They decide to keep their relationship quiet for the time being.
Their friends and family are falling apart at every single turn. And they've been there, they really have . They both know how hard it is to see other people happy and thriving when you're silently sinking into quicksand, terrified and alone.
So they stay friends on the surface.
They don't ignore their own feelings. They just decide to take it very slow.
Which Asher almost regrets the Monday morning after they make the decision, and he sees his beautiful girl walk up to his locker with a shy smile, curly hair pulled up into a tight bun.
Her face is bright and beautiful and he wants nothing more than to put his hand on her cheek and feel its warmth as he presses his lips to hers.
But he doesn't. He just smiles and says, "Good morning, gorgeous."
She rolls her eyes and lightly punches his shoulder.
And its perfect.
Jordan invites him over that afternoon. He knows it's bad when he walks in and Olivia is sitting on the couch, shell-shocked. She had expressed concern for how quiet her family members had been the evening before, and her father moving back into the house with zero explanation.
Jordan drops the bomb quickly, the words barely audible as he hangs his head into his hands, and Asher instantly understands the look on Olivia's face.
"I just wanted to tell you guys myself before word got out. Our parents know, don't worry, I just-" Jordan drops his hands into his lap and looks up at them with red rimmed eyes. "You guys were right. I was so stupid. I was-"
"No, Jordan. It's-" Olivia's voice gets stuck in her throat and she shakes her head with a sad smile. "You're gonna be okay. We'll be here for you through whatever happens now. We're not going anywhere."
"Definitely." Asher's heart swells affectionately at the way she speaks for both of them, like they're a team. Like she knows that Asher will be by her side no matter what. Asher wants to slide his hand into hers and kiss her slender fingers. He wants to kiss her to tell her that its true. He will. He looks at his lifelong best friend and nods. "Anything you need man. I've got you back. Always."
Jordan sighs. The relieved smile on his face and the matching one on his sister's are good enough for now.
Time passes quickly. It's a week and a half after they initially decided to take their relationship slowly, and Asher has never felt better. Nothing about them is rushed or uncomfortable. They just keep falling into each other slowly, like they have been for months.
There's a joint pep rally for the Winter Formal court announcement and the Soccer team placing first at the end of the regular season.
Asher and Olivia have a few close longtime friends on the team, and Olivia points out to Asher that a lot of their friends will definitely be announced as court. So they attend, squeezing onto the end of the bleachers.
The small skit done by the cheerleaders that transitions from the soccer celebration to the dance announcement, ends with Student Council Reps taking the gym floor and beginning court announcements, starting with the freshman class.
Asher looks at Olivia as she laughs at the lame puns the reps are making and claps for each of the new court members. He's distracted enough by watching her that he doesn't listen in until he hears the girl who replaced Layla in StuCo speak clearly into the mic.
"Junior class Princess, Olivia Baker!"
Olivia's eyebrows draw together in surprise as she looks around at all the people around her sharing their joyous congratulations.
Asher's proud smile falters as he realizes that Olivia has no idea how many people at their school care about her and admire her. He knows that she's gone through a lot, her reputation tainted in the eyes of their judgemental peers by stumbles, mistakes and misunderstandings.
Asher, himself, was the sole cause of one of the biggest marks against her in the eyes of their fellow students.
In that moment, he wants nothing more than to lean over and kiss her. He wants to whisper apologies against her lips for things she's already forgiven him for. He realizes, not for the first time, that he doesn't deserve the young woman beside him.
But it doesn't stop him from wanting everything with her. To be by her side, telling her she's worth it, everyday.
"Smile, princess. You're representing the whole Junior class at the sadie hawkins." He forces a grin, hoping she'll follow along. "You'll have your choice of any date you choose. I have my own opinions of who you should pick."
"Oh yeah?" Olivia laughs, eyes still wide and incredulous. "I'm guessing that his name starts with As-"
"I think it'd be nice for you to take Layla." Asher cuts her off and her face goes blank, even more shocked than before. He puts a hand on her back and rubs up and down gently. "She'll be back on Monday, and you know how hard it will be for her to come back. How alone she'll feel. And now that you've made up and are mending things, it'd be a good chance to hang out like old times, and to show our classmates how strong both of you are."
Olivia swallows visibly and bites her bottom lip.
"Of course, I'll be there too. So save me a couple, or like ten, dances." Asher grins.
Olivia laughs loudly at him, but the gymnasium is in uproar at the King and Queen announcement anyway. He takes in the incredible way she has of making him feel like he's done something right.
It feels amazing.
Someone was bound to find out sooner or later.
Asher is thankful in retrospect that Spencer had driven separately to meet everyone for dinner. In a way it feels right that he be the first to know. Spencer has been a good friend yo both of them through all the drama and everything they've been through since the young football star came to Beverly.
Layla had asked her dad to work with Olivia to arrange a dinner to apologize and say thank you to the Baker family and Asher and Spencer for caring about her and being there for her despite her struggles. Asher had graciously offered his small, comparatively humble place as a neutral venue, and Spencer had apparently been tasked with bringing dinner from his work.
The latter is a fact that Olivia and Asher are unaware of until he walks in with food.
Spencer lets himself into the familiar kitchen and living area just as Olivia crawls into Asher's lap for a much deeper kiss than they've shared in their precious few private moments since starting their new relationship.
"That's new." The Crenshaw native says, loud in the quiet room.
Olivia jumps up, hand flying over her mouth in surprise.
" Heyyy, Spencer." Asher sighs. He stands, pushing Olivia to the side and walking over to help his friend with the take out. "Let me get that for you while uh… Olivia deals with what just happened."
"You little bitch ." Olivia hisses at him, causing Spencer to laugh heartily as Asher ignores her. Olivia puts her hands on her hair and smooths it before turning her pout into a pleading look. "Spence. I'm… we're not hiding it or anything, but we're… y'know… hiding it?"
Asher snorts, earning him another quick pout from Olivia and an arched brow from his teammate.
"It's cool guys." Spencer shakes his head, still grinning. "I understand why. There's a lot going on. I get it. Just hope you know that whatever's going on with me and Layla? I'm still happy for y'all. Honestly . Anyway, it's not my business, and I'm not gonna say anything."
"Say anything about what?" Jordan asks, walking in with an arched brow, his parents right behind him, Layla and her Dad alongside them.
Asher's eyes dart to meet Olivia's and he sees in her eyes that she wants to just tell everyone. She wants to stop the stressful sneaking around and just be with him, and hopefully have their friends and family be happy that they're happy. It quells a small fear that Asher had been carrying that she's ashamed or embarrassed, because all he sees in her eyes is affection, longing and trust.
Asher wants to walk across the room and take her in his arms and show everyone how much he loves her.
"Don't gossip, Jordan. It's not attractive." Layla cuts off what Olivia was going to say with a gentle pat to Jordan's cheek.
Layla looks at Asher and winks and then walks over to Olivia and pulls her into a hug.
Everything is really, really good.
Winter Formal is the first weekend of February, and after pleading with Mrs. Baker for almost an hour, which may have included bribery in the form of Salt & Straw Chocolate Gooey Brownie Ice Cream, Asher manages to convince the Baker parents to let him share a bid to the dance with Jordan.
They both know how much Asher has struggled through and they've forgiven him just like Olivia has, and it means the world to Asher, especially as he watches his best friend go through these hard times of self-reflection.
Their conditions are strict, but Asher doesn't mind, and Jordan barely wanted to go at all. But Olivia and convinced him that it was important that the four of them get back to solid foundation of friendship they all started with. Things are too hard right now, for all of them, for anyone to do this alone.
Asher and Jordan don't do much socializing other than with the two girls they shared a town car with, they childhood quarter back together again, smiling and dancing like seventeen year old dorks who aren't going through the hardest days.
Jordan, Asher and Layla sit at their table while Olivia does her traditional dance with the Junior Court Prince, a soccer player named Nathan, who Asher remembers vaguely from Marine Biology the previous year.
He turns away from watching her to focus on Jordan and Layla. The pair are having a heated discourse about some cat video on Layla's phone, and Asher smiles at them. The dance was a great idea for the four of them. They deserve to feel like they're young and innocent, even if its just for one night.
Olivia walks up to their table and Layla mimes bowing at her in her crown and sash.
"Someone dance with me." Olivia rolls her eyes. She points at the other court members who have gone off to their respective dates. Nathan's date is a taller boy that none of them recognize who is glaring in their direction still. "Nathan's boyfriend was very insistent we not dance anymore."
"Didn't know Nathan even liked girls." Jordan laughs.
"I don't actually think he does, that dude is just jealous because Olivia is prettier than him." Layla smiles up at her best friend.
"Okay. Enough out of you two." Olivia rolls her eyes even more emphatically this time.
She turns her gaze to Asher and holds her hand out. Asher goes along wordlessly with a quick nod to their friends, both of whom smile at him encouragingly. He's pretty sure they know by now, but he still doesn't feel any need to rush the status of their relationship out into the open. He's just enjoying the fact that he and his friends are okay, or at least on their way there.
"You okay?" Olivia speaks close to his ear so that she doesn't need to raise her voice.
"I don't think I could ever be better than I am right now." Asher answers without thinking
They move to the music and he pulls back a few inches to look into her eyes. Her eyes are round, and wet, and so happy at his statement. It would be so easy to lean forward, slot his lips against hers, and kiss her with this building emotion in his chest.
But it's enough to just know that if he did, she would kiss him back.
Asher is standing in front of his locker, zipping up his backpack after dropping his history book off when Jordan comes up to him and hands him a cheesy candy filled children's Valentine.
"Happy Valentine's day, buddy." The taller boy says. Asher laughs at him and accepts the hallmark token of affection.
"Didn't know we were exchanging presents, boo . Should I take this as a sign that you're finally going to put a ring on it? I'm not gonna be single forever."
Jordan laughs and hits him on the shoulder as he puts his backpack on.
"The way I hear it, you're not single now ."
Asher freezes and looks up at his best friend in shock and confusion.
"Y'know, I wouldn't have thought I'd ever be happy about you two dating, but honestly?" Jordan shrugs and smiles down at Asher. "I've never seen my sister so happy. And I can't imagine anyone I'd trust more with her."
"Oh." Asher whispers, lost for words. "Uh, thanks."
Jordan just shakes his head and catches sight of someone over Asher's head.
"Yeah, man. Congrats, I guess." Jordan says absently before pulling out another cheesy Valentine and yelling across the hall. "JJ! Happy Valentines day, bro!"
Asher grins and shakes his head, starting for his first class. As soon as he turns to walk down the hall, he sees Olivia Baker, in all her effortless beauty, walking straight toward him with a timid smile.
When she reaches him, she instantly goes in for a firm but chaste kiss, wrapping her long arms loosely around his neck. He kisses back instinctively, pulling her close to him by the small of her back.
She smiles into the kiss and it's contagious, their grins making them both pull away from the kiss, breathless and laughing.
"You told your family." Asher exhales, heart beating hard in his chest as he presses his forehead to hers.
"And… I told everyone ." Olivia amends the statement. "Posted that picture we took at my house after the dance on Instagram last night. Called you my Valentine. Because you are."
"You're so lame." Asher teases, kissing her again before she can protest his insult.
"You love that kind of shit, you liar." She teases back, grinning against his lips.
Asher hugs her tighter and kisses her deeper, hearing catcalls from what has to be JJ down the hall.
And she's not wrong about him loving it.
Asher loves everything about being with Olivia. He always will.