I'd paced, worked out, cleaned the entire apartment, showered, and paced some more, all to try and take my mind off of a possible impending call or message from Aubree. Hell, I even cooked dinner for Calum and myself and cleaned up afterwards. I had so much nervous energy to burn. But the call never came.
I knew I was being impatient, but I'd gone and gotten my hopes up and it was all I could think about.
Calum had finally had enough of watching me constantly get up and down for no particular reason at all. "Would you just fucking sit down and call her already? Damn, you're wearing me out."
"But she - "
Calum raised his voice by a few decibels. "Blah, blah blah! I don't want to hear any more excuses, because there aren't any. She wants to talk to you, and there aren't any rules about who initiates it, so just grow a pair and do it, Ash."
I don't think I'd ever known of Calum to order me, or anyone, around like that before.
"Fine. I will," I said, but made no attempt to do so.
Calum threw his arms up impatiently. "Well, what are you waiting on? If you're really that afraid, then just text her. It's safer. If she replies, great. If not, at least you tried. Go ahead."
Lo and behold, just as I sat down and unlocked the phone, it chimed with a text notification. I nearly dropped it when I saw that it was indeed from Aubree. "Holy fuck. Shit. Fucking hell."
"Is it her?"
"Well, what's it say?"
"Hang on, it's long." I read it to myself, skimming it quickly at first, then reading it again more carefully.
From Aubree: I know I'm the one who said we should break all contact, yet here I am texting you. I actually deleted your number, my Twitter, everything, trying to escape temptation. But here it is six months later and I've gotten your number from Michael. If you didn't know, he told me earlier today that you could use a friend, specifically me. I don't know what's going on, though I have a few guesses. But whatever it is, I'm here for you, if that's what you want. I've always been here, and I hope you know that. So if you need to talk, call me whenever you want, whether it's now or in the future. If not, I still want you to know that I never stopped caring. Not even a little bit.
When I read it to Calum, his response was, "Fuck, man. I think I might cry." He even rubbed his eyes and blinked rapidly. I didn't know what had gotten into him lately, but I kind of liked the new sensitive side of Calum. It made me feel like less of a loser.
I guess I was too excited to get too emotional about it. But I had to remind myself that the whole purpose behind Aubree texting me was that she was under the impression that I needed a shoulder to lean on, not because she wanted to discuss any kind of relationship with me. But I was okay with that. Who knew: maybe it really would be helpful to discuss my feelings with Aubree. And if any kind of relationship followed, whether it be friendship or more, then I'd do whatever it took to not lose it again. I planned on taking Opal's advice and focusing on a friendship first. But I had to bite the bullet and call her before that could happen.
I didn't want to seem desperate, though obviously I was. So I shut myself in my room, away from Calum's curious ears, and took a few minutes to think about how to start the conversation. In the end I decided to wing it because everything I thought of made me sound like an idiot.
"Okay, here goes nothing," I said to myself. I still had her number on speed dial, imagine that. I pressed it and took a deep breath. She answered on the second ring.
"Ashton," she answered, sounding a little restrained.
That one spoken word from her was all it took for me to lose it. Though I'd given anything to be with her, I was thankful she couldn't see me at that moment. I held the phone away from my mouth and pinched the bridge of my nose to keep from shedding tears. I had to clear my throat and take a deep breath before I was sure that I could respond without sounding like I was going to break down.
"Aubree. Hey, baby. How are you?" Way to go, dumbfuck. "I mean, I didn't mean to call you 'baby.' It's just habit. I -"
She chuckled at me and said, "It's okay. I've missed that. I'm alright, I guess. But how are you? And don't say you're fine, because Mikey wouldn't have bothered texting me if you were."
I tried to not read much into the fact that she'd said that she missed me calling her "baby." I didn't know where to begin, but I didn't want her to think I was in some kind of deep depression or anything, because I wasn't. "Well, not to accuse Michael of exaggerating to get you to talk to me, but Michael may have exaggerated to get you to talk to me." I laughed, because it was true. "Or maybe he really thinks I'm in bad shape, I don't know. But honestly, I'm okay. It's just that some shit's happened and I'm so angry about it. The guys are great, and they all try to get me to open up about it. But it's nothing they'd understand. I've been seeing a therapist, ever since I went we split up that first time. It's helped a lot. But they, the guys and my therapist, keep telling me I should tell you about everything, for a variety of reasons. But mostly because they know how much I miss you, and that of all the people in the world, you're the one I feel most comfortable talking to about anything."
"You still feel comfortable talking to me? I've been so afraid all this time that you'd never want to talk to me again." I heard her release a sigh of relief and I wished I could go through the phone and hug her and never let go again.
"Babe, you know how I feel about you. Nothing's changed." It was a simple statement, but I hoped it was enough to get my point across without being too direct, since I still wasn't sure how she felt about me.
My mind was set at ease when I could hear the smile in her voice as she said, "Well, I'm all ears. Tell me what's going on."
I told her everything from those first days after Brandi told me that she was pregnant, to the guys encouraging me to call her the past few days, and everything in between. By the time I was finished, Aubree was crying, which made me feel bad, so I apologized. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry."
"Hang on just a minute?" she asked, and I heard the phone being set down. Several seconds later she picked it up. "I'm sorry, I had to step outside and scream." I chuckled, not sure if she was serious or not. She clarified without me asking, "I'm not kidding. I can't even tell the last time I was this angry, Ashton. Fuck Brandi and her selfishness. I don't even know her, but I hate her. I fucking hate her!" The more she carried on, the harder she cried.
"I know, I know. She's taken away so much from me, from us, but she's gone now, for good. Don't waste your energy on hating her, baby. She's not even worth it."
After some sniffles and a nervous giggle, Aubree said, "I'm sorry. This was supposed to be about me helping you, and here you are comforting me."
Before I realized what was coming from my mouth, I said, "It seems like we still need each other." I silently cursed myself for being so direct about my feelings again.
"I'm afraid I'll never know how to not need you." Her voice was a little shaky and I could tell she was unsure about being so open.
I admitted, "I know exactly how you feel. But you know what? It's okay to need each other, isn't it? There's nothing wrong with that. I know I'm a douche bag. I feel awful for my choices. I mean, look where it's gotten me. I don't even know that I can apologize enough. But I hope we can start over and be friends again. If that's something you want, too." I prayed, Please, God, let her say yes.
She whispered, "Yes, I do. I want that more than anything."
No way was I going to let myself cry. So I kept quiet for a minute, until that feeling passed. Then I found the nerve to ask, "So, will you forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive. You did what you thought would be best for your child, and that's admirable. There should be more people in the world who put their children's needs before their own. I never once thought you made a bad decision."
"No, I didn't. It wasn't a bad decision because you felt like you had to try, and I understood that. In my heart, I knew you'd never be happy with her, but it wasn't my place to say so. And even though I feel like you knew it, too, you tried anyway. And as long as you gave it your best shot, I hope you don't regret it."
"No regrets, right? That's what you always told me." Though, in all honesty, I regretted it more and more with each passing day. But it was in the past, and I didn't want to dwell on it any longer. I had the chance to move on, and I was taking it. Aubree didn't hate me, and it sounded as though she missed me just as much as I missed her. Maybe it would all work out in the end. If I could at least have her friendship again, I'd be the most thankful man on Earth.
"That's right. No regrets. All you can do is focus on the here and now. The future isn't even that important in the grand scheme of things. One day at a time."
I wasn't positive if she was talking about us, or just me. But either way, she was right. "Yep." I suddenly felt shy and afraid of saying the wrong thing. And when I finally started to say something, we both spoke at the same time. We laughed at the awkwardness, and I insisted that she go first.
"I was just going to ask you... if I went to any of the shows, would you want -"
"Yes." I didn't know for sure what she was going to ask, but I knew my answer was yes.
"I'm sorry, that was rude cutting you off like that. But if you were going to ask what I think you were asking, which is exactly what I was going to ask, then yes, please."
"Louisville will be perfect. Any place will be perfect."
We talked casually for a while. She'd recently started working from home, doing the same thing she'd been doing at the hospital, but for several hospitals within that company. She was excited that she was making enough money to start building up a decent amount of savings. I always hated that she worried how she'd handle a financial burden if, God forbid, she had to. She sounded so much more confident about herself, and that made me happy.
She also told me what the kids were up to. Ashton had started playing t-ball, and Molly was taking piano lessons. I already looked forward to seeing them, though nothing was promised yet. I knew Aubree wouldn't want me to pop back into their lives if it wasn't going to be permanent. I knew she wasn't ready to talk about it yet, but permanent was my intention. I just had to figure out how to take it slow and not make a mess of the situation again. I planned on doing whatever it took to achieve that goal. Anything, no matter how hard it was.
A/N: About 4 more chapters to go...