Note: Real quick before we dive-in, I have a bit of good news! I’ve managed to get a chapter ahead, which means for the time-being, we are back to a once-a-week update schedule (Wednesdays). I can’t promise how long it will last. Could be just the next few weeks, could be longer… But either way, I’m gonna keep you all updated if things change (let’s hope they don’t though!). And, if a miracle occurs and I can somehow swing TWO a week again, you all will be the first to know, I promise 😛
And now, without any further ado… Welcome to the Adult Arc! 🙂
Asher’s lips stretched wide into a yawn as he groggily made his way up the short walkway toward his front door.
Despite his exhaustion, he’d been aware enough of his surroundings to take note of the unfamiliar vehicle parked on the street outside. The sight was unsurprising, but that didn’t make it any less annoying. No matter how many times he told her otherwise, every couple weeks or so, Penny would bring a complete stranger to spend the night at his home.
Asher was certainly in no place to judge his sister for what she was doing (though he made it a point not to dwell on the specifics too much), but would it kill her to go back to the guy’s place every once in a while?! Especially when this wasn’t even her house?!
This is what I get for feeling sorry for her… The next time she needs a place to stay, she can go back to Mom and Dad, he thought bitterly, though part of him knew it was an empty threat. Much as he couldn’t stand her growing up, his and Penny’s relationship had actually been getting a lot better over the past several years… until the past few months, anyway.
Now that they were living together, so much of that old bitterness and resentment they’d once harbored for each other had begun bubbling up to the surface once more. What else could he have done though? Penny was his little sister. He’d had no choice but to help her out. Ugh.
Fortunately, as usual, she’d chosen to bring her date home on a night when Asher had been working late at the hospital. He would be asleep by the time the stranger left, and he’d have a few hours of decent sleep in him before getting into the inevitable screaming match with his sister.
Asher hung his car keys on the hook by the door, flipped a nearby light switch, then immediately removed his tie and button-up shirt, eager to be rid of them and change into more comfortable clothes. He left them thrown on the floor to be dealt with later. Right now, what he needed was sleep.
It wasn’t until he’d made his way toward the bottom of the stairs that he heard it, and Asher stopped dead in his tracks at the sound. The soft squeak of a mattress; the rhythmic pounding of a headboard against a wall; and, worst of all, sounds no one should ever hear their sister making in their life.
Are you fucking kidding me?! It’s four am! Torn between disgust, embarrassment, and rage, Asher stood there for a few moments longer, weighing his options and trying to block out the persistent sounds carrying down from the guest bedroom.
He could burst in and confront Penny, but that would mean not only hearing his sister, but seeing her in a way he never wanted to imagine. It would only make things worse. Even knocking or shouting through the door would just escalate things, and that evening’s shift had left him much too exhausted to deal with that right now.
He could simply wait it out — put on some headphones, try to ignore it, and hope they finish up soon… But how could he know whether this would be their last round or not? If they were still going at it at four o’clock in the morning, who the hell knew?!
The third option was to simply leave. As ridiculous as it felt to be essentially kicked out of his own house, it seemed like the easiest option at the moment — get away, get some sleep, deal with it later. But where could he even go? Check into a hotel for a few hours? Sleep in his car?
Before he’d even completely made up his mind, Asher was already making his way toward the door. He was tired, he was frustrated, and at that point, he just wanted to get away.
As he grabbed his car keys and stepped back out into the cool early-morning air, another option crossed his mind — somewhere else he could go for a few hours before he came back home and confronted Penny. There was only one other person Asher knew who would be awake at this hour.
He pulled out his phone and sent a desperate text, hoping to hear a response.
And luckily, within just a minute or two, he got one.
Asher was comfortable enough to just let himself in when he arrived at his friends’ house — they had been expecting him, after all.
Reece and Lily were both sitting at the kitchen table, drinking their morning coffee. Lily was still in her pajamas, but her husband looked ready to walk out the door already.
At the sight of her friend, Lily rose to her feet to go give him a hug. “Oh my God, you poor thing! Come sit down.”
Asher smiled gratefully as she pulled away from him, and he followed her back to the table. “Thank you. Seriously. I’m so sorry to show up like this, but, uh… Well… I explained it to Lil already.”
Reece let out a low chuckle. “Yeah, she filled me in… Jeez. Y’know, this whole thing would be pretty funny if it weren’t so…”
“Horrifying? Disturbing?” Asher forced a tired smile. “Or humiliating?”
He laughed again. “All of the above, I guess.” Reece paused before continuing. “Hey, do you want some coffee?”
Before Asher had a chance to reply, Lily cut-in. “Baby, he just worked an eight hour night shift at the emergency room… He needs sleep, not caffeine!”
“Okay, fair… Well, help yourself to anything in the liquor cabinet, then!”
Asher laughed. Reece was always so warm and generous, even if he could be a little awkward sometimes (though Asher knew he was guilty of that too).
“I’ll probably pass… But thank you.”
“Well, if you’re sure…” Reece gave a shrug before quickly downing the rest of his coffee. “Sorry not to stick around, but I’ve gotta run.”
“This early?” It was barely five am, and though he knew Lily and Reece were both ‘morning people’, he wasn’t expecting either of them to have to work quite this early.
Lily answered for him with a smile. “Huge conference call with some client in… Switzerland, right?” Her husband nodded in confirmation. “He’s been talking about it all week!”
“Well, if we make this deal, it’ll be huge! Too bad timezones are such a pain in the ass…” Reece rose to his feet. “Anyway, speaking of pains in the ass, sorry about your sister… You’re always welcome any time you’ve gotta escape!” He smiled at Asher for a moment before turning to his wife. “See you tonight. Love you.”
Lily got up to give him a kiss on the cheek. “Love you too… Go kick some ass!”
“Will do!” With one last little wave toward Asher, he headed toward the front door, grabbed his car keys, and disappeared out into the darkness.
As soon as her husband was gone, Lily sat back down at the table and gave Asher a strange, almost searching look before letting out a heavy sigh.
“What?!” He asked defensively.
“Oh Asher, that jerk dumped me and kicked me out and I have nowhere to go!” Though slightly exaggerated, Lily’s impression of Penny’s high-pitched whine was pretty good. “I can’t go back to Mom and Dad, it’s too humiliating! Can’t I stay with you? Just for a few weeks?”
Asher rolled his eyes. “Alright, Lil. I get it.”
“Of course, by ‘a few weeks’, I really mean ‘three months’.”
“Actually… it’s almost four.” He admitted softly.
Lily ignored him. “Sure, Penny!” Her Asher impression was much less convincing. “I haven’t even owned this house for a year yet, but you know what? I’d LOVE an obnoxious roommate who lives here rent-free and brings random dudes home all the time!”
“I said I get it!” Asher snapped. “Fuck me for trying to be a good brother, right?”
“Sorry… Maybe that was a little harsh.” Lily admitted. “But you’ve gotta start putting your foot down with her! At least make her help pay the mortgage!”
Asher eyed her skeptically. “Penny’s a frigging part time barista. She makes minimum wage, and I’m making…” He hesitated. It felt awkward to bring up his salary. Asher knew he made more money than Lily did, despite only being out of his residency for one year. “A hell of a lot more than that.”
“Yeah, I get it, but it’s the principle of the thing!” Lily shook her head. “You’re too nice, Ash.”
“I know.” He sighed, rising to his feet. His momentary anger at her was already forgotten, replaced once more by gratitude. “Hey, do you mind if I kinda zone out and watch TV for a little while? And, uh… possibly crash on your couch for a few hours?” He added guiltily.
“Duh. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?” Lily smiled warmly at him. “You can even take the spare bedroom, if you want. I’m just gonna be showering and getting dressed and stuff.” With a shrug, she followed him to the living room. “And if I’ve gotta go before you wake up, don’t worry about it. I trust you not to trash the place while we’re gone.”
Asher laughed as she sat beside him on the couch. “I appreciate the confidence. Reece did say the liquor cabinet’s fair game though… Careful. I might start breaking shit!”
“Mmm… You can’t hold your liquor like you used to though.” Lily teased. “You’d be passed out after like two drinks!”
Asher didn’t need a medical degree to know that your body gradually changed as you got older, but he’d always thought people were exaggerating when they said everything went completely to shit as soon as you hit thirty. But man… they weren’t kidding. Seven months in, and he was already feeling it.
“Look, in all seriousness… Please promise you’ll talk to Penny. And I don’t mean yell and scream at each other. I mean really talk. If she’s gonna keep staying with you, you’ve gotta set some boundaries.”
“I’m gonna try.”
“And, if all else fails… You can invite Matt over for a little revenge?” She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively as she spoke, earning a bright burst of laughter from her friend.
“We’ve been on three dates, Lil! I’m not asking him to spend the night.” Matt was a fun guy, but Asher still wasn’t sure if he wanted it to turn into anything serious… And unlike Penny, in his eyes, inviting someone to spend the night was a pretty big deal.
“Oh… I thought you’d already, uh…”
Asher laughed once more, though he felt a touch of awkwardness this time. “We’ve… done a little more than kiss.” He confessed. “But we’ll see. I like him, but I’m still not sure about it.”
In truth, he’d agreed to Lainey’s insistence that he go on a date with her bandmate out of sheer convenience. During his residency, Asher had quickly learned that it was next to impossible to meet anyone on a doctor’s schedule.
“Well, if you wanna bring him with you Saturday, you’re more than welcome to.” Lily offered. “I wanna meet him!”
“After three dates? No way!” Asher shook his head. “‘Meet the best friend’ is almost as big as ‘meet the parents’. I’m not gonna bring some random guy to your birthday party! Especially not this birthday… Turning thirty’s a big fucking deal.”
“I know… I’m officially old now… Like you.” Lily stuck out her tongue teasingly. Her actual birthday had been two days ago, though she wasn’t celebrating until the following weekend. “Oh! And I forgot to tell you who actually remembered to text me and wish me a happy birthday!”
Asher’s brow furrowed. “Christie?” He guessed. “She’s usually pretty flaky.”
Lily shook her head. “Nope! Ollie!”
Asher’s eyes widened in mock surprise. “You were a witness to the rare and elusive Ollie birthday text? And it was on time?!”
Lily grinned at him. “Like you said, thirty’s a big deal… even to Mr. Hot-Shot Lawyer, I guess.”
“True… he was on time for me last summer too.” Asher remembered.
It was a nice change from the usual ‘I’m so sorry I forgot your birthday!’ message he’d get a week or two after the fact. At least Asher was always on time with his birthday texts.
But no matter whose birthday it was, for years, it had been almost exactly the same. Their birthday wishes would inevitably lead to a back-and-forth exchange about how it’s ‘been too long’, and they ‘need to catch up some time’.
Sometimes, if they were lucky, they’d even manage to get a phone call in before one of them dropped off the radar again… usually Ollie, especially these days. Married life had certainly kept him busy, and ever since his wife had her baby two years ago, he had dropped off the face of the earth worse than ever before.
Before either of them could speak again, Asher let out a heavy yawn.
“Oh shit, I’m sitting here talking your ear off instead of letting you sleep!” Lily sprang up from the couch. “Get some rest, okay? Lemme get you some pillows and a blanket… And are you sure you don’t wanna use the guest room?”
“I’m fine on the couch.” He smiled up at her. “And honestly? I don’t even need any blankets or anything. I’m seriously good. Go get ready for work.”
“Are you sure?”
“Okay, well… Goodnight! Or, uh… morning.” Lily gave him a little smile before finally heading up the stairs, turning the light off behind her as she went.
He settled back on the couch, feeling a sense of drowsiness wash over him in the dim light. Just one more late night shift and he’d be done for the week, then next week he was back to a fairly normal schedule for a while… and he couldn’t wait.
Asher retrieved the remote and began absent-mindedly flipping through channels, looking for something to leave on in the background while he tried to get some sleep. It was so early in the morning that there wasn’t much to choose from — lots of old sitcom reruns, infomercials, and early-morning news broadcasts. He only paused his channel surfing when the sound of a familiar name reached his ears.
“Two-time Super Bowl MVP Landon Littlehale has announced a major partnership with Play with Pride, a nonprofit organization promoting inclusion for LGBTQ athletes in school sports.”
Asher smiled warmly as the anchor went on to describe the scholarship program Landon was helping to develop. It was crazy to think that one of the wealthiest and most famous athletes in the entire country had once been embarrassed at his family’s middle-class home. Things sure do change, don’t they?
“The Brindleton Bay Bobcats quarterback was recently photographed sharing an intimate dinner with Italian model Giovanni Morelli, though representatives have yet to confirm the relationship.”
With a heavy sigh, Asher turned off the TV. It had been nearly five years since he’d last heard from Landon, though it was easy to keep up with him, given he was now living in the public eye. And Asher was happy for him…
But it was hard not to feel a little jealous too. Landon was off winning Super Bowls and dating Italian models; Ollie was a husband, a father, and a lawyer at a successful firm; Lily was happily married and loving her job as a researcher for a genetics lab…
And then there was him.
His salary was amazing, most of his coworkers were pretty cool, and he loved helping people, sure. But none of that really felt like it mattered compared to the emotional stress of losing patients, the exhaustion of working night shifts, the endless struggle of looking for a relationship, the frustration of living with his little sister, and now, the humiliation of being forced to sleep on his best friend’s couch.
Asher used to think there was no such thing as happy endings…
But maybe they just existed for everyone else but him.