That weekend, we took a chance and spent some time at a local horse park with the kids. Kentucky is famous for it's racehorses, and they were the main thing on Ashton's list to see. The next day we traveled a couple of hours to go to Mammoth Cave National Park, and took a tour of the caves. It was fascinating. I couldn't believe I lived so close to something so extraordinary and had never taken time to explore it. It turned out to be an amazing weekend, and somehow it was without any fan encounters. I'm not sure what I would have done or said if there had been. But it all worked out in my favor.
Just as before, I loved watching Ashton with the kids. He was a natural father, and it was for that reason that I felt like my children would never be enough for him. It was kind of an irrational thought, maybe, because who knew if we were going to last? But it was a thought I kept having nonetheless. I don't know why I always had to have a negative thought ruin the joy created by the good thoughts.
That last day Ashton was with me was difficult. I had called in to work, claiming to be ill, which I hadn't done in two years. Ashton gave me grief about it, in a joking way, since I'd given him such a hard time about not doing the promo in Ireland. But I had to spend every minute possible with him.
Ashton tucked the kids into bed that night and told them he'd be leaving early in the morning, it broke my heart watching them cry. But he stayed with them until they fell asleep, both of them snuggled up in Molly's room, as they did often.
When it was my turn for some cuddles, I brought up what I'd been thinking about a lot recently.
"Ashton, have you ever thought about having kids?"
I was running my fingers over his chest hair, but was forced to stop when he sat up. He pulled me up as well, and once we were settled, face to face, he held my hand. "I have. But not until I met your little ones. I didn't realize they were so amazing. I mean, I have younger siblings, but it's not the same. I'd love to have a kid or two of my own. But I think I know where you're going with this, because I've thought about it, too." When I inadvertently made a sad face upon hearing him say he wanted kids of his own, he ran the back of his fingers across my cheek. "This might sound crazy, but to be 100% honest, I'd have a baby with you right now."
"But I can't."
"I know, love. And that's okay. If being with you means I don't have children of my own, then so be it. But I've read that there are ways to go around that, like a reversal. So it's still possible."
"I don't know why I'm even asking you. It's not like we're getting married or anything. It's just something I've thought about. Normal girl stuff, I guess."
He shrugged and gave me a sweet smile. "You never know. We may get married one day."
I grinned back at the thought, but not for long. "You deserve to marry someone who can give you everything you want, though." I truly believed that.
He reminded me of our deal. "I thought we weren't going to go there anymore. Besides, you do give me everything I want, and more. You've given me things I never knew I wanted."
I felt that familiar burning in my throat and eyes, but I wasn't going to let myself cry again.
He said, "I feel like Molly and Ashton are mine anyway. It's crazy how fast I fell in love with them. I look forward to telling them goodnight when I call you at bedtime. And I love hearing their silly stories all the time. They make me happy. They're an extension of you and I couldn't have hand picked a more perfect ready-made family. But..."
"But we can pretend like we're trying to make a baby. Like, we can start right now if you want."
So, we pretended.
I suppose it was after Ashton returned home after that perfect week that I started noticing a difference. I'd learned that those first few days apart, after being together, were the hardest. So at first, I used that as an excuse when he immediately started back with the persistent calls and messages. But they quickly went from overboard to insane, and without regard to time, which made it even worse. I understood getting text messages throughout the night if he couldn't sleep or whatever. I had my messages set to silent mode, so it didn't bother me. But I couldn't silence my calls in case my mother needed me during the night. So I'd wake up every time Ashton called.
The first few times I answered. And he didn't acknowledge the time at all. He just carried on as he normally would and talked about whatever random thing was on his mind at the time. There was no reason to be calling during the night. There were timezone differences, but he knew how to figure up what time it was where I lived.
After the third or fourth night, I mentioned something about the time and that he woke me up. And I even told him that unless it was super important, I'd appreciate it if he would try to wait until the morning to call. He simply apologized and continued talking until I insisted I'd call him as soon as I got up for work. He didn't call again the next night, but did nearly every night thereafter. But, though I still woke up, I stopped answering the phone. I felt horrible about it, though I really shouldn't have. If anything, he should have felt bad about waking me and not listening when I said he shouldn't call at odd hours. But again, I told myself that I shouldn't let it bother me, because things could be so much worse. What I didn't know was that things were about to get worse.
I guess since Ashton had made a surprise visit for my birthday, he expected that I should be with him on his birthday as well. And if it were possible at all, God knows I would have been. He was in New York that day, it was a Thursday, and I couldn't take off work.
In the days leading up to his birthday, Ashton kept hinting that he'd like to see me on, but I kept telling him that I couldn't make it work. Maybe he thought I was only saying that because I was going to surprise him like he'd surprised me. Because that was the only explanation for why he was so upset when he called that morning.
"You're really not coming, are you?" he asked, as though he just realized it.
"Ashton, I've told you I can't. I'd love to, and you know that. But I'm already taking time off in a couple of weeks for those three shows. And if I take off any more, I won't have enough vacation time for September's trip to NOLA and Texas."
I heard him huff in annoyance. "I went out of my way to be with you on your birthday. I'm not asking for gifts or anything. I just want to be with you."
I didn't see the point in continuing the conversation, because it didn't matter what he said, I still wasn't going to be able to be with him. But he wasn't letting it go. "Yes, you did. And that meant everything to me. But you also abandoned your band and work, which was wrong."
"Yeah, yeah, you've only reminded me like 20 times. But what's it going to hurt for you to miss two more days of work?"
"I told you, I don't have enough vacation time to cover it. In other words, I won't get paid for two days. Unfortunately, I don't have extra money lying in the bank like you. What little I had, I've already spent on trips to see you. I basically live paycheck to paycheck."
"Then I'll give you whatever money you need to cover it. Please, Aubree."
It was tempting, really. But it wasn't rational. "I can't, Ashton. I'm not taking your money, I'm not going to miss work, and I'm not going to talk about this anymore. I'm sorry. I love you, and I want you to have the best birthday ever. We'll celebrate when we're together again, okay? It's just two more weeks." He didn't respond. "Look, I'm going to be late for work if I don't get going right now. Again, I'm sorry. I want you to have a great birthday. Don't be upset about this, please. I love you so much. You know that, right?"
He let out a big sigh and said, "Yeah, okay, I guess. I love you, too. But I don't know, Aubree. Sometimes I feel like you don't love me as much as I love you."
I was dumbfounded at his accusation. "Why on Earth would you think such a thing? I mean, there are literally no words to describe how much I love you. I love you so fucking much that it actually hurts sometimes. If I had the money, and didn't have to worry about keeping a job to support myself and my kids, I'd be with you every minute of every hour of every day. I'd drag the kids along with me, and we'd be one big happy family. I try to let you know in every way I know how that you're everything to me. I'm sorry if it's not enough."
I was on the verge of breaking down. If he actually felt that I didn't love him as much as he loved me, then I felt like a failure. I didn't know how else to prove my love.
"It's enough, Aubree. I'm just, I don't know. I guess I'm just sad that you're not with me. I don't mean to be such a baby. I just wish things were different."
I knew he'd realize eventually that we weren't going to turn out like he'd hoped. Apparently that day had arrived. "I told you this was going to be hard, that we'd have to work at it, and we wouldn't be able to be together as often as we'd like. You accepted that, remember? That's why I tried to keep it casual at first."
He asked, "Do you wish you we'd never gotten together? Because right now that's what it sounds like."
"Absolutely not! I don't regret giving this relationship a shot at all. I've given it my all because I want this to work. I can't imagine not being with you now."
"Do you feel like I put enough effort into it?"
I thought, Um, yeah. Too much, actually. But I didn't say it quite like that, as to not agitate him more. "Yes, you put forth more effort than I've ever seen anyone put into a relationship. As a matter of fact, I think maybe you exert yourself a little too much. That's not necessarily bad, I guess. But like with all the calls at crazy times of the night, and when you know I'm working, and stuff like that. I'm not going anywhere, Ashton. It doesn't matter if we talk 50 times a day or once. I'm not going anywhere. I'm yours."
"So you don't like to talk to me so much?"
I felt like beating my head on the wall. The more I tried to explain things, the worse it got. "That's not what I'm saying. I look forward to talking to you every day, even several times a day. And you know the kids like to talk to you, too. I'm just saying you need to take into consideration that I may be sleeping or doing something important at work. Or that I need to get to work. Like now. I really have to go." I'd actually gotten Ash out of the bed and carried him to the car to go to Mom's at this point, because I was already late for work. I could have kept talking as I drove, but honestly, I wanted to get off the phone. The conversation was going in circles.
He was quiet for a minute, and I was waiting on the next accusation. But he surprised me by saying, "Okay, I'll let you go. I'm sorry for bothering you. Have a good day at work."
I didn't get the chance to say goodbye before he hung up. He sounded pissed off, and I hated that. But I thought maybe it was for the best that he ended the call abruptly instead of dragging it out even longer. I had no doubt he'd call back as soon as he cooled down anyway.
A/N: It actually breaks my heart to write about Ashton like this. :(