Ashton linked his hand with mine and asked, "Ready?"
I tried to not let my nervousness show through my smile. "Ready as I'll ever be."
Joe met us in the hallway. He was tagging along, as security always did when the guys went out. He looked surprised to see me, and I didn't miss the amused look he gave Ashton.
We got on the elevator and I started snickering at Ashton. He was literally beaming. He couldn't stop smiling and I swear his chest was puffed out like a proud bird. It certainly gave me confidence, which I needed more than ever.
"Shut up," he said through his giggles. We were both a mess.
And then there we were, walking toward the large group of fans hanging around outside the hotel. As soon as the door opened, they swarmed us, shoving phones in Ashton's face. Joe positioned his arms around us protectively and told the girls to step back.
I have no doubt they would have acted the exact same way whether or not I'd been with Ashton. But I was truly shocked that not a single person seemed to pay a bit of attention to the fact that I was with him. I was glad that I seemed to be invisible, though.
It got to the point that we were unable to move, and no one was listening to Joe. Even the hotel's security tried stepping in, but it didn't help.
Finally, Ashton took matters into his own hands. He yelled, "Everybody! Calm down, please!" Amazingly, they all got quiet, though they didn't move away. "Listen, we're just trying to go get something to eat. I'd appreciate it if you let us do what we need to do, and when I come back, I'll gladly take photos with you. If you're chill. Is that a deal?"
There was some bustling around and several people yelling their agreement, and we were able to get moving again. There were still those who attempted taking pictures as we made our way down the sidewalk. And there were even a few who followed us until Joe had to get rude with them. But most of them were compliant with Ashton's wishes.
I didn't realize how hard I'd been squeezing his hand until he pulled it away and shook it to get the circulation going again.
I apologized and he laughed at me and took my hand again. "It's okay. That was intense back there. There usually aren't that many fans at hotels. Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."
He released my hand and put his arm snugly around my waist. "Don't worry. It'll be fine."
Yeah, okay. If you want to call "Who the fuck is this bitch?" and "This ugly excuse of a groupie needs to die" and "Is Ashton screwing their new tour mom? She's old af" fine, then I guess it was fine.
When we got back, I didn't stay outside while Ashton took the photos he'd promised them. Truth be told, the fans were just as rowdy when he returned, and he shouldn't have given them the pleasure. But I knew he was trying to not rock the boat after dropping a bombshell, a.k.a. me, on them.
I didn't bother looking at my phone until I was back in the room waiting on Ashton, because I knew it wasn't going to be pretty. And those previously mentioned comments were a few that I came across.
Traci was all up in it, sending me links and screenshots. But the ones she sent me were positive ones like "I think she's pretty," "Her hair is goals," and "Ashton looks so happy with her."
It didn't take me five minutes to learn to avoid my Twitter feed altogether. And to be on the safe side, I put my account on private. I only had a handful of followers, mainly older fans like myself.
Even though I didn't want the attention, I still kind of wanted to post something to see if anyone put two and two together and noticed it was me who Ashton was with in those pictures. But I talked myself out of it. People would only compare it to the attention seeking behaviors of certain other girlfriends. God knows I didn't want to be associated with them.
However, it was only a matter of minutes before one of the older fans I interacted with occasionally sent a DM with a photo attached saying, "That girl looks like you. LOL"
It was going to get out eventually, and I'd rather it be me that confirmed it. So I told her, "Well... because it is me. #confirmed."
The string of emojis that she replied with cracked me up. I was a nervous wreck, though, and my hands were shaking as I replied, "I'm not asking you to keep it a secret or anything, but we'd both appreciate it if you didn't just throw it out there. Let the 5SOSfam CIA work for the info, ya know? ;) Just trying to take baby steps here."
She didn't respond, and I knew right away what that meant. My phone exploded with notifications within minutes. I was so mad at that bitch. I actually thought I could trust her. Oh well. They were going to hunt me down eventually, so maybe it was better to go ahead and get it over with.
Naturally, I was curious what people would say once they found me on Twitter. It was just more of the same shit, except they tagged me to make sure I saw their hateful posts. Though, I actually had to laugh at the ones saying, "But she's a Michael girl???". I guess the name was a little weird for someone who was with Ashton. But whatever.
I gave up on trying to keep up with the notifications. I went to my settings and turned them off. I debated deactivating the account, but that would make me look like I couldn't handle it, so I let it be and put down the phone. I was determined to not let it get to me. What was done was done.
Ashton finally came in and threw himself down on the bed beside me. "Well, there's no turning back now. I hope you don't have any regrets."
"Not at all. I put my social media crap on private and turned off my notifications, because I kind of outed myself when one of my followers said 'hey, that looks like you.' Oops. But whatever. I just want you to be happy, Ashton. It'll be worth it."
He thanked me for being so wonderful, and I snuggled up to him and we simply held each other for the longest time until he had to leave.
The rest of the trip turned out to be much better than it had started out. There was lots of traveling between Birmingham, Nashville, and Atlanta, though. But the good thing was that gave Traci and me more time together.
Ashton ended up apologizing to Michael before the first show, and insisted that I was there when he did it. Michael was already over it. They hugged it out, and I hoped it was the end of Ashton's jealousy issues. If it wasn't, then something was going to have to be done about it. I knew I couldn't stay in a relationship where I was afraid to say the wrong thing all the time, or feel like I needed to hide things because Ashton would assume the worst. There's nothing healthy about that. The thing that bothered me more than anything, though, was how much Ashton had changed since we got together. It seemed like he'd be better off without me. But the thought of not being with him ripped my heart out, and I prayed that I'd never have to worry about making that decision. It was the worst feeling that night when he hit Michael and I was seriously debating breaking up with him.
No matter how many times Michael told me he was fine, I kept apologizing. I knew he was okay, maybe his feelings were hurt, but physically he was fine. And because of their amazing makeup artist, unless you were looking for it, you'd never know he had a mark on his face.
After about the 20th time telling Michael I was sorry, he bent down to my level to look right into my eyes and said, "Stop. I'll live, I promise."
"Okay, I'll stop asking. I just feel so guilty. You didn't deserve any of that."
"I don't know if you know or not, but it's not the first time Ash and I have had a fight. And I'm sure it won't be the last. We've all had our share of problems with each other. It's bound to happen when we're together as much as we are, because we get on each other's nerves a lot. But in the end, we're family, and we forgive and forget."
I understood that completely.
Before parting ways for another couple of months, Ashton literally begged me to go to the Cincinnati show that was two days later. And he wanted me to bring the kids.
He reasoned, "It's only like an hour and a half from your house, I checked. Before you say you can't afford it, everything will be taken care of. You won't have to spend a penny. Please? You're off work, so there's no reason you can't make it."
He was right, there was no excuse to not go. I knew the kids would love to see him again, too. I briefly thought about how Ashton being seen with the kids would add fuel to the fire. But he was okay with it, so why shouldn't I be? He did say that he'd go to whatever lengths he needed to in order to keep them from being seen, for their protection. But I wasn't too worried. What harm could come of it?