Thank you, as always, for your patience as I continue along at a snail’s pace haha And also apologies for the confusion yesterday! I accidentally published an incomplete version of the chapter (second half had no screenshots!) and even though I deleted it immediately, it sent out a tweet to my Twitter and an email to all my followers. Sorry for the mix-up! Here is the real deal 🙂
If Asher had been foolish enough to believe that he’d find some peace at home that evening, he’d have been sorely mistaken.
He barely had a chance to change his clothes before the sound of the front door opening reached his ears. Asher finished pulling on his shirt and headed curiously down the stairs. Who the hell could that be?
“Asher?” A familiar voice called out.
He smiled. Lily. Of course.
Lily and Penny were the only two who never knocked, and Penny had been pretty much MIA since moving in with Keith a couple of months ago. Least they’re still together, Asher thought. They were already lasting longer than he’d expected… Which had to be a good sign, right?
Shaking the thoughts of his sister out of his mind, Asher made his way to the front door to greet his friend
“Ah! There you are!” Lily smiled happily. “I hope you’re ready for this one… I might have looked up one spoiler. Just one! But I couldn’t help it! The cliffhanger last time just about killed me.” She was talking a mile a minute, as she always did when she was excited. “But I was so good! Didn’t watch a single episode without you, just like we promised.” Her mouth stretched into a grin as she finally finished.
Asher stared at her for a good two or three seconds before it finally clicked.
“Oh shit… We were supposed to watch The Butcher tonight.” Any time a new season dropped, it had become a weekly ritual for him and Lily to watch a couple episodes together (and collectively drool over the hunky main character) until they caught up.
Lily’s smile faltered. “You forgot?”
“Sorry, Lil. Today’s been…” Asher let out a humorless laugh. He couldn’t think of the right word to describe any of it.
Lily studied his face for a moment. “It’s not just today.” She said at last. “You’ve been weird for weeks. Months, maybe.”
“What? No I haven’t!”
“You have.” Lily insisted. “You’re so distracted. It’s like your mind’s somewhere else. All the time!”
Asher knew even before he opened his mouth that his defensiveness would give him away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about! I–”
At the feeling of a sudden buzzing from the pocket of his pajamas, Asher pulled out his phone. It was a text from Ollie, letting him know his flight had landed safely and that he missed him already.
His first instinct was a smile — how could he feel anything but pleasant butterflies in his stomach at that last line? But it wasn’t long before a series of much more complicated emotions began creeping their way to the forefront of his mind.
“See? This is exactly what I’m talking about!” Despite his distraction, Lily’s cry of frustration managed to reach him. “You’ve been staring at your phone for like thirty seconds…” She paused. “It’s from Ollie, isn’t it?”
“So what if it is?”
“Aha! I knew it!” Lily’s frustration seemed to have transformed into triumph. She’d always loved being right. “That’s what’s making you so weird! It’s having Ollie back.”
Asher sighed.There was never any point in trying to lie to Lily. If anyone could see right through him, it was her. “Yeah, I guess. I’m happy to have him as a friend again. But it’s, um… complicated?”
His friend nodded knowingly as she sat beside him on the couch. “I get it. You guys definitely have history…”
“Yeah, and… Well…” Asher still hadn’t told a soul about what happened between him and Ollie a few weeks ago. And suddenly, he wanted nothing more than to confide in someone about it. “Last time he was here, I don’t know if we had too many beers or got blinded by nostalgia or something or what, but… His flight got canceled. So he came over. And… We, um…”
Lily was practically screaming. “Oh my God, you didn’t! Ahhh! Tell me everything!”
“Not much to tell, really… We had sex, and it was pretty great.” He confessed. And I totally think I might still be in love with him, a small voice whispered in the back of his mind. Thankfully, he was able to silence it. “But that’s it.”
“What do you mean ‘that’s it’?” Lily scoffed. “That’s huge! …Possible pun intended, but you don’t have to go into that much detail if you don’t want to.”
He couldn’t help but snort with laughter at that remark, but otherwise chose not to acknowledge it. “Anyway, so that was a thing, and now… I’m not really sure what’s gonna happen. We’ll have to figure it out, eventually.”
Lily raised an eyebrow. “What’s there to ‘figure out’? You two have been crazy for each other since we were kids! And now you’re both single and living in the same place again… Can you say ‘destiny’?”
Again, Asher laughed, though this time the gesture held far less humor than before. “If this ‘destiny’ crap is real, then it sure has a shitty sense of humor.”
“What do you mean?”
Before he could respond, they were interrupted by the ringing of Asher’s cell phone from the coffee table in front of them. Asher looked down curiously, and sighed at the sight of Penny’s name on the screen. Of course his little sister would choose a super-inconvenient time to be calling.
He left his phone sitting on the coffee table and merely leaned forward, putting it on speaker. “Penny?”
“Oh my God, I just saw the news… Is it true?!” Penny cried without preamble.
“‘Hello’ to you too…” Asher muttered with a small shake of his head. “What the hell are you even talking about?”
“Landon! He’s at your hospital, right?”
Asher felt his stomach do a somersault. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lily’s eyes grow wide. “Where did you…?”
“Here’s the headline!” Penny paused, clearing her throat. “‘Bobcats Quarterback Landon Littlehale Rushed to LA Hospital After Collision’… Says that he was in town for some fundraiser thing, and according to ‘multiple sources’, he got in a motorcycle accident this afternoon.” For someone describing a potentially life-threatening situation, Penny certainly sounded excited about the news. She was talking almost as quickly as Lily had been. “Then it says he got rushed to the hospital in ‘stable condition’. They don’t actually name the hospital in the article, but they’ve got a few pictures, and I totally recognize it from all those times I had to drive you to work when your car was in the shop. Remember?”
Beside him, Lily looked as though she were about to explode. Asher held his face in one of his hands for a moment, sighing deeply. “Yeah… I remember.”
“So is it true? Did you see Landon?!”
“Look, now’s not the best time. I’ll… I’ll call you back, Penny. Bye.”
“Wait! Asher–” His sister’s voice cut-off abruptly as he leaned forward and pressed the red button on the screen, ending the call.
There was a beat of silence before Lily spoke. “No fucking way… It’s true, isn’t it?”
“Damn. That must’ve been… interesting.” Lily shook her head in disbelief before continuing. “He’s okay though, right?”
“I mean, it’s not life-threatening or anything. He got lucky there… But otherwise, I dunno.” Asher shrugged uncomfortably, wishing he actually knew the answer. “He’s not my patient.”
“Well, I’m glad he’s alright… Relatively speaking.” She replied gently, before falling back into silence for a few moments. “So… speaking of spoilers, I take it that’s what you meant before? About destiny?”
Asher nodded. “What are the fucking odds, Lil? Seriously.”
“Probably too slim to calculate.” She replied. “But why are you letting this get to you so much?”
“Because…” The words danced on the tip of his tongue before finally breaking free. “I felt something when I saw him, Lil. The same weird nostalgic crap I felt when I finally saw Ollie again. But I don’t really know either of them anymore. I don’t have any right to feel anything when I see them. They’re practically strangers to me now.”
“Hmm… not sure Ollie still qualifies, based on what you told me. Sounds like you got pretty well re-acquainted…”
He rolled his eyes. “Lil…”
“Look, the point is, all this ‘feelings’ crap is totally fucking me up right now. And how the hell am I supposed to know if any of it’s even real anyway?” It almost felt good to voice these thoughts aloud… but mostly it was just embarrassing. Still, seeing Landon again and experiencing that burst of feeling at the sight of him did nothing but make him question things with Ollie even more. And he hated it. “Not that any of it really matters.” He continued at last. “Landon’s a hot-shot celebrity with a career-ending injury to deal with. And Ollie’s got a freaking kid, a bitchy ex-wife, and a cross-country move he’s focusing on right now. They both have a lot more important things to worry about than their ex from high school and his stupid ‘feelings’.”
Lily did not immediately reply. She eyed him for several long moments before finally speaking. “You know I love you, Asher… but know what your problem’s always been? For as long as I can remember?”
She reached out, placing a hand comfortingly on his arm as she spoke. “You think too much.”
Asher let out a sigh. He wasn’t about to admit it, but as usual, Lily was absolutely right
Asher’s shift the next afternoon felt like it would never end. Luckily there seemed to be no shortage of patients to deal with, which prevented him from acting on the overwhelming urge to head up to the fifth floor and snoop on how Landon’s surgery went.
They’re taking good care of him, he kept reminding himself. And he needs to rest anyway. You can go visit later!
And then, after eight long hours, ‘later’ finally arrived.
Asher didn’t even bother taking off his coat or putting away his stethoscope. He was able to find out pretty easily which room Landon was in, and made a beeline for the elevator.
He did stop at the nurse’s station on the 5th floor for a visitor badge, since he was technically off-duty. But he was pretty well-known around the hospital as the rookie kid working the ER, so they didn’t really ask too many questions. And soon, Asher found himself right outside the door of Landon’s room.
Don’t get your hopes up, Asher reminded himself. He might be asleep. After a quick tap on the door, however, he was relieved to hear a familiar voice call out “Come in.” So he did.
Despite already seeing him about twenty four hours before, it still felt surreal to see Landon lying on that hospital bed. He was in a hospital gown now, and underneath it, Asher knew he wore a brace to keep his back immobilized after the surgery… if he could even move it at all.
Asher shook the thought away, forcing himself to focus once more on the present as Landon’s green eyes locked with his. Landon was still bruised and bandaged and yet, despite everything, still just as handsome as ever.
Asher’s throat went dry instantly at the sight of him. “Hey, Landon.” He croaked, clearing his throat. “I hope I’m not bothering you…”
Landon’s eyes lit up. “Asher! Hi… I was hoping you’d come back.” He sounded groggy, but happy.
“Of course I did.” He smiled down at him. “How are you feeling?”
Landon’s laugh felt a bit strained. “Well, these drugs they’ve got me on are making me feel pretty damn good… But if you mean the operation, it went pretty good too! That’s what they told me, anyway.” Despite his obvious fatigue and discomfort, Landon was in much higher spirits than Asher had been anticipating. A stark change from how he’d been yesterday.
“That’s good! Really good.” Asher hesitated. He hated to pry, but he had to know more. “And did they, uh, say anything else?”
“Yeah, they said it’s a… uh… Shit, sorry. My head’s still pretty foggy.” Landon smiled again. “An ‘incomplete… lumber injury’? Is… that a good thing? They kinda made it sound like it was.”
“Lumbar,” Asher corrected him gently. “And it is.” He felt a small twinge of relief. “Means it only affects your legs… and your chances of recovery are a lot better.”
“Speaking of which… We figured out I can still move my left foot a little… see?” Landon excitedly gestured with one of his hands. Asher saw a little twitch at the end of the bed under the sheets. “Can’t move my right, but I can feel my toes a little bit. Just barely though… I almost thought I couldn’t, at first. It’s like somebody stabbed my foot with that shit they give you at the dentist. But hey, feeling something’s better than nothing!” His voice was growing stronger and more excited with each word he spoke. “So I’m sure I’m gonna be fine. I mean, coach is gonna be pissed I’ll have to take next season off. But I’ll be back out there in no time!”
A sudden wave of anxiety surged through Asher’s stomach, making him feel ill. He did his best to swallow back the feeling, literally taking a nervous gulp that he hoped Landon wouldn’t notice. There was no way he could be the one to crush Landon’s hopes like that. I’m not his doctor. It’s not my job.
“I know things are pretty shitty right now, but you have no idea how glad I am to see you again.” At last, Asher replied, changing the subject the best he could. “I was starting to think I never would… y’know?”
Landon’s smile faded. “I know.” He nodded. “And I’m sorry. I never meant to ghost you or anything back then. After that first Super Bowl, fans started going crazy like you wouldn’t believe. Eventually my number leaked, and I had to change it. I lost all my contacts and everything.” He paused. “But I guess that’s a pretty shitty excuse. I probably could’ve found a way to talk to you, if I really tried. I just got so busy and caught up in all this crap and I…” He shrugged, then smiled almost wistfully. “But I never forgot about you, Asher. Or everything you did for me. I promise.”
“Thanks.” Asher returned his smile. “I never forgot about you either… Though to be honest, that would be pretty hard to do since you’re kiiiind of a big deal these days.” He teased.
Landon laughed heartily. The sound made Asher’s chest and face both grow pleasantly warm. “It’s fucking crazy, right? I’m not sure I’ll ever really get used to it. I swear to God, it still feels like I’m dreaming sometimes.” He paused and his smile widened. “I mean, remember back in high school? When we—”
Landon was caught off by the sudden opening of the heavy wooden door over Asher’s shoulder.
“Donnie? Donnie, are you alright?”
Asher caught a quick glimpse of a slender man wearing sunglasses and a baggy sweatshirt before he was forced to step aside. He watched as the man threw himself toward the hospital bed, and began peppering Landon’s face with kisses.
“Amore, I came as soon as I heard!” The man continued, his voice heavily accented. “How did this happen?”
Landon looked up at the other man, smiling warmly. To his shame, Asher could not suppress the brief burst of anger he felt at the sight. Apparently the rumors that Landon was dating that Italian model were true after all.
“It all happened pretty fast… I think I took a turn way too sharp or something.” Landon sighed, shaking his head and lifting a hand to pull back the hood and place his palm against his boyfriend’s cheek. “But I’m so glad you’re here, Gio.”
“Me too.” Giovanni finally turned to acknowledge Asher, removing his sunglasses. “Apologies for my appearance. I had to sneak past the paparazzi… You must be Donnie’s doctor?”
Donnie? What the fuck kind of lame nickname is that?!
Before Asher could reply, Landon chimed in. “Gio, this is Asher. He’s a doctor here at the hospital, but not my doctor. He’s… an old friend.”
It was amazing how quickly Giovanni’s demeanor changed at these words. “I see…” He seemed to be looking Asher up and down for a moment. “Well, it’s good to meet you.” He continued stiffly. “But if you wouldn’t mind, I think we’d like a little privacy.”
“Oh. Right. Um, okay.” Asher fought to keep his composure at the sudden dismissal. “Well, it was nice talking to you, Landon.”
“You too.” Landon smiled at him. “You’ll come back though, right? So we can catch up more…” His eyes lit up hopefully. “Tomorrow, maybe? If you can.”
Asher wouldn’t even be at the hospital the next day. In fact, he had a dentist appointment in the morning, a lunch date with his parents in the afternoon, and he and Penny were supposed to go watch Lainey’s band at some hole-in-the wall that evening. He was booked solid pretty much the whole day.
“Of course!” Asher smiled. “See you then.”
You fucking idiot.
Sure, Lily had a point — sometimes he did think too much. But other times, he clearly didn’t think at all.