‘Pain changes people. It makes them trust less, overthink more and shut people out.’
Ten minutes later, Asher pulled over in his driveway and looked at Astrid sleeping peacefully, her bangs messed up. He did not want to wake her up but he knew if he touched her in her sleep, she would break his fingers without any mercy. That was one of the things that he had leant from her that day. After seeing her put down grown-up men twice her size, he knew better than to get on her bad side.
He gently shook her to wake her up. She snapped her eyes open, her gaze resting on him.
“We are here.”
She looked at her watch and back at him.
“Right.” They both got out of the car and she swung her bag over her shoulder looking at the house. Built with glass and wood, the house looked like the one which rich people build when they get too paranoid with all the money that they have.
“Rich kid,” she scoffed at him to which he rolled his eyes.
“Whatever.” That was all he said before walking to the door, opening it with the key that he took out from his pocket.
“Ash, is that you?” A feminine voice called out from inside, after obviously hearing the door open.
“Yes, mom.” He shouted back before lowering his voice and warning her. “That is my mom. I apologise beforehand but she is a little crazy.”
She just nodded her head as she looked around taking her surroundings in. The walls were adorned with photographs of kids, obviously raised with love. She felt her lips stretching into a small smile as she noticed a young Asher, probably around seven or eight, grinning at the camera with cake all over his face.
Asher noticed her looking and smirked. Before he could say anything, she replied.
“You were an ugly kid,” she deadpanned as Asher scowled at her.
A soft laugh made her snap her eyes away from him. A petite woman with dirty blond hair pulled back into a braid stood there, laughing at their exchange. Looked like Asher got his piercing bottle-green eyes from his mother.
“What is your name dear?” she asked Astrid before her eyes widened in horror as she took in the girl’s blood-covered neck and arms. “What happened?” She rushed towards her and pulled her inside the living room making her sit on the couch. Asher took a seat beside her as his mother rushed inside the kitchen to get the first aid kit. She gave Asher a look as his mother rushed to her with a first aid box.
She looked at her hoodie-clad arm and shook her head.
“That won’t do. Asher, get one of your shirts.” Astrid’s eyes widened slightly as she caught on to what she was implying but a stern look from the adult made her quiet. “Quick.”
Asher shot off the couch as if someone had set his pants on fire and Astrid sniggered at the thought. She might as well do that one day.
He arrived in a few seconds, with a white shirt in his hands which he handed over to his mother. She shoved the shirt into Astrid’s hands before giving her directions to the nearest bathroom with strict instructions to change. Astrid, begrudgingly, obeyed.
She found the bathroom, stripped out of her hoodie and assessed her arms. The cuts on her arms were about three inches long and were a little too deep. No wonder they bled so much. The one on her neck was smaller, which she was thankful for. She pulled on the shirt, happy that she had worn a black tank top underneath her hoodie.
She grabbed her hoodie and walked out to the living room. His mother immediately grabbed her, making her sit on the couch and checked her wounds.
“Asher, get a bowl of water and a cloth. Fast.” She turned towards her. “What happened?”
“Well, it is a long story.” Astrid turned to Asher for help, who came, balancing a bowl of water in his hands with a piece of white cotton cloth thrown over his shoulder. “Anyways, thank you um..?” she trailed off, not knowing how the address the kind woman.
“Call me Kate.” She smiled at the girl softly.
Kate dipped the cloth in the bowl and wrung out the water before gently cleaning up the dried blood on Astrid’s neck and arms. Asher quickly filled in his mother with the details of what had happened and by the time he was done. Kate’s eyes were widened comically when she heard how the tiny girl had beaten up five grown-up men.
“Did you report it to the police? Trash like them must be put behind the bars.” Kate gritted out, anger flashing in her green orbs.
Astrid kept quiet as Asher told his mother to calm down. “Are you staying the night?” she asked her.
“No, um, I really should be heading home.” Astrid stuttered. Asher raised his eyebrow at that.
“You told your mom that you will be staying at a friend’s house tonight. Who is that friend?”
Before Astrid could open her mouth and tell him off, his mother said, “Nonsense, you are staying here tonight. You are not going to take a step outside this house, do you understand young lady?“. The look in her eyes made Astrid hesitantly nod her head. Her wounds were all cleaned and bandaged up now.
Asher seemed happy at the fact that she was staying here. And too bad, things like these never escaped Kate’s notice. She simply smiled at his son’s face.
“Come on. I will show you to the guest room.” Asher got up from his place and gently grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet.
“I will whip you up something. I am pretty sure you both are starving.”
Astrid was about to decline when Asher said,” We will be in my room.”
Astrid rolled her eyes at that and when Kate got out of their sight, she leaned forward and smacked the poor unexpecting guy’s head hard.
“OW! What was that for?” He scowled at her, rubbing his head.
She simply shrugged. “I just felt like it.” She started walking but stopped when she noticed him standing rooted at this spot and staring at her with a strange look on his face.
“Whatever it is that is running inside that head of yours, I suggest you snap out of it.” She suddenly let out an evil grin. ” Or I can help,” she said reaching to hit him again but this time he effectively moved away.
“Don’t you dare.” But he could not help the small smile that tugged at the corner of his lips.
After munching on the delicious pasta that Kate had brought them, both of them bid each other good night in a civilised manner and retired to bed. Her room was right across his. Clad in the shirt and sweatpants that she had borrowed from Asher, she snuggled under the covers hoping to have at least a few hours of sleep before her nightmare showed up as she realised that she did not have her sleeping pills with her. Even though they stopped working, it at least gave her some sense of relief.
She tossed and turned for what it seemed like hours. She tried everything, from humming to herself to counting sheep, she just was not able to sleep. Sighing in irritation, she got up and walked over to the window. The sky was littered with stars and the leaves of the trees around the house were rustling in the gentle breeze. She opened the window and noticed a pipe within hand reach. Looking up she checked if it would be safe for what she was about to do.
Quickly making up her mind, she grabbed the pipe and hauled herself out of the window. She steadied her grip before climbing to the rooftop. She found a comfortable spot and lied down with her hands folded behind her head.
A peaceful half an hour passed when she heard a voice call out to her.
“What are you doing? How did you get up there?”
Astrid rolled her eyes for what that seemed like the millionth time that day. She leant down and found Asher looking at her with wide eyes.
“What are you, Spiderman? How the hell did you get up there?”
He looked at her for a moment and disappeared for a second. Astrid thought he left and was about to lie back down when she heard him again. She watched as he reached to grab the pipe to haul himself up and then she spoke up.
“Don’t put your entire weight on the pipe. It will give away. Stretch your arms as far as you can and grab the pipe. Push your legs from the window sill to get enough momentum.”
He carefully followed her instructions and successfully hauled himself up. Astrid noticed that he had gone to put on a hoodie in the brief second when he left. “You really are something,” he muttered under his breath as he slowly trotted near her and sat down.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked her, after a moment.
She just hummed in response and after a brief second asked him.
“Why are you here?”
“I couldn’t sleep and I was bored so I just came to ask you if you wanted to watch a movie or something. Sorry for coming in without asking though. I would have left if you were asleep. But you were not in the room and the window was open. I thought you jumped off or something.” He let out a small chuckle before continuing. “And then I looked around and saw you here. And you know the rest.”
“The sky is beautiful, isn’t it?” she asked him softly.
He reached inside the pocket of his hoodie and pulled out two lollipops. Astrid raised her eyebrow at that.
“Aren’t you a bit too old for lollies?”
“There is no age limit for loving candies, alright?” he huffed and handed one to her. She quickly peeled the wrapper off and popped it into her mouth. She looked at him to find him holding his candy to her.
“Just hold it for a second. No eating.” She took it in her hand, confused as he took off his hoodie and threw it on her face where she was lying down. Underneath, he was wearing a thick full-sleeved shirt which obviously kept him warm.
“It is cold, you know.”
She just gave him a look but she quietly pulled it on without complaining. She was enjoying the peace.
Both of them quietly ate their candies and laid there, not speaking a word. A comfortable silence wrapped around them as they both just laid there in peace, staring at the stars, not knowing what the future was holding for them.
At that moment, they just did not have a care in the world. They were just teenagers, stargazing in content, in each other’s warmth.