Asher sat in his car in silence for a minute or two before finally turning off the engine and stepping outside into the bright sunlight. He was exhausted — nearly four hours of testing would be brutal on anyone, let alone someone as stressed and anxious as he was. But he’d done it — after months and months of studying, he’d finally taken his SATs. And, with any luck, he’d score high enough to not have to take them again.
It had been much easier than he’d expected to put aside all his anxiety about Landon and Ollie that morning so that he could focus on his test, and Asher was fairly confident that he’d done well… But he wouldn’t know for sure for another two weeks.
Asher was so lost in his thoughts about that morning’s test that he nearly made it to the door before registering the presence of another car in the driveway. It was a Saturday, but with a new album in the works for Xander and a slew of project offers cropping up for Emberlynn following her Oscar win, both of his parents were in meetings until late that evening. Neither of his sisters were old enough to drive yet… So the driveway should have been empty when he pulled in.
Asher stopped dead in his tracks when it finally hit him that it wasn’t empty. His eyes flicked back toward the bright blue sports car that was parked alongside his.
He and Penny had been broken up for well over a month now. What the hell could he be doing there?!
Both Asher’s heart and mind were racing as he stepped through the front door. He found the front entryway completely deserted, save Calvin and Klein, who were playing together near the foot of the stairs. He took a few curious steps forward, his eyes still taking in his surroundings, when a soft whisper reached his ears.
“Hey, Asher.” Elaina had emerged from the kitchen, a glass of milk in her hand. She still had a few cookie crumbs at the corner of her lips as she spoke. “Hope your test went okay!” The little girl seemed to be putting as much enthusiasm as she could muster into the whispered words.
“Why are you whispering?” He asked in amusement, using his normal speaking voice.
His littlest sister shushed him. “I don’t wanna draw tension to myself! They’re gonna get mad if they know I can hear ‘em.”
“Draw attention.” Asher corrected her impulsively. “And… Do you mean Penny and Ollie?” He asked. Who else could she possibly be talking about?
Lainey nodded. “Can’t you hear it? They’ve been up there fighting for forever.”
She went silent for a few moments then. And, now that he focused his attention on the upper floor of the house, the sound of muffled voices carried down the stairs. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to make out a word they were saying. Asher thought he caught Penny say she “knows how it feels” and Ollie replying that it’s “not the same”, then something about “getting away with it”… But beyond that, nothing.
Though a small part of him was grateful at not hearing the rest, a much larger part of him was disappointed. What the hell could they be talking about? He needed to know.
“I really wanted to practice for the concert today.” Lainey’s whispered voice continued sadly, the sound calling Asher’s attention back. “So I hope Ollie goes home soon.”
“Yeah…” Her older brother didn’t even bother trying to hide just how distracted he was as he replied.
Thankfully, Elaina seemed to neither notice nor care. “Anyway, I’m gonna go play outside… Later, Ash.”
With a small smile, the little girl disappeared back into the kitchen, gulping down more milk as she went. After a moment or two, the sound of the empty glass clinking down on the table and the sliding of the heavy back door reached Asher’s ears.
He was all alone now. Even Calvin and Klein had wandered off already. There was nothing to distract him from that terribly tempting sound that continued carrying down the stairs from behind his sister’s bedroom door.
Asher hesitated for just a moment or two longer before finally making up his mind. A combination of insatiable curiosity and a refusal to be kept from his own bedroom won out over everything else. Everything in his life had gone to shit lately, and the last thing he needed was yet another thing to worry and wonder about. With a slow, deep breath, he began making his way up the stairs.
The further he went, the clearer Penny and Ollie’s words became. Asher’s ears had to strain less and less with each step that he took.
“Seriously, what the hell do you think’s gonna happen?!” Penny was demanding. “It’s too late! You can’t change anything! All you’re gonna do is make him even more upset. Is that really what you want?!”
Oliver’s reply was too quiet for Asher to make out, even from the top of the stairs. But whatever he said, Penny clearly wasn’t buying it.
“Yeah, sure. You know I care so much about that.” She replied sarcastically.
“He should know.” Ollie’s voice was firm. “I can’t keep something like this from him!”
Penny’s voice still dripped with sarcasm. “Right. Because you’ve been SO honest with him before… You know what? Fine. Go ahead. Tell him. Make him feel worse. I dare you.”
“I will!” Ollie shot back defensively, throwing open the bedroom door and coming face-to-face with Asher.
“Oh, uh… Hey, Ollie.” Asher muttered uncomfortably. Was there any point in pretending he hadn’t been listening in? He was too distracted trying to figure out what the hell they’d been talking about to bother with feigning innocence. They had to be talking about ME… What the hell?!
His best friend looked positively mortified. “Asher… How’d the SATs go?” Oliver’s attempt at masking his shock and humiliation failed completely.
“Better than I thought.” Asher shrugged. “Listen, can we, uh… Can we talk for a minute?” If Ollie really had something to tell him, they might as well get it over with.
Asher’s heart was pounding just as violently as it had earlier as he led the way into his bedroom. Had Ollie driven all the way to his house just to talk to Penny? About him? About telling him something important? What could it be?
They sat beside each other on the edge of Asher’s bed, saying nothing for a moment or two. Asher still struggled to figure out where to begin… But luckily, he didn’t have to.
“Asher, I’m sorry.” Ollie broke the silence at last. “I, uh, don’t know how much you heard, but…”
“Not a lot.” He confessed. “Which honestly makes this even more confusing…” As the words passed his lips, Asher felt himself growing strangely emotional. “But look, my life is falling apart bad enough without my best friend keeping even more secrets from me… Haven’t you done enough of that already?”
Asher watched in confusion as a look of annoyance flashed across Oliver’s face. He opened his mouth, and it almost seemed as though he was about to say something harsh or angry, but the moment was fleeting. The words that came out were calm and controlled.
“Gotta be real, Ash — it’s kinda hard to have an honest conversation with someone who refuses to talk to you.”
Asher felt the warmth of his shame slowly rising into his cheeks, but he remained silent. How could he even begin to explain all the complicated emotions that had been plaguing him? How could he make Ollie understand why it was so hard to look him in the eye anymore?
“You’re right.” His voice shook slightly. “I’ve been a shitty friend. For a while.” Asher confessed. “But especially now. And I’m sorry. I… I just… It’s hard. Really hard.” His throat began to tighten with every word he spoke.
There was so much that he’d been holding back for so long. And now it all threatened to come bursting to the surface. He was still completely heartbroken over Landon. He was still irrationally angry at Ollie for everything that had happened. And he was still so torn and confused about the depth of his feelings for his best friend. It was all so much to take.
He opened his mouth, wanting to say more, but it was too late. The tears had already begun to fall.
It was strangely cathartic to finally let it out… But incredibly embarrassing too. Asher tried hard to collect himself once more, but it was useless. Once he’d started, he simply could not stop.
He felt a strong warmth surround him then as Oliver pulled Asher’s body close to his. “It’s okay.” Ollie whispered. “It’s hard for me too.”
The way Oliver was holding him felt so warm and intimate. For a moment, Asher thought back to that afternoon in Ollie’s bedroom, when his best friend had wept over his father’s upcoming wedding. He’d felt it back then too, hadn’t he?
It was strange to think that the last embrace they’d shared had been only four months ago. It almost felt like a different lifetime to him now. So much had changed since then…
Part of him really wanted nothing more than to be able to go back in time to that moment in Ollie’s bedroom — back when Landon was still just his friend, and hadn’t had the chance to break his heart yet. Back before Ollie had started dating Penny behind his back. Before his feelings for Ollie had risen up and ruined everything.
“Goddamn it…” Oliver muttered to himself, his voice calling Asher back to the present. “She was right.”
“Huh?” Asher pulled away from his friend, eyeing him curiously. “Right about what?”
Ollie winced, clearly unaware that he’d spoken his previous words aloud. He shook his head slowly before finally speaking. “Nothing. Just… Look, I’m sorry too. About everything. I haven’t always been a great friend either.”
Asher tried to smile and wiped away a few of his tears. “Guess that makes us even then.”
Oliver’s expression remained somber. “I just hate seeing you like this… And I’m sorry about what happened with Landon. I really am.” He paused, his expression difficult to read. “I know things are still… weird. With us.” A hint of pink came to his cheeks. “But I’m always gonna be here for you, no matter what… If you’ll let me.”
The way Ollie was looking at him made Asher’s heart melt. Only one other person had ever looked at him that way before. There was so much unspoken in that one simple glance, but Asher felt almost certain he could understand what it meant… And he suddenly had a feeling he knew the mysterious ‘secret’ Ollie had been keeping from him.
But was it really that much of a secret? Hadn’t it been right in front of him all along?
A loud, shrill series of beeps suddenly filled the air, causing both boys to jump. It was only then that Asher realized how close the two of them had been to one another. He felt almost as though he’d been awoken from a sort of trance (or rather, he thought, to keep with the ‘Hollywood’ theme his life had taken on lately, as though the director had shouted ‘cut!).
Ollie took his phone from his pocket, his brow furrowing slightly as he read the words on the screen. “Shit… I’ve gotta go.” He mumbled, hastily typing a reply. “It’s Mom.”
Oliver nodded. “Yeah, I just promised I’d be home a while ago.” He explained. “She’s taking me out to one of those stupid fancy restaurants tonight so she can share some ‘big news’ with me… Which just means she got another stupid movie role. You’d think by now she’d stop making such a huge deal out of it!” A soft chuckle passed his lips.
Asher simply shrugged. “Parents get excited about the stupidest shit, don’t they? Anyway, I won’t keep you or anything. But, uh… Maybe… Maybe we can talk more later?” He suggested. It still felt like there was so much left to say.
“Sure.” Oliver rose to his feet with a smile. “So… does this mean we’re officially talking again?” He asked hopefully.
“Yeah… I’m done being an asshole. Promise.”
“Good.” Ollie’s smile widened. “Things are gonna get better, Ash. I promise. But until they do… you’ve got me and Lily to help you through it. Okay?”
He nodded. “Okay.”
Asher watched as Ollie headed for the door and closed it behind him with a soft click. After a few moments, the sound of his friend’s heavy footfalls faded away until Asher was left alone in the silence, with nothing but his thoughts to keep him company.