Ahhhhh I was so late this week, I’m sorry! Given how late this was, I doubt I will be able to swing Wednesday this coming week either… will probably be closer to next weekend. So I guess for now, to prevent all the confusion, I’m back to no set update day (though I will strive to be as consistent and close to once a week as I can!)
And now without any further ado, here’s our chapter! 🙂
Asher tapped his fingers nervously against the table in the corner of the large coffee shop. His fingers thudded softly in time to the slow beat of his foot against the floor below him. Any time he heard the door open, Asher whipped his head around so quickly, he feared he’d injure himself. Dramatic as it sounded, it was entirely possible. Turning his neck that fast could, in theory, result in anything from a muscle strain or whiplash to a stroke, if he were unlucky enough.
Yeah, THAT would be a fun trip to the ER… But at least he was far enough away that he wouldn’t end up at work. How awkward would that be?
Asher shook his head, willing the ridiculous thoughts away. He felt so strangely nervous that his thoughts were getting carried away. Get a grip, he told himself. You need to calm the fuck down.
He looked up at the sound of a deep, familiar voice from above him and sure enough, there was Ollie.
Asher rose quickly to his feet, pulling his old friend into an embrace. “Hey.” He said warmly. “It’s so good to see you!” He managed to choke back the small rush of emotion that threatened at the back of his throat.
“You too… God, it’s been so long.” Ollie’s breath was warm at Asher’s ear as he spoke. He let the embrace linger for just a moment longer before finally pulling away and taking a seat at the table. “Thanks for coming. I know this was really weird and last minute… Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Asher assured him. “I’m just happy to see you! You look great, by the way.” He let his eyes wander over his friend’s face.
Ollie had cut his hair since the last time they’d seen each other, and he’d gotten new glasses too. He looked so professional. And so handsome too, just like always.
A deep chuckle filled the air. “You think so? Still not sure about the hair. It hasn’t been this short since… I dunno when.” Ollie shrugged. “Thanks, though. You look great too.”
It was Asher’s turn to laugh. “Ha! Just ‘cause I said it doesn’t mean you have to. You’re the one with the kid, and I’m the one who ended up with the ‘dad bod’.”
For a moment, he felt embarrassed, and was suddenly hyper-aware of the belly flab that pressed against the waistband of his jeans. He’d gained a good amount of weight over the past couple of years. He never had any time to work out anymore, and he often found himself eating junk at home after work.
Ollie shook his head. “Nah, you really do look great.” He assured him. “I’m really digging the beard.”
“Yeah?” Asher couldn’t help but smile. He lifted a hand impulsively to rub it against the hair on his chin and cheeks.” Lil told me I’m starting to look like a caveman.”
“Pfft! She would, wouldn’t she?”
“She was just kidding… I think.” He shrugged, his smile widening. “Hard to tell with her sometimes.”
Ollie’s smile faded a bit. “How’s she doing, by the way? And your parents? And sisters? God, I feel so out of the loop these days…”
“Yeah, well… You’ve been gone a while.” Asher replied slightly awkwardly.
“Lily’s great though. Everybody is, really.” He shrugged. It felt awkward to try and explain what was going on in his family’s lives. “Nothing that exciting, I guess.”
Ollie’s smile returned. “Nothing exciting, huh? What about your mom’s Oscar?!”
“Oh! Yeah, that was pretty cool… She’s tied with Dad for Grammys now. They’ve had this dumb ‘game’ thing going on for a while.” His lip curled in amusement. “Now I guess it’s a race to see who can get #4 first.” Asher paused, reminiscing for a moment. “Man, remember when we were kids and I threw a fit because she got snubbed? And now she’s got three of ‘em and it feels no big deal.”
“Yeah…” Despite his smile, there was a noticeable sadness in Ollie’s eyes. “Times change, I guess.”
They fell into an awkward silence then, which was broken by Ollie’s offer to go to the counter and order their coffees. “My treat,” he insisted. “Least I can do after making you come all the way out here on a Monday morning.”
Asher tried to protest, but Ollie wouldn’t back down, so he had no choice but to give in.
He turned to watch Ollie thoughtfully for a moment as he crossed toward the counter. This reunion already felt so different from Lily’s wedding. Perhaps it was because they didn’t have the excitement of the wedding or Ollie’s impending fatherhood as a focus for their conversation this time. Or maybe it was because it was just the two of them. Either way, it was…
Awkward as hell, Asher thought to himself.
It was impossible to describe — it felt like he was meeting a stranger for the first time, except… not. All the years of history and memories between them were felt just as strongly as those years they’d spent growing apart. It was the strangest dichotomy he’d ever experienced.
Asher was still struggling to wrap his mind around it when Ollie returned to the table, coffees in hand.
“So… where were we?” He asked with a charming smile as he returned to his seat beside Asher.
After a quick sip of his coffee, Asher smiled. “Awkwardly trying to catch up on the past several years?”
Ollie returned his smile. “Doesn’t feel awkward to me.”
Asher raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Really?”
“Okay, maybe a little.” He admitted. “But it’s nice. I almost forgot how much I miss talking to you, Ash. And I really wanted to tell you how sorry I am about that. I’ve let way too much time go by between calls these days. But you know how it is, right?” Ollie asked with a slight shrug. “The longer you go without calling, the harder it is to pick up the phone…”
“Oh trust me, I know.” Asher assured him. “And it’s not all your fault. It goes both ways… I could’ve called more too.” He admitted.
“Well, yeah, but you’re a doctor now! I thought my schedule was bad, but I can’t even imagine what it must be like for you.”
“It’s… a lot.” He replied seriously. “Most days, I really love it. But sometimes I come home from a really shitty shift and I’m like ‘What the hell am I doing?’ You know?”
Ollie nodded sympathetically. “I get it.”
“But hey, enough about me! What about you?!” Asher smiled. “How’s married life? And fatherhood?!” He asked excitedly. “I’d love to see a picture of Violet, if you have one.”
The other man’s smile faded instantly, which did not escape Asher’s notice. Before he could say anything, however, Ollie had retrieved his phone from his pocket and pulled up his photo app, then handed the phone across the table to Asher.
Staring up from the screen was the smiling face of a beautiful little girl.
“Oh, she’s adorable!” Asher grinned at his friend as he returned Ollie’s phone to him.
“Thanks! Little ham for the camera already, just like her Grammy Callie.” It was clear from the warmth in Ollie’s voice just how much he loved his daughter. “I swear I got an entire photo shoot worth of poses out of her yesterday. The second I pull out my phone she’s either begging for YouTube videos or trying to get me to take her picture.” He let out a low chuckle.
It took a moment before Asher could pinpoint exactly what had felt ‘off’ about what Ollie just said. “Yesterday?” He repeated uncertainly. “ But… I thought you said you came alone.”
Asher was already beginning to lose count of the number of times their conversation had managed to wipe the smile off of Ollie’s face… But this time had to be the most obvious yet. He watched the familiar crease of guilt and anxiety work its way between Ollie’s eyebrows, just as it so often had when they were kids.
“I did…” Ollie replied softly. “Violet was already here. Natalie too.” He confessed.
“What do you mean?”
Ollie let out a slow, deep breath. “Natalie and I got divorced a little over a year ago.”
Asher’s eyes widened in surprise. Somehow, out of all the possibilities for why Ollie was out here on his own, that was one option that had never crossed his mind. “Oh shit. I’m sorry.”
“Thanks. It was pretty hard at first, but I’m okay now.” Ollie assured him. “Or at least, I was until a few months ago.” A short, humorless laugh passed his lips.
“Natalie got a huge job offer. The type she’d be totally crazy to pass up.” He explained. “But it came with a catch that was almost as massive as her new salary…” A forced smile came to his lips at these words.
That was when it finally clicked. “She had to relocate…” Asher replied, a look of understanding dawning on his face. “Here.”
Ollie nodded. “2700 miles. Literally the other side of the friggin’ country.”
“And you let her take Violet with her?!”
“I could’ve fought it. And I would’ve won, too.” Ollie paused to take another sip of his coffee. “Taking your kid even a few hundred miles away from the other parent is a total bitch to pull off in court, let alone a few thousand.”
“So why’d you let her do it?” Asher asked curiously.
It was a moment before Ollie replied. He looked down into his half-empty coffee cup before speaking again. “Two reasons, I guess. One, I know what this kind of career move could mean for Violet’s future. Trust me, it’d blow your mind if you knew what Nat’s gonna be making at this new job compared to her old one… And she already made more than me.”
Asher’s eyes widened. “Oh.” He knew Natalie was some kind business executive — much higher up the corporate ladder than Reece was. But maybe he’d underestimated just how high.
“I want what’s best for my daughter. I want her to be happy and comfortable, like I was… without having to rely on my Mom all the time, you know?”
This time, Asher couldn’t help but smile. “Like you were, huh?”
Ollie laughed. “Okay, maybe minus the indoor pool and helicopter pad. But you know what I mean!”
“I do.” He assured him. “I get it.”
“And, aside from the financial gain for Violet, I guess you could say I did a little soul-searching. I haven’t been back to California in… Well, you know.” Ollie smiled. “And besides my job, it’s not like I really have much tying me to New York. Nat used to be the only reason I stayed out there. So I thought it over for a while and decided ‘Fuck it, it’s time to go back home’.”
Asher tried his best to absorb everything Ollie had just told him. This was all so far beyond what he had been expecting. “So… you’re coming back? For good?” He asked hopefully.
Ollie nodded. “The girls have been out here for about a month already. I’m still working on the job hunt and finding a decent place, so it’ll be a little while before it’s all figured out.” He explained. “Until then, I’m gonna be coming out here every few weeks to visit. Having to work my ass off extra-hard to get all those weekends off, but it’s gonna be worth it.”
“Wow… So you’re really coming home…” Asher shook his head in disbelief. “That definitely wasn’t where I was expecting this conversation to go.”
“I know. I’m sorry I did this all wrong. I should’ve told you about this a long time ago. I just had so much to figure out and all this stuff on my mind…” Ollie paused. “I was gonna wait til I was out here for good before I tried getting in touch with you. But I couldn’t.” His voice was soft, but serious. “I was sitting there alone in that airport when it finally hit me. What I need right now more than anything is a friend. And you’re the best one I’ve ever had, Ash.”
For the briefest moment, Asher felt a small fluttering in his stomach. “Well, I’m really glad you texted me the other night.” He smiled. “Whatever you need, I’m here for you. I know it’s been a long time, but that hasn’t changed.”
“I know.” Ollie returned his smile. “And you have no idea how much that means to me. Thanks for letting me spill my soul like that, and for agreeing to meet up too.” He pulled out his phone once more, checking the time. “I’m gonna have to run in a few minutes if I wanna make my flight… But I’ll be back in about three weeks, and I’d love to see you again. Maybe even with Lily, if she can make it?” He asked hopefully.
“Yeah! I’m sure she’d be down for that.”
“Awesome.” The smile on Ollie’s lips widened. “Man, the three of us together again… It’ll be just like old times, huh?”
“Yeah…” Asher felt a surge of pleasant warmth in his chest. “Just like old times.”