Misty Haze

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Chapter 1: Goodbye, My Love

The past summer was the most challenging they ever had. After spending two weeks in Port City helping her mother settle in, Ashley returned to Brook Falls to spend the remainder of the summer with her brother, her friends, and Mark.

That alone was a challenge, as Misty had basically taken over everything, included Ashley’s bedroom. The rest of her friends had remained loyal at least. Even with Misty’s constant pushing to join them. They had once been friends, for a brief period. Until it came out that Misty was only pretending to be Ashley’s friend to get close to Ashley’s father, who happened to be her father as well. Misty was so jealous that Ashley was raised by their father that she vowed to take everything away from her. This included taking away Ashley’s boyfriend Mark. Misty had even gone as far as teaming up with Becky Hicks, a girl who once succeeded in stealing Mark away, and was determined to do so again. Misty succeeded in splitting up Ashley’s parents and Ashley moved to Port City with her mother.

However, Ashley came back to spend the summer with Mark. When summer ended, she would return to Port City, and not see him again until school was over. The thought of it was just unbearable. Yet, a thought that silently lurked around the corner, approaching fast.

Unable to sleep, Ashley sat in the bedroom window and gazed up at the moon. Even with everything they have been through in the past, including Misty and Becky, this would be their biggest challenge yet. An entire year with nothing more than a daily phone call, could they make it?

They had to because Ashley couldn’t imagine life without him. There were two days left of summer vacation. Only two days before she left Brooks Falls for an entire year, leaving him behind. The timer had started and there was no way she could stop it.

Ashley sighed gazing at the stars. Then she climbed down into her bed and went fast to sleep.

The next morning the gang gathered at the Coates place for breakfast. She walked into that kitchen, up to Mark and kissed him like she’d never kissed him before.

“Oi!” Randy shouted, “Some of us are trying to eat here!” Ashley and Mark’s lips pulled apart, their eyes opened and while gazing into each other they giggled.

“Sorry,” They said together and Randy rolled his eyes.

“Yeah,” He said, “I’m sure that’s a genuine apology.” Lori stuffed a piece of toast into Randy’s mouth.

“Shut up and eat, will you!” She said. Randy took a bite of the toast and chewed as he pulled the slice out of his mouth. He swallowed and glared at Lori.

“Where’s the fire?” He asked.

“Don’t you remember?” She asked, putting her hands on her hips. “We’re going fishing and I’d like to get out there before it gets sunny or something.”

“Fishing?” Ashley asked.

“Yeah,” Carrie answered, “Don’t you remember, our annual fishing trip... we do it every year.” Ashley nodded her head.

“I remember,” She answered. “However, Mark... do you and I have to go with them this year?” Mark licked his lips and shook her head.

“Not if you don’t want to.” He said and she shook her head.

“I’d rather not, I’d like to spend some alone time with you.” She said.

“Okay, we won’t go fishing,” Mark said, taking a bite of his eggs and shrugging his shoulders.

“Thank you!” Ashley exclaimed and kissed his lips again.

“Come on,” Randy whined. “Get a damn room!” On the other end of the table, Larry sat watching them with an envy beneath his eyes. This wasn’t a new behavior for Larry. He had been jealous of Mark their entire lives and it didn’t really help matters that Larry liked Ashley more than a friend. Like Misty and Becky, Larry has schemed against them in the past, hoping to come between them. It had been his plan that helped Becky succeed briefly, last fall. However, Larry had a sudden change of heart and actually helped them stay together for a brief time. Yet, when his girlfriend Carrie had a miscarriage and he wasn’t there because he was helping them spy on Misty and Becky, Larry vowed vengeance. He’s never been the same since.

After breakfast, the others got ready to go fishing, while Ashley and Mark walked up the lawn and through the path onto the Carson property. However, they didn’t stop there, they continued their way across the yard, hopping over the snake fence that separated the Carson property and the Thomas farm. Ashley suspected that they were going to pick up Mark’s bike to go for a drive. Yet, was surprised when they walked around the garage and out back, passed the barn and to the snake fence at the very back of the Thomas property.

Now the Thomas family had a lot of livestock. From sheep, pigs and geese to cows, and horses. They owned a lot of horses. However, there was one horse among them that Mr. Thomas brought in a few years back, that had a bit of a temperament. This horse wouldn’t allow anyone near him and refused to be trained. However, despite this, Mark took a liking to this horse and surprisingly the horse bonded with him as well. Mark became the only person the horse trusted, and because of this, the only person who could get this horse to do anything. He loved this horse, maybe even more than he loved Ashley. The house was pure white, yet, because his personality was like night and day, despite his color, Mark named his horse Midnight.

They walked through the meadow and climbed up onto the snake fence and sat facing the meadow. However, there was one person other than Mark that the horse felt comfortable near and that was Ashley. If you would ask the others why this was, they would say that it was because Mark and Ashley shared a soul and that the horse could sense that each was, in fact, the same.

Ashley wasn’t sure about that, but visiting Midnight was the only thing they could do completely alone. Mark reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of sugar cubes, then he pressed his lips together and whistled.

It was a sound that Midnight knew well, and it didn’t take him long to come galloping toward them. Well, at least galloping the best that he could. Midnight was a full grown horse, back when the Thomas family got him. She and Mark had only been little children at the time. Now, Midnight was over twenty, in fact, he was pushing thirty and though Ashley dare not mention this to Mark, it was starting to show.

When the horse arrived, Mark held out his hand, offering the sugar cubes to the horse. Ashley sighed deeply.

“We can’t continue to ignore this,” Ashley said, “We’re running out of time.” Mark sighed.

“What do you want me to say?” He asked, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s not like you have anything stopping you. You can stay in Brook Falls, and finish school. You chose this.”

“Nothing stopping me?” She asked, “Mark, have you forgotten about Misty? After everything, she’s done to me and my family, her and her mother’s playing house with my father.”

“Randy got over it,” Mark said, “And you have spent an entire summer in that house, with Misty. I don’t see the problem.”

“Yeah, for you,” Ashley said, shaking her head. “I tolerated her for you.”

“Yet, you can’t for the school year?” Mark asked and laughed under his breath. “Ashley, it’s senior year. We were supposed to have our senior year together. Don’t you remember that one? Winter Formal, Spring Fling, Prom? We were supposed to graduate together, go to our graduation party together. Get married right after, do you not remember any of that? I sure do.”

“Mark,” She said, “We can still get married after high school. Nothing has changed.” Mark laughed again and shook his head.

“Maybe not for you.” He said, “My girlfriend chose to leave town, go to a strange school and spend an entire year away from me. How the hell is that supposed to make me feel?”

“You said you were okay with my decision.” She said, with surprise. He just laughed again.

“Because you’ve given me no choice. You were going to go to Port City, regardless if I accepted it or not. I’m trying to understand your choice, but I just can’t. You’re allowing Misty to win by walking away. I don’t think this is about her at all, this is about your father, you’re angry at him for what he did.” Annoyed Ashley glared at him.

“That’s not fair!” She spat, and he rolled his eyes.

“And it’s fair to me to be tied down to a girl I won’t even see for a year?” He asked. Ashley’s eyes grew wide and tears started to brim in her lids.

“Well,” She said, “I’m sorry if I’m such a burden, you don’t have to stay with me if you don’t want to.” By the time she got the words out, her tears began to flow. Making Mark regret everything he just said.

“That came out wrong, I never meant...” He started, but Ashley shook her head.

“You’re right.” She said, and Mark’s eyes popped.

“I am?” He asked, and she nodded her head.

“It’s unfair to tie you down when you can’t even be with me.” She said, “Mark, during the school year when I’m not with you, you have my permission to date, other girls.” His eyes grew wide.

“You’re serious?” He asked, “Ashley I would never.... why would you even think I’d...”

“Because, you might change your mind, and if you do I want you to know that I won’t be angry with you. So long as, when we are together, we are still us.” She said. Mark swallowed and nodded.

“I want you to know, that I’ll never be interested in anyone else.” He said, “I’m yours, I’ll always be yours and there will never be anyone else.”

“I know,” She replied, “But just in case that changes, know that I won’t be angry.” Mark pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head, before resting his chin against it.

The remainder of the days went fast and before she knew it, Ashley was in the car, heading back to Port City. Her father hadn’t said too much most of the ride, before turning to her with a smile on his face.

“I know being this far away from Mark must be hard on you. Your mother feels the same way. We’ve been talking and we really don’t see any reason why you can’t come up every weekend, it’s not like Brook Falls is that far away.” He said.

“Really, I can visit every weekend?” She asked and her father nodded.

“Yes, of course, you can. Brook Falls will always be your home.” He said.

“Have you mentioned this to anyone else, Randy even?” She asked, and her father shook his head.

“Not yet.” He said.

“Okay, I’ll come every weekend if you don’t mention it to anyone, including Randy. I’d like to surprise Mark.” She said and her father laughed.

“Okay deal,” He said, “So, see you next weekend?”

“See you next weekend.” She agreed.

It was Friday afternoon, a full week had passed and it was now the first weekend of the school year. Ashley’s mother was driving her to Brook Falls to stay with her father. It was a plan both of her parents came up with, but Ashley had chosen not to tell Mark or any of the others about this. She figured she’d surprise Mark, and figured that Mark would be delighted that they didn’t have to follow through with the deal that they made together.

When she arrived, Mark, of course, was at work that afternoon. However when Randy and the others saw her, they were surprised all right, but something was wrong. They were blubbering, and glancing at each other in a way that made her partly paranoid, and partly suspicious. She could tell that something was going on, she just wasn’t sure what had them the way they were. Yet, it was obvious that they were hiding something from her. Especially, when Misty saw her as she put her bags in their room and started to pout.

Ashley was sitting with the others on the Coates porch that evening when Mark pulled in. The moment he pulled in and saw her sitting there, Mark pulled that same face he had the night that he came into the Coates house to discover that Ashley was sitting at the table. His eyes met hers and he exhaled.

“Ash, I didn’t think you’d be back until summer.” He said, and she nodded.

“I didn’t think so either, but my parents came up with a solution. I’ll be up every weekend. So, we don’t have to go along with dating other people there is no need.” She said grinning, and Mark laughed a foolish and nervous laugh and glanced at his brother Matt as if pleading him for some kind of help. Matt shook his head and glanced at the ground. Mark did the same thing at Randy, and Randy crossed his arms behind his back, glancing all around and shuffling his feet while he whistled. Mark looked to each of their friends that night, and each displayed similar behavior. Mark rubbed the back of his neck. Laughing nervously again.

“You really should have told me.” He said, and Ashley crossed her arms and glared at him.

“Okay,” She said, her eyebrow elevated. “What’s going on?”

“Could we at least talk about this in private?” Mark asked, and Ashley shook her head.

“We can talk about it right here, right now.” She said, and Mark swallowed and nodded his head.

“Okay,” He said, “But just remember, you can’t get mad at me over this.” Ashley narrowed her eyes.

“Over what?” She asked, and Mark sighed.

“Keep in mind, you did give me permission to date when you weren’t around and I had no idea I’d be seeing you so quickly.” He said, and Ashley’s eyes narrowed even more.

“It’s only been a week, and you’re seeing someone else?” Ashley asked, “Who?”

“Yeah,” Mark said, “Um... it doesn’t matter who.” Ashley through her hands onto her hips.

“Who?” She asked again and Mark sighed.

“It’s Misty...” He admitted, “I’m...I’m seeing Misty.” Ashley glared at him.

“Misty!” She shouted, “You’re unbelievable, Mark Thomas! I don’t know what it is I ever saw in you, but it’s so gone. I...I hate you!” She shouted.

“You said you wouldn’t be mad!” He protested.

“You think I’m mad because you’re seeing another girl?” Ashley asked, “That’s not why I’m mad!”

“Then why are you mad?” He shouted.

“Why?” Ashley asked, “I’ll tell you why. First, you didn’t take very long finding a replacement, even though you claimed you’d never be interested in anyone else. Second of all the girls, you could have chosen, you choose Misty! Misty! After everything, she’s done to me! Both shows me exactly how much I truly mean to you, so go be with Misty, but keep in mind, we’re done, and you’ll never come crawling back this time because I’m tired of this. You don’t love me, Larry was right about you!” She spat and Larry smirked. Mark’s eyes darted to Larry and back to Ashley.

“Are you freaking kidding me? How can you even say that?” He shouted.

“How?”She asked. “Let’s recap here. First, you got jealous because I was friends with your brother. You nearly killed him over it. So I decided we were taking a break so that you could work that out. Next thing I know, you’re dating Becky Hicks. You broke my heart, but you didn’t even give a damn until Becky moved away. Then you lied about breaking up with Becky so that you could weasel your way back in my life. Yet, I was the fool that took you back. I was also the fool who stayed with you when I found out the truth.” She had tears in her eyes now but didn’t care. “I’m not even gone a full seven days, and you’re dating someone else, and on top of that the person who is the reason that I left town!”

“So, were you trying to trap me into a fight, giving me permission to do this?” He shouted.

“I didn’t think you’d run out the moment I was gone to find someone else!” She shouted, “And I certainly didn’t think you’d choose the person I hate the most!” With these last words, Ashley stomped off the porch, through the yard, up the path, and into her father’s house.

A short while later a knock came to the door of the bedroom she shared with Misty.

“Who is it?” She asked, and the voice on the other side sighed.

“Ash, it’s us can we come in?” Randy shouted, and Ashley shook her head.

“Is he with you?” She asked, and shortly after the response came.

“No.” The response came, and Ashley nodded.

“Come in,” she replied. The door opened and Randy entered, followed by Matt, Carrie, and Lori.

“We’re sorry,” Lori said as they came in. “We knew but we had no idea what to say.”

“Not that we agreed with either choice,” Matt added, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “But, you know Mark, can’t tell him everything.

“Maybe it’s best that I know what he’s really like now. If I’d stayed blind to it until we were married, I’m sure it would have been worse.” Ashley said, and Lori nodded.

“Possibly,” She answered, “But, I’m not so sure he hurts you intentionally.”

“My brother really does love you, Ashley.” Matt said, “He just keeps making really bonehead mistakes.”

“I know,” She said glaring at her feet. “The problem is that he’s made so many of them that I’m not sure if I will ever be able to forgive him, especially after this one.”

“Do you know what I think?” Randy said, “I think that being away from you was more unbearable than he first thought, so he clung to the first thing that reminded him of you.”

“Her biggest enemy?” Lori asked, with squinted eyes, but Randy shook his head.

“Not exactly,” He said, “Even with everything she’s done, Misty is our sister. She looks a lot like Ashley in many ways.” Ashley shook her head.

“Even if that is the reason why he’s done this.” She said, “It’s no excuse, he knew how I felt about her and even still he chose her. It’s betrayal, my one true love betrayed me, there is no coming back from that. I hate to break it to you guys but, I can’t see Mark and me working this out.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” Carrie said, “You two always work it out.” Ashley shook her head.

“Not this time,” she said. “It feels different this time. Mark and I are over, and there’s no going back this time.” Ashley knew as she said these words how true they were. Yet, there was still a part of her deep down that wished for one more chance. She still loved him, she would always love him and nothing would ever change that.

“How does it feel different this time?” Lori asked.

“Well, because I’m disappointed in him, maybe even a bit angry with him. Yet, not so much to avoid him. It’s like we aren’t together anymore, and I don’t even care. There’s no reason to avoid him at all.”

That’s how she knew they were finished this time. Usually when she got mad at him like this, avoiding him was part of her hiding her feelings. That urge was gone, telling her it was time to move on.

Saturday morning, Ashley threw on a pair of her blue jeans, ripped on both knees a black AC/DC shirt and pulled a long-sleeved plaid shirt over top. She pulled on her boots, tied them and headed downstairs where she grabbed some breakfast and sat down at the table to eat.

Randy was talking to their father about the fall fair, when Mark came to the door, looking for Misty. Todd Carson cleared his throat and Randy nodded. The two got up, leaving the room now she was left alone with him for the first time since she found out about Mark and Misty. After a moment of silence, Mark sighed.

“Penny for your thoughts?” He asked, and Ashley sighed.

“Not like it matters.” She said, and Mark rolled his eyes.

“So that’s just it then, we aren’t even going to talk about this?” He asked.

“Need I remind you that you didn’t even come here for me,” She said, “And yet you expect to be able to talk about it?” Mark rolled his eyes again.

“So that’s just it?” He asked, “You’re mad so we’re never going to talk about it? Never going to work this out? We’ve been friends for years, are you really going to end all of that because of this?”

“We have been friends for years Mark, and that will never change.” She said, “We’ll always be friends, but as for us ever being anything more than that, it’s over. That will never happen again, I’m so over that, it’s time to move on and realize that you and I aren’t meant to be together.” Mark shook his head.

“You know damn well that isn’t true.” He said, “I love you Ashley, and I know you love me. We are meant to be together, you know that.” Ashley laughed and shook her head.

“No, Mark.” She said shaking her head. “We’re not if we were meant to be together you wouldn’t have hooked up with the sister I can’t stand as soon as I left Brook Falls.”

“She means nothing to me,” He said, “I’ll have you know that I came here today to let her know I made a huge mistake and that I can’t be with her.”

“Don’t bother,” Ashley said, “Just stay with her, it’s too late for us Mark, you made your choice. If you leave her now, you will be alone.”

“What can I do to fix this?” He demanded, and Ashley shook her head.

“You can’t fix this Mark, it’s over for us. Move on.” She replied.

“That’s not fair, you told me I could.” He said, and she glared at him.

“It’s not the fact you decided to date someone else,” She said, “It’s the fact that you didn’t even wait a full week and even more than that, it’s who you choose to date.” Before Mark could respond, Mrs. Harvey came through the front door, she was pulling a screaming Moe through, who was dragging his Woody doll by its string. Mrs. Harvey glanced at Ashley and sighed with relief, just as Misty came down the stairs.

“Thank goodness you’re still here! I need you to take Moe for the night, my sister is in the hospital I must go to Port City at once.” She said, and Misty rolled her eyes.

“Not my problem,” She spat, “I’m not watching the little brat.” Mrs. Harvey clenched her teeth and pursed her lips.

“Fine, where is your mother?” She asked, and Misty laughed.

“I don’t know you old bag, do you think I keep tabs on her every minute of the day?” She groaned and Ashley shook her head.

“She’s in Charleston, she won’t be back until later today,” Ashley said, Mrs. Harvey placed a hand on the side of her face.

“Oh my,” She said, “What on earth am I to do. My sisters not well, she might not make it through the night, and I can’t very well take him with me.” Ashley glanced at Moe and sighed.

“I’ll watch him until she gets back.” She offered, and Mark elevated an eyebrow.

“Oh, would you dear.” Mrs. Harvey asked, “I’d be ever so grateful.” Ashley nodded her head.

“It wouldn’t be a problem,” She replied, “In fact, I’d be happy to do it.” Mrs. Harvey nodded, passed Ashley Moe’s bag and bent down to Moe’s level.

“Now, I want you on your best behavior for Ashley.” Mrs. Harvey said sternly. Moe said nothing swung back his arm holding Woody and clunked her on top of the head with it. Mrs. Harvey blinked twice, thanked Ashley again and walked out.

Misty smirked and shook her head.

“You’ve just created your own nightmare.” She replied, and then glanced at Mark. “Come on, Becky and Kyle are waiting.”

“We can’t just leave her on her own with him,” Mark said pointing to Moe.

“She offered to watch the booger, it’s her problem,” Misty said.

“He’s your cousin.” Mark proclaimed, but Misty laughed.

“So,” She spat, “Are you coming or not?” Mark shook his head.

“I’m going to stay here and help her. She’s not going to be able to handle this on her own.” He said.

“Gah! Are you kidding me?” Misty asked, glaring at Ashley. “Fine, do what you want, I don’t care, but I’m going out!” With these words, Misty stormed out of the house and slammed the door behind her. Ashley glanced at Mark and shook her head.

“You didn’t have to stay.” She informed him, “I would have been just fine on my own.” Mark rolled his eyes.

“Have you met Moe Harvey?” He asked, “You’d be anything but fine. Besides, it was kind of you to help Mrs. Harvey out. You’re only here on the weekends, and you gave up your entire Saturday to help her out.”

“Yeah, well she seemed desperate, and it’s not like Misty has a heart or anything. But still, you didn’t have to throw away a Saturday with your girlfriend to help me.” She said, choking on the word girlfriend as it came out.

“I really don’t mind,” Mark said.

“Mark sucks!” Moe screamed and he brought back his foot and booted Mark hard in the leg.

“Moe that wasn’t nice!” Ashley shouted and Moe glared at her.

“Shut up you old coot! I don’t have to listen to you!” Moe shouted, putting both hands up to the side of his face, he stuck out his tongue and took off. Mark glanced at Ashley.

“Charming kid, you so could have handled him on your own.” He said as they took off after Moe.

The hunt took about twenty minutes, and in that time, Moe upset the clean laundry, knocked over a plant, plowed the phone off the table and destroyed all three bedrooms upstairs. When they found him, Mark seized him by the scruff of the neck, and drug him into the living room and planted him on the couch. Moe was calling him every name in the book, and Ashley hid her laughter well, feeling some of it actually fit during current circumstances. Mark just looked at Moe with the sternest face Ashley had ever seen him make.

“Keep it up, and you’ll be taking a bath.” He said, and Moe just glared at him for once unable to know what to say. Ashley glanced at Mark.

“If we keep him inside, he’s just going to continue to act up.” She said. Mark actually agreed and so, they took Moe out in the yard. The others were standing in a circle, around a bike that Ashley’s father had bought for Randy. Mark and Ashley joined them, and Moe stood in between them. Mark was in the middle of telling Randy what all would need to be done to get the bike running, as Moe began swinging between Mark and Ashley using their hands as rope. Lori found this funny, and as she chuckled to herself she glanced into Ashley’s eyes.

“You two look like parents.” She said.

“If they were my parents,” Moe said, “I’d run away. Mark is a mean bastard.” Mark glared at Moe with his eyes wide.

“I’m a what?” He asked, his eyes popping.

“You’re a mean bastard,” Moe repeated with a smirk across his face, and Mark nodded.

“That’s what I thought you said,” Mark replied, shaking his head. “And I warned you, didn’t I?” Before Moe could answer, Mark, picked him up body and bones. He carried him across the yard, kicking and screaming. Mark ignored these attempts and as he reached the rain barrel, he dropped Moe inside. The barrel was tall enough that Moe couldn’t climb out of it on his own, and yet the water was only deep enough to be up to his chin. Startled, Moe began to wail.

“Let me out!” He screamed. Mark laughed, shaking his head.

“Not until I hear an apology,” Mark replied, and Moe screamed again.

“Let me out you bastard!” He shouted, and Mark shook his head again.

“That’s far from an apology!” Mark told Moe, who continued to scream. Ashley and the others were laughing so hard they were holding their guts.

“I said, let me out, now!” Moe shouted, and Mark was laughing now himself.

“That’s still not what I’m looking for,” Mark replied.

“Please, let me out!” He shouted, and Mark laughed again.

“Still not what I’m looking for,” Mark said and Moe sighed.

“Mark,” Moe said, “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.” Mark nodded, grabbed onto Moe and lifted him down to his feet. The boy was soaking wet but still managed to bring back his foot, kick Mark in the shin, laugh hysterically and take off. Mark shook his head while laughing in disbelief.

“That boy,” He said, “Is going to be a boatload of trouble before he’s even twenty.”

Thankfully, not long after this Amanda returned home, and took the burden of Moe off their shoulders. Yet, he was still hanging around annoying them, so they left the Carson property and went inside Larry’s shed for some peace and quiet. Ashley looked at Mark, with squinted eyes.

“Shouldn’t you go meet up with your girlfriend now?” She asked, still unable to say this word without choking on it. Mark shrugged his shoulders.

“I’d rather stay here.” He replied, and Ashley knew that Mark still hadn’t given up hope of fixing the problem. She also knew that once he finally realized that wasn’t going to happen things were going to get messy. Yet, she knew that this was the best way for things to be between them. Especially, with her now living in Port City.

They listened to music that afternoon and talked mostly about school. Yet, Mark was quiet at these times and Ashley’s eyes kept meeting his before he’d look away. She bumped him with his arm and smiled as best as she could.

“Cheer up,” She told him, “It’s not the end of the world you know.”

“Sure feels like it.” He replied, and Ashley shrugged her shoulders.

“Look around, nothing has really changed.” She told him, but he shook his head.

“Everything has changed.” He answered. “We aren’t us anymore Ash, to me that’s the only thing that matters.”

“We’ll always be us,” Ashley said, “Even if we aren’t together.”

“Not the same.” He sighed, and Ashley shook her head.

“I’m sorry, you feel that way.” She replied, and she knew what he meant, she could feel it too. Yet, she couldn’t let him know that because this time was forever.

That night, they had a bonfire, and it was pretty much the same as all the others they’ve had over the years. The only difference was that Mark and Ashley weren’t together, and it was something everyone knew but no one dares mention. They were all just happy that with this breakup, there was no divide. Everyone sat in their usual places, even Mark and Ashley. Mark even had his head in Ashley’s lap as she played with his hair. They were laughing about old times and were having a great time when Randy bent down and discovered that Moe’s Woody was under his seat. He picked it up and began swinging it by the cord.

There’s a snake in my boot

“How’s school in Port City?” Larry asked, and Ashley shrugged.

“Different.” She replied.

Someone’s poisoned the waterhole

“Different how?” Lori asked and Ashley shrugged her shoulders.

“I guess everyone’s more grown up there.” She replied, and Carrie shook her head.

“My father’s been considering accepting a new job there. I’m getting a bit worried.” She said.

“It’s not that bad.” Ashley said, “Just things move faster in the city.”

Reach for the sky

“Are there cute boys there?” Lori asked, and Ashley blushed.

“I haven’t really looked.” She admitted.

“Why not?” Carrie asked.

There’s a snake in my boot

Ashley glanced down at Mark and swallowed.

“I hadn’t really looked.” She said and Lori shook her head.

“Well, now you can look properly.” She said and Ashley nodded.

“Yeah, I suppose I could.” She replied.

Someone’s poisoned the waterhole

Mark glared at Randy, as Lori shrugged her shoulders.

“So, you haven’t noticed anyone, worthy enough to consider cute?” She asked.

“Yeah,” Carrie said, “There has to be someone.”

Reach for the sky

“Well,” Ashley said, “There is this one boy who has continued to make his existence known.” She was giggling now.

“How so?” Lori asked, her eyes popped.

There’s a snake in my boot

“Well,” Ashley said, “He keeps annoying me and he asked me out a few times, but I had to deny him.”

“Is he cute?” Lori asked, and Carrie nodded.

“Yeah, is he cute?” She asked.

Someone’s poisoned the waterhole

“Yeah,” Ashley said, “I wouldn’t say he’s bad. He’s got this blond hair and electric blue eyes to die for.”

“So you like him?” Lori asked.

“Yeah,” Ashley said, “I’ll admit that I do.”

Reach for the sky

It was never clear what set him off, the conversation, the woody doll or the combination of both. The only thing that was clear was that at this very moment, Mark jumped up from his laying position, marched over to Randy and yanked the doll out of his hands and in the next second flung the doll into the fire barrel. Randy’s mouth plummeted and he jumped to his feet and glared into the dancing orange flames.

“Ma...Ma...Ma.....” He started to stumble, then looked to everyone else. “He burnt me freaking Woody!”

“Yeah,” Mark said, “I did, what are you going to do about it?” Randy reached over and grabbed onto the large stick they’d been using for the fire, pointing it at Mark like a lightsaber.

“I’m going to C-3PO your arse!” Randy shouted, and Larry facepalmed.

C-3PO doesn’t use a lightsaber! You’d have better luck saying Yoda.” He said and Randy glared at him and shook his head.

“Is C-3PO from Star Wars?” He asked, and Larry nodded.

“Well, yeah,” Larry said, “Of course he is.” Randy nodded his head.

“Okay,” He replied, “So, couldn’t you just give me the credit for knowing that and be done with it?”

During this conversation, that had Randy distracted, Mark managed to get the stick from Randy and began chasing him around the fire while probing him with the stick.

“Yahhooo!” Randy would yell every time the stick touched him. Matt began to crack up.

“By golly, I think he likes it.” He said as Larry shook his head.

“I always knew he was a little too fruity,” Larry said, and Randy stopped, glared at Larry and began tsking.

“Only on the weekends, Larry.” He said, “Only on the weekends.” Mark stopped and put his arm around Randy’s shoulders and grinned.

“And only for me.” He replied, with a wink.

Even with everything that had taken place that weekend, Ashley considered her last night there that weekend, one of the best times she ever had. As she sat there, laughing with her friends she knew that no matter what happened, somethings would never change, and this would be one of them.

By October, the leaves were changing color and there was a cool breeze constantly. Ashley had maintained every visit, and each was more comfortable than the last. It looked as if Mark was finally starting to accept that they might never get back what they had, and he seemed as okay with that as she was.

This weekend, was different than those before it because it was the weekend of the fair. So much time had passed since the last visit when uncle Jesse had put make-up on Andrew, that Mandy and Cassie returned for a visit. That Friday afternoon, they stood around talking, with Ashley, Lori, and Carrie. Matt, Larry, and Randy were tinkering with Randy’s bike. Mark was off somewhere with Misty. The girls were shocked to learn that Ashley and Mark had broken up.

“Honestly, I thought you two would stay together forever,” Cassie said.

“What happened?” Mandy asked. Ashley filled them in on all that had happened right down to Mark’s last choice that made her decide it was over in the first place.

“Men,” Mandy said, nodding her head. “They never seem to understand anything we tell them.”

“They also always seem to run with dingbats like this Misty. I get we are related and all, but we don’t have to like her, do we?” She asked, and Ashley shook her head.

“I definitely don’t like her.” She replied, just as Mark’s bike pulled into the yard. Lori rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Speaking of which.” She said. Mark and Misty climbed down off the bike and walked towards them. Mark’s eye’s met Ashley’s and he stuck out his tongue.

“What’s that?” He said, and Ashley pulled a face.

“What’s what?” She asked.

“I’m not sure,” Mark said, reaching next to her ear. “You have something right here.” Mark pulled a daisy out, palm up and smirked. Ashley rolled her eyes and slapped the daisy out of his hand as Misty sat glaring at them with a bitter hatred. “Hey now, what did the daisy ever do to you.”

“Nothing,” She replied, “Just the person giving it.”

“That daisy could come in handy you know.” He said, and Ashley rolled her eyes again.

“Really?” She asked, “How so?”

“Well,” Mark said, reaching down and picking up the flower. “It could tell you if someone might have feelings for you.” He plucked away a petal. “She love’s me,” He plucked away another, “She loves me not.” He made his way around the flower, repeating the two phrases until he got to the last petal. He plucked it away. “She loves me not.” Mark glared at the empty flower, and shrugged his shoulders, tossing it to the ground. “I guess it’s faulty.”

“Mark!” Misty hissed from the front door. “You coming or not?”

“I’d rather not,” Mark answered, and Misty rumbled until she slammed the door.

“Charming girlfriend, Mark,” Mandy said, and Mark sort of rolled his eyes.

“So everyone knows?” He asked, and Lori nodded.

“Pretty much.” She said, “What did you expect?”

“Well, just so you all know,” Mark said and he looked directly at Ashley when he said it. “I’d rather not even be with her. She’s annoying if you can’t tell. I’d rather be with someone much different.” Ashley glared at him and shook her head.

“It’s too late for regrets, Mark.” She said, and he nodded.

“I know that,” He said swallowing. “I was just letting you know the options there.”

“Yeah,” Ashley said, “I know it is, the problem is it always comes with disappointment.” Mark pulled a face and walked away to join the boys.

“Have you really stopped loving him?” Carrie asked, and Ashley sighed and shook her head.

“Are you kidding?” She asked. “I’ll love him for the rest of my life.”

That evening just before dark, Ashley sat beneath the apple trees and started to write in her journal. Mark saw this and made his way over to where she sat.

“Penny for your thoughts?” He asked. She sighed, shook her head and closed the journal.

“It doesn’t even matter,” She said, and Mark shook his head.

“For as long as I can remember, you will never let me read what you write in that thing. How do I know it doesn’t matter.” He said and she sighed.

“Slick words aren’t going to get us through this,” She said, “Not this time.”

“I wasn’t even trying.” He replied, elevating an eyebrow.

“You never do,” She replied and glanced up to the purple sky. “It’s better this way, okay.” Mark shook his head.

“It’s not okay,” He said, “I really don’t understand why it has to be this way.”

“It just does,” She said, and he sighed.

“Ash,” He said, “It’s always been us, even when we weren’t us, we were you know, us. Things are much harder now, more than it’s ever been but we could get through it if you’d try.”

“What’s the point in trying?” She asked, “My parents tried, look at them.”

“So that’s what this is about?” He asked you’re pushing me away?” She shook her head and pinched her eyes shut.

“Not exactly,” She said, “We had problems for a long time, we both know it. Even when we were together ever free moment we had. Now,” She sighed and shook her head, “Now, things have changed, we can’t be together every free moment we have, how can we survive our problems if that can’t happen.” He stepped closer to her and sighed.

“It’s still early in the year,” He said, “You could move back and..” Ashley shook her head and glanced into his eyes.

“My life is in Port City now, I like my school, I have friends there, I have a...” She started, and Mark narrowed his eyes.

“You have a what?” He asked. Ashley swallowed and looked at the ground.

“A boyfriend,” She answered, “I started seeing someone about two weeks ago.” Mark’s eyes popped and his mouth dropped. Never in their history before had this ever happened, he clamped his jaw and swallowed.

“Oh,” He replied, “I see. Does he at least treat you well?” She shook her head and glared at him.

“I’m not getting into this with you.” She replied, and Mark nodded.

“I’d probably rather not know.” He answered, and she nodded.

“Probably not.” She agreed.

“Hey, did I tell you I got a new job?” He asked, and she shook her head.

“No, you didn’t.” She replied.

“I got a job with a roofing company, and there’s a big project next week.” He said, “I’m going to miss some school.”

“Oh where?” She asked, and he swallowed.

“Port City High,” He replied, “I guess we’ll be seeing a lot of each other this week. I might even get to meet that boyfriend of yours.” Ashley smiled, not wanting that to happen at all.

“Maybe,” She replied.

Saturday morning the fair was canceled due to some light rain. Everyone was disappointed until, Mark’s father gathered up a few horses, hooked them up to the covered wagon and took the lot of them out the back roads for a ride. Ashley sat near the front of the wagon, with Carrie, Lori, Mandy, and Cassie. Larry and Randy stood up at the back with Mark and Misty. Becky Hicks near a wall. Matt wasn’t on the wagon, he was driving his bike close to the back.

If you’ve never been on a horse and wagon, they go rather slow most times. The only places to sit is in bails of hay. Ashley was surprised that Becky sat in the hay, like the rest of them. Not as surprised as she had been that Becky still seemed to be friends with Misty, even though Misty was now dating Mark. Ashley figured that once she’d been out of the picture, Becky would do whatever it took to steal Mark from Misty, but so far she’d been wrong.

Ashley sat watching Misty laughing at the back of the wagon, showing off because she was standing up with the boys. She was acting a fool, holding the rope and leaning way out off the edge. She did it enough to annoy Mark who had already yelled at her a few times for this behavior.

“You’re gonna end up getting hurt,” Mark would shout. “Would you sit down!” This of course only made Misty laugh and do it all the more because she had Mark’s full attention, negative or not. She continued this behavior until she actually did topple out of the wagon, onto the ground and nearly got run over by Matt’s bike. Matt stopped and picked her up of course, but now she was no longer on the wagon with any of them. Becky went to join the boys, but Mark yelled at her.

“No,” Mark said, “Last thing we need is both of you falling off the wagon. Mandy nudged Ashley.

“Go join them.” She coaxed, Ashley, smirked, and stood up, walking to the back of the wagon. Becky watching curiously as Ashley moved in between Randy and Mark who even moved over to make room. Ashley looked back at the bike and smirked as Mark placed his arm around her back and put his hand on the rope between Ashley and Randy to keep her from falling. Becky’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“Are you kidding me?” She asked, “What if she falls?”

“She won’t.” Mark replied, “I’ll make sure of it.” Ashley smirked again as she gazed at a bitter looking Becky who crossed her arms and pouted the rest of the way.

They stopped at an old camp about an hour passed the lake road. It was just a small little cabin, that looked out onto the lake, from a private dock. Everyone climbed out of the wagon to stretch their legs. Having been here many times growing up, Ashley walked around the corner of the cabin, down the dock and sat down. She hadn’t heard anyone follow her but a few minutes later, he stood behind her.

“Penny for your thoughts?” He asked, and not saying anything she shrugged her shoulders. Not wanting to tell him what was on her mind, because she was terrified where that might lead. He sighed and sat down beside her.

“How come you’re not with your girlfriend?” She asked, and now it was his turn to not say anything and just shrug his shoulders. After a few minutes of silence, he spoke.

“She just,” He started, “Gets on my nerves sometimes you know.”

“She not what you expected?” Ashley asked, and Mark shrugged again.

“No, she’s what I expected,” He answered, “She’ just not,” He broke off here and Ashley noticed him swallow. “Well, she’s just not my type.”

“And I was?” She asked, and he glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes.

“You still are.” He said, and Ashley laughed and shook her head.

“Come on Mark,” She said, “She looks just like me, everyone thinks so.”

“I never said she wasn’t beautiful,” He answered, “Just not my type. I never fell in love with you because you were beautiful. There was so much more to it than that. It’s why Misty doesn’t measure up, and why Becky never could.”

“And yet, you still managed to throw it all away and choose them.” She said, and tears filled his eyes.

“If I could go back and change what I’ve done, to get you back, I would.” He said, “But you’ve moved on this time, you’ve made it clear that you and I will never be together again. What else am I supposed to do here? Fight for you? Become Larry and plot against you? Tell me what to do to get you back.”

“You can’t Mark, I’m with Jordan now,” She said, “I love Jordan now.” Yet, she sounded like she had forced those last words out as if she was trying to convince more than him of this.

“You don’t love me anymore?” He asked, with his eyes full of tears.

“No,” She lied. He was looking at her with pleading eyes.

“Prove it then.” He said to her.

“Prove it how?” She asked, “You’ll just have to believe me that...” But she couldn’t finish what she was about to say as suddenly his lips were on hers and he was kissing her as he kissed her many times before, and she was kissing him back. More deeply and passionately then she’d ever kissed him before. Betrayed by her own lips. Mr. Thomas called to everyone and their lips broke apart, Mark opened his eyes slowly.

“Whoa, that was intense for someone who doesn’t love me anymore.” He said and Ashley rolled her eyes.

“You took me by surprise.” She said, “It doesn’t count.” Standing up and making her way back to the others.

“It doesn’t count when it’s a quick peck for your grandma,” He said, “That had felt like you still love me.” He too stood up and walked close behind her.

“You imagined it.” She said, but he seized her by the wrist, pulled her back around and his lips landed on hers again. Her eyes immediately closed and her other hand wrapped the back of his head, her fingers tangled in his hair and pulled him closer as their lips danced together again. They pulled apart, out of breath and as her eyes slowly opened they made full contact with his.

“You were saying?” He asked, still only a millimeter away from her. His father shouted again and unable to answer him, she pulled away and ran around the corner of the cabin to the wagon. Mark sighed and followed close behind.

That Monday morning, Ashley went to school feeling more confused than she had ever been before. She hadn’t told a soul in Brook Falls about Mark kissing her. It was something she felt had to be kept to herself. For one Mark was dating Misty, and Ashley was with Jordan. Yet, mainly she didn’t want their friends thinking that it meant there was a possibility Mark and Ashley would get back together. She was still upset with him for his latest choices, and he did keep making a lot of mistakes. The problem was that she also knew that Mark wasn’t in Brook Falls this week, he was actually working on her school’s roof. Could she get through an entire day without seeing him?

She arrived at her locker, to find her friend Jessica standing to wait for her with Jordan. When Ashley walked up, Jordan kissed her but it wasn’t the same as when Mark had kissed her, and this bothered Ashley.

“You have a good weekend with your dad?” Jordan asked, and Ashley nodded.

“It was alright.” She said.

“I bet you would have had a better time if I went with you. Your dad did say I could.” He said.

“Honestly, it’s a small town, not much to do. I doubt you’d like it.” Ashley replied. Jordan pulled a face.

“You sure?” He asked, “Cause honestly babe, it sounds like you don’t want me to come.”

“I’m sure you won’t but, I don’t know maybe next time.” She replied, just then a guy shouted to Jordan.

“I gotta go, babe, see you at the break,” Jordan said, kissing her again. When he was gone, Jessica glanced at her and narrowed her eyes.

“Okay girl, what’s up. I know that look something big happened in Brook Falls now spill.” She said and Ashley sighed.

“Mark kissed me,” She said, “Twice. Once right after the other.” Jessica’s eyes popped.

“Mark as in, your one and only first love, first boyfriend, dumped you for another girl, that Mark?” She asked, and Ashley nodded.

“Yeah,” She said, “And, I think I liked it.”

“What do you mean you think?” Jessica asked, “Girl you either liked it or you didn’t like it. Did you feel something when he kissed you?”

“Yes,” Ashley replied.

“And do you feel that when you kiss Jordan?” Jessica asked Ashley pulled a face.

“I don’t.” She admitted.

“Oh girl,” Jessica said, “You in so much trouble!”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” Ashley answered, “And that ain’t even the worst of it.” Jessica narrowed her eyes.

“There’s more?” She asked.

“Mark’s here,” Ashley said, and Jessica’s mouth dropped.

“Get out of town!” She said glancing around the hall, suspiciously. “Where is this total beefcake country boy at?”

“Outside somewhere,” Ashley said, grabbing her books out of her locker. “He’s working on the roof. He will be here all week.”

“Girl,” Jessica said, “How are you going to keep Jordan from finding out your ex is here and more than that how are you gonna keep your ex from spilling to Jordan that you two were smooching this weekend?”

“I have no idea,” Ashley said, shaking her head as she walked toward the classroom.

“Oh girl,” Jessica said chasing behind. “I have your back, girl... don’t you worry!”

Ashley walked into class and took her seat, Jessica came in and sat behind her. The teacher opened the blinds, and to Ashley’s horror equipment was set up on the roof outside, but no one was there yet. It was English Class, and the teacher instructed that they read Hamlet, Act 1 Scene Three, then fill out an answer sheet provided. Ashley opened her book and got to work, but not even twenty minutes later and some girl’s in the class were giggling. Ashley turned around, and the giggling stopped. She glanced out the window and could see a few guys working, but their backs were turned and she couldn’t tell who they might be. Ashley turned back to her book and started to read some more. A few minutes later and the giggling started again. Miss Jackson became annoyed, she looked up from her desk and glared at the giggling girls.

“What’s so funny?” She asked.

“There’s this really cute worker outside, who keeps peaking in the window and staring at Ashley. He’s doing it now.” They said and Ashley turned to find Mark peering in the window. Her mouth dropped and she turned away. Miss Jackson marched over to the window, seized both blinds with each hand, glared at Mark and thrust them closed. Jessica started laughing hysterically.

“Ain’t that considered stalking?” She whispered. Ashley ignored her, confused about what to do. She wasn’t pleased with this latest mistake of his, but it was still Mark. That same little boy she went frog catching with, and dug for salamanders in the yard with. The same boy that she told everyone she was going to marry someday.

They had it all planned out too, a little white house, a family, white picket fence and a dog. It was supposed to happen after graduation. They’d get engaged, tell their families and have the wedding over the summer. It wasn’t as if no one in Brook Falls weren’t expecting it.

Now that was all changing, and was Mark, right? Was she using what happened with her own parents to push him away? She was angry with him sure, disappointed in him even, but she knew deep down she still loved him, still wanted him. When he kissed her, the way she kissed him back was proof of that.

She’d let this get way out of hand, and now, Mark was with Misty, she was with Jordan and everything was a jumbled mess. Yet, they both loved each other, they knew that. So maybe things wouldn’t be so bad, maybe they’d find their way back to each other somehow.

By this time, Ashley was standing at her locker again, it was lunch time, she couldn’t believe how much time she burned thinking about things. She needed to see him, needed to talk to him. It was the only way she could clear her head and figure it all out. It wasn’t as if anyone else knew what had happened. She slammed her locker shut and headed outside.

She’d just gotten to the doors when Jordan and Jessica found her flank. She sighed as they walked out into the bright fall sun together.

They weren’t outside long when the roofer in the dark mirrored sunglasses and backward cap came running up to them.

“Ash, I was worried our lunch times wouldn’t cross over.” Jordan squinted his eyes, wrinkling his nose.

“Who the hell are you?” He asked, and Mark looked him over with disgust.

“I’m thinking the same about you.” He replied and Jordan balled his hands into fists, Ashley noticed. She knew instinctively what was about to happen. Jordan would take a swing at Mark, Mark would beat him to the ground like every time with Larry and Jordan’s ego would be bruised.

“Jordan,” Ashley hissed, “He’s a friend of mine from Brook Falls.” Jordan relaxed his fists but examined this friend with keen interest.

“Oh,” He simply said.

“Quite handsome, I’d say,” Jessica said, giving Ashley a wink. “Rawr!” Mark glared at Jessica in confusion.

“I actually need to talk to my friend alone today.” Ashley said, “I’m sorry, Jordan.” Jordan couldn’t keep his eyes off of Mark but nodded his head.

“I see.” He said. “I’ll see you later then,” Ashley nodded, and Jordan kissed her. Mark cleared his throat and glanced at the ground, shuffling his feet. They parted, and Jordan and Jessica went one way, Ashley and Mark went the other.

“Charming,” He said as they walked away. Ashley smirked as she rolled her eyes.

“Don’t do that.” She said.

“Do what?” He asked innocently.

“Don’t compare him to yourself.” She answered.

“I wasn’t, why would I do that? Do you do that?” He asked, and she shook her head.

“We need to talk about things,” Ashley said, as they sat down on a bench.

“Do we?” He asked, sitting down beside her.

“You kissed me last weekend, twice.” She said, and Mark smirked.

“I was proving a point.” He said. She sighed softly.

“Did you feel something when you kissed me?” She asked.

“Um, like, duh. Of course, I’m in love with you, remember?” He answered. She nodded, and his smirk grew. “You did as well.”

“I won’t deny that I felt something when we kissed. Most of it though was instinct...” She started but Mark cut her off.

“Because you still love me.” He said, and she sighed.

“Yeah,” She replied. “I do still love you, but right now it’s not enough, is it?”

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“What I mean is that you’re still with Misty, and I’m with Jordan. There are other people to consider now, not just us.” Ashley said.

“I don’t give a damn about Jordan, and I know you don’t give a damn about Misty.” He said, and she laughed and shook her head.

“Regardless,” She said, “It’s still wrong.”

“So we end things with dumb and dumber, and pick up right where we left off.” He said, and she laughed again.

“If only it were that simple.” She said, and Mark raised an eyebrow.

“The only thing making it complicated is you.” He said boldly, but Ashley didn’t get angry with this.

“I chose to leave Brook Falls, and that’s not fair to you. Who am I to hold you down?” She asked.

“Geez, I don’t know, really... you’re only the love of my life.” He replied. She rung her hands together, glaring at the ground.

“I’ll tell you what.” She said, “We continue doing what we are doing right now because Mark it’s working. We are still close, we will always be close. If something happens with Misty and Jordan then we’ll get even closer without labels or things like that. When we are together, we are together and when we aren’t we are free to do what we like.”

“And why can’t we do that right now?” He asked, and Ashley laughed again.

“Because Misty and Jordan never signed up for this. That’s the difference, if it happens again we must tell the person about the other before we get into anything with them.” She said, and Mark nodded.

“Okay,” He said, “I can live with that. Under one condition.” Ashley raised an eyebrow.

“What condition?” She asked. His smirk grew even larger.

“One kiss, right here, right now.” He said, and Ashley looked around nervously.

“Just one?” She asked.

“Just one.” He agreed.

“A quick one?” She asked, and he nodded.

“Sure.” He said, and she sighed, glancing around.

“Okay,” She agreed, “Just one.” He leaned over, his lips touched hers and it was as if she’d been struck by lightning. Her fingers tangled in his hair knocking his cap to the ground, but he didn’t care. He kissed her with a hungry passion, as if after this moment his lips may never touch hers again. It drew her in, wanting more and before she knew it all sense of reason evaded them. All she knew was that she never wanted this kiss to end.

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