Chapter 18: Music
1. both vocal or instrumental sounds that are combined to produce harmonies and beautiful noises; can and most likely will bring people together.
*Chloe’s Point of View*
Waking up the next morning, I was in more mental anguish than I had felt in a long time. After many sleepless nights and even more exertions, I had thought I was finally in a good place. A place that didn’t involve midnight panic or scaring the living hell out of my roommate with no explanation.
The night before was a low point for me and I wasn’t looking forward to confronting it. With a dry mouth and an even drier sense of self-worth, I felt I had been run over by a bus, except this bus was headed towards my past and painstakingly dragging me along with it.
Sure the couch had left a dent in my right side, I wiggled my shoulders gently, peeling my eyes open, one raw lid at a time. Just as the first bit of wind crept into the room, Asher’s hand slipped over my waist and onto my stomach, warm and affectionate.
The large white shirt, the one that had comforted me through the night (and smelled strongly of the cologne my roommate wore just the right amount of), had done the unusual and revealing act of sliding upwards at some point in the night and his hand was against the bare skin of my stomach. Though not usually ideal to have anyone as close as he was, Asher was, again, the single exception.
Trying to enjoy the comfort of the one person who seemed to detach me from the not only disheartening but mortifying experience the night before, it was quite saddening when I heard someone stomp down the carpeted stairs, their loud voice echoing the quiet living room as they did. “Okay, you two, it’s time to get up!”
My tired eyes shut again, wincing at the sound of Amy’s loud call. She must have recently arrived home from her overnight trip. Feeling Asher shuffle and sit up behind me, his hand on my skin, along with the short-lived comfort, left.
“Fuck, Mom, do you have to be so loud?” the sleepy boy wondered crudely.
“Don’t swear, Ash,” was all I managed to say as I leisurely made my way into a sitting position.
Asher only playfully nudged my shoulder. “Oh shush. You swear like a sailor.”
I wanted to make a comment about how it was his fault I swore so much, but I instead mumbled tiredly, “Not in front of your mom.”
Missing that distractingly pleasant comfort, I leaned backward insignificantly, resting the back of my head against Asher’s shoulder. It was impossible not to reveal a small smile when I felt his cheek relax against my temple.
I regretfully opened my eyes for the second time that morning, perfectly timed to watch Amy, with knitted brows, eye her son and me suspiciously. Seeing that strange expression, I tore my head from Asher, suddenly uncomfortable.
“I have to get to work, I’ll be back around seven.” She spun to leave, flipping back to face us when another question beckoned her. “Oh, Chloe, you have that concert tonight, right?”
I beamed and nodded, my cranky, upsetting mood somewhat shifting when reminded. Amy gave a curt nod and made her way out of the house while I stood, grabbing my phone from the table to call Jamie as I headed towards the kitchen.
I poured two cups of the coffee that was conveniently already made, pouring milk and sugar into mine. As Asher approached the counter, I took a meager sip of his, nodding in approval over its taste before handing it to him. He smiled gratefully at my actions as he took the mug, leaning back against the kitchen countertop to indulge in the Chloe-Certified caffeine.
Dialing Jamie and putting the phone up to my ear, I knew I had a problem when the first thing she said was, “Please don’t be mad.”
Suspicious, I paused. “Don’t give me anything to be mad about, Jame.”
“I can’t go to the concert, I’m sorry,” she replied in a brief sentence. I could physically feel my cranky mood setting in again.
Squinting at nothing in particular, I questioned her. Letting out a breath in utter despair, she began to explain the reasoning behind disappointing me this very morning, the story starting with her dad’s liquor cabinet and ending with a drunk teenager and some furious parents.
“Jamie, how do you manage to get grounded every week?” I groaned.
“Don’t ask me. I’m not even supposed to have my phone on me.” The sound of her bedroom door opening caught my attention and Jamie was silent for a few seconds, most likely peaking her head out the jamb to check for any irate parents. “Just take someone else and film the whole concert with intricate perfection.”
“Who am I going to take?” I grimaced, frustrated.
“I don’t know, take Asher.”
I glanced up at him drinking his coffee and reading the paper. Lowering my voice, I shook my head. “I don’t know if he’s free. I don’t want to intrude-”
Asher’s voice broke my comment. “You’re not intruding.”
Pausing, I thought about the idea. When I’d docked at a decision, I held my finger up to him, speaking into the phone. “You owe me for ditching.”
I listened to a few more apologies from my defiant best friend, figuring now was as best a time as any to let her in on my night. I turned away from Asher, my voice a whisper. “I have to tell you something. I had a nightmare last night...”
Jamie’s apologies paused over the phone, her breathing the only thing letting me know she was still there. When she returned, her tone was full of worry. “Jesus, C, why didn’t you call me?”
I blinked, lifting my shoulders in failure. “I... don’t know. I thought it was better I wait till morning.”
“What happened, Chloe? You were doing so well,” she asked with a sad sigh.
Completely aware of my roommate’s presence across the kitchen, I spoke softly into the device, hoping it was quiet enough for him to ignore. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Feeling like a disappointment to my best friend and myself, my eyes stung with defeat. She sighed again, sympathetic. “Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault. What happened? Was it the same one with the-”
“Yes.” There was only one nightmare. There was no variety in the dreams that plagued me during the night. Just one disturbingly accurate depiction that haunted me almost as badly as the memory itself.
“Were you alone?” she questioned.
“Asher was there.” And I wish he hadn’t been.
Dragging my nail lightly over the skin on my finger in nervousness, I listened to her sigh a third time into my ear. “Are you going to tell Tate?”
Seething slightly, I responded, “No.” She tried to rebuttal, the dispute cut off by my less-than-calm voice. “I’m not telling Tate or my mom. You can’t either. They’d flip the hell out, you know that.”
Jamie’s sigh number four was when I knew I needed to end the call. “Okay C. But when I see you at the party, we’re talking.”
Remembering the approaching New Years’ house party I suddenly didn’t want to attend, I conceded. “Alright. I’ll see you then... if you’re even allowed to go.”
She deadpanned a fake laugh and allowed me to end the horrendous call. I twisted to reface Asher. “Jamie got grounded and can’t go to the concert. Will you go with me?”
He sampled his coffee as he pondered my question. “I don’t know, Dol. Sounds boring.”
My face fell into a pout, my puppy eyes securing into place. Being around Asher and Prim, the two siblings who wore those deceptively adorable eyes regularly, I could proudly say mine were getting more convincing. “Please? Nothing’s boring when you’re with me, remember?”
Asher grinned, casting his eyes back towards the paper he was previously reading. “Why do you want to bring me anyway?”
I sighed. “I need a ride and you have a car. And occasionally you’re not terrible company.”
“That’s really kind of you.” His tone was vacant, but when he looked up from the paper, his lip was twitching with a smirk. “I’m not terrible company?”
My shoulders rose slightly. “No, sometimes you’re quite nice.”
He laughed. “I don’t know if this is convincing enough.”
“Fine, Jackass, I’ll go by myself.” I took a short sip of my coffee, shrugging falteringly. “I just hope nothing happens to me while I’m in this city all alone. A. L. O. N. E.”
Tearing his gaze from the news, Asher gave a yielding head shake. “Fine, I’ll go. Only so I can keep you out of trouble.”
I set down my coffee and pulled him into a hug, all while a piercingly annoying squeal escaped my lips. I was far too excited to be embarrassed and smiled, racing up the stairs to get ready, hours too early.
When the digital clock on the stove hit seven at night and Amy had made her way through the front door, I plopped a kiss onto Prim’s head and snapped my hand into Asher’s, towing him out the entrance of the house. The cold, nightly breeze blew right past my t-shirt, and I shivered as I moved towards the car.
Clicking my seatbelt into place, a jacket, the one I had “borrowed” from Asher a while back, was thrown at me.
“Here.” He flung the leather into my lap. “Are you trying to freeze to death?”
Nestling into my seat, I graciously put it on. “Thanks, Mom.”
The car started up, and he rolled his eyes. Complacently, I smirked and leaned forward to flip on the radio station I preferred. Hearing the overplayed song that I, along with the rest of America couldn’t get enough of, I turned it up.
*Asher’s Point of View*
I attempted to keep a straight face, to look dull as I drove down the empty street to a concert I had zero interest in going to. My plan wavered when I looked at her, glowing, excited about a song that was entirely outplayed, singing into her phone as if it was a microphone. I had trouble not expressing what I felt. I ultimately grinned, my attention cutting between the road and admiring her.
Dol seemed relaxed. She didn’t resemble her usual, timid, high-strung self that I saw so often. Her face said she didn’t care about anything or anyone, the state of her simply furthering that observation. I never used to notice these things about girls.
Great. I’ve turned into a freak who gets off on watching Chloe Carlin sing.
Still, I couldn’t help but stare. I had known since the beginning of this hell-ish friendship that I was toxic for Chloe, but I was starting to realize that she was just as lethal to me. Every emotion and belief I’d ever known had been twisted up and fucked sideways and it was all her fault.
I couldn’t even remember what about these earnest feelings had once freaked me out. Everything felt better when she was around. Strangely enough, though, everything also got more difficult when she was close.
She hit the chorus of the song as I tried to kill the images of my lips covering every inch of her face. I bit my lip, wishing it was hers, as my lungs began to kick my ribcage. She smiled. It was the kind of smile I wished I could see every day for the rest of my life.
The song on the radio continued, but her singing abruptly stopped upon realizing I was actively staring at her. I jerked my head back to the road for two reasons.
The first — I was caught in the act of gawking, embarrassingly staring at her like she was the only person on the planet, which my heart seemed sure was completely true.
The second — Evidently, because of that, my eyes had been off the road for far too long. My stalker-like tendencies were going to get us into an accident.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” she nervously asked, a slight crack in her voice. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, her astonishing blue eyes alighting with self-consciousness.
Because you are beautiful.
I gave the road a half-grin, the smug look hopefully indisputable on my face, catapulting away any other emotions of mine she might have seen.
“My jacket looks good on you,” I answered. It wasn’t a lie, but it certainly wasn’t the entire truth either.
*Chloe’s Point of View*
The concert hall was huge, the crowd an ocean of others, everyone moving in the same direction. There were only happy, enthusiastic, joy-filled faces as we stood in a stadium for one of the greatest concerts ever. Music filled all of them chock-full of adrenaline-pumping exhilaration.
The music surfed the air without effort; the sound rushed in and around every person in the stadium. Certain people danced to the beat, others screamed and yelled, but the tune spoke to everyone in different ways. Multicolored lights cascaded the entire room, flashing repeatedly over the dark auditorium.
The audience, including myself, continued to dance. They advanced, retreated, their arms swaying from side to side above them, their heads bouncing. The music moved me like I was a puppet being strung along. My brain appeared to be in shut down mode. There was sweat on my skin and, grossly, it wasn’t all mine. Tomorrow, I’d regret how much I drank before this, and there would be hell to pay. But right then, the alcohol kept on flowing in like it was an IV drip.
Rotating to my side, my dizzy eyes landed on something even more intoxicating than the music and the drinks. Asher was shouting and dancing close to me and I couldn’t help but let out a laugh at how undomesticated he seemed. He hadn’t had anything to drink, considering he was my designated driver, but even sober, he was enjoying himself.
His smile became broader when he noticed me watching him and he leaned forward, tugging my arm and pulling my back to his chest, his hands winding around my waist.
With the heavy music and colorful lights, with the considerable amounts of alcohol I had consumed and his hands on me, the things I started to think were anything but angelic. The alcohol in my system seemed to get the best of me and I whirled around to face him, throwing my arms up and over his shoulders.
There must have been a massive temperature spike that December night because my cheeks burned red and my drunk body felt overheated just knowing I was pressed against Asher.
He quietly sang the lyrics of the song back to me as he rocked us side to side in the middle of the raging, jumping adolescents. Amazed at how he was correctly singing the words, a wry giggle tempted my lips.
“You know the words?” I smiled, admiring him as his features melted to match mine.
“Yeah, you only sing it aloud every two seconds,” he sneered, self-satisfied.
I laughed again, unable to remember what I would have found embarrassing about that fact had I been sober. “Don’t act like you don’t like my voice.”
“I love your voice,” he shared. There was no foul play laced in his tone, only sincerity.
My heart ached from his confession and I drunkenly offered him one of my own. “I love your voice too.”
He chuckled, his forehead pinching in confusion. “You haven’t heard me sing.”
“I know.” My thoughtless comment induced a laugh from Asher.
“You are so drunk right now,” he expertly observed like the genius he was.
I rolled my eyes, tilting backward due to being unbalanced, but Asher’s arms around me kept me stable. “It’s not my fault you stole alcohol from that crazy woman outside.”
“That crazy woman was a vendor, Dol.” The joy on his face reawakened my own and I cast him another smile.
“Yes, and you flashed her your perfect smile with your perfect teeth and your perfect face. And then she gave you alcohol for you to give to your underaged girlfriend,” I muttered without a thought.
Without a first thought, that is. The second thought that followed behind the comment was screaming, what the fuck did I just say?! My loose tongue only got worse when I was drunk. Asher’s face held confusion and he raised an eyebrow, halting the way we were swaying to the music. Internally, I cringed and attempted to save myself from the ship I was sinking.
“Girl, friend. A friend who’s a girl. Friend girl. A best friend who’s a girl,” I stammered.
Lucky for me and the mortification oozing from my skin, Asher revealed his perfect smile, shaking his head at my drunken murmuring. “My best friend who’s a girl who thinks I have a perfect face. And she would be right.”
“Cocky.” I giggled again, letting myself simmer down after my humiliating outburst.
Asher laughed, moving us to the music once more, and let his features relax into another smile. “Say something in Spanish,” he demanded softly.
My drunken mind a bit slow, it took me slightly longer than usual to think of something to say, but then I grinned, knowing exactly what I wanted him to hear. “Quiero besarte más que a nada.”
I shrugged, tilting my lips in a cynical smirk. “I can’t remember.”
He chuckled, shaking his head at my sudden memory loss, and continued our dancing with his hands on my hips, rocking us slowly to the music. He watched me with a small smile as I once again giggled at his endearing expression, unsure of how else to handle the way he was looking at me. I was entirely lost to the sound of the blood rushing through me.
Suddenly, he nervously flickered his eyes down at my lips for a single second, but ultimately continued looking into my eyes as we swayed to the music. The melody was still incredibly fast and the two of us didn’t mimic it in any way. We moved slowly, swinging rhythmically together as if we were at a middle school dance.
Even as sedate as we were going, the heat in the room felt like it doubled as I stared into his eyes. I swallowed when his gaze focused back onto my lips and, when he pulled his own bottom lip between his teeth, my vision swam deep into an ocean of desire.
I couldn’t hear a single musical beat, couldn’t feel another presence except Asher’s for miles. Uncharacteristically, I wanted to tug his mouth to mine right in the middle of the large crowd. In fact, I wanted to do much more than just that and I didn’t care where we were.
As if drawn by a magnet, I turned my head in the slightest, pressing onto the ball of my foot to drag myself near him. He looked as hypnotized as I assumed I did, but a microsecond before I could feel his lips on mine, he left his induced trance. He swung his head, his grip on my waist tightening to turn and set me back towards the concert, facing me away from him and his mouth.
He coiled his arms back around my mid-section, and I wasn’t sure if he did it to control me or himself.
With my legs out straight across the seats, their resting place on Asher’s lap, and my back against the passenger door, I watched him start the engine of the car. He touched and ran a hand through his hair and I immediately desired to do the same. I rubbed my palms together, forcing them into my lap.
Observing his movements, a sigh escaped my lips. I watched his little head tilt as he turned onto the main road and the way he drove with one hand on the wheel and the other inclined against the door.
The silence in the car was comforting and I was thankful he hadn’t brought up the strange gaffe that had reached its goal of embarrassing me during the concert. I had almost kissed him, that part was prominent, and I was confident my drunk mind had imagined the bit where he was going to kiss me.
Of course, he wasn’t going to kiss me. He was trying to enjoy the music and I, humiliatingly enough, interrupted that with my Asher-Freed-fugue state of mind.
Exhausted, I watched his concentrated face transform into the notorious smirk. “Take a picture. It’ll last longer,” he remarked.
In my less-than-sober disposition, I took a few seconds to register what he meant, but when I had, I craned my neck to look out the front windshield. “I wasn’t staring at you!”
“Whatever you say, Dol.” Using one of his hands, he playfully wiggled my shoe that was relaxing on his lap. I muttered something about hating him and he smiled, not surprisingly reporting that wasn’t true. “Did you have fun?” he asked.
I nodded as I proclaimed how much fun I really did have. “How about you?”
His grin was adorably cute, as was the dimple dancing on his cheek. “I actually did. I’d never been to a concert.”
Gasping, I startled. “Are you kidding me? Concerts are amazing! Everyone is so happy and it’s loud and everything is better than usual.” I let myself laugh. “Concerts are the only time I’ll willingly put myself into a room with so many other people.”
Asher grinned over at me. “You’re much more inspirational when you’re drunk.” I leaned my head back on the window as I giggled at his comment, feeling myself getting perceptibly lightheaded. In the pit of silence, Asher carefully patted my leg. Softly, he sighed. “Can I ask you a question?”
I was silent for a few seconds, nervousness flooding my features based on his inquiry. I was far too honest when drunk to be asked anything personal.
“You just did,” I countered, hoping he’d drop the subject at hand.
Cracking an eye open, I watched as his face altered into a small sneer, but fell once more into seriousness. He sighed, and I knew there would be no subject dropping. “I overheard you and Jamie this morning. Why does... why does she want you to call your brother so much?”
I paused again. Did I choose honesty and let him apprehend the truth — that for five years I’d had to burden not only my mom but my brother into coddling me when my not-so-peaceful slumber went awry every single night? Or did I choose lies and continue to give in to the side of myself that was too afraid to let anyone understand?
Completely rocked, my lungs throbbed, making it harder for me to inhale the breath I needed to continue my side of the conversation. Finally able to, I took an intense, controlled flutter of air and with my eyes still closed, explained in the most non-detailed way I could.
“I get- I used to get nightmares- every night. I’m authorized to tell Tate and my mom when they... rarely-” I enunciated the word, hoping he understood the night before was not a regular routine anymore. “-Show up. I just don’t want to worry either of them.”
Forcing my eyes to open, I studied Asher like he studied the road ahead, the discussion painfully awkward for both of us. He probably thought I was exclusively deranged.
“I know it’s none of my business but... I think you should tell him.” Anticipating nothing less than that information, his answer didn’t surprise, nor disappoint me. “I mean, he’s your brother, and even if you don’t want to hear him say it, he worries about you.”
I chuckled uncomfortably, inwardly agreeing but outwardly asking, “How would you know?”
He looked my way with a smile. “Because he told me.”
“What do you mean he told you?” I frowned. “When did you speak to him?”
He appeared amused by my befuddled expression and laughed. “I don’t know. Sometimes we text.”
My first instinct was shock based on what he’d shared, then annoyance that no one had told me about the growing friendship, but eventually I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What the hell are you doing texting my brother?” I exclaimed, unable to stop my giggles.
“We exchanged numbers when he was here. He’s funny. You two are similar.” He shrugged, his own humor fading as his words slowed. "Every week he asks me how you are... He cares about you so much."
My amusement faded into a sigh, and I could feel my throat growing grainy from his words. The guilt I was beginning to feel for even humoring the idea of not telling my brother what had happened was increasing at a rapid rate.
"I know." I swallowed, ending the conversation on that note, and silently shuddered.
In Asher’s white t-shirt, my phone was in my hand, the call button resting millimeters under my hesitant finger. Remembering the silence-mangling car ride and my roommate, who didn’t realize the few words he spoke were enough to convince me, I pressed the button, listening to the low rings and the voice of my brother through the speaker. “Hey, Chlo, what’s up?”
“Tate, I need to tell you something and I just need to talk and for you to listen. What I’m about to say, you can’t tell Mom. You cannot tell her under any circumstances, okay?”
“Uh, Chloe, you’re scaring me.” Trying to lighten to mood, he chuckled awkwardly. “You’re not pregnant, are you?”
I took a deep breath and shook my head, though he couldn’t see me. “I had a nightmare.”
Like the car ride home, silence mutilated the air for what I’m sure was the longest five seconds of my life.
Shuffling on the other end started and I heard my brother say goodnight to whoever he was around, sending them an excuse about having to study. A few seconds later, a door closed and my brother’s curious and equally concerned voice was all I could once again hear. “Why can’t I tell Mom? She’d be so worried-”
“Exactly, Tate. She’d be so worried that she’d give up her promotion to come flying back out here to take care of me. It was one nightmare. I’m fine.”
Tate sighed on the other end of the phone, hopefully realizing I was right — that if he were to tell our overprotective mother, she’d hop on the next plane back into Califonia.
Despite knowing that, I could tell he wasn’t comfortable hiding such a secret from our mom. My brother was a die-hard Mama's Boy, always had been. “It’s been almost six months since your last one. What if this means you’re getting wors-?”
“I’m not,” I gritted, angry with his insinuation. “There are ups and downs. You know that. Don’t get pessimistic on me.”
He eventually conceded. “I will keep it a secret, but the second she comes home, you have to tell her.”
“Fine. Just nothing as long as she’s gone. Please.”
“...Okay.” The phone speaker was filled with his breathing, each inhale he took causing me to wonder what his next words would be. “Are you okay, Chloe?”
It took longer than usual to convince him everything was fine, that everything would remain fine, and when I thought I’d finally established how fine I was, his concern caused his questions to double. It was twenty minutes later when I was finally able to end the call.
And even though I had given my brother twenty minutes of convincing evidence that I was fine, I hadn’t convinced myself.
Ten minutes after that, I was standing in front of a bedroom door that wasn’t mine, only glimpsing at the knob before securing it into my grasp and pushing through the frame. I hardly had time to take a step before Asher’s voice jerked the air.
“Call me old-fashioned,” he started, his voice coming from somewhere in the darkness. “But in my day, we would knock before entering a room.”
A coy smile towed on the side of my lips and, because my eyes had yet to adjust to the darkness, I shuffled towards where his voice had come from. My leg hit the sizeable wooden headboard at the end of the bed as my eyes accommodated the night. Carefully walking around the mattress, I dropped next to him, retiring for the night with my head upon his chest.
He stiffened below me, but his arms eventually winded around my depleted body. “I joked about it last night, but you’re actually drunk this time, aren’t you?”
I nodded against him. “A little.”
He chuckled, each small flutter of air lifting my head slightly. “I knew I’d get you into my bed one day,” he joked.
My eyes rolling, I muttered, “Ash, don’t be a jackass. Can you please just hold me?”
Pulling me a bit closer, he ran his hand up and down my arm, swaying my tired eyes to close and a yawn to beckon my lips. He laughed again and, against my head, whispered, “Fine. Only because you asked nicely.”