(Something’s Got To) Give Pretty Soon
Rating: R (language, underage shenanigans, some sexiness)
Summary: What if the first thing Ashleigh does is confess?
A/N: Immediate sequel to A Soft White Damn. Title courtesy of Drive-By Truckers.
The first thing Ashleigh does after she survives her mother’s scathing lecture about proper judgment, which is far more relevant than Elaine Griffen will ever realize, is take a shower. She revels in the steam and the scent of her body wash for longer than she’s ever allowed, thinking that the water will rinse away all that she associates with him. His warm smell, the crisp wet snow, the malt of beer on his breath before the smooth hard pressure of his mouth meeting hers.
Her fingers twitch and she tells herself swiftly to focus. There is no way in hell she is going to lust after thoughts of Brad Townsend as she stands in a steamy shower. It’s beneath her. It’s gross. Yet her mind cavalierly skips right back to a mere thirty minutes ago, when she’d straddled his thigh and tested what is and is not acceptable to do with a boy in a truck in broad daylight in front of the house she shares with her family.
The answer, it appears, is about as much as one wants.
Ashleigh turns off the tap and stands dripping in the tub, feeling like a wet rat instead of a proper, respectable young girl. When she’s dried off, encased in sweats and toweling her damp hair, she makes a decision.
If she does not tell someone about this, she is going to go mad. Quite mad. Stark raving crazy, she thinks, if things keep going at their current rate.
She rips a brush through her hair, tangled strands snagging and breaking off in the bristles in her violence before she drops the brush on the bathroom counter and tells herself to get a grip.
She calls Linda, who answers with a rush as Ashleigh curls her feet underneath her on the bed and watches the snow fall past her window.
“You’re okay!” Linda exclaims, loudly, like screaming into the phone is necessary to be heard. Ashleigh winces a little and then smiles at her friend’s eagerness.
“I am,” she says. “Not a hair harmed.”
“Holy crap, Ashleigh,” Linda says, talking so quickly it’s hard for Ashleigh to keep up. “I called last night and your mom said you were stuck in a cabin with Brad Townsend. That you’d fallen in a creek and who knows what else. I couldn’t believe it! And then I thought there was no way you were surviving the night stuck in a cabin in the woods with Brad. It’s like a horror movie, or something.”
Ashleigh just winces and cups her hand over her forehead, feeling a headache blossom under the weight of trying to figure out how to explain last night in ways that make sense. It’s impossible. She just shouldn’t try. Surely there’s something else they can talk about.
“So?” Linda pokes at Ashleigh’s silence on the matter.
“Um,” Ashleigh begins, picking at her bedspread. “We survived.”
“Obviously,” Linda says. Ashleigh can just picture one of Linda’s eyebrows rising into her hair.
“There was,” Ashleigh pauses again, telling herself to spit it out. If she shares she’ll feel better. Maybe someone will tell her she’s not insane. That really it’s all very natural and even expected of her to fall prey to raging hormones that will not rest until something incomparably awful happens.
“Yes?” Linda says, drawing out the word as though it has a triple S on the end.
“There might have been,” Ashleigh swallows, “a clothing issue.”
“A clothing issue?” Linda asks, confused. “What sort of clothing issue?”
“You are going to make me spell this out, aren’t you?” Ashleigh says, suddenly breaking.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Linda says, but Ashleigh barely hears her.
“An issue,” she says, feeling like a little rock trembling on the edge of a sharp decent. “A no clothing issue.”
There’s a scandalized gasp on the other end of the line, but Ashleigh keeps going. “All of my clothes were soaked through and I was freezing, so I had to take them off…”
“Off? All of them?”
“Off. All of them. And then he took off most of his clothes…”
“Him,” Ashleigh confirms. “And we went to sleep together.”
There’s a strangled noise.
“Not like that,” Ashleigh rushes on. “Innocent sleep, only I was naked, and he was mostly naked. And then we woke up in the morning and there was a confusing conversation followed by kissing and—”
“Brad Townsend has seen at least the top half of me naked. Naked, Linda. And what’s worse is there was more kissing after that, once we got back to the farm, and then more in the truck outside my house and—”
“Whoa,” Linda says. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Stop right there.”
Ashleigh feels a little out of breath, like she’s been sprinting all the way through a marathon. What’s worse is she wants to keep going. It’s almost cathartic, to empty all her secrets out at Linda’s feet. Next she’s going to get into her emotions, and his possible emotions, so she can pick them apart and diagnose just what the hell is wrong with them.
“Ashleigh?” Linda says quietly. “You’re telling me that you and Brad Townsend were engaging in consensual kissing on the floor of an isolated cabin this morning?”
Ashleigh swears Linda should be in pre-law. That about sums it up perfectly.
“Yes,” she states.
“And there was potentially more. More that was also consensual.”
Ashleigh wants to bang the telephone against her forehead, but she just mutters a yes and flops over onto her side, curling up in the middle of the bed.
“And then there was more kissing,” Linda goes on, like she’s got to get the story straight by repeating it all so she can firmly grasp the situation at hand. “At the farm, and in his truck. Am I missing anything?”
“No,” Ashleigh replies. “That’s it.”
“Okay,” Linda says. “Now that we’ve confirmed all of this I have to ask what the hell, Ashleigh?”
“I don’t know,” Ashleigh moans. “I really don’t. It was just bicker, bicker, bicker like usual. Then he’s kissing me and I didn’t stop him. I didn’t want to stop him. And that’s pretty much been the story since except…”
“I’ve kind of encouraged or started some of the kissing.”
There is a weighty silence.
“I am going insane.”
“Very probably,” Linda says. “Look, maybe it’s just been a while since Mike? You’re not thinking clearly. It’s just…hormones running wild. Brad is an outlet. Think of it like that.”
Ashleigh lets out a breath, wondering if Linda’s theory holds water. It does make a sick amount of sense, if she was someone other than herself. Ashleigh had never thought herself as the kind of person who needed boys, or much cared for their company. She figured Mike had been the one exception to an otherwise asexual life, but maybe that was ridiculous of her considering she’d met Mike five years ago, before she’d felt comfortable with letting a boy touch her hand.
They’d been broken up for nearly two years, and for most of that time she’d been okay leading a dateless, boyless existence. Only then Brad had come back home from college, graduated and always in her face, making her life with the horses so much more complicated. Everything she did was a problem, and as far as she was concerned, he was the problem. The one obstacle that was insurmountable because whenever she thought she’d gained any hard fought victory over him, he’d just turn around and knock her on her ass, leaving her with no comebacks and no options. Training Pride as a yearling had been a nightmare, and she loathes thinking of what it will be like now that he’s two and this has happened.
Ashleigh was flustered, frustrated, and besides herself by the time she’d taken Fleet Goddess out on that trail. It was a stupid decision, but it was her one source of relief and she’d taken it. If Fleet Goddess as an outlet hadn’t been a smart move, Brad—the very man that is stirring her up and pushing her down—will be catastrophic.
“I’d like to say you’re right,” Ashleigh says. “I just don’t think that’s it.”
“You don’t have,” Linda starts to say, and then makes another choking noise before she can get the rest of the words out. “Feelings? For him? Do you?”
A bark of laughter answers Linda, which isn’t an answer at all. “Welcome to my sad, pathetic life,” Ashleigh says.
“Clearly you need a vacation,” Linda replies. “What are you going to do, Ash?”
“Avoid him for a while,” Ashleigh sighs. “I don’t know. My car is there. Goddess and Pride and Wonder are there. Charlie, Jilly, and people I can’t avoid are there. I can’t very well avoid him, even. It’s a huge mess, and I don’t know what I want or what I want to do. Every time I look at him, I just want to jump at him and it’s so disconcerting, Linda.”
Linda doesn’t say anything for a second, and then says, “I think you need to get out of your head.”
“I think that’s going to be hard,” Ashleigh mutters. “I live there.”
Linda giggles. “I have talked Corey and Jennifer into going to Buster’s with me on Saturday. I was going to ask you yesterday, but you were too busy making out with Brad Townsend in isolation to talk to me.”
“Don’t,” Ashleigh groans. “Just don’t.”
“We’re going to go see the Drive-By Truckers. It’s very important that you’re there,” Linda says. “Say you’re going. You’ll feel better.”
“Stop it,” Linda says sharply. “You’re going. You can avoid him the rest of the day, and tomorrow and Saturday your time will be occupied by your friends, so by Sunday you’ll be too tired to do anything but avoid. You won’t even need your car for all of that.”
“I’ll still have to go back on Monday,” Ashleigh points out.
“I’m not a magic genie, Ashleigh,” Linda says primly. “This is the best I can do.”
“Fine,” Ashleigh grumbles. “I’ll go see these trucker people.”
“That’s the enthusiasm I was hoping for!” Linda says, and Ashleigh cracks a smile.
Ashleigh turns off her cell phone and spends Friday with Linda. She sleeps over, like they’re ten instead of nineteen, talking into the night about everything that is not Brad Townsend. On Saturday, Ashleigh permits herself to turn on her phone and finds not one message from him. No attempts to call.
She’s glad, or maybe she’s pissed off. She’s not sure which, and that bothers her before she turns her phone off again and sinks into the weekend.
It feels like no time at all that she’s standing just inside the doors at Buster’s, an old distillery turned pool hall and music venue by the train yard. Next to her, Jennifer shivers, although Ashleigh thinks that’s mostly her friend’s own fault.
“I cannot believe you’re wearing that,” Ashleigh says again, while Jennifer tosses loosely ironed blond hair over her back. Jennifer insisted on wearing her new, strapless dress. The creamy lace just barely reaches mid-thigh, exposing more bare skin than is logical with snow on the ground. Jennifer tops it all off with four inch heels, making Ashleigh wish she’d slip on a patch of ice so she can stop grandstanding at every opportunity.
“I noted your astonishment thirty minutes ago,” Jennifer says, her teeth gritted in what Ashleigh thinks are efforts to keep them from chattering.
“My astonishment still hasn’t ceased,” Ashleigh says, watching as her friend, or whatever Jennifer really is as they’ve never been that close, huddles in her pea coat.
Corey smiles and says, “Does that getup even go with cowpunk?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” sniffs Jennifer, while Linda gets two black Xs drawn on the backs of her hands with permanent marker.
Once they’ve been adorned with their black marks, Corey leads the way to the women’s bathroom, where most of the other recently admitted underage girls are furiously scrubbing their Xs away. Ashleigh doesn’t see much of a point, since she’s not intending to drink, but Jennifer and Corey – even Linda – huddle around a sink and pass out the soap, so she joins in. Jennifer came prepared, pulling a washcloth out of her purse and going over everyone’s marks just to make sure no remnants are left behind.
“I want to have fun tonight,” is her excuse. “Come here, Ashleigh.”
Ashleigh gives up and allows Jennifer to groom the marker’s shadow away. With bright pink, freshly scoured hands, the girls wind their way back into the crowd, find a slip of space that hasn’t been claimed behind the pool tables, and drape their coats all over it. Jennifer gets a few appreciative glances from a couple of heavily tattooed men nearby as she takes off her pea coat, revealing shoulder blades and a necklace that looks heavy enough to weigh down a blimp.
Everyone else is far plainer. Graphic tees or racer back tanks, jeans and flats. They look young because they are, but Jennifer stalks up to the bar like she means it and orders them all drinks, coming back and handing them out with a little smile on her glossed lips.
“Free,” she says, giving Ashleigh a beer because they all know she’s not that adventurous. Ashleigh thinks about refusing it, but then she remembers her silent cell phone in her purse and takes the beer anyway. Linda is right; she needs a night to escape from her head.
Beer should just about do it.
Buster’s continues to fill up, crowds collecting around the bar and the tables. The opening act isn’t set to come on for another thirty minutes, so there’s plenty of time to kill. It doesn’t take long before the tattooed men invite Jennifer along to play pool.
“Teams?” Jennifer proposes, looking toward Corey as the men laugh like this is a hilarious suggestion. Corey shakes her head, definitely not as outgoing as her partner in crime. Linda begs off, pointing to her drink and saying she knows nothing about pool. That leaves Ashleigh, who clutches the neck of her beer bottle and attempts to not look like a deer caught in headlights.
“I don’t know how to play,” she says, and one of the men – the tall, lean one with messy, mouse brown hair – smirks.
“That’s something I can fix,” he assures her, a southern drawl thick in his mouth. “Get over here, sweetheart.”
Great, Ashleigh thinks to herself as Jennifer trots over to the table and selects her cue stick. Just great. Ashleigh promises herself that if she gets felt up in this impending situation, she’s going to personally break Jennifer’s heels by the end of the night. Had Jennifer stayed with them by the wall, she wouldn’t feel it necessary to go along with this incredibly horrible idea.
Ashleigh picks up a cue stick with her free hand and takes a large gulp of beer, swallowing it down and feeling it slosh into her nervous stomach. Her pool partner leans on his cue stick and smiles down at her.
“I’m BJ,” he says, and she affords him a pressed smile that is just this side of condescending.
“Okay, BJ,” she says, and he laughs.
“I see how it’s going to be,” he says, while his burly friend pushes his trucker hat backward on his head and breaks. Pool balls go shooting across the table, and Ashleigh glares across the felt at Jennifer as she watches the proceedings with eager interest. BJ’s friend, whom Ashleigh gives a wide berth as he moves around the table, sinks two balls with a crisp efficiency she hopes to god will last.
He misses the third shot, and BJ nudges Ashleigh with his hip. She scoots away from him, and snaps, “Personal space, BJ. Respect it.”
BJ’s friend whistles. “You got the live one, Beej.”
“Fuck,” BJ sighs, running a hand over his face, showing off more tattoos that run up his arm and disappear under his shirtsleeve. He snags her cue and says, “Come on, sweets. We’ll play nice, and maybe you’ll learn something.”
Ashleigh approaches him tentatively, absorbs his little dog and pony show lesson, and will not let him do anything remotely like stand behind her as she shoots.
“Stand over there,” she tells him, and he lifts his hands, taking two large steps away from her and winds up standing closer to Jennifer. Ashleigh leans over the table, takes the relatively easy shot, and misses. She scowls at the four ball, and goes to push from the table.
“Wait, hold on,” a voice says before she can straighten up.
Every muscle in her body tenses while a rush of glowing warmth flows into the pit of her stomach. Ashleigh names this unknown feeling dread, but with the way her fingertips start tingling as the glow shifts into her abdomen, she knows she’s lying to herself.
Ashleigh recognizes the look of stunned disbelief on Linda’s face. Corey mirrors it perfectly as she holds her Sex on the Beach in front of her chin like a shield. Jennifer smiles brilliantly, shifting happily on her toes, and the two men give Brad a casual, cool appraisal. No one speaks.
Ashleigh wants to rest her forehead against the table and just quit. Instead she does just the opposite of what Brad requests and straightens, turning around and leaning against the edge of the pool table so she can face him.
He smiles, takes a drink from his beer, and motions with the bottle to the table. “Why am I not surprised that you’d suck at this?” He looks at Beej. “Is she even trying?”
Ashleigh gapes at him. BJ shakes his head and says, “Nah. She’s being obstinate as fuck.”
Brad watches her with amusement crackling in his eyes. “Welcome to my life,” he says to BJ, and then to Ashleigh, “And here I thought you were only a bitch to me. Glad to know I keep some sort of company.”
Raising an eyebrow, Ashleigh crosses her arms. “What are you doing here?”
“Public place,” he says, shrugging. “Saturday. See those people?” He motions behind him at a group of three boys and a girl Ashleigh’s never seen before, all of whom look interested in the developments of their pool table.
“You have friends?” she asks, and he laughs. Takes another sip of his beer.
“Is that a question I’m supposed to answer?” he asks in return, just as Jennifer perks up and says, “Hi! I’m Jennifer. I’m friends with Ashleigh.”
Brad tears his gaze from Ashleigh’s eyes, which she’s already squeezed shut in efforts to block out some of the horribleness of her friends interacting with Brad Townsend. It’s like she’s entered some alternate universe where logic no longer applies. Reality has shifted, and Ashleigh’s going to have to work to set it back on its correct axis.
“Of course you are,” Brad says, biting back a laugh. He glances down at the pool table and says to Jennifer, “I think it’s your turn, babe.”
Ashleigh just knows that Jennifer is beaming behind her, so she pushes away from the table, grabs her beer and presses it and the backs of her fingers into Brad’s chest to push him a few steps away from her friends.
“You can’t just stroll up and start talking to me,” she hisses so no one but him can hear. “That’s not part of the deal.”
“What deal?” he asked, unperturbed by her glare and her pushing. “You mean the unspecified amount of time we were supposed to not interact? Because I’m sorry to break this to you, but I think karma disagrees with you this time, Ash. By the way, you can come get your car. It’s not like I’ve got someone staking it out waiting for your return.”
Ashleigh drew back, yanking her fingers away from his chest and shifting uneasily on her feet. He doesn’t look it, but she swears there’s a simmering annoyance bubbling away under his calm exterior. She taps the fat tip of the cue stick against the dirty concrete floor and pokes a finger into his chest, the beer in the bottle sloshing around inside the glass.
“You don’t get to be angry with me,” she whisper yells at him. “Not at all. We agreed for the sake of sanity.”
“What makes you think I’m angry?” he asks, and she scoffs.
“The fact that you came over here at all says a lot.”
“I came over here to make sure you hadn’t lost your mind,” he says. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I have a life, too.”
He doesn’t look convinced. His eyes track down to her hands, knowing her age, and says, “Who’s idea was it to wash off those Xs?”
She bristles, because of course he knows her well enough to know her reservations. “Shut up.”
“Ash,” he chides. “I’m disappointed. Was it Jen over there?”
She tracks his lingering gaze, looking over her shoulder at Jennifer as she bends over the table to take her second shot. Jennifer is taking her time, partly because she knows what she looks like and because she doesn’t want to flash the entire pool hall. Ashleigh turns around swiftly, but Brad keeps his eyes on Jennifer long enough that she feels smacking him in the arm is necessary.
He blinks and grins. “What. Jealous?”
“Fuck you,” she says, enunciating each word so he’s sure to understand the gravity of his mistake. She spins on her spot and troops back to the table. Jennifer’s shot goes wide, and Ashleigh has to wait for her turn. The entire time, she hopes Brad is nowhere near. She hopes he’s gone back to his friends, gone in to the back room to watch the opening act, which floods the pool hall with the edgy noise of live music.
For her turn, she studies the table too long, stalling for instruction she doesn’t want from BJ. Ashleigh realizes that she is a horrible liar, even to herself. She hates herself a little for that, especially when she sees Linda give her an almost imperceptible shake of her head. Ashleigh bites her bottom lip and thinks to herself fine. That’s just great. Two can play at this game.
“Hey, Beej,” she says to her tattooed sidekick. “Give me that lesson again.”
This time she lets him stand behind her and guide her hands until the balls crack home.
By the time the main act takes the stage, Ashleigh is on her second beer. She’s warm and happy because she won two pool games. BJ bought her the second beer to celebrate and told her to come get him if she decides the Drive-By Truckers aren’t as interesting as the pool hall. Ashleigh still doesn’t give him her name, and doesn’t feel bad about it. BJ doesn’t seem to care.
Linda gives her the evil eye as they push their way into the back room, Jennifer and Corey lost in the crowd.
“What was that?” Linda asks, linking their arms and squirming through the press of people.
“I won at pool,” Ashleigh says, keeping her new beer close to her chest. Linda does the same, pressing the mouth of the bottle up against her chin as they shoulder into an empty pocket large enough to hold only them.
“No,” Linda says, dragging out the word and shaking her head. “You were putting on a show.”
Ashleigh laughs and says, nearly yelling to be heard, “I was merely showing someone their inherent stupidity. If I get to win at pool in the process, so be it.”
“I was watching him, you know,” Linda says. “During all of your very impressive attempts to make him jealous.”
Ashleigh doesn’t bother to contradict Linda, although she does have some qualms with the wording.
“Oh, he was around?” she asks, and Linda rolls her eyes.
“He was busy talking to that blond girl with his friends,” she says, and then pauses as the band starts up in earnest. During the first song, which Ashleigh is trying to lose herself in, Linda says loudly in Ashleigh’s ear, “I don’t know what really happened here, but you’re both being really obvious. I think you probably broke all of Jennifer’s daydreams.”
“Good,” Ashleigh yells back. “Someone needed to.”
Linda gives her a frown, finishes off her beer, and says, “That’s not the point, Ashleigh.”
Waving the empty bottle at her, Linda says, “I’ll be right back.”
Ashleigh nods and stands alone in the crowd, tries not to get shoved around by the current, and attempts to keep her mind clear. She doesn’t want to think about Brad walking up to her out of nowhere. She doesn’t want to know what he wanted, what his real purpose was before it had all become about trying to make each other jealous.
She loathes that word. Mainly because it makes whatever they are so much more concrete. The little flare she felt when he’d looked at Jennifer made it official. This is a thing. She and Brad are a thing. A horrible, twisted thing, but a thing nonetheless.
She takes a long swallow of her beer, sucking the foam across her tongue, and nearly chokes when a hand presents itself on her hipbone. For a tiny, fearful moment she thinks she’ll find BJ’s tattooed hand on her, but when she looks down she recognizes unadorned, long fingers and relaxes against Brad’s chest.
For a minute they just stand there like that, Brad’s hand on her hip and her back to his chest. His breath is warm in her hair, but he says nothing while they stand in the middle of an ever shifting audience. The sound of a beer bottle shattering on the floor makes her refocus, and she turns her head enough to see him out of the corner of her eye.
“I’m not apologizing and I’m not going anywhere,” he says preemptively, which makes her furrow her eyebrows at him because that’s not allowed. “I’m also not shutting up.”
“Jennifer has had a crush on you since middle school,” she informs him. “If anything you need to go tell her you’re sorry for giving her a brief flicker of hope.”
“Why would I do that if she’s still a viable option?” he asks, smirking as she takes that bait and turns around, glaring up at him. His hand skims to her lower back and he grasps her shirt in his fist and keeps her anchored against his body. Little warning bells go off in the back of her head, because Linda will be back soon and who knows where Jennifer and Corey went. If any of them see this, she’ll have a hard time explaining herself. Even to Linda, although she seems more perplexed than anything. Ashleigh doesn’t want to splash this sort of weirdness in her face yet.
Yet. Ashleigh cannot believe she just thought the word yet.
“You dating Jennifer would be the equivalent of buying a poodle and naming it Buttercup,” Ashleigh says. “It’s mind breaking.”
“Poodles are supposedly very intelligent dogs,” Brad says, and she does not want to know why he knows this. “Besides, I thought we were mind breaking.”
“Only because I hate you,” Ashleigh says, having to crane her neck back to look at him. One of his thumbs is rubbing nonsensically against her back, right over the dip of her spine. A shiver builds up there, and her eyes fall to his mouth as that little glowing feeling sparks up and merges sharply into her bloodstream.
“I’m not convinced.” He lets go of her shirt, and before Ashleigh can be ashamed at feeling disappointment, he moves his hand under the hem and drags his fingers along her skin to her side. His thumb does this swipe over her skin that makes her tremble, that glow catapulting down into her abdomen. There’s a luxurious, thudding throbbing that she cannot control and that thumb keeps on moving slowly, back and forth.
“Does that really matter?” she finds herself asking, wondering how she’s even talking right now.
He looks down at her and he is so close. She can’t tell if it’s because he’s moved her closer or because she’s willingly leaned forward. “Out of curiosity,” he says, “how long are you planning on living in denial?”
God, she doesn’t know. She can’t tell if she wants him or if she’s mixing it up with just wanting the feel of him. She can’t tell if those are two completely different things that one can want. How could it be possible to want just what Brad does to her without wanting him? There are his hands and his smirking mouth, the little glow that’s pooling in the deepest, most private part of her that stokes bright and rises to the surface of her skin with each glance from him.
It’s hormones. It’s hormones, hormones, hormones.
Ashleigh makes a strangled little noise of frustration and somehow her brain gets kicked to the curb. Who needs it? Ashleigh certainly doesn’t. She puts her free hand on the back of his neck and pulls herself up to his mouth, kissing him like she’s been starved and is too hungry to take anything in moderation. The hand on her hip clenches and she gasps breathy encouragement, wants him to take it a step further, rewards him when he deepens the kiss by pressing herself closer and moving her hand down to the hem of his shirt so she can feel skin.
“Holy hell,” Linda shouts, which is the perfect time to feel like someone has dumped ice cold water down Ashleigh’s back. She jerks her head back, untangles her hand from Brad’s shirt in order to cover her mouth for no real reason because it’s not like she’s shielding herself from further kissing. Brad lets go of Ashleigh and gives Linda an aggravated look that Ashleigh recognizes as the forerunner to a particularly snide comment.
She beats him to the punch.
Ashleigh peels her hand off her mouth and yells, “Linda! It’s not…”
Now Brad’s glaring at them both.
“It is!” Linda exclaims, clutching her beer and looking between them. “It’s…I mean, you did say, but this is…weird. This is weird, Ashleigh!”
“You told her?” Brad asks, and Ashleigh pokes him in the chest. He rolls his eyes and grabs her finger, keeping hold of it so she won’t give him a bruise.
“I had to tell someone,” Ashleigh says. “Linda is my best friend. You could be nicer.”
“I haven’t even said anything.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” Ashleigh says. “It’s written all over you.”
“Oh my god.” Linda presses the cool bottle against her forehead and lifts a hand to get them both to shut up. “You are both breaking the laws of nature. Nature!”
Brad has that look again, and Ashleigh kicks his foot.
Linda points at him, “You, I have no idea what’s wrong with you.” Then she looks at Ashleigh. “But you, you know better. Where do I even start, Ashleigh? PDA with him while I’m standing right over there—” she waves somewhere behind her, “like you’ve got no care in the world who sees and might have their eyes burned out of their skulls as a result. It’s not like you.”
“We can always go over—”
“Shut up!” Linda snaps at Brad, and he raises his hands and his beer bottle in surrender. Ashleigh feels for him just a tiny bit. This wasn’t exactly the way she wanted to ease Linda into things. Then she wants to smack herself in the forehead again because there she goes thinking about things. She listens to the rest of Linda’s rant about crimes committed against man and nature, and cannot believe she is in a thing that she’s suddenly feeling like defending.
God help her.
“Linda,” Ashleigh shouts over her friend’s litany of words. “Remember that talk we had about consent?”
“What?” Brad asks, looking cross and partially worried about what’s going to come out of her mouth next. Ashleigh shushes him.
“Vaguely,” Linda says slowly, like she’s being tricked and doesn’t want to rush into the rest of this conversation.
“Well, the facts of the matter are that I consent. I am in a thing.”
She cannot believe that just came out of her mouth. Ashleigh keeps her back straight and rolls with it.
“A thing,” Linda parrots, confused.
“Yes,” Ashleigh nods, gives Brad a wary look out of the corner of her eye. He looks like he has no idea what she’s talking about, but she’s not going to let that bother her quite yet. “It’s a thing with Brad and it’s weird and I want you to know that I realize the consequences are ridiculously, stupidly huge and that this whole thing is…”
She starts to lose her train of thought, as she’s never been very good at giving speeches. Linda and Brad are both looking at her like she’s the most fascinating thing they’ve ever seen, including a few random people nearby. Ashleigh glares at them.
“Ill-advised?” Linda finishes Ashleigh’s sentence at the same time Brad says, “A total shit storm.”
Linda gives her a wary look, and then takes a large gulp of her beer, like she needs to fortify herself for the rest of the night and the only way she’ll be able to see herself through is by utilizing the bar to its fullest extent.
“Ashleigh,” she announces. “You are my friend and I love you. I will go along with this so long as there is no making out or anything else I deem questionable in my presence.”
“What’s questionable?” Brad asks, like he just wants to be sure. He’s considering Linda like she might bite him if he moves a muscle.
“Everything,” Linda says. “No touching, no standing near each other, none of that weird bickering that no one can stand because it is so effing disturbing. Just, act civilized.”
Ashleigh knows that’s not going to be possible, but she’s going to try. She gives Brad a questioning look. After a minute, he sighs, runs a hand through his hair and shrugs.
They stay at the bar until the lights come on and a voice booms over the intercom, “It is 2:30. Everyone get the fuck out.”
Ashleigh blinks at the sudden harshness of the overhead fluorescents, the pool table looking too green and the balls too shiny. One of Brad’s friends, a boy named Garrett who has too much money and knows it, glances his stick off the cue and the ball goes curling off in the wrong direction. He groans and tips his head back as everyone laughs.
“Fucking lights,” he says through a smile, giving Corey his stick so they can finish up the game. Everyone is slow about getting the fuck out.
Ashleigh sits perched on a stool by the wall along the short side of the table, a stick propped between her legs and her fourth empty beer bottle in her hand. Brad is leaning against the wall by the long side of the table, watching Ashleigh as Jennifer blinks blearily up at him.
Just to prove her point, she’d made sure Brad and Jennifer were teamed up during their late night rounds of pool. Ashleigh thinks she’s succeeded wildly, if the glare Brad keeps sending her is anything to go by. The ruse has stayed nicely in place, although Ashleigh’s sure she’s spent too much time staring at Brad and who knows what Brad has been doing when her attention is on the game.
Of course, they’re all together, which isn’t right at all, and there’s been no storming off on her part or snide insults from him. Just a few volleys launched from either side that land dully instead of inciting sparks. It’s almost comfortable. Ashleigh wants to walk over and invade Brad’s space, but she clamps down on the impulse. She did, of course, promise a friend.
On their way out of Buster’s, Brad manages to work out the car arrangements so he’s taking her home alone. Ashleigh puts up a token resistance, but fuel economy wins out and Linda waves them off with a roll of her eyes.
They walk up to the huge Townsend Acres truck, which Ashleigh is starting to wonder about, although she supposes it’s more helpful in the snow than Brad’s flashy Ferrari. She opens her own door and climbs into the cab. As soon as they’re both inside the bitter cold interior and the ceiling light dims, she launches herself at him.
He’s ready for her, and before Ashleigh knows it she’s on her back on the seat and his weight presses her down. She manages to curl one leg up by his hip, clawing her hands on his coat and wanting more as her hair gets tangled in his fingers and their breath catches in their throats.
“Holy crap I thought that was never going to fucking end,” he says against her neck, and she laughs.
“You were very good,” she says. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
“Yeah, I follow instruction well if I’m going to get something out of it,” he says, undoing the buttons on her coat and pushing his hand up underneath her shirt. His fingers are tinged with cold, but are otherwise warm and she welcomes the touch as she arches back to his mouth.
“What do you think you’re going to get?” she asks, licking her lips and inadvertently licking his. A noise like a sigh and a snarl rattles in his chest.
“Well, I can’t say what but it’s going to happen in the seat of my truck while we’re in this parking lot if you’re not careful. You’ll probably regret it.”
Ashleigh moans as his hand moves further up, cupping a breast outside of her bra. It’s very hard to snag his wrist and pull her shirt back down, but he’s right. She’ll regret a whole lot if they keep going like this. The look on his face as she pulls her shirt back into place is dark and remorseful, drawing conclusions she doesn’t want to cross his mind, so she lifts the hand she’s captured and places a kiss on his index finger before sucking the tip into her mouth and running her tongue along the calloused flesh.
That seems to change his whole outlook on life, because he’s up on his knees and pulling Ashleigh with him. She lets go of his hand, releases his finger, and finds herself in his lap. Her mouth opens in surprise, and his is right there against hers, driving that little glowing spot in her to such a frenzy she’s almost prepared to regret saying no to him this one time in his truck in the parking lot.
When they stop their breath mists in the air and Ashleigh feels like she needs a lot of it just to keep up with her heart. Her hand is crushing the lapel of his coat, and her clothes are in complete disarray. Her hair is a wild mess around her shoulders, strands sticking up with static. They both look thoroughly and truly consumed, and yes, Ashleigh thinks, this is a thing.
“Maybe,” Ashleigh says, trying out her voice and finding it scratchy and unsure. She clears her throat while he watches her. It’s intimidating, like usual. “Maybe we can do this where it’s warmer? Maybe after we’ve done something that doesn’t involve a chance meeting? Like, you know, after a planned outing to a place of mutual choosing?”
Brad hesitates, like he’s got to take a few seconds to digest her meaning. “Is that your attempt at asking me out on a date?”
She blushes and he grins, skims a hand along her jaw and kisses her softly. It’s their first kiss that doesn’t seem to be designed to plunge deep inside of her so he can find her soul. Ashleigh likes it just as much, this slow build that makes her wriggle against him, wordlessly asking for more she knows she won’t get yet.
- (Something's Got To) Give Pretty Soon