Reed knocked on the door then shoved his hands in his front pockets, shivering against the cold while they waited for Ash to answer.
“Why do you look like you’re at the police station about to turn yourself in for committing some heinous crime?” Danny asked from where he lingered at Reed’s side. “It’s a party! Your girl’s birthday party!”
Reed shot his older brother a glare and proceeded to correct him. “She’s not – ,” His denial was cut off when the front door swung wide open. Ashton appeared in the doorway and the irritation he had toward his brother was instantly forgotten when a smile stretched across her face which reached her big brown eyes. She was dressed in a pair of dark jeans and a deep red long sleeved shirt with a wide neckline which exposed the smooth skin of her shoulder. A white sash which read “Birthday Girl” lay diagonally across her chest. His lips twitched at the sight of the plastic tiara resting on top of her head because it reminded him of the one she used to wear around all the time when she was little. Her dirty blonde hair was pinned up on one side while the rest flowed in soft waves down her back. The only word to come to mind as he stood there and took in the sight of her was….beautiful.
“You came!” Ashton’s excitement made something inside of him relax, even as cynical part of him reminded him he shouldn’t be there.
“Hey Ash,” Reed said just as Danny stepped around him to pick her up in a big bear hug.
Danny scoffed. “Of course we did. We couldn’t miss Princess Ashton’s birthday, now could we?”
Reed ground his teeth in annoyance at his brother’s display as he stepped inside and shut the door. He wasn’t annoyed because he thought Danny was making a move on Ashton. Danny was just acting like…well, Danny. His irritation had more to do with the fact he couldn’t hug Ash like that. His fear she would see what she meant to him, prevented him from doing so. That along with the fear touching her in anyway, would only make him want more. Instead, he placed his hands back in his pockets and plastered on a grin while Ashton squealed in laughter from his brother’s over exuberant hug.
Finally, after a hug that lasted a few moments longer than Reed was comfortable with, Danny set her back on her feet.
“Do you guys want something to drink?” She offered, stepping back as if she would fetch their drinks for them. “I’ve got beer, vodka, rum…”
While Ash rattled off her available alcohol menu, Reed stepped forward to peer into the living room. Aside from her best friends Macky, Lissa and Gabby, he didn’t recognize anyone and he was relieved it seemed to be a small gathering rather than a large party.
“We’re good, Ash,” he responded, turning his attention back toward her. “We just wanted to stop by to wish you a happy birthday.”
If he wasn’t mistaken, her face fell a little.
The slight dejected tone in her voice, made him add, “But we can hang out for a bit.”
“Speak for yourself, bro,” Danny said with a slap to Reed’s back. “I want a beer. But I can grab it myself. Just show me the way, birthday girl.”
Ashton smile and pointed down the hall. “The kitchen is that way. Just make yourself at home and grab whatever you want.”
Danny didn’t make it two steps down the hallway before there was a knock at the door. He stopped, turned and a shit eating grin spread across his face which made worry crawl up Reed’s spine. “That must be princess Ashton’s birthday present.”
Reed shot his brother a look. Earlier, he had asked Danny what he should get Ash. His brother assured him, if he got her a present it would have definitely let her know he was interested. So he didn’t buy her anything. Why he continued to take his brother’s bad advice, he didn’t know.
“I thought you told me,” he said through gritted teeth as his brother stepped up beside him just as Ash opened the door. But when he saw who was on the other side of the door, his complaint died on his tongue, only to be replaced with another. “You didn’t.”
Danny chuckled and waggled his brows. “I did.”
Entering the front door was a man about Reed’s height but built like a brick shithouse. He watched in horror as the man dressed in a black police officer’s uniform reached for Ash’s right hand and placed a handcuff around it all while reading her ‘rights’.
“Ashton Roberts, you have the right to remain silent.” The man recited his ridiculous made up version of the Miranda warning with alternate sexual punishments if she did say or do anything. The man escorted her to a chair conveniently placed in the middle of the living room by Lissa while girls catcalled and whistled. Even Macky yelled out “Hell ,yeah.”
“Nah, man,” Danny said from beside him. “That’s stripper cop, Pete. They didn’t have the Big Guy. They had a priest, but even that seemed wrong.”
Reed closed his eyes and shook his head. “That’s not…never mind.” There was no point in explaining the many errors in his moronic brother’s ways.
Watching Ash turn beet red as the cop stepped in front of her and began dancing to the theme song to the show “Cops”, Reed’s hands curled into fists at his sides. Jealousy was quick to burn it’s way to the surface. She turned her head to the side and their gazes locked when the cop moved to straddle and grind against her lap. He could see the plea to save her in her eyes but what could he do? A laugh erupted from him and a moment later, she averted her gaze.
He hadn’t laughed at her embarrassment or because he thought it was funny his brother put her in this uncomfortable situation. He knew she hated being the center of attention. Reed laughed at the murderous thoughts running through his mind and the fact that, after all he had done in his life, after all the things he had been wrongly accused of doing because of his brother, he never imagined going to jail for the double murder of his brother and this dirty cop.
Reed tried to tamp down on his rising anger by rationalizing that Ash wasn’t his. She never would be. She could have a dirty cop ride her if she wanted. He had no right to be angry over the fact this stranger could touch her more intimately than he ever could. Reed only had himself to blame.
The thought made his stomach churn and an ache build in his chest all while the torturous show went on and on.
“You should see the look on your face right now, bro,” Danny chuckled.
Peeling his eyes away from the train wreck in front of him, he turned and glared at his brother. “This is funny to you?”
Danny laughed. “Yeah, it is. Because if you think she doesn’t see what is so obvious to me, then you’re fooling yourself. You can ignore it, hide from it or pretend it doesn’t exist but it ain’t going to make it go away. So,” he added with a slap to Reed’s back. “I think it’s time to shit or get off the pot.”
As Danny walked away to go talk to some girls, Reed’s gaze shifted over to where Ash was getting up from her seat. The song had ended and the dirty cop had thankfully been intercepted by Ash’s friend Gabby. His jealousy receded but his brother’s words still ran through his mind as he watched Ash accept a drink from Macky. In that moment he realized, his brother was only being a dick to try to push Reed into making a decision. In a small, twisted way, Reed could almost appreciate the gesture. If only he wasn’t certain the decision his brother was trying to get him to make, would end in such devastating heartbreak.