He gets the call at just after seven in the morning. He's alone in his office and he pauses what he's doing to listen to the string of words that will not change his own life but they will definitely change someone else's. He flips the phone shut and leans back in his chair and closes his eyes for a minute. It's been a couple of weeks since he's seen Ashleigh Griffen, two or three days since he's even thought about her but he knows that he's going to see her now and he's not exactly sure what he'll find.
He reaches for his jacket and leaves his cell phone on his desk. It's been ringing all day and he doesn't want to be disrupted when he goes to make this visit. He knows that she'll be taking it hard, there really is no other way to take it. Not when you've given thirty plus years of your life to something.
He pulls into the driveway and finds the farm oddly silent. He's sure that time has all but stopped on the small breeding and training farm on the other side of Lexington. He never thought much of the farm until Ashleigh and Mike were married. It had been small and mediocre but Ashleigh had breathed a fresh life into it, done things with it that Mike or his father could never have done with it. He wondered what would happen to it now and then he shook his head. Of course everything would go on exactly as normal. Ashleigh was nothing if not a fighter.
She almost looked like a small child, huddled into the corner of the stall. Her dark hair was in her face and she was clutching her hands together, staring at the body of the horse in front of her. The colt had been taken away and when Ashleigh turned to look at me he saw something in her eyes that made me jump a little.
She had always been beautiful, in that doesn't-even-know-it kind of way. He'd always been a little jealous of her innocence, her determination to see the good in people. Well, in all people except for me. She did try one summer, one summer that burned them both. They hadn't dared to play with the fire again after that. They'd gone back to their own safe lives and had kept their eyes from meeting for many years after that.
"What did you do after Prince died?" She asked in a shaky voice, still looking at Wonder.
"Bawled my fucking eyes out." He answered. He couldn't lie to her, not at a moment like this when so much was riding on his answer. He'd lied to her many times in the past, but one time in particular had changed and ruined everything for them. He knew that there was no going back now but it felt wrong not to try now. He'd given her so much less than she had given him.
She ran her fingers across her face and her nails were caked with dirt. "And then?"
"I realized it was time to get on with it. I stayed busy and tried to focus on the money side of things more than the feeling side of things. It's worked quite well for me, actually." He let myself into the stall and stood beside where she was sitting, her tiny back pressed against the stall.
Her red eyes filled with tears and she looked away from him. "It's funny that you're the person that I wanted to talk to when all of this happened. The one that told me that Wonder would never amount to anything."
"Ashleigh," He said, his voice catching a little in his throat.
"No, Brad, don't." She said, clearing her throat, shaking her head, wiping her eyes. "It was a long time ago. Please don't apologize now."
"I am sorry, though." He whispered. "If I could…"
"I know." She said and she looked at Wonder again. "I know."
Her hands curled around the coffee cup, her red eyes avoiding his. There were so many things that he wanted to say to her, so many things that he felt so unsure of. He wasn't used to feeling this way, this helpless. Usually he stopped caring long before that could happen.
She let out a shaky breath, closed her eyes a little. "I don't even know where to bury her. No place really even seems right. None of this seems right." She opened her hazel eyes and looked at him for what felt like the first time in years. "Why are you here?"
No, Ashleigh, it didn't mean anything. It was one night. His mind went back to the night that he had spoken those words for her, the look in her eyes haunting him. His eye caught the diamond ring on her hand, saw the way that it sparkled a little in the dull light of the barn. "I wanted to say that I'm sorry." He averted his eyes from her, squeezing the coffee cup.
She shook her head, like she was tired. "Brad, I know-"
"No," He found her gaze and held it for a second, "I'm sorry."
She paused and he could see the memories come back to her, one at a time, just like they did to him. "Oh, that."
She almost smiled as she brought her coffee cup halfway to her mouth and then put it back again. "That was my first time, you know."
He nodded. "Yeah, I know." He remembered the way that she had felt in his arms that night, the little gasps that she had made when he had touched her. The nervousness in her eyes that had given away to heat, to want. The sex had been the easy part for him, the part that he had done before, although never with someone like her. It was the way that she had rested her head on his chest afterwards, the tenderness in that movement as he watched the little smile play across her face. It was the way that he had looked at her and realized that she was in love with him, and knowing that he had always been in love with her.
"God, I felt like such a fool." She ran her hands through her hair and met his eyes again.
"Well, you got back together with Mike pretty quickly after that so it couldn't have been too bad."
She didn't say anything then for a moment. "Well, I wasn't really sure what else to do. I felt like an idiot for getting caught up with you and then with the way that it ended, with what you said, Mike just felt safe. It was what I needed."
He smiled then, at the memories. "We were good together, weren't we?"
She bowed her head, her dark hair falling over her shoulders and into her face. She looked as tired and beaten down as he had ever seen her. "Yes, we were." She whispered.
He felt my heart ache in his chest.
He wasn't sure what the hell he was doing here. Mike held Ashleigh's hand, Christina stood at her elbow and Ashleigh's head was bowed and she hadn't looked at him since he had showed up. But she had called him last night and asked him to come as she buried her horse.
He was the one that had suggested the spot at the top of the hill in the pasture that Wonder had always occupied. Mike and Ian had dug the hole together and Ashleigh had designed the stone that would sit on that hill with her.
He was the first to start the walk down the hill when it was time and he was surprised to feel the slight pressure of a hand on his arm. Ashleigh's hazel eyes looked up intensely into his own. "Thank you for coming,"
He nodded and started to continue on his way.
She grabbed his arm again. "And it's okay." He looked down at her, at her honest hazel eyes. "With what happened. All that time ago. It's okay."
And he was glad. He was really glad that it was okay for her. But it wasn't okay, not at all, for him.