‘Be strong now, because things will get better. It might be stormy now but it can’t rain forever.’
She screwed everything up. She should have known that getting close to people meant more intrusion on the walls that she had created around her. She tried not to look nervous or anxious as Kate looked at her expectantly, not sensing the poor girl’s inner turmoil. She tried to play it off somehow but before she could open her mouth, Asher did something she did not expect him to do.
“God, mom. You should be a police officer. You sound like you are interrogating a criminal,” Asher said, rolling his eyes. Kate frowned at his comment and raised her hand to whack him which he quickly dodged before muttering.
“Why are you women so violent?” Without waiting for a reply, he grabbed Astrid’s hand and pulled her off her chair.
“Come on. Let’s have some fun.” Kate struggled to keep the smile off her face as she watched them leave the kitchen.
Astrid was confused yet relieved at the same time as she quietly followed him. Asher noticed her silence and a frown marred his features.
“What’s wrong with you?”
She raised her eyebrow and waited for him to continue.
“I mean, on any other normal day, you would have probably broken my hand if I had dragged you around like this. No offence but the silent you is more terrifying than the violent you.”
She scoffed and slightly shook her head but did not say anything in return. Too many things were happening in her life at the moment and too many thoughts were occupying her mind to even care about what he was saying.
She quietly followed him outside the house and thinking that he was going to drop her off at her house, she walked over to his car only for him to pull her back.
“What?” she asked him, confused.
“Well, I thought we could get some ice cream. There’s a really good place nearby,” he replied, giving her a sheepish look. Not even giving her time to think, he grabbed her again and pulled her away from the driveway.
They strolled along the sidewalk in silence, neither of them knowing what to say next. Right at the moment, Astrid was questioning her every move, and silent reprimanding ‘why’ behind every one of her actions that was currently threatening to burst her lonely bubble. Her safe haven. Even the prank that she did seemed too childish to her.
Asher, on the other hand, was a different story. For the first time, he did not know what to say. The cogs were turning in his head to figure out a way to break the stillness around them. A few moments later, he cleared his throat.
“Um, I am sorry about earlier. My mom can get really curious sometimes and get out of control.”
Astrid did not reply for a second and he could sense the slight panic bubbling inside him. He wondered if he had said something that he was not supposed to.
“Why? She just asked some normal questions that any normal person would ask someone they had just met.” The words just flew out of her mouth and she cursed at herself for making things worse.
“Do you really want me to spell it out to you?” he asked her, with a small chuckle.
“I know there is something going on with you,” he stated bluntly. She slightly tensed up but motioned him to continue.
“I was not exactly sure as to what was happening, but considering the panic on your face when my mum asked you about yourself, I can tell you have some problems with your family or something. Please correct me if I am wrong.”
He looked calm and collected on the outside but on the inside, was dreading her reaction. What if she got angry at his words? What if she got offended? Looking at her face, he changed his mind and felt like her anger was better than her poker face which she had at the moment. He definitely preferred her angry that blank.
“What made you come to this conclusion?” Her words carried no emotion. It was as if she was a robot.
By this time, they had arrived at the ice cream shop. Both of them walked in and looked through the flavours. She got herself a chocolate cone and he got some cookie dough flavoured ice cream in a cup, for both of which he paid. They walked out and settled on one of the benches near the shop, under the trees.
Asher ate a spoonful before answering her question.
“As I already told you, I am not sure but the way you are so closed off, the way you lied to your mom that night about staying at your friend’s house, the way you got all defensive and tensed when my mom asked you about your parents and your life before you came here, it seemed a bit obvious. I know I might not be as smart as you and all, but I am not an idiot.” He gently laughed by the end of his words.
He sure did surprise her, she had to give him credit for that. It had taken just a few slip-ups for him to come to his conclusion. Either he was too good at his game or she was terribly sucked at being secretive. She hoped it was the former. She held back her sigh of relief when he mentioned her mom. He did not know the complete truth.
“Are you not going to say anything? If you are angry or something, it was not my intention. Whatever it is that you are going through, just know that I am here if you ever need anything.” She could not ignore the sincerity in his words. She quickly licked off the melting ice cream on the sides before talking.
“Well, thank you for your kind words but nothing is really going on. I am perfectly fine and so is my life.” She internally flinched at her words. Her life was anything but fine at the moment but she was not going to spill everything to him. She did not move halfway across the country, with the goal to leave her old life behind and start a new one for this to happen. She wanted to forget. Bit she could not. And telling anyone would not help either. Especially someone like him.
She hoped that he would think he was wrong and leave it alone but was in for another shock when he gently smiled at her, understanding flashing in his eyes.
“You just confirmed my suspicions.”
“What?” She could almost feel her palms getting sweaty. What was he talking about?
“If I had actually had been wrong you would have told me a little about yourself. Not outright deny whatever I said. Everything makes more sense now.”
Now she could not hide the shock from her face. He was too good at this that it was starting to scare her at this point. Was he asking people about her or something? But before she could say anything, he continued.
“But you don’t have to worry. I know you don’t trust me but I promise I didn’t go around snooping behind your back and I won’t. You can tell me about it when you want to. When you trust me enough to tell me yourself. I will wait until then.” His voice was soft and his words were too sincere that a very small part of her wanted to just spill everything to him. But she knew better than that.
She felt suffocated. She wanted to get out. Her head was completely muddled up that she could not think straight. She quickly stood up and turned to leave but a hand clamped around her wrist and pulled her back.
“Let go”, she hissed, gritting her teeth. She tried to pull her hand away but his grip was strong.
“Listen to me for a second. Please.” She did not turn to him but stopped resisting and he took that as a sign to continue.
“I really did not mean to upset you, I swear. And I am not trying to hold this over your head or something. I just want to help. I just want to be your friend. Nothing else.” He knew he was too direct with his approach but he did not have any choice at the moment. She would not have listened if he kept beating around the bush. He released her hand and held his breath, waiting for her answer.
He had meant every word that left his mouth. Every single one of them. And if there was any way to make her believe him, he would do that. After all, he knew what it felt like to be in her shoes. With no one to talk to. He wanted to be to her what he had wanted in his life through the hardest times of his life. A friend who would understand.
But he could help the dejected sigh that left his lips as he watched her walk away, her stance tensed and rigid as if she wanted to punch someone, giving him no answer. Sadly for him, the direct approach did not work.
But that did not mean he was going to give up on her.
What do you think is going to happen next?
Question for the chapter: What is the one thing that you could not live without?
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