I'll be honest - I wish I had somewhere else to post this. Not sure why, but putting this up at almost seems too exposed. But this is where my writing goes, for better or for worse.

Expect short chapters like this. After that, don't have expectations.

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The first time she saw Aiden naked was around the age of five or so.

When you are that age, you'll laugh about just anything. Things are silly and stupid and you'll laugh until your stomach hurts. You'll laugh until you cannot breathe.
And that's what they were doing, during what her nanny called a 'play-date' with the Dennison boy next door.
They were not friends. They had just met.
But Ashley was good with other kids - she didn't shy away and she didn't cling to her mother's leg. She was the kind of kid you could toss out into the sand-box and you wouldn't be kicking down her castle.

She just might kick down your castle, though. That's the kind of girl Ashley was at the age of five or so.

And Aiden has picked up a worm. Or told a knock-knock joke. Or snorted milk up his nose. It doesn't matter, not really, what happened and what caused the two of them to absolutely lose it on the patio outside.
But they did, gripping their sides and Ashley's eyes started to tear up - she was laughing so much that her chest almost felt tight. And Aiden's eyes were welling-up as well, fat teardrops rolling down his cheeks.

At first, she didn't notice at all. But soon enough, Ashley realized that Aiden was not laughing anymore. He was crying, his face turning red out there in the sun and his tiny hands fisted in his lap, unruly black hair a mess on top of his head.

"...Hey, what's wrong?" She asked and the boy got up, rushing away from her and into his house, leaving her sitting on that patio outside - legs crossed and brown eyes blinking.
After a moment or two, when he didn't quickly return and no adult came over to explain anything to her, Ashley took it upon herself to investigate.

That's what it felt like, too - an investigation. Her feet as quiet as possible, sneakers not making a sound on the plush carpet, and Ashley crept through these rooms and these hallways that did not belong to her.
She was a thief. She was a cat. She was a ghost.
But her cover was blown, in a sense, by the loud echo of skin on skin.
And Ashley didn't gasp.
And she didn't run away, terrified.
She trembled and she drew closer still. Because that was the kind of girl Ashley was... at least around five or so.

There, beyond the crack of a door, strong and thin hands gripped this boy she didn't really know. Those hands shook Aiden, held his arms like twigs to be broken, and the boy kept on silently crying.

"You are not a baby anymore, Aiden. I cannot believe you... And you know that Marissa is not here to take care of this and I am busy... Now, clean up. And stop that crying this instant."

Ashley notices several things at once.
The woman speaking, standing in heels so high you could fall off of them and break an arm, is Aiden's mother - the one who opened the door, the one who directed them to the patio and yard, the one who shut the glass doors on them.
She looks at Aiden's face, ruddy with sadness, and she looks at his hands as they hold onto a pair of shorts - a damp patch darkening the light blue, pointing out the boy's apparent problem.
And then Ashley notices that Aiden isn't wearing anything below his shirt anymore - no pants, no shorts, no underwear.
Nothing at all.

She's not been told much, but she knows there are differences.
Boys are not girls. Girls are not boys.
Boys tend to have better toys to play with. Girls tend to scream and yell more for fun.
But Ashley stared at Aiden, stared at something she was sure she shouldn't know about yet, and the laughter started to bubble up inside of her again. Not the kind of laughter that spoke of one day being a nervous chuckle, of wanting to know the unknown better... No, not that kind of laugh.
That's a whole other story, though.

Ashley tried to stop it, but she could not and her giggle trickled out. Aiden's eyes found her and he darted away, the sound of whatever he was doing lost on Ashley as she sprinted away. Back down that hallway and down those stairs and back out to the patio, breathless with humor and with being caught out.

When Aiden finally came back out, in new shorts of an olive green, he sat down beside Ashley as she threw tiny stones from a path out into the grass.
"You won't tell anyone... will you?"
"'Bout what?"
"About my... about my accident... you won't tell anyone, will you?"

Of course, back then, Ashley didn't understand what making such a promise would entail.
She didn't know that there would come a time where she'd have to keep so much quiet.
And she didn't know that there would come a time where she'd have so much to hide about herself as well, with only this boy beside her knowing the truth.
She didn't know that they would become each other's keeper - sometimes for the good, but sometimes for the bad.

Back then, Aiden was just a new friend and she thought he was funny.
And that was enough to ensure that she'd keep quiet about the fact that he laughed so hard that his peed in his shorts. That was enough for her to forget about a harsh mother and how she treated her son.

"Okay. I won't."
"You swear?"
"Want me to pinky-swear? 'Coz I will."
"...Okay."

And their pinkies curled around each other, held for a second, then pulled apart.

/ /

TBC