So here I am in front of a vanity mirror, today of all days, staring and standing.
The clock is ticking down the minutes and seconds, each one more blaringly obvious than the last as my stomach churns along with them. My eyes are locked in on my own reflection as I nervously shift from foot to foot; staring at myself in the mirror before me, my loose brown curls hanging down around my shoulders. I should pin my hair up and with that thought, I do so, resulting in a messy up do of brown locks.
I breathe deeply, allowing the oxygen to fend off my anxiety before my hand reaches its way up to adjust the collar of my tailored suit. I look decent enough with my black on black suit jacket and blouse. I opt to leave the top button undone, possibly for the need to breathe later, and tuck the shirt into my suit pants. On any other day I have my reservations about tucking a shirt in; but today, I should look nice, presentable even. If only for her.
I smile as I think of her and how beautiful she'll look in her white dress, so perfect and clean. She is the epitome of a gorgeous creature and she takes my breath away more times than I can count. It's a stark contrast to my own tainted image, but that's what makes this day all the more special. She's what makes it special. No one on this ever-spinning Earth, breathing or otherwise, has deserved something more than she. This day of happiness has been a long time coming for her, and I'll be damned if it doesn't go over perfectly.
I shift my focus to my pants, tightening the black leather belt around my waist and tucking my pockets in. If I didn't know any better I would think I was attending a funeral, what with all of the black and all. But no, I know how much she likes it when I wear black; and I'd do anything to make her happy.
Looking back up into my own eyes, I breathe deeply again as I lean forward and address myself.
"You can do this Ashley. She deserves this so much."
I nod to my admission and swallow my nerves before leaning away from the vanity. I sigh once more and mutter one last time.
"You can do this."
I glance down as I clasp my Rolex watch around my wrist, a present from her on a Christmas past. She always knows exactly what I'm thinking or feeling. I guess that's part of what makes our bond so special, that and her enduring patience with all of my bullshit. She's my best friend and has always stuck by my side whether I deserved her or not. Of that, I can only shake my head and wonder why. I'll never be deserving enough of that magnitude of loyalty. Surely by now, I had given her every reason to abandon me and go about her life as though I'd only been an acquaintance; if I'd even deserved that large a supporting role in her beautiful life. No. She is what dreams are made of and I will never again forget how much of a privilege it is to live and breathe amongst the angels.
My expression falls as I think of the day that set all of this in motion. That day will forever live and reside inside of me as the single largest regret I have, if not the only one. I was scared and, being the coward I am, I stupidly let that fear control me. If only I had been courageous enough to do things differently, to be differently. I guess that's why they are called regrets. They haunt you; even in your brightest moments they sit there and weigh heavily on your mind. I should have been better.
What had started hours before as a peaceful walk to clear my head, had escalated into me going out and drinking and doing a few lines. Now, I'm no light weight, but when I drink I get unpredictable at best, add to that the cocaine and you can imagine my state when I stumbled back in the house in the early morning…
Stumbling in the house with a red head on one side and a… some other color head on the other, I laughed loudly as I tripped over the coat stand and knocked it to the ground, causing a crash to echo throughout the house as it skidded across the wall on the way down.
They giggled and clutched at my sides and helped me back up. I only shushed them with childlike enthusiasm, putting my finger to my lips and widening my cloudy eyes as much as I could.
"We have to be quiet," I yelled in a whisper, rather unquietly. "Spencer's asleep."
"But Ashy," the red head murmured into my ear. "How are we going to do what Darcie and I have in mind for you if we have to be quiet?"
I laughed cheekily as my eyes fell to her boobs. Gosh they were huge. Almost the size of your head.
"Well," I slurred through a smirk, my glossy red eyes slowly returning to hers. "I guess we'll have to go to my room and find out…"
Suddenly the room around us illuminated in an almost otherworldly light, otherworldly probably due to my drunkenness at that moment. After that, I remember hands grabbing hair and ripping the girls off me. I immediately fell to the ground as the three of us had become a tripod on the way home, requiring each other to remain upright.
"Get the fuck out of my house!"
She screamed and I winced as the volume made my head spin. I also knew that I had gotten myself into a bit of a situation and, judging by Spencer's tone and volume, I should be afraid.
I raised my head, causing it to bobble a bit as the substances still clearly had control of me, and I watched in hazy amazement as she thrust the girls out the front door, slamming it shut and turning on her heels to face me. I could see the rage in her eyes and her face had flushed with anger. She clenched her jaw and walked over to the coat rack and returned it to its upright position beside the front door.
I tried to sit up to hopefully stand up afterwards, but I only managed to spin myself around and land on my ass, staring up at her angry form as a laugh escaped my mouth. She, however, found nothing amusing as I fell back and my head hit the edge of the couch.
"Ashley? What the hell was that?" She asked with her hands on her hips as she hovered over me.
"That was…" I slurred before pausing to pull a strange plastic bag from my jacket pocket that I didn't remember having. Fingering the object, I brought it close to my eyes as I squinted to make it out.
"Is that cocaine?" She yelled out in astonishment. "Are you high?"
Hauling myself to my feet, as difficult as it was, I staggered to stand in front of her and lifted my shaky hand.
"Look Spenner," I swallowed the sticky glue-like substance in my mouth before meeting her gaze. "I only did like two lines and it wasn't even at the same time."
I'm not sure that made any sense to her, but I emphasized my point by lifting up two fingers and falling back on the couch as my balance shifted. I laughed and, once again, she didn't.
"Ashley, you just got out of rehab!"
Upon hearing nothing but silence from me as I fidgeted with the bag in my hand, she leaned over and pulled the object from my grasp before slapping me hard across the face. I knew she meant nothing by it, only to sober me up a little bit.
After shaking off the pain, I looked up again into sad blue eyes as tears formed in them. Though I was out of my mind with drugs and alcohol, I could feel my heart breaking with each tear that feel. I had never wanted to hurt her like this. When I'd entered rehab I had promised to clean myself up and here I was, breaking that promise and breaking her heart.
"I'm sorry Spencer," I said softly as I rubbed at my face, wanting so much to be sober enough to deal with this.
"You're always sorry Ash," she said sadly. "But nothing ever changes."
It was quiet for a few moments and you could almost hear a pin drop as it cut through the silence in the room.
"I'm calling Angela."
My sponsor. Nothing good could come of that, surely.
"No," I pleaded as I moved to stand up once again. It was a hard fought task, but somehow I managed to stand face to face with her. "Please don't, Spencer."
"I can't do this Ash," she sighed in exasperation. "It hurts. I mean, it's one thing to have you parade girls in and out of here when you're not touring; but I can't watch you destroy yourself like this."
"I'm fine," my weak attempt made its way through my lips as I crookedly smiled. "I don't need the drugs anymore, really."
"Says the girl who's stumbling in drunk and high at 3:30 in the morning…"
"Spencer," I yelled a bit louder than intended as I cut her off. "What do you want from me? I went to rehab and I've been clean for 6 months."
"You were only clean because you were in rehab where you couldn't get your hands on anything."
"I'm sorry that I messed up and did two measly lines tonight, but I don't understand why you're so angry. I mean… what do you want?"
"I want my best friend back."
"I'm right here," I gestured to myself and smiled.
"You're not," she sadly replied with a shake of her head as more tears formed. "Ever since you got your record deal, you've become someone else and I miss you. I know that we mutually decided to just be friends, but it's hard. Yeah, you come to visit and stay with me when you can, but it's not the same. You're not the same and I miss Ashley… and it hurts so much because I am so completely in love with her."
If the slap hadn't sobered me up completely then that confession had surely done the trick as I felt my heart begin to pound and everything in my life up to that moment had meant nothing in comparison, nothing at all. I knew that she had had feelings for me in the past, be we had broken up almost three years ago when I had started touring heavily. I was never home and we had mutually decided that we wanted different things in life; I wanted to be the rock star that I became and she wanted a simple life with kids and a family. The two futures just didn't coincide and, in the end, we both felt that our friendship was worth more than our relationship.
"What?" I asked in disbelief, not able to meet her eyes. Never in a million years did I ever think that she still felt this way for me.
"But it doesn't even matter anymore because she is not here. That sweet, caring, funny girl that stole my heart the day we met is now overshadowed by this groupie loving, drugged up rock star. And I can't watch this anymore. I just can't Ashley!"
"You're still in love with me?" I still couldn't wrap my mind around it all. It was unfathomable that this beautiful, sweet, perfect person who had been nothing but a best friend for the past few years loved me, and had been in love with me all of this time. It was shocking, to say the least, because all along I had felt the same.
"Yeah Ash," she nodded sullenly, almost defeatedly, as though loving me had broken her down and it only served to mount my own guilt. "But I hate who you've become and I hate that I can do nothing but wait for you."
"Wait for me?" I asked with reverence. "What do you mean?"
"When you entered rehab and promised me you would get clean, I thought, 'This is it… this is our second chance.' I thought that you would clean up and hold off for a while on touring and recording and focus on getting yourself right. I thought that we could try again…" She trailed off in defeat and I could physically feel my heart sink at her admission.
This amazing girl wanted to try again with me and I had done everything I could to throw that back in her face. There was no way that a person like me, someone so conceited and pathetic, could even come anywhere close to deserving that chance again. And of that, I knew in my heart.
"But what about all of the reasons we broke up? Tell me you don't still want those things," I said as my fogginess began leaving me gradually. On any given day, all it takes to sober me up is a heavy conversation with the girl who holds my heart in her hands.
"I do still want those things, Ash," she replied while taking my hands in hers. "I want to get married and have children and live in a beautiful house full of love and warmth. I want a job that I love and feel passionate about; and I want to kiss my wife goodbye in the mornings as we make our separate ways to work. I want it all Ash, and I want it with you."
I couldn't look her in the eyes. I could hardly even breathe as my eyes betrayed me and released the tears that had unknowingly formed. How was I to speak to answer that? How could I bring myself, my cruel and heartless self, to crush this beautiful dream of an even more beautiful creature? How could I tell her that I could never be that person for her? I could never be who she wanted and deserved. It just isn't in me.
"Spencer," I began with a slow shake of my head, already breaking her heart as she knew from that simple action what was to come. "Spencer I…"
"No," she halted my further words from becoming sound waves. "It's okay Ash. I know that you don't feel the same way and I shouldn't have expected that from you. I mean it has been a few years since we broke up… I should've known you weren't in love with me anymore."
She rambled on nervously as I remained silent and frozen to my spot. I could tell that her words were a defense mechanism and that she was only saying them to deflect her pain into something else, possibly embarrassment. She was embarrassed for assuming, a justified assumption, that I still loved her; and there wasn't a fiber in my body that could allow such an emotion to take hold of her like that.
"No, Spencer, it's not that. It's not that at all," my mouth suddenly spoke up to save this poor girl further embarrassment. "It's just that…" How could I put this? "I love you I do and reckon that I always will. It's just that my life, this life that I've made for myself, all of the touring and sex and drugs… It's no good for you. I'm no good for you and I don't think that I can be. You deserve so much more than all of this," and with that I gestured to myself and the bag of drugs that I was holding.
She nodded somberly as her eyes cast downward.
"I'm sorry," my whispered apology escaped me and I turned and walked out of the front door, the whole way convincing myself that I had done her justice. I had saved her from me and all of the despair that my life would have brought her.
Who knew that a few short years later I would give anything to take that back and be who she needed?
I guess that's the funny thing about life and everything in it; you never know what you have until it's gone or what you're missing until you have it. Hindsight really is 20/20. But life is too short to look back with regrets and wishes. All we can do is be thankful for what we have now. And I have the sweetest, most caring woman in my life, whether I deserve it or not.
I sit down on the small stool beside the vanity and adjust my shoes, smooth black leather accompanying my suit rather well. I take a deep breath again as I stand up fully dressed but not prepared. I'm nowhere near ready for this; and I can hear a thousand fans in four part harmony yell 'coward' at me, if I close my eyes tight enough. But it doesn't matter now, none of it matters because I'm where I need to be and I'm where she needs me to be, more importantly.
I run my shaky hands across the front of my suit jacket, nervously smoothing out the nonexistent wrinkles as I glance over towards the clock on the wall. The smaller hand ticks away the minutes as the larger hand gradually approaches the Roman numeral three, the hour that will forever seal our fate. I desperately need a glass of water right now as I feel my throat close a bit more, my dry mouth accompanying it. I know that I shouldn't be nervous. It's completely absurd really.
I shouldn't be nervous because this is what I wanted. It's all that I've ever wanted; her happiness. It's worth more to me than my very own life, a life of which I would give on a dime if it meant securing that happiness. My heart pounds in my ears as I realize how much of a hypocrite I am. I'm the epitome of a joke and I can't understand how she hasn't realized that yet; how she still wants me in her life. I'm selfish and because of that I don't deserve her.
I turn on the faucet and lean my parched mouth to meet the steady stream of water that flows down. It soothingly cools my tongue when the two meet and I fight the urge to moan audibly. Seconds pass as I allow the water to take control of my nerves, passing its way down my esophagus. The cool liquid only serves to remind me that I am a direly flawed individual.
My hand reaches again for the knob and I slowly turn the water off and stand once again, water dripping from my chin and running down the front of my jacket.
"Shit," I exclaim as I hurriedly reach for the towel dispenser, ripping one free and dabbing at the wet spot.
I've done it now. I've tainted my perfect outfit on this perfect day. I barely have time to process my clumsy mishap before there is a pounding on the bathroom door.
"Ash? Are you almost ready?" I hear my sister ask loudly through the door. "We have to leave in like ten minutes if we plan to make it on time. And you know that Spencer will have your head if you're late."
I quickly fumble with my studded cuff links before replying breathily, "Yeah Ky. Give me just one second."
I chance one more glance in the mirror to make sure that everything is in place, the water spot already fading and my heart continues to pound as I know that it is now or never. Today is my final chance to redeem myself and be there for her. This is my defining moment, my chance to be the best person that I can be. And I will be that person. I will be that person for her.
In case you were wondering, I've been clean for over a year now. I guess you could call me a success story; but I think of myself as more of a cliché than anything. I mean, it's classic. Girl loves girl. Girl does drugs and hurts girl. Girl cleans her act up. Sometimes I laugh at how predictable my life has been up to this point, but I know that Spencer is proud of me. And I guess you could say that that makes me proud of me. But on this day, I don't know how I feel. I don't know what to think. I'm scared mostly, I guess. I mean, can I really go through with it?
When I get there, will I be able to walk down that aisle and stand there with her? Do I have that kind of courage?
I shake myself of those thoughts because I have to. I have to be that person because she deserves nothing less from me. After all that I've put her through, she deserves this chance at happiness.
I shake my fears and set them aside as I open the door and emerge from the confines of the bathroom. I find my sister sitting on the small couch waiting patiently or impatiently. You never can really tell with Kyla. You would think that with us being sisters, I would be able to read her like a book. That would be the wrong assumption. I've spent so much time in the past pushing people away and only now, more recently, have I begun to let those people in, let them see the real fucked up and flawed me. The me that she loves anyway.
"Are you ready?" I ask rather nervously as I grab my keys from the glass topped table.
"I've been ready," she replies before adding with confusion. "The limo is waiting downstairs. Why are you grabbing your car keys?"
"Oh…" I look down at the keys, wondering the same thing before a thought occurs. "Um… actually I'll meet you there."
She looks at me in clear exasperation before simply stating, "Fifteen minutes Ash. You have fifteen minutes." With that, she's gone and I'm left to my nerves again.
Sighing, I exit the building and make my way to my black Aston Martin One-77. Yeah, it cost me a pretty penny but she absolutely loves it, so I guess that makes it all worth it.
Climbing in, I start the car with the click of a button and the engine fires up. I swallow the lump in my throat as I pull off towards my destination, needing room to breathe and driving my car helps quite a lot with that. I know where I'm headed and I only hope that I can make it there and then to the banquet hall in fifteen minutes. I guess I will be breaking a few traffic laws today.
Fourteen minutes and thirty-four seconds later, my car skids sideways to a stop outside of the hall and I am finally able to release the breath I had been holding the entire time I drifted around that curve. I really should have thought of a career as one of those professional stunt drivers that you see in commercials, driving those cars through obstacle courses. I could hack it.
I grab the sheet of paper, my speech that I had retrieved from my studio, stuffing into my breast pocket for later. Shutting my car off, I quickly exit and make my way through the parking lot and to the glass doors of the elegant hall, the perfect setting for a day like today. I smile as I remember how over-the-moon it had made Spencer to have booked it for the wedding. She had told me of her dreams of getting married here and I knew that I would pay any amount to get it for her.
Rushing in through the doors, I frantically search around for any sign of Kyla, finding her fidgeting nervously as she mingles with Aiden. I wish those two would get over themselves and have sex already; not because I think it would be hot or anything. Gross... But I think they would be great for one another. I know that he would treat my sister with all of the love and respect she deserves. I smile at the thought before frowning as Kyla's angry gaze meets mine. She wastes no time in hustling over to me and waving her hands in the air.
"Thank God you made it," she blurts out as she grabs my arm and pulls me down the corridor. "According to her mother, she has been asking about you non-stop." I smile as I know how nervous she must be.
Eventually we round the corner to the backstage area from where all of the wedding party is to begin their procession. I spot Madison and Chelsea and they both greet me warmly with hugs and words of encouragement, not that they really helped me at all.
Madison just gives me a knowing look before whispering in my ear discreetly, "Are you ready? Blink once for yes and twice for no." I shake my head and smile.
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be." She nods her head contemplatively as she knows exactly what I mean by that.
"Well then," she says with a smile. "You are up there at the head of the line with Aiden."
And just then I see him smile at me and wave. I momentarily wonder how he got here so fast, as Kyla and I had left him in the dust in the foyer. I smile back and walk up to stand beside him.
"You ready?" He says through his boyish smile.
"Why does everyone keep asking me that? I have to be ready," I reply with a sigh.
"Well then…" He pauses as the music begins, reaching his arm out to offer it to me. I take it awkwardly and link our arms together. "Let's go."
And with that we are walking through the doors and down the aisle, my heart pounding with every step. I glance around me and swallow as the entire Carlin family, extended relatives and all are watching me with interest; some of them having known me from the media, while others knew me before all of that. I smile as I avert my eyes to the floor in front of me, knowing that now I am a person that they can all be proud of. Better late than never.
We reach the end of the aisle and part, going in opposite directions to stand at the front of the pedestal that the Justice of the Peace is quietly waiting at. I turn and in that moment I smile as I see just how beautiful my little sister really is as she gracefully walks towards us in her lavender and black dress, arm in arm with Sean who cleans up quite nicely if you ask me. In no time at all, they part as well, my sister coming to stand by me as Sean stands next to Aiden. Chelsea and Glen arrive shortly after parting, with Glen coming to stand by Kyla and Chelsea by Sean. Moments later, Madison and Clay slowly part and flank Chelsea and Glen respectively as the music switches and the JOP takes the microphone.
"All Rise Please," he requests as the bridal march begins and my heart sinks and flutters at the same time if it is at all possible. I know she is coming and I know that she will take my breath away.
I swallow my nerves and my knees begin to shake uncompromisingly. The door again swings open revealing her as she stands there in her white dress, its straps hanging loosely off her shoulders as it flows effortlessly around her body, accentuating her gorgeous curves in all of the right places. I believe that I died a little inside as I stare at her unwavering beauty, blue eyes locking mine and holding them captive as she slowly makes her way towards me. I feel my knees still and my heart strengthen as I know in that moment that she deserves this more than words can even express. I will be strong.
She continues to make her way down the aisle as her father happily holds her arm in his. Mr. C couldn't be prouder of her if he tried and the smile on his face and tears in his eyes are the dead giveaway. I can't even begin to imagine the feeling it must be to give your only daughter away to someone who you entrust will take every measure to keep her safe. It must me be a man's greatest test.
They reach the end as Mr. C lets go of her arm and kisses her cheek, walking away after to sit next to Paula in the first row of seats. I glance at Spencer once more as her eyes glow and she smiles so beautifully at me. Giving a small smile back, I wink and nod to her. Her eyes then leave mine and avert to the woman flanking her other side, their arms clasped tightly together as they part and come to stand in front of the pedestal face to face with Spencer in front of me and Michelle in front of Aiden.
I swallow my lump with a heavy heart as I only have myself to thank for my current position in the wedding party, Maid of Honor to the love of my life. Life is ironic that way; and as I stare down at her hand as it makes it way to hold onto mine for support, I can do nothing more than smile and lift my head up, allowing her to take my hand.
I lean forward as I whisper in her ear, "I'm sorry that I'm late. My plane got in only a few hours ago."
She turns her head gradually as she glances at me over her shoulder.
"It's okay. You're here now."
And with that the JOP begins his intro to the wedding ceremony of Spencer Carlin and Michelle Denham.
I breathe deeply and slowly as the words float away and I am left to remember the day that set this whole thing in motion, the day that I gave up yet another chance with her.
It was the last week of the old me as I sat in front of the fireplace of the suite in which I was staying while in New York. I had come here to cut my latest album with a new producer, the first of many that I would make with him.
My hand rose to meet the bottle to my quivering lips. I was a wreck and had been ever since the night I had walked away from Spencer almost three years ago. Don't get me wrong, I hadn't bailed on our friendship. Not by a long shot, that still held strong. I just put the much needed space between us for her own good. She needed to move on from me, especially since I was in no way shape or form ready to be who she needed. I don't think that that person is in me.
I hear my cell phone ringing and for a moment, I grimace as the noise painfully reaches my ears and begins a throbbing at the pinnacle of my skull. Shaking off the pain groggily, I move to glance towards the offending noise. There, my phone lies on the night stand as a nameless groupie lies next to it, half naked and passed out from the pills that she brought with her. I had politely declined and decided to stick to only alcohol, tequila to be exact.
I sigh as I make my way across the cluttered room, stepping over various bottles and clothing items on the way. I retrieve my phone and sit on the edge of the bed, glancing down at the caller ID.
The name flashes up at me like a thief in the night, stealing my breath and sinking my heart. Though I speak to her on a regular basis, I never get over this feeling I get whenever she calls. It's like fear without really being scared. I know that she would never hurt me but the fear never goes away. Maybe I'm afraid of what I could do to her if given the chance.
I hesitate a moment before pressing the green talk button and steeling myself for a friendly greeting.
"Hey," I say with genuine excitement.
"Hey Ash," her voice melts my heart as she says my name. "How are you? Where are you?"
"I'm good," I reply as I cross the room to get away from my dirty habit. "In New York. What about you? How are you?"
"I'm great actually." And she is. I can hear the smile in her voice.
And then a bit of an awkward silence passes over us as I fight myself to come up with anything to say.
"You know I…"/ "I have something…" We say at the exact same moment.
I swallow as a smile meets my lips. "You go first," I say.
"Okay…" she says hesitantly. "Um… I have something to tell you. Well, ask of you. But it's completely fine if you say no and I completely understand." She's nervously rambling and I can hardly contain the giggle that escapes me. She's the cutest thing alive.
"Spencer, it's me. Okay? You can tell me anything. You know that."
I hear her chuckle nervously and she tries again. "Well… um… You remember Michelle right? Chelsea and Aiden's friend? The one who owns the art gallery downtown..."
"Yes…" I reply, already knowing where she was headed with this. They had been dating a year when she introduced me the last time that I paid her a visit on a break in my schedule. "The one you're dating."
"Well…" She paused and I could have filled in the blanks for myself. "She asked me to marry her," she whispers almost inaudibly.
I swallow the lump in my throat and my eyes close and my heart stops for a beat. I had always known that this day would come, that one day someone deserving enough would win her heart and they would get married. I had prepared myself for it since the day I walked away, but I just never thought that when it actually happened, that it would cut me this deep.
"That's great!" I force enthusiasm to lace my voice as my mouth said words that never registered.
"Ash…" she said as I could tell she saw right through my façade.
"No, Spencer. It's great. It really is. I know that I don't know her that well, but I could tell she's crazy about you and you deserve that. She's good for you and I really am happy for you."
"You don't have to be Ash, I haven't said yes yet. I told her that I needed time to think about it."
"Are you…" I paused because I had to collect my thoughts. "Are you going to say yes?"
"I don't know," she answered after a moment of quiet contemplation. "Should I?"
The ball was in my court. She was giving me every chance to give her any reason at all for her to say no. I could yell out 'No don't marry her. Marry me.' Or I could do what was right. I could let her go.
As I glanced over my shoulder and noticed the dirty girl in my bed, I knew in my heart that I would only hurt her. I would only break her heart someday. I guess either way I was, but at least this way I wasn't giving her empty promises that I would undoubtedly break. I'm the type that is better left alone to my own devices, because the moment I'm not people get hurt.
"I think…" I swallowed my tears and forced my voice to remain composed. "I think you should. I think the two of you would be very happy together."
I could faintly hear her sigh as I knew without a doubt that she had begun crying, if she hadn't been already. I knew that she was begging me for a small glimmer of hope and I had just flipped the light switch off on her.
"Well then," she said shakily once she had regained her composure. "Then, as my lifelong best friend, will you do me the honor of being my Maid of Honor?"
"Of course," I replied without hesitation. It was the least I could do for her.
And that was that. That was the moment that lead me here to this day, to stand behind her as her eyes and those of her fiancée's gazed directly into each other's, moments before they begin the rest of their lives together as one life.
I swallow my lump again as the JOP's words begin to register in my ears again.
"If anyone has just cause for why these two shouldn't be married, then speak now or forever hold your peace."
I could feel the sweat accumulate on my brow as my heart began slowly pounding its way through my chest wall. This was it; my last chance to declare my undying love for the woman who still discreetly held onto my clammy hand at that moment. I could feel her squeeze my hand gently, as if urging me to say something. Anything to stop this.
My breath caught in my throat as I stiffened, opening my mouth to speak. I could feel Spencer in front of me stiffen in anticipation as well. She could tell that I was about to say something to stop this; but as I held her hand and I glanced to the woman in front of her, nice Michelle, I knew that I had no right. I couldn't be that person, the one who is selfish enough to hurt someone so undeserving, someone so oblivious. I don't think that Spencer had ever even told Michelle about our short, intense relationship that had started in high school. Surely if she had, I would not be standing here, in the wedding party no less.
"Well then, Spencer and Michelle have decided to go with the traditional vows. So without further ado, Michelle, please repeat after me... I Michelle," the JOP began.
"I Michelle," she replied and I zoned off.
All I heard in that moment, as my eyes closed and my heart pounded, was my own voice reciting my own vow to Spencer. 'I Ashley, take thee Spencer...'
That is how it should have been, how it would have been, had I been more deserving, had I been better. Years ago, one small different action from me would have had me standing in front of Spencer, saying the words that fell from Michelle's lips at that moment. One little alteration in fate, like me becoming a doctor or something else, something clean and untainted, and I would be worthy. Yet, no, I chose to be this filth of a person; this disgusting individual who sleeps around and has done more drugs than a pharmaceutical lab rat. If only I had been what she needed sooner.
The irony is that I am now. I am clean and I haven't slept with some random girl in over a year. I haven't been who I was, doing drugs and partying. I've changed and all for the better, all because I hate myself and I wanted to be someone who deserved her time of day. I needed to be who she had wanted all along. But alas, I was too late. She was already committed to someone else, and all because I had been a coward. I had been afraid.
I have changed for her, but she doesn't even know.
But they say that all things happen for a reason. There is a reason that I am where I am and Michelle is where she is. There is a reason that Spencer is happy and I like to think that it is because of my own sacrifice. Had I been weak and given in to what I wanted, what we both wanted, who is to say that I wouldn't have broken her. That I wouldn't have damaged everything inside of her. There is a reason that I chose to walk away and that reason is showing itself right now in the smile on her face. That reason is present in the gleam in her eyes as she stares straight ahead into the eyes of her future.
I walked away so that she could have a chance at life. A life outside of drugs and addiction and girls and cheating. A life outside of one that I would surely bring to her.
"Until death do us part," Michelle finished with a smile as she held the hand that wasn't holding mine. I was still finding it hard to believe that Spencer was holding my hand, that she hadn't let go to grab the hand of the woman she loved.
The JOP then turned his attention towards Spencer as he smiled and continued, "Now Spencer, repeat after me... I Spencer."
"I Spencer," she said slowly and something inside of me shifted upon hearing those words fall from her lips.
It was as if the planets aligned and everything in the universe, all of the systems and processes of life fell into place. I suddenly became acutely aware of everything inside of me, and all from hearing her utter two simple words. Words that I wanted. A future that I wanted. One that moments ago, I had felt incapable of producing. Now it was all that I wanted to devote myself to.
It had suddenly occurred to me that all of the reasons why I had done the things I had and made the choices that I made; all of those reasons were simple. They were black and white. I love her so completely that I pushed her away to save her from me. But the thing is, if I love her this much, then there is no reason to save her from me because there is no way that I would hurt her. I would die before I ever allowed myself to do anything even remotely detrimental to her well being. I love her enough to be who she needs me to be, to give up anything she needs me to give up.
I am hers.
And I am fully prepared to dedicate my life to that. Who knew that all it would take would be two simple words from her to make me realize that I would never allow myself to hurt her?
"In sickness and in health," she continues to repeat after the JOP as I come back from my thoughts and lean forward, whispering softly in her ear.
"I love you."
I could feel her grip my hand tightly in relief as she closed her eyes and faintly smiled. I knew without a doubt in that moment, that I wasn't too late. I still had a chance. She had been waiting for this and her smile only grew more as tears fell from her eyes. I had finally given in and it was everything to her.
"Until death do us part," he finished off but she never repeated.
Instead she remained quiet as she allowed my words to sink in, the true meaning and reasoning behind them shining through. I could feel the heaviness of the audience as they gasped and waited on the edge of their seats for Spencer to say something. The tension was almost more than I could bare as I too waited for a reaction from her.
My eyes shifted up as Michelle's brows furrowed. I could tell that her heart was hammering away inside her chest like a jack hammer, terrified of what was to come. I immediately felt guilty and awful for doing this to her. She had been nothing but kind and didn't deserve this kind of recompense.
"Spencer?" She asked her bride with a shaky, unsteady voice. I could see her hands begin to shake as her eyes betrayed her. Spencer averted her gaze upward and met terrified one's as she swallowed slowly and looked on apologetically.
"Michelle, I'm so, so sorry, but I can't marry you," she said unwaveringly as she opened her eyes once more, remaining strong in the face of heartbreak. "You are an amazing person and you deserve so much. You deserve someone who will love you completely and without reservation for the rest of your life. And I hate so much to do this to you, in this moment, but I can't be that person; because the truth is..." She squeezed my hand so tight that I felt my breath catch and brought it around her stomach to hold with both hands, pulling my front flush against her, channeling my strength into her own. "I'm already that person for someone else. I'm sorry."
And with that she turned away from a stunned, heartbroken woman and pulled me down the aisle as she fled the embarrassment from all of the looks and snickers. I had no idea where we were going, but I was prepared because I was going there with her. I was ready.
We rounded the corridor of the banquet hall and as people were trailing behind us, searching for the runaway bride, I felt her turn sharply and pull me into a small dark closet, shutting the door tightly behind us.
"I'm so sorry Spencer," I blurted out without a moment's hesitation. "I am so stupid. I thought... I thought that you deserved so much better when in reality, I just needed to be better because you deserve who you love... who makes you happy... and if that's me... if that's still me then I will spend the rest of my life making you happy with everything I do."
Suddenly, lips were on mine and I was shoved forcefully against the door behind me as hands desperately clutched my face and her tongue made its way through my lips. I think I moaned loudly into the kiss and I know that she did. All I can tell you for certain is that, in that moment, with the two of us hiding from the wedding guests in a dark closet, I had kissed the girl of my dreams... the love of my life for the very first time in nearly seven years. And it left me completely and utterly changed forever.
There is no doubt in my mind that I would be better. I would be who she deserved because I love her with all that I am. I love her enough.
My hands found their way to the back of her head as I pulled her impossibly closer to me. It was earth shattering and I felt it shake me to my very core as her whole body just molded to mine perfectly and we kissed like our lives depended on it. And maybe they did. Maybe we would die if our lips went another moment without feeling this connection. We needed each other. She needed me to feel complete and I needed her because to me, she is love. There is nothing and no one else.
We breathlessly broke apart as our foreheads remained touching softly, intimately. I have no doubt what so ever that if we contained gills and hadn't needed oxygen, we would have continued kissing until the day we died. And what a sweet death it would've been.
With my hands clutching her hips, anchoring her to me, she ran her hands over the lapels of my coats and leaned in once more to give me the softest, most delicate kiss in the history of human civilization. As we pulled back apart, her lips lingered on mine barely a hair away as she suddenly broke into a satisfied smile.
"Cutting it awfully close aren't we Ash?"
"I'm so sorry... I thought that I would only hurt you, but by not being with you I was hurting you... and I love you too much to do that anymore."
"It's just that, I know what kind of a monster I can be. I know that I've done so much that I regret, and I don't want to be that person again. I know what it can do to a family."
"You're not your dad Ash," she said softly as she pulled my face to look into my eyes. "I won't let you be."
"Spencer, I've done so much..."
"So have I," she interrupted as I looked at her disbelievingly. "I cheated in my ethics class. Who does that?"
I chuckled softly as tears formed. "But what if I hurt you?"
"The fact that you're terrified that you will means that you love me enough not to."
"I don't deserve this... I don't deserve you. But I love you so much," I said urgently as I pulled her lips to mine again. "I love you."
"I love you."
"So what now?" I ask as I hear the last of the wedding guests pass down the hallway.
"Well, I'm thirty-one years old," she replied with a small smirk on her beautiful lips. "And if you ask me, I think that we have more than waited long enough to finally be together again."
I could see in her eyes where she was going with this, and I wanted nothing more.
"Spencer Carlin," I said, taking the initiative as I lowered myself to one knee. "Will you marry me?"
Tears burst from her eyes as she fell to the floor to meet me, throwing her arms around my neck and burying her face in my shoulder. My heart stilled to a peaceful, steady pace as I held this amazing woman in my arms and I knew that I would hold her for the rest of my life.
"You never had to ask."
Two and a half weeks later, we were married on a beach in Acapulco in front of our close family and friends.
And I never again went on tour.
And we do have the house and the kids and everything else that Spencer had dreamt about. Everything that she deserves.
And it is wonderful.