Rockstar Bay Academy: Part 30
The Non-date (Official release)
For Heather. XOXO
It's not a date.
If I repeat that enough, maybe I'll start believing it and stop feeling so nervous. Asher and I have spent a lot of time together this year, so going to a party with him shouldn't be a big deal, right? We're just hanging out, celebrating duet night with the rest of our senior class.
So why does it feel like so much more than that?
I glance at the items in my closet, trying to decide how much I'm willing to dress up for an evening that isn't a date. In the end, I choose a short tartan skirt and a long-sleeved black top with a diamond-shaped cutout above the cleavage. It's probably too sexy for the occasion, but my stomach bottoms out at the thought of what Asher will think when he sees me in it. I throw on a long cream jacket over the top, leaving it open, and complete the look with knee-length boots. Since my hair and makeup were done to perfection before the performance, I just reapply lip gloss, and then I'm ready to search for Asher.
Before I can step out of my room, I come to an abrupt stop.
The hand she was about to use to knock drops, and she raises an eyebrow when she looks me over.
"Right. The party, I forgot about that," she says with a smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes.
Asher and I mentioned the party briefly to Mum and Jesse after we were dismissed from school. There was too much noise in the auditorium for us to talk much. As soon as Jesse and Mum congratulated us, they disappeared to find Ethan and Ainsley.
"Can you be home by one?" she asks.
I frown. "You're giving me a curfew?"
Her smile wobbles. "Shouldn't I? You're still seventeen for a few more months."
"You left us alone for two weeks to go on honeymoon, and you and Jesse let us have a party," I remind her.
She sighs. "But those were the holidays."
"True, but it's the weekend, and semester break is only a couple of weeks away. Plus, it takes twenty or thirty minutes to get to Remy's place."
"Three o'clock, then?"
It's more of a question than a demand, so I smile at her and let it go. "I'd better go find Asher. See you tomorrow."
"Honey," she says before I can walk past her. "Your duet was...so very, very good." Her eyes fill with tears. "Your singing...your performance, you blew me away. I've never been prouder of you than I was tonight."
"I know you have to go, but I...I did want to remind you of something quickly."
A sudden rush of dread ties my stomach in a knot. "Yes?"
"Ethan broke your heart."
My smile is now strained. "He did."
"It took you a while to bounce back from that," my mother says.
"I remember," I reply.
"This year is so important," she continues.
"I know, Mum."
"You've put everything on the line to get this far. There's always time for certain things later. Don't become distracted. You've worked too hard to…"
Do something that I might struggle to bounce back from, I know that's what she's saying. I can't blame her for worrying. Everything she's done up to this year has been for me. She put it all on the line and spent the best part of her life working to make sure I never missed out on anything I needed for my music. Losing sight of my end goal wouldn't just be devastating to me, it would be a slap in the face to my mother who has made every sacrifice for me.
I hug her. "I know. I won't."
The problem is that, even as I say the words, I'm aware that my feelings for my stepbrother are already so much more than they should be. I don't know how to deal with what I feel for him when nothing can ever happen between us.
Asher's door opens as I pull away from my mother. His eyes meet mine straight away, and I swallow hard as I take him in. The fitted black shirt with red cuffs and collar he's wearing fits him to perfection, showing off all the muscles underneath. The top couple of buttons of his shirt have been left undone, and my fingers itch to undo the rest of them.
When I drag my eyes back to his face, I see his eyes raking over me, hot as coals, forcing my heart to kick into high gear. I dressed up for him, and I'm sure he knows it. Under his intense gaze, heat crawls over my skin, the obvious approval and satisfaction giving me the same kind of high I had while singing with him.
This isn't a date.
Mum forces a smile when Asher walks over and joins us. "Asher."
He nods. "Cait." Then he looks at me. "Ready?"
"You won't be tempted to drink and drive?" Mum asks.
"I never have before, and I won't start now."
Mum nods, and her smile is small and weak. "Well, have fun." She looks at me. "Not too much fun."
"I'll try not to have too much fun, Mum."
Realising how silly she must sound, she doesn't say anything else, merely starts walking down the stairs. Asher and I follow her in silence. In fact, we're silent all the way to the car, where he opens the passenger side door for me.
Not a date.
Trying not to make a big deal out of it, I thank him and slide inside.
I've been in a car with Asher numerous times; he even drove me to and from school tonight. But on the way to school, I was focused on the duet. And on the way home, I felt nervous, but I was still riding the adrenaline high from our performance. That isn't the case now. I have nothing to distract me from the butterflies swarming in my belly.
I rub my palms along my thighs to wipe away the sweat building there as he starts the engine and floors it out of the driveway. Why am I so nervous?
"You too hot?" Asher asks, catching the action.
He doesn't look convinced. "Was Cait okay with us going to the party?"
"She tried to give me a curfew of one o'clock."
He frowns. "That would give us less than an hour at the party."
"I got her to change it to three."
He nods. "Are you planning to get drunk tonight and tell me things you shouldn't?"
Amusement shines in his eyes when I look at him, and my lips twitch.
"Not sure there's anything left to declare." Nothing I should be telling him, anyway.
Silence descends between us once more, but this time it feels thicker. Sitting here, surrounded by the scent of him and watching his muscles flex as he drives is not conducive to my 'this isn't a date' mindset. Every time he flicks his gaze my way, heat branches through me. Bringing up Ethan is probably the last thing I should do, but maybe the reminder of the person between us will be the metaphorical cold shower I need.
"Have you spoken to Ethan since we...sang?" I ask.
Asher's jaw clenches tight. "No."
Considering we spent most of today rehearsing, and then we went to school together, and came home together, it isn't surprising.
"Maybe they'll come tonight," I think out loud.
Nerves twist my stomach tighter. I was so relieved to hear Asher and Maddie broke up, that I forgot how awkward it will be tonight if Ainsley and Ethan come.
Asher shrugs. "Maybe. I'm not sure Ethan will be in the mood to party."
"Mm," I agree, thinking about how miserable Ethan looked as he walked offstage.
There was something off about Ethan and Ainsley's duet. Ethan is a good singer-songwriter, and Ainsley isn't totally awful when it comes to crafting music, but their timing seemed off, and they didn't connect on stage the same way most other pairs did. Odd considering they're in a relationship.
"It seemed like I was interrupting you and your mum before?" Asher says, changing the subject.
I don't know if he heard anything from his room. I force a smile. "She was just..."
Warning me to be careful? Warning me not to get my heart broken? Warning me not to fall in love with someone who can't put me first.
"Being sensible and logical." Which is exactly what I need to be. "And reminding me I have goals."
He raises an eyebrow. "You don't need reminding. Your goals are the reason we went through with the duet."
And the reason Asher put his relationship with his brother on the line.
Clasping my hands together, I nod. "I know."
He looks at me with such intensity, I can't help but stare back at him and hope we don't crash.
He looks back at the road. “Lilah, you’re the most driven person I know.”
“It’s a good thing.”
This time, my smile is genuine. I sigh. “She doesn’t want me to…become distracted.”
I thought there was nothing left to declare but admitting Mum is worried I’m on the verge of being distracted probably is too revealing. When he looks at me this time, the intensity in his stare is turned up higher. Heat prickles over my skin, my stomach bounces, and my heart feels like it’s just been slung out of a slingshot.
“Are you becoming distracted?” he asks softly.
“I’m trying not to be,” I whisper.
Trying so hard not to be. In other words, coming with him tonight, even as his friend or duet partner was idiotic.
Asher doesn’t say anything, leaving me to wonder what he thinks of that. We lapse into silence again, which only gives me more time to dwell on all the reasons I shouldn’t have come with him tonight. Asher and Maddie might be over, but we’re about to be separated by oceans. And even if that weren’t the case, Ethan would never support our union.
Didn’t our song say it all? We’re impossible; this is all we’ll have.
Before we’ve even reached the party, the high I’ve been riding and my excitement about the evening crashes and breaks, tightening my throat.
Asher glances at me after he pulls up at Remy’s place. “Ready?”
I nod, swallowing past the lump, and get out before he needs to open the door for me.
Like he did after this evening’s concert, he places his hand on my back as we head into the house on the property. Just like it did then, every nerve ending seems to jump to life, goosebumps breaking out over my skin. Resisting leaning into his touch is harder than it should be. Walking next to him, his energy sucks me into his forcefield. I want to be closer to him even though I can’t be.
There’s no bonfire tonight and when we enter Remy’s kitchen via the patio and open glass doors, it’s crowded but not in the same way it was last party. Probably the short notice. I estimate there’s only around a hundred seniors milling around the giant patio and the kitchen-living area of Remy’s house.
Until now, my nervousness has centred around spending time with Asher tonight, and it being a non-date. As Asher and I garner interested looks, however, my nerves grow for a different reason. I’m not an idiot. People will have opinions about us being here together, especially after singing the duet.
God, my hands are clammy again.
This isn’t a date, I tell myself yet again. But if it was? Dating the stepbrother I once declared war on, who also happens to be the brother of the guy I dated for years, would be newsworthy. Add in the fact our parents got married this year, and people are going to gossip and judge.
“Drink?” Asher asks.
No way am I getting drunk again, but something to take the edge off would be nice. Asher leads us through the kitchen, towards a large table that has been pushed to the back wall of the adjoining dining area. There are at least thirty bottles of spirits scattered across it, as well as litres of soft drink, plastic cups, and buckets of ice with mixed alcoholic drinks.
After looking over what’s on offer, I pluck a bottle of watermelon flavoured Vodka out of one of the ice buckets, and Asher reaches for a tin of Passiona. I look around for Kennedy. She’s coming with Kai, and Briony and Mason are supposed to be coming too, but I can’t see them anywhere.
“Ash!” “Over here.”
My friends aren’t here, but Asher’s are. As he guides me in the direction of his friends, I go with him, aware of the knot in my stomach growing.
Asher is met with back slapping and trash talking, and I receive a lot of curious looks from the guys. I used to spend time with these people—when I was with Ethan.
“No Maddie tonight?” Vaughn asks.
“Nah, it didn’t work out.”
“She couldn’t come, or you guys are done?”
“We were over a while ago.”
“Too bad. She was hot as fuck.”
Asher rubs at his eyebrow and shoots me an apologetic look. Not that he has anything to apologise for. This isn’t a date; we’re hanging out as friends.
As if sensing Asher’s discomfort, one of his friends asks, “Ethan with you?”
“Is he coming?”
Some of the guys look between me and Asher but keep their comments to themselves, and while I’m relieved, I’m not really comfortable. The conversation turns into a commentary about people I don’t really know. With nothing much to contribute, I get to the bottom of my bottle too quickly.
Jay points to the glass doors we came through earlier. “Ethan’s here.”
Of course he isn’t alone, he came with Ainsley. Ainsley’s scowl is nearly feral when she sees me standing with Asher and his friends. She looks slightly unhinged. Great. What are the chances of escaping Ainsley-related drama tonight?
An expression passes over Ethan’s face when he sees me standing beside Asher. His gaze bounces between me and Asher, his jaw clenched as tight as his fists before he looks away without any kind of acknowledgement. Asher moves his body slowly closer to mine as it becomes clearer Ethan is coming over. The move doesn’t go unnoticed by Ethan, who turns a shade of red, and when Ainsley says something to him and storms off, Ethan doesn’t even look at her, just keeps walking towards us.
Before Ethan reaches the group, I save everyone further awkwardness and excuse myself. These guys are Ethan and Asher’s friends, and if I stand here any longer, I’m about to be compared to Yoko Ono.
Asher reaches for me before I can go anyway. “Where are you going?”
“I’m just going to look for Kennedy.”
And get another drink.
Asher looks at Ethan before glancing back at me. “We aren’t doing anything wrong, Lilah.”
Aren’t we? If that’s really the case, why does it feel like we are? Why does Asher sound like he’s trying to convince himself as much as me?
“Come find me when you’re ready to go,” I tell him.
He shakes his head. “Tonight we celebrate, I’ll come find you in a few.”
Tamping down the impulse to tell him maybe it’s best if we don’t hang out together at the party, I nod and walk straight toward the drinks table, swiping another watermelon flavoured Vodka drink. When I turn around, I sag with relief when I see Kennedy over the other side of the kitchen, waving to me.
I wave back and start in their direction. I’m so eager to get to them that I don’t see Ainsley until I’m passing her and her friends.
“Brother lover,” one says loudly.
I ignore her and roll my eyes at the mild insult.
“Brother fucker, more like it,” another girl adds.
Ainsley jumps in my way. “Incest queen,” she spits.
Instead of telling her to piss off, I shoulder past her, delighting in the ‘oomph’ she lets out when I make contact.
“Bitch,” I can’t hold back.
“Slut,” she hisses back.
Kennedy’s smile drops as she witnesses the exchange. Wrapping her arms around me as soon as I get to her, she hugs me hard, making me even more grateful she’s here.
“Hi, Kai,” I greet her boyfriend when she releases me.
It’s a relief to hear Kai use his nickname for me because I honestly don’t know what he must think about me being here with Asher.
Kennedy touches Kai on the arm. “Can you get me a drink while we find somewhere to sit?”
“Need me to cut someone?” Kennedy asks me as he walks away.
I force a laugh. “I think I invited this on myself.”
“Don’t be stupid.” She links her arm through mine and starts us moving. “Mason and Bri should be here soon so let’s find a good place to sit.”
Minutes later, we’re settled on one of the smaller couches in a giant living area adjacent to the kitchen and dining area. Briony and Mason arrive minutes later, dragging chairs from somewhere else so they can join us. And as we talk about the duets, and I polish off my second vodka and watermelon, I start to relax. By the time Asher finds us, I’m actually enjoying myself and happy to see him.
I grin up at him. “Hey.”
His lips twitch as he sweeps his eyes over me, probably noting the colour in my cheeks. From the alcohol, of course. The adrenaline of squaring off against Ainsley left long ago and I’ve been relaxed. Until now, anyway. Now, it’s like I’m experiencing the adrenaline rush of singing with him all over again.
Kennedy shifts over, making room for Asher to sit beside me. His large frame takes up more space than I expected, and our thighs press together with his knee touching mine. Ainsley's insults make me want to distance myself from Asher and remind him to remove the arm he just placed across my shoulders, especially with Ethan nearby. However, despite my internal conflict, I can't resist the pull towards him. The closeness of his body and the warmth he exudes is intoxicating, and my heart races as he presses his knee into mine.
He leans in, ducking his head and whispers in my ear, “Are you drunk?”
I shake my head as his hot breath slides over my skin, leaving goosebumps to spring up all over my body. I turn my head slightly, looking up at him. It’s a mistake. He’s so close to me, his lips within inches of mine, and I have to clench my hand to stop myself from reaching for him to pull him into me.
I close my eyes, flooded with images of his mouth sliding over me, his lips trailing heat. The pit of my stomach feels empty and heavy at the same time, an empty throb beating in time with my heart. With so many people from senior year here, this is bad.
“What did Ainsley and her friends say to you earlier?” he asks, jarring me out of my too-hot fantasies.
“Nothing,” I murmur, not feeling as relaxed as I did a moment ago.
“Bullshit. Tell me what they said.”
I shrug. “Basically, they were calling me a slut.”
He scowls. “Basically?”
“One who…fucks brothers.”
I swear he growls. “Fucking Ainsley.”
“She’s an idiot. I never even had sex with Ethan,” I grumble.
Asher stares at me so hard, it’s unnerving.
“You knew that, didn’t you?”
“I wasn’t sure.”
“Now you know.”
“You were together for a while.”
“We did everything but that. And he wanted to. I just…” I shrug. “Wasn’t ready. And when he broke up with me, I was glad I hadn’t. I think it would have hurt even more if we had.”
“And you and Luke never…?”
“No. Never came close.”
“What about you?”
He quirks an eyebrow. “What about me.”
“How many girls have you slept with?”
“You really want to know?”
“I asked, didn’t I?”
“That doesn’t mean you want to know.”
“But I do. So, how many? A hundred?”
He nearly chokes on the soda he just sipped. After wiping his mouth, his grin is gleeful, and he moves so we’re sitting facing each other a little.
“What? How is that funny?” I ask.
“I’ve never been a fuckboy.”
“Right. How many, then?”
“Way under a hundred.”
“How about under ten?”
“More than ten. Less than fifteen. That’s all you’re getting.”
“Hm.” It’s my turn to make that noise.
“What does that mean?”
I shrug. “I did see you with a lot of girls before Maddie.”
“Variety is the spice of life.”
My mind flits back to a time someone told me that about Asher. Before our war started. Back to the time I was on the receiving end of his flirtatiousness.
He smirks. “Say what’s on your mind, Lilah.”
I shrug. “Do you remember when we first met? I mean, do you remember the first music class we had together?”
His dark eyes grow more intense, and he moves closer to me. “I remember.”
We shared a music class without Ethan when I first enrolled in the academy. We’d been locked out of one of the music rooms, and Asher made a joke as we stood outside, waiting to be let in. After he’d seen me laugh, we’d started talking, and when we were finally let in, we ended up sitting together.
For the first two weeks of school, I sat with Asher in those music classes. In my mind, he’d been this stupidly talented, sexy guy who was smart and nice. His attention was exciting, and I genuinely thought he was into me.
I roll my eyes at myself. “I sort of thought you liked me.”
His expression is dark and broody as he says, “I did. But I was sick for one day, and when I came back, you didn’t want to have anything to do with me. You began ignoring me and started dating my brother.”
I sit back too, my gaze dropping to the hands in my lap. I guess that must have been how it looked to him.
“I was…interested. But the day you were away, a few of the girls cornered me and told me you liked variety and had hooked up with nearly everyone in the class.” I feel a tightness in my chest at the memory. Their ‘heads-up’ had been a punch in the gut. “I didn’t want to believe them, but then I saw you talking to Chelsea Rain the next morning, and she was all over you.” My voice catches in my throat. “I didn’t want to believe them, but the evidence was right there in front of me and-”
“You believed them,” he finishes for me.
“Do you still think of me as a fuckboy?”
“No! You’re one of the most loyal people I know. I mean, you never seemed interested in anyone once you started with Maddie.”
“I was interested, I just knew I wasn’t allowed to be.”
The intense way he watches me makes my stomach spin.
“If things were different…” I whisper.
He echoes, “If things were different…”
With that dangerous and unsatisfying truth sitting between us, we turn our attention back to the conversation that has been floating around us. My friends welcome both of us back into the conversation, and the time passes quickly.
A couple of hours later, I look at my watch, and when Asher sees, he nudges me gently. “Want to get going?”
“We should, yeah.”
After saying goodbye to our friends and Asher’s, we walk out, thankfully without bumping into Ainsley and Ethan. Now that it’s just the two of us, the weight of our earlier conversation seems to sit heavy between us.
We drive home in silence, and Asher turns on the stereo when it becomes apparent that neither of us wants to talk. The rhythm of the music seems to match the beating of my heart. When he pulls into the driveway of the Cassidy mansion and turns off the engine, I unbuckle my seatbelt but don't get out of the car. I know that once I do, this moment will be over.
The duet prep is officially finished now, the party is done, and Asher and I are supposed to go back to being stepsiblings. Ethan and even our parents probably expect it of us. If things go the way I think they will, and we make the showcase, we really won’t have much to do but rehearse a couple of times a month to make sure we’re perfect for the end of year showcase. They’ll probably even give us that time in class.
When am I going to be able to spend time with Asher again like this?
"Well, thanks for the lift," I say, melancholy coating my tone.
"Thanks for coming with me to the party," he responds.
I smile. "I had a good time."
He reaches out, tucking a lock of my hair behind my ear. He's done it before, and like last time, his fingers linger, stroking my cheek, his eyes locked on mine.
He moves in closer, and I sway towards him. In this car, surrounded by darkness and his music, it feels like a safe bubble, one where we can breathe the same air in secret. I don't know who bridges the gap. I don't know if it's him or me, I just know one of us moves and the other meets them halfway. The moment I feel his lips against mine, my body goes haywire. My heart seems to explode in my chest. We’ve crossed a line now, and there’s no coming back.