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Asher’s not an idiot. He doesn’t expect things to be perfect when he moves back in with his dad. They’re not suddenly going to have some loving and caring relationship. It’s not realistic.

But he’s not expecting this.

It doesn’t take him long to figure out his dad's drinking is even worse than before. Asher comes home from school those first three days after he moves back in to find him passed out on the couch.

The fourth day he’s not there. Asher assumes he’s not home at first. But then he hears movement in his room. He frowns and makes his way down the hall. He’s not sure what he’s expecting, but it’s not to find his dad in his room, tossing things out of his dresser.

“What are you doing?”

His dad wheels on him. He looks manic. Asher knows that look. It has him backing towards the door. His dad is on him before he can reach it. He grabs Asher by the arm. “Where is it?”

“Where is what?” Asher asks.

“You know what!” His dad spits out. “My vodka! I know you took it from me.”

Asher sighs, “I don’t have your vodka Dad.”

“You’re lying! I know you have it!”

“I don’t,” Asher says. He winces when his dad grips his arm tighter. “Come on, Dad. Let go. You’re hurting me.”

“Good,” his father hisses. He uses his grip to spin Asher around. “Take off your shirt.”

“What?” Asher asks, looking back at him in confusion.

“Take it off, or I’ll rip it off you myself.”

Asher’s afraid now. More afraid than he can ever remember being. He wants to be far away from here, but he’s not sure what his chances are of making it to the door. Plus, this is his dad. He wouldn’t hurt him.

He hears the flick of his dad's pocket knife, and his eyes widen. He doesn’t have a chance to move before it’s slicing through his shirt, and into his skin. He does try to run then. But his dad tackles him to the ground.

He curses himself when he feels tears welling up in his eyes. He’s supposed to be stronger than this.

There’s silence for a moment as his dad moves behind him. He leans in close to Asher, and he can smell the alcohol on his breath. “I’ll show you what happens when you steal from me.”

He sees his dad's belt flying through the air a second before it makes contact with the skin of his back. Asher tries to fight, but his dad holds him down with one hand. The belt sings through the air again, and Asher closes his eyes.


 

The next morning his father won’t even look at him. He grunts out something about Asher getting to school and then heads back to his room. Asher stares at his door for a moment, feeling like his heart is in his throat. He’s not sure what he’s supposed to do.

For a moment, he considers going into his room and packing his bags again and leaving. But he knows he doesn’t have anywhere to go. Layla might have told him he was welcome to come back there, but he knows both her and Spencer are happy to have the place to themselves.

He can stick it out. He’ll just try and stay on his dad’s good side and not set him off again.

He has to make an effort to keep his back hidden in the locker room. The last thing he needs is for anyone to see him and ask questions.

Days go by without another incident. At least not any as bad as the first. Mostly because Asher has gotten good at sneaking around and avoiding being in the same room with his dad altogether. The times he can’t he’s had to dodge empty bottles being thrown at him or being shoved around.

He tells himself he just has to last another 8 months and then he’ll be 18. He can make it that long. He’s endured 17 years with his dad already. He pushes away the thought that it’s never been this bad.

Asher’s hanging around in the locker room after practice, taking his time messing around in his locker until everyone else has left. Only then does he take off his shirt. His skin is mostly healed by now. But there are scars. He’s seen them. He can almost feel the belt on him now, slicing into his skin again and again until his dad had had enough. Asher remembers not being able to move after it was over. He just laid on the floor feeling his body shake as blood spilled from the open wounds.

He takes a deep breath and leans his head against his locker. It’s the only time he ever gets to himself these days.

He’s so wrapped up in his thoughts that he doesn’t hear the sound of footsteps nearby signaling he’s not alone. But he definitely hears Olivia familiar voice behind him.

“Oh my god.”

He tenses and then spins around to face her. He knows she’s seen his back. He also knows better than to think she’ll let it go.

“What are you doing in here?” he asks, his words coming out sharper than he meant them to.

She doesn’t seem bothered by it. She steps closer to him, and Asher has to fight the urge to back away. “I was looking for my dad. I thought everyone else was already gone so I came in here.”

“Your dad’s not here,” Asher says. “He left with Jordan.”

“Asher…”

“Please. Please don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Olivia asks. She stops a few feet away.

“Don’t say anything,” Asher pleads. “I… I have it under control.”

Olivia eyes him skeptically, “Turn around.”

“No.”

“Asher,” she says, in that stubborn tone that tells him she’s not going to take no for an answer. “Turn around. Please.”

He does as she asks. His hands clench into fists and he turns until his back his to her. Nothing happens for a moment, and then her hand is on him. Her fingers lightly touch one of the scars on his back. Asher’s chin drops to his chest. He can feel tears building up behind his eyes. She’s being so gentle with him. Something he hasn’t experienced in a long time.

“Your dad did this,” Olivia says, her voice soft. “Didn’t he?”

Asher nods, “Yes.”

“Bastard,” she mutters. Her fingers move across the scars and then down to his hip. They stay there as she moves around to stand in front of him. “You should have told someone.”

“I couldn't,” Asher says.

“Why?”

“I didn’t want to make him angry,” Asher tells her. “He’s never been this bad, Olivia. You didn’t see him. He was so angry. And he… he wouldn’t stop. I thought he might kill me.”

He’s crying by now, his shoulders shaking with the force of his sobs. Olivia moves, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him in for a hug. His own arms wrap around her as he tucks his face against her neck.

“I’ve got you,” Olivia tells him. “We’re going to figure this out. I’m not going to let him hurt you again.”

Asher believes her. He holds her tighter, letting her calming voice wash over him. He feels safer here with her than he has in weeks, maybe months. He knows if anyone can help him find a way out of this, it’s Olivia.