When Asher awoke several hours later, it was to the warmth of the bright afternoon sunshine pouring in through the windows of Lily and Reece’s living room. It seemed that, as promised, Lily had not woken him before leaving for work.
What time is it? Asher wondered, his mind still a little foggy. He retrieved his cellphone from his pocket to check, but found that it had run out of battery sometime during his slumber. Shit, I knew I should’ve charged it on my way home this morning.
A look at the clock on the microwave told him that it was nearly one o’clock. He’d slept for almost eight hours. Damn, he thought to himself. Guess I really needed it… On the bright side, at least it meant that the guy his sister had brought home with her the night before would be long gone now.
Not wanting to linger for too much longer in his friends’ empty house, Asher made sure he had his phone and car keys, double-checked that the door was securely locked behind him, and began heading back home.
The twenty minute drive went by strangely quickly — even in the silence as he allowed his phone to charge, Asher had enough thoughts swirling around in his head at the moment to keep him occupied.
When he finally made his way through the front door, Asher was surprised to find Penny pacing back and forth in the living room, her cellphone pressed to her ear. She was still in her pajamas, and hadn’t even put any makeup on yet (which, for his sister, was extremely odd).
She let out a small gasp at the sight of him. “Thank fuck, there he is! I’ll call you back.” Penny hung up the phone and threw it down on the couch.
And then, to Asher’s absolute shock, she ran across the room and pulled him into a tight hug.
“Where the hell were you?!” She cried in his ear. “And why weren’t you answering your phone?!”
He was still too shocked and confused to respond right away, so he remained silent as she finally pulled away from him.
“You’re gonna wanna call Mom and Dad… Lainey too. I kinda got them all worrying.” Penny confessed. “We thought something terrible happened!” Her tone suddenly shifted from relief to scolding.
Asher glanced down now at the screen of his phone, which he was finally able to turn on. He was met with literally dozens of calls and text messages from his parents, both sisters, and even the hospital.
“Wait… what?” At last, he found his voice. He walked over and plopped himself down on the couch, his mind still trying to comprehend what was going on. “What are you freaking out about?”
“You never came home last night!” Penny shouted, still on her feet. “I woke up and your car wasn’t here and that’s never happened before!” She explained, her voice slightly panicked. “I thought maybe you went to get coffee or breakfast or something, but then you still never came back. And when you ignored all my texts and your phone went straight to voicemail, I freaked. I even called the hospital, and they said you left at 3:30… Then I tried Mom and Dad, and Lainey, and none of them had heard from you either… Where were you?!”
Somehow, in the course of her panicked rant, she had transitioned from concern to flat-out anger. She dropped herself on the couch beside him with a huff.
Asher was speechless. Part of him was extremely annoyed at her overreaction to his absence. And another part was… weirdly touched. Did Penny actually give a shit about him after all?
“Oh, uh… sorry. I didn’t think you’d even notice. Or that I’d be gone this long.” He admitted. “But I’m not sure why you worried so much… Obviously I came home at some point. I mean, I literally left clothes on the floor.” He gestured over his shoulder toward his discarded shirt and tie from early that morning.
“You always leave your clothes around, how was I supposed to know?!” Penny snapped. “And it doesn’t change the fact that you were missing! For hours!”
“I wasn’t ‘missing’!” Asher cried, finally allowing his own frustration to get the better of him. “I was at Lily’s house trying to get some sleep.”
His sister blinked at him. “What?”
“For someone who apparently obsesses about what time I get home from work, you sure as hell didn’t seem to care this morning.” The anger he’d been feeling upon his initial arrival had suddenly hit him again at full force.
“Didn’t notice what time it was when you were up there messing around with that guy you brought home, huh?”
His sister’s eyes went wide. “Oh shit. You… You heard that?”
Asher’s cheeks grew warm with a mixture of embarrassment and anger. “Sounds like you had a good time, at least.”
“Look, I’m sorry, okay?! I didn’t realize!” Penny looked positively mortified. “If it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty damn horrified about this too, so…”
Her brother let out a heavy sigh. “It’s not about how fucked up it was! I had to sleep on my best friend’s couch because of you!”
“You didn’t ‘have’ to!” Penny shot back. “You chose to leave, you can’t blame that on me!”
“How many times have I told you to cut this shit out?!” Asher refused to back down. “I don’t care what you do or who you sleep with, but Penny, this is my house! You can’t keep bringing total strangers here without telling me, and then act like it’s no big deal!”
As predicted, Penny looked positively scandalized. “Okay, first off, yeah, it’s your house, but I live here too, you know.”
“Are you fucking kidding me? You were supposed to be gone months ago! Don’t talk like you’re my roommate or some shit. You don’t even pay rent!”
Penny ignored him. “And second, this one’s different, okay?! He’s not a ‘stranger’. His name’s Keith and he’s…” Her voice trailed off for a moment, and Asher could practically see the hearts in her eyes. “Special.”
He raised an eyebrow at her, genuinely curious in spite of himself. “Special?”
Penny’s anger seemed to fade away as she turned into a pile of mush right before his eyes. “He’s the sweetest guy ever. Absolutely gorgeous too. He’s always making me laugh. And he’s really, um… I think you can probably tell from last night…” She muttered awkwardly, clearly letting herself get more carried away than she’d anticipated. “And guess what? His uncle’s a casting director at Plumbob Studios! He promised he’d introduce me. How cool is that?”
Ah… There it is. Asher had been waiting for something like that. He shook his head slowly. “Penny, come on.” He said seriously. “You’re better than that.”
His sister’s eyes narrowed. “Better than what?”
“Just… you’re really pretty and you work hard and you’re a decent actress.” Asher muttered awkwardly. It was so odd to praise his annoying little sister like this. “You have a lot to offer, y’know? So… so you don’t have to, uh…”
Clearly Penny could tell what he was getting at. She silenced him with a scathing look, and he gave up trying before he got any further. After all the arguments they’d had about her last boyfriend (whose ‘cousin’ was a ‘production assistant’), he knew he’d be fighting a losing battle. If she wanted to keep letting herself get lied to and manipulated by these jerks, that was her own problem, wasn’t it?
Asher decided to change gears. “Look, like I said, you can date who you want, you can have sex with who you want, just… it can’t keep happening like this.” He explained calmly. “Can we please set some ground rules here? And stick to them?”
Penny rolled her eyes at his words. “Rules? Asher, I’m not twelve.”
His irritation flared up again in an instant. “Yeah, well, you’re acting like it.”
With a shake of her head, Penny rose from the couch. “Whatever. I’m getting ready for work. We can fight about this more later, if that’s what you want…” She muttered. “Anyway, glad you’re not dead.”
Before Asher even had a chance to respond, she had disappeared up the stairs.
There was just no winning with her, was there?
Asher was still in a bad mood when he arrived at the hospital for his shift that evening.
And his sour mood was simply compounded when he realized his lab coat wasn’t in the doctors lounge where he usually left it. It was a minor annoyance, sure, but it was enough to get him swearing under his breath as he made his way down the bright corridor, eyes searching every spare surface and chair back he could find.
“Uh oh.” Kennedy said nervously as he passed her, still muttering to himself. “I didn’t think Gwen was working today…”
“Huh? What?” Asher stopped in his tracks, confused. “Oh, hey Kennedy.” He forced a smile at the red-haired nurse beside him.
“Hey.” She smiled back tentatively. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah… Just trying to find my stupid lab coat…” He explained. “What was that you said about Gwen?”
“Oh!” She laughed softly. “I just saw the look on your face and assumed you had a bad run-in with Dr. ‘Devilson’.”
This time, his smile was genuine. “You know you’re gonna call her that to her face someday and regret it, right?” Still, Asher couldn’t blame her. Dr. Gwen Danielson was an absolutely brilliant physician… And a downright piece of work too.
Kennedy shrugged. “I’ll take my chances… Oh! And I think Kailey said she found your coat by the nurses station this morning. And something about you being missing after your shift last night?” She added, clearly amused. “I think she’s been watching too many of those crime documentaries again… Anyway, I’m headed over there right now, actually. I can check for your coat if you want?”
Asher smiled gratefully, trying to ignore the reference to Penny’s manhunt from that morning. “Thanks, but I’ll come with you.”
Sure enough, Asher found his familiar white coat draped over the back of a chair behind the desk. It was such a simple thing, but it lifted his spirits a bit to have found what he was missing. As he was finishing buttoning up, a deep and friendly voice called out to him.
“Aha! I thought I saw you on the schedule tonight!”
Asher turned around, smiling. “Yup… Lucky you!” The other man laughed heartily in response. “What brings you out here?” Asher continued curiously. It was unusual to see Darryll out and about, rather than checking in on patients or rushing off to the OR.
“Flirting with the nurses again?” Kennedy teased.
Darryll smiled. “Nah, don’t wanna get you ladies’ hopes up. That’d just be cruel… And uh, the Mrs. might not be too thrilled either.”
“Pfft!” The young nurse snorted in laughter then, and Asher couldn’t help but join in.
Though he didn’t get to talk to Darryll quite as much as some of his other coworkers, Asher really liked him. He was always so friendly and fun… Maybe even a little too fun, sometimes. But when you were a trauma surgeon, Asher supposed you needed to try and keep things light.
“Nah, actually I just finished an emergency appendectomy… Poor kid. She was a trooper though. Just went out to the waiting room to talk to her family.” Darryll explained, his tone slightly more serious now. “Saw you getting ready for your shift and figured I’d say hi before we both get sucked back into the madness!”
“Oh shit, speaking of which…” Asher reached into his pocket to pull out his phone and check the time, hoping the search for his lab coat hadn’t cut it too close to the start of his shift.
But rather than notice the time, Asher looked down and was met with a text from Matt, wishing him a good shift and inviting him out for drinks the next night.
The sight filled him with a weird sense of anxiety. Matt was so sweet, but all he could think about was his conversation with Lily early that morning… Was he really seeing Matt for any reason other than convenience? How much longer before he’d finally feel that ‘spark’? What if he never did? Wasn’t he supposed to have felt it by now?
“There’s another one!” Kennedy muttered, pulling Asher back to the present. “A ‘Gwen’ look!” She turned toward Darryll. “That’s totally an ‘Oh shit, there’s Gwen’ look, right?”
Asher looked up from his phone, stuffing it back into his pocket. “Ha-ha. Cute.”
“Seriously though, are you sure you’re okay?” Kennedy asked yet again.
“Yeah… Yeah it’s just, uh…” He hesitated. Over the past eight months he’d spent working at the hospital, he’d grown rather fond of some of his coworkers, Kennedy and Darryll chief among them. Should he finally open up to them a little bit about his personal life? “My sister’s been living with me for a couple months and she’s been driving me pretty crazy, so I’m in kind of a weird mood today.” He admitted. “And then, uh… And then, I just got this text from this guy I’ve been seeing…”
Kennedy’s eyes went wide. “If that’s the face you’re making when he texts you, it’s probably time to pull the plug.”
“Not necessarily!” Darryll interjected. “My wife and I have been together almost sixteen years and I still make that face when she texts me.”
Asher couldn’t help but chuckle. “Alright, much as I’m appreciating this relationship advice… I’ve gotta go find Dr. Conway for my shift report.”
“Yeah, I should get going too… Nice talking to you though! See you later.” Darryll gave each of them a small salute before disappearing down the hallway.
Kennedy turned to Asher then. “I think Dr. Conway’s finishing up in 4B, if you’re looking for him… He’s been trying to reason with some lady who’s convinced a stuffy nose and a temp of 99 means her toddler’s got the plague.” She rolled her eyes.
Asher let out a heavy sigh. “Great… This is gonna be one of those nights, isn’t it?”
The nurse laughed. “Maybe… But, to be fair, isn’t every night ‘one of those nights’ around here?”
He smiled. “Touché. Sorry. It’s been a rough day already, so I’m just a little… Y’know.”
“I do.” She assured him kindly. “Well, I guess I’ll let you go talk to Dr. Conway. Good luck, Asher.”
“With what?” Somehow he got the sense that she wasn’t just talking about his shift.
Kennedy shrugged. “Everything.”
“Thanks.” Asher turned away then, making his way down the corridor toward room 4B and muttering to himself. “Cause I have a feeling I’m gonna need it.”