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Bad Habit (Bad Love #1)
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Three years ago…
The first time I laid eyes on Asher Kelley, drunk and bleeding, I decided two things. The first being that he was the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen in my entire life. I was sure of it. And the second thing? He was the kind of boy that I should never, under any circumstances, get involved with. But, even my pre-pubescent self knew on some level that I’d gladly reach inside my own chest and offer him my beating heart if he’d only ask.
What I didn’t know then was that would be the first of many nights just like that one. Turned out, Asher’s dad was a little bit of a drunk, and a lot of an asshole. If it wasn’t his dad, it was some poor soul who decided to cross Asher. He was always looking for trouble, it seemed. Or maybe trouble just knew where to find him.
My brother, Dashiell, was always quick to kick me out of his room on the nights Asher snuck in. It became routine to them. Just another Thursday night. But seeing him tumble through my brother’s window never ceased to break my heart and make it beat faster all at once.
Over the past three years, Asher has pretty much become a permanent fixture in our lives. My parents are either oblivious or don’t care enough to question why he’s always here, or why he occasionally dons a black eye or a split lip. Part of me hates them for it. They’ve made their feelings on Asher clear. They don’t like him hanging around, think he’s a bad influence. But Dash is stubborn, and loyal to a fault. So, they tolerate Asher at best.
I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor of Dash’s room playing Guitar Hero on his Xbox when I hear the telltale tapping on the window that signals Asher’s arrival, and I’m immediately uneasy. Dash was supposed to meet Asher and their other friend, Adrian, at a party earlier. Alarm bells go off, and I drop the guitar, scurrying over to the window on my knees. I help him slide it open, and he hefts himself over the sill.
“Asher? What happened? Where’s Dash?” I reach for the lamp on Dash’s bedside table, and when it illuminates his swollen, bloody face and T-shirt, I gasp, my hand flying to my heart.
“Asher!” I run to his side and help him to the bed. He stumbles over the laces of his untied combat boots, almost taking us both down.
“Oh my God, say something!” I panic, warring between getting my dad or calling the police.
“Calm down.” He chuckles darkly. “You’re going to wake up your pops.”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” I snap, before turning on my heels. Someone needs to do something for once. And being a pretty powerful attorney, my dad is someone who can actually help. I feel a hot hand grip my wrist, and despite the circumstances, my already racing heart quickens at his touch.
“Come on,” he says in a hushed, gravelly tone. “It’s just a little cut. You should see what he looks like,” he tacks on with a hint of a smirk tugging at his full lips.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” I ask, trying to jerk my arm out of his grasp, to no avail. “Because it doesn’t. Not even a little.” Tears start to fill my eyes, and his own soften at the sight.
“I’m okay, Briar,” he promises, his voice uncharacteristically soft. “Just hang out with me for a while until Dash gets back.” Indecision swirls in my gut, and I bite my lip, contemplating my next move.
“Fine.” I sigh. “I’ll be right back.” I tiptoe out into the kitchen, my bare feet sticking to the hardwood floor. I grab a washcloth and run it under the sink before snagging a bandage out of the cabinet. I’m no nurse, but it’s better than nothing. When I come back to the room, Asher is sitting on the bed with his elbows on his knees and his hands fixed on either side of his neck. I drop to my knees in front of his spread ones and gently brush his dark hair off his forehead. His eyes snap up to mine—one green with yellow flecks, and the other a honey brown with flecks of green. He swallows, his throat bobbing with the motion. I avert my eyes and bring the damp washcloth up to dab at the dried blood crusted near his eyebrow. He clenches his jaw, but says nothing as I do my best to clean him up.
“Where’s my brother?” I question, if only to distract myself from his close proximity. Up until recently, I’m fairly certain Asher has only ever seen me as an annoying little sister. Lately, things have been…different. Like all the air is sucked out of the room when we’re in it. And I can’t help but wonder how no one else feels it when it’s suffocating me.