’s not that weird.”

“You eat the crust... before the middle of the bread?” he questioned, the clear-cut confusion on his face making me feel like I needed to explain the strange habit.

I sighed. “I love the middle of the bread, but I don’t want the crust to be my last bite because it’s not as good. So if I eat the crust first, then I eat the good part, it’s much more enjoyable.”

The cringe on his face fell into a smirk. “You eat all the way around the slice... and then eat the middle?”

Sigh number two came into play and I nodded. “Yes, can we move on?”

Prim jumped up and down, comparable to the way she did that morning when begging to go ice skating. “Oh! I know a secret! She reads those gross love romance books.”

Asher’s eyes shifted up to mine again and I recoiled from his shocked expression. I couldn’t catch a break. I huffed in distress.

“Okay! Okay, we’re done talking about secrets. I hate this.” I looked over at Asher to make sure the glare in my eyes hit him directly. “And you.”

He kicked me another egotistic look, muttering, “No, you don’t. And what kind of romance stories do you read?”

My book choices were the basis of any cliche story. I preferred anything that was annoying, cute, and could make me smile at any given time.

Asher crossed his arms, the obnoxiously cute dimple engraved in his cheek. “It’s all sex, isn’t it?” he teased.

I promptly cupped Prim’s innocent ears, unable to hide my entertained laugh. “No! Stop it! We’re not talking about this.”

Flustered, I glided across the ice, meters in front of the pair, powerless to the sibling’s amusement towards me and my unique ways.

I spun around to face them, much too hastily for the ice below me and, because clearly, I was unable to do necessary human actions such as turning, I began to tumble backward. I braced myself, ready for my butt to make contact with the hard, freezing ice, but it never did.

Feeling the heated, unfamiliar hands on my waist, my nervousness flared, afraid to turn around and face my warm-bodied knight in shining armor. I flipped around, steadying myself with a hand on the crisp edge of the rink. Lips quirking, I realized who had saved my butt from the bruise.

“Hayden! Hi.” I lifted my hand in a wave, a smile pulling my expression.

Grinning broadly at me, he returned the greeting. “Hey! It’s great to see you. I feel like it’s been forever since our lunch.”

I nodded, my embarrassment from the conversation with Asher combined with my almost-fall fading. “I promise I haven’t been hiding,” I joked.

His grin became even wider if that was possible. “I sure hope not.”

I asked him how he’d been and his mouth opened to present an answer but was drowned out by the racket of someone skating to the left of me. Two someones, actually. Not shockingly, when I twisted to look at the someones, I spied Prim and Asher. The little girl’s face clouded with confusion over the boy in front of the three of us, while Asher’s expression was annoyed.

“Ah, Hayden, you remember Asher, yes?” I smiled between the two.

“Yeah, of course. How could I forget Asher? How are you?” Hayden smiled courteously at my roommate, calm over the fact Asher was blatantly ignoring his question.

Keeping the smile on my face, and not being overly nice, I nudged Asher in the side with my elbow. He hurdled a glower in my general direction, belatedly answering Hayden.

“I’ve been better.” Looking down at his sister, his firm eyes relaxed when they docked on the little girl. “Are you hungry?”

Receiving a nod from Prim, and for no other reason than to be a complete and utter asshole, Asher’s elbow uncomfortably jammed into my side as payback. “You ready, Dol?”

Before I could comment, Hayden’s bliss-filled chuckle surged at the group. “Doll?” he questioned the name.

“Oh... yeah, Dol. It’s a nickname he has for me. It’s short for- uh- Dolphin,” I stammered. I had never felt uncomfortable about sharing the nickname before, but revealing the background behind the title Asher had accorded me weeks prior to Hayden made me feel a little silly.

Asher’s smug voice laced the thick air. “Actually, it’s short for doltish.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head, wishing I was anywhere but there. Opening my eyes, I smiled awkwardly at Hayden. “It’s short for Dolphin,” I confirmed again.

“I see.” Hayden’s grin turned into a wide smile when his eyes found mine. “I’m actually happy I ran into you. I was going to call you later tonight. My parents gave me two tickets to some lame museum exhibit on Tuesday and I’m almost sure it would be less boring if you came with me.” He chuckled, but worry overcame his expression and he backtracked. “I’m sure it’s not that boring. I don’t want that to discourage you from coming.”

I giggled, which seemed to soften his stressed features. “I’d love to come,” I told him.

The second elbow to my abdomen was a much smaller elbow, along with the strict voice of Prim reminding me, “Tuesday is Christmas! You can’t miss it!”

“And we have that stupid Friend-mas shit that day,” Asher jumped in, his glare finally leaving Hayden’s face and landing on me.

Though I was from a family that opened the presents Christmas morning, the Freed household celebrated the night before, on Christmas Eve. Our friends, realizing we had nothing to do on Christmas Day, decided that was the perfect time to intrude the household and exchange gifts between our group. Friend-mas. Asher despised the idea, and the name, but he was outvoted.

Hayden, picking up on the kind, but unyielding voice of the seven-year-old, surged his eager eyes at me. “The exhibit is open from noon to three. I hope it wouldn’t intrude on any Christmas delicacies.”

I glimpsed at Asher, who happened to be staring off at a tree like it had grown a mouth and spoken to him. Knowing our friends wouldn’t be imposing on the house until the evening, the museum plans sounded okay to me. And since Asher hadn’t made a super snide comment yet, I accepted before he could. “That sounds great, Hayden. Thank you for inviting me.”

He grinned, clearly relieved I'd agreed. “I’ll call you and give you more details about it tomorrow.”

His arms encircled around my torso and I greedily accepted the hug, binding my hands up and over his shoulders. When I felt him begin to let go, I stepped backward and the fact that I was on skates became a distant memory. For the second time in my mortifying day, the blade of my shoes slid on the death trap of ice, tilting me back.

Both boys leaned in to catch me, and I came close to kissing the ice-trap before Asher coiled an arm around my waist and righted me. Chuckling, Hayden’s eyes fell to Asher’s arm, protectively bandaged around me.

“Careful,” he told me with a grin. “It would be hard to get through the museum with a broken leg.” He gave me one last smile before turning and making his way back to his friends.

Asher all but snatched his arm away from me and re-grabbed Prim’s hand before turning to get to the gate. As we made our way to sit and take our skates off, he shook his head. “Hayden fucking Larkin? You’re the one who has no standards.”

I took a seat next to him, happy to leave Icy Palooza and slam my butt onto the couch instead of the ice. “I have standards and from what I’ve seen so far, he meets them.”

His judgemental eyes rolled towards the sky. “You’ve gathered all that from talking to him once at a party? He’s like fucking wonderbread. He’s boring as hell.”

With a tilted brow, it dawned on me that I had never mentioned to Asher my lunch with him the previous week. Deciding whether I wanted to let him in on the secret or not, I leaned over, tugging at the string on my skate. “Uh- no... We went to lunch.”

I didn’t know why it was difficult for me to say the words to Asher, but I found myself increasingly guilty.

Pausing in the attempt to take off a shoe, he eyed me, his jaw slacked. “Like a date?”

Removing my first skate, my foot feeling bereft as I did, my guilt, which should have been nonexistent, didn’t allow me to look over at Asher.

“I suppose I could call it a date,” I murmured.

He exhaled harshly. “Okay, but how about you don’t?”

I peeled off the second skate, finally feeling healthy enough to bring my eyes to him. I sighed, letting a stern expression fall over my features. “I was walking downtown and I ran into him. He took me out to lunch. That was all.”

Why I felt the need to explain that, “That was all,” I didn’t know. Like I said, increasingly guilty.

When the three of us had thrown on our regular shoes, the ones that made ice skates feel like hell, we began walking. Asher drew Prim’s hand into his own as we crossed the street, grumbling, “That obviously wasn’t all if he’s asking you out again.”

I sulked, irked with his disapproval. “What the hell do you care, Ash? He’s cute, and he’s interesting, and he likes me.”

His face contorted from frustration to anger and I could tell he was trying to loosen the tension from his shoulders. “Hayden Larkin?” he said again with disdain.

The attempt to get to the car was cut short, my walking coming to a cessation. “Contrary to popular belief, I can take care of myself. You already have a sister to watch over.”

I signaled down at Prim, who appeared confused by her brother’s and my altercation. As I turned away to leave, he grabbed my wrist with his free hand. I looked over my shoulder at him, the guilt I was feeling prior shifting into irritation.

“Dol, I am not trying to be your brother. Not even a little bit,” he snarked.

I pulled my hand from his grasp and the three of us began to trot our way back to the car. I sped up, being the first at the car, and climbed into the passenger seat. Asher got behind the wheel after assuring Prim was buckled in the back seat. He sighed, calmer than before, and exhaled all the tense air he’d been holding in.

His voice soft, he turned to me. “I’m trying to make sure he doesn’t fuck you over.”

With a small exhale, my irritation began to melt and I was appreciative of his gestures, even if I didn’t need them. “He seems nice, Asher.”

He sighed before turning the ignition and the car roared to life. As we pulled from the parking lot, he shook his head, distastefully. “Looks can be deceiving, right?” he bit out, and I frowned.

______________________________________

As most of Asher and my arguments went, I had nearly forgotten about it in the few hours it had been since. The clouds had opened up, the sky hazy and the streets damp with rain, which was how Prim had convinced me it was the perfect day for a blanket fort.

She and I then spent hours building and occupying a fort that was meant to fit only a seven-year-old. I was relaxing inside as Prim described to me her favorite parts about Christmas Eve.

“And Mom and I are going to make cookies tomorrow to set out for Santa! Santa always comes to our house early, so we celebrate at night on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning.” She took a roaring breath after the long, breathless sentence before continuing on about the varieties of presents she was sure she’d receive.

“And then on Christmas morning, Mom and I are going to go see Santa at the mall! I’m so excited! Asher told me Santa was excited to see me too,” she squealed, undoubtedly excited over the red-suited man she’d see in the days ahead.

Suddenly, Asher peeled open the door to the fort. Or, in other words, he lifted the blanket we were using as an entryway. Her shoulders heaving, Prim startled from the abrupt movement and the flash of wind that entered the tent, sobering quicking when realizing it was only her older brother who had caused her reaction.

“I thought you two might be hungry after building such an...” His eyes flickered swiftly over the bundle of blankets and pillows. “...Awesome fortress.”

Asher handed me the small platter of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, and juice boxes. Prim’s face fell when he ducked out from underneath the thin, dainty door.

“Where are you going, Ashhhh?” she groaned.

Lifting the blanket once more, he gave her an adorable half-smile. “I was going to my room, Weaseeelll,” he mocked.

“But we’re playing with dolls! And talking about Christmas! Please stay,” she begged with puppy eyes.

“No, I don’t I should.“ Asher peeked over at me immediately, his eyes returning to his sister. He put his hand up to the side of his mouth as a wall between us, as if the small movement made it so I could no longer hear him. “I think Dolphin’s mad at me,” he whispered just loud enough for me to decipher.

Prim’s head swung hastily in rebuttal. “She’s not! She wants you to stay.” Turning to me, she clutched my arm, trembling. “Chloe, tell him you want him in here.”

Attentive to Prim’s face casting into a pout, I brought my knuckle to her cheek, stroking from side to side. A few seconds after, I shot my gaze in Asher’s direction, tentatively letting myself smile.

“I want you,” I said directly to his face, which proved to be a mistake when his lips smoothed into a smirk. I shook my head, hoping to backtrack the crude, incorrect statement I’d announced. “I want you in here.” I frowned, my sentence still not sounding the way I’d wanted it to. “I want you here in the fort with me- us!”

Sure my face was as red as Asher’s was amused, I quivered, staring into the small bowl of chips Asher had presented with the sandwiches.

His lips curled at my awkward nature; Prim didn’t seem to notice, spouting, “See! She’s not mad. Come in.”

Nodding, Asher squeezed his way into the already full fort, his side pressing against mine. Prim crammed a bite of sandwich in her mouth, enjoying the company of not only the two of us but the seven dolls in her lap.

She smiled excitably. “I asked Santa for this new monster truck for Christmas, so my dolls can have a badass car!” Prim exclaimed the harsh word with such confidence that I had to do a double-take.

Once I did, my mouth fell open in shock and Ashers, in laughter. I struck his arm casually, both because his lousy swearing habits were catching up with his sister and because he found humor in it, and looked over at the sweet little girl who had said badass. “Prim! Don’t swear!”

“When did I swear?” Her eyebrows pulled together in confusion.

Asher, doing a better job in controlling his disposition in the situation, was back to the mature big brother. “Primrose, badass is a swear word.” He gave her a brief look of reprimand. “Watch your language.”

Prim slapped her hands over her mouth as if she wasn’t sure of whatever would come out of it next. “I didn’t mean to!”

After a few more minutes of explaining that a monster truck would make for a badass car but she couldn’t say that, she understood and went back to playing Barbies.

Lining them all up, her lips tilted into a sweet smile. “Okay! They’re all ready to play now!”

She handed me a doll, the brown hair and blue eyes reminding me slightly of myself and I thanked her. The Ken doll she gave Asher moments after had dark hair, a leather jacket and I’m sure if it were real, it would have had a giant smirk as well.

“Is this me?” Asher held the doll up to his face for a side by side and I suddenly wondered if Prim had planned to assign us dolls who took on the same appearances as us.

She simply giggled and shook her head at the assessment. “No, silly! That’s Aidan. And Chloe, yours is named Clara.” She pointed at the dolls in our hands. “They’re boyfriend and girlfriend.” She paused, then her eyes widened knowingly and she added, “Just like you guys!”

Asher and I caught each other’s eyes but looked away uncomfortably as soon as we realized the other was staring. We shook our heads at the young, confused girl.

“Weasel, Dol and I aren’t boyfriend and girlfriend,” he shared stiffly.

Prim’s lips parted as her forehead creased, appearing baffled by the explanation. With an addled stare, she asked, “You’re married?”

I let out a befuddled laugh, looking Asher’s way again, who had not found amusement in Prim’s inquiry. We connected gazes for a longer period of time. He looked as puzzled as his sister and I swallowed hard, glancing away and clarifying to Prim that, “We’re just friends.”

Asher nodded to confirm. Prim frowned, opening her mouth to say something more, but was distracted when her brother asked her about her Barbie doll’s wardrobe. Quickly, she forgot all about the awkward tension she’d created.

I smiled as he began to help Prim dress her Barbie for a performance. I’d figured it would take a lot of alcohol, and a few unholy promises, to get Asher to do something as childish as play with dolls, but it was clear his love for Prim didn’t have a limit.

The day passed along, including about nine Barbie adventures, five action figure missions, three sandwiches, a whole Disney movie on my laptop, and an argument about who was better, Spider-Man or The Flash.

Never once leaving our sore spots in the tiny tent, Asher and I were still squished up, almost nose to nose with each other. Prim, the only person who should have been in the minuscule fort, had fallen asleep minutes before the iconic Spider-Man vs. The Flash debate.

Scrolling through the open movie browser on my computer, I turned to the very silent Asher, watching his eyes dart across my screen.

“Want to play Truth or Truth?” I questioned, eager to learn some specifics about my roommate.

Asher recoiled in confusion. “What the fuck is that?”

My eyes rolling back due to his lack of vocabulary besides the word fuck, I closed my laptop, taking a small scoot away from him so I could look at him without accidentally giving him an Eskimo kiss. “It’s like Truth or Dare, but no dare. Only truth.”

He grinned. “Why not just play Truth or Dare?”

Growing annoyed with his constant questions, I muttered, “Because who the fuck wants to do a dare?” then sighed at my own lack of vocabulary besides the word fuck.

Asher let himself laugh at my response, then indicated I start. Shaking my head, I began, “If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?”

He thought for a moment, taking minimal pauses between each word. “Hilarious... sexy... and-”

“Cocky?” I finished with a smirk.

He nodded slowly. “Yeah, cocky. Can’t forget cocky.” Pausing, his eyebrows drew together. “Wait, just to confirm again, that means I have a big-”

“Stop doing that!” I put my hand over his mouth to put an end to his crudeness. He mumbled a few more incoherent words, his tongue coming into contact with my palm. I cringed and pulled away, simultaneously wiping my hand on my jeans.

Between mumbling a few crude words at him, I heard him ask me a question. “What’s your favorite color?”

“Red, but that’s a lame question. You’re bad at this game,” I told him.

“Am not. Mountains or the beach?” he asked, trying to revive himself.

I rolled my eyes. “Still a terrible question, plus you asked two in a row, which is cheating.” I chuckled, following it with my answer. “And the beach.”

He nodded contently and my sentence settled. “What was your initial thought when you saw me for the first time?”

He laughed once, which made me smile, then said, “I thought ‘What idiot stops in the middle of the street when a car is coming?’”

I burst out in amusement, criticizing his version of the story. “I almost died because of your erratic driving.”

He grinned peacefully, continuing with, “If it helps any, my second thought was about how you have a great ass.”

I nodded sarcastically. “That does help, thanks.”

Chucking, he returned to the game, asking, “If you could have anything in the world as a gift, what would it be?”

“A puppy, no doubt,” I remarked without a pause. “The inconvenience that I call a brother is allergic so we could never have one. However, now that he’s at college, I’ve been begging my mom for one.” I let a gentle expression capture my face as I thought back to childhood. “I always said we should just get one and if Tate reacted, we could give him away... Tate, not the dog,” I clarified.

Grinning, Asher was visibly entertained by my clarification and chuckled as he waited for my next question, which was, “What’s one thing you’d like to accomplish in your lifetime?”

Without a speck of hesitation, he stated, “I want to have kids.” I let out a wry giggle, amused by his joke but when I looked his way, he wasn’t laughing. He picked up on my lack of convince, tilting his head. “I’m serious.”

“You want to be a father? That’s your lifetime goal?” Not trying to cover up the amount of shock in my tone, I hoped he didn’t interpret my surprise as rude.

He smirked, entertained by my reaction. “Shocked?”

“Yes.” For the sake of not being a jerk, I reworded my counter with, “No. I just didn’t expect that answer.”

He shrugged, his gaze momentarily snagging on Prim asleep beside me. Before I could question him about the dream I had not expected, he piped up with a new question. “Is anything worth giving up sex for?”

I blinked at the question, wondering how to maneuver my way through his awkward inquiry. Slowly, I lifted my shoulders, explaining, “I wouldn’t know.”

I waited for his surprised outburst of, ‘Oh, wow! A real-life virgin. I’ve never seen one,’ but he stayed completely silent. I had humiliatingly buried my eyes in my lap when I’d answered, but his lack of response forced me to meet his gaze again.

He was staring at me expectantly as if awaiting a reply. I knitted my brows, repeating, “I said I don’t know.”

He nodded, blinking a few times like he was clearing his vision. “I know. I just don’t believe you.”

“Why would I lie about being a virgin?” I frowned. “That’s not something that’s generally applauded.”

He eyed me blankly like I was a first-placed science project. I scowled. “I’ve had a boyfriend before. We just never... did that,” I added.

A soft, entertained laugh incised his lips. “What? Did you hate him or something?”

My lips formed a hostile frown. “That’s not funny,” I said, heatedly. “You think because a girl goes out with you, you’re owed sex?”

He shook his head sternly. “That’s not what I meant.”

“That is what you meant,” I argued.

His expression shifted into a cringe and, ashamed, he responded, “I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean it that way. It’s just... surprising.”

I swallowed hard, declining his apology. “It’s a sore topic.”

“What happened?” he questioned slowly.

Asher wasn’t being anything close to inconsiderate with his question, but I shut down immediately, not wanting to discuss the boy I’d dated months before. It was an embarrassing story, with an embarrassing ending that couldn’t leave my memory faster.

I shook my head, giving him almost nothing in regards to his inquiry. “It was about trust, and he and I didn’t really see eye to eye on that.” I sighed, staring into his eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Looking at me like I was some kind of enigma, my roommate nodded, a yawn beckoning his mouth a few seconds later. Following the yawn was a question. “How would you spend tomorrow knowing it would be your last day alive?”

Tilting a brow, my nose scrunched up in defiance. “It’s my turn to ask a question, you cheater.”

Asher ignored me, only repeating the curiosity-based request. I scoffed at his lack of Truth or Truth respect and singled in on what I was asked, giving him a cliche answer. “I would do all the things that I’m afraid to do. Things I wouldn’t do if I didn’t know I only had a day to live.”

Asher studied me for a much longer moment than I would have preferred, his gaze sweeping over each feature of my face. “But you don’t know when it could be your last day alive, so why not do something risky every day. You know, just in case?”

Getting into personal territory, I lightly shuddered, trying to find a way to both answer his numerous questions, but not expose too much. I shrugged. “Because... I don’t know. Doing everything you want to do all the time, living daringly... it can be careless. It’s scary, I guess.”

“Scary? What are you afraid of,” he pushed.

I stared into my hands, uncomfortable with where he was taking the conversation, and how long it was taking me to come up with a good lie. “I don’t know...”

“Yes, you do.” He dropped his tone, each of his words hitting the low taunt he was aiming for.

Hoping to satisfy him enough to change the subject completely, I lied, “I’m afraid of dying. If I live carelessly, I might get stuck in a situation that could harm me. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

He chuckled at my answer, which worried me, and denied my response. “You are not afraid of dying. Tell me the truth. Why not live recklessly? Isn’t that what living life to the fullest is?”

I sighed, disheartened that he had seen right through my fumbling mistruth. Fear of the unknown spiraled through me with each new line of questioning, but along with that, so did assurance, almost making me want to reveal such a secret.

“Asher...” I tried, knowing I was getting nowhere close to convincing him to back down from what he considered a challenge. When his persistent eyes bored into mine, I snatched mine away, jamming my nail into the side of my hand without thinking about it. Though the small sting hurt, it was nothing compared to the thought of sharing a bit of what made me as strange as I was.

My unusual and slightly painful nervous tick that involved the act of creating fingernail indents on my hand was a habit I had never been able to shake. Unlike emotional pain, physical pain had a location, making it much easier to manage.

Watching my habit in action, I spoke, my expression somewhere far away. “I can’t live that way. Carefree,” I blurted, angry with myself for being honest, and even more angry with myself that being an honorable person was so damn hard. “It’s unrealistic. We all have cares and responsibilities. I can’t pretend they don’t exist and live in some fantasy where I travel the country and pretend I don’t have bills and problems and obligations.” I frowned at myself for getting too specific. I finally managed to look back at Asher, who looked indescribably confused. I sighed. “Some people can’t afford to live in a fantasyland their whole life.”

While I was being honest about my anxiety-ridden feelings, in actuality, it was much deeper and much more personal than I was letting on. You’d think after almost dying I’d want to spend every day like it really was my last, but almost-death did the opposite for me.

It made me a nervous wreck who overanalyzed every section of my world, rather than residing in the fear that I’d never live life to my fullest without taking risks. But as the child of two risk-takers, I no longer craved risk as I had as a kid. I needed stability. I wanted a painfully normal life. And if it was boring, at least I knew it was safe.

I could feel Asher’s eyes on the side of my head but I refused to look up at him, instead trying to will another topic-changing question into my head. Before I could open my mouth, his head hit my shoulder and my tongue was left dry.

I let my cheek rest against his head. When the deafening silence continued to pass, I began to think maybe he had fallen asleep, but that assumption was smashed to pieces when he set his hand on my bare thigh, rubbing circles directly on it with his thumb.

Holding my breath, I not only mentally thanked myself for shaving my legs the day before but I watched the small movements on my skin, his fingers continuing their gentle persuasions along my leg. The feeling it gave me was new. Simple, but different. Strange, but overwhelming. There wasn’t a bone in my body that didn’t question why it was happening, but at the same time, it was stretching throughout my every muscle. My heart seemed to plod, the organ not doing what I needed it to do.

His finger didn’t stop memorizing the skin on my leg, but he did finally speak. “Why are you holding your breath?”

Out of embarrassment, a breath shuttered out of me slowly. “How did you know that?”

He chuckled lightly against me. “Shoulders tend to move up and down when a breath is inhaled. I noticed yours stopped about a minute ago. I only asked because I was afraid you might pass out.”

With an eye roll that he couldn’t even see, I muttered, “...I hate you.”

“No,” he promised. “You can’t get enough of me.”

I didn’t even bother denying it.

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