From the Author
He was used to me falling right in line. My rebellious streak as of late showed me new glimpses of just how terrible he could be. When his tactics seemed to no longer work on me I began to see his anger boil over. This darker side of him terrified me.
Over the years I had lost track of the outbursts, broken furniture, holes in walls and, even on the rare occasion, the bruises. I knew, overall, Ashton wasn't a monster, which was perhaps why I stuck it out so long. He was a spoiled little boy who didn't know how to handle his emotions when he didn't get his way.
We met in high school, when a girl's self esteem was typically on a roller coaster, based on what peers thought and said. Ashton was the gorgeous bad boy who I had no business being with. I was the quiet girl, always in the art wing, avoiding large groups of people. It wasn't that I didn't like people; I simply didn't understand them--all of the cliques: jocks, preppies, skaters, cheerleaders, metal heads, even farm kids. I didn't understand the point of segregating like that. Looking back, I supposed I was doing the same thing.
I was part of a much smaller group, though. It was just my best friend, Laney, and me. We had been friends since grade school. She was a bigger girl who constantly obsessed about her weight. I learned to ignore this annoying habit since she was the only real friend I had, that is, until Ashton.
I still remember the day he first spoke to me. He had on a pair of washed-out blue jeans and a plain white v-neck t-shirt. His long, sandy-colored hair hung in his face, with much more stubble than a boy his age should have had. He was the type of boy that would send fathers running for their shotguns; luckily for him, mine wasn't around anymore. I was in the phase of life where thrift store cardigans and oversized denim overalls, matched with a pair of scuffed Doc Martens, somehow seemed fashion appropriate.
"Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes played in my headphones that day as I felt a tug on one of my pigtails. Spinning on my heel, expecting to see Laney, I was shocked when instead I laid eyes on him. With a half-smile on his lips, he was clearly pleased by my reaction.
Tugging on one of the headphones, I raised an eyebrow in confusion, but said nothing. I couldn't speak. There was no reason in the world I could imagine for this guy to be speaking to me. He was beautiful--a specimen for all teen girls to behold. His shoulder-length hair made me want to reach out and twist it around my finger while I gazed into his hazel eyes. He seemed to always be looking for the opportunity to take off his shirt around school, and a glimpse of what his muscular torso looked like flashed into my mind. I even shocked myself when, for a brief moment, I wondered what his full lips might taste like.
I knew him, or rather, of him. I knew in junior high he went through a skater phase. I knew he dated most of the girls in our class by the time he was in high school and was now moving on to college girls. I also knew there was no way he could possibly be tugging on my pigtail. I was nothing--invisible to most. The outside of my hands were always stained with smudges of graphite, my unkempt wiry hair often spattered with bits of paint. I wasn't ugly. I was aware of that, even then, but I was certain I was nothing special. Nobody to be noticed.
I remember I cringed when he asked me my name. My mother was also an artist and a bit of a free spirit. She was the only one who called me by my given name. Though I hated it, I never fought her on it. I always worried my dad leaving us was too much on her, so I was careful to never upset her.
"I go by Emmie," I answered. I never understood what drew his interest to me that day. I'd asked him before, and he claimed he always noticed me, but had only then worked up enough courage to ask me out. I knew him well enough to know that was a lie.
That was the moment--the turning point--I began to change. The more time I spent with him, the more he planted ideas in my head. My hair would look better this way instead, or why didn't I ever wear clothes to show off my curves. I was a teenage girl; what was I to do?
Laney was the first to say something to me about the difference, but it had just made me angry. I finally had this amazingly hot guy showing interest in me, and she had to come along and try to ruin it. Ashton explained she was just jealous. Eventually, Laney reached a point where she felt forced to do something. She came to me like a good friend, pointed out that since Ashton came along I didn't care about anything, not even my art. She gave me a choice: it was she or Ashton. I missed her, but I was sure I would always have Ashton.
Fast forward and there I was. The idea of always having Ashton made my skin crawl. I tried to free myself from him a few times, but he was like a bog that pulled you back in, suffocating you. When I was eighteen I told Ashton I was leaving. I was certain I wasn't meant to stay in a small town, and I wanted him to come with me to art school in New York.
He had no intention, however, of ever leaving our sleepy-eyed town. He was the only child of one of the richest couples in the county, so as long he stayed, he would never have to grow up or ever be responsible. Small town rich was quite different than what most people thought of when it came to being wealthy. For us, though, and our small piece of the world, it was rich just the same.
I mustered up as much courage as I could gather and left for New York alone. I managed to stay away five whole days. When the reality sank in that I was alone in a huge city, with no friends, no job, no family, and no plan--except that I wanted to be an artist--I panicked. Ashton was waiting for me when I got off the bus. It was raining. He told me he forgave me.
I enrolled in the local college, and we were married the following spring. His mother told me that she had never seen her son so happy. I decided a small town life with him was better than any other kind of life without him. I was so naive.
The first year was actually pretty good. I went to school while Ashton helped out at his family insurance business a couple days a week. His dad decided that was enough work to justify a full-time salary. The phrase "boys will be boys," became a common theme around the Stirling estate. Ashton was happy with the arrangement so I didn't say anything; after all, when Ashton was happy, everyone was happy. Then everything fell apart.
The economy shifted, everyone tightened their belts, and within six months, Ashton's parents went from the wealthiest in town to nearly broke. Ashton told me not to worry; he would find a new job. He worked at a pizza place for a half day, but it was beneath him. Then there was the video rental store; he made it one full day there. He couldn't hold a job because he was never designed to follow someone's orders. I told him I would take a leave from college until he could find a job that made him happy. I never went back.
"I swear, Em, if you leave me I'll kill myself," Ashton said looking up at me, his hair sticking to his damp cheeks.