Chapter 16: Attraction
1. A quality or feature that stimulates someone’s interest or attention. Opinions on it differ from person to person.
*Chloe’s Point of View*
As Hayden had warned, the museum was a tad boring. Or at least it would have been if I wasn’t with someone who made the experience interesting. As we walked in, Hayden explained that he’d spent a summer in Paris a few years prior and that his mother had dragged him to every art museum the city offered, despite his reluctance being only thirteen at the time. He held my hand as he pulled me throughout the museum, pointing out every painting that he recognized.
He would stand and admire the art for minutes at a time, and I would stand beside him, hoping I looked as interested as he did as he admired each painting. Most of the art was beautiful, but after a minute or so, I was ready to move on to the next while my date liked to look on much longer than that. His smile after he finished admiring something was always great though, so I didn’t mind waiting.
Pulling into Asher’s driveway, I was disappointed the day with him was coming to an end. Hayden grinned sweetly as he put the car in park, turning to me. “You’ll be at the New Years’ party on Monday?”
I nodded. “Yeah. I can’t wait to see you there.”
His smile growing, he pulled a neat little box from his middle console, presenting it to me with pride. “I know we didn’t agree to exchange presents for Christmas but I wanted to get you this.”
Awed, I took the small box into my grasp, thanking him about a dozen times before I pulled open the top of it. A diamond bracelet sparked my interest on command. It was the bracelet from the store that I had been gawking at the day we went out to lunch. It was also horribly overpriced.
My mouth fell open at the sight and I looked at him with wide eyes, murmuring, “Hayden, you really shouldn’t have. It was so... expensive.”
With a small grin cushioning his mouth, Hayden spoke in a matter-of-fact voice. “I wanted to.”
I leaned in, giving him an uncoordinated side hug. “Thank you so much. It’s beautiful.”
Glancing down at it, his lips quirked as he pulled away. “Then it’ll match you perfectly.”
Watching me as I studied each shiny gem of the jewelry, he reached for the handle of his door, and I shook my head, snapping the velvet box shut as I muttered, “You don’t have to walk me up, really. I’m okay.”
I was still hoping to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation between Asher and Hayden as I had been that morning, but when Hayden’s pushed his door open, I knew I’d failed.
“No way. I didn’t get to pick you up at your doorstep, I’m absolutely going to drop you off there,” he said with a smile. He got out of his seat and jogged to my side, opening up my door for me.
As I inwardly prayed we could avoid Asher making any appearance, I let Hayden pull me into a hug on the doorstep, soaking up every second of his embrace before he pulled away.
When he did, he was still smiling. “I had a great time, Chloe. I hope you did too.”
I nodded, tending backward against the front door as I opened my mouth to reply. Before any words could be presented, that same front door opened and I found myself plunging back. I squealed, mentally accepting the bruise and the embarrassment I’d face when I hit the ground. My painful fate was interrupted when an arm circled my waist, pulling me up and holding me in the doorway.
*Asher’s Point of View*
Standing in my kitchen, I watched from across the counter as my friends threw on the TV. Jamie, who had arrived minutes before, was sitting with her legs over Andy’s, the remote in hand as she searched through the channels. My living room was still full of the guys, who’d been there all day, and we were waiting on Chloe, who was taking for-fucking-ever to come home from her date.
Jamie landed on a classic Christmas movie and, despite it being half over, she smiled, letting it continue to play. I watched the television with narrowed eyes, noting the movie she’d put on had been one of my favorites years ago, about the kid who gets left at home during his family’s holiday vacation. I remembered envying the main character, wishing, at the time, that my own family would get on a plane and head off to a faraway destination.
I stood in the kitchen, filling and refilling glasses of the apple cider my mom made to avoid joining my friends yet. When Jamie arrived, she created enough of a distraction for me to step away from my very nosey friends for the first time all day. I still needed a second to get over the humiliation of having a crush in the first place, let alone being rejected by her via Andy’s phone.
Over the sound of the movie and my friends talking, I could hear my porch steps creak outside. I looked between the TV and the front door for a few seconds, deciding firmly on the front door as I headed towards it, and I couldn’t contain my hand as it reached for the handle and swung the door open. Chloe squealed as she fell through the jamb and directly into my arms.
“Christ Dol, careful.” I chuckled, happy she was home as I pulled her snug to my side.
She swatted my chest as her cheeks flashed with a shade of pink and, although Hayden was standing in front of us, she made no effort to remove herself from my embrace as she breathed, “Christ yourself, Asher. Who opens a door that fast?”
“That was a normal door-opening speed.” I laughed, first at her ridiculous question then at Hayden’s pale face, watching his eyes dart to my arm around his date’s waist.
When Dolphin looked back over at him, he recovered quickly. He faked a genuine tone and tossed an unauthentic grin my way. “Ah, Asher, it’s nice to see you again.”
I gave him a Go Fuck Yourself grin, pulling Dol even closer and basking in how much I knew our closeness was bothering him beneath his deceptive expression.
He unlocked his eyes from me quickly to look down at Dol. “Well, Chlo, I guess I’ll see you on Monday at the party. Do you need a ride?”
Dol smiled, her lips parting to respond as I rudely interrupted with, “She has a ride.”
Facing me with the same shocked-like-glare that Hayden was also giving me, Dol slowly but completely unsubtly pushed me further inside the house. She leaned against the edge of the front door, my hand above her head as I kept it in place.
She apologized adorably. “Sorry, but I will see you there!”
He put on a vomit-provoking smirk and I nearly had to put a hand over my mouth as he whispered, “I can’t wait.”
Dolphin was beaming at him, completely wrapped up in his presence, so I did her and myself a favor.
“Yeah, bye.” Knowing my sentence was perhaps a little rude, unneeded, and impolite, I pulled her back towards me and shut the door in his face.
She whipped around, irritation reigning over each of her features as she yelled, “Asher!”
I heard the TV pause in the next room and I turned to walk back into it, noting all the attention Chloe’s loud voice had earned us. Each of our friends was looking toward us but I ignored their puzzled (or in Blake’s case, amused) expressions as I refaced Chloe, who was close behind me. She was standing on one foot, attempting to remove her complicated-as-all-living-hell heel off. Watching her, I glanced down at her outfit, checking it out for the first time today. It was tight. Tighter than usual.
Great, I got to see her in loose sweaters and sweatpants and Hayden got to see her spilling out of her shirt. I withdrew that statement in my own head as soon as the thought had entered. As much as I enjoyed her current outfit, nothing beat Chloe’s awful-looking sweaters, or the amused smile she’d wear after I told her how awful the sweaters were.
“That was fucking rude!” She gasped at me, still having no success in removing the shoe.
I observed her as she struggled on one foot, shaking my head when I watched her begin to tip due to unbalance. I gave a disapproving eye roll, simultaneously grabbing her by the waist, pulling her into me, and yanking the heel off myself.
“Yeah, I’m fucking rude. What’s your point?” I handed the shoe back to her and she jerked it out of my hand, clearly irritated. With no heel on her foot, she was able to stand on it to remove the second shoe, making her already meek stance five inches shorter.
Pointing the heel at me, she snarked, “He’s really sweet, Asher.”
“How would you know? You’ve been on like two dates with him,” I asked, my frustration growing and my memory fading. As my annoyance built, I had forgotten that there were other people in the room beside the two of us. Dol had yet to even notice. She was watching me with furious eyes but even pissed off, I couldn’t deny how much her gaze affected me.
She scowled. “Who cares? I like him and I like getting to know him!”
I willed myself to stay calm, but couldn’t. Internally fuming, I shook my head at her. “Then get to know him! No one is stopping you.”
“Yeah? Your obvious hate for the guy is going to scare him away. Who the hell do you think you are? My father?” Her voice hardened and she gave an expectant eye roll. “You don’t have to babysit me and I don’t know why you think you do.”
I let out a sigh as we both fell silent. It was at that point that we both swung our heads to discover other people in the room. Chloe’s eyes widened, her mouth falling open upon realizing our argument was as public as ever. I didn’t have the energy, or willpower, to deal with any of our friends. I turned instantly and headed up the stairs, listening to the footsteps of someone following me up. Running into her own room at an applaudable speed to grab new clothes, Dol followed me into mine.
“Por qué me tratas como si tuviera cinco años?” she snapped as if I hadn’t taken French and had any fucking clue what she had said.
I scowled. “Translation?”
She gave me a similar expression. “Why do you treat me like I’m five?”
I ignored her question as I watched her rip her shirt over her head and replace it with a sweatshirt. I was considerably surprised she would do something like that right in front of me, sobering when I remembered that we had a strange relationship, a totally fucked up one. One where she could change her clothes in front of me, hang out with me all day, curl up beside me on the couch every night, live in my house... and still go out with someone else at the end of the day.
I huffed with a laugh that had no humor packed into it, desperately not wanting to argue about how controlling she thought I was. “I don’t treat you like your five.”
“You treat me like I’m always making the wrong decision, even if you’re the one choosing things for me!” she blurted. I opened my mouth, nanoseconds away from spitting back my own response, but she frantically continued with, “Like last night! You made me feel like a total idiot even though you’re the one who kissed me!”
Within seconds, no air was detected in my lungs and my throat began to set itself aflame as I harshly let out, “What?”
Appearing to have the same amount of limited air as me, Chloe shook her head, looking away from me. “N-nothing. Nothing. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
My voice came out in a panicked tone that I hadn’t meant to reveal. “We kissed?”
With no words spoken, her eyes darted behind me, parking on my unmade bed. The sheets were splayed about from my night of drunken movement, but I immediately imagined Chloe tucked between them.
The statement, You kissed her! began to play in my head with celebratory music and party favors but soon, the fateful ground inside my head opened wide and swallowed the ceremony whole. Being unable to remember said kiss was nothing to celebrate, and instead of feeling the straightforward satisfaction I’d felt after kissing her the first time, I was guilty for forgetting the memory altogether.
“You don’t have to feel bad...” Chloe sighed, rubbing her temples with her thumb and forefinger as she noticed my guilty features. “...for not wanting to kiss me. I know that’s why you stopped.”
I grimaced at the revelation she was crazy enough to come to then calmly offered, “Can I ask you a personal question?”
A frown pulled her expression downwards but she nodded with concede.
With her approval, I asked, “Are you fucking insane?”
“Excuse me?” She gasped at my inquiry, crossing her arms over her chest.
Her reaction, and lack of answer, caused my eyes to roll as I muttered, “I can assure you, I didn’t stop kissing you because I wanted to.”
I bit the inside of my lip harshly as my sentence concluded, not wishing to say anything more to display how badly, and how constantly, I wanted to kiss her.
“How do you know? You don’t even remember it, do you?” she snapped.
I studied her reaction to me carefully with narrowed eyes, puzzled over her apparent frustration. Her expression was coated in an irritation I couldn’t begin to comprehend. Was she upset with me... for stopping?
She’d already made herself clear to Andy that her feelings for me ceased at friendship, but if that were so true, why were her lips forming the most kissable scowl? Understanding her, piecing together what she wanted at any given moment was like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube in the damn dark.
With a sigh, I told her, “I don’t need to remember it to know that if you were in my bed then I wanted you there.”
Chloe paused, not looking anymore convinced, and rolled her eyes. “You didn’t exactly seem to want anything to do with me last night.” Her anger subsided swiftly, but an even worse emotion took its place: sadness. “I understand if you think I’m...”
She seemed to falter for words, then shrugged and forgot the sentence altogether.
My brows bunched with confusion. “You understand if I think you’re what?”
Her shoulders lifted in a second shrug and she was silent for a while. “Unattractive,” she finally whispered.
I faltered back a step, shocked that was the word she had been looking for. I blinked hard, feeling my head begin to shake on its own. “Have you seen yourself, Dol? Have you ever looked in a mirror? I mean, seriously, who the fuck let you look like that?”
She crossed her arms stiffly, her scowl returning. “Is now the time to insult me?”
“It’s not an insult!” I heard myself yell, noting Chloe’s widened eyes. “You’re beautiful and that’s certainly not the problem I had last night.”
“Then what was the problem?” she asked, but I had no answer because I couldn’t remember anything after I left the bar the night before, and I hated myself for it.
Understanding I had nothing left to say, she made a sound that sounded a lot like, “Hmpf,” following it with what I think was the sentence, “Give me a second,” before turning and stomping into her room.
Tense and angry, I allowed her the second and stomped back down the stairs. Looking up the steps to confirm she wasn’t following, I turned to the rest of my friends, asserting, “If anyone mentions what just happened, I will kick your ass out of my house.”
And with that, I sat down on the couch.
So much for staying calm.
*Chloe’s Point of View*
I decisively bounced half-heartedly down the stairs a while later, sporting my pajamas. I made a beeline for the kitchen as I watched my friends sit in a circle in the living room, ready to exchange presents as I all but chugged a glass of water. Arguing with Asher was a workout, and it was a workout I did a lot. He got under my skin like nobody else could.
As much as he bothered me at the moment, I couldn’t ignore how his words regarding how beautiful I was made me feel. I assumed the reason he’d stopped kissing me the night before had something to do with the way I looked, like I wasn’t his type, but that apparently wasn’t the problem at all, which somehow made the situation even more difficult.
Jamie, watching me mope in the kitchen, hurried to my side, curious. “Hey C, please explain to me what just happened.”
I shrugged, not wanting to discuss it any further, not even with Jamie. “Asher is so protective. It’s tiring.”
“Protective,” I cut her off with my glass of water approaching my lips, not wanting to hear another minute of the speech that started with, but what if he likes you?
Quiet reigned over us both as we stood hip to hip, watching from across the counter as the guy’s traded presents. With the memory of the last twenty minutes of my day launching itself off the sides of my brain, Jamie broke the silence.
“Remember when Christmas was fun and all I had to do was make sure my drunk aunt didn’t kiss me?”
I giggled at the memory of the estranged old woman who happened to have a pretty unhealthy drinking problem.
“Aunt Louise!” I frowned after my initial amusement. “She thought I was a boy.”
“She was such a lunatic.” Jamie chuckled, then sighed. “Things were so easy before.”
“Before what?” I questioned, knowing the answer, but asking anyway.
She tilted her head to look my way, then glanced back at the guys. “Before boys.” She turned her back on our friends, leaning against the counter to face me. “Did I tell you Andy’s ex-fling, Mae, has started calling him again? Talk about a headache.”
She brought her fingers up to her temples as if to massage them and, for a moment, all I could do was stare at her. I felt an emotion akin to relief knowing she had her own set of guy problems and that it wasn’t just me who was buried in the stress of teenage boys.
“I mean we just started dating! Who the fuck does she think she is?” Jamie exclaimed in a whisper, trying not to draw her boyfriend’s attention.
A pang of guilt followed my relief over the fact I found reassurance in Jamie’s relationship problems and I instantly sought out to help. “How did Andy react to it?”
She lifted her tense shoulders. “He doesn’t care. He’s ignored her calls as far as I know.”
“Then it shouldn’t matter, should it?” I tried to give her my most comforting smile. “If she really bothers you, then the next time she calls, pick up and tell her he’s out buying condoms for the two of you.” I tipped my glass towards her shocked face before taking another sip. “Kidding.”
Thankfully, Jamie giggled, and her solace brought a smile to my face.
“You’re right, as always.” She conjured up a close-mouthed smile, turning back to face the guys, then laughed. “I hope you and Asher get over whatever you two were fighting about. No offense, but you guys only fight about dumb shit.”
Sighing, I gave her a look that said I knew she was right. “The dumbest.”
I collapsed on the ground beside Asher, hoping he and I could get past the stupid argument and actually enjoy the rest of the day. I nudged him with my elbow and showed him a medium-sized box, smiling when he looked at me. “Wanna open your present?”
After a short but nerve-racking pause, he nodded. Taking the gift from my hands, he opened the top and his mouth fell open. He closed the lid, along with his eyes, and his lips made their way into a smile. Opening the box again, he stared into it, breaking into a laugh.
Feeling a bit smug over the fact he found pleasure in the gift, I grinned proudly as he said, “I cannot believe you.”
He set the box on the ground and pulled the gift out of it. I was having a lot of trouble coming up with a gift idea for him, but I finally realized what I could get. I ended up buying him that silly old sixties phone from the antique shop. The one that made us laugh that day because of some stupid dirty joke.
Still laughing, he put the phone to his ear. “Do you understand how much I’m going to use this?” I let out a loud laugh and pulled a finger to his mouth in an attempt to quiet him. Tossing a brief look back down at his gift, he gave me a genuine smile. “Thank you, Dol. I love it.”
Giving a weak excuse to the rest of our confused friends as to why the inside joke was so funny, I asked Asher for my gift as politely as possible. His nose wrinkled cutely as he reached behind him to reveal a small box that most likely held jewelry of some sort. “Sorry, it’s kind of a crappy gift. I bought it at the last minute.”
Shaking my head, I made a “psst” sound and grabbed the box, gasping when I opened it.
“Asher, this is not a crappy gift...” I brought my hand down and touched the glass on the necklace. It was the necklace that I was staring obsessively at in the antique shop.
I may have been developing a habit of staring at expensive jewelry.
But this specific necklace was one that I had wanted more than anything else in the store. One that reminded me of my family, my father. If I’d had enough money, I would have gone back to the shop to buy it. It was a piece of jewelry that was easily one of the most beautiful pieces I’d ever seen. I stared at it for a long time, wondering how in the world he thought it could qualify as a bad gift.
“How did you know I wanted this?” I swallowed, incredibly grateful, and unable to convey it.
His eyes lingered a second longer on the necklace before they met mine. “I- uh- I saw you staring at it intensely when we walked in there. I wasn’t sure if it was actually what you wanted or if I was imagining your intrigue.”
Unable to state a clear sentence, I only nodded, re-obsessing over the bright, colorful piece of jewelry. The necklace was an even better gift than the concert tickets from Jamie I’d opened minutes before and I screamed upon receiving those.
As the rest of my friends began to exchange their own expensive presents, Asher leaned into my ear. “I’m glad you like it.”
I grabbed his arm, immediately squirming next to him and whipping my arms around his neck, securing him into an unconsented hug. He wrapped his arms around me without hesitation, pulling me flush to his chest. “I love it. Thank you. You have no idea how much I’ve wanted it. Thank you so much.”
Pulling away, he gave me a small grin, surprised by my clear graciousness. “It was no big deal, Dol.”
I nodded and he turned back to the group. It was a big deal. More than he'd ever know and more than I could ever express.