"We can do this," Ashton repeated, excitedly.
No way was he talking about what I thought he was. I asked, "Do what, exactly?"
"This. Us. We can pull this off. I mean, if we want it badly enough. Right?"
Us? He was actually suggesting we could have something. What fantasy world was I even living in? Before the conversation went any further, I had to get something out of the way.
"Wait. I have to ask you something, Ashton. And I expect you to be completely honest with me."
"Okayyyy," he said hesitantly.
I took a deep breath, hoping my words came out in a rational way. "I'm hoping that maybe there was some miscommunication somewhere, I don't know. That's why I'm asking, because I don't want to assume anything. But Traci told me something and it's kind of been weighing on my mind."
"Go ahead, ask away."
"The other night, in Tampa, you said that Brandi broke up with you, right?"
There was a slight pause before he answered, "Yeah."
"Well, according to what Calum told Traci, you were the one who ended the relationship."
More silence. I gave him plenty of time to answer, but he didn't. "So... were you? It doesn't matter, and it's really none of my concern either way, except I need to know who's telling the truth. I don't know why you would lie, and I'm not saying you did, I just -"
Tears instantly started forming. Great, here we go again. Story of my fucking life. Again, I gave him time to speak, but he didn't say anything else.
"You lied? But why?"
He cleared his throat and sighed heavily."Because I thought if I told you the truth, you'd think I was the world's biggest prick."
"Try me. What's the truth, Ashton?" I probably came across a little bitchy at that moment, but I couldn't help it.
"The truth is, Brandi showed up to surprise me. She said she knew she'd been giving me a hard time, and she was sorry, yada yada. But I was so mad at her for ruining my plans."
He paused, so I asked, "And your plans were...?"
"To spend time with you."
"So, she admitted she was wrong for the way she'd been acting, and she was trying to be nice by surprising you? And you broke up with her because the timing was shitty? Don't you think that's a little extreme?" Why the fuck was I defending her?
"You don't understand, Aubree."
"Well, help me out here, because you're right, I still don't understand why you would lie to me. You know how important honesty is to me. How many times have we talked about that?"
"I know! I can't even begin to tell you how sorry I am. But like I said, you don't understand. I'd known for a long time that Brandi and I weren't going to last. And it just really pissed me off when she showed up without telling me. But the more I thought about the reason why I was pissed, I knew it was the right thing to do. Do you see where I'm going with this?"
I had no idea, and told him so.
"I knew that if I told you I ended things with Brandi because I had feelings for you, it would make me look like a heartless jerk. And I'm really not, Aubree. I mean, it was really shitty to do it then, when she was trying to fix things between us. But to be honest, I didn't want anything fixed. I just wanted out. You were all I could think about those few hours she and I were together. And I knew what I had to do. But, in my defense, she really had been fucking another guy. That part wasn't a lie. I just didn't know until afterwards when she threw it up in my face trying to hurt me. It kind of worked, I guess."
I had one more question. "But you were so upset that night. You even cried. If you were relieved, why would you cry?"
"Because of the way I treated you that night. When I found out you were with Michael, I assumed the worst and thought I was too late. I've never been so jealous in my life. And I dealt with it the wrong way. I was mean to you and I cried when I realized that, because I was so mad at myself. You're the last person I want to be mean to. I'm sorry I did that."
I was crying at that point. But it wasn't because of the lie. And it wasn't because he was heartless. In fact, it was the opposite. I'd come to the realization of exactly how much he really cared about me and I was overwhelmed by it. I needed time to compose myself before I said anything.
"Talk to me," he whispered, sounding on the verge of tears himself, which only made me cry harder. I tried to not let him hear, but he probably did.
"What you did wasn't heartless. You shouldn't stay with someone if you have feelings for someone else. That would be heartless."
I could hear Ashton let out a sigh of relief. "Jesus Christ, I thought you'd hate me if you knew the truth. You really don't think I'm an awful person for being with one person and wanting to be with another?"
I had to be honest. "Not at all. I'm sure it happens all the time. You can't help what you feel. Hell, I felt like that so many times with my ex. If you had actually acted on those feelings while still with her, then that would have been completely different."
"I know I cheated that one time, but it meant nothing. There were no feelings involved whatsoever. It was the worst thing I've ever done, and I'll never do it again. But that's why I had to end it that night: Because I wanted to be with someone else, and had felt that way for a while. And even though I wouldn't have as long as we were together, I knew it wasn't right to give her false hope. I couldn't stay with her another day."
"Do you realize how grown up you sound right now?" I chuckled through my tears.
He laughed as well. "Yeah, it's kind of crazy. This grown up shit kind of sucks, though."
I laughed loudly at that observation. "Ha! You're just getting started, mister. Just wait." After a minute of no one talking, and my mind racing a mile a minute, I had to get back to the original point of the conversation. "Even though I understand why you felt like you needed to lie about it, it doesn't mean it was right to lie."
"I know. You're absolutely right. And if you'll forgive me, I swear to God, another lie will never leave my lips. Never, no matter the situation. You have my word."
I didn't even hesitate, because I knew in my heart that he meant it. "I've already forgiven you, Ashton."
"But seriously, why would you even have thoughts of being with me when you can literally have any woman you want? I know you've given me reasons for why you like me, but I honestly don't understand."
"Because you're you. That's all that matters. I've already told you that you're not like anyone else I've taken time to get to know. I've never even wanted to get to know someone like I've wanted to know about you. It just is what it is. I can't help it."
I could totally relate. Though I'd lusted over many a band member in my 30 years, once I got to sit down and talk to Ashton, I couldn't get enough, and I don't even mean that in a physical way. "I think I understand. It's just that I'm no Victoria's Secret model or anything."
"Yeah, well, I've already had my fill of those kind of girls. Not to stereotype or anything, but I have yet to find a model who has a great mind to match the great body. I'm sure they're out there, but I've never met them. Don't hate me for saying that."
I shook my head at him, even though he couldn't see me. "I can't hate you for saying something I've thought."
"See, we have more in common than you think, Aubree."
"Perhaps we do."
"I miss you."
I told him that I missed him too. Then, I changed the subject, asking him to tell me what fun things he'd been doing with his family. Despite how intimate we'd already been, it felt weird talking with him so seriously. I felt comfortable talking to him, but it was just going to take some getting used to, because I hadn't felt connected to a man like that in several years.
It was so easy to get caught up in what I was feeling, because it felt wonderful. But there was that constant voice in the back of my mind that would never go away, warning me to keep my distance, because I was going to get hurt. I would fail to listen to it over and over again. I was also concerned that it had seemed to have happened so quickly for Ashton. Yes, I'd fallen for him quickly, too, but that was different. Because, in a sense, I'd "known" him long before we actually met. The whole situation was just so strange to me.
After we got off the phone, Ashton tweeted one of his infamous "look what I'm listening to" tweets. His song of choice cracked me up: Dirty Little Secret by The All-American Rejects. You can imagine the replies he got to that one. But, being the "secret," I chose to not say a word. Instead, I just tweeted the smirking face emoji, and Ashton texted me the same.
A few times, over the course of the next couple of days, the conversation would start to steer back in the direction of "can we or can't we make this work." I'd always be the one to direct it back to something more casual, avoiding the questions, mostly because I didn't know the answer. All I knew is that I wanted it, but I was afraid of so many things. But, as I told him, it wasn't as though we were on a time restriction. We had all the time in the world to figure it out.