My past has nothing to do with him. My shame and guilt have nothing to do with him. But it all bleeds into every aspect of my life, and this is the reason we can’t be friends. I can’t let anyone else get hurt because of me. Everyone should stay away from me because, in the end, I know I’ll let them down.
I decide to go for a run before my mom gets up and suggests we should go out for breakfast, or traps me into a day of Lifetime movies. The minute my feet start pounding on the pavement, I feel some of the tension leave my body.
I saw Asher as a new beginning, but eventually he’ll figure out how I used to be. I think if I could move away from here to a place where no one knows me, I might have a chance at happiness, but I can’t do that either. There’s a comfort in staying home . . . but there’s so much agony too.
I can’t decide if I want to stay or run away, but I do know I’m afraid of being alone.
We all build a sense of identity as we grow up. It’s shaped by our family, our friends, where we grow up, our talents, our weaknesses, our victories and our mistakes. Hopefully, by the time we reach adulthood, we know who we are.
I was almost there once; I’d been on the cusp of figuring out who I was, but it was all wiped away because someone felt like he needed to steal my power away from me one night.
I need to get it back somehow, or there won’t be anything left of me.
When I return home, I take a long, hot shower before being sucked into a movie marathon with my mom. Lucky for me, she’s tired from a long week at work and doesn’t feel like talking much. Sometimes I wish we had a different relationship so I could tell her everything. I’ve often played out how I would tell her about Drew in my mind, but it never ends the same. Would she be ashamed of me? Would she tell me how stupid I was for going into the house that night? I just can’t bring myself to that point, knowing there is a chance she’ll be disappointed in me. I still need her.
It’s past eight in the evening when there’s a knock at the door. Mom’s been asleep on the couch for at least an hour. I run to my room and grab a zip up sweatshirt to cover my cami and cotton pajama shorts before peeking through the side window to see who’s at the door.
It’s Asher. What’s he doing here?
I slowly open the door just enough for him to see me. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” he asks nervously as he leans back against the railing.
I put my index finger over my lips, looking back at my mom to make sure she’s still sleeping, and then slip out the front door. “What are you doing here?”
“We didn’t do our fact for a fact today,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck.
“What?” I ask, dumbfounded. He came all the way over here just to give me a fact.
“My fact for the day: I wanted to come over here as soon as you drove away yesterday. I want to know you. I want to know what it is that made you cry, but more than that, I want to know what I have to do to make you happy again,” he says, his voice soft.
I’m taken aback. Why does he care so much? He doesn’t know me, but his sights are set on figuring me out. Maybe we’re more alike than I thought.
“Why do you care?” I whisper.
He shakes his head. “I don’t know. I just can’t stop thinking about you.” I feel a lump growing in the back of my throat.
“Asher, there are lots of other girls in this town who would be happy to get to know you. Don’t waste your time on me,” I say, looking down at my hands to avoid his reaction.
He places his finger under my chin, lifting my eyes to his. “I only want to know you.” My heart is beating so fast that he can probably see it through my sweatshirt.
“I don’t do the whole dating thing,” I say, trying to catch my breath.
“I just want to be your friend.”
“Why not you?” he asks, running his thumb across my chin.
“It’s not easy for me,” I whisper, trying to pull my eyes from his, but the finger he still has under my chin won’t let me.
“What do you have to lose?”
He has no idea how much a person can lose by trusting someone, absolutely no idea. But I can’t quiet the voice in my head that’s telling me to take a chance on Asher . . . I had fun yesterday before my past came crashing down on us.
I nod, hesitantly. “Okay.”
“Well then, friend, tomorrow I’m picking you up after work and we’re going to do something fun.”
“And what’s that?” I ask, nervously.
“It’s a surprise,” he says before starting down the steps.
I watch him walk down the sidewalk without muttering a word. When he reaches his car, I realize I never gave him a fact. “Wait!” I yell.
He stops in front of his car and I move toward him, not wanting the whole neighborhood to hear me. His hands are in the pockets of his jeans as he brushes his tongue along his lower lip. For the first time, I actually sense tension between us, but it’s not bad tension. It’s just a strong pull that I can’t quite explain.
“I never told you my fact,” I say, stopping in front of him.
“Oh, yeah. What is it?” he asks, smiling down at me.
I take a deep breath. “I’ve really needed a friend lately.” Just admitting that was a big step for me. I hate when people see my weakness.
He cups my face and lets his thumbs run across the plains of my cheekbones. I close my eyes and feel tenderness in Asher Hunt. There are crazy little things going on in my stomach that I haven’t felt in a very long time.
When he pulls back, he just lets go, taking a few steps before walking to the driver’s side of his car. “See you tomorrow.”
I move back to the sidewalk and wave as he pulls away from the curb. I can’t believe that I just let that happen to me.
I WOKE UP THIS MORNING FEELING . . . different. I’m actually looking forward to something, and that’s a new concept for me. Asher shocked me when he stopped by my house last night, but I’m so glad he did. He brings feelings out of me that I haven’t felt in a long time. For the first time in two years, I really want to see and feel what it’s like to live.
When I got back in the house last night, I had yet another missed call from Beau. On Saturday when he called, I didn’t answer because I had just gotten home from the carnival and I knew if he heard my voice at that moment, he’d come straight home.
And last night, I didn’t pick up the phone when he called either. I don’t know why. I feel guilty because it seems like I might be replacing Beau’s absence with Asher and I’m not ready to explain that to Beau.
Work was slow today, but I’m finally heading home to get ready for Asher’s surprise. I have no idea what to wear because I have no clue what we’re doing. I select a blue maxi dress and pull a thick brown belt on over it to dress it up. He didn’t say what time he’d be here exactly, so I quickly tie my hair into a tight knot at the top of my head and put on a little gloss and mascara.
When the doorbell rings, my heart starts to race. When I open the door, the guy standing in front of me looks the same as every other day with his wild, but perfectly in place, blonde hair. He’s wearing faded blue jeans and a grey polo shirt which molds nicely to his body.
And I don’t miss the way his eyes travel up my body. “Do I look okay?” I ask. “I didn’t know what we were doing.”
“You look beautiful,” he remarks, causing me to briefly look away. Compliments are not something I take very easily. It means that someone is paying attention to me, and it makes me uncomfortable.
“Can you tell me where we’re going? I mean, it isn’t anywhere private, is it? I like to be around people,” I ramble, not giving him a chance to answer.
He rubs the back of his hand up my arm. “Hey, calm down. If it’s that important to you, I can tell you.”
I nod. “It is.”
“You know you can trust me, right?” he asks, tilting his head to the side.
“It’s not about you. It’s just this thing I have-“
He places his finger over my lips. “It’s okay. You don’t have to explain. We’re going to Omaha to hang out for the rest of the day.”
“Really?” I ask. I expected the movies or maybe dinner, but I wasn’t expecting a road trip.
“Yeah, I thought it would be nice to do a little exploring and see what there is to do outside of this town.”
That makes two of us, I think to myself as he helps me into his Mustang. It’s nice and clean inside with pristine leather seats. It’s only going to be the two of us in the car, but I trust him. He’s done nothing but try to help me since I first met him.
The conversation on the way into the city is light. He asks me why anyone would want to live on a farm, and I tell him that some people like the solitude, which turns into a discussion over the difference between the people and places in both Chicago and Carrington. I’ve never been to Chicago, but I imagine things are just a little different there.
“Why did you leave?” I ask, sneaking a quick glance in his direction.
He hesitates, running the tip of his tongue across his lower lip. I’ve noticed he does that a lot. “I’m not ready to share that fact yet.”
“What fact will you share today?” I ask.
“Let me see . . . I quit school one semester before getting my engineering degree,” he says, surprising me.
“Why did you do that?” I ask. Engineering isn’t easy, so to put that much work into it only to quit would be tragic.
He sighs. “That’s another thing I’m not ready to share.”
“Okay,” I say, turning my head to look out my window. I can see the taller buildings that make up downtown and realize we must be getting close.
“It’s your turn,” he says, bringing my attention back to him.
“Well, my original plan for this year was to go to college and major in Pre-Law,” I say, staring straight ahead.