Deathly - Brynne Asher


The Beholder


Bravery is in the eye of the beholder.

I know the idiom is beauty, but beauty won’t get you anywhere in life. I don’t care how you spin it, how poetic you drone on about it, or how deeply you reach inside your soul to find it.

I’m sick of beauty and the weight our society puts on it.

I’ll take bravery over beauty any day.

Some might think bravery is the important piece of that puzzle.

They would be wrong.

Bravery is only the act. The beholder … that’s the key.

They shoulder the power, the fight, and, when they come out on the other side of the battle, the consequences.

In any plain-Jane, sappy fairy tale, courage, and heroism are romanticized, polished, and dusted in glitter to shine through the darkness. They scream, “Look at me! I’m perfect. Normal. Winning at life!”

But for those of us who are not normal—let alone perfect—who are struggling to catch our breaths, bravery looks very different.

Bold, daring, and, yes, even audacious. This is the type of bravery required to walk in my designer-dupe heels and off-the-rack cocktail dress, since the real deals aren’t in my budget.


I’m working on it.

Most wouldn’t think bravery would be required for a night out with your only friend, who isn’t really that close of a friend. But for me, it is.

Psychoanalyzing every detail of every moment until I’m bleeding from my nails is a curse. It’s how I’m wired and impossible to turn off. But when I manage to, things don’t turn out well.

At all.

“Hot and cute have collided, creating a burst of beauty. I’m telling you, my heart and lady bits can hardly take it. I thought for sure I was here just for the eye candy, but I might have to dip into my 401k to make a bid.”

I look over at Kate, who has become one of my only friends in the Pacific Northwest aside from my sister. “No way. We’re here to check off a major task on my list to become a well-rounded human. Don’t ruin it for me. We’re here to be social—but just you and me, not with anyone else. We need to sit back and appreciate everything going on around us. My plan is airtight if we stick to it.”

She hikes her perfectly manicured brow. “Don’t lie, Doctor Shrinko. You’re drooling over these beautiful specimens that God sculpted just for us—I’ve had my eye on you and you’ve had your eye on a certain tall, tan, broody man. Either that or the chocolate something-or-other with curly hair he’s got on a leash.”

Dammit. I’m not usually transparent. I excel at drowning every emotion that claws its way to the surface. My father made sure I hid my feelings. “Emotions showcase your weaknesses,” he said.

My insides tense just thinking about it.

I turn back to Kate. “Of course, I’m looking. I’m like every other woman in the room. There are plenty of men and muscles here to appreciate, Kate. We’re here for the experience, but that’s it.”

I’ve lost her attention. She takes a sip of her green apple martini, zeroing in on a man across the room who’s being attacked by a Dachshund trying to lick his face off.

From the looks of it, I bet Kate wouldn’t mind tasting him too. Lust is dripping off her like the perpetual Washington rain.

I grab her forearm to stop any crazy ideas running through her head. If I’m cautious by nature, she’s the exact opposite. “We made a pact. Tonight is about getting out and doing something new, but only observing from afar.”

When she levels her gaze on me, I know I’ve lost all control because she starts talking to me like I speak to my patients. “That doesn’t mean we can’t introduce ourselves. Aria, it’s time to cross something else off your list besides going to an event only to hide in the shadows. You can do this. It’s your day. I feel it!”

My face turns to stone. “Don’t you dare—”

“It’s going to be okay.” Her words bleed with sarcasm as she twists out of my grip. “Drink your wine, hang back, enjoy the scenery if you insist on living your boring, horrid life. But you could also talk yourself out of your hole and speak to someone who isn’t a colleague or a wacko. Like a hot guy with a dog.”

“Don’t talk about my patients like that.”

She waves me off. “I’m on my second martini and I’m not letting our scheduled Uber or this buzz go to waste. I’m going to