Sorry it’s a day late! Thank you all for your patience! 🙂
It was less than a month later that Asher found himself once more sitting in a half-empty bar, nursing a cocktail and feeling exhausted from work… But this time, at least, he was in considerably better spirits.
His littlest sister’s band was playing a set at a fairly well-known bar — certainly the biggest they’d ever played at. Of course, they’d been invited to perform on a Thursday, of all nights… But still. It was a pretty big deal for them, and he was so proud of Lainey. So as soon as he’d arrived home from his shift that night, he’d changed into something more comfortable and headed downtown. And thankfully, he had some company there to help cheer her on.
Lily leaned in toward him, clearly struggling to be heard over the cacophony that came from the speakers at the edge of the stage. “Wow… Their style sure has changed since the last time I heard them.”
Asher laughed. “Yeah, Lainey says it’s supposed to be ‘experimental’, or something? She sounded all excited about it, so I was too afraid to ask, but I’m, uh, kinda hoping they stuck with their old stuff for that album…”
He took a mental note to call his dad and ask about it. Surely after over thirty years in the industry, he’d know better than to let his own daughter record absolute horseshit… Right?
“Should’ve found an excuse to leave after the first few songs like Penny did.” He continued, smiling.
“Yeah, this is total garbage.” Reece chimed in.
Lily shot him a look at the sound of his blunt comment. “C’mon, give the kids a break. They’re having fun, at least?”
It certainly looked like they were, anyway… Except maybe for Matt. It was hard to tell with him back behind his drum kit, but he didn’t look quite as happy as his bandmates. Had Lainey warned him Asher would be there? It had been more than three weeks since he’d ended things. Surely Matt was over it by now… Right?
Asher tried his best to ignore his guilt. There was no point in dwelling on it anyway — he’d made up his mind, and he knew that he’d done the right thing.
So, instead of wallowing, Asher laughed and talked with Lily and her husband between songs and let himself unwind from his shift earlier that afternoon. Much to his displeasure, he’d been working with Dr. ‘Devilson’ herself — and what was worse, he hadn’t even had Kennedy or Darryll there to vent to this time. Fortunately Lily was more than willing to lend him her ear, as always.
“Y’know, the more I hear about this bitch, the more I’ve gotta wonder… Has anyone ever tried sticking her in an x-ray machine?” His best friend asked as she placed her empty glass on the table.
Asher stared at her in confusion. “What?”
Lily smirked. “To find that stick she’s got up her ass.”
He nearly choked on his drink. “Pfft! I fucking love you, Lil.”
“Aw, love you too.” She replied, still smiling. “I’m serious about that stick thing though.”
“I dunno…” Reece muttered thoughtfully, finishing his drink. “You really think a stick-ectomy is enough to cure being an asshole? Is it something that even can be cured?”
“Good point!” Asher laughed. “I’m good, but probably not THAT good…”
Their conversation slowly died down almost in perfect time with the band’s next song. It soon became clear that Lily and Reece were both overcome with exhaustion, and they decided to call it a night.
“Sorry… but even with us both off tomorrow, this is WAY past our bedtime.” Reece explained with a smile as he stifled back a yawn.
Beside him, Lily rose to her feet. “Tell Lainey they sounded great!”
“So… you want me to lie to her?” Asher replied teasingly.
Lily rolled her eyes. “Be nice!”
“I know, I know… I’m kidding!”
His friend shook her head, clearly amused. “Bye, Asher. See you next week?”
Asher nodded. “Of course! Later, guys.”
Both Lily and Reece each gave him a friendly little wave before gathering their coats and heading for the door.
His friends had only been gone for a few minutes before the boredom began setting in. Asher felt so alone just sitting there in the near-empty bar. There was no one to talk to, and nothing to listen to except for the band’s next song (sure to be just as terrible as the ones before it) or the dull buzz of the TV above the bar.
The sports channel was playing a repeat of some news broadcast from earlier that evening. Asher listened for a few moments as the anchor droned on about some fundraiser gala Landon was hosting to help raise money for his charity. He didn’t really pay much attention to the details.
It had been so strange at first, hearing his ex’s name so often, or seeing him on TV all the time… but after all these years, Asher was pretty immune to it. In fact, it was kind of funny to think that his first boyfriend was now one of the most famous athletes in the entire country. Back when he was in med school, he’d even tried to impress some of his classmates with that fact, but nobody ever believed him. And who would?
“Thanks so much to everybody for hanging out with us tonight.” The slightly-awkward voice of the band’s lead singer, Sabrina, suddenly filled the air. “This is our last song, and uh, the bartender says last call too, so get your drinks in while you can! And thanks again!”
Last call? Shit, is it that late already? Asher pulled out his phone to check the time. Sure enough, it was 1:30am… No wonder Lily and Reece had tapped out for the night. Meanwhile, Asher had barely even noticed, even after working until 10 o’clock that evening. God, my sleep schedule’s so fucked I might as well be a vampire.
Asher had just begun returning his phone to his pocket when he felt it vibrate right in his hand. The sensation came as such a surprise that he nearly dropped his phone. After fumbling it for a few moments, Asher looked down at the screen to see that he’d received a text message.
This late? His brow furrowed in confusion for a moment. Could it be somebody from the hospital?
He pressed his finger to the messenger icon and was surprised to find that no, it wasn’t the hospital. Not even close.
Asher’s eyes widened slightly. Ollie? He checked the time yet again. It was definitely 1:30… meaning it was 4:30 over in New York. Why the hell would Ollie be texting him so early? It didn’t sound like it was an emergency or anything… And even it was, why would he text a friend he barely spoke to anymore?
Unable to resist his curiosity, Asher took his phone and headed outside onto the sidewalk, away from the booming bass of the speakers and bits of muffled conversation from the other patrons in the bar.
It felt strange to call Oliver so early, but if he’d sent that text, that meant he was awake, right? With a deep breath, Asher lifted the phone to his ear.
It only rang once before a deep and soothing voice reached his ear. “Asher?”
“Hey… Hope I’m not bothering you or anything. I just got your text.”
“Oh, no! Of course not. Just surprised… Figured I wouldn’t hear from you til tomorrow.” The other man explained.
“You caught me at the right time.” Asher replied. He couldn’t help but smile as he spoke. It had been well over a year since the last time he’d talked with Ollie on the phone. It was nice hearing his voice again. “Lainey’s band was playing tonight, so I stopped by after work to listen.”
“Oh! She’s still in that band? Chaotic Kittens or something weird like that, right?” Ollie chuckled softly.
“Close! Cosmic Kittens… But yeah. Still going strong! Surprised she can still make it work now that she’s teaching, but…”
“Wait, she’s teaching now?! Shit, I didn’t even realize she graduated…”
Asher shrugged, though he knew Ollie could not see him. “Well, it’s been a while.”
“Yeah… it has.”
There was a beat of silence. “Um, so… I’m really happy to hear from you. But also a little confused about why you’re up texting me at 4am.” Asher confessed, hoping he didn’t offend his friend.
“Oh! Yeah… Sorry for the weird timing.” Oliver’s laugh sounded forced this time. “I’m at the airport waiting for a flight. Had some time to kill so…” He paused for a moment. “I know this is super last-minute. I probably should’ve contacted you sooner, but things have been pretty crazy on my end…” He took a breath. “I’m actually flying out to LA this morning.”
“Really?” Asher asked, a hint of excitement in his voice. “God, it’s been years since you’ve been out here.”
“I know. Way too long. And I was really hoping we could catch up a little bit while I’m there?” Oliver sounded almost hopeful.
“Sure!” Asher’s smile widened immediately. “That’d be great… It’d be nice to see Natalie again. And meet Violet too!” Ollie didn’t use social media anymore, so all Asher had seen of his friend’s daughter were the photos he’d excitedly sent from the hospital the night she was born.
“Oh, um…” Ollie’s tone shifted abruptly from happiness to discomfort. “It’ll just be me. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. That’s fine.” It was hard to mask the surprise in his voice. “So… what’s bringing you back out here?” Asher was even more curious now. “Especially solo.”
“It’s kind of a long story… I was hoping I could fill you in when I see you?”
“Alright, works for me.” He was still incredibly curious, but he knew better than to push it. “How long are you here for?”
“Just til Monday.” Ollie explained. “I thought maybe we could grab some coffee or something Monday morning before I leave? If you’re not busy.”
Luckily, Asher was working the night shift on Monday. “Works for me… Wanna text me this weekend and we can figure out the details?”
“Sounds good. Thanks, Ash.” Ollie paused. When he spoke again, his voice was a bit softer. “I can’t wait to see you again.”
“Me too.” Asher replied seriously. “Have a good flight.”
“I’ll try to.” He could almost hear the smile return to Oliver’s face. “See you soon.”
Asher felt like he was in a daze as he made his way back inside the bar. He felt his heart and mind torn between giddiness, excitement, confusion, anxiety, and surprise all at once.
He was snapped briefly back to reality by Lainey running up to him and pulling him into a tight squeeze. “You came! Yay!” She cried happily.
“‘Course I did… wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Asher had to force his smile as she pulled away from him.
His youngest sister’s brow furrowed with concern. “Are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost or something!”
Asher shook his head. “I haven’t.” He assured her. “Not yet, anyway…”
But I guess I will on Monday.