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The sound of waves crashing on the shore woke the young woman up from her restless sleep and brought her back to reality. She opened her eyes and sat on the bed, covering her mouth with one hand, to stop her sighs from being heard. While the silver rays of the moon illuminated her sad face, she began to cry silently, the same way she was crying every single night since she woke up in the hospital. Her look full of despair stopped for a few seconds on the empty seat beside her in the bed. The distance and the time hadn't been able to reduce the frequency of her nightmares or to remove the intensity of the harrowing pain caused by reality. On the contrary, they had only succeeded in intensifying them. Almost a year had passed since the accident and the haunting images continued to follow Ashley day and night, in the real world or in the world of dreams, without her being able to say or do a single thing to defend herself. For almost a year she had 'harassed' her family with her countless questions, trying to find a way to put her heart and her mind to rest, but the answers received were extremely few and way too poor in details. She had found little information able to help her fill her memory lapses.
With a sharp gesture, she wiped her tears, got out of the bed and put on a silk robe that she had left on the chair next to the dresser. Ashley began to pace the room relentlessly, nervous and agitated like a lioness locked in a cage for far too long, but she stopped when her gaze fell on the small framed photograph that was placed on the dresser. It was the photo that had been taken by her best friend, Gracie, on the most beautiful and horrible day of her life, the day when she touched absolute happiness and when her soul had died forever, along with all of them. That was the day when Ashley had become the shadow of herself.
"Brandon, my love..." Her heart began to beat violently in her chest as if at that moment she was running the longest marathon of her life. Unfortunately, this could only mean one thing and couldn't allow that. "No, I can't have another panic attack! Come on, Ash, don't lose yourself again in this anxiety that you feel deep inside your soul for months now... Remember what the psychologist told you to do... you have to breathe deeply and remind yourself that these thoughts they are just thoughts and that's it, they are not real. Come on, start counting backward from twenty, so the negative thoughts will start to vanish and you'll be ok." she encouraged herself.
She took the picture in her hand, opened the glass doors and went out on the terrace... She had to get out of that room before the walls got even tighter around her, around her heart. The cool night breeze calmed her down and Ashley's heart stopped beating fast and her breath returned to normal. But her legs didn't stop trembling uncontrollably and she had to take a seat on a chair. She lifted her hand to her face to wipe away the drops of cold sweat and her fingers touched the scar on her right cheek. Ashley started to think that, lately, fate hadn't shown her a crumb of mercy. Fate had given her the opportunity to taste happiness, to feel what it meant to be loved completely and then, after a few seconds, had taken away all hope of smiling and enjoying life at its fullest. Not yet satisfied to see her suffer, fate had also marked her forever, pushing her strongly into this existence full of sadness and loneliness worse than death. Maybe Marianne was right, she should've been in Brandon's place, that she was the one that had to be dead, not him.
The picture slipped from the grip of her fingers and the glass broke into hundreds of small pieces. Suddenly she got up from her chair and approached the edge of the handrail. That was Brandon's voice... She was so sure about it, she would immediately recognize it among a thousand other voices. Her sweetheart was out there, he came back to look for her, to take her with him, to put an end to this excruciating pain that was holding her tight in its steel claws. She opened the gate, started to climb down the staircase that was leading to the ocean, and ran across the beach as fast as she could until she got close to the ocean's water. The voice she had heard came from there. Ashley looked to the ocean, peered into the darkness of the night, but the only things she could see were the lights of a distant lighthouse and the moon covered by light clouds. She touched her temple and began to shake her head in total disbelief. No, she couldn't lose her head again, she couldn't fall into depression again. Ashley recalled the words that David had told her in the hospital: Brandon could not come back to her, he had died along with Grace and Andy.
Realizing that she had left the house practically naked, Ashley decided to return to her room as quickly as possible, before somebody could see her in that pitiful state. She didn't want David or Emily to wake up and realize that she was on the beach at that late hour. From the day of the car crash, both of them were keeping a very close eye on her. And if at first, she found this a very sweet and thoughtful thing, now all this was starting to feel a little suffocating. Good thing the next day they would be back in New York and she would stay here alone for a while.