“So what’s his name?” Helena called after him. Ash froze, his body half turned back towards her. “The guy you’re hung up on.”
Ash turned. “What? What are you-”
“You’re a terrible liar Ash,” Helena cut him off with a crooked smile. She glanced around her at the empty night before taking a few small steps in his direction. “You said you were hung up on someone, which I think is true.” She half shrugged. “And you said I was the only woman in your life, which I think is also true. So that means that either the someone is too young for you to consider a woman which I don’t believe for a second or he’s not a woman.”
Ash might not actually have been breathing.
“I don’t care,” Helena assured him. “I would just really like not to be jerked around or led on.”
“I’m not,” Ash denied immediately. Helena looked at him. “I didn’t mean to,” he quickly tried to correct. With a heavy sigh, he continued, “I like you, Helena. I like spending time with you. That’s not a lie.”
She laughed lightly. “No, I didn’t think it was.” She paused, considering. “But there is a guy.”
Ash hung his head briefly before squaring his shoulders and meeting her gaze. “He’s my best mate. And- and maybe more. I don’t know. My uncle caught us together earlier. We weren’t doing anything but-”
“It was enough to give him an idea, I guess. He, the guy, he’s been tutoring my cousin and my uncle basically fired him on the spot because of it and-” Ash stopped.
But Helena caught on. “So what? You came out here unannounced to convince your uncle you’re straight?”
Ash pulled out his phone. “My brother texted me earlier. My uncle is letting him keep tutoring my cousin...after he told him I was on a date with you.”
Helena rolled her eyes. “Give a girl a head’s up before you force her to be your beard, Ash.”
“I’m sorry.” Ash shook his head. “I really do like you, Helena. It’s not-”
“You like this guy?” Helena crossed her arms.
“What does that matter?”
Helena looked around again at the still empty night before closing the distance between them. “Look. My family is overbearing. I mean, I love them but still. And I would really not hate it if they stopped setting me up with every guy they meet.” Ash started to say something but she kept going. “So I wouldn’t be opposed to telling our families we’re exploring the idea of dating. I don’t want to lie to them but I’m okay with stretching the truth a bit. And if you need someone to cover for you with your uncle...”
“Helena I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You’re not asking,” she smiled crookedly. “It’s a win-win. But is he worth it?”
Ash looked away. “He’s my best mate. But I sort of screwed things up between us and now it’s all awkward. There’s nothing really to cover up.”
Helena made a noise. “You miss him,” she realized. “Didn’t you just say your uncle saw you together tonight?”
Ash rubbed the back of his neck. “Like I said, I screwed things up.”
“Well,” she said determinedly. “Now you can fix it.” She held her hand out between them. “Friends?” She rolled her eyes slightly. “Who lie to their families to get them off their backs?”
Ash looked between her face and her hand for a few moments before sighing. With a tiny smile he grasped her hand. “Friends,” he agreed.
“Good.” Helena gave him a hug. “Now. Go home. It’s late.” She nudged him lightly on the shoulder before turning around and heading back to her house.
Ash let her go for a few feet before he called after her, “Sully.” Helena turned back. He shrugged. “His name’s Sully.”
She smiled and nodded. “I’d like to meet him some day. He’s gotta be pretty great to get you hung up on him.”
“He is,” Ash replied immediately.
“Good night, Ash,” Helena waved with a warm smile. Ash waited until she was in the house and the door locked before leaving.
“Ash.” Kam’s voice stopped him in his tracks just inside the door. The apartment was dark but Ash could just make out the dark shadows of his brother’s form as he stood up and walked towards him. Ash let himself be shepherded back into the hallway. Kam closed the door quietly behind them, conscious of everyone sleeping inside. It was later than Ash had realized.
“You should be sleeping,” he chided. “You have school in the morning.”
“Where were you?”
Ash raised an eyebrow. “With Helena. I told you all that.”
Kam stared at him for a moment before looking away. “You weren’t with...?”
“You think I would lie to you?” Ash felt his whole body tense up. He’d never liked being at odds with his brother, had bent over backwards at times to not be, but he knew this was a topic they’d never see eye to eye on. Even if Ash never saw or spoke to Sully again, it would only be to keep his family together, not because he didn’t want to. Not because he didn’t-
Kam shook his head. “I thought- when Uncle and I saw you two-”
“Nothing happened Kam.”
“Fine,” Kam agreed easily. “But is that because nothing was going to happen or because Uncle and I walked in?” Ash looked away. “I thought you were keeping your distance from him.”
“I am!” Ash hissed. “He’s my best mate and I can barely be in the same room as him, okay? Nothing happened earlier.” Kam didn’t look convinced. And suddenly Ash didn’t have the energy to try. “Get some sleep, Kam. It’s late.”
Kam hesitated a moment before opening the door and stepping inside. When Ash didn’t follow he added, “you should probably stop calling him your best mate if you can’t manage to be in the same room as him,” and closed the door.
Ash dropped his head against the door with a heavy sigh.
“He’s not wrong,” Sully’s voice came from behind him. Ash whirled around to see him standing down the hallway with a basket of laundry in his hands.
“Sully,” Ash exhaled. Sully didn’t look away.
“How was...Helena?” He crept closer. “Your uncle seems to approve.”
“It’s not like that,” Ash denied immediately. “She’s a mate.”
Sully arched an eyebrow as he drew even with Ash. He needed to get past to get to his own apartment but at some point Ash had moved to block the whole hallway. Excepting the incident in the bathroom earlier, this was the closest they’d been in weeks. “I’m glad. Mates are good to have.” He tried to get past but Ash moved into his way.
“She’s just a mate,” he clarified.
“Ash,” Sully sighed. “It’s none of my business.” He pressed the laundry basket into Ash to try and move him out of the way but Ash gripped it tight.
“I told her about you.” Sully froze. “I told her I was too hung up on someone to start anything with her and I told her that I went out to see her tonight because my uncle caught us together.”
“We weren’t doing anything,” Sully protested. “There wasn’t anything to catch.” But there was a strange hesitance in his eyes.
“She’s my mate, Sully,” Ash repeated. “I can’t- I don’t want anything more than that. With her.”
Sully didn’t say anything for a moment. “What does that mean?” For us, remained unspoken.
“I don’t know,” Ash confessed. Because he really didn’t know. He knew he liked Sully, a lot. He knew he wanted to spend a hell of a lot more time with Sully and maybe not all of that time be spent just as mates. But he also knew his family would never approve.
Sully nodded like it was what he expected to hear. He pressed the basket harder until Ash was forced to take a step back and to the side, clearing the hallway. Ash let go of it. “Let me know when you do. Good night, Ash.” And then Ash was left staring at Sully’s back as he disappeared down the hall and into his apartment.
When Ash finally entered his own, Kam’s eyes met his, his judgement clear to see.