Ashley Ch. 05byShiggyMoto©
Special thanks to Amy S for helping with the chapter.
DISCLAIMER: All characters are over the age of eighteen.
Chapter 5: Understanding
* * *
"Brian, I have a favor to ask of you."
I peered up from my latest issue of PC World to the doorway where Ashley stood. "What can I do for you this fine Friday evening, babe?"
Dressed for a fun-filled night with her friends, my sister came closer to my desk where I sat. "Can you drive me to the movies? My ride can't take me anymore."
I eyed her lean legs in taut blue jeans with silver rhinestones embellishing the pockets and sides. "Yeah, no problem. Who was supposed to take you?"
She sat on the edge of my desk, her hands propped behind her. "One of the girls I'm going to the movies with."
I read her initials, A.S., on her silver belt buckle. "Did she cancel?"
"No, not exactly. She's still going."
My eyes drifted upward to the long-sleeved vanilla top she was wearing. The neckline was wide, revealing most of her shoulders. "Then why can't she take you anymore?"
Her plush lips, beautified by glossy red lipstick, opened and closed. "She sort of got into an accident. Her car needs a new set of tires."
Gold hoop earrings, dark eye shadow, curled eyelashes; Ashley was dressed to kill. "That's a bummer. How is she getting to the theater, then? If she's going with someone else, can't you go with?"
"You're a curious one tonight. You can say no if you have other plans." She glanced at my computer monitor.
I glanced with her at the screensaver of a dancing monkey. "Nope, no plans. I'll shut up with the questions now. I can take you there."
"Great, I knew I could count on you." Ashley hopped down from my desk and onto her platform sandals. Though they weren't heeled, they still added an extra inch or two to her height. She took a few steps toward the door before looking over her shoulder. Her long blonde ponytail swished to the side, uncovering the reverse plunging neckline that left skin visible on her upper back. "Oh, almost forgot, Bry. Can I ask you for another favor?"
"I guess... what else can I do for you?"
"Can you also take all of my friends?"
"Um, how many people are we talking about here?"
Right, just three. "Neither of the other two have a car?"
"Nope. One drives her parent's car but they're using it for the night; the other is in the same boat as me, no license yet."
"Do I at least know them?"
"I'm sure you do. It's Natalia, Alyson, and Lillian."
I immediately recognized the names and the pretty faces that went with them. Ashley and her friends were living proof of the statement "good looking people hang out with other good looking people." I had met the trio early in Ashley's high school career after moving to our current home. She occasionally brought them over to the house to study, exchange CDs, and do whatever else girls do together. They never stayed for long, however; maybe for an hour or two before leaving. It was usually Ashley who did the visiting.
When her friends did come to our house, I would walk by my sister's bedroom to the kitchen, living room, bathroom, or wherever else I could excuse myself to see what the girls were up to. I didn't mean to peep on them, but I couldn't help myself. They were all truly attractive women, each with something that set them apart from the other. My interaction with Ashley's friends had been limited thus far, so I made sure to steal a glimpse of them at every opportunity. I hadn't seen any of the girls yet that summer, and the prospect of seeing them again made me tingle.
Ashley disrupted my reverie. "Judging by that smile of yours, I think you do know them."
"It's been a couple of months since I've last seen your friends, but I do recall the names."
"Okay, goodie. It won't take long to pick the girls up. One of the them lives a couple minutes away and the last two live next door to each other."
"That sounds fine. Let me get my shoes and keys and I'll meet you out front."
"Um, can you get dressed too?"
I looked down at the high school gym shorts and faded green t-shirt I was wearing. "Aren't I just going to drop you and your friends off at the movies?"
"Well, sort of, but we want to go to the new megaplex theater. You know, the one that opened at the mall last week."
"Okay... that still doesn't explain why I need to get dressed."
She winked slyly. "I'll make it worth your while if you do."
No man could have denied her womanly charms, especially someone as love-stricken as I was. I feigned a sigh and stood up from my leather chair. "I'll need some time to get ready."
"You have ten minutes." She skipped out of my bedroom with a smile and closed the door behind her.
* * *
"So, who am I picking up first?"
"Lillian. Just the park the car right here by the sidewalk."
"Are you going to get her or should I?"
"Just honk the horn." Ashley slammed her palm into the steering wheel.
I flinched at the blaring sound. "Jeez, sis, a little warning would've been nice. You almost blew out my eardrums."
She ignored my complaint as a brunette beauty exited the house and approached us. Ashley opened her window and waved. "Hi, Lilly! It's so good to see you."
"Hey Ashy, it's great to see you too. We have so much to talk about."
"Totally, but hurry up and get in. We need to pick up Natty and Aly."
Lillian slid into the backseat. "Introduce me to our handsome chauffer, Ashy."
"It's only my brother, Brian," my sister answered nonchalantly.
"Way to kill the mood, I know who he is." She leaned between the front seats. "It's nice seeing you, Brian."
"Hi Lillian." I tried not to let her face distract me from the road. "Nice to see you again."
"Call me Lilly like the rest of the world does. There's no need to be so formal."
"Okay, sure thing."
"Let's try that again, shall we?"
* * *
"Stop, stop, stop," Ashley stammered. "Natalia's house is right here. Pull into the driveway."
"As you wish. Should I honk?"
"No, don't honk. Her parents are still home. They'll be pissed if you did that. Just give me a sec." Ashley fished out her phone from her purse, tapped some digits, and held it to her ear. "Hey Natty, is Aly with you? I'm in front of your house with Lilly. Hurry out here."
Ten seconds after my sister hung up, a dark-haired raven and a slim blonde temptress appeared from around the garage. Ashley and Lillian waved at them through their open windows.
"Hey guys," Natalia greeted, brushing her long black bangs from her eyes. She bent down to the passenger window. "Hello Brian, glad you could join us."
Alyson bent down beside her. "Hey Brian, it's been a while. How's college life treating you? Lots of booze and partying, I bet."
"Hey ladies," I replied, firming my voice. "College has been pretty fun. Not too many parties, but I-"
"Save the chitchat for later," Ashley interrupted. "Let's get to the mall first."
"Yeah, okay," the girls agreed.
Lillian scooted over for our two new patrons to slide inside. Once they were buckled up, I pulled out of the driveway and drove toward the mall.
"Hey Brian, how did Ashy convince you to come with us?" Alyson asked.
"She didn't have to do much," I said. "After all, I'm only dropping you girls off at the mall."
"Dropping us off? That's not what she told us."
"Really? What exactly did she tell you?"
Natalia spoke up. "That you were going to treat us to a fabulous evening of fine dining at Bernardo's Bistro and a movie right after."
Either my memory was failing or someone was playing a mean trick on me. "Sis, you wouldn't happen to have another brother I don't know about, do you? One that was crazy enough to agree to all that?"
Ashley's cheeks turned pink. "Sorry, I didn't mean to trick you. You said you didn't have any plans tonight and I didn't want you to stay home alone, so I figured you could come with us. I'm not serious about the dining and the movie. The treating part, I mean. You don't have to pay for us." She turned around and shot Natalia a vile stare. "Right, Nat?"
In the rearview mirror I could see Natalia shrink into a mouse. She squeaked, "Sorry, I didn't mean to make anyone mad. Can you forgive me, Brian?"
"Yeah, of course I forgive you. I wasn't mad, just surprised."
As I redirected my attention to the street, I now understood why Ashley had asked me to get dressed; she wanted to take me on a play date with her friends. I had to admit, spending a night with four gorgeous women was a lot better than my initial plan of staring at my screensaver until my eyes bled. Her friends seemed like fun people to hang out with and I could picture myself having a great time with them. And with Ashley around, I was guaranteed to have more than just a great time, as I would soon find out.
We arrived fifteen minutes later at a grand shopping mall, one of the few places of teenage interests near our neighborhood. It was a large two-floored complex with five wings: four of which were occupied by stores, and the fifth occupied by the general food court and that led to the theater. The theater itself wasn't directly connected to the mall, so even past the mall's closing time the theater would still be open. The upscale restaurants, such as the one we were going to eat at, resided at the ends of each wing.
While our group proceeded to the Italian restaurant under the bright lights of the mall, I was able to clearly see how attractive Ashley's friends really were. Lillian, with her amber brown, almost reddish hair flowing down her back, wore an orange tee, dark jean jacket, and matching dark jean pants. Natalia, with her pitch-black hair in long pigtails over her shoulders, wore a fashionable baby blue tank top and tan capri pants that went a few inches down her kneecaps. Finally there was Alyson, with the ends of her shoulder-length blonde hair curled, who wore a tiny pink jacket over a tight white tee, and an eye-catching pink skirt that ended halfway down her thighs. Ashley and the girls all carried duplicate designer purses, each a different color, and had on very alluring make-up.
When we arrived at the restaurant, there was a long line of guests waiting outside.
"Wow, there's a lot of people here," I commented. "It's going to take a while to get a table."
"Not quite," Alyson calmly said. "Let me handle it."
I waited with the other girls as she entered the restaurant alone. She came out a couple of minutes later and announced, "Okay, table is ready."
The restaurant's hostess led our small party of five to the back of the restaurant, away from the lights and noises of the mall. We were presented with a booth large enough to seat at least eight. Along the way I had whispered to Ashley what was going on and she coolly replied we had reservations.
Standing behind the girls, I waited for them to seat themselves. But instead of sliding in, they all stared at me.
"Ladies first?" I offered.
"You can sit in the middle," Ashley insisted. "You're the only guy here and we want you to be comfortable."
I glanced at each of her friends and found no objection. Feeling a nudge in my side, I scooted into the half-circle leather seat. Ashley followed closely behind and sat to my right with Lillian to hers. Natalia sidled into the booth to my left and Alyson sat beside her. Our hostess laid out the menus on the table and left us to decide our orders.
"Mmm, it smells so good in here," Natalia said.
"Yeah, definitely," Lillian agreed. She opened her menu and honed in on exactly what she wanted as if she ate at the restaurant every other day. "Their stuffed chicken marsala is to die for."
My sister diligently skimmed her menu. "What are you going to order, brother?"
I browsed the list of foreign dishes. "I'm not sure. Everything looks so fancy. What do you ladies recommend?"
One thing I would learn that night about Ashley and her friends was they're very competitive, even when there was nothing to compete over, like finding me something to eat. They each shouted their recommendations over the other, and it was difficult to discern anything they said. I looked around and saw a few people frowning at our commotion. Despite the classy atmosphere of the restaurant--by mall standards--there were many young couples, some probably there on their first dates. The girls were oblivious to their gazes, however, and they continued to make enough noise to make the restaurant sound like a common fast food joint.
"That sounds excellent," I interrupted, closing my menu after reading the first thing in the pasta section. "I think I'll go with the fettuccine alfredo."
"But none of us suggested that," Alyson pointed out.
"Really? I could've sworn I heard one of you mention it."
"Well, I suggested the shrimp fettuccine," Natalia said.
"And I suggested the chicken alfredo," Lillian added.
"There you go. That's where I must've heard it from."
The two girls smiled gleefully across the table at each other for having played some part in deciding my dinner.
Minutes later a waiter approached our table and asked for our order of drinks. Ashley requested a limoncello lemonade, Alyson and Natalia a Venetian Sunset, and Lillian a tropical sangria. I ordered a Pepsi.
I was quickly teased on my choice of beverage as the waiter left.
"Brother, try something new," Ashley said. "You can drink soda any other time."
"Hey, you know that's not true. Most places serve Coke. I'm not going to pass up a cold glass of Pepsi when it's right there in front of me."
"How about we make you a deal. If you let us order your drink--and you drink it all--we'll pay for your entire meal."
The advent of the internet had taught me it was never okay to let the lady pay on behalf of the gentleman. "That's quite a proposal, but I don't think it's decent for me to accept. It doesn't seem right."
"If you're concerned about us having to spend a little extra, then don't. It's been taken into consideration."
I was puzzled by what she meant by "consideration." How far in advance had she planned for me to come with her and her friends? They weren't rattled when they saw me in the driver's seat, so they must had known for a while was tagging along. With the way Ashley had assumed I didn't have anything better to do for the night, I thought it was a spur of the moment when she asked me to get dressed. It made more sense she had planned everything much earlier.
This wild speculation was putting a hamper on my mood. I set it aside and worried about the now. "Okay, if you say so. Count me in for the wager."
Ashley cheerfully smiled, and once again the booth was filled with the voices of four lively girls as they shouted out names of various beverages and exotic wines. While they fussed over what to get me, I caroused the drink section of the menu. My stomach did flip-flops as I tried to read some of the names. Anything I couldn't pronounce like "pinot grigio-sauvignon blanc" scared the heck out of me. My tastes were far from refined, and I didn't want to offend Ashley and her friends if I couldn't hold my end of the bet.
I thought about rescinding when Ashley said, "Okay, we've decided."
"And what's the decision?" I croaked.
"A Sicilian splash. It's a blend of cranberry juice, orange syrup, and club soda with a touch of lemon."
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Sounds delicious. Thanks, girls."
Beneath the table, Ashley patted my right knee. "You're welcome, brother."
The waiter returned with the first round of beverages and customary appetizers of garlic bread. "Is everyone ready to order now or shall I give you all some more time?"
Starting with Lillian, the five of us took turns giving him our orders. The women were very detailed when it came to how they wanted their meals. "Not too much garlic, please." "Less mushrooms and more olives." "Extra sauce on mine." "Cut the noodles extra small." More than half the writing on the waiter's notepad were excess scribbles instead of actual orders.
"And a Sicilian splash for our date, please," Ashley added.
Giving us a bow, the waiter hastily left our table.
"I'm someone's date now?" I chimed. "This evening keeps getting better and better."
"Not someone's date," she corrected. "Everyone's."
The idea of dating any one of the girls, let alone all of them, brought a wide grin to my face. Have I mentioned how pretty they were?
I did find it a little odd none of them made a remark about my sister being one of my "dates." Maybe they thought she just was kidding, which was true in a sense, considering she had probably meant it as a joke, but I couldn't help but wonder if her friends weren't entirely opposed to the idea.
I wasn't able to dwell on the thought for long over their raving chatter. Although I may have been their dates, the girls had a lot more to say to each other than to me. Which was fine, of course; I didn't want to meddle in their personal matters. But just because I kept quiet didn't mean I also ignored them.
Since I sat in the middle, I was able to hear everything they discussed: what they had done so far for the summer, what they hadn't done yet, what classes they wanted to take for college, who's cuter between Matt Damon and Brad Pitt. It was an overwhelming amount of information to process, and I hoped the girls wouldn't quiz me on any of it.
There was an unexpected break in the conversation when Lillian turned to me. "Brian, I hope you don't mind me getting a little personal, but is there anyone special in your life?"
I had wondered when that question would pop up. It was natural for females to inquire about the love life of the opposite sex, especially when there were other females around who could further embarrass the male. It also wasn't the first time I had been asked something similar.
"Yes, there is," I confidently answered. "My sister, Ashley. She means so much to me. I don't think I can live without her." I hugged my sibling in the hopes I would embarrass her the way she had embarrassed me a few days ago, maybe even throw off her friends. I was surprised when she patted my chest instead, like she was proud of my response.
"Aww, that is sooo sweet," Natalia swooned.
"Ashy, your brother is too awesome," Alyson praised.
Lillian smiled and quickly added, "But what about a girlfriend? Are you seeing anyone?"
I looked down at my sister for a sign on how to answer the question. She didn't look up, however, and I was left to answer it alone. "No, I'm not seeing anyone like that, and I'm not worried about it either. After all, I'm here having dinner with four lovely women. What more can a guy want?"
Lillian tipped her beverage in the air. "Cheers to that."
We all clinked our glasses together and took a sip. All except Alyson. She stared keenly at me. "I have another question for you. If you were to ask one of us out, who would it be?"
That was one curveball I didn't expect. I coughed on my soda and a dribble streamed down my chin. "Ahem, don't take this the wrong way but I barely know any of you. I don't want to upset anyone."
"It's okay, you can answer it. We won't get angry."
"I really shouldn't. I might give someone the wrong impression."
Before she could further pester me, Natalia came to the rescue. "Stop bugging him, Aly. Is that anyway to treat our date? Let him eat dinner in peace."
Alyson turned to Natalia and opened her mouth to say something, but managed to contain herself. Turning back to me, she sheepishly said, "Sorry, Brian. I didn't mean to bother you."
Already I could tell Alyson was the most outspoken of the bunch. "No need to apologize. Living with three females, I've had plenty of time to get accustomed to embarrassing questions. Besides, our food hasn't arrived yet so I'm not really eating."