Destructively Oblivious

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Chapter 14: Father

fa·ther

/ˈfäT͟Hər/

noun

1. a man in relation to his child; someone who should be there, but isn’t always around.

______________________________________

*Chloe’s Point of View*

As I sat at the bar in the kitchen, I scrolled through my laptop, skimming through the different art and activities I would see in the museum the next day with Hayden. With a tiresome yawn and a smiling little girl in his arms, Asher trotted down the stairs to my left. Prim looked much more awake than her older brother did and when he set her down, she quickly climbed up onto a chair next to me.

“It’s Christmas Eve!” she squeaked.

My eyes trailed over her bright pajamas, bringing my attention to the popping colors of green and red snowflakes that covered them head to toe. “Are you going to make cookies for Santa?”

Prim opened her mouth to respond but Amy, with a joyous smile, sauntered in before any words could leave her daughter’s lips. “We sure are!”

Heading towards the sink, Amy picked up a sponge, taking it to the already clean kitchen counter before turning to her son. “Asher, take out the trash, would you?” she requested of him before shifting and ringing out the sponge over the sink.

He shrugged, muttering, “If you say so,” before picking up his little sister and slinging her over his shoulder like a bag of potatoes. She squealed as he began pacing towards the front door.

“Asher! Mom meant the garbage bags!” The little girl giggled, hanging upside down off her brother like he was a jungle gym. He turned back to face his mother and me with furrowed brows.

“Oh!” he exclaimed loudly and melodramatically. He set her onto the counter, giving her nose a little pinch before picking up the large garbage bag and tugging that over his shoulder instead. “My mistake.”

Asher headed out into the yard and, when he turned his back on me, I couldn’t stop myself from momentarily thinking about how one day, based on his relationship with Prim, Asher was going to make one hell of a father. He had already explained that being a dad was one of his biggest goals and the more I watched him with his sister, the more sense it made. Albeit, it would probably be quite a few years before he achieved such a thing.

My thoughts moved quicker than I could catch up and as the seconds passed, I began to wonder what other things Asher had in mind for his future. I wondered what city he wanted to live in, what kind of house he’d buy, the career path he’d choose. And against my own will, I began to compare his imaginary future with my own life goals, fitting everything together like one giant psychological and irrational puzzle.

Asher strolled in the front door empty-handed as baby names for his and my supposed future kids entered my mind. I was getting ahead of myself by decades.

“What’s got you so lost in thought?” Amy asked me, placing the dishes from the sink into the dishwater.

I couldn’t tell her I was imagining the life her son and I had built with one another and, instead, singled in on the holiday commercial playing on the TV behind me. “Christmas,” I blurted.

Quickly, at the sound of her favorite word, Prim turned around and began to recite the Christmas list she’d sent to Santa months ago. That managed to distract me from my unpleasant, futuristic thoughts and pull me back into reality, where I began to ponder my still unpleasant but realistic thoughts.

Amy strode to the coffee pot, pouring herself a mug. All the while, my eyes glazed over my empty cup, made their way to Asher leaning on the opposite counter sipping out of his own, and traveled back to Amy. Awkwardly, I cleared my throat.

“Hey, Amy,” I started, hesitance clear in my tone. With a confused expression, her scrutinizing gaze found my eyes. “If it makes you more comfortable, I can go to a friend’s house for Christmas. I’d hate to... intrude...”

The idea of imposing on Christmas with a family that wasn’t mine gained me some moderately uncomfortable spirits. If Amy had an issue with me infringing on the holiday, I had no problem going anywhere else. My statement brought more attention than I thought needed from both Asher and Prim, the two of them studying Amy and me.

Their mom frowned, her silent eyes roaming my face. “You’re not intruding at all, Chloe. Not one bit. Did someone make you feel that way?” Amy suddenly whirled around to scowl at Asher, exasperation in her voice. “What did you say to her?”

Asher steadily put one hand up as a way to defend himself. I stammered, the sputtering noise bringing her attention back to myself. “No, no. No one said anything. I’d just hate to be the type of person who-”

Amy’s frown transformed into a sunny smile. “Who nothing. You’re completely wanted here. Your mom gave me all her presents for you, I have some presents for you-”

Prim lifted her hand enthusiastically, waving it in my face. “Me too! And so does Santa.” Her adorable nature squeezed my heart.

“You’re staying with us tonight because we wouldn’t want it any other way. We love having you here. Right everyone?” Amy panned the room, her eyes landing on Prim first. The small girl, as cheerful as ever, nodded eagerly at her mother’s question. When Amy didn’t hear Asher respond, she twisted to face him and indicated to me.

Rolling his eyes, he took a scanty sip of his coffee, more for hesitation purposes and less thirst. “We love having you here, Dol.” He walked out of the kitchen shortly after that.

Staring after where he’d disappeared too, Amy gave a disapproving head shake before she fled the kitchen and made her way up the stairs. Deciding not to think too deeply into what Asher had shared, I went upstairs to take off my sweatshirt and put on some authentic Christmas pajamas, hoping it would help catapult me into the holiday spirit that I was heavily lacking. With a bright red shirt and matching Santa hat pants, I was clearly the epitome of every man’s dream woman.

I wandered downstairs a while later to find Asher on the couch flipping through lousy Christmas movies. He had thrown on his own pajamas, which were navy blue reindeer pants, and he looked absolutely adorable. Though his Christmas pajamas were clearly visible to me, he still made an effort to laugh ill-mannerly at mine.

“Awe, how cute. You and your little Santa hats,” he taunted, rustling a hand through my hair playfully.

“Don’t tease me while I’m staring at the ugly reindeer on your pants.” I pointed at them, my tone prickling with modest annoyance.

“Mine are cool, Dol. Reindeer’s are fuckin’ rad.” He stepped past me out of the living room and into the entrance room.

"Fuckin’ rad, the lamest slang word ever.” Shaking my head, I mocked him, trailing behind out of the room.

He made it all the way to the front door before turning to face me, hand on the knob. He laughed almost uncomfortably. “You’re in a particularly pissy mood today.”

Feeling guilty about my attitude towards him, I changed the subject instead of confronting it. I nodded over to his hand on the front door handle. “Where are you going?”

He opened the entrance, allowing the fresh, crisp winter air to waft through, and leaned onto the doorjamb. “The guys went Christmas shopping this morning and apparently Andy, who drove them to the store, ditched Danny and Blake there to hang out with Jamie. I'm going to give them a ride home."

He chuckled at Andy's actions as I nodded, then frowned. "They went present shopping on Christmas Eve? That idea doesn't seem ideal."

"I think they like the adrenaline rush," he joked, turning from me. Pausing for a split-second, he refaced me with a coy smile. "Do you want to come with me to pick them up, Grumpy?"

Matching his grin, I marched past him and out the door, stepping into the car to begin towards the destination. We buckled our seatbelts in silence, and started the car in silence, and reversed in silence, but as we pulled down his street, I could see his eyes lingering on me, and I sighed as he finally asked, "So what's wrong?"

I didn’t say anything for a lengthy amount of time, pondering how comfortable I was relaying my Christmas troubles to Asher. “Nothing, why?” I plastered the biggest fake smile on my face, kicking him a glance.

With one quick glimpse at my face, his brows pulled together. “Bullshit. Stop lying. What’s wrong?”

I sighed again, this one deeper, and gave in, knowing he’d get it out of me eventually. “I miss my mom, I guess. I talked to her this morning, but it’s not the same as her being here, you know?” Trying my best to recover the bearings I’d lost, I cleared my throat.

“I can’t say I know, but I understand. I’m sorry.” Asher’s tone sounded of something I rarely heard from him — genuine sympathy.

“Not your fault. Her boss sucks.” I shrugged, scratching the surface of my pointer finger, thinking back on all the annoying things her asshole boss had made her do, knowingly being inconvenient to everyone involved. While oddly good at cutting salaries short, he was equally as talented in dodging lawsuits — from brutal hours to sexual harassment charges. There was not a business owner in the world who I hated more than Max Reynolds.

A smirk beckoning his lips, Asher cast me a brief look. “Can’t argue with that one.” I had forgotten that Amy and my mom shared a boss. I imagined Asher had seen firsthand how soulless he could actually be. “All he cares about is money.”

I shook my head at him, the disgust on my face unmissable. “Money is the root of all evil.”

I watched Asher’s smugness morph into a confused frown as he looked my way. “It’s love,” he said.

I frowned. “What?”

“The phrase. It’s the love of money is the root of all evil,” he corrected.

“Love...” I mumbled quietly to myself. I suppose Asher was right. Maybe I’d had the saying mixed up all along.

After a few minutes, we pulled into the most packed mall parking lot that I'd ever seen and I realized that apparently many people enjoyed the adrenaline rush of day-of Christmas shopping. It took more time to locate the two boys than it did to drive there, but eventually, they climbed in with a few bags, completely out of breath.

Danny collapsed on the seat, wiping sweat from his brow as he turned to Blake and exhaled, "I'm never Christmas shopping with you again."

Blake snorted. "Hey! How was I supposed to know that middle-aged woman would attack you with her purse?"

The blonde boy scowled. "You threw a shoe at her head and then ran. The whole thing was your fault!"

"She shouldn't have taken the last free sample." Blake shook his head, then leaned forward to look over the seat and glance between Asher and my Christmas-themed outfits. He chuckled. “Nice pajamas.”

Letting my eyes roll back, I tended against my seat. “Nice personality, asshole.” I winced immediately, turning to face him, sure the natural pink hue had burst my cheeks from my own comment. “I’m sorry.”

All three guys simply laughed as Asher set his hand onto my knee, giving it a friendly shake. “Don’t mind her, she’s in a mood.”

“I hope you get into the Christmas spirit soon, Chlo,” Blake laughed, patting my shoulder and nodding over at Danny. “Dan still hasn’t.”

Danny shook his head at his friend, exclaiming, “I was attacked!” I giggled at the pronounced offense on his features as he muttered, “Do you ever do anything except spew bullshit out of your mouth?” towards Blake.

“Strangely enough, my mouth is capable of even better things, I assure you.” Blake smiled, poking me in the back so I’d face him. “You interested in finding out what, Chlo?”

I brought my teeth to my bottom lip, stifling both a laugh and a cringe as Asher and I simultaneously muttered, "Shut the fuck up."

______________________________________

That evening, I walked with Prim into downtown, per Amy’s request, to buy her hot chocolate and show her some of the neighborhood Christmas lights. When she and I had returned, the living room was buried in presents.

Prim complained to me that we hadn’t walked fast enough to catch Santa in her living room while Amy and Asher congratulated themselves over the fact they managed to place all the presents under the tree before we got back.

Later in the night, after all the presents were opened and smiles had been passed around, I ate more cookies than I’d cared to admit, regretting that decision as I sat on the couch with the siblings.

Prim had eaten double what I had, but she seemed as energetic as usual, maybe even more so. She showed Asher the awesome, badass monster truck Santa had brought her and as he nodded along to her presentation, I felt the need to haul myself off the couch and get some apple cider.

I poured myself a glass and downed it, pouring myself another a second later. Prim had switched from the monster truck to Barbie and I grinned, admiring as she taught Asher how to dress the doll appropriately for a dinner party.

I overheard a knock on the front door and set my glass down to walk into the entrance room, but after a moment, the sound of Amy opening it caught my attention. Asher didn’t seem to notice the door, too wrapped up in the Barbie tutorial.

Stepping up to the doorway of the kitchen, I was within view of the front door and I felt increasingly disoriented about the person standing there. The man was wearing a suit under his winter coat and although his apparel struck me as odd, the thing I picked up on first was his face.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this man was related to Asher and Prim. He looked like the spitting image of Asher. Or more so, Asher was the spitting image of him. The dark hair, the coffee-colored eyes, the attractive face — all of it screamed Asher.

The man spoke nervously to Amy like he understood he’d made a mistake by being here. “Amy, you look good,” he complimented, letting himself tentatively smile.

She shook her head, scowling. “I look great,” she corrected.

“Are they here?” He extended his neck in an effort to look farther into the house, but Amy blocked some of his view by stepping to the side. His eyes locked with mine and, after dipping a confused brow, he returned his attention to the woman in front of him. She had yet to notice me curiously standing there.

She shook her head at the man, glancing behind him outside. “Calvin, I told you we would discuss this. I did not tell you could show up, especially on Christmas.”

His shy behavior began shifting into frustration. “We discussed it months ago and then you shut me out. I can’t wait any longer. I’ve waited long enough.”

Amy’s answer didn’t make it to my ears when I heard the floorboards behind me creak. I gasped, flipping around and faced with Asher, who I hadn’t realized had been so close behind me until the tip of my nose was ironed against the front of his shoulder.

I jolted backward, gnawing on my bottom lip as he questioned what the hell I was doing watching the front door. From what I had deciphered, Asher’s father was a sensitive subject in this house, and I stumbled for an answer to his question. He drew his eyebrows together as a notion of confusion, took a step closer to me, and looked over my head.

When his eyes landed on the person at the door, his expression hardened. His eyes narrowed. Or more specifically, they darkened. They were rigid, and cold. At that moment I knew he was already far away. I drew in a deep breath as I watched him stare. If looks could kill, the man at the door would have been a goner. Asher wasn’t mad. No, he was livid. I had never seen him like this.

I leaned past him to look at Prim, who was too wrapped up in a Christmas movie to pay us any mind. Placing a hand on Asher’s shoulder, I waited for him to react. He swung his head to look down at me suddenly as if remembering for the first time I was there. Eyes relaxing for half a second, the kinder side of Asher exited promptly as an unfamiliar voice threatened the Christmas air. “Asher!”

Asher’s eyes snapped off mine and found the front door behind me. I slowly turned to face the entrance room as well. As expected, his father had spotted him. Amy had spun to look at us and her eyes swelled, guilty that she couldn’t get the man out of the house before we’d noticed. Asher’s bitter expression returned as he stepped past me into the room. Using one of my nails, I dug into the side of my thumb as I watched the scene unwind.

“Calvin?” was all that left his mouth. It came out in the form of a question, but his tone was sharp and rugged like it hurt to say.

The expression on his face looked like pure fury, like if someone offered him a loaded gun and a ‘get out of jail free card' he’d have no problem committing a crime right now. Amy stepped away from the door as if she was worried about what would happen to her if she stayed there. That worried me. Nothing stood between Asher and his dad except about six feet. That worried me more.

Calvin stammered, glancing behind Asher and past me. “I-I... is Prim here too?”

Asher ignored his question. “What the hell are you doing here?”

From the opposite wall, Amy answered for him. “Ash, he’s been trying to see you and Prim for a while, you know that. I told him we’d talk about it-”

Asher swayed his head in disapproval, glaring back at his mother. “I told you no.”

“I needed to see you and Prim. Needed to tell you how sorry I was. To explain-” Calvin’s seemingly sincere apologies were cut.

“Seems a little late for that,” Asher said, bluntly.

His father’s guilt gradually spiraled into irritation over Asher’s rightful anger. “If you’d let me explain.”

“And why the fuck should I do that?” Asher’s voice electrocuted the air as he took a step closer. The swift movement to get near a man he was visibly upset with alarmed me and I found myself at Asher’s side in a split second. I didn’t know what burst of confidence had made its way through me, but maybe all that cider I drank was giving me liquid courage. Asher had noticed my arrival beside him, but he kept his dark glare on his dad. Calvin glanced downward at me as Asher’s voice strung sharply once again. “Why should I let you explain?”

“I’m your father,” Calvin spoke matter-of-factly.

“Could’ve fooled me,” Asher mocked the same tone of voice.

Lamenting, he took an insignificant step farther into the house. Asher stepped back as his dad moved closer and his eyes fluttered shut anxiously in an endeavor to calm himself down, almost as if he was counseling himself out of anger.

“Asher, would you just listen to me?” Calvin begged a second time, seemingly oblivious to his anxious son.

Giving Asher no opportunity to react to him, I snapped, angry, “Give him a second, would you?”

Frustrated, the man flung a glare towards me, asking, “And who the hell are you? His bodyguard?”

Asher’s closed eyes snapped open due to his dad’s harsh response to me and they narrowed. “Don’t talk to her like that. You have no fucking business being here.”

A sigh escaped Calvin and he stared apologetically my way. “I’m sorry. I need to talk to my son.”

“He doesn’t want to talk to you,” I protested, even though his response had been an apology to me. “I think he’s made that clear.”

I glanced back towards Amy, who had yet to intervene, regardless of her son’s growing impatience. I furrowed my eyebrows at her, wondering why she hadn’t thrown Calvin out yet but she looked away before she met my gaze. Her eyes landed on Prim who was standing in the doorway. She attended to the man in the doorjamb with blurring, confused eyes before Amy rushed towards her, instantly picking her up and carrying her out of the room.

It was only me, Asher, and him, and the air was crackling with tension.

Calvin swayed his head gently as he let out a flutter of a breath. “Look, you’re calmer now. Please, let me explain.”

“Explain what?” Asher’s tone was calm, wounded, but calm. He no longer seemed to want to bury Calvin six feet under, but I still inched closer to him, wrapping my hands around his bicep and pulling him close. I rested my cheekbone against the corner of his shoulder as he finally met my eye due to my sudden closeness. He looked away after a moment, his head rocking back and forth in his father’s direction. “I don’t need to hear your justifications.”

“But you deserve them,” Calvin raised again after a long-drawn, controlled sigh.

Asher’s head jerked in sharp disagreement. “I don’t need anything from you. Not your presence, not your apologies, and certainly not your excuses.”

There was a silence in the room, not awkward, not tense, just silent. Asher’s eyes never faltered from his father’s but Calvin finally looked away, almost too ashamed to maintain the eye contact any longer.

“Asher...” he began, taking a considerate moment to piece together his words. “I want to be a part of your life again, and Prim’s life, starting now.”

Asher let out a laugh, filled not with humor, but contempt. “Starting now?” he asked, still moderately calm. “And what about yesterday? Last year? What about the last seven years? Why didn’t you want to be a part of my life then?”

I knew the conversation was getting personal but I couldn’t find it in myself to let go of Asher, to leave them alone to talk.

Calvin’s head shook shamefully, his voice nearing inaudible. “I made a mistake.”

“Walking out on your family isn’t a mistake. It’s a choice.” I’d never seen Asher so vulnerable in the weeks I’d known him. I didn’t realize it was an emotion he was capable of expressing. He must have forgotten I was there because his eyes never left his dad. “Prim doesn’t even know who you are. I don’t even know who you are...” he shared softly.

Calvin nodded, running a hand through his hair in a way that reminded me of Asher. It made me cringe, watching someone that Asher hated, who looked so much like him, share a mutual mannerism. “That’s why I need to make it up to you. To both of you.”

Though my roommate seemed relaxed, he gritted his teeth at his father’s persistence. “You don’t deserve to.”

Calvin didn’t respond, only let out another sigh.

Having given up on the discussion, Asher gently pulled his arm from my grasp, his head swinging with concede. “Listen, I don’t care why you’re here. Just leave. Do it for me, do it for Prim, or be the great narcissist you are and do it for yourself. But don’t come back.”

With those final words, Asher stepped past the man in front of him and onto the porch, the front door slamming behind him with an unforgiving echo.

______________________________________

Curiosity, concern, and confusion mixing into a deranged cocktail, I waited as patiently as I could for Asher to reappear. After he’d left, Amy had jostled Calvin out of the house and shut the door in his face, angrier than I’d ever seen her. She dragged Prim up to bed after that, dodging all of her daughter’s questions about the strange man at the door who looked so much like her.

When Prim had eventually fallen asleep, I instantly envied her unconscious state. For hours, I listened to the sounds of my footsteps, pacing throughout the tranquil, dark house, awaiting Asher’s reluctant return.

For a reason that I couldn’t comprehend, and had no business trying to, I couldn’t rest knowing my roommate was gone, angry, and alone. Presumably alone. I had no idea if he’d found comfort in the arms, or bed, of someone else. Not knowing that information only made my endeavor in relaxing even more unfathomable.

A loud crash outside the house both strangled me in alarm and coddled me in peace. Hurrying to the front window, I watched a wavering Asher outside attempt to pick up a flower pot which I assumed he’d knocked over. When the ceramic pot was upright again, he stood, only to once again knock over the plant.

I cringed, watching him lean down a second time to clean up his mess before I grabbed hold of the front door handle and made my way onto the porch. Shutting the door softly behind myself, I headed in Asher’s direction, smiling heatedly when he put his finger to his lips, shushing the noisy, inanimate object at his feet.

A second passed and my smile melted from my features as a sigh caught hold of my breath. I knew a drunk man when I saw one, and Asher wasn’t exactly trying to hide how plastered he was.

When he saw me, he frowned. “What are you doing out here?”

“I’m here to help you,” I voiced as softly as possible, never having seen Asher intoxicated and not exactly ready and willing to find out what kind of drunk he was. Anything but angry was fine with me. I leaned down, gently setting my hand on his shoulder and he allowed me to help him to his feet without any trouble. “How drunk are you?”

“Yes,” he answered in full confidence.

I cracked a smile, simultaneously throwing his arm over my shoulder to walk him to the front door. When I’d managed to haul him up the porch steps (which he made incredibly hard by dragging his feet the whole way up), he wavered, and I tried again to steady him.

Unfortunately, he dropped to his knees in front of a flower planter, leaning over it as if he was going to throw up. He inhaled slowly through his nose, clearly trying to stop himself from hurling into a bunch of roses.

I kneeled down beside him, gently setting my hand on his back and rubbing in slow circles, hoping to soothe him enough to get him into the house. He noticed my soft touch and craned his neck to look at me with a perplexed expression.

“Why are you helping me?” he asked, sitting back on his heels when he realized he wasn’t going to throw up.

Instead of answering, I sent a question back. “Why wouldn’t I?”

He shut his eyes, rubbing them gently with his thumb and forefinger before he locked gazes with me again. “I’d think you of all people wouldn’t mind watching me vomit on my front porch. It’s very humbling, in a way.”

I couldn’t help but smile at his drunken response. “I’d hate for the flowers to be overwatered.” I tilted my head towards the planter, using my nonexistent attentiveness to gardening as an excuse as to why I was helping him.

With a laugh, he let me help him to his feet once again and I set my hand on the front doorknob, only to find that I’d somehow locked it behind me on the way out.

“Dammit,” I muttered, impatient. “Asher, where are your keys?”

“Back pocket,” he mumbled, half-unconscious.

I paused, realizing he had no intention of getting them out. “Can you grab them for me?”

“And miss out on the intimacy of the moment we’re about to share?” I didn’t need to see his face to hear the smirk that had latched onto his tone. He sounded even more amused than I was exhausted.

After a few more borderline-begging requests for him to hand me his house key, he did as I asked and let me drag him into the entrance room. Each room was absent of light and that, mixed with how massive Asher’s body felt leaning on me, made it challenging to locate where the stairs began.

Ultimately reaching them, I realized the position I had Asher in would have us both on the ground before we arrived at the top. I readjusted, coiling his arms over my shoulders from behind, my back to his chest. He perched his chin into the crook of my neck, assisting me in supporting him with a total effort of zero as I lugged him up the stairs.

As I panted due to being entirely out of breath, Asher groaned gently, likely in pain from being hauled upward. When we eventually reached the top, which personally felt like it took as much effort as climbing Mount Everest does, the drunken boy let out a laugh.

“With your panting and my groans, we sound like we’re fucking,” he charmingly shared.

Towing him into his bedroom, I ordered him to stop talking, dragging him farther into the dark room, hoping I wouldn’t trip on anything and let him and I hit the floor.

“I can’t believe you’re a virgin,” he said unexpectedly as we stumbled through the pitch black. “A lot of untapped potential there, Dol.”

I was immediately embarrassed he’d brought up my lack of experience. “You really know how to make a girl swoon,” I spoke through clenched teeth.

He said, “I know how to make a girl wet, too,” right as I leaned over his unmade bed to toss him into it. The attempt failed when he fell onto the mattress, yanking me down with him. I struggled to remove myself from his solid grasp, but he only tightened it, drawing me down beside him.

“Don’t leave yet... please,” he coaxed, laying on his side and shutting his weary eyes.

With little wiggle room due to his firm clutches, I shifted, adjusting myself in his arms, feeling suddenly at ease with him swaddled around me. I actually felt beyond at ease. I felt like his arms were a brand new blanket and I’d been hypothermic for weeks.

It was a comfort that’s visits were few and far between, and I needed to bathe in the warmth of it before it was stripped away from me. I’d never had such an easy experience falling asleep before but I was nearly out like every light in the Freed household.

“I’m sorry about tonight,” he whispered, jolting me awake. My response, or lack thereof, was cut off when he continued, “I’m sorry I was so angry.”

Unsure of what to say and where he was taking the conversation, I allowed myself a cliche reply. “You don’t have to apologize.”

“I do. That man pisses me off, but I'm sorry you had to see it.” Slowly, his eyes opened, showing no signs of exhaustion. Though he was looking at me, he seemed far away, in a distant land filled with a heartache that played over in his head like a broken VCR.

“He left when I was really young. My mom kicked him out after she found out he’d been having a bunch of affairs. She was pregnant with Prim at the time. I don’t think I’d ever seen her cry that much.” His eyes refocused on me. “He left after that. I haven’t seen him in seven years.”

Both honored Asher had bestowed the personal information on me and guilty he’d spilled the news when he was beyond the right mindset, I swallowed hard, searching for the right words. Or any words at all. I was usually on the receiving end of apologies and solemn looks. It was a rarity I’d find myself handing them out.

When silence dispersed into the air, Asher’s eyes fell closed and a sigh rolled from his mouth. “I’m so drunk right now.”

“How can you tell?” I chuckled quietly.

His closed eyes fluttered but remained shut, and his next few words flew from his mouth so quickly I was sure I’d misheard them. “Because if I don’t stop looking at you, I’m going to kiss you.”

“What?” I gasped, feeling like I was recently hit with a sledgehammer.

“I want to kiss you,” he breathed, in nothing short of a whisper.

And at that moment, I felt as if my brain had put in its two-week notice. I couldn’t think of a single illogical reason why I’d be in Asher’s bed right then and not my own. With a foreign judgment shuddering through every inch of me, my airplane-mode mouth whispered words that I couldn’t remember how to keep to myself. “Then kiss me.”

Slowly, his eyes pressed open, and I couldn’t ignore the look on his face as they connected with mine. His gaze paced between my eyes and my lips as he unlocked me from his arms, taking my face in both hands. Every fiber of my being concentrated on the look in his eyes that screamed he wanted to taste me.

He was stationary, waiting, and I nodded, permitting him to do anything he wanted with me. With permission, he brought his lips to my own. He started slow, pressing his mouth on mine at a controlled speed. Surprisingly, I was the one who was trying to rush our actions. I didn’t know where I wanted this to end up, but I knew right then, I’d never wanted someone’s tongue against mine more. It felt crazy to say in my head.

His lips parted and I licked into his mouth, feeling, and looking, as desperate as can be as I pressed hard against his soft touch. His kiss was slow and skillful and I was very aware that any future contender’s kiss would never live up to his lips on mine. When his mouth had stripped me of any control I once had, I wondered how I had managed to endure the days where Asher and I weren’t in the compromising position.

One hand remaining on the nape of my neck, he moved the other to my hip, seizing a fist full of my shorts and pulling my hips to his. The movement sent a down-to-the-bone shiver radiating throughout my core. Want began to quake between my thighs as his insistent mouth moved from my lips to my neck, ambushing my skin with lustful expertise. His teeth grazed my throat before his mouth was on mine again.

My heart palpitated like an engine revving to life when he gently tore away, and I mentally cursed him for stopping. His lips slipped from me and he buried his face in my hair, almost shamefully.

“I can’t... I can’t do this. Not now,” he whispered.

I blinked, confused, and suddenly embarrassed that I’d gotten so involved in a kiss that he appeared to regret. No longer red hot, I was instantly just red, and I was thankful the room was too dark to tell. Asher removed his hands from me and as soon as our contact broke, I leaped from the bed like I’d had ice-cold water thrown on my willing body.

Taking a moment to catch my breath, I stood over the bed, watching Asher fall asleep as soon as I was out of his grip. I guess falling asleep wouldn’t be an accurate description. Passed out drunk was more realistic.

With the shadow of his body and lips against me, I hurried to my room, shutting my door gently behind myself and resting the back of my head against the wood. Frustration and humiliation seemed to be battling it out in my head, pummeling each other for first place. Humilation won, as it always did, and I slid to the floor, questioning why I was the only girl in the world who Asher had no interest in sleeping with, even completely drunk.

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