Destructively Oblivious

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Chapter 6: Cuddle

cud·dle

/ˈkədl/

verb

1. holding one close in another’s arms to show affection, love, and/or bring them comfort.

______________________________________

*Chloe’s Point of View*

Opening my eyes that morning to find an unfamiliar room, I was momentarily disoriented about where I was. My first morning in a home that wasn’t mine was confusing. The ceiling above me had my attention for a few seconds as I tried to place what was real life and what wasn’t.

I remembered the previous day; the ice cream, Prim’s dress-up, my mom’s car working down the street and away from me. That was real-life. Painfully real.

I stepped out of my new room, staring at the closed door directly across from mine: Asher’s room. I briefly considered knocking on his door and asking him to give me another tour of his house, seeing I barely paid any attention the night before when he’d given me the initial run-down. I regretted that now.

Knowing the clock had recently hit five in the morning, I decided against waking him and instead made my way down to the foreign kitchen. I put newly-found coffee into the pot and leaned against the counter, waiting patiently for it to brew. When it beeped lightly, I tipped in the regular milk and sugar, taking a sip of the toffee-colored drink.

When the sound of someone’s footsteps made its way to my ears, my eyes flickered downwards, noting the limited amount of clothing I was wearing, consisting only of one oversized sweatshirt and my underwear.

Maybe I should change my choice of sleepwear now that I didn’t live at home.

As I pondered that thought, I hastily flipped around to watch Asher shuffle down the stairs. In boxers and an old T-shirt, he rubbed his eyes (the ones that were similar in color to the coffee in my hand), adjusting to the fluorescent kitchen light.

“What the fuck are you doing up so early?” He leaned back, his elbows resting on top of the counter with his eyes closed, clearly not used to this time of the morning. He looked as if he’d never woken up early a day in his life.

“Sorry, did I wake you?” I cringed.

He ignored my question and instead pointed at the coffee pot. “You mind pouring me some?” he mumbled.

I nodded, but the movement went unnoticed to his closed eyes. Reaching up into the cupboard, I grasped the cold mug in my hand, turning to the machine.

I asked if he wanted anything in it as I poured the coffee and received a head shake in response. Without thinking, I brought his mug to my lips and took a sip, making sure it tasted okay before giving it to him. My dad had always done it for my mom when making her coffee to ensure it was correct, and my mom had always done it for me, but why I felt it was necessary to do it for Asher, I didn’t know.

I shook my head at my own actions as Asher chuckled from beside me, his eyes suddenly open. “Did you just take a sip of my coffee?”

Instantaneously embarrassed, I nodded. “I was making sure it tasted okay.”

He grinned. “And does it?”

I nodded a second time, internally asking myself why I was such an idiot as Asher reached for the brew and took a sip. He bounced his head agreeably. “You’re right. It is good.”

I let myself relax over the fact that he didn’t think I was clinically insane, but grew self-conscious when his tired eyes sank towards my bare legs, scanning the skin that I’d left uncovered.

Embarrassed I hadn’t thought to wear more chaste pajamas for my first night in a new house, I tugged insignificantly on the bottom edge of my sweatshirt, hoping to spare a few extra inches to cover myself with. Asher noticed my feeble attempt and his smirk pulled higher as he brought the mug to his lips.

“Why are you up so early?” he asked again, less crude this time around, taking his thumb and forefinger to rub both eyes simultaneously.

“I’m an early bird. I don’t really know why,” I lied, naturally. I felt a momentary lapse of guilt for lying to him after he’d told me how much he hated it, but I disliked personal information about myself being shared. As selfish as it sounded, in my own mind, my pet peeve overpowered his.

There was a reason behind my insane sleeping habits. For years, I hated sleeping. When my father died, the tragic experience brought with it some severe nightmares. Simply put, I preferred being awake. The night-terrors only swung by once in a while lately, but the inconvenient sleep patterns it brought happened to stay.

Unsleeping Beauty, my mother used to call me, rubbing my hair as she spent hours trying to coerce me into sleep.

“Huh, weird.” Asher shrugged, thankfully taking my excuse without question.

I chuckled at his confusion. “As my mom always says, it’s better to be early and have to wait than to be late and have to catch up.”

He seemed to take my statement into consideration, before shrugging again and pulling his mug to his mouth for another sip. I watched his eyes dip towards my humiliatingly bare legs again before pulling to my eyes and asking, “You were up as late as me last night. How are you not tired?”

His question led to another answer I wasn’t willing to give and I suddenly wished I wasn’t so handicapped when it came to telling others about myself. My shoulders moved upwards in a shrug, momentarily remembering the exam I had diligently been working for. “I was up studying. I have a test for Pre-Calc tomorrow and I think I’m going to fail.”

Asher shrugged, taking another generous sip of his coffee. “I’m sure you’ll do fine, Smarty Pants.” For the third time this morning, his eyes fell below my sweatshirt and were stationed on my exposed skin, and he was forced to keep his mug at his mouth to hide his smug expression. “Or should I say No Pants?”

I forced a fake laugh and gave my sweatshirt one more good tug downward.

He smiled. “You might want to wear clothes when you see Blake today. Even with pants on, there’s a good chance he’ll stare.”

“When I see Blake today?” I asked, unaware that seeing Blake Everlast was on today’s agenda.

Asher sighed, nodding once. “I knew there was something I forgot to tell you.” He nonchalantly shrugged again, setting the half-full mug of coffee onto the countertop. “You’re coming to the movies with me and the guys.”

As I mentally flickered over my new plans with the four boys, my expression settled finely into a cringe. “You want me to spend my day with a group of guys I barely know?”

Shrugging a third time, he stated, “You can invite your friend, what’s her name? Jessie?”

“Jamie,” I corrected smoothly. He gave me an insignificant nod.

“You’re coming.” He took another sip of his coffee, peering down towards the newspaper settled on the counter, confident on the day’s plans he had decided upon. I grinned but paused when I remembered the copious amounts of studying I needed to get done. Essentially reading my mind, he waved off the invasive thought. “It’s fine, Dol. I’ll help you with the math later.”

I crossed my arms over my chest, not sure whether to trust his proposal or laugh at it. “You’re going to help me with my Pre-Calc?” I derided.

Setting down his coffee for the second time, he went and opened a cabinet, peering inside for whatever he needed. “Don’t sound so surprised,” he mumbled. “I aced it last year.”

I believe my jaw hit the tile floor as I asked, “Last year?”

He turned and smiled, clearly proud of what I’d consider an accomplishment. “Yes, last year.”

He was in a math class above mine? He, who made out right in the hallway? Who was known for class distractions? Who seemingly skipped more classes than he attended?

He bent forward towards me and closed my jaw with his hand, giving my chin a gentle shake.

To cover up my reaction to his endearing chin-grab, I stuttered my way towards a sentence in the hopes of neglecting how ignorantly rude I probably appeared. “I didn’t mean to sound so surprised. I’m just...”

He turned away from the open cabinets, sagging against the countertop. With a grin, he lowered his head towards me, brows pleating. “Surprised?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

He signaled my apology away. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t expect you to think that much of me anyway.”

“No, I didn’t mean-”

He cut me off quickly as if he’d said too much. “Dol, it’s fine. I don’t come to school because I have nothing better to do with my life.” Returning to his quest in the cabinets, he tilted his head in my direction. “I’m in all the same AP’s as you. Am I so unnoticeable?”

I stood there, astounded and moderately guilty, repeating the most basic human decency rules to myself: Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover. “I guess I didn’t think about it.”

He smiled, an image that almost made my guilt float away some. Almost.

Finishing off his coffee, he set the mug into the sink and muttered, “Now that you’ve insulted my intelligence, will you come to the movies?”

“I’m only agreeing to go because I trust that you’re smart enough to tutor me.”

Coffee-colored eyes sparkling, he pitched me a wink. “You’ll ace that test.”

______________________________________

When I was eventually fully awake, which was a few hours later, I was beginning to look forward to hanging out with Jamie and the guys. Taking Asher’s advice, I skipped out on wearing shorts and threw on jeans instead, prepping myself to see the-notorious-Blake. When Danny’s car pulled up outside, Asher held the door open for me, watching me slide into the backseat next to Blake before sitting beside me.

Blake grinned as we entered the car, hollering, “Fuck yeah, we get to bring two hot girls with us today!”

While I’d decided an awkward smile was the appropriate response for his comment, Asher gave him a disapproving gesture, one that involved his middle finger.

“Shut up, dumbass,” Danny warned, peering over his shoulder and pulling from the driveway. He smiled, his eyes skating from Asher’s to mine, and greeted us both. “Sup’ Ash. And it’s nice to see you again, Chloe.”

I sent him an appreciative grin and Andy’s laugh filled the air from the passenger seat. “Yeah, it’s nice to meet you when Asher isn’t running you over or tossing you in a pool.”

Asher, having enough of his friend’s comments after only thirty seconds in the car, tilted forward, his hand coming into contact with the back of Andy’s head.

Danny looked at us both through the rearview mirror. “So, Chloe, what are you into? You’re the first chick Asher’s ever willingly brought with us anywhere, so you have to be cool.”

Asher frowned, cursing as Danny smiled like he’d shared some sort of secret.

“You think I’m cool.” I grinned mockingly, gauging Asher’s reaction.

“Hardly,” he responded with an eye roll, but a smirk followed behind it.

With an overenthusiastic smile, I leaned over and nestled my shoulder against his. I almost instantly regretted the forwardness, but Asher didn’t seem to mind, throwing his arm over my shoulder and encouraging the closeness.

Andy spoke next, chuckling as he joked, “You don’t worship the devil or anything, do you?”

I shrugged. “Oh, sure I do. Satan is surprisingly benevolent.”

The car began to laugh and, while I was happy my joke had gone over well, I was suddenly struck that I had to list actual things about myself, and trying to decipher the interesting things I did in my free time. Truthfully, nowadays, my life would be described as boring.

“Sometimes I read, sometimes I sing, sometimes I quote every episode of Boy Meets World,” I listed, realizing when I said the words aloud, I sounded incredibly lame.

I felt an increasing level of embarrassment for my dull hobbies but to my surprise, none of the boys made any comments about how my life lacked excitement.

Chuckling, Danny glanced back into the rearview mirror, stating, “Boy Meets World is quality entertainment. Asher, there-” He raised an authoritative finger and pointed it back towards his friend. “-Has never even seen an episode.”

Andy began conversing soon after that, ruining any chance I’d had to pressure Asher into watching an episode with me. “I only have one fun fact, and it’s that I’m allergic to cats,” he shared.

Blake huffed, the sound filled with annoyance. “Yeah, you are allergic to pussy, always scaring them off.” The boys, whose names were not Andy, let out loud laughs as Blake stole the spotlight and announced his own fun fact. “I’ve been flashed thirty-seven times.”

“Interesting.” I chuckled uncomfortably.

He smirked. “Wanna make it thirty-eight?”

Asher, using the arm that was wrapped around me, didn’t hesitate to slap the playful look from his friend’s face, drawing me imperceptibly closer to him after he had.

Danny let his eyes roll back into his head in disgust, mumbling, “Shut up, Blake.”

He glanced up at me through the rearview, starting to explain his own fun fact, when Blake cut him off with, “You shut up, man.”

His comment started a back and forth bickering session between himself and Danny until we pulled up outside Jamie’s house, which thankfully wasn’t too far from Asher’s.

After the car ride, I deciphered things about each and every member of that group. Andy was nice, though very crude at times, which attracted Jamie in the worst ways. Danny reminded me of a mom who was forced to take care of her young, reckless kids, and I never did learn his fun fact. Blake was a tremendous player, mitigating that with an even more vulgar sense of humor. I was glad I wore long pants; he kept resting his hand on my thigh.

And Asher was just Asher. He smiled, and smirked, and kept his arm wrapped around me the whole ride. Not to mention, he slapped Blake’s hand off me more than once.

After the short car ride, everyone bought their tickets at the movie center and wandered inside, sans me, who was last in line, and unable to find my wallet in my purse. When I’d finally located it, I looked up to see Asher already buying the far-too-expensive ticket for me.

I stuck my hand out towards him, stepping up to the register. “Asher, no! I’m buying it. I have money right here.”

I held out the money towards him and he glanced down at it, noting the few crumpled dollar bills in my hand, before turning and grabbing the already-purchased ticket from the woman in the ticket booth.

“Sorry, Dol. You took too long. I’d like to actually see a movie today.” His lips tilted into a smirk, amused.

“Muérdeme,” I mumbled towards him.

“All you have to do is tell me where,” he responded with a smile.

I glanced at the ticket woman beside him to thank her, but her eyes were occupied studying every inch of my roommate’s face, not an ounce of shame in her own gawking. She had to be older than him by ten years but he attracted attention where ever he went, from all ages.

“Enjoy your movie,” she simpered towards him.

Turning around to give her a courtesy wink, he grabbed my forearm and tugged me into the building. Jamie, wandering away from the three other boys, swung her arm over my shoulder, sandwiching me between herself and Asher.

“Interesting car ride?” She grinned, glancing over at the guy to my right. Not admitting it was quite an enjoyable experience, I let my tongue do the talking, sticking it out in her direction.

Andy, who’d joined us and was standing on the other side of my best friend, looked down at his ticket, as anxious as Asher was to watch the film. He grinned at Jamie, nudging her lightly on the arm.

“You excited to see the movie?” he asked her in the most gentle voice I’d ever heard from him.

Jamie, who had taken a strong liking to Andy the previous year when they had Forensics together and bonded over how terrible the teacher was, smiled beautifully at him and nodded, before allowing him to walk her to the theater, abandoning me.

Asher looked down at me, throwing a glance towards the snack sign. “You want popcorn?”

My eyebrows pinched with confusion that he’d had to ask, and I nodded. He led us towards the concession stands as the rest of the group turned the corner into the theater. Filling up a large cup with some sort of artificially colored blue drink, I watched Asher order the large popcorn I craved. Orville Redenbacher’s creation in hand, he turned towards the movie theater entrance upon realizing I had finished filling up my plastic cup.

I swiftly clutched his arm. “Hey felon, you actually have to pay for that stuff, you know?”

He furrowed his eyebrows towards the person at the register, quickly picking up on the fact there was no one there to attend to us.

“I don’t want to wait. Let’s just goooo.” He drew out the word, pulling my arm smoothly in the direction of the theater.

I blinked, holding my ground. “You’re asking me to commit a crime with you?”

“Yes,” he replied, flat out. I narrowed my eyes back in the direction of the lone register, contemplating whether or not today was the day I perpetrated a misdemeanor. The toddler next to me wasn’t tolerant enough to let me think. He nailed me in the head with a piece of popcorn. “Hey Dolphin, like I said, I’d actually like to see the movie today.”

I removed my narrowed eyes from the register, residing them on him as I muttered, “Give me a second, would you?”

He waited patiently for me to make my verdict, watching as I whipped out my wallet, pulling out one of the few twenty dollars bills I possessed, placing it on the empty register.

Asher rolled his eyes towards the high ceilings. “When’s the morals and ethics class, Professor Goody-Two-Shoes?”

Grabbing his arm, I hauled him towards the theater, ignoring his bash towards my healthy morality.

Sitting snugly between Jamie and Asher, I found myself increasingly more comfortable fifteen minutes into the movie when Asher’s arm draped over my shoulders, only to reach around me, grab my drink and bring the straw to his lips. I jerked the cup from his grasp, waiting for his arm to un-shelter itself from my shoulders. But it didn’t.

He relaxed against me, tugging me into him lightly until he was happy with the proximity of our bodies. Other than my heart pounding against my chest, I was sure that every other organ I had wasn’t functioning properly.

I tried not to think much about the way Asher was holding me. Or the way his touch ceased by lung’s ability to capture air correctly. I didn’t like the thought that there was nothing special to him about hugging a girl close, but I knew he’d probably done it a million times, in a million different ways.

I pushed those thoughts from my mind and relaxed, wanting to soak up every second I could get with Asher’s arms coiled around me. I snuggled up close to him, his head relaxing against mine.

The vibrating from my pocket snaking my attention from the movie, I subtly checked the text I had received, confusion tweaking the lines on my forehead as I saw Jamie’s notification pop up.

Jamster: Would you two get a room?

ChlHoe: What are you referring to?

Jamster: The entire theater can see you two cuddled up. Don’t act oblivious.

ChlHoe: Friends can’t cuddle?

Jamster: Not unless they plan on having sex with one another, no.

ChlHoe: You are dramatic.

Jamster: You have feelings for him.

ChlHoe: Jeez. How on Earth did you get that idea?

Jamster: I always know when you like someone. I’m like a god damn Miss Cleo.

ChlHoe: I hate to burst your wild imaginative bubble, but we’re roommates, not lovers.

Jamster: Miss Cleo can predict the future, and that’s what I’m doing.

ChlHoe: Okay, predict what I’m going to say next.

Jamster: That I am dramatic and annoying.

ChlHoe: Wow! Maybe you are a psychic :)

Jamster: Rude.

ChlHoe: Watch the movie, Miss Cleo.

A loud sigh escaped her as I slipped my phone back into my pocket. After that, the movie went by painfully slowly. Though an entertaining film, the conversation with Jamie burned a hole through my skull and I had yet to get my mind off the thought.

My best friend wasn’t a psychic, but she could read me better than anyone else. She was right; I had enjoyed myself being that close to him, but she knew just as much as I did that liking Asher would be a waste of my time, and that was time that I was unwilling to misuse.

In some odd twist of events, we ended up at a department store after the movie. Miss Cleo, formally known as Jamie, leaped into a cart like a three-year-old, squealing as I pushed her into the store.

Letting Andy take charge of the basket, I let go, watching the flirtatious pair run off into a random direction. Seeing a sample stand, the other two boys ran towards the strange-looking smoothie, once again leaving me alone with...

“Asher! Wait up,” I begged, watching him pause in his attempt to walk towards a section of the store.

“Pick up your feet then,” he replied, nodding towards the variety of food stands that had caught his attention.

After begging him to go to the food court, he allowed me to drag him over. When I had a delicious snack in my hand, we made our way around the giant store.

Giddy, my attention was on the chicken wrap I’d bought, happy to have something other than popcorn in my stomach. Asher hadn’t spoken in some time and, confused, I looked his way to find his eyes dancing between my wrap and me.

I swallowed nervously, wondering what I could have done to draw his attention. “Why are you staring at me like that?”

He lifted his shoulders with hesitancy. “Say something in Spanish.”

Thrown off by his demand, I looked back down at the wrap in my hand, shrugging as I slowly mumbled, ”Esta envoltura de pollo es muy buena.”

His forehead marred with confusion. “Which means?”

“This chicken wrap is very good,” I translated, lifting it higher for emphasis. “Have you ever tasted one of these? They’re enough to extend life expectancy.” I chuckled, shoveling another bite into my mouth.

“I’ve never had one,” he shared. Before I could grasp the situation, he’d seized my wrist in his hand and had tugged the tasty food to his lips. I hurriedly pushed him off, but not quick enough. He was already chewing.

“Ew! Asher Freed!” I yelped, staring down at my snack, feeling both bothered and deceived.

“What? I wanted my life expectancy extended.” His head tilted adorably and loose strands of his hair fell down towards his eyes.

“No vuelvas a tocar mi comida otra vez!” I exclaimed.

He sighed. “You’re making me wish I took Spanish."

I dropped a brow at his confession, wondering what language he had taken for the mandatory high school limit. He seemed to understand the question I hadn’t yet asked.

“Je m’appelle Asher,” he said with a grin. “And that’s basically the extent of what I learned in French class. My mom wanted me to take Spanish because we’re Italian and, you know, Italian and Spanish are pretty similar but I wanted to be a jackass and defy her.”

I was paying such close attention to his words and the way his lips formed each one that I hadn’t noticed I was about to stumble into a flat-screen TV on display. Thankfully, Asher grabbed my wrist and yanked me to his side before I got myself buried in thousands of dollars of department-store debt. My cheeks burned from the embarrassment as my eyes moved over his smug expression.

He chuckled. “Clumsy.”

“You’re distracting me, Ash,” I asserted, watching as he grabbed an abandoned cart and indicated I get in.

I stared into the cart, then glanced around the area for any onlookers. When I realized we were alone in the aisle, I struggled my way into the cart (with a little help from both Asher and a useful shelf nearby).

When I was inside, I leaned back against the front of it, facing Asher. Elbows on the handles, he inclined in towards me, snaking out his hand and grabbing onto my three-dollar meal. He took another bite against my commands.

“Asher! I didn’t buy it for us to share.” When I had the food back in my own possession, I wrinkled my nose down at it. “I hate you.”

The tiny grin on Asher’s face was undeniably cute as he watched my irate scowl. “That's not any way to talk to your math tutor, Smarty No-Pants."

“Pre-Calc! I forgot you need to help me.” Panic flushed over each of my features. Completely calm, Asher explained the basics of what I was doing, quizzing me persistently until every single question that confused me switched from baffling to completely understandable.

“Are you going to be angry at me if I fail this test?” I asked, mostly for a reaction and less because I felt I was going to flunk. The last two hours of unceasingly studying with Asher had made the passing grade much more reachable.

Chuckling, he stopped the cart near a table in the food court, one filled with each of our friends, holding it still for me to make my escape from the grocery cage as he answered. “We spent two hours studying the worst subject ever. If you fail this test, you’re going to wake up Tuesday morning with a very obscene sharpie drawing on your face.”

I managed my way back onto the steady floor, my mouth dropping open towards Asher’s horrendous threat. He smiled, adding, “But you’re not going to fail.”

Andy grinned as we each took a seat, and I couldn’t help but notice his arm around Jamie’s waist. The two had become very comfortable in the other’s presence.

“Where the hell have you two been?” he asked.

“Making out on the mattresses in Aisle 10,” Asher shared, yanking a fry off of Jamie’s plate.

The table chuckled and I nudged his shoulder, singling out Jamie’s soda. “He’s kidding,” I told my best friend's wide eyes.

Blake laughed lightly. “With the way you guys were cuddling at the movies, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chloe were pregnant by now.”

Mid-sip on the drink, I choked on the cola due to Blake’s beyond-crude remark. The fry didn’t make it to Asher’s mouth, but it did make it to Blake’s forehead after my roommate chucked it at him.

“We were not cuddling, asshole,” he bit out frustratedly.

I nodded, clearing the burning sensation in my throat as I agreed with Asher, not sure why I was momentarily hurt by his reaction to the implication.

Blake sneered and tossed a fry into his mouth. “I think everyone in that movie theater would disagree.”

Asher’s glare towards his friend turned homicidal and I shifted, letting words exit my mouth before mulling them over. “Fuck off, Blake.”

I blinked once, surprised at my use of the swear word. Usually, those were the type of words I spoke only in my head, but it felt like any other as it rolled from my tongue.

Jamie was laughing immediately and her face settled finely into a grin as she said, “We’re all bad influences on you.”

Asher swung his arm over my shoulder and smiled. “Welcome to the dark side.”

______________________________________

Hours after I had allowed myself to cross over into, as Asher had charmingly put it, “The Dark Side,” I heard the clatter of silverware hit the kitchen floor from my new bedroom. As worried as I was confused, I swiftly made my way downstairs, perplexed when I’d found Asher on the floor of his kitchen picking up a dozen forks, knives, and spoons that were scattered about the tile floor.

“What happened?” I quickly got to my hands and knees to help him pick up the utensils.

Standing with fistfuls of knives, he smiled adorably, his shoulders lifting in concede. “Don’t ask me. I was standing here and next thing I knew I was being attacked by forks and spoons.”

I giggled, handing him the rest of the silverware from the floor and watching him set them gently into the sink. As the metal clattered against the bottom, the front door opened and Amy, home from work, strolled through with Prim on her arm. Hearing the commotion in her kitchen, she rushed in, taking a long glance around the large room.

“Are you cooking?” she asked her son with a bewildered tone.

That same son nodded at her inquiry. I was too wound up by the sound of utensils to notice the freshly made dinner laid upon the counters.

“You made dinner?” I questioned, unsure if I should believe what I was seeing.

He nodded, gesturing towards the meal he’d prepared. Amy chuckled, crossing her arms over her chest as she admired the food on her counter. “I can’t believe my eyes. I haven’t seen you cook since you had an easy bake oven.”

She waltzed past her son to hover over the plate of chicken. I grinned at what she had shared, my eyes singling in on Asher’s.

“You had an easy bake oven?” I grabbed my stomach, laughing, imagining a smaller version of the boy in front of me making little cupcakes and brownies. “Did you order it in pink, too?” I asked mockingly.

“Yes I did and I don’t appreciate your tone. I used to make some killer pies.” He suppressed a smile, sticking his tongue out towards me before turning away and lifting the platter out from under his mother’s nose. He stepped away from us both, setting it down on the kitchen table before sending Prim upstairs to wash her hands.

Amy smiled at Asher, her expression soft. “What’s the occasion?”

“No occasion,” he answered, fidgeting with the napkins in his hands.

Amy’s smile was beaming, her features scrunched up excitedly. “We haven’t eaten dinner together in such a long time! This was exactly what I wanted after a long day. Thank you.”

Asher nodded politely at his mother’s unstable elation before she pulled him into a long hug. He froze for a moment in his mother’s arms, as if hugging wasn’t something the two did often, and I watched his face overcome with uncertainty as he stared at the kitchen floor over her shoulder. He eventually wrapped his arms around her and cinched her tight before she let go of him to follow after Prim.

With a certain conversation on my mind, I confusedly watched Asher set out clean silverware for his family and recalled what he’d shared only a day prior. He glanced up to find me staring at him with puzzling features and rolled his eyes at my expression.

“Don’t look so surprised,” he told me. His shoulders rose upward and he looked away, a small grin tugging on the edge of his lips. “That chicken wrap got me in a cooking mood.”

I couldn’t hide my sudden smile when he took my hand and led me to my seat.

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