Paul took a deep breath, went back inside the barn to put down his work gloves, then slowly walked up to Ashley’s house. He didn’t walk right in the back door like he normally would. Instead he knocked lightly and waited. Sarah came to the door and swung it wide open.
“Well, this morning just keeps getting more and more fun,” she said, holding the door open for him to step into the kitchen. “How are you this morning Paul?”
“Can I talk with Ashley please, Sarah.” He hoped to convey by his tone of voice that he was not in the mood for her games.
“She just went upstairs and got in the shower. Would you like to go up and see her?” Sarah was obviously having fun with this. He glared at her.
“Just… tell her I stopped by. Will ya?” he turned to open the door.
“Ashley and Caleb had quite a night last night,” she drawled. Paul stopped, his hand still on the door knob. “I saw them making out on the floor in the living room in front of the fireplace.”
Paul didn’t say anything, just stood there and clenched his hand into a fist.
“I didn’t want to… disturb them, so I snuck away before they realized that I’d caught them in the act.”
“You know Sarah—” Paul turned to face her. “You can be really evil sometimes.” He turned and walked out the door, stomping back down to the barn.
* * * * * * * * *
When Ashley came downstairs from her shower twenty minutes later, her father was just coming in the back door. He looked up at her and took a deep breath before speaking.
“You might want to go out and talk with Paul,” he told her. “He’s still down in the barn, finishing up with your horses.” Ashley hadn’t missed the slight emphasis on the word ‘your’ in his statement.
“Daddy,” she whispered to him. “We really weren’t doing anything wrong, I promise.”
“I know that Ashley,” he replied. “But I don’t think Paul does.”
“I’ll go talk to him.” She slipped on her boots and coat, then grabbed a knit cap for her head because her hair was still wet from her shower.
She found Paul over by his stallion, Rex. It was obvious that Paul was through doing chores; he was just standing there brushing his horse absentmindedly.
“Hi,” Ashley whispered. He didn’t look up. His hand stopped with the brush mid-stride against the horse’s neck. “I’m really sorry, Paul.” He just stood there for another minute, not looking at her.
“Spent the night with your boyfriend, huh?”
“You know we didn’t mean to.” She came around, trying to get him to look at her. “We just fell asleep, that’s all.”
“Yeah, I know.” He finally looked up at her. “In front of the fireplace, after making out for half the night. I heard all about it from your sister.” The look in his eyes was a combination of hurt and anger.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to…”
“Didn’t mean to what?” he asked, anger clearly flowing past the hurt. “Make out with him? Or sleep with him?”
Her eyes filled with tears and they fell down her cheeks. She felt as if each word was a slap in the face.
“You know, you told me a few months ago that you didn’t want to be kissing me, and then kissing him. That you didn’t want to look like a slut. Those were your words, remember? Well, I’ve tried really hard to respect that. Apparently you didn’t have the same conversation with him. Or was that your ploy all along? Get a little space between you and me, so that you could further explore your relationship with him? You know, that really hurts! Sometimes I wish you’d just break up with me so that you would stop breaking my heart over and over!” He pushed past her and out the door to the barn, dropping the brush in the bin that hung on the side of the stable wall. She hurried after him.
“Paul, you know it’s not like that.” She pleaded with him, racing to try to keep up. “I never meant for that to happen, and I don’t want to break up with you.” He turned back to her suddenly, the anger in his eyes slipping back and forth between that and the hurt that he felt.
“What do you want Ashley?” he whispered down to her, shaking his head with a bit of disgust. “I think it’s about time you choose. It’s not fair to him, and it’s not fair to me. You need to break up with one of us.”
Paul turned around and headed up the path toward his home and left her standing there.
Ashley collapsed to her knees and sat down hard, right there in the trail. She sobbed down into her hands, crying hard. After a few minutes, her brother Greg came and crouched down next to her. She looked up at him in confusion.
“What?” she asked, a little more harshly than she meant.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked her.
“No.” She spoke the word with finality, but gently, trying to conciliate the fact that she’d just snapped at him. She let Greg help her to her feet. He put his arm around her shoulders and led her back to the house.
Ashley slipped off her coat and boots by the back door before trudging up the stairs. She fell down onto her bed and cried.