4/4 Hiatus Update & Announcement

Hey, guys! Remember me? (I don’t blame you if you don’t…) Happy Easter to everybody who celebrates!

I just wanted to take a second to both apologize for and explain the reasons for my unexpected hiatus (I also hate using that word, but… well… that’s unfortunately what this is 😦 ) 

As I’d mentioned previously, the reason my updates had become so infrequent was largely due to stress/exhaustion/distraction due to both work-related things as well as some personal/health-related ones.

Fast-forward to January, and the reason for my distraction shifted to a much more pleasant one… I learned that after lots of struggling, I am finally pregnant! My husband and I are so happy and excited, but also pretty worried too, as this is a high-risk pregnancy due to some medical conditions I have.

This mixture of excitement and fear has, of course, made my previous anxiety and distraction even worse than before! Combine that with pregnancy hormones kicking my butt and draining every last ounce of energy I have and, well… Writing and screenshotting have felt next to impossible lately. I literally nap almost every day now (and go to bed earlier than I used to too!).

I am hoping to get some energy back soon and also hoping that means I can finally finish the next chapter! Believe it or not, I have written a chunk of it already. But it’s been written over the course of the past 3 months because all I can really manage is a paragraph or so at a time. It’s coming eventually, I promise. Unfortunately, I can’t say exactly when. A lot of it depends on what happens from here with me and the baby, and what kind of mindset I am in/how much energy I have!

I apologize again for the hiatus, but I do hope that you guys can understand a little better now why it’s happening! I have every intention of continuing this story as soon as I can. After five years, I can’t abandon it. I’d never! We’re just unfortunately at a point where a lengthier-than-normal break is needed.

I promise to keep you all updated, and I promise the next chapter will come… But I really can’t make any promises of when.

Thank you so much for your patience, understanding, and support! I love writing this story and I am so humbled by the love it’s gotten over the years from you all ❤

PS: To the small handful of you guys who know me outside of WordPress, please don’t say anything on social media! Not announcing there yet 🙂 Thank you! ❤

9.49: What Friends Do

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.

Tap-tap-tap.

“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.”

Fuck.

———————————————————————————–

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 🙂 

 

9.48: Moving Forward

Thanks so much for your patience! ❤ I promised “by the end of the month”, and look! I just barely made it! LOL

The next chapter is already in the works and I’ve been feeling extra-inspired to write all of a sudden, so I promise you it won’t be two months again before the next chapter (or even one month, if I can help it!) You guys are all so awesome for being so patient and supporting. I appreciate it very much!

And now without further ado… Our first Ollie chapter of the adult arc 😉 Enjoy!

——————

A heavy sigh passed Ollie’s lips as he looked around at the sea of cardboard that now littered his living room floor. He’d almost forgotten just how exhausting it was to pack up your entire life in a bunch of moving boxes — and this was already the second time he’d done it in less than two years.

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God, I need a beer break

As he made his way through the maze of boxes to the barren kitchen, Ollie could feel the dangerous stirrings of bitterness creeping up in the back of his mind. This meant it was twice now that he’d had to move. Twice his entire life had been turned upside down… Because of her.

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The first was right after their divorce — He’d moved into an apartment and let Natalie keep the house. Ollie had taken the high road and didn’t fight her on it… Or at least, that’s what he’d told himself at the time. 

Maybe I was really just letting her walk all over me. Maybe she really DOES have me whipped… even now. That’s the line that some of his former coworkers had liked to tease him with, and as much as he’d brushed it all off at the time, maybe there had been some truth to it after all. Hell, over a year after their divorce and here he was, moving across the entire country for her. 

11-29-20_9-25-55 PM-004

Not for her, Ollie reminded himself, thinking of his sweet little girl. For Violet.

Still, he wouldn’t be fooling anyone if he said this wasn’t exactly what Natalie wanted. And his wife had always gotten what she wanted — She could be so harsh and overbearing. That was a large part of what led to their constant fighting and resentment of one another (and, ultimately, the end of their marriage).

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And yet… 

She could be so fun too. So sweet. So loving. So protective of their daughter — and even of him, back when things were good. 

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He’d never forget his mother’s terrifying (and, thankfully, successful) battle with cancer several years back. On top of all the stress of surgeries and chemotherapy, the paparazzi had been absolutely ruthless. And, after one particularly difficult day at the hospital, he and Natalie had been bombarded as they made their way back to their car after a visit.

Ollie tried his best to shrug them off, but they knew exactly who his mother was, and refused to back down. Of course, Natalie put an end to that pretty quickly, at the cost of two broken fingers on her right hand, and a lawsuit from the bloody-nosed photographer.

Fortunately they were able to reach a reasonable settlement (which Callie was more than happy to help pay off), and were able to look back on it with laughter. “That’s what they get for messing with my husband,” Natalie used to say, with a playful smirk on her lips.

11-29-20_9-09-16 PM-002

Ollie smiled into his beer. There was a small part of him that still loved her, a little. Maybe he always would. It was hard not to, when there were so many good memories mixed in with the bad. And he missed those good days so much, even now. But he also knew that there was no going back. Their relationship was over — it had become much too painful and toxic for both of them.

The only way now was to move forward. And, if things went the way Ollie was hoping they would, maybe that would mean moving forward with Asher…

11-29-20_9-28-31 PM-005

Reaching out to him a few months back had been a crazy, selfish whim, but it was one that Ollie was immensely grateful he had listened to. Ollie was still kicking himself for his part in letting them drift apart from each other for so many years. But they were both going off to college; living thousands of miles apart; and, as kids that age so often were, figuring themselves out. They each had a lot of growing up to do, and now fate had finally brought them back together when they were older and wiser. Maybe it was for the best after all.

11-29-20_9-31-38 PM-007

Of course, it still drove him insane wondering what would happen between them now. That night they’d spent together had brought back so many old feelings, and part of him couldn’t help but think ‘What the hell are we waiting for?’ Hadn’t thirteen years been long enough? But Asher had made it clear — he didn’t want to rush into anything, and, much as he didn’t want to, Ollie had agreed. 

07-31-20_10-40-32 PM-013-001

Because really, what other choice did he have?

A sudden high-pitched sound broke him out of his reverie. Ollie balanced his beer on a nearby box and sat down on a small folding chair as he removed his ringing cell phone from the pocket of his jeans. Asher? He thought hopefully as he glanced down at the screen. 

He tried his best to hide his disappointment as he answered. “Hi Nat.”

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“Hey, Oliver!” His ex-wife replied cheerfully. To his amusement, she was the only person outside of his professional life who ever called him by his full name. And he’d always secretly liked it. “Just wanted to check in… How’s the packing going?”

“Slowly.” He let out a soft chuckle. “But it’s getting there.”

“Think you’ll be all set for tomorrow?”

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“Nope, the movers are gonna start heading across the country with a big empty truck.” Ollie replied, his tone playful. “Nah, seriously though, I’ll be fine.”

“Good.” He could hear the smile in Natalie’s voice. “Well, I know I’ve already told you a million times, but thank you. I know this isn’t easy, but you have no idea how much it’s gonna mean to Violet to have her daddy back again.” She paused. “And speaking of our little diva, I’ve gotta go drop her off at daycare in a few minutes… Wanna say hi?”

Ollie smiled. “Of course!”

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Natalie’s voice suddenly sounded muffled and far away. “Violet… There’s someone who wants to say hi to you!” 

“No!” A little voice shrieked.

Ollie laughed heartily. 

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“Are you sure?” He heard Natalie ask. “It’s Daddy!” 

The sound of tiny pounding footsteps flooded his ears for a moment, and then, “Dada!”

“Hey, Mouse! How’s it going?”

“Good! Dada, you comin’?” The three-year-old asked hopefully. “We goin’ jumpin’?”

Man, I got her obsessed with that trampoline place, didn’t I? Whoops… Ollie smiled to himself. “Not today… But guess what?”

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“What!”

“In just a couple days, Daddy’s coming to visit… But he’s staying this time. And then we’ll see each other all the time again! Isn’t that great?”

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” Ollie had to pull the phone away from his ear at the sound of her excited cries. “We go jumpin’ allllll the time!” 

“Yes, Daddy will take you jumping.” He laughed softly. “This weekend, okay?”

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“Yay!”

His chest grew warm with happiness. “Love you, Mouse.” 

“Love you too, Dada! Biggie much!”

“I love you very much too.” He replied gently. “Have fun at daycare, honey. You can give the phone back to Mommy now, okay?”

“Okay!”

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There was the sound of tiny stomping feet again for a few moments. 

“You’ve got her hooked on that trampoline place.” Natalie laughed as she picked up the phone once more. “Might have to get her one for her birthday to help tide her over between visits… Anyway, I’ve gotta run. But I’ll be at the airport on Friday to pick you up, alright? See you then.”

“Thanks, Nat. See you Friday.”

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“Bye, Oliver.”

Ollie returned his phone to his pocket with a sigh, and took another long sip of beer. Of course it had been wishful thinking to believe that Asher would be calling him. It was only seven in the morning on the west coast. Asher was either getting ready for work, like Natalie; at work, already in the midst of a long shift; or getting some well-deserved rest. 

Guess I just really miss him, Ollie admitted to himself, grateful that in just a few days, he would no longer have to go weeks without seeing Asher anymore.

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It had been particularly hard since their last visit. To Ollie’s dismay, Asher had been more distant and unavailable than usual the past few weeks. At first, Ollie had panicked. Had he done something wrong? Scared Asher away? But his friend had assured him that he was just busy. ‘Work’s been a total shitshow,’ Asher had told him during their last phone call. ‘But I’m sure it’ll calm down soon.’

Ollie certainly hoped so, though with his new job with the firm out in LA starting soon, he knew he’d soon be swamped too. Maybe it was never really the distance that had been the real problem. Maybe it was just how busy their lives were becoming as they got older.

11-29-20_9-39-36 PM-016

Ugh. Adulting fucking sucks. Ollie sat back in the chair, turning on the large television in front of him. He barely watched real TV anymore, but it would be nice to have something on in the background while he continued his packing. He flipped mindlessly through the channels for a minute or two until a familiar name caught his ear from an entertainment news broadcast.

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“– arriving at Del Sol Valley Medical Center. Representatives of the couple have declined comment, 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 perky woman onscreen spoke, interspersed with several shots of the hospital where Asher worked. “We will update as more information becomes available. Samantha Murdock is, of course, best known for her role on Strangerville with Dax Matherson and, most recently –”

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Ollie shook his head, tuning out the next few lines from the news anchor. And to think Mom wants to follow me and Violet back out there… With how bad the paparazzi still treated his mother here in New York, it was almost easy to forget just how much worse they were back home.

Those poor people… Doesn’t anyone realize they’re human too?
Despite his talent onstage, Ollie never regretted his choice to not follow in his mother’s footsteps. No amount of money was worth it. Not in his eyes, anyway.

11-29-20_9-45-26 PM-020

“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, sources say that Bobcats quarterback Landon Littlehale is being transferred from Del Sol Valley Medical Center to a rehabilitation facility this weekend. Littlehale has released the following statement –”

Ollie felt his jaw tighten. The reaction was almost visceral. Had he just heard what he thought he heard?

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He pulled his phone out, doing a quick Google search for Landon’s name.

Sure enough, he found dozens of articles from a few weeks ago. In town for a fundraiser, a motorcycle accident, rumors of a spinal injury… the details of each article were more or less the same, including two things: That he was brought to the emergency room where Asher worked, and the date of the accident — The last time Ollie had seen Asher in person.

He got called into work that day… So he…

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Ollie shook his head, physically trying to snap himself out of it. Don’t go into this weird ‘jealous boyfriend’ mode. He scolded himself. After all, Asher wasn’t his boyfriend. Not yet, anyway.

And Asher wasn’t obligated to tell him he’d seen Landon again, was he? Would’ve been nice though…

Plus, Landon was practically ancient history now. Just some stupid high school relationship that didn’t really mean anything… right? Yeah, just like me and Asher were… He felt his stomach slowly sinking as the thought crossed his mind.

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No matter how hard he tried, Ollie couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that Asher had been hiding this from him on purpose. Was it really work that had been keeping Asher so distant? Or…

Ugh. I need to stop all this insecure bullshit. I’m sure I’m reading too much into it. Hell, maybe Asher didn’t even see him. There are plenty of other doctors working in the ER… 

Still, Ollie knew that there was only one way he could feel better. One thing that could ease his mind. His fingers were moving before he’d even consciously made the decision.

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It rang five times before Asher finally picked up.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Asher…”

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Life Update (not a story update yet, sorry!)

Hi everyone!

I just wanted to reach out and thank everyone for their continued patience as we move along at a literal snail’s pace. I also wanted to explain what’s going on/why it’s still taking forever to update. Not looking for pity or anything, just wanting to be honest and explain!

To sum it up, a combination of work stress and some personal life/health-related stressors have left me feeling incredibly burned out and depressed lately, and it’s made both time to write and motivation to write scarce. I’m sure a lot of you can understand — when you’re in a low place, it’s so difficult to find the mental and emotional energy to do things. Even things you love (like simlit, for me!)

I do promise everyone that the next chapter is coming. It’s even partially written now! I actually have the next 13 chapters planned and outlined, it’s just the writing and screenshotting that’s taking forever.

I will confess that part of me gets very worried that with the more-than-a-month long gaps between chapters, people will think I am quitting A2A. I promise you on my life that I’m not! 😂 December will be 5 years since I started writing this story. After all this time and all these generations, there is no way I will ever quit before it’s over.

I can’t say with certainty when the next chapter will be out, but what I can say is that more chapters are coming, and if you’re subscribed to my blog, I promise you that one of these days (definitely before November is over. I’ll make that promise, at least!) you’ll find a chapter update in your inbox! ❤️

Thank you again for your continued patience and support. I’m so grateful to all of you. Seriously ❤️

9.47: Feelings

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 🙂

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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?”

“Yup.”

“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…”

“I’m serious!”

“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?”

“What?”

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.

9.46: Dreams

Thank you to everybody for your patience! I will try very hard to get the next chapter out sooner, but I can’t promise anything at the moment. I’ll do my best to keep everyone informed as things change. Thanks so much for always being awesome

—————————————————————————————

Five years ago

It wasn’t even 10am yet, and Asher already felt ready for a nap. He took another long sip of his coffee, hoping to help stave off the effects of his lack of sleep. He had to be at the hospital in less than an hour for his clinical, and he couldn’t show up half asleep… Dr. Nicholls would lose his shit. The man was absolutely brilliant, but a huge dick too.

Least I’m learning a lot, Asher tried to remind himself. And just a couple more months of this garbage, then I can move on. Within the next month or so, he’d finally be matched with a hospital for his residency. Then he just needed to pass the next step of his USMLE, make it through graduation, and he’d be closer than ever to being ‘Dr. Rosebrook’ at last.

He couldn’t help but smile at the thought. Despite how late he’d been kept up by his racing thoughts the night before, Asher felt a strange sense of inspiration and determination too. If Landon’s lifelong dream could finally come true, then so could his. 

Asher never really followed any sports, but he secretly made it a point to catch any Brindleton Bay Bobcats game he could, and last night’s game was by far the best one he’d ever seen. Watching Landon lead his team to winning the Super Bowl and be named the game’s MVP had been surreal. 

Hard as he tried to get sleep, Asher stayed up most of the night thinking about those long talks he’d once had with Landon about football and all his dreams for the future. Asher couldn’t help but feel a little emotional seeing them finally come true, and the whole thing led to a level of reminiscing about his high school boyfriend that he hadn’t experienced in a very long time.

God, I’m such a fucking mess right now. It had been less than six months since he and Felix decided it was time to end things, and he was still reeling from the breakup. Though Asher knew it was for the best, to say he was heartbroken would be an understatement.

Then, just a month ago, he’d received an invitation to Ollie’s wedding this coming summer. He’d already known about the engagement for over a year, but it still stung to open that envelope, much as it shouldn’t have.

And of course, seeing Landon’s face on the screen last night had stirred something inside him too, just like opening that wedding invitation had. 

I just feel weird about it because of Felix, he’d told himself. I’ll get over it.

Asher glanced down at his phone on the table beside him as the sound of his ringtone filled the air, pulling his mind back to the present. For a moment, he panicked. Was it the hospital? Had he somehow lost track of the time? Was he late for his clinical?

He did a double-take at the name that he saw appear across the screen. It couldn’t be… They hadn’t spoken in almost two years now. He lifted the phone to his ear. “Landon?”

“Asher! Hi!” There was no mistaking that voice — after all, he’d just heard it the night before during all those post-game celebrations and interviews. It was really him. 

“Wow… Um… Hey! How’s it going?” Asher fumbled awkwardly over his words, trying to think of something to say. ‘How’s it going?’ The guy just won the fucking Super Bowl, and you ask him how it’s going?!

“Great! Amazing, actually…” Landon let out a low chuckle that gave Asher a flurry of butterflies, in spite of himself. “I know you’re not super into sports, so you might not have heard –”

“No! No, I did! I was watching.” Asher assured him hurriedly. “Congratulations! That’s seriously unbelievable.”

“You watched?” Landon sounded surprised, but happy.

“Of course I did.”

He could hear the smile in Landon’s voice. “Then you saw how bad we almost blew it in the second half… But we did it! Man, this is so fucking surreal. Still kinda feels like I’m dreaming…” His voice trailed off for a moment before he continued. “Anyway, I know this is totally out of nowhere, and I hope I’m not bugging you or anything… I just wanted to call and say thanks.”

“Thanks?” Asher’s brow furrowed. “For what?”

“Everything you did for me. Back in high school.” Landon explained. “You helped me pass Trig so I could graduate, and you pushed me to go for it when I almost chickened out about going to Ohio. I don’t know if any of this would’ve happened if it wasn’t for you.”

At first, Asher didn’t really know what to say. Landon’s words left him feeling extremely touched, but strangely sad too. He couldn’t exactly explain why. “Nah, you would’ve graduated. Your coach probably would’ve murdered Mr. Marshall if he didn’t pass you.” He replied at last.

“Maybe.” Landon was clearly amused. “Still, I know it’s dumb, but this whole thing’s got me feeling all sentimental and stuff.” He laughed softly as he spoke. “So I’ve got a bunch of people I should be thanking right now, and you’re one of them. So thank you, Asher. Seriously.”

There it was again — the strange mixture of appreciation and sadness bubbling up in his chest. “Well, you’re welcome, I guess.”

“And listen, I know it’s been a long time… But maybe I can fly back out to LA and visit sometime?” Landon offered. “I’d love to see you.”

“Me too.” Asher agreed. And he really meant it.  “But I’m not living in LA right now… I’m still up in San Francisco for school.” He explained. “And I’m not sure yet where I’m gonna be next year for my residency. I applied to a bunch of hospitals between here and there, so…” Asher shrugged, though he knew Landon could not see it. “It’s kinda up in the air right now.”

“Oh shit, that’s right. Sorry.” Landon’s apology sounded sincere. “Guess I kinda forgot how long it takes to become a doctor…”

Asher laughed. “Yeah, it feels like forever… But it’ll be worth it. I think.”

“It will.” Landon replied seriously. “You’re still one of the smartest people I know, and you’re gonna be an amazing doctor someday.”

Asher smiled. “Thanks. I hope so.”

“And let me know where you end up next year. I’d still be down for making a trip out there to see you… Only if you want, though.”

“Yeah! Yeah, that’d be great.”

There was a beat of silence before Landon continued. “I’ve gotta run, but I’m so happy I got to talk to you, Asher. And thanks again.”

“You too… And congrats again on the win.” Asher fought to hide his disappointment that the conversation was coming to an end so quickly. “I know you’ve been working your ass off for this for a long time. You deserve it. So… enjoy it! Go to Disney World, or whatever it is they always say.” He forced a laugh.

Landon quickly joined in. “Would you believe I’m literally about to head to the airport right now?”

“Wait, seriously?”

“Uh-huh. I always thought it was just some weird catchphrase or something, but apparently it’s really a thing, so… I’m going for it!”

“Well, have fun!” Asher finally managed to push away his disappointment. He needed to stop being so ridiculous. “And thanks for calling. I really appreciate it.”

“Of course. I’m sorry it’s been so long. My life’s pretty crazy these days.” Landon paused. “But we’ll talk again soon, okay?”

“Okay.” Even then, Asher didn’t really believe it. “It was really great talking to you. Bye, Landon.”

A few months after their conversation, Asher tried to call Landon and let him know he’d be back in LA for his residency after all… But the number had been disconnected, and as far as he could tell, Landon never tried calling him again.

It had been a little more than five years now since that phone call, and Asher had been certain that he would never see or hear from Landon again. He’d accepted it. Made peace with it. And now…

Asher felt like he was practically sprinting down the hall toward the exam room he’d left Landon in just two hours before. Now that his shift was officially over, he was free to go back and visit — Not as a doctor this time, but as a friend.

Asher was considerably calmer than he’d been earlier, but still struggling to believe what had happened. Much as he’d secretly longed for the chance to see Landon again someday, he could honestly say that he would rather it never have happened at all than for it to have been like this.

The memory of that last phone call stung terribly now. He had been so overjoyed back then at seeing Landon’s dreams finally come true… And now here he was again, witness to those very same dreams being completely crushed. Forever. It didn’t matter whether he recovered or not — Landon would never play football again.

Asher paused outside the door and took a breath. He needed to put on a brave face for Landon. Forcing a smile and giving a quick knock, he stepped inside.

The room was completely empty. 

Shit… they moved him already. Asher cursed himself. He should’ve known it wouldn’t be long before they sent him to another floor. No one stayed in the Emergency department for more than an hour or two. They always got sent somewhere else.

Luckily it didn’t take him long to find Gwen again, this time by the nurses station. 

She did not appear surprised at all when he approached. “Looking for your ‘friend’?” Asher could practically hear the air-quotes she’d put around the word. He chose to ignore it.

“Yeah… What floor is he on?”

Gwen shook her head. “No non-family visitors right now. Not til he’s out of surgery.”

Asher’s eyes widened slightly. “He’s in surgery already?”

“In the morning.” She clarified, sighing. “Try again after your shift tomorrow.”

“But… I promised I’d visit him tonight.” Asher felt like a whiny little kid, but he had to see Landon again and find out what was going on with him. He needed to know that he would be alright… Or at least, as alright as he could be, given the circumstances.

Gwen shrugged. “He’s gonna be here for at least a few days. You’ll have plenty of chances to see him.”

Asher hesitated for just a moment, before a series of questions he knew he shouldn’t be asking began spilling from his lips. He couldn’t help himself. “Okay, but just… How bad is it? Obviously it’s an SCI… but complete? Incomplete? Does he have a concussion? Where did –”

Gwen raised a hand, cutting off the flow of his word-vomit. “Asher, go home.” The tone she was using reminded him of his mother. “You know I can’t tell you any of that anyway. He’s not your patient.”

“I know, I know…” He replied, defeated. 

Gwen gave him a strange, almost pitying look. “You know he’s in good hands here, right? You’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

She seemed to hesitate. “And, to answer your first question… it’s not quite as bad as I thought it was at first glance. And that’s all I’m going to say before they swoop in here and take my license away.”

Asher was shocked. This was, without a doubt, the nicest she’d ever been to him. “Thanks, Gwen. I —“

“Dr. Danielson.” She corrected him, giving a small shake of her head. “Now go home.”

Unfortunately, he had no choice but to comply. 

He was so lost in his thoughts on his way back down the hallway, that Asher almost ran into Darryll. It looked like he’d just arrived for his shift.

“Hey, Asher… Word to the wise, I’d look at sneaking out a side entrance if I were you.”

“What? Why?”

His friend shrugged. “Bunch of paparazzi and nosy-ass tabloid reporters stalking the place. You guys got Samantha Murdock in there or what?”

Holy shit… the paps found out already?! Asher shook his head. “Not her, but, uh… I think your friends in orthopedics are gonna have someone interesting in the OR tomorrow morning.” He tried his best to smile. Thankfully Darryll wasn’t an orthopedic surgeon. Otherwise he’d be way too tempted to grill him about Landon.

“Oh?” Darryll smiled, clearly interested. “Anyone I’d know?”

“Maybe…” Asher shifted his feet uncomfortably. “Listen, I’ve gotta run. But thanks for the heads up. I’ll try and dodge the paps if I can.”

“Well, if you can’t, make sure they get your good side!” Darryll teased, giving a wave and a hearty chuckle before continuing on down the hallway, leaving Asher alone at last.

He let out a heavy sigh. Now that no one else was in sight, Asher finally let some of the weight of what he was feeling come crashing down on him. It was all so damn overwhelming… The past twelve hours fell like an absolute whirlwind. How had he gone from coffee with Ollie to… this?!

The moment Ollie’s name crossed his mind, Asher felt an unpleasant twisting sensation in the pit of his stomach. Everything that had happened with Ollie recently was bad enough. But now adding Landon to the mix too? Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any more complicated…

And the worst part was, Asher had a horrible, sinking feeling that this was only the beginning.

9.43: Time Machine

It took only a few moments for Asher’s gaze to find Ollie’s handsome face, sitting in the corner of the coffee shop’s small balcony area.

“Hey!” Ollie’s face lit up at his friend’s approach. “I went ahead and got us our coffee… I think I finally got your order memorized… I hope.”

Asher looked down at the mug curiously before taking a hesitant sip.

“BLEGH!” He hammed up his reaction as much as he could as he choked down a gulp of the dark brown liquid.

Ollie’s face fell instantly. “Aw shit, what did I mess up?”

“Well… It’s just that it’s… “ Asher paused to let out a series of gagging coughs. “Pretty good, actually.” He straightened up in his chair instantly, grinning. “Good job!”

His heart warmed at Ollie’s hearty laughter. “You ass…”

Asher simply winked and took another long drink. Seeing Ollie had put him in an unusually cheery and playful mood. It always had, ever since their first visit.

It was so bizarre to think back on that first meeting now. As wonderful as it had been to see Ollie again, it had also felt… strange. It was like trying to break the ice and get to know each other all over again. And once you added in the revelation of the circumstances which brought Ollie back to LA… well, the words “awkward” and “sad” both seemed appropriate. 

Yet despite that initial discomfort, Asher had also found himself feeling something he hadn’t felt in a very long time — hope.

And that feeling had only grown during their next two visits.

The second time, things felt so much lighter between them. They’d laughed and joked over stories and pictures of sweet little Violet. They’d geeked-out over the recent release of the Bloodwatch 20th Anniversary remaster. Unlike the first time, nothing felt strained or awkward anymore.

In fact, there were moments when Asher could have sworn he’d stepped into a time machine.

Their most recent visit had done nothing but solidify that feeling, in Asher’s mind. Lily had been able to join them then, and once the three of them were together, it was like nothing had changed in the past thirteen years.

Nothing at all.

And now, two months after that first reunion, here they were yet again, laughing and teasing one another just like old times. Asher was grateful to have these visits as a bright spot in his otherwise pathetic life. Much as a relief it had been for Penny to finally move out, it also made Asher painfully aware of just how sad and lonely his existence had become lately. The silence of his empty house night after night was beginning to weigh rather heavily on him.

But at least he still had moments like this to look forward to.

“Hey, so I wanted to wait to tell you in person…” Ollie began, calling Asher’s mind back to the present. “Last week, I had a second phone interview with that firm I told you about. It went really well, and I got a call from them Friday like right after I landed…” He paused for dramatic effect. “It’s down to me and just one another candidate, and they’re flying me back out next week so I can meet them in person!”

“That’s awesome!” Asher replied excitedly. He knew that the search for a new job had been what was holding Ollie back from relocating to the area sooner. 

“God, I just really hope this is it… This back-and-forth bullshit is killing me.” Ollie let out a soft sigh. “It’s like I’ve been living in limbo or something, you know?”

He nodded. “I can’t even imagine.” Asher confessed.

“But once I’m out here for good again, everything’s gonna be great.” His friend continued confidently. “I’ll be back with Violet again, I’ll have a new job, a new place to live…” He paused, his lips curling into a smile that made Asher’s heart flutter. “And some new-old friends too.”

He laughed appreciatively “New-old friends? I like it.”

“That’s how it feels, right? It’s like everything’s changed… but at the same time, nothing has.”

Asher nodded. It was as though Ollie could read his mind. “Exactly.”

Ollie opened his mouth to respond when he was interrupted by a loud series of buzzes from his pocket.

“Sorry, one sec…”

Asher watched as Ollie pulled out his phone. His friend’s expression instantly shifted to shock and disappointment, followed immediately by a look of pure irritation. “Shit.”

“What is it?” Asher asked.

The other man sighed. “My flight got cancelled. Can you gimme a minute, Ash? Gotta make a couple phone calls…” Ollie rose to his feet and looked down apologetically at Asher for a moment before heading for the empty end of the balcony, his phone already pressed against his ear.

Curious, Asher pulled out his own phone to see if he could figure out what was going on. It didn’t take long to find it — New York had been hit with its first April snowstorm in more than 20 years. It completely blindsided everyone with how bad it was, and now all inbound flights to New York had been cancelled until tomorrow. Yikes.

Ollie returned a few minutes later, sitting back down with a heavy sigh. “A massive snowstorm in the middle of April… Can you believe it?”

“Yeah, I Googled it while you were on the phone.” Asher replied, shaking his head. “That’s nuts!”

“Snowstorms are the fucking worst. Definitely not something I’ll miss once I’m back out here for good.” Ollie managed a smile. “Anyway, I just called for an extension on my car rental, and got things sorted out with work back home… Looks like I’m stuck here til tomorrow morning.” He paused and let out another sigh. “Guess I’ll have to go back to the hotel and check in for another night.”

“Why don’t you just stay at my place?” Asher offered instantly. 

“Oh, I couldn’t… I don’t wanna impose or anything.”

“You won’t be!” He insisted. “I’m not working today, and I’ve got a spare bedroom now that Penny’s gone. It’s seriously fine.”

Deep down, Asher was well-aware that this was coming partially from a place of sheer loneliness at how empty his house felt now. But it was also the logical solution too — why pay for a room when Asher had a spare?

Ollie hesitated. “You’re sure? I feel bad.”

Don’t. Seriously.” Asher smiled as an idea suddenly took shape in his head. “But if you really feel that guilty about it, I guess you could make it up to me by promising not to cry when I totally destroy you at Bloodwatch later.”

“Ha! Um, you wish.” Ollie shot back with a smirk. “You’re talking to the Bloodwatch Master here. I’m the one who taught you how to play back when we were kids, remember?”

“Yeah, but I also remember always being the one who kicked your ass.”

“Because I let you!” His friend chuckled. “But I won’t go so easy on you this time.”

“Uh-huh… We’ll see about that.”

——————————————————-

If Asher had felt like he’d travelled in a time machine before, it was nothing compared to what the rest of that day had in store for him. 

He and Ollie spent the entire day together for the first time in thirteen years. They went back to Asher’s house and faced each other in several heated matches of Bloodwatch, got dinner at one of their old favorite pizza joints downtown (with Lily and Reece in tow), then came back to Asher’s place to have some drinks and unwind.

It was beyond perfect. And, much as he hated admitting it, Asher found himself overcome with… something during their time together. It was a warmth in his chest at the sight of Ollie’s smile. A pleasant fluttering in his stomach when their hands or arms brushed one another’s. It was…

Nostalgia, Asher told himself firmly. That’s all this is. 

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t let himself indulge in it a little bit.

“Thanks, Ash.” Ollie said seriously as he took a seat beside his friend on the couch, fresh beer in hand. “I can’t even tell you how much this means to me.”

Asher shrugged. “Like I said, it’s seriously no trouble. And my house is closer to the airport anyway.”

Ollie shook his head. “I don’t just mean letting me stay here. This entire day has been amazing. This is probably the most fun I’ve had in years.”

“Really?”

Ollie nodded. “I don’t really have many friends back in New York. And I spent so much time focused on Natalie and work, and then Violet… It’s like I’ve been trapped in this bubble. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to break out of it every once in a while.” He smiled. 

Asher nodded in understanding. “I get it. Besides Lil, I don’t really have anybody either. I’ve got a couple work friends, but it’s not really the same, y’know?”

“Yeah…” Ollie was silent for several moments before speaking again. “I’ll always regret not staying in touch the way we should’ve. Feels like we lost so much time.”

“I know,” Asher agreed. “But hey, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time now, won’t we?”

Ollie’s smile sent his stomach into a somersault. “You’re right. We will.” He paused, shifting closer to Asher and taking one of his hands in his. There was something about the way he was looking at him that made Asher’s heart skip a beat. “I’ve really missed you, Ash. And I never forgot about you. Ever.”

Asher’s breath caught in his throat as he leaned forward, closing the distance between them even more. “Me neither…”

And there it was again — the time machine.

In an instant, Asher was transported back thirteen years. Back to a time when nothing else mattered. Not Landon, not Penny, not the stress of their upcoming Senior year, or the terrible knowledge that Ollie would soon be leaving and that what they had couldn’t last.

None of it mattered back then. And in that moment, nothing mattered now either.

Just him and Ollie.

But the moment proved to be just as fleeting now as it has been all those years ago.

Ollie was the first one to pull away. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, moving back to create space between them once more. “Shit… Asher, I’m sorry.”

He shook his head, trying to regain his composure. “Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault.”

It had been both of them, hadn’t it? It was impossible to tell who had kissed who. It had simply happened. And neither of them had done anything to stop it.

Ollie sighed. “I just… Look, I’m in a really messed up place right now, you know? I’ve been so lonely since the divorce, and now seeing you again…” He shook his head. “My head’s not screwed on right or something. Not right now. I’m a mess.”

“Hey, me too.” Asher assured him, his mind still reeling from their kiss. “So you can stop apologizing, alright?” He continued gently. “We’re both to blame here.”

“Yeah… I guess you’re right. Maybe we’re both not thinking straight.” Ollie smiled gratefully and rose to his feet. “So, all that being said… I’m really thinking it’d be a good idea for me to go back to the hotel tonight. I really appreciate you letting me stay. But I don’t think I can. Not now.”

Asher’s face fell instantly. “What? Why?”

“Come on, you know why… What if we both get…” Ollie seemed to be struggling to find the right word. “Carried away again?”

Asher replied without thinking. “Would it really be the end of the world if we did?”

The other man’s eyes widened. “Asher, seriously? What the hell are you saying?”

“I dunno… I guess it’s just… well, hypothetically speaking, obviously… But if you’re lonely and I’m lonely and we both wanna blow off a little steam, then why not?” He asked with a shrug, the words leaving his mouth before he’d fully registered what he was saying.

“You know why.” Ollie sat back down with a sigh. “We’re still figuring out how to even be friends again. Why complicate things even more?”

“Who says we would be?” It felt like Asher wasn’t even control of his own mouth. He hadn’t had that many beers, had he? Where the hell was this coming from? “If — big ‘if’ — we go through with this, we can both agree to not let there be any… feelings, or anything.” Asher stumbled slightly over the word. “Can’t we?”

It felt like minutes had passed before Ollie finally responded. “I don’t know if I can promise that, Ash.” He confessed.

And, in truth, Asher knew he couldn’t either. Who the hell was he kidding? He wasn’t in his twenties anymore. He couldn’t just hook up like it meant nothing. Especially not with Ollie. 

He let out a slow, deep breath. “God, I’m sorry. I… I don’t know what I was thinking. Like you said, I’m not thinking straight either. Just… forget I said anything, okay?”

Ollie laughed, but it was devoid of any humor. “Gonna be hard, but I’ll try.”

Asher hesitated before speaking again. “And… Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’d be better if you went back to the hotel.” 

“Y-yeah. Yeah, I think that’d be best.” Ollie’s expression was so hard to read as he rose to his feet once more. “See you later, Ash. And thanks again.”

Asher looked up at his friend. There was a part of him that wanted to stop Ollie. To beg him to stay and maybe — just maybe — hold him close once more..

But there was another that wanted to simply bid him goodnight and move on from this painful and confusing exchange for good.

But if I let him go with everything still so awkward… How are we gonna come back from this? It could ruin everything, he realized. And I could be closing the door on something amazing.

Yeah, a second voice seemed to whisper. But if he stays, you know exactly what will happen. You’ll be opening a huge fucking can of worms. And THAT could ruin everything too.

Asher knew he’d be making a huge mistake either way. Whether he stopped him or let him go, it was completely lose-lose.

In that moment, he wished he really did have a time machine, so he could go back to that morning and never offer Ollie the chance to spend the night. 

Unfortunately, however, that wasn’t an option.

And instead, Asher was left with an impossible decision to make.

——————————————————-
Just for fun… If you leave a comment, I’m curious about what you THINK Asher is gonna do, and what you WANT him to do… I already have a feeling I can guess what the majority might say, but I’m still curious, if you’d like to share 😛 Thanks for reading, guys!

9.42: The One That Got Away

Better late than never, right? Hoping the next chapter won’t have such a delay. Thanks, guys!

——————————————–

The moment Dr. Devilson approached him with that familiar haughty look in her eyes, Asher felt incredibly grateful that their shifts weren’t overlapping that evening. Some days working with her weren’t so bad, but others were positively hellish. And something about her demeanor told him that tonight would have been the latter kind.

“Alright, Asher.” She greeted him with a curt nod. “What have you got for me tonight?”

He wondered whether she noticed the flicker of irritation that crossed his face at her words. He really didn’t care whether his colleagues referred to him as ‘Asher’ or ‘Dr. Rosebrook’, but Gwen always insisted on being ‘Dr. Danielson’… So why couldn’t she address him the same?

“Waiting on foot and ankle x-rays for the patient in 2A.” He replied, shaking off his frustrations. “Ten-year-old, no known allergies, no previous injuries or hospitalizations on file. Fell while he was jumping on the bed with his little sister.” Asher couldn’t help a small smile at that detail. “Pretty sure it’s a Grade 3 sprain, but I wanted to rule out any bone damage. Just need radiology to send those results up.”

Gwen just nodded as Asher went on, explaining that he’d just started an IV drip for the severely dehydrated woman in room 5B.

“Anyway, I think that covers it. Kennedy’s still here for a few more hours. She can give you more info if you need it.” He finished, trying to sound pleasant. 

Her expression was difficult to read, but the skepticism in her tone was abundantly clear. “That’s it?”

Asher wasn’t about to play into her game. He knew full well that if he questioned what she meant, he’d get some unnecessary criticism for how he’d handled one of the patients. Typical. “That’s it.” He forced a smile. “Have a good night, Gwen.”

He hated the way she rolled her eyes, as though she knew exactly what he’d been trying to do. “Dr. Danielson.” She corrected him, smirking. “And you too, Asher.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Dr. Rosebrook.” It was his turn to correct her. Asher had never shot back at her like this before, but for whatever reason, he wasn’t about to let her get away with it this time.

To his dismay, her smirk simply widened. She was looking at him like he was some pathetic little child playing pretend. “Of course. You too, Dr. Rosebrook.” Gwen gave him a condescending bow of her head before disappearing down the hall to check on the patient in 5B.

Asher was so focused on his anger at Gwen that he hadn’t even noticed Kennedy coming up behind him. “Aw shit… Three more hours with her?!”

“My condolences.” He gave her a small smile. “Tell Darryll I said bye, if you see him. See you tomorrow.”

Asher was in a foul mood the entire drive home. He knew this was only his first year practicing medicine independently, but so what? He’d worked his ass off for twelve years to get where he was right now. How could Gwen act like she was so much better than him? He was just as much of a physician as she was. And he had the medical license to prove it!

These angry and frustrated thoughts clouded his mind completely on the way back home, but as soon as he walked through the front door, Asher instead found his vision clouded by something else — thick plumes of dark smoke pouring out of the kitchen. From somewhere above, the high-pitched screech of the smoke alarm blared.

“Penny?!” He shouted, running toward the source of the smoke.

“It’s fine!” His sister cried back, her voice clearly panicked. “I’ve got it under control!”

Asher found her standing by the stove. The contents of the pan in front of her were completely ablaze, and bright orange flames licked up from the burner beside it too.

“What the hell are you doing? You’re gonna burn the house down!” Asher rushed forward and pushed Penny out of the way, turning off both burners and removing the pan from the heat. 

The flames died down quickly then, though the smoke in the air still lingered. It stung Asher’s eyes terribly. Once he was certain that the fire would not start up again, he beckoned for his sister to follow him back out into the living room, where the smoke had already begun to clear.

“I’m sorry, okay?!” Penny shouted defensively once they were out of the kitchen. “You know I suck at cooking. I fucked up.”

Now that his house was no longer in danger of burning down, Asher was able to find the situation fairly amusing. “Yeah, no shit.” He let out a teasing chuckle. “What were you even trying to do? That guy coming over tonight or something?”

“No… “ Penny suddenly looked embarrassed. “I was doing it for you.”

His eyes widened. “What? Penny… Do you feel okay?”

Asher reached forward to place the back of his hand against her forehead, but she pushed him away, scowling.

“Don’t ruin it!” She snapped at him. “But yes, I feel fine. Just… grateful, I guess.” Penny’s expression softened. “For you letting me stay here so long.” Her cheeks had turned slightly pink. “I wanted to surprise you with dinner when you got home… To say thanks.”

Asher stared at her for a moment or two, speechless. “You’re sure you’re okay?” He asked at last. She shot him a look and he changed course. “I mean… thanks. That’s really nice of you. Just surprising, I guess.” He confessed. “What gives?”

“Well, I was gonna tell you over dinner, but I guess that ship sailed…”

“More like ‘went down in flames’.” Asher smirked.

She rolled her eyes. “Ha-ha… Anyway, I’m finally gonna be out of your hair soon, so I wanted to make sure I thanked you before I left.”

“Left?”

Penny nodded, then took a deep breath. “I’m moving in with Keith!” She cried happily.

Instead of the excitement and relief he’d always imagined this news would bring him, it brought a nervous twisting sensation to the pit of his stomach. If his math was correct, they hadn’t even been together for two months yet, and they were already moving in together?

His silence must have been telling. “What’s wrong? I thought you’d be happy!” Penny smiled at him. “I know I’ve been driving you crazy ever since I moved in.”

“Oh, you have.” He couldn’t help but smile too. “I just…” Asher hesitated. This is her life, he reminded himself. She can do whatever she wants. She’s a grown-ass woman now… even if she doesn’t always act like it. “I’m really happy for you, Penny.” He continued at last. “But… If you ever need anything again, you know you can come to me, right? You might drive me insane, but you’re still my sister.”

“I know.” Penny smiled warmly at him. “And even if I kinda-sorta suck at showing it, I really do appreciate it. Sorry my ‘thank you’ dinner totally failed.”

“It’s the thought that counts.” Asher assured her. “But hey, why don’t we order a pizza and you can tell me more about this mysterious Keith?”

His sister grinned. “Sounds like a plan!’

About an hour or so later, the two oldest Rosebrook siblings found themselves stuffing their faces with pizza and beer and actually talking to one another for the first time in… Asher wasn’t even sure how long. They rarely crossed paths due to their differing work schedules, and whenever they did, things usually escalated into some sort of stupid fight.

But this time, they were somehow managing to enjoy each other’s company. And, to Asher’s surprise, it actually felt nice. 

Am I losing my mind? Is this a side-effect from inhaling all that smoke or something? He wondered as he took another sip of his beer. 

“Alright, enough about me and Keith.” Penny said between bites of her pizza. “It’s your turn.”

“For what?” Asher asked curiously.

“Tell me what’s been going on with you! Besides work and stuff, I mean.” She explained. “Ooh! What about Ollie?! All you told me last week was that you saw him, and that he got divorced… But I need more details!”

He laughed softly. “There really isn’t much else to tell. He’s coming back the weekend after next, and we’re supposed to meet up again. So that should be pretty cool, I guess.”

“Well, when you see him again, tell him I said ‘hi’ and that his ex is a crazy bitch for leaving him.” 

Asher laughed yet again. “Okay, I’m not saying that second part.”

“Why not? It’s true!” Penny insisted. “She’d have to be crazy to give a guy like him up! I mean okay, I haven’t seen him or talked to him in like… ten years. But he’s still hot, right?”

Asher nearly choked on his beer. “Penny!”

“Answer the question!” She teased. 

He felt his cheeks grow slightly warm. “Yes, he’s still hot.” He admitted.

“Ha! I knew it! So yes, she’s totally crazy.” Penny paused for another bite of pizza. “Hmm… Y’know, I was just thinking…”

“Well that’s dangerous.”

She ignored her brother’s teasing. “Still hot, single, and moving back to the area…” Penny eyed Asher significantly. “Might finally be time to go for it! Better late than never, right?”

“Oh my God, you are something else.” Asher shook his head. How the hell could she even suggest something like that?

“What? I know you always had a thing for him…”

“I… I did, yeah.” He replied awkwardly.

“And he obviously had a thing for you too. Don’t act like you didn’t know!” Penny paused and appeared thoughtful before speaking again. “I was a weird psycho-bitch about it, remember?”

It took a moment for Asher to realize that Penny never knew about his and Ollie’s brief relationship — they’d kept it hidden from just about everyone. Little did she know that he’d been well-aware of Ollie’s feelings… And that they’d already ‘went for it’ once before, long ago.

“I do remember…” He replied at last. “But Ollie and I barely even know each other anymore. All I care about right now is trying to be friends again.” Asher finished with a small shrug.

“I guess ‘friends’ is an okay place to start.” Penny admitted with what seemed to be reluctance. “But for the record, I’m totally rooting for you guys.”

He rolled his eyes and let out a deep chuckle. “Wow, you’ve certainly changed your tune since we were kids, huh?”

“What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good romance!” Penny replied playfully. 

“I know, Hollywood’s ruined you.” He teased.

His sister smiled. “Nothing juicer than a good love story! Especially that whole ‘one that got away’ thing, or whatever.”

Asher raised an eyebrow. “‘One that got away’?”

“Yeah! That’s what Ollie is, isn’t it?”

He paused to consider this. It was such a cliche saying, but it certainly applied here, didn’t it? His memories of his time with Ollie brought him nothing but happiness and warmth, and he’d spent years wondering what would have happened if the two of them had stayed together… Can’t get more cliche than that, can you?

“Yeah… I guess he is.” Asher confessed. “And you could throw Landon in that category too, actually… If you’re allowed to have more than one.”

His sister’s face fell slightly at the mention of his long-lost ex. “Landon? I haven’t heard you talk about him in a long time.”

“Yeah, well, no reason to, really.” He shrugged. “But yeah, I’d say it applies to him too.”

“What do you mean? He dumped you!”

Asher hesitated. He wasn’t sure if it was the beer or the strange nostalgic feeling seeing Ollie again had stirred in him lately, but he found himself thinking of things he hadn’t dwelled on in years.

“He did… And I guess that’s part of what made it so hard. I used to wonder what would’ve happened if he didn’t. We had all these plans, y’know? Like dating long-distance and me following him to Ohio and stuff… So that stupid ‘what if’ thing haunted me for a long time. Messed me up pretty bad, for a while.” Asher wondered whether he’d ever admitted any of this out loud before. He couldn’t remember if he had. “But that was all such a long time ago now, just like everything with Ollie. So none of it really matters anymore.”

Penny appeared strangely distressed by what he’d said. “Asher, I never told you before but… I’m really, really sorry for everything that happened back then. With Ollie and…” She paused. “And Landon.”

He eyed her curiously. “Why would you be sorry? You were a pain in the ass, sure, but it’s not like any of it was your fault.”

“Y-yeah… Yeah, I know. But still, I… I just feel bad.” Penny bit her lip. “Like you said, what if things were different?”

Asher just smiled. Penny was certainly in a weird mood, wasn’t she? “Who knows? Maybe I would’ve gotten my happy ending.” He admitted, thinking back on her ‘love story’ metaphor. “But that wouldn’t have made for a very interesting story, would it?”

Her smile seemed forced. “Guess not.”

“And speaking of happy endings, I really hope everything works out with you and Keith.” Much as he doubted that it would, Asher really meant it. “You deserve it, Penny.” Okay, yup. The beer is DEFINITELY getting to me.

“Thanks, Asher.” She replied seriously. “And promise you’ll keep me updated on Ollie? You deserve to be happy too, you know… Even if it’s just as friends.” She added quickly.

He smiled warmly at her. “I will. And thanks.”

Penny lifted her beer to her lips for a few moments, drinking deeply. When she put it back down, she stared intently at her brother. “Know what? I hate to say it, but… I really think there’s a part of me that’s gonna miss living with you.”

Asher chuckled. “Well, that makes one of us.” He teased.

Of course, there was a tiny, near-microscopic part of him that would maybe miss her too…

But he wasn’t about to tell her that.