Traci and I were about to leave for lunch when there was a knock on the door. I assumed it was Ashton and thought about pretending we weren't there. But I chose to listen to that part of me that was dying to see him again and went to the door. However, I was surprised to find Dave instead of Ashton.
He always smiled when I talked to him, but he wasn't happy about something that time. "Hi, Aubree. I don't know what's going on with you and Ash, and frankly, it's none of my business. But he's giving us a hard time right now. We needed to leave for the venue nearly an hour ago, but he won't leave without seeing you first. He said he called, but you didn't answer."
"Yeah, he called when I was in the shower. But he didn't leave a voicemail like he usually does. I figured it wasn't important."
"Well, I'd appreciated it if you'd go talk to him. The others are on their way down now. They're going to go ahead, and I'm going to stay behind with Ash until this gets sorted."
"Well, that depends. How is he? Does he act angry? Because I can't talk to him when he's like that."
"No, not at all. He's rather depressed and quiet, actually. He's just insisting on seeing you."
I thought about it for a second. I hated to give in and reward his defiant behavior by going to him. But I knew it was important that he join the rest of his band. I glanced at Traci, who was standing a few steps behind me, listening to us. She shrugged, not really helping me with my decision.
"Yeah, okay, I'll go."
Dave patted me on the shoulder. "Thanks, Aubree. We all appreciate it."
I followed him to Ashton's room. I was anxious about what to expect. I didn't want to go through another round of explaining why we shouldn't be together. But why else would he want to talk to me so badly?
He gave me that charming smile that I loved so much, though there was a trace of sadness within his eyes. And he didn't hesitate to wrap me in his arms, the only place I ever felt like I belonged. But it overwhelmed me with sadness. I held to him tightly, too, breathing in the scent that I'd never forget. He slowly rocked us side to side for a few silent moments. If I could have stayed there forever I would have. I hated to ruin the moment, but I knew there were people waiting on him.
I released him just enough to move my head back and look at him. "Why wouldn't you leave with the others?"
"I couldn't. I know you'll be going home tomorrow and I had to make things right between us."
"But, Ashton, we - "
He put a finger on my lips to hush me. Then he let go of me, and guided me to sit on the couch. He sat down beside me and put one arm on the back of the couch and held my hand with the other. It reminded me of that first night we met and had that drunken heart to heart conversation about Brandi. I could tell he was about to say something, searching for the words, so I remained quiet.
Finally, he said, "I've thought about it, and I understand why you feel like we can't be together. I really do. I know I've ruined everything. I've aggravated you, I've embarrassed you, I've ignored you, and I've hurt you. And I don't know why I've done any of those things when all I want is to love you and make you happy. All I know is that I haven't been able to stop thinking about this. It's making me crazy, Aubree. Do you think it's possible to just take a break from each other and let me prove to you that I can get better? Please? I've been trying so hard these past couple of days. Surely you've noticed." His voice cracked on those last words, and that cued my own tears once again.
I cleared my throat and dabbed at my eyes. Then I told him, "I don't want to give you, or myself, any false hope by agreeing to 'take a break.' I think that would only hurt worse in the end. You need to concentrate on turning back into that loving, happy, caring, wonderful man you really are. And who knows, maybe our paths will cross again and it will be our time. I know that sounds like a crock of shit."
"Yeah, it does," he said quietly, looking at our hands. "You're saying that like we're never going to talk again. Is that what's going to happen when you walk out of here?"
I tilted his chin so he'd look back up at me. "No, I hope not."
He smiled just enough that it was barely noticeable. Then he said, "You looked happy in the photos I saw from the past couple of nights, the ones with fans."
I shook my head. "I wasn't happy. I was just tolerating it and being nice. But it doesn't matter, that's beside the point."
"Well, I'm sorry I ruined your privacy. Just add that to the list of my fuck ups." He was starting to become a little hostile, as I expected he would.
"You didn't ruin anything."
"I ruined us, by loving you too much, apparently." He let out a short incredulous laugh and shook his head in disbelief. "I can't even fucking love someone right."
"Stop it, okay? Stop beating yourself up. You've loved me perfectly. You taught me what love is. And I still love you as much as ever. Before I leave, I need to know that you believe that."
He calmed down, took a deep breath, and nodded. "I do believe you. Because if you didn't, you wouldn't have tried to make this easier for me. You would have been like 'fuck you' a long time ago." We both chuckled. "You really have put up with a lot of shit from me. And I know nothing I say or do can fix that. But I'm going to ask one more time. Will you please give me one more chance, Aubree? I'll do anything, I swear."
Dave knocked on the door and said loud enough for us to hear, "Ash, we have to get going." I couldn't decide if his timing sucked or if it was perfect.
Ashton didn't flinch. He held my gaze, waiting on an answer.
I hesitated, weighing my options one last time. I could walk out that door and probably never see Ashton again. Or I could give him one last chance and he could be mine once more. I couldn't bring myself to tell him no again. So instead of answering verbally, I pulled him as close to me as I could to kiss him. It was like everything was in slow motion. It took a lifetime for our lips to touch. And when they did, it was our most heartfelt kiss ever: Him begging me to stay, and me telling him how sorry I was. Just one simple slow, drawn out kiss that gave him an answer. I knew he understood when I felt his lips start to tremble ever so slightly. I pressed my lips harder and brought my hands to his scruffy jawline, burning the moment to memory for later. I broke the kiss when I felt like I could no longer breathe.
I pressed my forehead to his to catch my breath, but it wasn't working. I felt like I was on the verge of having a panic attack. That was it. I was about to walk out and never see that beautiful human being again. But if that's what it took for him to be normal again, then so be it.
His final words whispered to me were, "Will you tell the kids goodbye for me? And that I love them?"
Tears were falling off of my chin. I didn't even care to contain them anymore. I nodded my head, still pressed against his, then I finally parted. I had to get out of there. I stood to leave and Ashton held onto my hand. I paused for a split second, then continued my exit as his hand slipped from mine.
I closed the door behind me and leaned on it for support. I felt so weak and shaky. Dave was leaning casually against the wall and asked if I was okay.
"I'll be okay."
Right at that moment, there was a crash inside Ashton's room followed by loud cursing.
I couldn't stand there and listen to him hurting. I had to leave. "I'm sorry," I told Dave, and walked away.
I heard Dave demanding Ashton to open the door. And I guess he did, because I then heard him ask more quietly, "What in the world, Ash?!" But I didn't hear anything else. I kept walking, leaving my heart behind.