Destructively Oblivious

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Chapter 3: Evil

e·vil

/ˈēvəl/

adjective

1. Profoundly immoral and/or corrupt.

______________________________________

*Chloe’s Point of View*

I sat up in bed the next morning and a message from Asher I’d missed from the previous night jagged my sleepy attention.

Although fish was an interesting preference for dinner, maybe I’ll get you to be a bit more daring and have Italian w/ me someday, was my first text of the morning.

I had no excuse for the smile on my face as I typed out a response. Daring? Says the man who ordered a California Roll. Coward.

I knew it was too early for him to be awake to respond, seeing I’d woken up at the crack of dawn, per usual. As I prepared to strip the warm covers from my cold body, I thought back on my surprisingly entertaining night.

Dinner with Asher was much more enjoyable than I’d imagined it would be. Regardless of the downright attractive looks he was lucky enough to acquire at birth, it was his character and humor that had itself wrapped around me, no signs of it letting go.

Though I was fighting tirelessly against the urge to be his friend, I couldn’t deny that he had a personality that was very easy to slip, stumble, and fall for. Especially when he was adamant about being around me.

As I walked into school hours later, Jamie struck my joyful mood as odd when she approached me, pulling binders from my locker.

“What the fuck is going on with your face?” she squeaked, dipping a brow in the direction of my smile. I narrowed my eyes at her crude language, and she cleared her throat. “What I meant was, what is going on with that gorgeous, beautiful face of yours?”

I let out a small laugh, following that with a shrug, feigning innocence. She squinted at me and I chuckled. “What? I’m just in a good mood,” I promised.

“And would this so-called good mood be the result of yours and Asher’s date last night?” Her lips twitched with a familiar grin and I knew she was going to drown me in her overactive imagination.

I turned from my locker, wagging a finger at her incorrect observation. “It was not a date.”

“Right, he just picked you up, took you to dinner, and kept you company throughout.” Jamie grinned as if she’d said too much. “Let me guess, he also paid the check.”

I frowned. I had tried to pay half the check, but my attempt was brushed off by Asher who handed the waitress his card before she’d even set the leather casing on the table.

“The only flaw was he didn’t give you a goodnight kiss before you got picked up.” Her grin widened. My frown did too. “Unless...” she sneered.

“It wasn’t a date!” I snapped, slamming my locker shut beside us.

An invisible voice weighed in from behind me. “It could have been a date.”

I spun away from my best friend, facing Asher who had been silently listening from behind my locker for who-knows-how-long. He smiled, tilting his head with an abundance of thought, adding, “But my dates usually end with me getting laid, so I guess this doesn’t qualify.”

“What’s up, friend?” I asked him, desperate to change topics, keeping my voice as friendly as possible to avoid tempting both my overdramatic best friend, who was watching the interaction like a hawk, and Asher himself.

He leaned against the lockers in front of me with a grin. “I’ve come up with the perfect competition for our bet.”

“Bet?” Jamie questioned from behind me. “There’s been no mention of any bet.”

I flipped to face her, my teeth agonizingly gnawing on my bottom lip, debating whether or not now was the time to explain the childish agreement between my potential roommate and me.

She crossed her arms. “What bet, Chloe Angelina Carlin?”

Sighing at the use of my full name, a full name I only ever heard from my two moms, one of which was Jamie, I briefly explained.

Without giving her a chance to answer, I spun back towards Asher, asking, “What’s the bet?”

“Your mom told me you like to run.” I nodded at his statement in confirmation, wondering if he’d confronted my mother outside the school this morning to interrogate her about my hobbies. “Me too. So, you, me, track. Tomorrow morning. Whoever completes the lap faster, wins.”

I felt my head nodding before I’d allowed the thought to mature, but it seemed to be an easy win for me nonetheless. I was nearly state champion a few years back for the school track team. The mere idea of losing to Asher was almost funny.

“Sounds easy to me. However, are you sure you’re up for the challenge?” I teased with a smile.

Asher smirked, which I assumed at this point was by default, and crossed his arms over his chest, emphasizing them through his thin shirt. I couldn’t help but watch his flexed muscles before shamefully looking back towards his eyes, the toffee color giving me no fewer butterflies.

“Anything’s worth watching you try to put up with me for four months, Dol.”

______________________________________

“Dolphin! Wait up.”

I turned at the sound of Asher’s infamous nickname for me. Almost able to get off the school property without any interruptions, I had no explanation for the giddy feeling in my chest during the opportunity to talk to Asher again.

I gestured in a wave as he approached me and said, “You should come to dinner with my friends and me tonight. And don’t worry, it’s not Italian.”

A smile grew on my face without checking with my conscious mind first as I appreciated the invitation, and joked, "You're so pushy. You ever heard of saying please?"

He chuckled lightly, shaking his head at me as he glanced down at his feet. With a smile, he tilted his head, looking towards me, and kindly murmured, "Please?"

I giggled, then sighed. "That was much better. But, I'm sorry, tonight's no good." His expression fell towards a faux pout as I added, "Plus, we just went out together. You should know that getting me to have dinner with you again is not going to be as easy as the first time."

I forced a grin, the thoughts inside my head pacing a mile a minute with sentences like, please don’t ask me what I’m doing. Please don’t ask me what I’m-

“Good. I like a challenge.” His kissable cheek dimpling, he hiked up a brow. “So what are you ditching me for tonight?”

Dang it.

“Helping my mom pack up a few things at home. Luggage and stuff, you know how traveling can be. I’ll text you later.”

Nodding in understanding, he watched as I began to stalk off. Winking, his default smirk came into view.

“Don’t get into too much trouble while I’m away, Dol.” Pulling out his car keys, he wet his lips with a smile. The act alone nearly caused my heart to cease beating. “And say hi to your mom for me. Tell her I’ll be happy to help you guys move your boxes into my house after I win.”

I huffed a laugh and turned to begin my journey. The important thing I needed to help my mom with wasn't actually packing. My shift started in almost an hour, leaving me a limited time to get to the diner where I worked.

I suppose it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal to reveal to Asher that I had a job. It would have been a bigger deal to admit that I worked at Bridge Cliff Diner, a trendy restaurant if you’re retired, or homeless. Because I was always ready to avoid the sympathetic looks that came along with exposing where I worked, I had an excuse on the tip of my tongue, ready to throw at anyone who asked too much.

Working at a restaurant on the wrong side of the city usually meant I was dragged kicking and screaming into a conversation leading with, “Why do you need a job if you live around here?” and ending with, “Isn’t the diner a little... retro?”

I’d realized after working there a while that “retro” was short for “old,” “grimy,” and “dilapidated.”

If I explained to Asher my job, I’d probably have to explain how regardless of the seemingly amazing and high-salaried job that my mom was able to obtain years back, her one paycheck at the end of each month wasn’t enough to dig us from the grave, dark hole of debt my father put us in before I'd even bothered to take my first steps.

Tack on my minuscule paycheck, and you’d find a mother and a daughter desperately trying their best to get by, every paycheck going towards a variety of different commodities, including the overleverage.

If I explained to Asher the overleverage, I’d have to explain how I was very young when my father taught me that money was the root of all evil. We didn’t have a lot of it when I was growing up, and what we did have, my dad usually ended up losing in a mysterious way.

He’d come home empty-handed after a night out, which normally ended with him explaining that someone was after us, and we needed to leave wherever we were immediately, which was usually late at night.

I was so young back then, but I’d overhear my parents discussing whoever was out to get us. My dad would call them freeloaders when we weren’t around, but to our face, he’d say the government was closing in on us. He never specified which part of the government we were running from and was very vocal that anyone with a government job couldn’t be trusted.

Years later, I understood the "government" most definitely wasn’t after us, but that it was more entertaining to run from them, rather than the debt collectors.

We never stayed in one place too long; my dad liked to call us birds, always moving from one place to another. He would get a job as an engineer or a plumber in dusty, small towns near state lines, promising us that we wouldn’t move again for a while.

But as soon as he got fired, or the bills on the rusty kitchen table piled up, or he and my mom were bored of the isolated town, or the government was after us again, we’d take off in the middle of the night, driving until my parents were satisfied with the next greasy town we came across.

One year, my parents moved us out of Nevada and into California. That was the year my father died in a car crash. A car crash I too was a victim in. I was fourteen, and I was traumatized.

No, I thought, I could never explain all that to Asher. Not in a million years.

I drew myself out of my dark and dreary past as I entered the diner, lucky to escape the downpour of rain that had just begun, and not allowing myself to think any more on the topic. With the dinner rush rolling in, I was far too distracted to muse about my childhood anyway.

I adjusted my uncomfortable, pleated skirt, retucking my blue-uniformed shirt into it as I approached the backroom, setting my purse on its hook. I threw my hair into a ponytail as I headed into the dining area.

For hours, as usual, I waited on table after table, laughing at unfunny customer jokes, nonchalantly brushing the hands of older men from my lower back, and presenting a smile the entire time. The more interactive I was with dining customers, and the longer I kept my smile in place, the more tips I got.

Sitting in the back room on my break, I nibbled on the edge of the cookie I was awarded every two hours. Though the restaurant I worked at did have a bad rap for its customers, its food was what managed to bring all types of people through the doors. The cookie was almost better than the paycheck. Almost.

My snacking was put on hold when Mindy, who was one of the few people I truly liked being around at work, hurried towards me. She'd worked at the diner even longer than I had, as her Uncle Pete owned the place and she enjoyed helping out, despite not exactly needing the money.

“Oh, thank God, Chloe, you’re here!” she boomed.

I watched the fiery-headed girl leap towards me from the swinging door that led to the crowds of people indulging. Noticing how worried she looked, I stood to console her. Before I could get a word out, she threw her arms around me, taking advantage of the crook of my neck to let her emotions run wild.

“He’s here!” she exclaimed through a sob.

“Who’s here?” I attempted to get a glimpse of the diner when the door swung open, expecting to see a celebrity, or perhaps the president, but to no avail. I could barely see a sliver of the room.

“My ex-boyfriend.” She lifted her head so I could hear her without her voice being muffled against my shirt. “He’s here. His stupid face is here with all his stupid friends, in my stupid section! And I asked stupid Meredith if she’d cover the table and she said no because she’s a stupid, soulless bitch!”

I chuckled at her accurate assessment and offered, “Would you like me to take the table?”

Biting her lip, she squinted. “Woulda, please? I can’t go over there. I might cry. Or punch him. Or both.”

And though I would have loved to be entertained by Mindy’s outburst after three boring hours at work, I smiled and said, “Of course I’ll take the table.” I pulled her into my previous spot and sat her down, shoving my half-eaten cookie into her hands. “Which ex should I be expecting to see?”

“Danny. I don't think you met him. He’s the beautiful blond boy sitting near the door, table six.” She sighed, taking a massive bite out of the cookie I had wanted so badly to snack on.

I saluted her once before stepping out of the backroom. My hand reached down to tug my notepad from my apron and yanked a pencil from behind my ear as I blew a loose strand of hair from my ponytail that had fallen into my face, turning to the table.

And that’s when the four boys sitting at that table had caused my heart to cease in functioning.

Andy Conswear, with ear-length curly hair, green eyes, and a light personality, was quite an entertainer, or so I’d heard. Jamie seemed to fawn over him every time he trekked past us in the hallway. He was wearing a simple dark blue shirt that read “Add A Design Here.” That made me chuckle. He seemed to be getting shoved into the booth by a friend, an extensive smile hugging his lips.

Blake Everlast from what I heard, was crass. Charming, but a bit too much at times. That was proven by him laughing wholeheartedly at Andy falling smack down onto the booth seats. As he took his own seat, I noticed a colorful tattoo on his right forearm. I wondered what it was, but knew I wouldn’t ask.

Danny Stephen was a total catch, but I hadn’t realized before that moment that he was Mindy’s ex-boyfriend that she had talked endlessly about for weeks. I’d seen him at school with his group but never would have guessed he was dating Mindy, who went to another high school across town.

According to her, he had everything: the walk, the talk, but the two never saw eye to eye. He was shoving Andy into the booth as the rest of the boys laughed and I couldn’t help but notice his sullen expression. I had a sudden urge to make sure he was doing okay but ignored it as I scanned the remainder of the table.

Finally, last of them all — Asher Freed. The insatiable beast I just couldn’t seem to avoid, regardless of how hard I tried.

Laughs filled their booth, and I was sure that my smile had faltered for the first time since arriving at work. I stutter-stepped towards the table, wishing Mindy and Danny had never broken up, wishing Meredith wasn’t so stupid and soulless and had simply taken the table, wishing I had any other option than to be caught in a lie, but I didn’t.

I thought briefly about slipping off my nametag or dyeing my hair or changing my identity but decided against all of those ideas and calmly walked up to the table like I wasn’t going to be confronted for my untruth.

“Hi. I’m Chloe and I’ll be your waitress for the evening,” I managed, tugging my faux grin back into its rightful place.

I avoided eye contact with Asher for as long as I could but finally, I forced myself to meet his wide eyes. He looked confused, searching my face like he wasn’t sure if it was truly me or not, before frowning. I swallowed as I held his gaze, pressing my lips together, trying to configure an explanation for not telling him the truth, but he looked away from me and toward his friends. He nodded at Danny, who was at the other end of the booth.

“Dan, order,” he instructed.

The blonde boy nodded and stated his order, followed by Blake and Andy. Confused, and equally relieved, I jotted down their meals, my pen only stopping as I watched Asher’s eyes cast down at the menu.

“I don’t see you on this menu,” he said slowly. Pausing with his eyes elsewhere, his gaze made its way to me. “How much do you cost?”

Blake chuckled at his implication as I frowned. “I’m not for sale,” I mumbled.

Andy’s gaze flickered over me before he nudged Asher’s arm. “I’m not sure you could afford her, Ash.”

Asher rolled his eyes at his friend, then peeked back at me with a small grin, stating, “I doubt that.”

The way he had glanced around the grungey restaurant, then at my uniform before speaking made what he was implying obvious. My posture stiff, I hugged my notepad close to my chest, blurting, “Excuse me?”

Bitterly, he huffed in laughter and shrugged. “You’re excused.”

I blinked at him repeatedly, trying to adjust my eyes as if refocusing my sight would change the way he was addressing me. Speechless, I slowly turned away from the table, but came to a standstill when I heard him behind me.

“Oh, and...” he started, waiting for me to face him. When I had, he stuffed his menu into my hands. “I’ll have nachos.”

My lips moved to speak, to scold him for the way he was acting but as if I was in a silent film, I said nothing. I collected the rest of the menus and headed behind the counter to put in their orders. I took a hesitant breath when their food was ready, counseling myself into enough sanity to simply set the food on their table and walk away.

I strolled towards their table, setting a plate down in front of each of them. I stifled an eye roll as I began asking if they needed anything else. Before my mouth could open, Asher smirked, of course, by default and I hoped he wouldn’t mention my lie in front of the others. When he’d finally spoken, I almost wished he had just exposed my deception.

“Here,” he offered, prying his wallet open and removing a hundred-dollar bill, holding it out to me. “For your service,” he told me slyly.

I stared at it with narrowed eyes, pushing his hand away from me roughly. “What are you doing?”

His eyes were confused, but he let his lips lift into a smile, sneering, “I believe it’s called a tip.”

Before I could stop him, he’d shoved the money into my apron. Quickly, I snatched it out, ignoring the appeal of the rare bill beneath my fingers, and tossed it back onto his lap.

“That tip is more than twice the price of your entire meal,” I snapped.

His once amused expression had fallen annoyed due to my heated response and his tone was severe as he commented, “You seem to need it more than I do.”

He attempted again to place it in my hand but I drew away as I snarked, “I don’t need your compensation, so you can keep your money and your comments to yourself.”

He frowned, throwing his hands up in concede. “Fine, I was just trying to be nice.”

Losing the little patience I had for Asher and his table, I angrily dug my hands into my hips. “Telling me what you think I’m worth isn’t the compliment you think it is.”

He scowled, but his expression softened when I moved closer, setting my hand on the smooth wood of the table to lean into him.

“I promise, Asher, you couldn’t afford me,” I whispered harshly.

Those gorgeous, caramel eyes of his flashed in surprise and I stood straight up, enjoying his sudden expression of guilt.

Blake, his eyes as dark as the purest ink, leaned forward on the table, genuinely amused. “Well, I’d personally pay all the money in the world for a night with you.”

Asher didn’t try to stifle the glare he was shooting in Blake’s direction.

Andy snorted beside his friend. “Blake, I don’t believe she’s interested in having sex with you.”

Blake turned to him. “Wouldn’t be so sure. Most girls are. I don’t hear any of my many customers complaining.”

Asher, at the peak of irritation towards his dark-haired friend, craned his neck to look at him. “I don’t see any of your customers buying more of the product either.”

Blake’s eyebrows furrowed angrily. “Fuck you.”

Danny was watching me with a glint in his eyes as his childish friends continued their quest to embarrass each other. With a head tilt, his brows knitted and he stated his inquiry, “Aren’t you the girl Asher almost mutilated the other day?”

Hands still on my hips and mortified blush still on my face, I sighed.

“My reputation precedes me,” I deadpanned. Not sure whether I wanted to slap or punch Asher for ruining my shift, I glimpsed down at him with a frown and said, “Speaking of reputations, you’re a jerk.”

Unlike before, I was actually able to speak, which led to a sound of disgust exiting my mouth. I spun around, taking a single step away from the table before my hand was locked in an unknown grasp.

Asher muttered “Fuck,” and tugged on my hand, forcing me, an unwilling victim, back to the table. I struggled for a moment against his grip before I heard a voice behind me.

“Chloe, are you okay?”

I craned my neck, spotting a teary-eyed Mindy a few feet behind me. She watched as the strange teenager tugged me back to his table and, making an obvious effort to avoid looking at Danny, she scowled.

Caring more about allowing her to continue avoiding her ex than Asher’s warm hand in mine, I forced myself to smile, waving my free hand to indicate everything was fine. “I’m okay, Mindy. Thank you.”

Hesitantly, she nodded and turned to leave, finally letting her eyes rest on her ex-boyfriend before quickly heading into the back room. I eyed Danny who was staring shamefully into the table like it was the most intricately designed furniture he’d ever seen, before looking back at the guy who had my hand held captive.

“Dol, I’m sorry. You’re right, I’m a jerk.” He sighed, loosening the grip on my hand, but not enough for me to remove it from his. My fingers felt numb from the warmth of his palm, and I internally cringed at the thought of this person having any physical effect on me.

I shook my head. Feeling self-conscious around the three boys who had a friendly conversation about taking one of them to bed, I ripped my hand away, turning to leave and taking much more significant steps to get out of his arms reach. I’d made it to the counter, feet away from the door to the backroom, but my bicep was gripped in a now-familiar grasp, which compelled me to turn around.

I ripped my arm from Asher’s hold, grumbling, “Don’t.”

I glanced towards the table he’d left to assure no one was paying us any mind and thankfully, the boys seemed to be watching Blake, who was showing off the tattoo on his forearm that I’d previously been wondering about. It was a tasteless tattoo of a disproportionate woman whose body, if I was seeing the so-called art correctly, was covered only by a ribbon and a bow. I preferred earlier when I had no clue what it was.

“I’m sorry. That was stupid,” he muttered quickly, appearing as embarrassed as I felt.

I scowled. “What was? Harassing me about a tip or implying that my worth is so cheap, you could purchase me?”

Asher’s jaw dropped open to answer, but I was met by silence, so I continued, “You think I’m poor-quality or something because I work here? And you wonder why I didn’t tell you the truth.”

With the way he was staring at me, I didn’t doubt that was exactly what he was thinking. Here I was, dolled up in my work uniform, making minimum wage that all went toward repairing my parent’s mistakes, staring at someone who was born directly into the middle class and only came into this side of the city when he wanted a five-dollar plate of nachos.

I ranted on, despite Asher not having said a word in response. “I have slapped ten hands off of me since my shift began. I have had fifteen old men call me pet names and another fifteen call me derogatory terms. And yet, nobody has made me feel as cheap as you have tonight.”

“I am sorry, Dol,” was how he responded, and I let my head fall in humiliation for ever agreeing to wait on his table. “I don’t know why I said those things. I sort of... lose a filter when I’m upset. There’s nothing wrong with working here. I just don’t like being lied to.”

Shame and embarrassment fueled through me, and though he had told me I had nothing to be ashamed about, all I felt was discomfort. Despite saying he didn’t appreciate my lies, to avoid the pitiful look he was giving me, I lied to him again, which was all I ever seemed capable of doing.

“I only work here because I like it, not because I have to,” I rambled, staring at my shuffling feet to avoid his expression as I lied. If I had the money I needed, I would be out the door of this diner in a second, but money was a vulnerable subject for me and I refused to display vulnerability in front of Asher, who apparently used my faults as joke and insult fuel.

He didn’t look convinced as he mumbled, “You like being called pet names and ripping random guy’s hands off your ass?”

I shrugged, refusing to give in to the truth. “It’s not all bad. The job keeps me busy.”

He shook his head lightly at my excuses. “There is nothing wrong with having a job. I’m just an asshole. It’s something the people around me have learned to deal with.”

He chuckled but stopped when he realized my frown was unfaltering.

“I work here because I like to,” I asserted again for good measure. He allowed his eyes to fall close, then nodded.

“Okay, you work here because you like it. I got it.” He wiped a hand across his face, opening his eyes and stepping closer to me. He set both his hands on my shoulders, leaning down to look me in the eye. He grinned slightly. “Nonetheless, I am an absolute dumbass who is extremely sorry.”

I smirked, playfully bouncing my fist against his chest. “Who also doesn’t know a good friendship even when it hits him over the head.”

He stood up straight, his grin widening into a smile. “Who also doesn’t know a good thing even when he nearly runs it over in the school parking lot.”

I let myself laugh at his drawn-out apology and, with his puppy dog eyes biasing my opinion, I couldn’t help but accept the apology of the coffee-colored-eyed-jerk, slightly angry with myself for being such a weak link. I couldn’t help it. Asher Freed had invaded not only my life but my head, and if he received the winning title of the bet he was participating in, it was going to be a long, deceptive four months.

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