God, I fucking hate this. Landon thought wearily as he wheeled himself over the threshold of the bathroom and back into his hospital room.
He’d just finished a lengthy and humiliating trip to the bathroom… But at least he was able to do it by himself now. It was something, right? ‘Baby steps,’ his doctors and nurses kept telling him.
Yeah, literally. He certainly felt like a baby now — completely helpless, still learning how to do the most stupid things like go to the bathroom by himself, and, worst of all, still unable to walk.
Landon couldn’t wait for it all to be over and things to finally go back to normal.
“Come in.” Landon replied as the sound of knocking reached his ears. He looked up, expecting to see one of the nurses coming in to get his breakfast order.
Instead, he was met with a much more welcome sight.
Every time Asher walked through the door, Landon felt for a moment like he was in a dream.
He’d felt it most strongly that first time. When he was wheeled into that hospital room, panicked and almost delirious, Landon looked up at Asher’s face, and felt certain he had to be dreaming. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d dreamt of his old high school flame.
It didn’t happen very often, of course, but the mind worked in mysterious ways sometimes, and even after all these years, Asher would creep into his thoughts or his dreams when he least expected it.
After so many years apart, the details had begun to fade — the exact features of Asher’s face, the sound of his voice… All of that slowly vanished with time. But the adorable layer of freckles that covered his face, his deep brown eyes, and his loud and infectious laugh never left Landon. And now, somehow, he got to see and hear them almost every day, in full detail — a welcome moment of pleasant dreaming in the midst of his current waking nightmare.
“Hey, you alright?” Landon’s brow furrowed in concern as his mind snapped back to the present. He was finally able to look past Asher’s cute freckles and lovely eyes and take note of the tired expression on the other man’s face.
“Yeah, just exhausted.” Asher replied, smiling weakly as he pulled up a chair by Landon.
Landon leaned in slightly to examine his friend more carefully. It was only seven in the morning, and Asher rarely stopped by so early. He was in his usual work outfit, minus his lab coat… And minus his tie too. That was when it finally clicked.
“Oh shit… Were you working all night again?”
Asher nodded wearily.
“Why the hell do they keep doing this to you?” Landon asked, shaking his head.
Asher simply shrugged. “‘Cause I’m the new kid. Rookie doctors always get the shittiest shifts. It’s like an unspoken rule or something.”
Landon sighed. “Well that’s bullshit…” He paused. Much as he wanted to visit with Asher, it didn’t feel right to have him stay up on his account. “You should go home and get some sleep.”
“Nah, I’m fine. Gotta come see you while I still have the chance anyway, right?” Asher smiled a bit more easily this time. The sight brought a burst of warmth to Landon’s heart.
A low laugh passed his lips. “Not like I’m going that far. The rehab hospital’s what? Twenty minutes away?”
“True… But I have a feeling they won’t let me pop in at random whenever I want to.” Asher replied. “Working here has its perks… Plus you’re gonna be a lot busier. Those rehab facilities are no joke.”
“Good. I’m ready for it! I’ll do whatever the hell they want me to, long as it gets my legs working again…” Landon looked down at the two useless limbs at his waist and let out a sigh. You’re gonna beat this thing, he reminded himself. You’re one of the best quarterbacks in the whole friggin’ league, and your career isn’t over yet.
Asher seemed to sense Landon’s moment of sadness. “Hey, you’re gonna do great! I mean, you’re already kicking ass with your PT here. And you’re wheeling yourself around like a pro already.” He gestured toward the wheelchair as he spoke.
Landon’s next laugh was humorless. “Thanks… And seriously, don’t stress about coming to visit. I know they’re working you like a friggin’ dog over here. And you’ve already been way more awesome to me than I probably deserve… Thanks for that, by the way.” He added somewhat awkwardly.
In truth, some days it felt like Asher was the only thing keeping him sane. He didn’t really have anybody else. His parents had flown out to visit him, sure… But he’d never been particularly close with them, especially not since he publicly came out a few years ago.
And Gio had come to him in the hospital that first week after the accident, but it wasn’t long before he’d left for his next modeling gig. Landon had barely heard from him since. In the handful of months they’d been together, Gio had proven to be a bit flakey, so this type of thing was typical… But it didn’t make it hurt any less.
Despite all the gifts and messages from fans, and the phone calls and words of encouragement from his coach and teammates, Landon had never felt quite so alone in his entire life.
“No thanks necessary.” Asher paused, letting out a large yawn. “I know it’s been a long time and there was a lot of shit that happened way back then…” He began awkwardly. “But we’re still friends, aren’t we?”
He returned Asher’s smile. “Of course.”
“Then like I said, no need to thank me. This is what friends do.”
They sat together in silence for a few moments after that. But it wasn’t an awkward silence. More thoughtful, almost. Part of Landon wondered what sort of thoughts Asher might have been having, and whether they were anything like his own.
At last, he decided to break the silence by lifting the remote from the edge of his hospital bed and turning on the TV. “Since I’m guessing you’re too exhausted to play anything right now.” Landon explained, flipping through the channels. “Not sure if there’s anything good on this early, but…” He shrugged.
After just a few moments, Asher suddenly spoke. “Wait, go back… Were they just talking about the hospital?”
Landon felt his stomach sink a little as he went back to the previous channel. Probably another stupid report about me…
“– but sources say it was Levon Jeffries who made the call to 911, leading to some speculation that it was Samantha Murdock who was brought in by ambulance late last night.” The entertainment news anchor spoke over several shots of the hospital where the two of them were currently sitting. “We will update as more information becomes available. Samantha Murdock is –”
Landon couldn’t help his relief, though he eyed Asher curiously as the woman onscreen continued. “Wait, that was last night?”
“Yup… God, I feel so bad for her. And I’m not just talking about what happened to her either. I mean, yeah, that’s shitty enough already… But now with the stupid media on top of everything else.” Asher gestured toward the television. “They just can’t leave anyone alone, can they?”
Landon shook his head. “They never do, trust me. Bunch of fucking vultures.” He paused to let out a soft sigh. “Though I guess I’m pretty lucky. I don’t get it half as bad as the ‘Hollywood elite’, or whatever you wanna call them. Especially in the off-season.” He added, smiling slightly.
“And, as you might remember, it’s been a star-studded few weeks over at the hospital.” The anchor continued. “Nearly three weeks after his motorcycle collision…”
“You were saying?” Asher asked teasingly.
He couldn’t help but laugh in reply, though he inwardly cringed as the report continued on.
“– being transferred from Del Sol Valley Medical Center to a rehabilitation facility this weekend. Littlehale has released the following statement: ‘I’d like to thank all my fans for their outpouring of love and support over the past few weeks. It means the world to me as I begin my journey toward recovery. Thank you for respecting my privacy during this time.’”
Asher turned toward him, a look of disbelief on his face.
“No, I didn’t write it.” Landon answered the unspoken question. “My publicist did. Apparently she thought ‘I love you guys to death, but can you seriously mind your own fucking business’ wouldn’t go over quite as well, so….”
Asher let out a bright burst of the laughter that Landon loved so much. “You really told her to say that? I can’t tell if you’re joking or not.”
“I’ll never tell.” He teased.
The other man opened his mouth as though he wanted to say something, but his words were cut off by a series of buzzes from his pocket.
Asher pulled out his phone and looked down at the screen. The instant he did, his expression changed to one of discomfort.
“Everything okay?” Landon asked.
“Y-yeah…” Asher rose to his feet, still looking incredibly uncomfortable. “I’ll be right back. Just gotta take this.”
He went out into the hallway and closed the door behind him before finally answering, his voice completely muffled by both the television and the heavy wooden door.
Landon hesitated. He knew that listening-in on Asher’s conversation wasn’t the right thing to do, but he was worried. What if something was wrong?
He lifted the remote again and muted the TV, then pushed Asher’s chair out of the way the best he could. Once the path was clear, he carefully wheeled himself closer to the door, straining to hear.
He was just barely able to make out a few words from the other side of the door. “I know, Ollie…” Even through the thick panel of wood, he could hear the warmth in Asher’s voice. “I can’t wait either.”
There was a brief flash of anger — fleeting and almost instinctual — at the sound of the name he hadn’t thought of in years. It didn’t last very long, but it took Landon by surprise to revisit that deeply-buried pain from so long ago.
Whenever he’d thought of Asher, it had only been the good memories that had come to his mind. It was as though he’d let himself forget about how it all had ended — how Asher had fallen in love with someone else right under his nose. How that anonymous email had finally revealed the truth. And how Landon had made the gut-wrenching decision to let Asher go, rather than have to worry about sharing Asher’s heart with someone else.
That was years ago, Landon reminded himself as the brief flash of anger finally dissipated. Another lifetime. Everything had changed since then. He had a brand-new life on the opposite side of the country now, thousands of miles away from Asher. An amazing career. A hot boyfriend. Millions of adoring fans. And millions of dollars too.
He was a completely different person than he was back then. And Asher was too. So what business was it of his if Asher and Ollie were still friends? Or even more than that?
None, he told himself firmly. They could be MARRIED, and you still wouldn’t have the right to feel anything about it.
Landon let out a long, slow breath. He knew that what he’d just told himself was true.
So why did it still hurt?
Without warning, the door in front of Landon swung open. “Hey, sorry, I… Oh.” Asher looked down at him curiously. It took a moment for Landon to realize why.
How long had he been sitting there? And, more importantly, why the hell did he leave the TV muted and his wheelchair so close to the door?
Landon rolled himself backward quickly. “Sorry, I was just… I was just gonna go check and make sure you were okay.” He knew right away how obvious his lie must have been.
“Oh. Um… yeah. Everything’s fine.” Asher’s lying was just as clear as his own had been.
Landon couldn’t help but wonder why his friend was acting that way. He certainly sounded happy to be talking to Ollie a few minutes ago. What had changed?
“Are you sure?” Landon asked. “Because you definitely don’t sound fine.” He hesitated for a moment before finally asking the question he knew he shouldn’t. “So, uh… Who was that on the phone?”
Asher let out a heavy sigh. “I think you already know.”
More cliffhangers hehehe… I promise the next one will fill in a few gaps 😉
Just wanted to take a moment to mention that December 11th marked FIVE YEARS since I’ve started writing Ashes to Ashes! I can’t believe it! There have been so many emotional highs and lows over the past five years, plenty of mistakes I wish I hadn’t made, plus things I’m super proud of and pleased with… And I’m talking both in the story AND real life! This has been a major learning and growing experience all-around, and the Rosebrooks have been there every step of the way… And so have many of YOU!
Seriously, thank you so much to every single person who has read and supported this story through all the ups and downs, with an extra-special thanks to those who have been here since the start! ❤ You’re all amazing!
Hope to have the next chapter for you guys relatively soon! Thank you all 🙂