I woke up when someone started knocking on my door. For a second, I thought the rapid burst of thumps coming from the other room might just be the remnants of a dream crossing into reality, but when they came again I knew I would have to get out of bed.
Slowly, I swung my legs over the side of the bed, and headed out to the main room with heavy steps. Standing in front of the door, I thought that maybe I should have checked a mirror or something, but decided it was too late. Hoping I didn’t look too awful, I opened the door.
Asher stood on my porch, wearing a baggy black t-shirt and shorts, holding onto the straps of the small backpack he hanging from his shoulders. As soon as he saw me, he raised his eyebrows.
“You look like death.”
I opened the door wider and walked away, not looking back. While I sat down at my kitchen table, yawning and already thinking about sleep, Asher closed the door behind him, and followed me to the table. Setting his backpack on the floor, he pulled a chair out, its worn wooden legs scraping on linoleum, then took a seat across from me.
“You don’t look ready,” he observed, appraising me again. “Had you even woken up yet?”
“Of course I did,” I said, resting my cheek in my palm. “I got up about two seconds before you started knocking.”
Asher shrugged.“ I figured as much, so I came over to make sure you were up. You had better get going soon–we’re really going to hear it from Cat if we’re late.”
“Sure thing, captain,” I said, giving him a mock salute as I stood. I was still a little drowsy. “I’m going to go shower. You can just wait for me there, I shouldn’t be long.”
He nodded, and pulled out a small book, opening it up to a dog-eared page and disappearing between the covers. Still too tired to travel faster than a slow crawl, I eventually made my way to the bathroom, and carried out my morning routine.
By the time I had finished, no more than twenty-five minutes could have passed, which made it that much stranger to walk back into the kitchen to find Asher standing at my stove, just putting the finishing touches on some scrambled eggs.
He must have heard me coming, as he turned his head and gestured towards the table.
“I finished making some bacon already. If you want toast or anything you can make it yourself.”
Looking at the table, I saw that he had pulled out some plates from my cupboards, one of which was covered in pieces of bacon, black at the edges. They looked delicious.
After putting a few pieces of bacon on a plate for myself and pouring a cup of milk for both Asher and myself, I sat down.
“You didn’t have to make anything, you know,” I said, the fact that it came through a mouthful of bacon probably hurting my case. “I could have just eaten some cereal.”
He waited until he had finished his eggs and made a plate of his own before answering.
“I know, it’s just that sometimes I get this almost….uncontrollable urge to make eggs.” He glanced down at his hands, before continuing in a quiet voice. “Sometimes it’s hard to even look at myself in the mirror. I’m scared I’m turning into my father.”
I took some eggs.
“Is that some kind of joke? I don’t really get it.”
“Yeah,” Asher said, waving his hand dismissively, “but don’t worry about it. It’d be too hard to explain.”
We finished our meal in silence, although it didn’t take long–Asher is surprisingly good at making breakfast foods, and I didn’t waste much time in finishing it off. After rinsing off our plates, I headed into my living room and picked up my bag off of the couch. By the time I got back, Asher was already standing, his bag pulled up onto his shoulders.
“You got everything?”
“Pretty much,” I replied, gesturing to my own bag. “It’s not like I packed too much, anyway. It’s just one day.”
“Sure, but you never know,” he said, eyeing my ceiling. He bit his lip. “By the way, I want to ask you something.”
The way that he paused before speaking threw me off a little. He seemed uneasy.
He crossed his arms and continued looking upwards.
“Do you think it’s a good idea for us to go out like this today?”
Finally, he looked at me, and I was surprised to see that his question was genuine, rather than his typical “why is Cat dragging us around again?” shtick. He continued looking towards me, obviously expecting a response, but for some reason I found it hard to give him one.
“What do you mean?” I said, although I already had an idea. “We already planned this all out, didn’t we?”
“You’ve noticed it too, right?” He was startlingly serious, furrowing his eyebrows slightly as he questioned me. “Almost every time we’ve run into anything supernatural in the past few months, it’s been when we were all together. It’s happened way too much to be a coincidence.”
I was still holding my my backpack up by the strap, and I set it down next to my feet before responding.
“You’re saying we keep getting attacked just because we’re all together? Doesn’t that seem like a bit of a leap?”
“Of course it’s a leap,” he said, pushing his bangs out of his face. “I’m not even sure if that’s it, but there has to be something going on that makes stuff go bad when we’re all together. Maybe it’s just one or two of us that are attracting these things, but honestly, that doesn’t make too much of a difference to me.”
He stopped for a moment, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. Asher turned his eyes to the ground.
“The sea monster was too close,” he said. “It was a miracle that we all survived. I’m just worried that we won’t be so lucky next time.”
That was when everything clicked into place, and I realized just how much of an effect the fight with the sea monster–or, really, the last few months–had had on Asher. Sometimes, when you’re busy worrying about something yourself, I guess it’s hard to see just how much someone else might be worrying, too.
I knew I had to say something.
“I still think about it, you know,” I said. Asher glanced at me. “The beach, all of the people, especially you and Cat. Ayame was so scared, thinking you wouldn’t come back, and I was too.”
Asher looked away.
“I’m sorry. I–”
“No.” I cut him off quickly, surprised at the force of my own voice. “That’s not what I mean. I know you and Cat did what you had to do. What I’m trying to say is…well, you’re not the only one thinking about it, okay? We’re all worried about what’s happening.”
For a second I stopped, catching my breath. Asher, messing with the strap of his backpack, smiled slightly.
“Not too long ago, Ayame told me something just like that.” He rubbed the nape of his neck. “I’m sorry, I guess I’ve been pretty bad at listening to you guys. It’s just so hard, all of this going on while we know pretty much nothing about why. I just want us to stay safe.”
Asher stood there, the dim light casting gray shadows in his hair, coating his downturned face. I took a step forward, and placed a hand on his shoulder.
He looked up, and the shadows disappeared.
“So do I,” I said, “but this is something we have to do together. We’re friends, we can’t let the fear of something happening keep us from hanging out together.”
Not surprisingly, Asher didn’t say anything, but the look he gave me was enough to let me know that he understood. Lifting my hand from his shoulder, I picked my bag up off of the ground.
“Anyway,” I said, “I think that’s enough soul-searching and emotional bonding for a while. We should probably leave, don’t you think? Like you said, Cat will never let us hear the end of it if we’re late.”
“Yeah, let’s head out,” Asher replied, hiking his own bag up on his shoulders. “We’ve got a lot to do today.”
We headed toward my door, and as Asher grabbed the handle, I remembered something.
“How about you explain that joke about your dad and eggs, now?” I asked. “We’ve got plenty of time on the way there.”
“I’ll warn you, it’s not that funny,” he said, although he still laughed a little. “But I guess I can tell you. Let’s go.”
He opened the door, and we headed out.