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"Do you like coffee?" she asks, walking back into the kitchen.
"Like is not the word I would use for how I feel about coffee," I say. She tilts her head to the side, giving me a questioning look.
"Um… I love coffee," I say, feeling like a dork. "I'm pretty sure that my coffee consumption alone is helping to get the United States out of debt." I'm rambling and both she and Asher laugh. I hear scratching and look to the side. Beast has his big paw on the glass door, wanting in. I walk to the door and when I open it, Beast comes in with such force that he knocks me on my butt and starts licking me like he hasn't seen me in weeks. I'm laughing when I look up and see Asher and his mom watching me with the same smile on their faces.
"Alright, let her up," Asher says, pushing Beast away. He stands over me with his legs on either side of my body, looking down. "You're too much," he mumbles. His hands take mine to lift me off the ground. His words hit me hard for some reason. My mom used to tell me that I was too much, but every time she said it, she would get a look on her face that said she didn't know why she even bothered with me. I didn't want to look at Asher and see the same look on his face so let go of his hands, avoiding his eyes. I walk to the island where his mom has a cup of coffee waiting for me. I pour in some milk and add two scoops of sugar. She and Asher are both watching me. I need to get away so I can pull myself together.
"Thank you for the coffee," I say, looking at Asher's mom with tears clogging my throat. "I'll be right back. I just need to get Beast's food out of my bag." Walking out of the kitchen and down the hall, I feel like an idiot. My mom isn't even here and she is making me feel like crap. I'm at the door of Asher's room when I feel an arm around my waist and I'm flying through the air. I let out a girly scream then land in the bed with Asher on top of me.
"Wh… Wha… What are you doing?" I asked, stuttering and trying to shove him off me.
"What happened back there?" he asks, holding me down. I can't tell him that my mom has made me a total nut case so I just press my lips together, trying harder to shove him off. I didn't want his mom to hear me scream at him that it was none of his business. "You were laughing once second and then you closed up. What happened?"
"Nothing. I just need to get Beast's food. Now get off me," I say, shoving at him.
"Tell me what happened. Did I hurt you?" He really looks worried.
"When I pulled you up, did I hurt you?" he asks again, making me feel even worse.
"No, you didn't hurt me. I'm fine now. Can you please move so I can feed my dog?" I ask, shoving him again.
"So what was it then? One minute you were rolling around on the floor with your dog, laughing. Then you looked like someone smacked you. I'm not letting you up until you tell me what happened." I feel tears and I don't want to cry in front of him. How can you tell someone that had an amazing mom that yours totally messed up your head.
"You wouldn't understand," I say because he really wouldn't. No one could understand how it feels to have the person who is supposed to protect and guide you through life makes you feel completely worthless.
"Try me," he whispers. His hand moves from where he was holding me down to glide through the hair at my temple. I feel tears start to fall and I try to look away but he's holding my face in his hands and bends over to kiss each eye. "Please tell me, baby," he whisper. I can't help it. His voice is so soft and his warmth is all around me and I feel safe in that moment. Maybe safer than I've ever felt.
"My mom's not like yours. She's not sweet, she doesn't hug, she doesn't tell people that they're beautiful, she would never make anyone coffee." Tears are falling harder and I feel like I have sand in my throat. "I know that it's stupid, but my whole life she has made me feel bad about myself. My mom is abusive. Not physically, but verbally and emotionally. She has cut me down my whole life. It took me a long time to realize that what she has drilled into my head wasn't true but those wounds are still there and they run so deep that there are times I can still feel them inside me. Even when someone makes a passing comment that anyone else would laugh at, to me, it feels like a cut." I realize that I have my eyes closed so I open them and see that Asher looks pissed. His whole body is tight and his teeth are clenched. I started to get scared and he must have read my face. He looks into my eyes and I feel his whole body relax. His jaw unclenches and his thumb travels over my bottom lip.
"It was what I said about you being 'too much.'" He didn't ask, it was just a statement. I nod my head because I can't talk. "You're beautiful when you laugh. Not too many women would get tackled to the ground by a dog, even their own, and laugh about it, definitely not in front of a man. That's why I said you were too much. I love that you don't care what people think and that you act like yourself around me. I'm sorry that your mom is a bitch. I bet that she's jealous of you so she cut you down, hoping you would always feel infer to her. Hopefully, we can work on filling all the marks she left," he says softly. His fingers wipe away my tears. I feel it down to my soul. The words that he said feel true but then I remember that I can't trust it or believe him.
"I can't do casual," I blurt out. I wanted to cover my face or go hide in the bathroom. Instead, I close my eyes. His body is shaking so I open my eyes and he's laughing. "What's funny?" I ask, irritated.
"Do you think I would try that with you, knowing that your dad, uncle, and cousins would come to kick my ass if I wanted something casual?" he asks, searching my face.
"Ugh…" That never crossed my mind.
"This isn't casual. Christ!" He growled. "You've met my brothers, mom, dad, and grandma. No woman I've ever dated has met my whole family. I've wanted you from the moment I saw you in the club, hanging on your dad. That's why I was pissed when I caught you outside. Then when I saw you with my grandmother, I knew I was fucked. She'd been talking about you for weeks, telling me that I need to meet this girl that's so beautiful and sweet. She told me that she just moved into town and I should ask her out before someone else did. She was right. I realized yesterday that I needed to stake my claim before some stupid fuck got to you. That's why I did what you called 'kidnapping.' I like to call that 'securing my future.' We're going to see where this goes, November, and while we're doing that, it's not going to be casual."
"Okay," I say, feeling excited and a little scared from the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes. I can tell he's dead serious.
"Okay." He kisses me softly. "And just so you know, if your mother ever comes to visit, I won't be nice."
"I don't think my mother will ever come to town." I'm looking over his shoulder at the same time as I'm praying that I'm right. I truly hope my mother never shows her face in this town. My dad would flip and my grandmother would probably shoot her.
"Alright, now we need to get up before Ma comes in here. She's worried about you after what happened last night and the look on your face when you walked out of the kitchen. Let's go have breakfast then go meet your dad at your house." As if Asher summoned it from thin air, my phone started playing Highway to Hell, my dad's ring tone. Asher stands, bringing me with him, then walks to his jeans on the floor and pulls my cell out of his pocket and hands it to me. I turn around and put my phone to my ear.
"Hey, baby girl. How are you feeling?"
"Um, I'm good. I'm getting ready to feed Beast and then I'm going to eat breakfast with Asher and his mom."
"His mom is there?" he says, sounding surprised.
"Yeah, she came by this morning. Mr. Mayson told her about what happened last night and I guess she wanted to make sure I was alright."
"Hum," I hear my dad say then he's quiet.
"Dad, you still there?"
"Yeah, I'm here, baby girl. So what time are you going to be home?"
I turn and see Asher leaning against the door, watching me. "What time do you think we'll be at my dad's?" I ask him.
"In about an hour and a half, baby," he says softly. I feel a small smile touch my mouth at the word baby.
"Asher says about an hour and a half."
"I heard him, baby girl. Can you put him on the phone for me?"
"Um, sure. Hold on. Dad wants to talk to you," I say to Asher, holding out my phone. He slides it from my hand and kisses me on my nose then takes a step back, putting the phone to his ear.
"Mike," I hear him say. "Yeah, we'll talk when I get there."
Then he hands the phone back to me. "Dad," I say, hoping that with the tone I'm using, he understands that I'm not being stupid.
"See you when you get here, baby girl. Love you." He hangs up before I can tell him I love him too. Asher is watching me.
"Is everything okay?" I ask, looking at the phone.
"It's all good, baby. Let's eat."
"Okay," I say, feeling dread creep up my spine. I knew Dad was going to say something to Asher when we got to the house and I was suddenly nervous about going home. We walk back into the kitchen and Mrs. Mayson is standing at the stove.
"Do you like grits?" she asks with a smile. I have no idea what grits are and she must have read the look on my face.
"Okay, how about some eggs and toast?"
"That's fine. Thank you, Mrs. Mayson."
"Call me Susan, beautiful. Mrs. Mayson makes me feel old."
"Okay. Do you have a bowl I can use to put Beast's food in?" I ask Asher. He gets up and walks around the island to pull out a huge bowl. The kind that you would use to make cookies or bread in. He fills the bowl to the top. I watched this in horror, too stunned to stop him. I always measured his food so he doesn't eat too much. I read online that you have to be careful with big dogs and their diets.
"What are you doing?" I ask as Asher sets the bowl down on the ground.
"Feeding the dog," he says with an eyebrow raised.
"You can't feed him that much."
"Why not?" he asks with his eyebrows raised.
"Because I Googled it and they say to measure it."
"Babe, he's a dog. He knows when to stop eating." He's looking at me like he thinks something is funny.
"How do you know that?" I ask, tilting my head.
"I've had dogs my whole life."
"Oh…" That was all I could say. Beast was my first dog and all the information I had came from Google. He chuckled and I kind of wanted to punch him in the arm for laughing at me.
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