Destructively Oblivious

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Chapter 38: Love

love

/ləv/

noun

1. an intense affectionate feeling; something that can both bring people together, and rip them apart.

______________________________________

*Chloe’s Point of View*

Days passed us by, and I once again only saw Asher at school. It hurt each time I came down the stairs and didn’t see him making coffee or was forced to pass his closed bedroom door, knowing he wouldn’t come out of it for dinner.

It was also extremely awkward each time I had to face Amy who, no doubt, knew I was the reason her son locked himself in his room from the time he got home to the time he left. She never openly blamed me though, which I appreciated. I blamed myself enough.

Moving down the stairs, expecting to find an empty living room, I was absolutely shocked to find my two favorite Freed’s on the living room couch. Prim, with her back flush against Asher’s stomach, found enjoyment in the show she was watching.

Asher’s attention wasn’t on the yellow sponge and his starfish sidekick. He was sitting on the couch, phone in hand, one arm wrapped around Prim’s midsection to keep her from sliding off his lap.

My breath caught when I saw Asher sitting there. I physically felt my breathing screech to a stop like a trunk halting on gravel. I was momentarily nervous over what his reaction to me would be and I stayed completely silent, frozen, hoping he wouldn’t look my way. Unfortunately, I didn’t remain unnoticed for long.

Asher’s eyes landed on me and he surprisingly revealed a broad smile at my presence, which tugged my own grin into place. I’d tried for weeks to ignore the way my heart rate sped up when he looked my way but I still hadn’t mastered it, especially after not speaking to him in days.

“There you are. Get ready. The guys are on the way. We’re going camping,” he shared casually as if he hadn’t spent almost a month avoiding me.

I frowned over his faux-normalcy but then decided to play along, hoping it was the first step into whatever Asher and my new version of normal was. My grin melting, I wasted no time shaking my head at the idea.

“Uh, no thanks. I hate camping.” Like an idiot, I added, “And, well, spending the night in a tent together doesn’t exactly seem like something you’d want.”

I swallowed harshly after I spoke, wishing I hadn’t said anything at all. Luckily, he didn’t comment on my stupid response.

“It’s not really camping.” He leaned forward off the back of the couch and gripped Prim tighter to keep her from flying off his lap. She ignored his movement and focused on the catchy sailor theme music playing on the TV. “It’s more like a three-hour drive to stay in a cabin. And you also don’t have a choice. Which is why you'll notice I didn’t ask if you wanted to go. I said get ready.”

A cabin did sound better than any tent, and while a smile was tugging at my lips at Asher's natural response, I ignored it to instead send him my best glower, which I’d certainly missed doing. “Asshole.”

Prim, suddenly eager to be a participant in the conversation, wiggled her way off Asher’s lap, turning to face him. “Yeah, asshole."

My eyes and my mouth were frozen open in an expression of surprise when I heard her, shaking my head and taking a step closer. “Prim, you can’t say that.”

“But you said it.” Her small mouth fell into a pout.

Asher shook his head at me in mock disappointment, setting a reprimanding hand on her shoulder. “That’s because Dolphin doesn’t know that swearing is bad,” he explained.

He sent me a fake scowl and I momentarily felt I was taking part in a fever dream. The way he was acting didn’t match up with how he’d been recently. I hadn’t seen him in almost a week and the last time we’d spoken, he told me he couldn’t survive our friendship anymore, which hurt almost as much as his absence so watching him act like he hadn’t broken my heart weeks before was offputting. Still, I wasn’t complaining.

“You’re not old enough to say those things,” he finished. The small girl’s shoulders fell as instant defeat fogged her features.

“Well, I can’t wait to be a teenager. Then I get to swear.” Her face lit up with unchecked excitement at the idea of saying an unsavory word. “And I get to date boys who are just like you!”

Asher froze instantaneously, clutching his sister and tugging her onto the couch next to him. He set his hands on her shoulders to alleviate some of her animations.

“Weasel, you can never date guys like me. I’m an idiot.” He laughed at his self-deprecating joke. I did too. The smile returned to Prim’s face as Asher gave her shoulders a gentle shake. “Actually, no dating guys at all. They’re all idiots. Every last one of em’.”

Her smile suddenly vanished, settling a frown in its place. I let my lips cushion a grin as I looked down at her. “He’s kidding Prim.”

Asher’s astonished eyes found mine, pulling that gaze to the little girl. “Like hell I am. I have no problem going to prison if it means taking a baseball bat to every single one of those little idiot’s heads.” Flashing his pearly white smile in my direction, he let go of Prim, adding, “Courtesy of yours truly.”

Amy, who I hadn’t noticed had ventured into the kitchen, laughed from behind us as she listened to the banter between her children. She gestured up the stairs. “Okay, you overprotective older brother, go get ready to leave. I think I heard the guys pulling up outside.”

Asher’s face morphed back into disbelief as he stared past me at his mother. “Yeah, I’m overprotective, so what? Boys suck,” he emphasized firmly with a grimace.

He stood after that, picking up the duffel bag that I assumed held his camping essentials, and took off towards the front door. Excitement jumped in my chest at the idea of a weekend with my friends, specifically a weekend where my roommate couldn’t avoid me, and I ran upstairs to pack whatever necessities I needed for a night’s worth of camping.

I gave Prim instructions on how to watch Finn for the weekend, but I trusted her since her idea of babysitting my dog was sitting on the couch with him and watching Moana on repeat.

Thirty minutes later, I was sitting in the back of Andy’s mom’s minivan, the only car big enough to fit all of us. Andy was driving with Jamie in the passenger seat to control the music, which she said was undoubtedly the most important job.

After an argument about who would be forced to take the middle seat that lasted ten minutes with Asher, I, obviously, won the window seat as he sat between me and Blake. Mindy and Danny occupied the seats behind us.

With my hip pressed firmly against Asher’s, I realized that was the closest we’d been in the weeks that had passed. When the butterflies in my stomach began bashing against my ribcage as if they were trying to escape, I knew we should have asked Blake to sit between us. I was surprised Asher didn’t insist on it.

Minutes passed before Blake pointed towards a fast food restaurant we were passing and stated how hungry he was. Andy instantly agreed, pulling over to order.

With my Happy Meal in my lap, I pulled back the thin layer that was blocking my fries from my sauce and dipped it. As I did, a defying drop fell onto my leg and I huffed, “Oh, fuck nugget.”

Using another fry to rectify the mess I had made on my jeans, I looked to Asher. Intimated thought surfing his face, he dipped his brow. “You know, Dol, my mental dictionary is pretty wide, and yet I’ve never heard the term, ‘fuck nugget’.”

I wondered what had changed his mind about rekindling our past friendship, but I didn't care what his reasoning was, nor did I care whether or not he wanted to be my friend or something more. All I wanted was to regain some sort of balance in our relationship, and I was ecstatic he had finally agreed.

Doubtful over what he'd shared, I shook my head and placed a chicken nugget in my mouth. “I guess you’re just not as smart as you thought. If you were, you would have heard the phrase fuck nugget.” I shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s a term used by real intellectuals.”

He shrugged, yanking a fry from my container and tossing it in his mouth. “Or it’s a term used by average IQ holders, such as yourself.”

Irked from his possession of my fry, I stuck my tongue out at him. “Okay Ash, then go put your disgustingly gigantic brain to use and figure out how to go to hell.”

*Asher’s Point of View*

As usual, Dol’s countering amused me and, though her attention had been snagged by the trees outside the window and the music playing from the radio, my attention was on her, as it seemed to always be.

Though we’d decided to avoid each other (Or I guess it was me who decided I’d avoid her), it didn’t take much time to get lonely hanging out by myself in my room, and at school, especially when her presence had become so ironed into my daily life. And in the days since our last conversation, not speaking or seeing her had become increasingly harder.

I'd spent hours since lamenting over how she sounded crying through the door, telling me how she'd missed me. The whole reason I had been avoiding her was to stop being selfish, but telling her I couldn't bring myself to be around her hadn't exactly made me feel compassionate.

Just as I had in the months prior, all I felt was conflicted, and the space was bringing me no closer to an answer.

When Andy asked if it would be weird if he invited both of us for the weekend, I was sure that it would but I’d agreed to it nonetheless, hoping to spark up whatever friendly relationship with her I’d potentially ruined.

If she still wanted to be a part of my life after all this shit, then she was supposed to be. I was an idiot for pushing her away. For two months, I dealt with this friendship the best that I could regardless of how I felt, and if it was all Dol and I could have right now, then dammit, I was going to stop fucking it up for myself so hard.

A part of me hoped it would be a little awkward for us so that the friendship wouldn’t automatically return to what it had been a month ago. It wasn’t awkward though, it was completely natural between us, even after the time had passed. That was the hard part; she was too easy to be around.

Even simply sitting beside her, I couldn’t ignore my heart racing in my chest, trying to outrun my logical thoughts. I admired her for a few long seconds, which led to a few long minutes. Stalker status level one-fucking-hundred.

I couldn’t remove my eyes from her, flicking my gaze over her features. She was wearing the same jeans as always (I had reason to believe she wore the exact same pair every single day). She had on my leather jacket, the one she had stolen from me after living in my house for less than a week.

It was far too big for her and swallowed her small frame whole, but I loved the way she looked in it, and how she owned way more jackets than I did, but still wore mine more than any other.

Her pale eyes darted from tree to tree out the window. Her eyes were speckled with every shade of blue; they froze you in place. The first time I saw those eyes, while they had without a doubt been one of the first things I admired about her, they were rolling with irate. The first time I saw those eyes, they looked as if all they held was frigidness. But knowing her now, I understood the hottest fires always burn blue.

The music from the radio played gently, shaking her shoulders as she drifted into the melody, pausing in eating her fries to sing along to the lyrics filling the car. She seemed to be stuck in her own little world and she was equally stuck in mine.

I didn’t understand how, but Dol stumbled her way into my hectic life, managing to fix the things I’d continually destroyed. She moved into me like I was a fixer-upper house, tearing away the faulty parts of me I thought I needed. She worked her way through the cracked doorways and damaged upholstery, replacing the defective wallpaper and inoperative furniture that I had been too lazy to fix.

And although Dol wasn’t a real estate agent or a homeowner, she was my possessor. Without knowing it, she owned every part of me.

Dolphin, the girl who caught my frenzied attention with one keychain, three eye rolls, and a handshake had done the unthinkable. Watching her then, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I loved her with every screwed-up piece of myself.

That realization caused nothing but chaos in my lungs, as the air had been physically swept out of them upon that thought.

I loved her.

I didn’t even know if I knew what that meant.

All I knew was that the first time I saw her, everything in my body went calm. All I knew was that my stomach was turning uncomfortably at the thought of loving someone, but I couldn’t deny the word.

It was true what they said: when you know, you know. And I knew. I fell in love with my best friend. I fell in love with her the same way I’d learn to ride a bike without training wheels — recklessly afraid, without a helmet, allowing the bruises and scars to expose how I’d hit the ground falling for her.

Oxygen hadn’t quite figured out how to enter my body again and the respiratory organ in charge of it was beginning to scream at me to take a breath. When I thankfully did, the lightheadedness of the situation hadn’t subsided.

If we hadn’t been in the car, I would have been unproductively pacing back and forth, but all I could do was stare at her with wide eyes, flicking my every thought over the revelation I had come to. I was in love — something I had sworn off at the ripe age of twelve.

For the past three months, I thought of my feelings as a crush, emotions that would fade with effort, an effort that I was putting in, but they were more profound than that and suddenly, I was far more afraid of the effect they’d have on me.

Along with afraid, lightheaded, and in love, I was irritated. I’d spent so much time waiting to come to this conclusion, waiting to know exactly how I felt about her, but knowing was somehow worse than not knowing. What did I do now? I was deeply in love with her, it all seemed so clear to me now, but it had only been a few weeks since I’d decided to take the trail of self-improvement and I wasn’t sure if I was ready yet to be responsible for her heart.

I wanted to lean forward and ask Andy what to do, how to rid this aching feeling that was gnawing away at the lining in my chest, but I still couldn’t remove my eyes from an oblivious Dol. Even if I could, what the fuck was I supposed to say?

Hey Andy, I finally realized I love her. Thoughts?

How was I supposed to inform her that I’d never felt this way about someone else? How was I supposed to break it to her that she was everything I wanted? Blurt it out and hope for the best? Scream it in a car filled with our friends and pray she didn’t break my heart in front of everyone? Did I even want to tell her in the first place? I didn’t know what I’d do if she didn’t reciprocate the intensity of the feelings.

I knew she cared for me, but I’d hurt her repeatedly. We barely even qualified as friends anymore due to me and my idiocy. Was telling her how I felt worth ruining what we’d worked so hard to fix? I’d had the same mental confliction when I was trying to tell her about my crush on her weeks before and all telling her did was make things worse.

After another hundred mind-boggling questions that I didn't have the answer to, I noticed the direction of Dol’s bright eyes were no longer staring out the window, but instead staring at me.

Her forehead was creased, her brow pleating. Her face was packed with confusion, a small, cute smile widening on her lips as she questioned my behavior. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

Because I’ve realized I love you and I don’t know what to do. Because I always thought of myself as strong but I know I’m not strong enough to lose you if I can’t care for you the way you deserve to be cared for. Because I’m stationed in this seat, unable to form a coherent sentence that would explain to you the reasons behind everything I’ve done.

“Because I... Because I-” My throat was tight, unable to allow me the right to say the words I needed to. Every time I got close, fear hindered my moments, anchoring me to my seat like a boat to a harbor. “I just- I...”

Panic ran through every inch of my body like paralyzing liquid metal. Dol’s small smile was growing and an entertained expression replaced her grin. “You..?”

I tried to say it. I really tried to say it. I couldn’t get my lips to move the way I wanted them to. Instead of telling her what I desperately wanted her to hear, I threw my arm over her shoulder, drawing her close for the first time in weeks. It felt so relieving to hold her again, to pull her near. I grabbed a fry from the container on her lap, forcing a smile and muttering, “I love the way you look in my jacket.”

Close, but not nearly close enough. I’m sorry, Dol. It’s not what I wanted to say; unfortunately, it’s all I can give you right now.

______________________________________

A painful two hours passed up by, but it felt more like two decades as I drowned myself in a pool of confusion and defeat, unsure of what the hell to do about the situation I was plagued with. The feelings that had once been easy to pretend were nonexistent were as potent as ever, banging against the inside of my chest like they were aching to see the world.

Feeling invisible most of my life made it easy to conceal my emotions because everything I did felt hidden. It was like a disease I woke up with one day; my skin felt sheer and I suddenly developed a need to make myself seen by those around me, to ensure to myself that I actually existed.

I never had to put on a show to prove to Dol that I was real. She saw me in a way that nobody else did, and now that I had exposed the emotions I worked so hard to bury, they wouldn’t stay underground.

Every few minutes, I got the undeniable desire to tell Dolphin I was in love with her but in the seconds following the longing, I would remind myself that telling her would be the dumbest idea in the universe. Regardless of love, I wasn’t good enough for her, and that had always been the real problem.

Dol, with her head against the windowpane, fell asleep the moment she finished eating and had remained that way. She had taken my jacket off to use it as a pillow, bundling her face into the leather. I couldn’t look at her. Ever since she had scolded me for eating another one of her fries after I’d attempted to tell her how I really felt, I hadn’t sent her so much as a glance.

As thrilling as it was that I realized how deep my feelings for her actually went, on the flip side, it would make it that much harder when she realized how much work I was. I wasn’t exactly the easiest person to care about.

So involved in the many feelings that felt like someone had tossed them like a salad, I didn’t realize the car had stopped. Glancing upwards, I noticed the small diner through the windshield. Andy motioned us all out of the large minivan. “Come on, I’m starving.”

Nodding, I finally looked down at the girl napping beside me, still in the middle of slumber. Jamie furrowed her eyebrows as she watched me watch Dol. “Should we wake her up?”

I rubbed my nose with the back of my hand as I brought my gaze to Jamie. “I’ll wake her. You guys go get a table.”

No one seemed to have a problem with that as they hopped out of the car, shutting the doors behind them. Grateful for a few more minutes of silence to attempt to clear my mind, I watched them all walk into the restaurant. I hadn’t realized until I was alone that when Dol woke up, our confined space may become a problem.

*Chloe’s Point of View*

I tried to ignore the light shaking, swaying me back and forth slowly, but eventually, I could feel myself dwindling away from my nap and back into consciousness. Expecting to wake up to a car full of people, I was surprised to see only Asher sitting next to me, slowly rocking me.

“Hey, sleepyhead.” His voice was patient as he waited for me to escape my naps clutches and glance around.

“Where are we?”

“Um-” Asher turned his head to look out the front windshield, reading the name on the front of the small building. “Debbie’s Diner. Everyone else is already inside.”

A half-smile replaced my previous confusion. “Thanks for not leaving me in the car.”

His eyes crinkled at the corners and he sent me a small nod. Glimpsing down at his palms, he inhaled slowly through his nose once, forcing his eyes to mine. “Dol, I have to tell you something.”

“Is it about how I look better in your jacket than you do?” I wrinkled my nose, sending him a smile. “Because that much is obvious.”

Though a grin did tug on the corner of his mouth, the dimple on his face mounting to his cheek, he shook his head gently, straining forward to grip one of my hands in his.

As he kindly rubbed his thumb over the back of my hand, my stomach did a considerate amount of flips, flying and bouncing off the walls. He hadn’t touched me this way in weeks and my skin was set aflame as soon as he came into contact with it.

He swallowed, virtually powerless in removing his gaze from our hands. “No, I wanted to say that... I just...”

“Asher, what’s wrong?” Worried, I brought my other hand, setting it atop his as I tenderly glided my fingers over his hand like he was doing to mine. “Are you okay?”

In an instant, his eyes were back to mine, holding the contact. The air deafened with stillness and I waited for his statement, hoping it would clue me in to what had been bothering him. After another second, he let go of my hand, his head swaying back and forth.

“Actually, forget it. It’s stupid,” he mumbled, tearing his eyes from me.

He tried to turn away from me, but I secured him with a hand against his cheek, knowing it would stop him from exiting the car and the conversation he was trying to escape. Like I’d assumed, he paused, gradually setting his hand against mine to sandwich it between his hand and cheek, as if he was trying to memorize the way my palm felt on his face.

Silence melded into the air as we held the gaze. It was too much, too fast. We were too alone, there was too much tension and I wanted him too much for this situation to be considered safe. Asher and I were having the same problem of not knowing what to say and we let the air deafen with stillness.

Finally, Asher spoke, the statement coming out as slowly as possible like each word was a minuscule struggle to get out his mouth. “We should go in and meet everyone else...”

I nodded in agreement, but neither of us moved after that. Continuing to stare into each other’s gaze, the air thickened, doing its best to steal away any rationality from the situation, as it usually did. Before I could register what I was doing and if it was a good idea, Asher and I leaned in at the exact same time, meeting each other’s lips halfway.

Removing the hand from his face, I worked it through his hair and he groaned when I pulled him closer. He was eager at first, but after a few messy kisses, he went stiff, pulling away from my mouth.

“What are we doing? What... am I doing?” he whispered, his voice instantly telling my thighs to clench.

He was right to question our actions. We’d worked so hard to stay away from one another within the past few weeks and to throw any friendly progress out the window for this didn’t make sense. But then again, Asher and I rarely made sense. I’d missed him, I’d missed kissing him, holding him, feeling his hands on me.

I paused, leaning forward to brush my lips against his, hoping he’d continue and knowing he shouldn’t.

“I don’t know but... don’t stop,” I whispered almost breathlessly.

He didn’t respond immediately and I sat up, clicking off the seatbelt that was securing me before throwing a leg over his lap. He sucked in harshly from my immediate response, throwing his head back on the seat in what I assume was an attempt to calm himself down. He wasn’t doing a good job; I could feel him pressing against me as I sat on his lap.

I pressed my lips against his neck, gliding my tongue up and down his soft skin, and, with a skeptical sigh, he lifted his head from the seat and pressed his lips against mine roughly.

He brought his arms around my waist to hold me firmly against him, the moment of hesitation he had been having gone, like many of the rational thoughts I’d once had. His tongue brushed against mine, his lips soft as they moved effortlessly over my own.

I felt his warm hands slipping from around my waist to the front of my shirt, taking little time to begin unbuttoning it. I was completely overwhelmed and utterly impatient at the same time. He was still two buttons away from the shirt being undone but in my rushed haste to remove the inconvenience, I ripped the cloth off me, the two buttons popping off and scattering, along with my sanity. Asher chuckled into my mouth at my state.

Jackass.

After a few consistent tugs at the bottom of his shirt, he understood my silent indication, pulling apart from my anxious mouth to rip it off himself, and I pressed against him. His entire existence seemed perfect at the moment and his half-naked body against my own only intensified that feeling. I slid my fingertips over his back as his lips hastily found my neck and I let out a loud sound as they did.

Asher gripped tightly onto my waist and turned, tossing me onto my back on the seat. A second later he was back on top of me and taking advantage of the extra space.

The deceptively tiny part of my brain that could still perform rational thinking wondered if our friends would notice our absence for this long. The much more significant percentage of myself, the part I was paying far more attention to, couldn’t have cared even slightly less.

The thoughts dropped away when I felt his hands on my jeans, sliding up the side of my thigh, landing on the front button of what I considered a nuisance at this point. His lips left mine to bring his eyes downward and unbutton them, leaving the air filled with the sounds of our heavy breathing. Along with that, the intense, burning need I was experiencing seemed to linger in the air as well.

As he unbuttoned the pants, he raked his eyes down my body, and I pulled my mouth to his again, burning any place he touched me. He palmed my chest lightly, teasing my nipple through the thin material of my bra and I arched my back against his hand with a pant. Although our hands were traveling over one another quickly, after being without his touch for so long, nothing felt slower than our movement.

I was both aware that I wasn't thinking clearly and uncaring of that fact simultaneously. The only thing filling my brain was Asher and I’d never been good at getting him out of it.

I should have been upset over our actions, over how I was letting him do this to me again when nothing had changed, but I wasn’t. If he couldn’t give me all of him, if he could only allow me this tiny piece of him, then I was going to take it.

He threw his fingers into my jeans, circling the slick skin for a moment before pressing into me. I cried out at the sensation and yanked his mouth back to mine, moving my hips to speed his hand up. I wanted him so badly it hurt.

As he removed his hand from my jeans, I pulled his hips to mine, feeling his arousal against me. We both groaned at the same time, pushing our mouths together once again.

He continued to rub himself against me, our jeans creating friction together that elicited a moan from my mouth and into Asher's, whose lips were still moving sensually with mine. Right as his hand slid down to undo the button of his pants, the door right above our head was yanked open and we both looked upwards at

Danny, his eyes full of shock, gaped at us in the car. We both scrambled to sit up and I grabbed my shirt that was on the ground, trying my best to button it as we all stared at each other in silence. After an eternity, or what felt like it, Danny spoke, swallowing hard beforehand.

“I uh... I forgot my wallet.” He reached into the little pocket on the door and pulled out the small leather case. “Please um... continue..?”

I had finished buttoning my shirt and yanked my body around Asher and out the opposite door. Asher muttered something to Danny about not saying anything to anyone, but I was already out of the car and instantly making my way into the restaurant.

Breathing still heavy and body still heated, I took a seat across from Jamie. I gave her a small grin as I sat down and opened my menu, hoping her spot-on senses were out of order.

Danny came in a few moments after me and took a seat across the table near Jamie. He eyed me cautiously, mouthing, Sorry. I shook my head, hoping he’d take the indication as It wasn’t your fault. I can’t control my hormones and almost let them get the best of me in the back seat of Andy’s mom’s car. Or I, at least, hoped he’d get the first sentence.

After another minute, a shirt-covered Asher strolled through the door. He took the last seat at the table, the one that was conveniently placed to the right of me. He didn’t look at me when he walked in, instead turning to Andy who was sitting across from him, mentioning something about the trip.

I glanced back at my menu, but my eyes found their way to Jamie’s a second later whose gaze was bouncing between Asher and me. She looked suspicious. Although no one else seemed strange, Jamie’s glances sent me into a panic and I wondered how she could possibly know anything.

Finally, she jutted her chin in Asher’s direction and pointed at her own neck. I glanced over at Asher’s neck and gasped, finally noticing the orangey-pink stain that was covering it. After a quick finger against my own lips, I realized my lipstick was very visible on his skin.

Panic setting in slightly more in-depth, I grabbed my napkin from the table, dipping it into my ice water before taking it directly to his neck. He pulled away from the cold surprise, but that didn’t stop me from scrubbing his neck for a few more seconds.

“What the fuck are you doing?” His tone was confused and slightly bitter, and I couldn’t decipher whether he was upset at himself, for cracking so early when we were supposed to remain innocent, or me, for encouraging him.

I wasn’t in the mood for his coldness and I hissed, “You had something on your neck.”

I held out the napkin for him to see, pursing my lips slightly to make my problem more obvious. His eyes shifting from lips to napkin, he swallowed. “Is it gone?”

I gave him a quick nod and turned back to my menu and a very interested-looking Jamie. I sighed as she urgently muttered, "I have to go to the bathroom."

She stood, lingering at the table as she eyed me to follow her. I frowned and she quickly spat, "Chloe!"

Sighing iritably at her display, I stood across from her and allowed her to drag me off. When we both entered the bathroom, we paused. I threw my thumb behind me to point at the stalls. “Do you have to go or..?”

“Your lipstick... on Asher...” She verbally compiled, thought surfing her features. She didn’t give me time to answer, finishing her statement with, “Oh my God, did you guys-”

“No.” I turned back to the mirror and ran the cold water over my hands, still trying to calm myself down. My mind was back to reasonable. Unfortunately, my body couldn’t say the same. It was still heated, imagining a situation where Danny had not opened that door. “You see, we would have. In fact, we were very, very close.” I ripped a paper towel from the holder and turned back to Jamie as my voice got faster. “Like Asher’s hands down my pants close, but Danny opened the door on us.”

She cringed in response and I did too. “Fuck. That’s incredibly disappointing.”

Tell me about it.

“Yeah and for the best.” My mind knew that to be correct. Body, still not so sure. “I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ve worked so hard to go back to normal.”

Jamie shot me an appalled glance. “Friendship was never your guys’ normal and it never will be. The two of you are not meant to be friends. You’re meant to be together.”

“We wouldn’t work together.” My chest tightened. I knew my voice was shaking when I shook my head. “That’s the problem.”

Jamie leaned back into the counter, resting on her elbows. “How could you possibly know that? You two have never even tried!”

I frowned “All we do is argue. We’re trying to avoid getting hurt here.”

She took a deep breath and gave me a quick, reprimanding head shake. Her eyes were more honest than I’d ever seen them as she told me, “You love him.”

“I don’t love him.” I gave her a frustrated glance, but my eyes betrayed me by beginning to mist, despite my trying to ignore the tears welling.

“You do.”

“I don’t.”

“You do.”

“I don’t.”

“You do.”

“I know I do!” Slamming my elbows down onto the counter, my head followed swiftly behind and rested on my palms. The mist in my eyes has become full-blown tears.

Who was I kidding? I loved Asher. I loved him in a way I’d never loved anyone. In a way I didn’t realize was possible. I’d never been able to convince myself differently.

Jamie’s arms were around me a second later and I removed my head from my palms to rest instead in the crook of her neck. “You love him,” she whispered as she ran a comforting hand through my hair.

“Of course I love him.” I never imagined admitting to loving someone would be so hard, but I knew it was easier for me to deny the feelings than to admit my heart pounded painfully in my chest over the thought of losing something that was never mine, to begin with.

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