Chapter 2 - Part 1

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Desi was nothing if not optimistic; sometimes it was to his own detriment. But even he was willing to admit that after Ashley's cringe-worthy behavior the previous day, his chances at getting a logo out of Casper were looking non-existent.

The hunch was irrefutably confirmed when Casper purposely sat at the opposite end of the lecture hall the next morning, and was gone from the room so fast after class was over that Desi wondered if Casper had more in common with the friendly ghost he was often compared to than he let on.

Well, not the friendly part.

Stifling that unkind thought, Desi accepted defeat and spent his walk out to the bleachers going over his words, deciding what would be the easiest way to explain to Wyatt that they'd have to skip this particular priceless opportunity because of Ashley's big mouth. For a second he hoped to himself that maybe she wouldn't be there; it would be a lot easier to explain away her mess up if he wasn't forced to put it politely.

To Desi's twinging disappointment, she was the first to greet him, forcing an exaggerated frown when Desi slumped down onto the bleachers next to the group. "Nothing from Cas?"

At least she was trying to be polite with the nickname, but with what Casper had said the day before he wasn't even sure which version of the boy's name was better at this point.

"Nope. You really hit a nerve with that shit you pulled, Ash."

Desi should have known better than to scold her. She reacted by dropping the breif attempt at sympathy and rolling her eyes defensively instead. "How the hell was I supposed to know he's actually gay? I'm not a fucking sexuality psychic."

Nic snorted, not bothering to move from his lying position. He didn't even lift his cap — which was covering his face from the sun — as he added to the laugh, "isn't it kinda obvious?"

"I mean, he is kinda..." Wyatt made some kind of motion with his hand that he seemed to think explained exactly what he was implying, but got nothing but confused expressions in response. "You know what I mean. Jesus."

Ashley scoffed roughly in response. "At least I wasn't presumptuous like you assholes."

"No, you just presumed he'd be fine with his possible sexuality being made fun of," Desi added, offering a playful smirk when she scowled at him.

"Shut up," was all she could muster in return, twisting a strand of her long hair around her finger aggressively. Unable to let the topic go on the mention of her insensitivity, she had to add an afterthought. "Anyway, aren't you assuming too? I mean, he didn't say he was gay to you when he asked you out."

Desi opened his mouth to argue but paused to revise his response when he realized she was technically right. "I mean... no, but—."

"Maybe he's bi," she offered, purposely interrupting his excuse to accept her win.

"Maybe he's straight." Nic chimed in with a bored tone, but grinned when everyone paused their chatter for explanation. "Maybe he's just gay for Desi."

Ashley's eyebrow took a sharp jump up, reacting with the aggressiveness that Nic likely expected. It was common knowledge among them that Ashley had more than one jealous bone in her tiny body to go along with all her angry ones. "Yeah well, whatever his sexuality, Desi is taken so he better remember that."

Ashley's seriousness caused a brief pause in the joking, but Wyatt made a cat noise and the other boys laughed as Ashley rolled her eyes yet again, the tension smothered.

"Isn't it more common for the jealous types to be unfaithful?" Nic added after a moment, giving Ashley a pointed look that pulled a mortified expression to her face.

Desi laughed on her behalf and reached out to pull her into him, kissing her hair. "Relax, baby, we're just messing around." After she gave a weak grumble back, sighing and surrendering into Desi's hug, he added teasingly, "I know I'm your one and only."

"Nobody else is willing to put up with her shit." Nic added, miraculously receiving only a middle finger in response from Ashley.

Once the boys got another chuckle out of their system, Ashley defused her offense with another sigh. This time the depth of it was a little more heavy and unloading, and with her gaze down casted, she offered a mumble into Desi's shoulder. "I really am sorry about yesterday. You know that right?"

Desi kissed her hair again, so she could feel him smile reassuringly as he replied, "Of course. Don't worry about it." And it wasn't a lie; somehow he could never hold onto the hard feelings when it came to her, or anyone really. But Desi still found himself feeling sour with the response.

He wasn't the one that should be receiving an apology, after all.

That was the thing about Ashley, though. She'd always had trouble admitting her faults. Apologies weren't a thing that came easy for her, if at all. She'd sooner bite someone's head off than have to face admitting to them that she made a mistake.

In a way it made Desi feel special, that he was the one she trusted enough to be vulnerable like that with. That they'd managed a special kind of understanding past her prickly personality. But it also made him kinda sick sometimes. Because he didn't deserve an apology. Sure, her bitchy behavior was inconvenient at best and problematic at worst for him: he'd lost count of the times he'd made excuses for her, or had to resolve something that she started with his fists. But when it came down to it, it wasn't Desi that deserved an apology. For what? Having to put up with her, like Nic said? What good did it do, apologizing to him?

Casper certainly wasn't the first of her many offenses, but if anyone deserved an apology it was him. They weren't kids anymore, after all. Still, even if she somehow managed to do the mature thing, Desi had a feeling it wouldn't do much good. Casper was just about as apathetic as she was.

Desi couldn't really blame them. It was easier to not care. To be childish. Regret came along with maturity, and it was a nasty little thing; It's hard to shake once it has its claws in. He would know.

A little too deep in that particular thought, Desi didn't notice the all-black shadow of a boy approaching them until Wyatt pointed him out with a, "speak of the devil."

Desi wondered if ghosts also appeared when you spoke of them, or if it was just a Satan thing.

Casper stopped at least twenty yards away from them, clearly unwilling to venture any closer when Desi was surrounded, and instead just watched from afar for a moment, shoulders high around his neck with awkwardness. When Desi tilted his head to offer the boy a signal of curiosity, Casper dropped his shoulders in surrender and lifted the sketchbook in his hand, a returned message.

"You didn't..." Desi's reaction was too surprised to stay in his head, straying out of his mouth in a slight laugh before he rose to his feet quick and hopped away from the bleachers. He waved at Wyatt when the boy opened his mouth to ask where he was going, offering a quick, " gimme a sec."

"Say hi to your boy toy for me." Nic teased as he went, and Desi turned, walking backwards a couple steps to shoot a response.

"Not in front of the main squeeze," he joked, pointing faux discreetly at Ashley, who responded by sticking out her tongue.

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