Chapter 3 - The Four Beta Brothers


“What do you want? Coffee is on me today?” Asher asked as we walked to the cafe next to the library.

“Just a small coffee with cream. Iced please.” My heart raced as we moved through the cafe doors. I felt eyes burning a hole in my back, and I forced myself to stare at the menu.

“Just because I’m paying doesn’t mean you can’t get a fancy drink. Don’t girls like you like frappuccinos or something?” Asher pulled out a leather wallet from his back pocket. It looked brand new from the shine it gave off.

“What’s that supposed to mean? You don’t know what kind of girl I am. We don’t know anything about each other.” I glared at Asher, annoyed at his assumptions. Despite his generosity of buying me coffee, there was still something about him that irritated me, making me question why I agreed to coffee in the first place.

Asher raised his hands. “You’re right. Sorry. I just don’t want you picking the most basic item on the menu because someone else is paying for you.”

“Fine. I’ll take a large iced coffee with cream.” I turned away from Asher and crossed my arms. “I don’t like drinking sugar. It makes me crash, and I can’t afford to crash when I have to study.”

“Fair enough.” He turned to the cashier, and his signature flirtatious smile appeared instantly. “Can I get one large iced coffee with cream? And for me, I’ll have a large mocha latte with two extra pumps of mocha sauce, extra caramel and chocolate drizzle, and extra whipped cream.”

The cashier melted as she listened to Asher. “Right away. Can I get a name for you?”

“Asher on mine, Juniper on hers.”

The cashier looked at me, and her face changed from starstruck to irritated the moment she realized I was with Asher. When she looked back at Asher, her face brightened again. I wondered if the disgust towards me was from the rumors or the simple fact that I was with a cute boy and she wasn’t. I decided it was a combination of both.

“I see you’re the one with the sugar addiction,” I muttered under my breath.

Asher glanced at me and gave me a wink and then turned back to the cashier.

After she told him the total, he paid, and then guided me away from the counter, placing his hand on my lower back. The cafe was crowded with students desperate to get their caffeine before their classes started, and there weren’t many places to stand. Asher managed to find a small space where we could wait for our order.

He motioned for me to stand against the wall, and he placed his hand above my head, creating a small bubble around me. I knew people were staring, but with Asher this close, his cologne filled my nose, distracting me from the chatter all around us.

“What did you do, June?” Asher asked, shaking his head. “One look at you, and the cashier looked ready to kill you.”

I looked up into his eyes, surprised by his comment. He had acted normally after the girl glared at me. “You noticed?”

“She wasn’t exactly subtle.” He laughed and shook his head. “I’m pretty excited to hear what you did to get this many people to hate you.”

“It’s not funny. When the entire school hates you, it makes it hard to breathe.” I crossed my arms and slumped against the wall. Just when I thought Asher was being considerate, he said something that made me take back that thought.

“The entire school doesn’t hate you, because I don’t hate you.” Asher leaned in, smiling. There was something different about this smile compared to what he had used on the cashier. It felt more genuine, as if it was crafted just for me.

“You don’t know me. Plus, you’ll likely change your mind once you hear what’s going on.” I hoped that wasn’t true, but I didn’t want to risk getting my hopes up. Too many other things were falling apart right now to hope this wouldn’t.

“I know you enough.”

“Asher!” the barista called out, setting two cups on the counter.

Asher grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the counter. I glanced around the room, and it felt like the whispers grew louder as they stared at the hand holding mine. He grabbed my cup and handed it to me before he grabbed his own.

“How about we find somewhere a little quieter for you to tell your story?” Asher suggested, immediately pulling me away from the cafe.

I nodded, but I was his prisoner as he held my hand captive. I didn’t know why, but I was his willing captive. I trusted him, even though there was no obvious reason to. We barely knew each other, and he had irritated me more than not in the little time we had spent together. Even still, my gut was telling me to trust him.

Asher found an empty table outside that was in a little alcove. He motioned for me to sit as he let go of my hand. He sat down across from me, and he immediately frowned. “Slut?”

“Excuse me?” I choked out.

“That’s what’s written on your cup. This story must be even more interesting than I thought.” Asher didn’t look amused as he said that. He shook his head. “Honestly, I should go back in there and make them make you a new drink. That is completely unacceptable behavior.”

His jaw tightened, and he started to stand up. He seemed more upset by the word than I was, but I was also a little numb to it after the past twenty-four hours.

“Don’t,” I said, grabbing his hand. “It’s not worth it. Trust me.”

“You can’t let them treat you that way. It doesn’t matter what you did. You don’t deserve this kind of treatment.” He ran his fingers through his perfectly styled hair, messing it up in the process.

I narrowed my eyes as I watched him. I didn’t understand why he was getting so upset over a complete stranger.

“I don’t, but making a fit over me is only going to hurt your reputation. It’s not worth it.” I slumped into my chair and took a sip of my coffee. I didn’t want to give into these rumors, but I didn’t know how to begin addressing them. Even if I went to administration, it wouldn’t stop Moira from whispering lies, and it wouldn’t make the students believe me.

“I don’t understand why you aren’t fighting this more. I don’t know what you did but—”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” I interrupted. “That’s the problem. I’m going against an unexpected enemy, and I don’t know what to do.”

“Tell me what happened, and maybe I can help you out.” He picked up his cup and scooped up some of the whipped cream off the top before sucking it off his finger.

“What could you possibly do?”

“Don’t know yet, but you’ve seen the way people react to me. Tell me your story, and I’ll tell you if I have any suggestions.”

“One more question. Why? Why do you want to help me when you just met me? What could you possibly gain from this?” That was one part about Asher I couldn’t understand. People didn’t help complete strangers anymore—not unless they got something in return.

“Because you look like you could use a friend. I’m new here, so why not befriend the one person everyone is talking about? Clearly, all of these other students have no morals. They feed off gossip like they need it to live and don’t care about who it affects. At least you’re not participating in the drama.” Asher leaned back and crossed his ankle over his knee. He took a sip of his drink, as if this was all so simple for him. “However, unless I hear your side of the story, the only part I know is what others have been whispering.”

I twisted my cup and looked at the name written on it. “You’ve heard the rumors?”

“I may be new here, but I’m not deaf. Now, you’re delaying.”

I took a deep breath, deciding where to start. If he had already heard the rumors, then there was nothing to lose here by telling my side. I began telling him about the cafeteria and confronting Moira. I explained why I was trying to change rooms, and I emphasized I only earned my grades through proper studying methods. I never cheated or slept with anyone to improve my grades.

When I finished explaining my side of things, Asher hummed, taking a long sip of his drink. “And you have no idea why your best friend suddenly turned on you like that?”

I shook my head. “I could feel the distance growing between us. We weren’t close like we used to be, but I just chalked it up to our different paths in college. She’s the pretty, popular cheerleader. I’m the nerdy loner. Even so, I never thought she would do something like this to me. I thought we were friends… I don’t even know what I did to upset her. She said she was tired of everyone praising me, but she’s the one everyone loves, not me.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. When I couldn’t sleep last night, my brain was going in circles trying to think of every little thing I could have done to make her betray me like that, but nothing made sense.

Asher placed a hand on my forearm and smiled in a way that made me feel like it was going to be okay. “I don’t have any answers for you right now, but I promise I’ll do some research. We may not be able to stop others from talking, but just know that I believe you, and you have at least one friend.”

I studied his face, looking for any sign that this was some kind of joke, but this was the most serious he had been all morning. “Give me your phone.”

“Excuse me?”

I smirked, pleased by his surprise. “If we’re going to be friends, then we should exchange phone numbers.”

“My, my. How forward of you.” He smirked and pulled out his phone, handing it over.

I blinked at him a few times, the sensation of deja vu washing over me. I shook the feeling away and quickly entered my phone number.

“Now give me yours,” he said.

He entered his name, but when he handed me my phone back, I gasped when I saw what time it was. “I’m going to be late for class. I didn’t realize we had been talking for so long.”

“Don’t let me hold you up.”

I jumped to my feet and started gathering my stuff. “Thank you for the coffee and for believing me.”

“Of course. Just remember to pay back the favor at some point.” He stayed in his seat, seeming to be in no rush.

I nodded and started walking away, but then Asher said, “Don’t listen to the rumors. If anyone says such things about you, then they don’t know you, and they aren’t worth getting to know.”

I glanced back at him, and he winked in return. I didn’t say anything else as I started speed-walking to class. I was never late for a lecture, and I didn’t plan on starting that today just because someone bought me coffee.

I passed through the quad, and normally I liked to take my time here. There was a large grassy field with trees lining the brick pathway. Ivy grew on the buildings surrounding the area, and it was one of the favorite hang out places for students, especially when the weather was good.

I usually found peace with the nature and laughter that filled this area, but all I could see today was the sheer number of people who had heard the rumors and believed them. Besides, I didn’t have time to linger today, even if I wanted to.

“Watch out!” a voice shouted from the field.

I stopped and looked at where the voice had come from and what his warning was for, but before I saw anything, something hit my forehead, and I fell to the ground. I saw stars above me, and I had to blink a few times to get them to go away.

“I’m so sorry!” the same voice said, jogging right up to me. “Are you okay?”

He leaned down in front of me, frowning as he looked at me. His eyes looked like the ocean on a remote island, clean and untainted from the harsh world. His dark hair was curly and came down to his chin. A layer of sweat covered his forehead, and I was sure he was the one who had thrown the ball.

I sat up and winced as my head started to pound from the force of the ball. The man instantly put his hand on my back and helped me sit up.

“Careful there. You might have a concussion. We should take you to the nurse.” He stayed crouched next to me, and worry lines filled his forehead. He seemed genuinely concerned, so I didn’t think he had thrown the ball at me on purpose, but I wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

“I can’t go to the nurse. I have to get to class.” I looked at the clock tower that sat at the front of the quad. Class was about to start, and even if I ran there, it would be impossible to make it on time.

I started to get up, and this guy grabbed my arm and helped me to my feet. It was only when we were both standing that I realized just how tall he was. He was wearing a loose t-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts, which seemed to emphasize his lanky stature.

“Class can wait. Here. Sit over here, and I’ll run to get you some ice.” He guided me to the steps of one of the nearby buildings and helped me sit on the steps.

“I really should get going.” I glanced at the clock again, and each tick of the arm made me more anxious. I hated being late.

“Please stay here? I promise I’m a fast runner. I’m the newest star on the football team, after all.” He smiled brightly, and his smile was stunning.

“You’re one of the transfer students, aren’t you?” I asked. His hair color matched that of the brothers I had seen. His eyes were significantly brighter, but his ears also matched Asher’s. He had to be one of them.

“You’re sharp. I’m Nathan.” He held out his hand for a shake.

I took his hand, and he turned it to kiss the back of my hand. “I’m Juniper.” I hadn’t ever had my hand kissed like that, but that was twice in one day. I wondered if all of the brothers were this way.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. Just stay right here, and I’ll be back with ice in a jiffy.” Nathan let go of my hand and dashed away. He disappeared in the blink of an eye.

I glanced at the clock, debating about just going to class. Part of me was eager to get there as soon as possible, but Nathan had asked me to stay, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. I tapped my foot, watching the clock closely. I decided to give him three more minutes, and if he didn’t show up, I would just leave.

When the time was up, I stood up, looking around. Nathan turned a corner and sprinted towards me at a surprising pace. If his speed was any indication, he was definitely skilled at his sport, but I didn’t know if that was enough to consider him a good player, since sports weren’t my thing.

He stopped in front of me and handed me a bag of ice. “Sorry it took so long. The building I tried first was locked,” he said, breathing heavily.

“Thanks.” I took the ice and placed it on my forehead. I winced as it touched the spot the ball had made contact with.

“Here. Let me help.” Nathan stepped forward, and his heat surrounded me. He took the ice from my hand and gently placed it on my bruised forehead. His touch was surprisingly soft, and it felt better than my own attempt. “Are you sure you don’t want to go to the nurse?”

I looked up at Nathan and studied his face. He was worried about me—a complete stranger. In the sea of hatred, I was surprised to find kindness in the faces of the new transfer students who knew nothing about me.

“I’ll be okay. I really should get going.” I glanced at the clock, and I was nearly ten minutes late at this point. It would be fifteen by the time I walked to the building.

“I’ll let you go on two conditions.” He held up two fingers to emphasize his statement. “One: you let me walk you to class. Two: you promise you’ll go to the nurse if the dizziness persists.”

“Nathan!” A voice called from the field.

I looked behind Nathan and saw a group of guys trying to wave him over. “Your friends are calling you.”

Nathan didn’t bother to look back at them. “They’re not my friends. I’m more worried about you. So what do you say to my terms and conditions?”

I glanced at the group of guys still calling Nathan’s name. I knew them. They were on the wolfball team, and because of that, they thought they owned the school. Even before the rumors started, they weren’t nice to me, and I had no interest in interacting with them now. If Nathan said they weren’t his friends, I was eager to believe him.

“You have a deal.”