Ashton laughed a little, but he sounded kind of nervous, like maybe he was afraid I wouldn't want him at my house. I asked him if he was serious, and he said, "I'm not kidding, Aubree. I just bought the plane ticket. All by myself, I might add. I'm leaving in just a couple of hours. I hope I actually manage to make it there by myself. I haven't done much traveling on my own."
"Holy crap. I can't believe this."
"You're not mad, are you?"
"Not at all! I'm just pleasantly surprised."
"I wanted to surprise you by showing up on your doorstep, but thought you'd rather know ahead of time. I don't want to intrude, but I really want to see you, if only for a little bit. I have to see for myself that you're okay. I'll stay at a hotel and rent a car and all that. I'll figure it out on the way."
"You'll do no such thing. The nearest hotel is nearly an hour from my house. I live in the middle of nowhere. We'll figure something out. Just tell me what time you're landing, and I'll be there to pick you up."
"Wait. Can you even drive?"
"Yeah, I haven't needed any painkillers in the past couple of days. It'll be fine."
Thank God my mom had felt bad for me and helped clean the house the day before since I hadn't been able to do much other than watch the kids run wild all week. I swear, she's the best ever. I went on and got up and showered and everything, and spent a little time stressing over what to wear. As though Ashton even cared.
I left the kids with my mom while I picked up Ashton at the airport. It was the best feeling to have his arms around me again, though he was afraid he'd squeeze too tightly. It was a quick but sweet reunion because we didn't want to linger out in the open in case someone recognized him.
I wasn't quite ready to introduce him to my mother, but since I had to pick up the kids, there was really no way around it. She had offered to keep them overnight, but she'd done so much for me recently that I didn't want to burden her any more than I already had.
As expected, Ashton was a perfect gentleman with Mom. I could tell she was taken with him right away. But I had no idea what to expect when I called the kids down from the playroom. I had told them that I was going to pick up a friend, who was a boy, and he was going to spend the day with us. I found that having that kind of conversation with your own kids is kind of tricky. You don't really know how much information to offer at first. It was just downright weird and hard to explain.
They scrambled into the room, anxious to meet this mystery friend of mine. But once they were standing in front of him, they played the shy game. I introduced them, saying, "Molly, Ashton, this is... well, his name is also Ashton. Ashton, this is Molly, and the little guy is Ashton. I'm gonna have to do something about your names. Like call you Big Ashton and Little Ashton or something."
Little Ashton tugged on my arm to get me to lean down so he could whisper in my ear, not so quietly I may add. "Mommy, he looks like Smash."
I was blown away that he recognized Ashton as Smash. He loved watching the video for Don't Stop, so it shouldn't have surprised me. When Molly heard what he said, and it registered in her little brain who Ashton was, her eyes got big and she covered her mouth in surprise.
Ashton bent down to get on their level and he said, "That's because I am Smash, little buddy. It's awesome to meet you." He gave each of them a high five, and that was all it took for them to become best friends. And from there on out, Ashton was known to my little family as Smash. My mom was lost, so I explained this Smash character to her. And Molly was simply smitten. Like mother like daughter, I guess. She couldn't stop smiling.
When we got in the car to leave, Ashton leaned toward me and said, "Big Ashton, eh?" I pushed him back to his side of the car and tried to not laugh about it. He rested his hand on my thigh for the duration of the drive, and I couldn't have been more content, surrounded by the people I loved most.
I was concerned that Ashton would be annoyed by my children, but he basically became a child himself. He even got a Happy Meal when we went through the drive-thru at McDonald's on the way home, because little Ashton said he should get a toy, too, so they could play together. (P.S. I'm gonna call my son Ash because this may get confusing. Haha) And play together they did. All three of them played superheroes, ninjas, and Hot Wheels. I joined in some, too, but I mostly sat back and watched the beautiful sight before me. My heart had never been so happy.
Though he seemed to be enjoying it, I eventually told Ashton that he didn't have to play anymore, giving him an out if he wanted it. But he said he was having a great time and wanted to play.
Later, he convinced me that we should go out to eat. In my little town, our options were limited to a mom and pop type of place, or pizza that they make at the lone convenience store. There was also the option of driving 25 minutes away, but Ashton chose the little restaurant in town. I was super nervous the whole time, though the chances of someone recognizing him in that population were low.
We sat in a booth with Ash and Ashton on one side and Molly and me on the other. While we were waiting on our food, we were all drawing pictures of each other on our paper place mats with crayons. We were quiet, concentrating on our masterpieces, when Ash randomly asked, "Mommy, can Smash stay the night with us?"
Of course, that was the plan, though I was leery about how the kids would handle it. When I didn't answer right away, he turned to Ashton and said, "You can sleep in my bed. I'll sleep on the floor."
We both laughed at the thought of Ashton sleeping in a tiny toddler bed. Molly said, "Yeah, okay, because he can fit in it," and rolled her eyes. She was so sassy and I loved it.
Ashton hugged Ash and told him, "That's a generous offer, buddy. But that's up to your mommy." He looked at me and winked.
"Yes, Smash can spend the night. We'll figure out the sleeping arrangements later." I winked back at him and wanted to kiss the smug look off of his face.
Ash crawled under the table to hug me and said, "I love you, Mommy. You're the best." Then he went back to his seat and turned his attention back to his drawing.
I totally teared up and had to wipe my eyes. Ashton noticed and he reached across the table to hold my hand and he mouthed the words, "I love you, too."
With Ash hogging all of Ashton's attention, Molly had to get in there, too. She asked, "Do you want to watch Frozen before we go to bed?"
"I'd love to watch Frozen, Miss Molly. I've actually never seen it before." Well, that opened up about a 10 minute run down of the movie by Molly, and Ashton listened patiently to every bit of it.
When we were finished drawing, we compared our pictures. Ashton's was amazing. He can actually draw very well. Mine kind of sucked, and everyone laughed at it. But both Molly's and Ash's were precious. Molly had drawn us as stick figures and there was a heart between her and Ashton.
I told Ashton, "It looks like I have some competition."
When Ash drew people, they always looked like those Potato Head toys. So there we were, a cute little Potato Head family. We were all standing in a row, with Ashton and I on the ends and the kids between us, and we were all holding hands. Our food came and I tucked all of the drawings into my purse to save them.
The kids were so worn out that they fell asleep during the movie. Ashton carried them to their beds because I was still on lifting restrictions. We had a discussion whether or not Ashton should sleep on the couch. I came to the conclusion that the kids were sound sleepers and wouldn't wake up until the morning anyway. And besides that, they'd literally sleep as long as I'd let them. They loved to sleep, and were much better at it than I was.
I didn't realize how tired I was until I was lying down beside Ashton. I could have easily gone to sleep right away, but I wanted to spend as much time as possible with him. I snuggled up to him, and he wrapped his arms around me. It always felt so right to be in his arms.
"Thank you for being so tolerant of my kiddos, especially Ash. I've never seen him latch onto someone like he did you. He's never had a father, and I've always felt a little guilty about that, though it's really for the best, given the situation."
Ashton lazily rubbed my arm while he spoke. "First of all, there's nothing to tolerate. They're amazing. I can tell you're a great mom. They're so well behaved, and funny, and lovable. Ash's energy is contagious. And Molly is such a sweetheart. She's your mini-me for sure. Secondly, I know now more than ever that I want to be in your life as much as possible. I know I can't be around a whole lot, but I'll do whatever it takes to be with you, and the kids, too."
I was at a loss for words, and a happy tear slipped out for the second time that day. Ashton wiped it away, and then he kissed where the tear had been on my cheek. The exquisitely soft kisses continued down to my lips. But even as tender as they were, they set my entire body on fire.
Ashton pulled away when we were both in need of air, and he asked, "Are you up for this? I don't want to hurt you."
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm always up for this. For real though, it's okay. Just don't get crazy. And ignore my ugly scars."
He lifted up my shirt and lightly ran his finger over the three tiny healing incisions. "I know you said the surgery was no big deal. But I was so worried about you. And I was pissed off that I couldn't drop everything and be there for you. I thought you'd think I didn't care, but I did, Aubree. I hope you know that."
I touched his face, forcing him to look at me, because he hadn't the whole time he was talking. "Of course I know that. That's just the nature of our relationship, one of the things we have to accept."
"God, I swear, I didn't know it was possible to love someone like this. I fucking love the shit out of you, Aubree." I smiled at his choice of words, and he kissed me again, picking up where we'd left off. He was super gentle the whole time, and slowing things down seemed to heighten every sensation. I was amazed how every time I was with Ashton, it was a whole new experience. I didn't think I'd ever be able to get enough of him.
But it had to be enough for the time being, because he had to fly back home the next day. He had to prepare to leave for Australia, where he'd be spending Christmas with his family. He practically begged me to go with him, but I just felt like it wasn't a suitable time to be spending holidays with each other's families. Not yet. I could tell by the look on his face that he wasn't happy with my response. He even said that he'd stay with me instead. But I gave him the same answer and also pointed out that it probably wouldn't sit well with his family if he chose to be with me over them. That wasn't a good way to start things out.
He finally let it pass. And I had to say goodbye, not knowing when I'd see him again. One would think that it would get easier over time, but I found that it became increasingly difficult to hold it together each time we parted ways.