Author's Note: Hello, readers. Just a brief note for you all today. For those interested, we have a new challenge up at "Chit Chat on Author's Corner". Sign-ups for our theme song challenge run through May 14, 2011. The rules are simple. Tell us your favorite character about which to write, the character you'd like to receive a story about AND what you envision that character's theme song being. We think it'll be a lot of fun and hope to see all of you there! All our best!
Also, the second annual Profiler's Choice Awards ARE on the horizon. Please visit our forum, "Chit Chat on Author's Corner" to read the details we have released about this year's awards and offer your opinion on any changes or things you'd like to see this year. It's right around the corner!
I wrote this story to illustrate the challenge. I hope ya'll enjoy it. Song inspiration: I'm Much Too Young to Feel This Damned Old by Garth Brooks.
Much Too Young To Feel This Damn Old
"Ashley," Dave whispered, dropping his hand to her stiffened shoulder as he watched her fight tears, her eyes bright. "It's okay to grieve."
"Grieve?" Ashley laughed again, bitterly, as an incredulous look swept over her tight face. "He doesn't have a right to grief."
"But you do," Dave pointed out gently.
"Grieve what?" Ashley asked, forcing herself to look at the man responsible for her father's capture. "He was a monster. I might not have known it at the time, but he was still a murderer."
"And your father. You're allowed to grieve for that."
"No," Ashley barked, shaking her head quickly, unwilling to allow that thought to take up permanent residence in her mind. "He hasn't earned it and he sure as hell doesn't deserve it."
"You've earned it, Sweetheart," Dave countered, squeezing her fingers.
"I looked it up, you know," Ashley replied as if he hadn't spoken, barely able to feel his touch. "It's going to be painful," she whispered. "He's going to suffer. And I know," she choked, her throat suddenly closing against the emotions, "nobody deserves it more, but..."
"...but he's your father," Dave finished for her, sliding his thumb across her hand. "And you don't want to see your father suffer. That isn't a crime."
"Isn't it?" she asked weakly. "He doesn't deserve mercy, does he? Not after what he did. And you wanna know a fun fact...I don't even know what he did. I never had the guts to read his file. I've let my imagination fill in the blanks."
Watching her, Dave prayed she never did investigate her father's crimes. Not even her imagination could do justice to what that psycho had really done. "There's no point in revisiting a past you can't change, Ashley. Leave his file alone," Dave urged. "You've got enough to concentrate on right now. Do you even want to see him?"
Averting her gaze from his penetrating stare, Ashley stared up the stairs toward his office. "I...I'm not sure. After all these years, I don't know what he could possibly have to say to me."
"The profiler in you knows what he wants," Dave sighed. "Your forgiveness, your absolution..."
"It's not my forgiveness he needs," Ashley whispered, her hand gripping wildly at the edge of her desk. "And as for absolution, I don't think there is any for his crimes."
"You're probably right, but right now, I'm not concerned about him. I'm worried about you," Dave noted grimly.
"I'm fine," Ashley spoke woodenly, repeating the words she'd spoken earlier in their conversation, knowing that if she ever lost faith in that simple statement that she would truly be on her way to the land of no return.
"I'm beginning to think those two words should be banished from your vocabulary, Babe. Especially since you can't manage to say them convincingly."
"Well, here's three you can sink your teeth into," Ashley retorted hotly, her eyes flashing as she glared up at him. "Go to hell," she spat, rising abruptly from her chair.
"I've already taken my tour there, Kid," Dave returned evenly, catching her arm before she could escape. "And I didn't care for the experience. See, I was alone when I went on my little excursion there. I'm not gonna let that happen to you, too."
Inhaling deeply as their gazes clashed, she realized she was no match for him. "Why?" she asked angrily, the need to strike out at someone, anyone, overwhelming her. "Why do you even care? I'm not some good deed you can perform to absolve you of your sins, Agent Rossi. Your duty was done when you caught my father. Your obligation was fulfilled. You can let go now," she declared, her voice rising as she attempted to jerk her arm away from him. "Let me go!"
"Nope," Dave replied, his voice steely as his grip remained just as strong. "Not while you're this upset."
"I'm not my mother," Ashley whispered, stricken suddenly as waves of memories crashed against her weakening defenses. "She took the easy way out. I won't do that."
"Oh, I'd say that much is obvious," Dave agreed somberly, turning to tug her toward his office upstairs. "Every choice you've made since you grew up has proven that to anyone that looks, Ashley."
Glaring at the hand manacled to her wrist as she was forced to follow him up the staircase, she retorted, "And exactly what's that supposed to mean?"
Releasing her as he slammed the door to his office, Dave met her irate stare. "It means that you're determined to show the world that you aren't like either one of your parents. You became an FBI agent to combat your father's past. You never touch a drop of alcohol because you refuse to succumb to addiction like your mother did. You're living you whole life in an effort to not be who they were."
"The alcohol didn't kill my mother," Ashley growled, her hands slamming to her hips as she shook her head. "He did. My father! He might not have gutted her like his other victims, but it's his sins that put that bottle in her hand."
"That might be true," Dave replied as Ashley huffed loudly. "But, it's ancient history. I'm more concerned with his impact on you."
Slowly deflating as she realized that he was honestly concerned, Ashley sagged against the leather couch that was tucked against one wall of his office. "What do you want me to say?" she asked helplessly, unaccustomed to having others care about her personally. "Yes, my father has affected the choices I've made. I admit that. But can you blame me for not wanting to be a reflection of the examples I had?"
"Of course not," Dave murmured, moving to sit beside her, careful to allow her the space she still apparently needed. "But your life is your own, honey. Your family helps to shape and influence who you are, but it doesn't dictate who you're going to be. I think somewhere along the way, somebody neglected to explain that to you. You're in the driver's seat, Ashley. You make the decisions that are right for you. You've got to stop making every moment of your life an effort to atone for the sins of your parents. You can't, babe. Because their sins belonged to them. You can't pay for something that you don't own."
Releasing a shaky breath as his words seeped into her, Ashley bit her lip. "Somebody should have to pay," she whispered, her fingers digging into the edge of the leather cushion as she desperately sought for something solid in her spinning world.
"He is, Ashley," Dave murmured, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and tugging her rigid body against him. "And he will in a life beyond this one as well. But you," he whispered against her hair, "have got to let it go and be the person that you were meant to be."
"What if I don't know who that person is?" she asked with a tremble in her voice, letting herself sink against him, her mind somehow trusting that he was not going to disappear.
"You'll do what the rest of us do. Figure it out one day at a time," Dave answered gently, cupping her shoulder tighter as she tucked her head under his chin.
Nodding against his chest, she felt the defenses she'd spent years cultivating begin to crumble around her. And for the first time since childhood, she allowed herself to cry, for those that had been lost...and found.