When I told Ashton I'd accept his gift, he e-mailed me the details of the trip as promised, along with his credit card information for me to buy whatever flights I wanted. It felt so weird allowing him to pay for all that. So weird, in fact, that I nearly backed out. But Traci was so excited that I didn't want to pull the rug out from under her. Besides that, I really needed a getaway. I hadn't been away from home since the last time I saw Ashton. It was time that I did something and stop moping around.
I did as Traci suggested, and took plenty of time to think rationally about giving it another shot with Ashton. I was leaning more towards giving it a go, but I wanted to take a little more time before talking to him. I figured I'd wait until after my birthday trip to make a decision.
As the time drew nearer, I was more excited about the trip than I thought I'd be. The day of my birthday, Ashton sent a text, which I wasn't expecting at all.
From Ashton: Happy Birthday, beautiful. Be safe and enjoy your trip.
Knowing that he was with Brandi (Or maybe not. I'd stopped trying to keep up at that point.) it made me feel a tiny bit guilty that he'd called me beautiful, let alone arranged for such a trip. It wasn't like he was cheating on her, but I still felt like it was a little taboo, especially since he'd already said that he still loved me. But another part of me couldn't help but to be happy, knowing that he was thinking of me, even if he shouldn't be. Nonetheless, I didn't reply as to not stir anything up until I was prepared.
It was so great being reunited with my friend. As always, we picked right up where we'd left off, as though it hadn't been months since we'd seen each other.
I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the huge suite Ashton had gotten for us. It was more like an apartment. We were in awe, checking everything out and taking pictures like a couple of kids.
We had a tentative itinerary of things we wanted to do and see, but nothing in particular on that first day since we didn't get there until the afternoon. Traci suggested we leave it open to hang out and "get acquainted with our surroundings" or something like that. The way she worded it was goofy, but I was fine with it, because we had a whole week ahead of us.
We'd ordered room service and were recovering from the large feast when there was a knock on the door. Traci jumped up, but then just stood there staring at me with an apologetic smile.
"What? You want me to get it?" I asked, and stood, but she stepped in front of me, blocking my path.
"Um, no. I'll get it." But she continued standing there, looking worried.
"Dude, what is it?"
"Okay, so, well, you're either going to kill me or kiss my feet. But... "
She was killing me with the hesitation. "Spill it, T."
She started pacing and wringing her hands, as she did when she was nervous. "First, you should know this was completely my idea. Not the trip, that was all Ashton and I didn't know about it until you told me. But I got to thinking, and..."
"Fucking Hell. You got to thinking what?!" I kept thinking that she'd hired some male strippers for my birthday. And if that was the case, she was a dead woman.
She gave me another unsure smile when there was another louder knock on the door. She shouted, "I hear ya! Chill for a second! Jeez."
I laughed at her and asked again what she was up to.
"Remember, this was my idea, okay? So don't get all bent out of shape, because he turned me down several times, because he thought you wouldn't want to see him. But I wouldn't take no for an answer."
I realized then who she was talking about. I clutched my chest because I immediately started having palpitations and was short of breath. "You're fucking lying, T. Tell me you're joking. You didn't."
"I kinda did. You forwarded that e-mail he sent with the trip info, so it was no problem getting in touch with him. I had to try."
"Why?" I was a mix of emotions. Of course I wanted to see Ashton. But I wasn't mentally prepared.
Traci put her hands on my arms and explained, "Because I want you to find your spark again. You're so sad, and that makes me sad. You deserve all the happiness in the world. And I think Ashton is the key to that happiness, as long as he doesn't go all psycho again. I don't want you to feel pressured or anything, just talk to him. Become friends again, or just get some closure, whatever it takes, okay?"
I had a hundred thoughts racing through my brain, and I couldn't form any of them into words.
Traci continued, "Look, he's only here overnight, assuming things go well, because he has band stuff to do. Then the rest of the trip is for us. If you two end up wanting privacy and what not, it's a-ok with me. There are plenty of things for me to do around here for a couple of days. The hotel spa is amazing, and... well, never mind all that. Just talk to him. I love you, Bree. Bye." She quickly kissed my cheek and squealed before grabbing her bag and sprinting off to the door. She left me standing there alone, holding my breath in anticipation. I had to remind myself to breathe.
I stared ahead, waiting to see Ashton, and within seconds, there he was in the flesh, within arm's reach. But I was afraid to move. He stood before me looking unsure, shy even, with his hands in the pockets of his usual black skinny jeans. His hair had grown longer, and fuck my life, he was wearing glasses. If that had been the last vision I had before dying, I would have died a happy woman.
Neither of us spoke at first. We had a bit of a staring contest, which he won when he inched closer and slowly reached up to hesitantly touch my cheek. I leaned into his hand and closed my eyes, my senses coming alive with his familiar scent and touch.
Still without a word, he brought up the other hand and placed it on the opposite cheek, and leaned down to kiss my forehead. I melted into him and he wrapped his arms around me snugly. I fought with everything I had to not cry, but there was no holding it back.
I finally managed to say, "I'm so sorry."
I felt his lips move against the top of my head when he whispered, "It's okay," and he squeezed me even tighter. His sniffles gave away the fact that he was crying, too.
Time stood still as we held each other until our tears vanished. For the first time in seven months I felt like everything was going to be okay. I didn't know what the outcome was going to be yet. But either way, I knew he'd forgiven me. He didn't hate me, and that's all I needed to know at that moment.
Eventually, Ashton pulled away enough to ask me if I wanted to sit down so we could talk. I nodded my agreement and followed him to the sitting area. He kept me pulled to him, and if I'd sat any closer I would have been in his lap. But I was okay with it. I could crawl inside of him and still not be close enough.
Once we were settled, he simply asked me how I was.
I shrugged. "Okay, I guess. I'm healthy, work is going good, and the kids are great. I can't complain about anything. How are you?"
Instead of answering, he said, "That's not what Traci says." I looked away, unable to hold his gaze.
He chuckled. "I know it's been hard for you, too. You gave me all you had, and I didn't make it easy on you. I can't tell you how sorry I am. But I can honestly say that, though it still hurts, I think you made the right choice. If you hadn't, you would have resented me and we would have split up by now anyway. It would have been way worse, and we would probably be on bad terms, and that's the last thing I want."
He kept touching me with his free hand as we talked: my hair, my collarbone, my face... and I didn't protest a bit. There was no guilt like I'd had the night we met and I thought about Brandi when we touched, even though it was innocent. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't have protested if he'd tried to touch me more intimately. I don't know what the difference was. I just knew that it felt right, and I welcomed it.
"I think you're right. We wouldn't be in a good place right now. I'm so thankful we don't hate each other."
"I wish I was in a good place personally, though. I'm so over crying at the drop of a hat and constantly wondering 'what if?', and beating myself up for hurting you. Even if it was for the best, I still hate myself for it. I gave up the best thing that's ever happened to me."
"Don't worry about it anymore, Aubree. It's in the past. If anyone should feel bad, it's me. I still don't understand what the Hell got into me. But I can see what I did wrong now, and I know to never make those mistakes again."
I believed him wholeheartedly, and that made it hard to not go for it right then and ask for another chance. But I didn't want to jump right into it. There was still a lot to discuss.
He asked if I'd dated at all since we split up.
"Truthfully, I've had no desire to even think about it. I know I'll never love anyone like I love you, so what's the point?" I wondered if he caught that I'd used the present tense of 'love' and not 'loved.'
He said, "Same."
I looked at him quizzically, because I knew he was with Brandi. Or maybe he wasn't that week. Who knew?
He understood my unspoken question and gave me an explanation. "That's why I keep going back to Brandi. This sounds completely heartless, but I've been straight up honest with her, so she knows how I feel. She's more or less someone to pass the time with. I don't care to get to know anyone else. And I don't want to fall in love with someone else. Brandi's so childish and gets on my nerves so much sometimes. But I do care about her, and at least she's familiar, and someone to occupy my mind and time with so I don't think about you as much. At least, that's the goal. Though it doesn't really work." He gave an embarrassed chuckle and shrugged.
There was a minute of silence as I'm sure we were both wanting to talk about getting back together, but too afraid to bring it up. Finally, he asked, "How do we move on?"
I had nothing to lose at that point. I had the love of my life right in front of me, and I'd already lost him. But I had the chance to possibly get him back. I had to take the reins and go for it. If I got rejected, then so be it. At least I tried.
So I said, "Maybe we don't."
At those words, Ashton's face had a slight change of expression for just a split second, looking both shocked and hopeful before turning stone cold serious again. Then he said quietly, "I don't want to. I couldn't even if I did want to."
I replied, "I don't want to, either. I have no right to say that, because I'm the one who ended it. And I'm sorry. I know -"
He shushed me with a finger to my lips. "We have to stop apologizing and put it behind us, baby. Why don't we put it to rest and talk about something else. Or better yet..." I saw the faintest hint of that mischievous grin I loved so much.
He shook his head and laughed softly at whatever he was thinking about. "Nothing."
"Bullshit. What were you going to say?"
"It's not what I was going to say. It's what I was going to do."
There it was. That unmistakable lustful look in his eyes. The one I found myself thinking of so often, knowing I'd never see it again. Thank God I was mistaken. The tension between us had been accumulating ever since he walked in the door. I wasn't sure if it was a smart move to do anything about it or not, but I couldn't stand it any longer. I gathered every ounce of boldness within myself and slid my leg over him and straddled his lap. I heard him let out a tiny gasp.
I looked at him smugly as I made sure to position myself right over the bulge that was already present underneath me. He was trying to not smile and bit his lip, which only spurred me on.
I eased his glasses off and said, "You know I love these, but they're going to be in the way." I sat them on the back of the couch so that I didn't have to leave my comfy spot. Then I tormented us both by taking my sweet time unbuttoning his shirt at a snail's pace. Ashton sat still with that goofy grin on his face the whole time while I got all the buttons undone and spread his shirt open. I was the one gasping when I finally had access to touch his warm skin underneath.
I still had a little sense about me and thought it was only fair that I offer him a way out before it went any further. After all, he was the one with a maybe-girlfriend. "You can tell me to stop. I'll understand."
"I'll never tell you to stop. I may beg you for more, but I'll never tell you to stop." He grabbed me by the waist and pulled me closer, grinding into me at the same time. "I fucking want you, Aubree. All of you."
Just before I kissed him, I said, "Then take me. I'm all yours."
We talked for hours that night, about anything and everything. And in the midst of it all, I thought about Traci. "Oh, shit! I forgot about Traci! She's probably about to kill me."
Ashton laughed at me and said, "It's okay. I gave her the key to my room. It's not as nice as this one, but I think she'll be alright. When she left she told me she'd see me in the morning. I think she had more confidence in us than I did."
"You didn't think this would happen?"
"Not really. I hoped, but I wasn't counting on it. What about you?"
"Well, seeing as I didn't know you'd be here, no. But ever since Valentine's Day, I've been hopeful."
That brought a huge dimply smile to his face, which I returned. That interaction served as kind of a nonverbal agreement on the direction in which we were headed.
We put off the "hey, let's get back together" discussion until Ashton was about to head back to LA late the next day. We were standing by the door, neither of us ready to let go.
Ashton hugged me one more time and said, "I have things to take care of first, but I don't want to throw us away, Aubree. I can't take back what I've done, but I promise it won't happen again, I swear. I hope you'll give me a chance to prove it."
I knew the "things" he had to take care of was Brandi. I felt a tiny tug of guilt but brushed it off. "Nothing would make me happier. But first I have to say something. I've not taken any blame for what happened, and I should have. I feel like I didn't give the relationship a fair chance. I kind of chalked it up as doomed from the start. And I'm sorry for that. But if we try this again, I'm just going to warn you now, I'm all in, 100%."
Ashton literally jumped for joy. "Yes! I am, too. You won't regret it, baby, I promise."