Chapter 5: Business Casual
Flashback! 3 years ago, because I'm a tease.
So, you come here often?"
The most attractive guy I could find in the whole bar raises an eyebrow at my question.
"Already heard it, buddy." He takes a sip of his drink and leans against the counter, flashing me a lopsided grin. "Is that the best you can do?"
"Nope." I lean back next to him and set down my glass. "But I'm pretty sure I'm the best you can get."
"Mhmm. And what makes you so sure?" He raises his glass to his lips and takes another swig of the murky liquid inside it. He coughs a little, but covers it up well.
"Because you and I are the sexiest guys in this whole bar, babe." I wink at him and laugh when he chokes on whatever he's drinking.
"A little confident, aren't you?" He decides to be safe and just put the drink down altogether, turning to face me more directly. That's a good sign. I'm drawing him in.
"So you're saying you wouldn't go for me?" I try to sound shocked, knowing full well that, if he's like everyone else, he's about to blush and turn away.
He doesn't, though. He looks me straight in the eye and simply says, "You're hot, but it doesn't mean I'll put out for you. I don't even know you."
Caught off guard? Oh yes. Never before has a guy explicitly told me that he wouldn't just spread his legs for me without a second thought. I'm used to using my charm and then getting a fuck.
Damn it. Maybe I should find a different guy. I can be sensitive around someone if I want, but if I'm at a bar or a club it means I'm just horny. Finding someone like this isn't what I need. I'll get attached and then hate myself when it ends.
That's why I need someone easy. But the easy guys in this joint aren't that nice to look at.
"I'm Harley." I hold my hand out for the boy next to me to shake. He looks surprised, both of his blond eyebrows rising this time. He shakes my hand, though, and grins.
"Want another drink?" I ask him, gesturing to his nearly empty glass. He coughed most of it up.
"Sure." I slide his glass to the bartender, who mixes up another drink.
"It's on me," I assure Asher, handing him the glass and smiling. He takes a delicate sip of the beverage and then hoists himself up onto a stool.
"So, Harley. Your last name wouldn't happen to be Davidson, would it?" Asher laughs at his own joke, the alcohol in his system finally evident when his laughter becomes a bit too loud.
"And you're making fun of me for having bad pickup lines?" I retort, leaning toward him a bit. "And my last name's Underwood, sorry. Although I do have a motorcycle. Want a ride?"
He narrows his eyes suspiciously, a playful grin remaining on his lips nonetheless. "What's the catch?"
"We have to go back to my place to get it." I wink and take a sip of my own drink. Mm. Just what I need.
"Smooth." Asher smirks a little, and I do the same when I notice his eyes drifting up and down my body. He focuses at the top of my black shirt, where the top three buttons are casually undone and revealing just the right amount of my chest.
Oh yeah. He's enjoying the view, all right.
"If you're gonna check me out, I'd be happy to take off my clothes so you can have a better view." I lean back against the counter let my eyes feast on him as well. The blond blushes when I make a big show out of staring at his crotch.
"Sorry to say that I might not reciprocate," Asher replies. Fancy words. All talk, no play. Damn.
"How old are you, anyway?" I abruptly ask him.
Asher immediately looks suspicious. "Twenty-one. Why? You're not, like, a creepy old man in a twenty-something body, are you?"
"Nah. I'm twenty-three." I raise my glass to him and smile. "At least you're legal. Unlike that kid I picked up a couple months ago."
"If I wasn't at least twenty-one, I wouldn't be drinking," Asher snaps. His face flushes some more. "And what kind of asshole brings up some guy when he's trying to pick up another one?"
I frown and swirl my drink around in my cup. "You're difficult, you know that?"
Asher glares at me even harder. Fuck. I'm getting pretty close to losing him. Why did I have to waste my energy on the only difficult guy in here?
"I already told you I'm not going to jump into your bed that easily." He crosses his arms. "Even if you are hot."
I laugh out loud when he says that. "If I'm so hot, what's keeping you from jumping into my bed?"
Asher returns to his drink, glancing away from me to stare into his cup. "I'm not an easy fuck. Plenty of guys can tell you that. I don't like mindless shit or one-night stands with guys I'd actually be interested in under other circumstances, unless the guy is willing to give it more than just the fuck."
I sigh and take a seat next to him. This is gonna be a toughie.
"So you are interested."
Asher averts his eyes still further. "So what if I am? I'm not going to go home with you if you blow me off. I've never been good at dealing with being used by someone who just sees me as a quick fuck."
Damn, this guy sets some standards for himself. And he wants a guy with morals? What the hell.
"I promise not to kick you out right after if you'll come home with me, Asher," I practically purr, grinning at him.
Asher looks slightly queasy, like he doesn't believe me but really wants to.
"Just as long as you don't live too far from here."
"Jesus, I'm surprised we even made it past the front door," Asher teases, toweling off his hair and grinning at me. "Your libido is ridiculous."
"Yeah, well, once I see what I want..." I throw him a lazy smirk and hook my fingers in the towel around his waist. His hands fly down to hold it in place, and understandably so- I wouldn't be up for a round three, either, after everything we've done so far tonight and this morning.
After a night filled with the most incredibly mind-blowing sex I've ever had, I'm actually glad I chose Asher for last night. He was fucking amazing in bed, and I like having him around. Lucky him. I would have gone back on my promise and kicked him out if he was annoying after sex.
So we fucked- though it felt way more passionate than a one-night stand should be- and then we showered and had round two in the shower. Asher is amazing. He makes these beautiful sounds when you finger him, and he knew almost exactly what to say to make me come. Not to mention he's just hot as fuck.
I almost feel like I'm interested in more. We have this weird connection, more so than I've had with anyone I've hooked up with. When we were bantering back at the bar, it was actually fun. Usually the chase is too easy and still not worth the prize, but with Asher a marathon would have been worth it.
Not to mention he's treating our hookup like it's a full-blown relationship. That doesn't help the minimal will I have to forget him and move on with my life.
"Got anything good for breakfast?" Asher asks sweetly, smiling up at me with his hands still holding his towel up. I ghost my fingertips up his sides and brush my thumb over the hickey on his throat.
"You like oatmeal?" I ask in return, grinning right back at him and now running my fingers through his blond hair. "It's just about the only thing I can make for breakfast."
"Sounds good. Just let me change and I'm good to go." Asher keeps the towel around his waist and leans down to pick up the clothes he was wearing last night, but I stop him.
"You can borrow a shirt and boxers from me, if you want," I offer, ignoring the implications of that. "Your clothes probably smell like that bar."
"True." Asher accepts the boxers and clean t-shirt that I hand him from in my dresser, and I head into the kitchen to start on the oatmeal while he changes. Even though I've seen every inch of that gorgeous, sculpted body, I'll give him some privacy.
Asher emerges from my bedroom a minute later, tousling his hair with one hand and covering a yawn with the other. As he saunters up beside me and presses a brief kiss to my neck, I slyly ask, "What's the yawn for? Didn't you sleep last night?"
Normally, affection the morning after I hook up with someone is a big fat no in my book. But with Asher, it feels right.
"Ha ha," he dryly replies, idly running his fingers over my bare arm. I didn't bother to put on a shirt, just a pair of black sweatpants with no boxers on underneath. This is my idea of business casual.
I stir the oatmeal a little more, closing my eyes and enjoying the sensation of Asher's fingers touching all over my body. He should really stop. It'd be a bad idea if I got too attached to him.
I'm still not sure why that would be a bad thing.
My biggest concern is that, being enrolled in graduate school at Columbia and having been recruited into the FBI's White Collar unit as an intern until I get my master's, I'm too busy for a relationship.
But fuck, do I want one.
"Eat up," I cheerfully say to Asher, scooping out some of my famous oatmeal into a bowl for him. I hand him a jar of brown sugar in case he wants to add any. "Do you want cream in it, too?"
"Yes, please." Asher sits down at my small kitchen table and stirs some brown sugar into the steaming oatmeal. I hand him a container of cream from the refrigerator and sit down with him to enjoy breakfast.
We eat in silence, probably because the more time we spend together, the more we start to realize that we hardly know each other, we fucked last night, and this is more than likely to end as soon as Asher walks out the door.
Sure enough, as soon as Asher puts his empty bowl in the sink and I follow suit, he leans against the counter with his arms crossed and asks, "What happens now?"
It's not like I've been totally caught off-guard, but it feels like it. I didn't even have an answer prepared for this question, though I knew it was coming.
Asher takes my silence the wrong way. "That's what I thought," he laughs hollowly. "I should've known you were too good to be true."
"Wait, Asher." I grab his wrist like I'm afraid he'll leave- which he might. "I just haven't given it much thought, is all."
He stares down at the floor and kicks at it. "I don't know what I was expecting when you promised not to ditch me right after...everything that happened."
"I'm not ditching you," I tell him honestly. "I'm just not sure if a relationship is manageable for me at the moment. But give me your number and I'll call you, okay? We can talk."
He sighs, but manages to give me a small smile. "Okay." I grab my phone off the counter and hand it to him to enter his number, and then he gives it back to me and mumbles, "I had a lot of fun last night, so...hopefully we can see each other again sometime."
"I'd like that," I reply, leaning down to kiss him gently. "I'll talk to you soon, all right?"
He nods and gives my hand one last squeeze before grabbing his clothes from last night and walking out the door of my apartment.
My friend Gavin pulls out the chair on the other side of my desk and sits down in it, propping his feet up on my desk. I wrinkle my nose and shove them off. No matter how clean his dress shoes are, I don't want them near my work.
"What do you want?" I ask stiffly, highlighting some important information in the brief I got on a new case. Robbery in a jewelry store. Usually a pretty petty case for the FBI to be working on, but it's a repeat criminal and the stone stolen was a rare one that a European museum curator is now claiming to have possession of.
"You coming out for drinks with us after work?" Gavin asks, ignoring the way that I'm clearly not in the mood to talk.
"No," I say impatiently, tapping my keyboard's spacebar to wake up my computer screen. "I have class."
Gavin groans and lets his head fall back against the chair. "C'mon, Harley," he sighs. "Have some fun for once. You never do anything for yourself."
I give him a pointed look and then start typing, saying, "Everything I do is for myself. This internship, going to grad school..."
Gavin stands up and shakes his head, sighing again. "I'm not talking about your fucking career, Harley. All you ever do is work."
I don't bother to mention the fact that I went out on Saturday night and hooked up with a ridiculously hot guy...who I still need to call back. Damnit. I don't have time for all of this.
"When we're thirty and you're still bumming it here in the copy room and I'm getting bonuses bigger than your yearly salary, then you'll be sorry," I absently say.
Gavin doesn't seem convinced. "Sure. Have fun being the wettest of all wet blankets."
Wow. He sure says weird things. I look at him incredulously as he walks over to Michelle's desk, probably to invite her out for drinks as well.
I nearly jump out of my desk chair when my boss yells my name. "Yes?" I politely inquire, closing the case file on my desk and then turning around to face him.
He squints at me and says gruffly, "Have that presentation ready for me tomorrow, okay? The manager's coming in tomorrow to negotiate security measures for the store, and we have to have the plan outlined for him."
"Will do, sir," I automatically say, nodding once. I may appear poised and professional, but inside I'm freaking out at the added task. I have a midterm in my forensics class tomorrow, and I have to study my ass off tonight. I don't have time to draw up a presentation.
"Going somewhere?" my boss adds, raising his eyebrows when I start to pack up my laptop and the case file.
I sigh and nod again, zipping up my bag. "I told you yesterday that my six o'clock section tonight got moved up two hours. I have to get over to campus."
"You interns and your need for flexible schedules." My boss rolls his eyes, and for a moment I'm terrified that he's angry with me, but then he laughs and pats me on the back. "You need to give yourself a break for once."
"Soon," I say, smiling slightly. "Hopefully. I'll be in tomorrow with the presentation."
I fly out the door of the White Collar building and nearly sprint to the subway station. I get to campus at Columbia with about ten minutes to spare. Unfortunately, it takes me about seven minutes to get to my class, and since there are only ten people in the section, it usually starts early. And it's really awkward when someone shows up late.
I come barreling into the classroom just as my TA is about to start class. "Sorry," I pant, sliding into a desk. "Got held up at work."
The girl next to me giggles even though I didn't say anything funny. She has a crush on me- it's totally obvious- and I haven't had the heart to tell her that I'm gay.
My TA just sighs and starts the lecture.
I'm beginning to feel bad that I haven't called Asher yet. We met three days ago, and I've been too swamped with school and work to even pick up my phone to call my parents- let alone a guy I hooked up with.
He probably thinks I've forgotten about him. That couldn't be farther from the truth. He's been in the forefront of my mind- excluding obligatory thoughts about school and work.
I just got done with delivering the presentation to my boss, so I decide to head over to campus early and do some last-minute cramming before my midterm. And maybe grab some coffee.
I catch sight of my reflection in the window of a building on the way to the campus coffee shop, and I cringe. I've never looked so disheveled. It's a good thing I didn't have to work for very long this morning, because I don't think FBI interns are supposed to look like bums.
"What can I get you?" the cashier at the counter asks, smiling brightly. I manage a half-smile back at her while I give her my order.
"A double espresso, please," I say, before shaking my head. "No, make that a triple-shot. I need it."
The cashier punches my order in. "You definitely look tired."
"Exhausted," I groan, fishing some change out of my pocket and handing it to her when she tells me the total. I lean on the counter while I wait for my drink, and I eagerly take a sip of it without sweetening it.
Can I just get a shot of raw caffeine? I fucking need it.
I look up from my cup and nearly drop it when I see Asher walk in the door.
Speak of the devil.
"Asher?!" I exclaim, walking quickly over to him and pulling him out of the way of the door. "I was just thinking about you. What're you doing here?"
"I got to school here," he replies, gesturing out the window at the rest of campus. He turns back to me and crosses his arms, looking a little hurt- probably because I haven't called him. "What are you doing here?"
"I go to school here, too," I say. "Post-grad. Small world, huh?" My awkward laughter hangs in the air.
"Oh. Yeah. Small world." Asher frowns slightly, his gaze drifting away from me. "Well, I was going to get a drink, so..."
I check my watch and then grab his arm before he can walk off. He's got the downtrodden expression of a guy who's been rejected, and I don't want him to feel like that. "Sit with me when you get your drink?" I request, smiling. "I've got some time before I have to go take a midterm."
He hesitates, eyes searching my face for some sort of hidden agenda, but he eventually nods. "I'll be right over."
True to his word, he orders a mocha and then comes over to a table in the corner of the shop, pulling out the chair opposite me. The moment he sits down, he says bluntly, "I hope there's a good reason why you haven't called me."
I flinch, but manage to keep my cool. "I've been meaning to, honestly," I tell him, swirling the contents of my cup around. "I've just been too busy. My boss gave me a pile of work to do, and I've been studying my ass off for this midterm...my mom even left me an angry voicemail the other day because I haven't been to visit her in a couple weeks. I'm swamped."
Asher bites his lip, hiding a smile. "To be honest, I thought you had forgotten about me. But I was still kinda hoping you'd call. This is better, though."
I laugh and reach across the table, setting my hand on top of his. "I do like you, Asher. And I definitely didn't forget about you. I just had a lot to deal with, you know? I mean, work and school are killing me, and I've been kind of nervous about starting to see anyone because I'm too busy to really make a relationship work."
"So...what does that mean?" he asks, his eyes downcast. "Not gonna work out?" He smiles wryly and starts to draw his hand away from mine, but I quickly tighten my grip and hold him in place.
"I never said that." My thumb drags idly over the back of his warm hand. "Look, I'll admit that when I did have time to think about what would happen with us, I was having a lot of doubts, but...well, we both go to Columbia, which is a plus because now we know we live and work closer to each other than I thought, so..."
Asher opens his mouth like he's about to speak, but he blushes and instead shuts his mouth. I smile at him and squeeze his hand. "What?"
"Nothing," he replies, shaking his head. "I just realized how desperate I'm starting to sound."
"You don't sound desperate," I reassure him, taking a sip of my coffee and relishing the jolt it sends through my body. "It's totally normal." He looks doubtful, so I quickly add, "Look, I said I like you. And even though I'm busy as fuck right now, I'll make time for you. I have a feeling it'll be worth it, if I'm the one who can make you happy."
I've never said anything so unbelievably sappy to anyone before, so I'm surprised at how easily the words roll off of my tongue. What surprises me even more is that I meant every word.
Then again, saying and doing unusual things seems to happen to me when I'm around Asher.
As for Asher, I guess my words are as good as an early birthday present. He smiles adorably at me and says, "Are you sure?" The question is asked reluctantly, like he doesn't really want to give me a chance to back out and stay single.
I decide to avoid his question, because if I continue to debate the pros and cons of starting to date someone while I'm trying to get through grad school and a killer internship, I'll end up talking myself out of this.
And it's been a long time since I've truly been with someone. I'm sick of depriving myself of love because I convinced myself to focus on my career.
"Are you busy tonight?" I ask Asher, flashing him a crooked smile. "I know a really good Italian restaurant off of 42nd Street."
That seems to be good enough for Asher. "Sounds good. Call me after your midterm and we can figure out a time."
"All right." I glance at my watch and immediately jump out of my seat when I see the time. "Speaking of my midterm, I really have to go. But it was nice seeing you again." After a split second of debate, I lean over and kiss his cheek, adding, "Talk to you later."
And that is the uneventful story of how I met the love of my life.
Asher is still gone, and I haven't heard from him.
When I first met him, Asher worried about me not calling him. Now, it's the other way around.
I'm trying so hard not to completely freak out and call the LAPD to tell them that my boyfriend is gone. I don't even know what happened to Asher, so if he really did decide to leave, then I'll just look like a fool. But if he was kidnapped or something- just the thought sends my heart into a panicked frenzy- then it'd probably be best to get some help so I'm not going up against who knows what by myself.
But if I contact anyone involved in crime investigations, police, the FBI, you name it, Powell will know. And then he'll find out that I brought Asher and I'll be screwed and most likely fired and possibly killed. I'm surprised he doesn't already know that Asher's here with me, but it's not worth the risk in case he isn't aware.
Nope, I'm on my own.
I'm probably overreacting. It's been a few hours since he left, but that doesn't mean he got kidnapped or something. Or murdered on the street. Or...
Fuck, this is not good for my mental health.
I pace across the room a few more times, staring down at my phone. I've already called him about twenty times, and I gave up on texting him because there's no point sending a million messages all saying the same thing. When he sees all of the missed calls from me, he'll know I'm worried about him.
What if he really did decide to leave? The thought makes me pause in my pacing, my blood running cold. What if finding out that I'm an assassin really scared him that much that he lied to reassure me and then bolted out at the first chance he got?
He said he's not afraid of me, though. More like he's disappointed that I'm doing it, and that I didn't tell him. And he would never straight up leave me without warning, not over something like this. Yeah, trust is a big part of a relationship, but Asher's the type to work through problems rather than abandon them unsolved.
It's not like it's even a problem, anyway. I didn't tell him because I wanted to protect him, not because I wanted to be all secretive. It was for his benefit.
That's it. I'm calling him again. And if he doesn't answer this time, I'm going to...I don't know. Go find him? I wouldn't know where to start, but I'll figure something out.
The phone rings what feels like a million times, and I begin to debate whether I should hang up or leave another voicemail. Maybe a voicemail. Tell him that I'm going to look for him, so if he meant to leave me for good, at least call me back so I don't search futilely for something I've lost forever.
The phone finally stops ringing, and I'm all prepared to hear Asher's voice with his voicemail message. Instead, though, a deep voice that is totally not Asher's meets my ears.
"I was wondering how long it would be until I got the chance to speak to you."
A/N: Sorry it took so long. And that I was a tease and didn't give you any more answers or anything. I've had their first meeting written for months and decided to put it in here. To annoy you all. Plus there would've been no Asher in this chapter otherwise.
Thanks for all of the reviews last time :D Can I have some more? Bwaha.
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