#13: Ashley, Part 2

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Two Months Later…

Christmas had come and gone, bringing practical gifts from everyone she knew, and it was now mid-January. Another party was taking place, although without drink, because she and Grace were setting off the next morning. Time had moved at a steady pace, and Ashley had worked everyday, saving up her money. Grace had gone to Glasgow with her boyfriend, and when he had to go back to Germany to earn some money for travelling further, Grace had come to London again. Her hair had grown long and she’d dyed it blonde. Ashley had not changed in appearance, but she had earned enough money to travel. Together they bought bikes, panniers and a tent, set a date and told their friends and family. 

The leaving party was held at Ashley’s house, and everyone had bought her presents. Anneka and Lauren were proudly hosting it. Anneka had visited the hairdressers and added purple, pink and blue streaks to her plain brown hair. Lauren had won Anneka over and bought a kitten. Tracy and Adele were still together, and Riana and Tank had become an item over Christmas. Laura had got her own place, a flat near Tracy’s house, and acquired some pet rats. Yasmeen had got her puppy. Penny now had a boyfriend, and seeing as she was excellent with computers, she and Jock had started a blog together, about bullying and poetry. Jock was still single, and had been giving Ashley an admiring look lately, one that made her toes tingle. He hadn’t said anything much to her though. 

“Everyone, come get some food!!” Lauren called, and the garden emptied of people. 

“Wow, Mrs Russo, you’ve really outdone yourself!” Riana exclaimed, taking in the array of food on the dining table. 

“You really have. Thanks, mum!” Ashley grinned. Lauren had cooked Lasagne, vegetarian and normal, a spicy curry, lots of chips, many pizzas, and for dessert, a massive pancake tower.

“My pleasure, Tiger-Lily. Couldn’t send you girls off on an empty stomach, could I?” Lauren hugged her and patted Riana’s hair. 

“I wish I was coming with you!” Tracy wailed, wrapping her arms around Ashley.

“I know, I’m gonna miss you so much.” Ashley hugged her back. 

After dinner and dessert had happened, Ashley sat on the bench in the garden, watching her friends. They were all laughing and dancing, singing along to the music that played. She had been dancing for a while, and was sitting down trying to catch her breath. Jock sat next to her.

“Hey, you.” He said, and she smiled.

“Hey.” 

“Why aren’t you dancing?” 

“Just catching my breath.” She mimed dying of exhaustion, and he laughed at her.

“I’m gonna miss you.” He looked at his feet.

“I’ll miss you too.” She looked at him. His hair was lit up by the candles on the bench, and it looked like a halo. 

“Come on, let’s make the time we have left count.” He jumped down onto the grass, and took her hand, pulling her off the bench. 

“Deal.” She let him twirl her under his arm.

She had walked home with Penny, Grace and Jock. When they got to the building, Penny and Grace hugged Jock, high-fived Ashley, winked, and without warning, left them both standing outside on their own. 

“Sorry about them.” Ashley laughed awkwardly.

“That’s fine.” Jock grinned.

“I’m gonna miss you guys so much.” Ashley twirled her hair tightly round her fingers.

“We’ll miss you too. But don’t worry, you’re gonna have fun.” 

“I hope so.” She looked down.

“Hey.” He put his hand under her chin, tilting her face up to his. “You’ll be fine. You’re the bravest, strongest person I know.” 

“I am?” She stared up at him.

“You are.” That was when he kissed her. 

“You seem very happy.” Grace told her the next day.

“Is this unusual?” Ashley grinned, sticking her tongue out.

“But like, you haven’t stopped smiling all morning.” 

“We are setting out on a grand adventure right now.” 

“Stop beating about the bush and tell me what happened last night.”

“I don’t know what you mean…” Ashley teased her.

“Ashley!” Grace threw up her hands in frustration, wobbling madly on her bike and almost swerving into the hedge.

“Okay, okay. We just kissed, that’s all.” Ashley smiled to herself.

“Typical guy.” Grace tutted.

“Whaat?” 

“On your last night!?” Grace rolled her eyes dramatically.

“Yeah yeah, I know. But it was perfect.” 

They had woken up early, given Penny hugs, and gone over to say one last goodbye to Lauren and Anneka, then they had got on the bikes and set off. They were cycling to Dover. It would take them four days to get there, pitching the tent up wherever they could, and then they would take the ferry to Calais. After they got to France, they would cycle to Paris, trying to find Santiago there. Whether or not they found him, they would carry on to Spain, finishing their journey in Barcelona, and then going back to London. They were going along an abandoned railway track that had been made into a bike path. They would stop for food halfway along the track, then carry on. It was long, so at the end they would pitch their tent up someplace. They were taking it easy at first, going a bit further every day. Ashley was elated, on a high fuelled by freedom and exercise.

“FREEEDOOOOM!!!!” She half sang, half yelled, putting her hands up in the air, ignoring the unsteadiness of her bike.

“FREEEDOOOOM!!!!” Grace yelled back, and sped up, doing jazz hands. 

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