The Extended and UncutBy: Abbi Glines
Ashton pulled herself up onto our branch and sat down. Once upon a time she’d needed me to give her a boost. Now she didn’t need me for anything. I’d let her down in so many ways. I’d heard the term heartbreak before and never really understood it—until now. Sitting here, looking at her, my chest literally hurt. Taking a deep breath had become difficult since the day I’d walked outside the church and seen her with Beau. I’d known. I’d wanted her to tell me anything to prove me wrong. Still, deep down, I’d known. Ashton was no longer mine.
“Impressive. You made it look easy,” I said loud enough so she could hear me. She’d texted me to tell me she was out here. I’d come down here to think hours ago. This was where it all started. It was fitting that it ended here too.
Ashton’s expression was slightly confused. I loved that look. It was adorable. “I was here when you sent the text,” I explained, and a small smile touched her lips.
“Oh,” she replied.
“To what do I owe this visit?” I already had a good idea as to why she was here. I just wanted her to say it out loud. It was time we cleared the air for good. Standing up, I made my way over to where she sat on the limb, but not before I noticed the audience hidden in the darkness. It figured that Beau would come looking for me too. Or maybe he’d followed her.
“I wanted to check on you. Beau said you had a concussion.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. I had a concussion all right. I skipped a rock across the water. “He tell you how I got the concussion?”
“Yes.” The guilt in her voice was thick. He must have admitted to bashing my head in. It wasn’t her fault, though.
“I deserved it. I was shitty to you all week.” My chest ached harder. Seeing everyone treat her so cruelly, while I sat back and did nothing, would haunt me for a long time.
“Um . . . ” She seemed unsure of what to say next. I’d let her down. I’d let myself down. The guy I’d been, the way I’d reacted—that wasn’t me.
“I shouldn’t have let them do those things to you. Honestly, Beau beating the crap out of me was a relief. I’d been beating myself up. Having someone physically beat me was a nice release.”
She was surprised that I felt bad about what I’d let them do to her. Damn, if that didn’t make this even harder. Breathing was becoming more difficult.
“Ash, you were my girl for years. Even before that, we were friends. The best of friends. I should’ve never let one bump in the road cause me to turn on you like I did. It was wrong. You took all the blame for something that wasn’t entirely your fault. It was Beau’s and it was mine.”
“I knew Beau loved you. I’d seen the way he looked at you. I also knew you loved him, more than you did me. You two had a secret bond I didn’t get to share. I was jealous. Beau was my cousin and you were the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. I wanted you for myself. So I asked you out. Without going to Beau first, never once asking him how he felt about it. You accepted and, just like magic, I broke up the bond you two had. Y’all never talked anymore. There were no more late-night roof talks and no more bailing y’all out of trouble. Beau was my family and you were my girlfriend. It was as if your friendship had never been. I was selfish and I ignored the guilt until it went away. Only, the times I saw him watching you, with that pained needy expression, did the guilt stir in my gut. It was mixed with fear. Fear you’d see what I’d done and go to him. Fear I’d lose you.”
That was the first time I’d verbalized the truth. For years, I’d held it inside, even pushed it away when my conscience nagged at me. Watching Ashton transform her personality and never saying one word to stop her. All of it. This all was my fault.
Ashton’s hand played lightly with my hair and I wanted to close my eyes and sigh from the small innocent touch. Would I always love her like this? Would I spend my life paying for my sin by living with the constant pain in my chest?
“I loved you, too. I wanted to be good enough for you. I wanted to be the good girl you deserved.”
Hearing her say she’d wanted to be good enough for me reminded me once again why we hadn’t worked out. She’d been perfect since the first day I’d met her, but I’d let her believe I expected more.
“Ash, you were perfect just the way you were. I was the one who let you change. I liked the change. It’s one of the many reasons I feared I’d lose you. Deep down I knew one day that free spirit you’d quenched would fight for release. It happened. And the fact it happened with Beau doesn’t surprise me in the least.”
“I’m sorry, Sawyer. I never meant to hurt you. I made a mess of things. You aren’t going to have to watch Beau and me together. I’m stepping out of both your lives. You can get back what was lost.”
When Beau didn’t come charging out of the woods cursing like a sailor, I knew he was too far back to hear us. I reached up and grabbed Ashton’s hand. I was the only one who could convince her that she didn’t need to do that. It was time I let her go.