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Carpe Diem

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Asher glowered at the black open-top Jeep stopped in the middle of the rapidly filling parking lot, watching as Jordan made out with Ripley. The Malibu cheerleader…I’m not sure their display is public enough though; only the whole school can see what he’s doing and who he’s doing it with. The thoughts rushed through his mind as white-hot rage bubbled at the center of his chest and Asher gripped the strap of his gym bag tighter. Jordan, it seemed, was oblivious to his presence at the edge of the science block and with only a few minutes until homeroom, Asher wasn’t confident that Jordan could disentangle himself in time to meet him in the locker rooms as usual.

Although it was becoming less usual; only twice in the past week had Asher been able to hook-up with Jordan. The rest of the time was devoted to crafting his new straight life. Asher huffed under his breath as he continued to watch the couple; Ripley’s hand very obviously in Jordan’s crotch. I wonder is he faking that too? He said he thinks of me, but…I know who I am, I know what I want. But Jordan, he’s never said the words, he said he wanted Ripley as a shield but-

“Whatchu doing?!”

“Huh?” Asher was jolted from his thoughts of betrayal by JJ’s arrival behind him, the other jock draping his arm around Asher’s shoulders as he smirked. “Hey.”

“Hey yourself.” JJ grinned wider, following Asher’s gaze. “Hmm, you turn into a creepy voyeur, Adams?”

“No need, they want everyone to look.”

“Huh, jealous?!”

“What?” Asher arched his brows and looked at JJ, careful to keep his tone confused. “I mean, Jordan’s our captain and she is from Malibu, I just thinking that…”

“Enemy infiltrator, huh?” JJ nudged him conspiratorially. “Do we have to do something?”

Oh, I wish. And not just the obvious. Asher bit his lip to stop his thoughts slipping out, breathing deep instead, savoring the heady scent of JJ’s aftershave and deodorant, so potent this close to his friend. He blinked and then shook his head. “No, it’s his choice, man, I just don’t want him to be distracted when we’re so close to the big game and finally getting into the playoffs.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” JJ finally pulled away from him and leaned against the wall next to them, his head tilted to left towards Asher. “Homecoming this weekend, gonna be lit, man!”

“I guess, you can never really let loose at this one though with the match the next day.” Asher shrugged, glancing between Jordan and JJ. “I heard from Dylan that you finally made up with the twins; taking them both to the dance!”

“Uh, yeah.”

“You sound so thrilled!” Asher laughed. “What’s up? Don’t like double trouble?”

“I think everyone like twins, Ash.” JJ folded his arms. “At least for that part…it’s the rest. They asked me, I couldn’t really say no.”

“Well, at least you’re getting laid out of it.”

“Nope.” He sighed again. “Not even getting off; I want to have that extra edge against Malibu, you know their offense is tight. I need all my juice!”

“Hmm.” Asher struggled not to react too much as a battery of images flashed through his mind. He couldn’t help but drop his gaze down JJ’s colorful shirt towards his navy shorts, Asher’s eyes grazing against the subtle, but noticeable bulge. “How long have you been holding it?”

“Um, about forty minutes.” JJ looked sheepishly at him when Asher snorted. “I’m starting from today; no way I could hold off all week.”

“Forty minutes ago…but we did early morning laps.” Asher left the sentence hanging and smirked. “You naughty dog!”

“Please, like I’m the first guy who’s jacked off in those showers!”

“Who’s jacked off in what showers?” Butler glanced between them as he walked around the corner from the parking lot. “What the hell are you guys talking about?”

“Uh, I’m, just…” JJ struggled for a moment and then sighed. “It’s nothing, man.”

“JJ was talking about saving his, um, strength for the match.” Asher replied smoothly. “He’s sacrificing his desires for the good of the team! No fun with his dates on Homecoming!”

“Oh, well, at least you two have dates.” Butler huffed.

“Aw, we’ll all hang out; you know the girls just want the perfect image for the Intsa, right?” JJ grinned good-naturedly at him and Asher.

“Yeah.” Asher muttered, agreeing with his friend as a different set of images slipped through his mind. I can see JJ in that shower all too well; his sweet tanned body, muscles pumped after our workout this morning…and even though I’ve never seen it hard, I’ve seen his dick plenty of times; he’s never been afraid to show it off. Mmmh, gonna have to continue this line of thought later if Jordan doesn’t meet me after school. He sighed to himself, turning back towards Jordan as the first bell chimed through the school buildings. His supposed boyfriend wasn’t showing any signs of stopping his session with Ripley and Asher felt his lip curl in disgust.

“Hey, Ash?”

“What?”

“I got the good stuff off my Dad for tomorrow night.” JJ said, gesturing for him to come closer as he lowered his voice. “I promise it’s much better than the last time.”

“You mean the floor polish that nearly blinded me?” Asher smirked as JJ rolled his eyes. “It better be, can’t get through the dance dry, bro.” Hell, I can’t make it through this morning. He dropped his hand, patting his trouser pocket to feel the reassuring shape of his trusty hip flask. “You gonna tell me what it is?”

“Mmh, you’ll see tomorrow.”

“Cool, I-”

“Coach Finks.” Butler cut across him warningly as one of the assistant coaches came towards them. The man was on the phone, but he paused to point towards the school. “Yeah, Coach, we’re going.”

“Hmm.” He grunted, adjusting his bag and glancing one last time towards the parking lot as Ripley’s Jeep pulled out, Jordan standing on the pavement watching her leave a stupid grin on his face. Asher scowled and then followed Butler and JJ towards the doors, frowning as he overheard a snippet of the conversation Coach Finks was having.

“Look, I know it was a stupid mistake, the tablet has…well, the password is…no, no, I don’t know about the new policy. I have-”

“Ash, let’s go, man!” JJ called out and pulled Asher’s attention back to him.

“Yeah, I’m coming.”

 

Jordan hummed to himself as he walked along the corridor towards homeroom, glancing up at the posters and banners hanging from the walls, streamers and bunting celebrating Homecoming and their upcoming game with Malibu. Each time he saw the dolphin and eagle on a poster he felt an uncomfortable twist in his stomach; a reminder that even though he and Asher were able to perform as a tight team on the field, their personal relationship was strained by Ripley. Jordan had been on several dates with her, making sure each time was in a public place where his friends or schoolmates were sure to be. Despite the fact that his ruse seemed to be working and Ripley appeared to remain oblivious to his true feelings and desire, the whole thing made Jordan uncomfortable and he knew Asher was upset by it.

It’s necessary, the whispers about me have stopped, no one suspects anything anymore. If Asher could just give me a few weeks, I can break up with her and we can go back to being us. Jordan thought to himself as he slipped into the classroom, taking his seat next to his secret boyfriend. Asher was facing away from him, talking to Dylan and Butler, and Jordan hesitated before greeting him, unsure if Asher had spotted him in the parking lot. “Uh, hey, Ash.”

“Jordan.” The other jock grunted and half-looked at him, before turning back to Dylan. “So, do you reckon Thanos is…”

Jordan chewed on his lower lip, letting Asher’s conversation pass him by and he sighed, pulling out his phone to check Twitter. I guess he did see me. He’s been pretty angry these last few days, well, after we hook-up, he’s his normal horny self, beforehand. I don’t understand how he seems to be able to separate the sex and the intimacy though. It’s like we can fuck, but then he’s still angry about Ripley. Huh, maybe if we had kept things casual he wouldn’t even care? Jordan glanced at his boyfriend again, this time running his eyes over Asher’s loose white t-shirt and down his broad back towards his trousers, the tell-tale sign of a hip flask stuffed into his pocket. It could have been his wallet, but Jordan knew better.

It wasn’t so bad at school, Asher seemed to be in control of his drinking, and Jordan didn’t feel like he could confront his boyfriend on the topic while he himself was tricking Ripley and using her as a cover. The nights and evenings were worse though; the few times he did see Asher over the past two weeks, the guy tended to slur his words and seem unsteady on his feet. But whenever Jordan tried to help him or said anything, Asher got defensive and Jordan was too afraid of what he might say in public in a drunken bout of anger that they never had an argument about it. Even then, Asher seemed aware of what he was doing, Jordan just recognized the piercing, haunted look in Ash’s eyes more and more. He had seen it a few times before when Asher really dropped his guard, but it seemed that the limits of his tolerance had already been reached. Jordan sighed again and turned back to his phone, resigned to being ignored after what he did in the parking lot.

 

Asher nodded as Butler and Dylan moved on, greeting their other friends. He looked across the room, avoiding Jordan’s bowed head to see Layla enter. Asher smirked slightly when he noticed Spencer look at her and Layla pause, before moving quickly towards her desk next to Olivia. Please, you two are so obvious! I don’t know what happened, but something definitely did, I can practically smell it. You’ve been so stiff around Spencer all week, Layla, and you’re not good at hiding your emotions, guess you’ve never had to.

He pressed his lips together, left hand in his pocket, the smooth metal of the flask was now warm to the touch, but Asher knew the liquid inside would still be cool enough to slake his craving thirst. Asher tapped the surface as the urge to just take a drink raged through his body, but he resisted long enough for the teacher to come in and take the rollcall. The action was what brought him comfort and relief, much more than the actual alcohol; that just provided a means to slide through his life without having to remember each moment of Jordan’s bullshit and Layla’s guilt and Spencer’s obvious interest in her. He usually managed to stay away from temptation during school hours and for training, at least, once he had taken the sip in the morning. Just enough to satisfy the cravings, just enough to ensure that the hangovers weren’t crippling.

It was mostly brain fog anyway, a softening of his vision to where everything had round corners and enabled him to drift through the day, most days anyway. But even with the liquid stress reduction, Asher still kept his edge, ever careful around the other guys, always watching his classmates for signs that they suspected him. His relationship with Layla always seemed to rubber-band back to the de facto status that they had been stuck in for the past year, although he had noticed that she was still awkward and tense around JJ. But Asher didn’t care about that, despite JJ always being friendly; touching and leaning against him, everyone knew what a player JJ was.

Jordan didn’t have that reputation however; Asher couldn’t even remember the last time Jordan had seriously dated anyone. Although, apparently that was the problem; the high school QB always had to have a girl otherwise there was something wrong with him. Asher glared at the desk as the thought sidled into his mind. The same was true for all of them of course, it’s why he had stayed with Layla for so long, even if it looked as though he might finally be free of the relationship. He should have been happy that Layla and Spencer did something together; he didn’t have any proof, but he knew the look. It had been what Asher had been waiting for ever since he started hooking up with Jordan. But with his boyfriend now making a grand show out of having a girlfriend, Asher wasn’t sure Jordan was the same as him. So where does that even leave us?

 

Despite the tension that dominated their interactions off the field, when it came to practice, Jordan and Asher still managed to work well together. The offensive team felt solid and the mix between Jordan’s good throwing arm and the receivers’ ability to catch the ball was reflected in each practice and in Coach Baker’s smile at the end of the last training session before the Malibu game. It was only after they had got back to the locker room that he came in to talk to them, calling for the team to gather around.

Asher was in the middle of pulling his jersey off when he heard Coach’s voice and he stopped, leaving the bunched material half up his chest. He looked over at Jordan in his black vest, sweaty skin slick and inviting. But Asher pulled his gaze away before Jordan could meet his eyes, attention falling onto JJ’s shirtless body instead. Hmm, usual smooth, tanned chest, skin looking like he just oiled it, damn! Asher blinked when he saw JJ’s arch his brow. Fuck, getting sloppy, Ash. He felt himself blush, but was able to pass the color in his cheeks off as exertion from the exercise, wiping his face with his towel.

“Alright, gather round,” Coach Baker gestured at them and grinned. “If ya’ll play like that on Sunday, we’ll crush Malibu!”

“Yeah!” Asher cheered along with the team, seeing Jordan smirk at him.

“Homecoming is tomorrow boys, so no more practice until the big game.” Coach continued, half-turning away before he pivoted back to them and raised a finger. “That being said, keep it classy! No drinking, no staying up all night. I need everyone firing on all cylinders, we have a big game this weekend. Alright, have fun tomorrow!" He gave them a little shimmy and then left as the team laughed and cheered before turning back to their lockers.

Asher smiled and dragged his eyes up JJ’s torso, lingering for a second on his hard nipples before flicking his gaze up towards his handsome face. He could feel his cock hardening, trapped painfully in his cup, hiding his obvious attraction even as he accepted JJ’s half hug and handshake. Asher glanced over fast enough to see Jordan look away, but he shrugged and nodded as JJ talked to him before they both grabbed their towels and headed for the showers, Asher able to conceal his hardon long enough for it to subside once he stopped looking at the other guys.

 

He was brushing his still wet hair when Jordan came up behind him, the sound of his bag dropping on the bench announcing the QB’s presence. “Hey.”

“Hey, Ash. Everyone is gone, we’re alone.” Jordan moved around so he could see Asher’s face and they could talk more easily.

“Yup.” Asher nodded, sparing a glance for him. “Of course, it was equally as empty this morning.”

“I’m sorry, I needed to…” Jordan trailed off. “It’s not important, I missed you.” He reached out for his boyfriend, resting a hand on Asher’s pumped bicep, his fingers stroking a casual circuit between the dark fabric of his shirt and the smoothness of his skin. “We haven’t really had much chance to meet up this week, guess we’re both to blame for that, huh?”

“You sure?” Asher glared at him. “Because last time I checked, I’ve been available pretty much all week. It’s you who’s been MIA, well, not missing, I know where you are and what you’ve been doing.”

“Ash…” Jordan sighed, shaking his head. “Look, I know this sucks right now, but I’m building a cover, making sure that people don’t have any suspicions. A few more weeks and no one will-”

“I’ve heard that all before, Jordan.” Asher dropped his brush into his bag and zipped it closed. “The only thing you’ve accomplished is to make yourself look like a fool. Not to mention the fact that Ripley is a Malibu cheerleader.”

“So?”

“So, don’t you think it’s awfully convenient that she’s super into you just as we’re about to take them on?” Asher shook his head as Jordan pulled away and folded his arms across his chest. “Even if she is buying this…act, she could still be trying to sabotage you, distract you before the big game.”

“Fuck, dude.” Jordan stared at him, replying thoughtlessly, "Is it so hard to admit that she might actually like me?"

"I like you!" Asher growled, his emotions boiling over into words he regretted as soon as they left his mouth. "Hell, I might even love you, Jordan!"

“Uh?” Jordan reeled back his eyes wide. “What…Ash…I didn’t-”

"Forget it, go have fun with the Malibu tramp, JJ wanted to grab something to eat anyway.” Asher snapped, his cheeks flushing. “Forget I said anything.”

“Asher! Asher, wait!” Jordan cried out fruitlessly. “Fuck!” His phone vibrated against his leg and he pulled it out, checking the message by habit. “Oh, Ripley…nah, nah, I gotta talk to Asher.” Jordan texted back quickly, blowing her off as he stuffed his phone into his pocket and picked up his bag. He found Asher in the parking lot next to his car, talking to JJ across the hood. Jordan hurried over, catching the last words his boyfriend was saying.

“…it’s cool, I don’t mind giving you the lift if, oh, hey Jordan.” Asher nodded at him as though nothing had happened between them only minutes before. “Good practice.”

“Yeah, it was.” Jordan frowned at him, unnerved by how Asher could switch so easily from his true nature to the façade he wore the rest of the time. “Um.”

“You good, bro?” JJ asked him, arching a brow as he leaned against Asher’s car. “You look a little out of it.”

“Oh, yeah, I’m good, it’s just, uh, nothing. You guys look like you’re about to go somewhere.” Jordan recovered quickly and glanced at Asher. “We should probably go over the tactics for the game again, Ash.”

“Dude, it’s Homecoming,” JJ smirked at him and stopped slouching. “Lighten up, tactics can wait until Sunday, right?”

“Yeah, Jordan, you should loosen up.” Asher added his tone unreadable. “Why don’t you join us, we were just going to grab something to eat.”

“Usual place?”

“Yup.” Asher nodded. “I’m giving JJ a ride, so meet us there?”

“Of course you are.” Jordan muttered, catching a strange look from JJ. “I’ll…see you there.” He turned away and walked down the row of cars towards where Olivia was waiting for him. “Hey sis.”

“Hey.” She gestured at the car. “You ready?”

“Can you drop me off? I’m meeting Asher and JJ at the restaurant.” He sat into the car, frowning when Olivia glanced at him. “What?”

“You’re not meeting Ripley?”

“Don’t you start too.” Jordan groaned as Olivia huffed and muttered something under her breath. “Just…just please go.”

“Fine, but it’s no wonder Asher is pissed at you.” Olivia sighed at him, starting the engine. “You can’t do this to him, Jordan.”

“What about him and Layla?”

“I think everyone can see that car wreck coming,” She muttered again, looking over at him. “They don’t fit together, and I can’t remember the last time I saw them being anywhere as close to each other as you are with Ripley. I saw you two in the parking lot this morning, it was…you’re just using her, Jordan. You’re being such a jerk.”

“I know.” He replied quietly, looking out the window as they made the short trip along the busy promenade. “I’m not…proud, but my reputation, this will help it and then Asher and I can, it’ll make things easier.”

“Fine, I’m not going to argue with you about your justifications for this scheme.” Olivia sighed at him. “But don’t be surprised when this all blows up in your face. You’re not Asher, Jordan, you’re too honest to keep a ruse like this going.”

“Err, thanks?” Jordan frowned, hopping out when Olivia stopped opposite the restaurant.

“Go on, I’ll park around the back.”

“Ok.”

 

“I can’t believe you’re taking both of the twins, man, that’s nuts!” Jordan shook his head as JJ grinned and spread his hands wide.

“Well, who am I to refuse them all this?!”

“Who indeed?” Asher murmured as he dipped a fry into his ketchup. He looked up to see Jordan watching him, the edges of his eyes crinkling suspiciously. “I still think that you’re lowering your standards bro, even if you’re not looking to get off; you’ve already had the twins.”

“I’m not that much of a player, Ash!”

“Uh huh, right.” Asher smirked and Jordan laughed too. For a moment it felt like it always had been with the three of them, the moment slipping past as Spencer moved behind them to deliver a pizza. Asher smirked wider as the pizza was revealed to be a heart-shaped proposition for the couple nearby. “Hahaha.”

“Ugh.” Spencer shook his head as he backed away.

“What? Too corny for ya?"

"Nah, no." Spencer glanced at him and then quickly averted his eyes, his guilt too easy to read. “Ya'll just take this homecoming thing very seriously. It's just a dance."

“Yup.” Asher grinned along with JJ, the other jock leaning in across the table to swipe a handful of Asher’s fries. “Hey!”

“You want em back?”

“No, help yourself.” He shrugged, catching Jordan’s jealous expression before the QB hid it. Huh, well at least you care a little bit.

“Cheers.” JJ grinned at him again, white teeth contrasting against his tanned skin. He caught Spencer’s attention as the server walked over to clear another table. “Hey man, who you taking to the dance?”

“Oh, uh, no, I don’t.” Spencer shrugged. “I’m flying solo.”

“Huh, alright.”

“Keeping your options open, huh, Spence?” Jordan winked at him as Spencer forced a laugh and returned to his duties.

"You know, I can respect going solo." Asher said, eyeing Jordan up across the table.

"Yeah?"

"It's better than rolling with a rival."

"Mmm." Jordan sighed and shook his head, as JJ laughed at them both. "Here we go again, Ripley is just a girl-"

"I noticed."

"I like her," Jordan continued, seeing the hardness in Asher's eyes. "Who cares where she goes to school?"

"Hmm." Asher shared another smirk with JJ, but when he looked back at Jordan, his grin became more poisonous and his voice pitched higher. "Traitor."

"Huh, traitor to you or to the team?" Jordan asked quietly as JJ frowned. "I guessing you have the bigger problem."

"We all have problems, Jordan." Asher replied carefully. "Like, is Coach aware that you're hooking up with that Malibu tramp? Or is that something else you're keeping from him?"

“I really don’t like you calling Ripley a tramp, Ash, at least she’s honest about who she likes.”

“Hmm, honest, huh? That must be something she really values, right?” Asher smiled, his eyes remaining cold as JJ looked from one to the other in confusion, his lips parted. “I mean, wouldn’t it just suck for it to turn out that she’s a spy? Trying to sabotage you?”

“You’d know all about being undercover though; how many secrets have you been keeping from all of us?”

“Only the stuff you don’t need to know, Jordan,” Asher replied sharply as his boyfriend sat back in his chair. “I don’t have to justify myself to you; you’re the one who decided that having a girlfriend was more important than…the team.”

“I never said more important.” Jordan said earnestly. “Just, um, of different value. It might pay off in the long run.”

“Providing there is a long run.”

“Dudes, what the hell are you talking about?” JJ stared at both of them. “Like, Ash, do you really have a problem with Jordan’s girl? Or is this something-”

“Um, hey.” Layla interrupted JJ and looked at Asher.

“Hi.”

"Can we talk?" Her tone was brittle, and Asher nodded, standing up. “Thanks.”

“Sure.” Asher glanced back at Jordan, seeing fleeting guilt and fear flash across his face. "Uh, yeah, what is it?"

“Outside.”

“Ok.” He frowned and shrugged at Jordan and JJ as they looked at him in concern. Asher followed Layla towards the front door, passing the counter where Spencer was standing. It was all he could do not to grin at the guilt-ridden expression on Spencer’s face. You never guard your emotions; it makes you so easy to read. But I wonder if this is the time when she finally comes clean and I will be free? Have to be smart though, have to be angry even when I’m anything but. Asher took a deep breath as Layla stepped outside and beckoned him away from the entrance. “So, what’s up?”

“There’s something I have to tell you.” Layla chewed her lip and avoided his eyes. “Something happened last weekend.”

“The shooting?” Asher asked, his suspicions confirmed when Layla shook her head. “Something else?”

“I came back here afterwards, I was meeting my Dad, saying goodbye, I was…upset and you were,” She cleared her throat, looking past his shoulder. “You weren’t here. But Spencer was.”

“Uh huh.”

“It was nothing, it just happened, I didn’t, I…we kissed.” Layla admitted in a small voice, pressing her lips together.

Asher remained silent for a moment, the anger that he thought he needed didn't feel right and Asher tossed it aside, nodding instead. "I forgive you."

"What?"

"I understand, you were upset over your Dad and you got caught up. Spencer was there and I wasn't. Emotions bleed and things happen." Asher tilted his head back slightly, Layla's heels making her taller than him. "But let's face it, things have been rough lately. I…with my Dad, and with us, the money, the lifestyle, the lying, it's been..."

"What are you saying?" Layla looked at him, emotion thick in her voice.

"Maybe, maybe this happened for a reason?" Asher swallowed, his pulse ticking higher as Layla folded her arms defensively. "I've noticed the way Spencer acts around you, seen the glances you share-"

"Asher, stop, don't-"

"You can't save a sinking ship, Layla, and we're pretty full of water." He cleared his throat, the emotions feeling almost real. "You and Spencer might actually make a good run of it. Better than we ever did.”

"I want you, Asher.” Layla reached out for his arm and looked into his eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry that it happened, but it won’t again. It’s you and me, Asher, I love you and nothing is going to change that.”

“Layla,” Asher started, beginning to feel as though his victory was crumbling before him. “You and Spencer should-”

“No, no, Asher, listen, there’s nothing for me with Spencer except guilt and sorrow if we break up like this.” Layla pleaded. “It was my fault, this mistake, don’t, just give me another chance!”

Another chance? Asher scowled at her, feeling the volcanic rage boiling inside of him as she tried to convince him that this was a one off. This is your way out, Layla, don’t tell me that you don’t want to leave!

“Asher? Say something.”

“Yeah…” Asher bowed his head. “I guess, it wouldn’t be good for the team if we broke up before the Malibu game; I mean, with me and Spencer on the team, it’s better if we just leave any decisions until next week.”

“I’ll make it up to you, Ash, I promise, I’ll…”

He just grunted, ignoring her words as she leaned into him; their embrace was short and standoffish, Asher turning his face away when Layla tried to kiss him. Let her think that I’m still angry. But this can’t last; a win on Sunday might convince her that we’re ok. Other, more risky strategies are going to have to be used.

“Uh, I’ll see you tomorrow, Ash!” Jordan called out as he passed them by, Ripley’s black Jeep pulling up by the curb. He hopped inside and the pair sped away, Layla slipping out of Asher’s limp hug to leave him staring down the street.
Seriously, Jordan? I’m trying to untangle my own clusterfuck of a relationship, why do you have to go and make things more complicated? Asher sighed, only brightening up when he heard the door open and JJ step outside, a quick glance over his shoulder confirming who it was.

“Hey, Ash, all ok?”

“It will be.” Asher glanced at his friend, JJ smiling at him as he slid one hand into his pocket and sauntered over. “You done in there?”

“Your fries were getting cold, so I rescued them!” He grinned and then held out a carton. “But your burger was a lost cause, so I got you a new one.”

“Thanks, bro, you didn’t have to do that.” Asher smiled at him and accepted the carton, his fingers briefly touching JJ’s own. He tried to ignore the jolt that the contact sent down his spine, tingling in a way that used to only happen around Jordan. Asher fished out his keys and held them up. “You wanna drive?”

“Yup!” JJ grinned wider at him and took the keys from Asher. “Hey, do you want to watch the college game this evening? I got no plans ahead of the dance and we can hang out until the game is on.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Asher agreed, his hand returning to tap on his hip flask out of habit. The desire to forget the afternoon and the stupid admission of his true feelings to Jordan was strong; JJ getting to drive was just another enabler. Maybe I can slip into the restroom before we leave and-

“Oh and we can try out that new brand of vodka from the distillery my Dad bought recently; he finally got a few bottles into his personal collection.” JJ smiled knowingly at him. “No one said we had to wait until tomorrow to start celebrating Homecoming, huh, Ash?”

“It’s not a rule!” He nodded and felt the desperate urge to take a drink fade back into an irritable itch that could be soon satisfied.

 

Asher took a deep breath as he looked at Layla when she stepped out of the Uber that had brought her to the Bakers’ house for the pre-Homecoming meetup. “Hey, you look good.”

“Thanks, you too.” Her tone was brittle, awkwardness and tension filling the air as they slowly walked up the driveway towards the door. “I didn’t see you last night, I thought maybe you’d come over, I could’ve…we could’ve-”

“Talked?” Asher cut across her quickly, looking ahead of him. “Yeah, I wasn’t really in the mood for anything like that.”

“Oh. What did you get up to then?”

“I hung out with JJ, watched the college game.”

“Right, of course.” Layla replied softly, but Asher ignored her expression and stepped forward to ring the doorbell.

Ah, Spencer. Asher blinked as the door was opened by his teammate and he walked inside, flipping to his exuberant self without missing a beat. He could hear Layla’s hitched breathing behind him as she followed him inside, passing by Spencer, emotions writ large on the football player’s face. “Alright! Who’s ready to turn up?!”

“Yeah, there he is!” Coach Baker laughed, his phone held up, clearly ready to take a group photo. “C’mon, get in there, at the front. You look good, ya’ll look amazing. Get in there, everyone, Spencer. Ok, ok, don’t do that with your face, Jordan. And…boom!”

“Hey guys,” Asher bumped fists with JJ and then Chris, Olivia’s date, as Jordan nodded at him, his hands clasped in Ripley’s. “We heading out or…”

“Oh, we have about half an hour before the limo comes.” Olivia gestured towards the kitchen. “There’s non-alcoholic cocktails on the breakfast bar; help yourselves.”

“Cool,” Asher nodded and turned away from Layla abruptly when she tried to step closer to him. Better than nothing, I guess, and I already had a few pre-drinks so virgin fruit juice won’t be so bad.

“Hey babe, will you grab me one too?” Ripley called out as Jordan followed Asher into the kitchen.

“Sure.” Jordan flashed a smile and once he was out of view from the main group, the QB reached out to touch Asher’s shoulder. “Ash.”

“Jordan?” Asher glanced at him as he helped himself to a cocktail glass, the rim sugared, deep red liquid inside smelling fruity and rich. “You look good.”

“Yeah, so do you.” Jordan bit his lip and ran a hand down Asher’s shirt, fingers splaying across the fine white cotton, the feel of hard muscle underneath was a welcome relief from the softness he had been experiencing with Ripley. “So, um.”

“This isn’t really the place for any sort of conversation.”

“You seem…angry.” Jordan pulled his hand away when JJ came into the kitchen, one of the twins on his arm. The QB gestured towards the patio and Asher followed him outside. “Is it because of Ripley?”

“Not exactly.” Asher took a sip and then grimaced. He placed the cocktail glass down on the nearby table and took out a silver and gray panelled flask. Asher unscrewed it and tipped a generous measure of clear liquid into the glass. He looked up at Jordan’s disapproving expression and slipped his flask back into his jacket pocket before taking a long draught of the cocktail. “Much better.”

“You’re crazy; my Dad is literally in the other room! Don’t you know what will happen if he sees you?” Jordan folded his arms unhappily.

“I don’t really care,” Asher shrugged. “I hate these fucking dances; it’s all pretend, at least for us, right? Well, definitely for me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m not angry that you’re taking Ripley to the dance,” Asher replied after another drink. “This is the perfect exposure for you, huh, the QB and his girl, dancing around the gym, ain’t it all perfect and cliched?!”

“Ash…” Jordan sighed, hearing the bitterness in his boyfriend’s voice. “What’s going on?”

“Layla kissed Spencer. Or Spencer kissed Layla, I’m not really sure which.” He replied as Jordan’s brows arched. “Good news, right? You’d think so. You’d think that this would be the perfect moment for her to just let go and allow me to finally do something that I should have done a long time ago.”

“But you came with her tonight.”

“Exactly, she still thinks there’s a chance for us, somehow.” Asher drained his glass and glanced over his shoulder as Chris and Olivia stepped outside, going to the other end of the patio, drinks in hand. He turned back to Jordan and shrugged. “I agreed with staying together for the sake of the team; the last thing we need is for Spencer getting distracted when Layla and I break up because of him.”

“But it is over, right?” Jordan asked, pressing his lips together, brows pulled tight. “So, you’d be…clear?”

“I’d be single in their eyes, but I can live with that.” Asher played with the sugared rim of the glass and looked at Jordan. “I wish you’d reconsider what you’re doing, Jordan; let Ripley go after the game and don’t get mired down in a pointless relationship. Assuming, of course, that it is pointless.”

“Meaning?” Asher just looked at him and then shrugged. Jordan glared, “You think that I was lying to you; that it was all just a, a phase?!”

“I didn’t say that; I’ve just noticed that you play the role of horny straight guy really well.”

“You jerk!” Jordan huffed and shoved past him, snatching Asher’s glass away. “You a mean drunk, Ash.”

“So I’ve heard.” Asher muttered, letting Jordan go, his teeth clenching when he heard Ripley ask him if he was alright, Jordan dismissing it with an uncomplicated lie. He walked away to the far end of the patio that overlooked the pool and reached inside his jacket for his hip flask. Asher unscrewed the top off and took a deep drink, savoring the strong, violent burn that rippled down his chest and sunk into his stomach. His eyes watered and Asher shut them, letting himself rock slightly back and forth as the vodka flooded his system. Asher flicked his eyes open when he felt someone clap his shoulder and the familiar pleasant tingle of aftershave tickled his nose. “Yeah, JJ?”

“You’re gonna be running out before we even get there, bro.” The other jock leaned in close and opened his jacket, showing the extra pocket skilfully added to the interior. “Lucky for you, I always bring extra.”

“Hell yeah!” Asher grinned at him and screwed the top back onto his own flask. “I’ll come find you when I need it, alright?”

“Sure.” JJ glanced carefully over his shoulder, relief on his face when he looked back at Asher. “I’m beginning to think you were right.”

“About what?”

“Bringing two dates; they’re teaming up on me, Ash!”

“Uh huh, must be terrible for you.” Asher smirked, turning around fully as Jordan made his way over to them. “At least they’re only interested in you, right?”

“Yeah, can’t believe Spencer did that, man.”

“You know?” Jordan asked in surprise, catching the end of their conversation. “Did Asher tell you?”

“Last night, yeah.” JJ nodded, looking between them. “You do know the details…right?”

“I told him a few minutes ago.” Asher explained as Jordan glared at him. “But I think we should keep it quiet; I don’t want that mistake to affect the team, understand?”

“You got it.”

“Of course, Ash.” Jordan moved closer to him. “I’ll always have your back.”

“Good.” Asher nodded, feeling something click pleasantly between him and his boyfriend again. He must have communicated the sentiment in his tone because Jordan grinned happily. Asher was about to speak again when Ripley joined the group, linking her arm with Jordan’s and smiling at them.

“There you are, I think we’re about ready to go; the limo has just arrived.” Ripley glanced at Asher and JJ. “You two look guilty, but I guess drinking in Coach’s house is pretty ballsy.”

“What? Us?!” JJ shook his head quickly as Asher rolled his eyes. “Nah, never!”

“What of it? It’s a party, right?”

“Exactly, I figured one of you might be able to hook me up.” She smiled sweetly at them as Asher frowned and JJ sagged. “I can ask louder if you want?”

Thanks for the defense, Jordan. Asher thought to himself as his boyfriend squirmed uneasily. He nodded at JJ, “Give her the spare flask.”

“But-”

Asher leaned in to whisper to JJ without the other two hearing, “Don’t worry, I’ll get it back, trust me.”

“Fine.” JJ grunted and covertly pulled out the flask and palmed it to Ripley, who in turn discreetly placed it into her purse. “You better enjoy that.”

“Now, now, boys, we can all share!” She smiled again and slipped away as Jordan looked after her, his lips parted.

“You sure know how to pick ‘em.” JJ muttered, no longer looking pleased with himself. “Do you really think you can get it back, Ash?”

“Oh, I think so, I have a silver tongue, she’ll come around.” Asher glanced at Jordan and saw him suddenly look worried. “Right, Jordan? Don’t you agree that I can talk her into doing what I want, maybe with some well-placed…facts.”

“Yeah.” Jordan gulped, pulling at his collar as he chose his words carefully. “But it’s only booze, Ash, surely you wouldn’t do anything rash just to get a flask back?”

“After JJ put in so much effort?”

“I didn’t really-”

“And you know how much I’m going to need the liquid support tonight,” Asher spoke over him, his eyes boring into Jordan’s panicked expression. “Especially since I won’t have the usual backup, you get my meaning?”

“I, um, I understand, I’ll see what I can do.” Jordan replied as JJ frowned. “But, um, come on, I hear my Dad calling us, it’s Homecoming.”

“That it is.”

 

Asher forced a smile as he and Layla poised for the photographer in the corner of the hall, before moving away quickly when the flash buzzed and collapsed into starry darkness. He followed Layla into the center of the floor and nodded at the decorations as she pursed her lips, looking around. “It looks good, you did a good job.”

“Thanks.” She frowned, glancing at him and then stepping closer. “You’ve been drinking.”

“It’s a party,” Asher shrugged, tilting his head back. “And I haven’t had much; just enough to get the buzz on, you know?”

“I, I suppose.” Layla sighed resignedly and looked away from him. She tsked and gestured at the table with punch on it. “I told them to put the red cups next to the red punch!”

“Yeah…you better go sort that out.” Asher replied half-heartedly. He shook his head as Layla walked away, turning instead to take in the rest of the room. The music was already flowing through the air, most of his friends and teammates arriving as he watched. “Hey, Rhodes, Dylan.” Asher greeted the other two jocks with nods and fist bumps, turning away as their dates dragged them onto the dance floor. His eyes locked onto Jordan and Ripley standing at one of the tables, laughing and smiling. Ugh, I need another drink.

He slipped past Jordan, his boyfriend not appearing to notice him, and Asher left the hall behind to walk through the somewhat eerie deserted corridors of the high school. The restroom was empty; Asher checking each cubicle to make sure before he pulled out his flask and tipped the contents into his mouth. He kept going until his eyes watered and blurred and his throat was column of burning fire. Asher closed the flask and shook it gently, “Nearly out. Gonna have to get the reserve from Ripley sooner or later. I can’t believe she pulled that stunt back at the house and Jordan is still cool with her!”

Asher swallowed the bile that threatened to rise and turned on the faucet, splashing cold water into his face. “Better.” He muttered, standing up and using a stack of paper towels nearby to pat his skin dry. Just as he was finished, the door opened and one of the basketball jocks came in. Asher nodded at him and left quickly, returning to the dance hall. He scowled when he saw Jordan and Ripley on the dancefloor, dancing and bopping, his boyfriend’s hands on her hips. He could feel the anger that had been simmering under the surface flare violently and Asher forced himself to remain calm, balling his hands into fists.

“Asher,” Layla touched his arm. “There you are.”

“I had to use the bathroom.” He muttered, pulling his gaze from Jordan to look at Layla, seeing the irritated expression on her face. “What?”

“The got the banners wrong; that one is meant to be outside and the football one is meant to be over the stage!” Layla gestured at the offending signs. “I told them!”

“It’s just a stupid banner.”

“That stupid banner is how we’re acknowledging your football team!” Layla shook her head. “I worked really hard on this and now it’s messed up.”

“Well, how about some punch?” Asher offered and turned away quickly, but Layla followed him over to the table.

“I can’t do anything until the banner is fixed.”

“Uh huh?” Asher pivoted back to her, sensing an opportunity, his voice rising with each word he spoke. "Are you sure this is just about the banner? The banner is fine, Layla, no one cares about the damn banner!”

"Everything ok?" Spencer walked over and Asher side-eyed him furiously.

"Seriously? You want to make this more awkward?" Asher turned to Spencer as Layla looked away from them both.

"Ok, man, I just want to-"

"I know what you want to do." Asher spat at him, anger flaring as alcohol made the words spill out. "And I told Layla that I was fine with all that, but apparently, she loves me more, so one little kiss between you two isn't breaking this thing up!"

"Asher..." Layla stared at him as Coop ran interference with Spencer, pulling her friend away. "Are you...did you take another drink just now?"

"Who can blame me with the way you're carrying on?" He growled and stalked away through the dancing couples.

 

“Hey, Ash, wait a minute.” Jordan called out as he saw his boyfriend walk by. He followed Asher into the corridor, reaching out to grab his arm, but Asher pulled away irritably. “Woah, calm down.”

“Easy to say.” Asher snapped; his brow furrowed. “Shouldn’t you be dancing with the Malibu tramp?”

“Fuck, how wasted are you?”

“Not nearly enough.”

“Yeah, well, I got it back.” Jordan looked around carefully before continuing. “I gave the flask back to JJ; I didn’t think you needed any more.”

“Oh?” Asher blinked and folded his arms across his chest. “And why is that, Jordan?”

“I have eyes.” The QB placed both hands on Asher’s shoulders and stepped closer to him. “You gotta calm down, Ash, you’re getting me worried. This is about Layla, right?”

“I just want it to be over, Jordan, I’m tired of pretending.” He bowed his head, speaking at his boyfriend’s chest. “You know, we could just blow this joint right now, just take off, ditch the dates and go somewhere else.”

“I…I can’t do that Asher, it could look, it would look weird.” Jordan shook his head and quickly pulled away when the door to the hall banged open and a group of their classmates spilled out. “We both need to be seen here.”

“Right, of course.”

“But tomorrow night, win or lose, we’ll do something, ok?” Jordan tried to reassure him, but Asher just shrugged moodily. They headed back inside together, Asher breaking off quickly, leaving Jordan to watch him leave. He sighed to himself and then walked over to the punch table, his original mission when he had left Ripley at their table. After filling two of the cups, Jordan wove his way through the dancing couples and groups to reach the cheerleader. “Hey now, I’m gonna take that look personally.”

“Yeah, sorry.” She smiled at him, pausing her shredding of the ticker tape that decorated the table.

“Are you bored?” He leaned in to kiss her cheek, pulling back and glancing up to see several of the football team nearby. Nice, plenty of watchers.

“I’m not bored with you around.” Ripley stood up straighter and ran a finger down Jordan’s chest, flipping at his tie. “But what do you say that we leave this charming dance and go somewhere else?”

“Um, and do what?” Jordan was distinctly aware that JJ and a group of the defensive line were close enough to them that their conversation wasn’t private. “Did you have something specific in mind?”

“Oh, well, you can take my hand right now, come with me and experience a night full of surprises!”

Oh crap. I knew this was coming, but…fuck, all the guys are watching. I gotta do this, or those rumors will never stop. The thoughts flashed across Jordan’s mind as he stood close to Ripley. He could see her expression becoming uncertain and Jordan quickly smirked. “I love surprises.”

“Yeah, I thought you would.” Ripley smiled and took his hand, guiding him out of the hall, passing the group of grinning jocks. “We’ll call an Uber.”

“Sure.” Jordan mumbled, a sinking sensation in his stomach, a feeling of wrongness permeating his decision. It doesn’t matter, just have to play along with this, I’ll figure it out if it happens. I mean, I think she wants it, and I guess I could imagine that she is-

“Hey QB!” Ripley called out, twirling around as they got to the front of the school. “Get out of your mind and into the moment!”

 

Asher leaned against the corner of the main building, the night air cooling against his alcohol flushed skin. He was finishing his flask, taking sips of the vodka every few seconds. He frowned as the front doors opened and Jordan and Ripley came out, holding hands. Asher felt a bitter taste in his mouth, his stomach plunging uncomfortably. The world was blurred and soft, spinning gently around him as he rubbed his fingers against the rough stone of the wall, anything to bring a little feeling back into his numb hands. So you’ll skip out with her and not with me? Says it all, Jordan. All you care is what other people think about you.

He watched them until they disappeared into the twilight of the parking lot and then Asher forced himself to stand, reaching for the wall as he almost lost his balance. Asher waited for a minute or two until his vision steadied enough that he could walk in a straight line without staggering too much. He took a deep breath and headed back into the school building, making it to the nearest water fountain.

“Oh, there you are, Asher.”

“What is it now, Layla, are the balloons the wrong color?” Asher muttered, his back turned as he took a drink.

“We need to talk.” She ignored his barbed question and gestured towards the other end of the corridor. “It’s important.”

“Right.” Asher wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and nodded for Layla to begin. “What?”

“Um, you were right yesterday.”

“About what?”

“About us, all of this was a mistake, coming to the dance and just thinking it would all blow over.” Layla swallowed and tried to catch his unfocused gaze. “I think we should break up, Asher.”

“Thank god for that.” Asher muttered indistinctly, seeing Layla frown, but it seemed she didn’t hear him as she continued to speak. It’s finally over, but I have to act hurt, act as though I actually cared. Time to twist the knife a bit.

"It hasn't been working for a long time, Ash, and-"

"Don't call me that." He glared at her, determined to push Layla away for good. “This is about that kiss, right? And Spencer, of course. But I’m curious, did you manipulate him too? I mean you spent long enough flirting with him ever since he got here. Oh, and let’s not forget what happened at the boosters’ function when you…” Asher grinned horribly as he trailed off and Layla stared at him. “Yeah, I saw that, I see a lot of things, Layla.”

“That’s not…it’s not like that, Asher.”

“Hmm, maybe, so for Spencer’s sake, do you have actual feelings for him, something genuine there that you didn't want to admit to yesterday? I mean, either way it doesn't matter, right? You’ll just use him too; there's more of your father in you than I thought."

"Hey, um, you've been drinking, and you're hurt, maybe you should, uh, just go home?" She offered; her hands raised peacefully.

"Why would I leave, Layla?" Asher snapped, surprised at the emotion that thickened his voice and made his eyes water. "Sure, everyone else has left! My Mom, my Dad, my-ugh, everyone important is gone, why not me too, huh?"

"That wasn't what I meant." She reached out but Asher backed away.

"No, no, nah, I'm not leaving, this party is just getting started." He grinned nastily at her. "But don't worry, you and Spencer go ahead and have that final dance together."

“Asher! Asher!”

He turned away, ignoring her calls after him, shouting out. “Not your boyfriend anymore, don’t have to listen to you!” Asher smiled to himself when he rounded the corner that led towards the dance hall. Relief flooded his body for a moment before the sensation was quickly wrenched away when he realized that Jordan wasn’t there. Jordan had betrayed him. The breakup didn’t hurt, of course, but he had to make it seem like it did, still had to sell the straight jock story. Asher pushed open the doors to the hall, letting the upbeat tempo of the song wash over him as he loosened his collar and pulled his tie away from his neck.

No, it didn’t hurt; Layla's breakup. What hurt was that Jordan would rather run off with some cheerleader he only met a week ago than stand next to Asher, even as a friend, even as just the team captain, even to broker peace between the football players. That was probably the move he should be making; confronting Spencer and starting a fight. But it’s not him that I want to hurt, not him that I need to break free of. I need to make sure that there’s no way that Layla can even think there’s a possibility that things can go back to what they were.

He patted his jacket pocket and remembered that he had run dry. But JJ has more, he always has extra. Asher thought to himself, wandering across the dancefloor as his vision blurred and sharpened, the alcohol from earlier finally hitting him. It wasn’t enough, he could still see Jordan and Ripley walking out of the dance, could still see the concern in Layla’s eyes as she tried to soften the blow. No, he needed to obliterate this night from his memories and there was only one sure-fire way to do that.

“JJ, bro, there you are!” Asher slurred his words slightly, smirking at his friend as he broke into the group conversation, Rhodes casting him a wary look. “Open up, give me the extra!” Dylan was standing nearby, brows arched as Asher pawed all over JJ’s chest, hard muscles and smooth cotton under his fingers until he found the cool metal in the guy's pocket. “Nice.”

“Whatever you need, Ash.” JJ grinned at him in a way that was almost-

Asher blinked away the drunken thoughts and instead screwed open the top of the flask and clinked it against JJ’s other one in the jock’s hand. “Bottoms up.”

JJ took a quick look around the room for the chaperones before nodding at him. “Cheers, Ash.”

They both drunk, Asher drinking deeply until he almost gagged. “What?” He spat at Dylan, the kicker backing away, both hands raised. “Yeah, good.”

“You sure, bro?” JJ half-smiled at him, slipping his own flask into his pocket. “Do you wanna-”

“No, it’s time to party!” Asher grinned and turned away, openly taking another drink. He only stopped when he felt someone grab his elbow. “Huh? Oh, hey, Olivia.”

“Do you want to maybe chill on the drinking?” She frowned and held open his jacket, spotting the other flask. Olivia shook her head as Asher just shrugged. "Look, I recognise a downward spiral when I see one."

"No, no, no, I'm celebrating!" Asher took another quick gulp and grinned at her. "You see Layla cheated on me with Spencer, so I am finally fucking free!" He grinned wider as she stared at him. "Of course, I don't see your fine ass brother around here, so I guess I'm celebrating alone."

"Asher, keep your voice down." Olivia gestured at JJ and the other football players nearby, but he didn’t seem to notice. “You-”

"I..." He paused, seeing the guilt in her eyes and huffed. "Huh, you knew, didn't you? About Layla and Spencer?”

Olivia remained silent, breaking eye contact.

"I thought you were different, I thought we had each other's backs." Asher glared at her. "If you told me sooner, I could've planned, I could have made it a whole lot less painful and we’d all be fucking free of our secrets. Including Jordan. He wouldn't have to make out with that one-step-away-from-a-stripper Rip-"

Olivia slapped him, hissing at his surprised face, ignoring everyone’s gasps. "You're embarrassing yourself!"

"Might as well take the house down with me then!" Asher pushed past her and surprised JJ by leaning in and pinching the reserve third bottle, before waltzing off the dancefloor.

“Dude!”

Asher ignored him and settled down on the bleachers in the shadows to drink himself into oblivion. JJ had started across the dance floor towards him, but stopped when Layla and Spencer came in, holding hands. The music turned into a slow song and Asher smirked to himself as he took a drink, hearing the whispers and muttered remarks directed at Layla and Spencer as they danced closely to each other. I should be happy about this, I am, I guess, finally able to stop living one of the lies, well, not quite yet. Everyone is expecting me to play the jilted lover, so I better stay that way for a while. It’s kinda true I guess; Jordan is gone and I’m…I’m the one left behind.

 

“It’s ok, it happens to everyone.” Ripley rubbed his shoulders comfortingly. “Besides, even though the beach is empty, I can imagine-”

“It’s not that.” Jordan cut across her tersely. He was sitting up, facing the ocean, Ripley behind him. “It’s not…it’s not even you, it’s definitely me.” I didn’t feel anything when she took off her clothes, literally no reaction. I guess that means Asher…yeah, him I feel something for, even just thinking about him. “Sorry.”

“Um, ok.”

“I thought,” Jordan took a ragged breath and glanced at her as she pulled her dress back on and sat opposite him. “I thought I could…fake this, I guess. I’m not…I’ve been lying to you.”

“You’re gay?” Ripley replied her expression carefully neutral. “Am I right?”

“Uh huh.” Jordan nodded miserably. “I’m sorry.”

“Right.”

“I never should have done any of this, I just, the team and, uh, I’m their QB, I have to be…”

“Jordan, um, thank you telling me.” Ripley reached out to touch his arm, her voice calm and reassuring. “And I understand what you’re talking about, but you’re not the only gay football player I’ve met; there are others.”

“Sure, but I bet their Dad isn’t the Coach.” Jordan blinked away the tears that threatened to spill from his eyes. Alright, why don’t I embarrass myself even more?! He glanced at her and shrugged. “You don’t seem angry?”

“Well, I’m not thrilled that the hot guy I’ve been making out with all week is likely more interested in my brother than me, but I am glad that you didn’t have sex with me just to prove a point or look good in front of your bros.”

“What? Did you-”

“Hmm, not just a bimbo cheerleader!” She smirked as he stared at her. “I began to notice that you got extra…affectionate whenever someone from your school was around. But I wasn’t entirely sure until, well, until a few minutes ago.”

“Are you going to tell people?” Jordan asked in a small voice, his heart beating faster as the thoughts of his secret being revealed caused his breathing to hitch.

“No, of course not, that’s your right, Jordan, I wouldn’t take that away from you.” Ripley settled back on the sand and looked out towards the ocean. “So, do you have a boyfriend, or have you been repressing these feelings all this time?”

“I have a boyfriend,” Jordan nodded, relief coursing through him. “Although I think he’s pretty pissed at me right now.”

“Yeah, I get that. If I had to watch my man go hang around and casually make out with a girl he’s not really into, I’d be pretty angry too!” She smirked as Jordan rolled his eyes at her. “Now, now, don’t pout, you nipped this in the bud before things got serious.”

“I’m not sure Asher is gonna be as easy to convince as you were.”

“You don’t have to worry about that for tonight, here, take a hit of this, you’ll calm down.” Ripley reached into her bag and pulled out a rolled-up white cylinder and a lighter. “Go on, just one drag, you’ll feel better.”

“I…I don’t know.” Jordan squirmed uncomfortably and Ripley shrugged, taking the joint for herself.

“No pressure, let’s just chill and enjoy the sounds of the waves.”

“Ok.”

 

Asher glowered at the dancing couples as he continued to drink, his vision twisting and sharpening before dulling again with a circular lurch. He was nearly out again, JJ’s reserve third flask already drained to barely a quarter left. His thoughts chugged together, arriving in bursts before fading away without catching hold, no memories of what the past half hour had been other than a sensation of betrayal and anger. Asher could pick out Layla’s face on the dancefloor, occasionally looking over at him, a mix of pity and guilt in her expression. No matter what she said…beginning to think she might regret dancing with Spencer…change is hard. She thinks I’m hurting because of her…time to burn that final bridge…

His hands were numb and difficult to direct, but Asher struggled on until he had the cap screwed back on and the flask was secured in his jacket pocket. When the music changed into an upbeat rhythm, Asher stood up, swaying as the blood rushed to his head. He bopped along to the sound, winding his way through the crowd of teenagers towards the stage, climbing up and leaning across to the DJ. “Hey, give the mic for a minute? I’m gonna introduce the football team; gonna smash the Malibu Dolphins tomorrow!”

“Sure, here.”

“Thanks.” Asher smirked, impressed by how his words weren’t as slurred as he expected them to be. The jock turned around, facing the crowd with a grin. “What’s up Beverlyyy?!” He grinned wider when the cheer went up and the music faded away, giving him clear air. "A-allow me to introduce you all to the best damn football team in Southern California!" He paused again to allow the cheering and clapping to die down a little. "Aaron Miller, Mr Strong Safety himself, get on up here! Make some noise everybody!" Asher was barely aware of Aaron as he leaned in for the greeting, his eyes skipping past towards the rest of the crew. He pointed at JJ, "And that beast...that beast, JJ, my boy! Best damn linebacker I've ever played with!" Asher grinned as he watched JJ dance excitedly onto the stage, briefly touching his back as they hugged and then JJ stepped away.

Asher wetted his lips as he turned back to the crowd, his grin falling away once his gaze caught Layla and Spencer standing together. "And of course," Asher took a deep breath, feeling his voice catch slightly in a mix of emotion and anger. No Jordan to introduce... "The real MVP, Beverly's latest transfer, Spencer James." Asher clenched and unclenched his free hand rapidly as a cheer went up from the crowd. Time to burn. "Haha. He's the best there is, huh, Layla?" He looked down at them, staring Layla dead in the eyes. "I mean you did cheat on me with him, so you would know. No, no, it's ok, really, yeah, it's cool. You guys shouldn't feel guilty, I mean, Spencer was only giving her something that I wasn't! So, so, don't feel guilty, because technically, I cheated first! Tell her, Olivia."

Asher paused, hearing the furious whispers rip through the crowd and seeing Layla turn and look at Olivia, betrayal forming on her face. He waited for a moment longer before laughing. "Haha, no, no, she knew about it, she didn't tell you, but, haha. Oh, no, no, no, hang on, Layla, no, no, you got it all wrong!” Asher grinned as a giddy vehemence rushed through him and he bounced on the balls of his feet. “Nah, I didn’t sleep with Olivia, it was her brother that was fucking me!” Asher grinned wider as Layla gasped and stared at Olivia. “Hahaha!” A strange weight was lifted from his chest as he watched the destruction he had wrought start spiralling out of control, but before he could enjoy it too much, Coach Baker stormed the stage, grabbed his arm, and dragged him away. “Hey!”

 

The euphoria drained almost immediately when Coach pushed him out of the hall and into one of the long corridors near the locker rooms. Asher felt his stomach clench uncontrollably as the words he had just spoken echoed in his head along with the awful sensation that Jordan would never forgive him. "Coach, I'm sor-"

"I don't want to hear it!" He stopped and turned around sharply. "You drank alcohol on school property!"

"Yeah, but-"

"Quiet!" Coach hissed and Asher sagged, protests dying on his lips. "Was anyone else on the team drinking with you?"

Asher shook his head, tears gathering in his eyes. "No. It was just me."

"Ahh," Coach sighed heavily. "You leave me no choice, I'm suspending you for the next two games."

Asher blinked, shocked, staring at him. "Coach, please! Tomorrow is Homecoming!"

"Umm hmm."

"Scouts are going to be at that game, I have to play! Please do not do this to me!"

"Unfortunately, son, you did this to yourself." Coach wagged a finger in his face. “Now go home and dry out, you’ve embarrassed yourself and this team enough.”

“But Coach!” Asher called out as Coach Baker turned swiftly away and walked back towards the dance. “Coach…fuck!” He cursed and balled his hands into fists as the rage and guilt and fear pummelled through his system. “What the hell did I just do…” Asher stumbled out of the school building, heading for the football field parking lot, figuring that it would be the emptiest.

Asher wasn’t sure how he got there, all memory of making it to the bench on the sidewalk lost in a haze of burning alcohol. All he knew was that he was here now, and his hand held the near-empty flask of vodka tight as though it was his last grip on reality, the rest sliding away in a numbing twirl of random thoughts and general queasiness. He rolled his head back, looking up at the light polluted sky above him, vaguely aware that his phone was constantly buzzing in his pocket. But Asher was too lethargic to think about reaching down and checking it. Instead it was all he could do to raise his hand and bring the flask to his lips, savoring the burning drops of alcohol as he reached his tongue out to taste the rim, metal unpleasantness not lingering. Just enough to take the edge off, right? Except now it's all edge and nothing is taking it off.

He felt himself slip in and out of consciousness, his eyes closed to stop the world from spinning so fast around him, even if the sensation returned with a violent burst every time he moved his head. Asher blinked uneasily when he felt the wooden bench creak next to him. "Jord...oh." He didn't resist when Olivia pulled the near-empty hip flask from his loose grasp, letting her shake out the last remaining drops. She closed it up and slipped it back into his other jacket pocket. Asher looked blearily at her. "Where's Jordan?"

"I don't know, Ash."

"Hmph, I messed up." He muttered thickly, tears falling from his eyes onto his cheeks.

“Yeah, you did.” She replied softly. “But I’m gonna get you home, can’t leave you here like this.”