After

31 - Chris

"I'm such an idiot," Ashley whimpers as she finally finds the lobby a safe enough place to spill out her words. Yet... is anywhere safe enough anymore? She's rushing around, pacing and frantic, tugging her fingers through her hair as if to pull out all the lies and nightmares that have been clinging onto her scalp, trying to get into her brain. "I ruined everything! It's my fault! I'm so stupid!"

"Hey," I catch her by the forearms, spinning her around to face me. A purposeful, real expression sets itself in my eyes. The door to Dr. Hill's office clicks shut neatly. Of course. "Listen to me. No one could have known. That slimy asshole would twist any sentence."

I had practically told him as much.

Ashley had almost been in hysterics as I defiantly escorted her from the room, purposefully sending Dr. Hill a glare; "See you in court."

He'd smiled smugly back and it had unnerved me. No words could ever faze him. It was almost like he already knew everything that I was going to say. Every movement I was ever going to make. He'd taken a spile and tapped into my skull.

"Oh, Christopher?" He'd piped up, almost as an after thought. Timed perfectly just as I'd turned my head towards the door. What a surprise.

"What?" I'd snapped bitterly, my arm holding the door open as Ashley cowered underneath it. I had seen the need for her to escape the room, tugging at me with her eyes. But she wasn't prepared to leave without me.

"I wonder... when are you going to ask her?" He'd smiled knowingly, his eyes dropping to the ground at my feet. "It's been months, hasn't it?"

Thump. What was he on about? Thump. My heart had been heavy in my chest, uneasiness setting over it like a sheet of ice. I couldn't trust this guy's words anymore.

I don't think I ever trusted him.

And yet my gaze still fell to the same spot on the floor as his. Among the scattered photographs strewn across the floor is one almost perfectly placed to the front of my foot. My breath had hitched. There, on the photograph, was the secret I'd been storing for months, never plucking up the courage to actually go through with it. And there it was, as clear as day, plastered for the whole world to see. For Ashley to see.

A simple photograph; yet one of me walking into a jewellers. Asking for a ring. Buying one.

Putting my whole life on the line for one question.

I'd cursed under my breath, panic prickling under my skin, eyes growing wild.

Ashley had glanced at me, her eyes puffy and red. Confused. "What?" Her voice had shook.

Instinctively, I'd shoved my foot over the photograph. So she couldn't see. "Nothing," I'd wheezed, not even attempting a smile. I couldn't even meet her gaze.

She couldn't find out like this.

She'd eyed me carefully, studying my shifting movements, but, through her distraught state, couldn't find the mental strength to question me.

She barely had enough energy to limp out of the room.

Yet I had just about enough to send a sharp, meaningful glare in Dr. Hill's direction, accompanied by warning, raised eyebrows. He'd merely shrugged proudly, giving himself some kind of credit for whatever he'd just done.

And now my heart was still thumping. My eyes twitch anxiously in Ashley's direction, just in case she'd seen. Just in case I can catch a flinch of a clue to tell me that she had.

I let out a breath of relief. She's too concerned about other things. She isn't in her right mind. I know that if she was, she'd be demanding me to tell her what was in that photograph. Probably concocting some ridiculous imaginations that I was cheating on her.

That is probably the least most likely thing to happen. Even less likely than being killed by a vending machine.

"Ashley," I say suddenly, my mind snapping to attention. The receptionist beside us looks positively bored, entirely ignoring our existence. I walk forward, like walking will help me think better. "We need to call Sam."

"What?" Ashley asks suddenly, shocked out of her guilt-filled state.

"She knew something," I spin around to face her, my mind suddenly going into overdrive. "About the photographs. I don't know-"

Suddenly I'm yanking my cellphone out of my pocket and stabbing the on button.

"Excuse me," the receptionist suddenly seems to come to life. "No cell phones in the hospital."

"This isn't even the emergency ward," I mutter, shrugging her off, my eyes glued to my phone screen. Loading... loading... loading... I swear that this phone takes longer to switch on every time I do it. Impatience drives my fingers to tap against the side of my leg. I can feel Ashley pacing the floor beside me, anxiety fuelling her, her mind ticking away. The receptionists scoffs behind me and I cringe, feeling a tinge of guilt for flaring up at her. Stiffly, I send her an apologetic smile and a look that says I'll buy you a new... pen?

She sticks her nose up as if she can hear my thoughts. I flinch. Well, I thought she needed one. She was on the fast road to breaking her current one with how many times she'd clicked it.

My phone lights up, illuminating the home screen. I suck in air, clicking myself into action, once again distracted from the impatience receptionist.

"Chris?" I hear Ashley's quiet voice beside me.

"What a minute," I mutter, skimming through my contacts. Sam, Sam. Where are you?

"Chris," Ashley's voice is more urgent now, her hand tugging on my elbow. I can feel her anguish like an energy force beside me, pulling at my clothes, my skin, anything to get my attention.

"Hang on," I say as patiently as I can, breathing through my nose. There she is. Sam. I quickly stab the call button, raising the phone to my just as Ashley smacks me across the face, the phone almost flying out of my hand.

"Wha-!" I splutter and choke, almost stumbling back from the sudden shock. I can hear the receptionists smug hum as if she'd been waiting for Ashley to do that. "What the hell was that about?"

Ashley crosses her arms across her chest, her eyes shivering but unwavering from their target. "There," she nods, a tiny bit of pride breaking through her frantic worry. "That got your attention."

"Wha-" My throat almost chokes and I'm convinced that my jaw has dislocated by now from how long it's been hanging open. Instinctively, my hand reaches up to scratch the back of my neck. "I- I think I would have preferred if it was a kiss?"

Ashley blinks at me, unmoved by my joke. Instead her eyes roll over my shoulders to behind me and says, as calmly as her voice can be; "I was trying to say," she hisses. "We have company."

And there, just as I hear the distance, automated sound of This person's phone is switched off or is out of range of signal, I spin around to see a figure standing awkwardly in the doorway, an ugly bruise spreading up the side of his face.

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