I didn't even have any time to prepare. The moment I'd clicked off my phone screen, I heard footsteps outside the door and suddenly Ashton was in the frame, looking at me with a cautious smile on his face. When he started to venture further into the living room, everyone but me looked up at him. Luke defensively moved a little closer, as if Ashton was going to fling himself at me, and Calum coughed loudly.
'Hey mate. How was your sleep?'
Ashton paused, turning his phone over and over in his hands. He gave a non-committed shrug and tried a proper smile.
'Yeah. I'm wide awake now though,' he moved closer to me and held out a hand, 'Emma? Come for a walk with me?'
I had this insane urge to giggle as Calum, Michael and Luke simultaneously dropped their jaws. Ashton was looking down at me, a nervous smile on his face that gave me jitters deep in my stomach. His eyes were a little red around the edges and I wondered if he'd been crying. Reaching out, I linked my hand with his.
I let Ashton pull me up, keeping my hand intertwined with his. Calum snorted, and I kicked his shin on my way past.
'Don't forget the plan!'
Michael sent me a few exaggerated winks and I blushed deeply as Ashton gave me a curious look. I shook my head and Luke grinned.
'Looks like she's doing fine on her own.'
'Oh my god, stop being disgusting you immature pig-headed asshats! You're just mad because you're not getting laid!'
'And we are, are we?'
Ashton curled a little piece of my hair around his pinkie and grinned at me, and I groaned. I grabbed his arm and tugged him out of the room, ignoring Calum, who was sticking his right finger through his left thumb and index finger, and Luke and Michael who were howling with laughter on the floor.
Seriously. They might be almost 20, but they act like freaking 6 year olds.
'Well, well, well! What do we have here then?'
The moment Ashton and I stepped out of the elevator, a loud voice came booming from the receptionist counter, and we both jumped. Ashton pulled his hoodie over his head further and tugged down his bandana, as if he could disguise his curls. I stood frozen next to him, hoping it wasn't Olivia. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I groaned on the inside.
'Look, I'm sorry, but-'
'Didn't I tell you that it would work out?'
Ciara beamed at me, hands clasped together. I swallowed, and snuck a quick glance at Ashton, who was sheepishly looking at his shoes, like a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar. At least it wasn't Olivia, but this might even be worse.
'See, I told you Em! I knew that Ashton wou-'
She stopped, mouth open, and stared at Ashton.
'I'm sorry, but Emma and I need to go somewhere, okay? We can talk later.'
Ashton grabbed my arm and spun me around, pulling me against his chest and walking me to the door. I looked up at him frowning.
'Why'd you do that? She's going to annoy the hell out of me later.'
He smiled down at me and I blinked.
'You know-' I motioned between us with a finger, 'whatever's going on here,' I finished lamely. Ashton was tactful enough not to laugh at my awkwardness.
'If I didn't pull you away, we would've been there for ages, and she would've said something that I don't want you to know yet.'
Beck grinned and nodded at us as we walked past out into the evening air.
'Where are we even going?'
Ashton squeezed my shoulders.
'You tell me. You're the guide.' I shivered as he leant down next to my ear. 'Find us somewhere secluded. A nice park maybe. I'm in the mood for some swinging.'
As we walked, I finally got to relax and enjoy being with Ashton again. There was something comforting about having my hand wrapped in his own, his long fingers tracing a path all the way up to my wrist. We strolled through the Sydney streets, me guiding Ashton but with neither of us in any rush. All around us, the afternoon crowds bustled along the sidewalks and cars sped past, lights blinking and city noise streaming past our ears, but we kept on moving in silence, like we were in our own little bubble. Unable to stop glancing at Ashton from under my lashes, I started to notice tiny little things I had never seen before. Every few minutes, he would squeeze my hand gently and readjust his own so it fit more comfortably around mine. He also had a little scar underneath his left ear, slightly covered by his curly hair. A small freckle on the bridge of his nose. A tiny spot on the corner of his pinkie finger. A disguised stain on the underside of his bandana. At one point, I looked back up to see Ashton staring straight back at me, and neither of us could look away for a moment. He finally giggled, and averted his gaze to the buildings around us. Lucky, otherwise I might have done something I wouldn't be able to take back, and it was way too early for that.
'Here,' I gently tugged on Ashton's hand and pulled him underneath the gates to Hyde Park, smiling as he widened his eyes.
'I've been here before... busking... a few years back...'
His spare hand went up to his hair and he rubbed a hand through his curls slowly, looking around with realisation. I smiled.
'Ooh, look at that! Come on Ashton, we can sit over here. Come onnnnnn!'
Ashton chuckled and let me pull him over to the little bench, sitting down next to me and blushing as our legs touched. I sighed, deciding to try and act like we were just hanging out, even though I wished it meant something more.
'Did you know I'd been here before?'
'Did you know I took my first girlfriend for my first date to this park?'
I blanched and looked at Ashton, eyes wide.
'No! We can go, if you'd like, I'm sorry, I didn't know...'
'I never said it was a bad thing Emma,' he laughed and lightly nudged my arm with his shoulder. 'Do you want to end that game of 20 Questions we never finished?'
I decided to go along with his quick change of subject, letting him move closer so our shoulders were touching.
'Okay. You go first.'
'Are you having fun?'
I rolled my eyes at his boring question.
'No, you're a shitface and I can't wait to get back to the hotel and away from you.'
I tried to fix a scowl on my face but Ashton laughing at me was too much and I started to giggle, leaning slightly onto Ashton's broad shoulder.
'Yes, I am having fun. And excuse me, but I'm going to dig a little deeper for my question - what's your biggest dream?'
Without missing a beat, he answered.
'Call you mine.'
'That's not funny!'
I felt my cheeks getting hot and I hid my face in my hands to hide from Ashton's shining eyes.
'No, but it made you blush.'
He gently twisted my palms away from my face and smiled down at me.
'You're super cute when you blush.'
Way to make me blush even harder. I shuffled my feet awkwardly and looked down at my hand, still sitting in Ashton's. He coughed and straightened up, loosening his hold.
'Best date scenario?'
'Somewhere weird. And totally unexpected. I like that sort of stuff. Something different.' I adjusted my jacket, a small frown on my face. 'God knows I've had enough of your cliché dates.'
Ashton raised an eyebrow.
'So you want me to take you - I mean, if, hypothetically, I was to take you on a date... I should take you diving with sharks or something?'
'It doesn't have to be that crazy. I like dates where I can have fun and mess around with the other person, not like sit down things, you know?'
Ashton tucked a bit of hair back underneath his bandana, nodding.
'You got another question?'
I bit my lip.
'Can I ask you something, um, a little personal? You don't have to answer it if you don't want to.'
'Sure.' He cracked a little smile. 'Go ahead.'
'What happened? Between you and your girlfriend?'
Ashton let go of my hand. A small silence followed my question and I started to shiver, worried that I'd gone too far this time. Ashton was looking down at his hands, wrapping and unwrapping them. I coughed and tried to focus on something, anything else.
'I'm sorry. Do you want to go and get a drink or something? There's another nice place-'
Ashton leant back and straddled the bench and wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me closer until I was infront of him, our knees brushing. I folded my legs up underneath me and looked cautiously up at him. One of his hands was shaking.
'It's been 3 years since we broke up.'
Ashton grabbed my hand again and held it firmly between his own. I tried not to wince as he practically crushed it under his grip.
'She went to my primary school and high school, but I didn't talk to her until I was part of the band and already touring. We met one night at the Sydney concert because one of the radio stations sent her a free ticket after finding out she used to kind of know me. From the moment I saw her backstage... I don't really believe in love at first sight. I don't think that's possible. The whole thing was so gradual, building our way up, starting from the very bottom. Our relationship mattered to me,' Ashton murmured, 'but obviously it just wasn't enough for her in the end.'
He let go of my hand to rub at his eyes.
'I'll tell you the rest later, okay? Sorry. I'm not comfortable talking about it still. And this park makes it even worse,' he sighed, and tried to crack a smile. I understood, and nodded. We sat for a while in silence, my thoughts jumbling around in my brain. Whatever this girl did those years ago... it must have been bad. Very bad. And I felt terrible for bringing it up, but before I could stop myself, it was off my tongue.
'What was her name?'
My voice shook, and I wished I could take my question back because maybe he didn't want to tell me, but instead I held tight onto Ashton's hand, and felt his grip on mine like a lifeline.
The name rolled off his tongue in a hushed tone, and he sat up straighter.
'Her name was Mira, and I'll never forget her - or what she... what happened between us. But I need to stop thinking about that,' Ashton snuck me a look out of the corner of his shining eyes, 'and start focusing on the things that matter, right here, right now.'
I blushed and looked down. Our hands were still tightly wound together, and we were close now. Close enough that I was sitting between Ashton's legs with only an inch of space between us. I wondered what the guys or Ciara would say. Despite my lacking experience, I was fairly sure, and also hoped, that this wasn't something that people did as "just friends". My heart sped up even more when I felt a finger on my chin, lifting it up.
'I have a question for you now.'
I felt his warm hand cup my face and forced myself to look into his eyes. Around us, dusk was falling and the park was almost deserted. Stragglers on their way home from work crossed through the area but no one passed our bench. The curved lights above us flickered on, marking a way out of the park.
'You ready to answer?' he whispered, and relaxed his hand so it covered my cheek. He traced a little circle with one finger and I unconsciously moved a bit closer.
'Yeah,' I breathed.
Ask me anything you want, tell me to do anything, I'll do it. I was kind of lost in his eyes again, and nothing could pull me away this time. No interrupting band members, no phone calls, nothing, and neither of us was going to be the one to pull away first.
'Tell me,' he muttered, voice low, 'what you feel when I do this.'
And suddenly, Ashton was there, his forehead resting on mine, his breath hot on my cheek, his hair brushing against mine. I didn't move away. Everything else stopped, just like in the movies, and the only thing I could see was Ashton, Ashton, Ashton. I felt my spare hand move up and touch his face gently, tugging on the hair just below his ear. He shut his eyes and let out a barely audible sigh and I loved it. Both of our eyes tightly shut now, we sat there, heads resting against one another, closer than we'd ever been, for as long as we'd ever been. Ashton's breathing came heavier, and I curled my hand tighter into his soft curls, never wanting to let go. This felt right. Righter than anything had ever been before.
Too soon, Ashton pulled away and I slowly dropped my hand, awkwardly bringing it back to my knees. My cheeks felt so hot, and I glanced up at Ashton from under my eyelashes, hoping he looked the same. I felt better almost immediately - he looked kind of shell-shocked, and I tried not to smile to myself. But almost as soon as I'd looked up, he let go of my hand and stood up off the chair, pulling his legs away from me and brushing them off. Ashton shot me a cheeky grin that I couldn't quite interpret.
'I think I got my answer.'
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