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Withholding Nothing by Victoria Bright (1)

Chapter One

Ashton

You know how everyone’s all, “Ah! Friday the 13th,” when that day comes around thanks to that hockey mask-wearing swamp creep? I felt that way about March 30th. But my villains weren’t knife wielding, mask-wearing figments of my imagination. They came in the form of Fucking Steve and my backstabbing, cum bucket of an ex best friend, Clarissa.

∞∞∞

 

“So how’d it go in court today?” my best friend Ava asked as we sat at the bar. Mickey’s Bar was packed for Thirsty Thursdays as it usually was. Pop music blared through the speakers as hypnotic strobe lights pulsed over the dancing bodies on the dance floor. Familiar faces passed us, giving me a nervous look before they’d quickly look away. I’d admit that it was a bit strange being back here after everything that’d happened between Steve, Clarissa, and me three months ago. Now everyone probably thinks I’m really a psycho.

I rolled my eyes as the earlier memories came to the surface. “With the way Steve acted, you’d think I’d cut his dick off and stapled it to his forehead,” I muttered, draining the rest of the beer from my bottle.

Ava scoffed. “You should have after what he did,” she replied just as our other best friend, Alex, approached us.

“The main attraction has arrived, bitches!” she exclaimed, plopping down on the barstool next to me. “I heard something about a dick being cut off. What are you guys talking about?”

“Stupid court today,” I answered.

“Ugh, don’t tell me that bastard won the case.”

“Well, yes and no,” I replied. “Yes because I still have to pay him, but no because I don’t have to pay him what he tried to sue me for.” I scowled as I remembered Clarissa being at his side. “And to make matters worse, he had the nerve to bring that cunt along, too.”

Alex rolled her eyes and waved down the bartender. “How much do you have to pay him then?”

“He’d wanted $20,000, but the judge said we both deserved to be punished, so I only have to pay half of it. And while that would be fine and dandy, I don’t have ten grand just lying around.”

“They’re always hiring for strippers, you know,” Alex joked just as Kyle approached us. 

“Hey there, ladies.” He smiled at me, throwing a towel over his shoulder. “Ashton…long time no see,” he said, his brown eyes boring into me. I gave him a small smile.

“Yeah, busy with life and everything.”

“That’s understandable. Need another drink?”

“Sex on the Beach this time, please.”

“Good choice,” he said with a wink and walked away.

“You guys should just go ahead and bang each other and get it over with,” Alex said. “It’s obvious the guy has a hard on for you.”

“What makes you say that?” Ava asked. Alex shrugged.

“He just does, I can tell. And he’s cute, so there’s that.”

“I’m not interested in dating anyone. I just got out of a four-year relationship. I need time to find myself again,” I said, leaning against the bar.

“Anyway, so what are you going to do about Steve? You were just saying last week that you were getting behind on bills and now you have this lawsuit—”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. I haven’t figured that part out yet,” I said. Alex opened her mouth to speak, but I held my hand up. “And I’m not going to be a stripper.”

“You’re already doing the phone sex operator thing, so I wouldn’t count out stripping if I were you,” Alex said with a shrug. “What the hell does a girl have to do to get a drink around here?”

Kyle soon returned with my drink, sliding it over to me with an adorable smile. Alex snapped her fingers at him.

“Hey, can I get a drink or something, buddy? Or is Ashton the only one who exists tonight?” she teased. He chuckled.

“I’m sorry, Alex. What can I get for you?”

“Rum and coke, thanks,” she said and turned back to me. “Have you thought of a roommate?”

I raised a brow as I took a sip from my glass, finally shaking my head. “I don’t really know about a roommate. I mean a stranger living with me sounds like the perfect plot for a Forensic Files episode,” I mused.

Ava giggled. “I’d say that you’re being super paranoid, but that idea is a bit valid since Oakley Falls is in the middle of nowhere.”

I nodded. “Yeah, plenty of open fields and forests to dump bodies in,” I said and laughed.

“I’m two seconds away from disowning you both for being insane,” Alex said, picking up her glass when Kyle returned with it. “But seriously, you should consider it. I mean at least get one until you’re able to find something that pays better than the phone sex gig.”

“I agree,” Ava said. “Just make it a temporary thing for now, maybe until you’re caught up on your bills or something.”

“I don’t know,” I said with a sigh. “It just feels like my entire life is falling apart now.”

And it was.

I’d gone from being in what I thought was a happy relationship to being dumped, humiliated, and now broke. After losing my job after the incident, bills became harder to pay, even after starting as a phone sex operator. Even though sex sells, it still wasn’t quite enough to maintain my current responsibilities. As nervous as I was about the idea of a roommate, it seemed like the only option I had if I wanted to avoid moving back in with my parents.

Ava leaned over and wrapped her arms around me, giving me a tight squeeze. “Just know we’re here for you.”

“I know things are tough right now, but I think things can only go up from here. I mean there’s nowhere else to go when you’ve hit rock bottom,” Alex added. I gave a small shrug and took a big gulp from my drink.

“In the event that I was to want a roommate, how would I go about doing—”

“Say no more! I know exactly how to handle this,” Alex interrupted and held her hand out. “Let me see your phone.”

I leaned back a little. “What for?”

“To post an ad, duh,” Alex scoffed. My hand tightened on my phone for a moment before I reluctantly handed it to her. She tossed her hair over her shoulders and straightened her posture. “Now watch a pro work.” She furiously typed on the screen for a few moments before she paused and looked up at me. “Does it matter the gender?”

I shrugged. “I mean not really. As long as the guy isn’t a creep. I just want them to be around the same age as me,” I answered.

“So no creepers, same age,” Alex repeated, typing again.

“Oh and no smoking since Ash isn’t a smoker,” Ava added.

“Right,” I confirmed. “And no pets. The complex doesn’t allow them.”

“No smoking or pets, got it,” Alex murmured. She continued typing for another minute before passing my phone back to me. “Done.”

“Done?” I exclaimed. “But I didn’t even get to see it!”

“I put what you told me to put on it.”

“But what if Steve or someone we know sees it?” I exclaimed. Being the asshole he was, he’d have a field day to know that I was struggling to pay him back.

“For starters, fuck Steve. Second, the point of posting an ad is for people to see it. You never know who’s looking for a roommate,” she said, sipping her drink.

“Speak of the asshole,” Ava said, looking past me.

I turned around and saw Steve, Clarissa, and Steve’s two friends, Todd and Carter, walking toward the bar. The three guys slapped hands with each other and laughed about something as Steve had his arm draped over Clarissa’s shoulders. My hand tightened on my glass at the sight of them. It was so crazy how things changed within a few months. Not long ago, that used to be me under his arms as he had drinks with his friends, having a good time together. Oh well. Such was life.

His smile still had the potential to make a woman melt off her barstool into a pool of goo and his piercing blue eyes were so easy to get lost in. I remembered spending countless nights staring into them, wondering how I’d gotten so lucky. His eyes drifted in our direction and locked on mine, his smile fading as he averted his attention back to his friends and Clarissa and continued joking around.

To say my heart sank was an understatement. What the hell did I expect anyway? It wasn’t as if everything was going to go in slow motion around us as he approached me, took me into his arms to kiss my pain away, and apologize for what he did to me. Hell, he never even showed remorse for what he’d done.

Ava snapped her fingers in front of my face.

“Wha…what is it?” I asked, shaking myself from my Steve trance. She shook her head.

“I was telling you not to worry about them. We’re here to have a good time, so no drama,” she warned.

I nodded and turned around on my barstool. “Right,” I said, staring into my glass.

“Hey, Kyle! Need another round of beers and a glass of water for the lady!” Carter’s nasally voice made my skin crawl as he appeared in my peripheral, slapping the bar top. He looked over at us and leaned against the bar with a bright smile. “How’s it going, ladies?”

Alex scoffed. “Well, if it isn’t the Three Stooges of the Valley and the whore of Babylon,” she drawled, appearing bored with their presence. Clarissa scowled at her.

“You’re one to talk, Alex. Pretty sure you’ve slept with every single guy in town,” she retorted. Alex wagged her finger at Clarissa.

“But unlike you, whore, they were all single. How desperate were you to have to steal your own best friend’s boyfriend? At least I have some kind of dignity.”

I fought the urge to snicker, instead keeping my eyes focused on my glass. Alex wasn’t wrong.

“Don’t be like that, baby,” Todd said, moving in closer to Alex, trying to diffuse the growing tension. She recoiled back from him, her face twisting in displeasure.

“I’m not your baby. Where’s your wife anyway, Todd?” she asked, sipping her drink. He frowned and retrieved his new beer mug from the counter.

“She’s visiting her parents if you must know,” he clipped before focusing on me. “Ashton! Haven’t seen you in awhile. How’ve you been?”

I clenched my teeth together as I forced a small smile. Don’t cause any drama. Don’t cause any drama. “I’m fine,” I replied, taking a large gulp of my drink. Carter nudged Steve in the ribs.

“Aren’t you going to at least speak to her? No need to be rude,” he joked. Ava nodded in agreement.

“Yeah, Steve, don’t be a bigger dick than you already are,” she said with a smirk. Steve grabbed his mug from the counter and gave me a passing glance.

“We spoke enough in court this morning. Unless we’re going to talk about the $10,000 she owes me, I don’t think I owe her anything,” he answered nonchalantly, refusing to make eye contact with me. I rolled my eyes and clenched my teeth together. Just a few more moments, Ashton. If you don’t say anything, they’ll leave sooner.

Alex cocked her head to the side as Clarissa retrieve a glass of water from Kyle. “Not having your usual whore juice, whore?” she mentioned.

“Alex!” Ava hissed under her breath. Clarissa gave her a tight smile as Steve gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

“How sad your single life must be to try to tear another woman down, Alexandria,” she started. “But for your information, I’m not drinking tonight because it isn’t healthy for our baby.”

Had I been standing, the news would’ve knocked me off my feet. Tears burned my eyes as I focused on my drink, sucking on the straw until nothing remained in my cup.

Todd playfully punched Steve in the shoulder. “You didn’t even tell us, you dickhead! Congrats, man! I guess that shot gun wedding you guys are having in a couple of weeks makes a lot more sense now.”

I coughed as the last of my drink went down the wrong way, causing everyone to look at me. A baby on the way and getting married soon? I guess he wasted no time moving on with his life after we broke up.

“You okay?” Ava asked, looking at me with concerned eyes.

“Never better,” I replied, my voice higher than I intended. Clarissa looked at me with a smirk as she took a sip of her water and turned to Steve.

“How about we go get a table, honey? It’s getting a bit…awkward over here,” she said. Steve nodded and steered her away and back through the crowd, Carter and Todd in tow.

“What a cunt,” Alex muttered before downing another shot and turning to me. “Don’t worry about them. They’re perfect for each other. He’s a dick and she’s an asshole. One is going to eventually fuck the other.”

I turned back to the bar and flagged down Kyle. He strolled over and stopped in front me.

“What can I get you, doll face?” he asked.

“A shot of whiskey, please!” I exclaimed breathlessly.

He chuckled. “Wanting the hard stuff tonight, huh?” he asked as he poured the drink and slid it over to me. I gulped it down without a word and slammed the glass on the counter.

“Hit me again,” I panted, wincing as the amber liquid burned my throat and chest. I needed to feel any kind of pain other than the emotional pain that threatened to break through. As hard as I tried to push the thoughts out of my mind, my subconscious screamed, That should have been me!

In my entire relationship with Steve, he made it crystal clear that he didn’t want kids and he wasn’t 100% sure that he even wanted to be married, at least not any time soon. He’d said that there were so many other things to factor in. He’d wanted to be more stable and further along in his career, he’d wanted us to be financially ready to handle a baby. Being the charismatic bastard he was, he kept me content by convincing me that “maybe I was the one to change his mind,” and that he could see a future with me. Now I realize that he was nothing but a walking sack of lies with a handsome face and persuasive words.

Kyle passed me another shot, watching as I downed it and slammed the glass on the counter. Steve and his group sat within eyesight, laughing and having a good time. If I were being honest, I’d fully admit that I was jealous. Jealous that my cunt of an ex best friend had something that I didn’t that made her more worthy of marriage and creating a family with. The moment I saw Steve passionately kiss her, whatever pieces I had left of my heart shattered completely.

“Another,” I said to Kyle. He glanced in Steve’s direction and shook his head.

“Don’t let him get to you, Ash. You deserve better than him anyway,” he coaxed, placing a gentle hand on top of mine.

“He’s right, Ashton. Don’t give him power over your emotions. That’s all he wants,” Ava chimed in.

I shook my head. “Less talking, more alcohol,” I said, tapping the shot glass against the counter. Kyle sighed and poured another shot, shaking his head when I downed it. Memories of our breakup flooded my mind in an instant and their “good news” echoed in my mind. Warmth slowly took over my body with each shot I took until the room started to spin. I wanted to forget everything: the breakup, my problems, my failures. The whiskey wrapped me in its comfort, making it easy to breathe again. When I slammed the glass down once more, Kyle shook his head.

“I can’t, Ashton,” he murmured, his eyes sympathetic. I waved my hand and tapped the glass on the counter.

“Just keep them coming,” I muttered, swaying a little. His sad eyes never wavered as he shook his head.

“After what happened last time…Mickey specifically told me to limit you,” he admitted. “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

I stood on shaky legs. “Whatever. I’m going to go dance,” I hiccupped, teetering toward the dance floor. I pushed deep into the crowd, losing myself in the music and the swarming bodies around me. As long as I was drunk, I didn’t feel any pain or disappointment. My problems evaporated as I drowned my sorrows in whiskey, replacing my sadness with a comforting heat. The room spun around me despite me standing in one place, swaying my hips to the music. A couple of guys danced around me and all I could think about was Steve and Clarissa.

My eyes drifted up just in time to see Steve, Clarissa, Todd, and Carter walking up the stairs to leave the bar. I pushed the guys away from me and made my way back to the bar. It was a bad idea to come here. It was bad enough that I was flooded with memories of what happened a couple of months ago, but to see Steve in the flesh confirming that his life was so much better without me hurt even more. I wasn’t prepared for it. It was hard enough seeing him in court this morning, but seeing him tonight was like purposely ripping a Band-Aid off of a large wound that hadn’t had a chance to heal. Now my heart bled all over again as if the situation had just happened.

“Where are you going?” Ava asked when I grabbed my clutch from her.

“Home,” I stated, stumbling toward the stairs to leave. Ava and Alex were quick on my heels, urging me not to drive.

“Ash, you’re fucking wasted! It’s not safe for you to be on those dark back roads,” Alex protested.

“I’m fine. I’ll drive slow,” I said, bounding up the stairs as fast as my stilettos would allow and rushing out of the door. The summer heat smacked me in the face as soon as I stepped outside, sending a wave of nausea through me. I regretted having all of that whiskey in my belly now. Wandering through cars in the parking lot, I finally found mine and slipped inside. Ava and Alex called my name in the distance, but I had to leave. I couldn’t be here anymore.

Resting my head on the headrest, I screamed and hit my steering wheel until my hands throbbed with pain. I hated him for what he’d done. I hated myself for not knowing how something was wrong with our relationship before it got to the point of him cheating on me. I hated life for being so cruel and having this happen to me. Most of all, I hated my heart because despite everything, I still loved him.

Fucking Steve.

Wiping my eyes, I started the engine with the push of a button and eased my Nissan Altima out of the parking space. I glanced in my rearview mirror to see Ava and Alex standing in the middle of the parking lot looking around, still trying to find me. A part of me felt guilty. I knew they only wanted to help, but I needed to get away. I knew better than to expose myself to Steve. As I drove down the dark backstreets, so many thoughts ran through my mind. Why wasn’t I enough? What did I do wrong? Was I not adventurous enough? Was I no longer attractive to him?

After a few minutes of torment, I brought the Bluetooth on my dashboard to life. “Call Steve,” I stated with a sniffle. The dash repeated my command and dialed the number. The endless ringing flowing through the speakers tormented me. Would he answer when he saw my number? What would happen if he did? Would he even want to talk to me?

I didn’t have to worry about the latter question because his voicemail soon filled the space around me. “Hey, you’ve reached Steve. I can’t take your call right now, so leave your name, number, and a message and I’ll get back with you as soon as I can.” The sound of his voice nearly caused me to fall apart. His voice always brought me comfort, but now it was just a painful reminder of what I didn’t have. A beep went off, signaling that I could record my message.

“Steve…it’s Ashton. I don’t know if you remember, but today makes three months since you broke my heart. Do you even remember that?” My chest constricted as the memories flooded in, making it hard to breathe. My buzz turned into a blurry fog, preparing to be combined with anger and pain. “I gave you everything and you left me with nothing!” I screamed before sobbing. “What did I ever do to deserve this? When did you stop loving me? How could you do this to me? You’re a piece of shit asshole who did nothing but feed me empty promises!” I screamed, slamming my fist down on my steering wheel.

As I wailed onto his answering machine, I didn’t notice my speedometer needle moving higher and higher.

Fifty.

Fifty-five.

Sixty.

Seventy.

“I fucking loved you and this is how you—SHIT!” I exclaimed as something flew onto the hood of my car, sending me swerving off the road. After a failed attempt to regain control of the wheel, I landed in a shallow ditch, hitting my head against the steering wheel seconds before the airbag deployed.

“Fuck,” I winced, holding my head. A warm liquid rolled down my forehead and dripped off my eyelashes. My head throbbed, everything still spinning around me as acid rose up my throat. I opened the car door and leaned out, throwing up in the grass. It was hard to believe that this was my life. Here I was on the side of the road being a drunk, hot ass mess while my ex was just living it up unaffected. Taking a few deep breaths, I slowly sat upright in my seat and ended the Bluetooth call, gasping at the sight of my windshield, which was cracked and covered in blood. Oh God.

The blood from my face drained as I thought of every worst-case scenario. Some people walked along this road at night…what if I hit a pedestrian? I rolled my window down and looked both ways down the road, but was met with nothing but darkness. Trembling, I eased my way out of the car with my phone and walked back to the street where a body laid motionless. Rustling sounded in the trees across the street and a pair of eyes glowed in the distance. I held my phone in my shaking hands, activating my flashlight app and shining it in the direction of the eyes just in time to see a deer run off. I looked down at the body and was filled with slight relief. I’d hit a deer, not a person. At least that eliminates the possibility for manslaughter.

Smoke came from the hood of my car. There was no way I could drive my car home in this condition.

“Fuck!” I screamed into the darkness. Even through my drunken state, I knew I’d fucked up big time. Where in the actual hell was I going to find the money to fix this?

I opened the keypad on my phone screen and paused. I couldn’t call the cops; I’d be asking to be arrested for driving while drunk. Dialing the first person that came to mind, I waited as the phone rang.

“Ash? Where the hell are you? Are you insane? I hope you are still in the parking lot somewhere!” Ava fussed. I ran a shaky hand through my hair and exhaled.

“Ava, you’re going to kill me, but I need your help.”

“Where are you? Are you okay?”

“I’m not far from the bar. I hit a deer and—”

“What the hell, Ashton? Did you call the police?”

“No, and please don’t call them yourself. I’ll be arrested—”

“Maybe that’s what you need to learn that you shouldn’t do that! You could’ve killed yourself or someone else!” she scolded. I groaned and grabbed my throbbing head.

“I know, I know, but can you please help me? You can yell at me all you want, but please. I really need you guys right now,” I said.

She sighed and told Alex what happened. I could hear Alex asking if I were okay while telling Ava to tell me that I was the craziest bitch on the planet for being upset about Steve. I couldn’t expect them to understand. They’d never had their hearts ripped out of their chest and stomped on, or been betrayed by one of their best friends. They didn’t have their safety net and comfortable life stripped away from them without a moment’s notice. They had no idea how great the pain was and how hard it was to get over him.

“Fine, we’re on our way. I’ll call Jared and have him bring his tow truck to get your car. You know he won’t do this for free—”

“I’ll pay your brother. Just hurry; it’s scary out here,” I said.

“Okay. Just wait in your car and I’ll call Jared,” she said and hung up. I scurried back into the car and sank down in my seat. My head pounded from the intake of whiskey as well as the hit to the head. Turning the light on once more, I looked at my reflection and saw a purple knot forming on my head and dried up blood.

I sighed. “Thank God I don’t have to show my face to be a phone sex operator,” I mumbled to myself, slapping the mirror up and turning the light back off.

∞∞∞

 

Headlights appeared in my rearview mirror fifteen minutes later as a tow truck pulled up in front of my car. Jared stepped out of the truck and walked over to my window. “Wow, it looks like you’re growing a second head,” he said once he saw me. I scowled and got out of the car.

“Shut up, Jared. I’m fine, thanks for asking,” I spat. He shrugged.

“When you make stupid decisions, you get no sympathy from me,” he said as he examined the damage. I folded my arms across my chest.

“How much is this going to cost me?” I asked, shifting my weight to the other foot.

He tapped his chin as if in deep thought before saying, “$350.”

“$350?” I repeated, my voice raising an octave. Did this bastard think money grew on trees?

He chewed on the toothpick in his mouth. “Well, would you rather call the police and have them find someone to get your car out of the ditch? I’m sure $350 is a lot cheaper than a bail bond,” he said with a smirk.

I glared at him and shook my head. “Fine, I’ll pay you in the morning,” I snapped. He walked off to hook my car up to the back of the truck as Ava appeared next to me.

“Wow, do you need to go to a hospital or something? That’s a pretty bad bump on your head,” she said, reaching out to touch my forehead.

I flinched away and shook my head. “I just want to go home,” I said, walking over to her car. She talked with her brother as I got in the passenger seat of her Jeep and glanced in the backseat, noticing that Alex wasn’t there.

“Did you take Alex home already?” I asked when she got in the car. She nodded without a word as she started the engine and continued down the road.

The ride to my house was awkward and long. She appeared as if she wanted to say something, but she kept her lips in a tight line. When we arrived outside of my apartment building, she finally turned to me and frowned.

“You can’t let Steve run your life,” she said. I nodded in agreement, but said nothing else. She sighed and patted my hand. “Ashton, I can’t sit here and say I understand your pain or what you’re going through, but maybe you’ll get over it quicker if you just move on with someone else—”

“It’s not that easy, Ava. Even if I move on, I’ll be paranoid that someone else will do the same thing,” I snapped. She sat quiet for a moment, carefully thinking over her next words.

“Everyone isn’t like Steve—”

“Who said that Steve was even the problem? Maybe I’m the problem. Maybe I did something wrong to mess up what we had and—”

“You can’t blame yourself for what happened, Ashton. You didn’t make him cheat. There’s something messed up in him that made him do that, not something you did,” she coaxed. A few sneaky tears rolled down my cheeks before I had a chance to stop them.

I knew she was right, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept. Wiping my eyes, I took a deep breath and gave her a small smile. “Thanks. I’ll be fine though. I should probably just call it a night,” I said.

“Do you need me to walk you to your door?”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll call you in the morning,” I said and got out of the Jeep. She stayed in the parking lot until I entered my apartment, honking as she left out.

As soon as I locked the door behind me, my stomach churned violently, sending me running to the bathroom. I barely made it to the toilet before I came face to face with the drinks I’d consumed earlier in the night. I threw up until nothing remained, my dry heaving echoing in the porcelain toilet bowl. I flushed the toilet and sank to the floor, resting my arm on the toilet seat and putting my head down.

I somehow managed to survive my three-month dumpiversary. Just a few weeks ago, I cried myself to sleep on Ava’s couch, devastated and scared of what the future would hold since I was officially alone. Now I sat on my bathroom floor with my head almost in the toilet, feeling as much pain as I did that night. Nothing had changed other than my car being wrecked and the huge shiner on my forehead that would hurt like a bitch in the morning.

Trying to ease the pounding in my head, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. One thing remained the same though. Just like that night, only one thought swam around in my mind before drifting off.

Fucking Steve.

Go figure.

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