< 5 >

There were police and other emergency personnel surrounding the block of Brandon's house. Panic struck Justin and Christina as the reality of the situation became clear. Something had happened and they weren't there to save her this time.

"What happened?" Justin exclaimed as he ran to the nearest police officer.

"You need to get back! You can't be here!" he replied rudely.

"Please, sir. The girl that lives here is my best friend." Christina jumped in.

The officer hesitated before he said anything. "Seems like a murder-suicide." he sighed.

"What?" Justin and Christina both asked with a shocked expression.

"Well, it's not a complete murder-suicide. The man in the house seems to have gotten into an altercation with the woman and shot her in the chest. He then shot himself in the head."

"Oh my God." Justin mumbled as if in a tramatized state.

"Is Ashley dead?" Christina asked as her voice shook.

"The last I heard was that she was unconscious and had a hard time breathing when they left here about ten minutes ago." he finished.

"What hospital?" Justin said quickly.

"University." the officer said and turned slightly. "Hey, I have to go." he added abruptly as he talked on his radio and walked away.

Justin and Christina didn't even look or say anything to each other. They jumped in the car and made their way to the hospital that was twenty minutes away.

They waited for two hours during the surgery and then another two hours until she woke in her I.C.U. room. Justin paced the waiting area constantly while wondering why Christina kept leaving to meet up with Ashley's dad around the corner. Her mother kept an eye on Justin as he constantly kept his eyes on Ashley's room down at the end of the hall. Doctors were going in and out but no word of how she was doing was told to them until she finally opened her eyes.

"Hi. I'm Dr. Edison." the doctor said to them as he shook all of their hands. Christina ran up to them as soon as she saw the doctor. "I just wanted to tell all of you that the operation went okay. As good as it can go for her situation. We decided to wait and tell you about the operation until everything was stable and she could breathe on her own."

"So she is going to be okay?" her mother asked.

"Well, I can't promise anything. There was alot of damage done. It's just too early to tell right now." he sighed.

"When can we see her?" Justin asked eagerly.

"She is awake now. Family members can see her first." he smiled lightly and turned towards the hall.

"Isn't her dad going?" Justin whispered to Christina as Ashley's mother followed the doctor.

"Uh. I think he is making phone calls and stuff. I'm sure he'll see her soon." she lied as she turned and walked the opposite way down the hall.

A few moments later Ashley's dad walked past him in the waiting room and made his way down to Ashley's room.

Justin sat for another ten minutes alone in the waiting room until her parents came back and told him that she was asking for him. Justin ran down the hall and stopped at the door. The lights were dim inside as he entered through the doorway. There were wires and tubes all around her. She was awake and conscious and smiled when she saw him enter the room.

"Hi." she said softly. She was weak and pale but she kept her eyes open long enough to talk to him.

"Hi baby. How are you feeling?" he asked as he sat beside her and took her hand in his.

"I'm not too hot but I really can't feel that much anyway." she sighed.

"So, they told you about Brandon?"

"Yeah." she paused. "I really never knew he was going to be there. I was packing some clothes when he showed up. I guess he recognized Christina's car outside and decided to take advantage of me being there alone." she swallowed hard since her throat still hurt from the breathing tube from earlier. "I really don't remember much. He pushed me down on the ground and tried to hit me but I protected myself. He left and I stood up to get away but he returned with the gun."

Justin put his head down but then looked back at her with tears in his eyes. "Okay. I get the picture. In a way I'm glad he did what he did to himself. In a selfish kind of way it makes me feel better."

Ashley weaved her fingers through his and looked at his tear soaked eyes. "It's okay. I understand." she added as her eyes started to get sleepy.

"Maybe I should leave so you can get some rest. The sooner you get rest, the sooner you can get out of here." he smiled.

"I don't think I'm leaving." she said sullenly as a tear escaped down her cheek.

"What are you talking about?"

"I have a feeling that I'm not walking out of here." she cried.

"Don't even talk like that. You are getting out of here and you are going to be happy. You are going to be with me." he started to shake.

"In a way I will always be with you." she said hoarsly as her throat started to give out on her.

"What are you talking about?"

"I lied to you." she said bluntly.

He looked at her strangely once he knew she was starting to drift away from him. "About what?"

"But, I'm not sorry. It was for the best." she started to ramble.

"Please tell me what you are talking about." he asked again.

"Christina has something that belongs to you."

"What does she have?" he asked with a puzzled look on his face.

"You are gonna be mad at me but I understand." she said as she closed her eyes.

"I don't understand right now." he shook his head.

"You will soon." she mumbled.

"You are not going to die on me!" he exclaimed.

"Ok." she said without really listening to him.

"Look at me." he said as he put his hand under her chin and turned it towards him. "Ashley, look at me!"

She opened her eyes slightly but the vision of him was blurry as the drugs started to kick in. "Yes?"

"Promise me." he said in desperation.


"Promise me you won't leave me." he said as a tear rolled down off his face.

"Okay." she said in only a whisper.

"Say it." he said in a whisper back but she had already fallen asleep quickly, unable to respond.

Justin walked back out of the room and down the hall to where everyone was waiting. He wiped the tears away as he met up with them.

"Is everything okay?" Christina asked as she noticed that Justin was crying.

"Uh, yeah. It just got emotional, that's all." he sighed.

"Well, I guess I should go see her now." Christina changed the subject.

"You might as well wait. She fell asleep on me. The drugs kicked in. She will probably be out for awhile."

"Oh, okay then. Well, I might as well go down to the cafeteria." she said as she turned to go down the hall.

"Actually, Christina, wait. I need to talk to you." he said as they walked down the hall a bit to get away from the waiting area.

"Um, okay. What about?" she asked nervously. She didn't know what he and Ashley talked about in her room and it was making her uneasy.

"Ashley said that you had something that belonged to me. Do you know what she was talking about?" he questioned.

"Uh, well, not really." she lied.

"Oh, okay." he said puzzled. Maybe you can talk to her later and ask her what she ment.

"Okay. I'll do that." she replied but in the back of her mind she knew exactly what she ment.

"Justin? Can I talk to you?" Christina asked as she returned from Ashley's room a couple hours later.


Christina led him back down the hall again and around the corner where Ashley's dad kept hiding. "I know what Ashley wanted me to give you. I actually knew before but I wasn't sure if you were ready."

Justin shrugged his shoulders. "You know, you both confuse me."

"I probably should have called you one day and told you but I knew Ashley would hate me. It really wasn't up to me anyway. I'm sorry." she said as she opened the door to a private waiting room.

"For what?" he asked as he looked at her strangely.

"That neither of us told you about her." she said as she opened the door all the way to let Justin in.

"Crissy!" the little girl exclaimed as soon as she saw her and ran over to them.

"Hey you!" she said as she kneeled down and put her arms out for her. "Come over here and meet Justin..." she paused before she finished her sentence. "your daddy."

"Whoa! Wait a minute." Justin said as he jumped back. "Her what?"

Christina stood up and looked at him. "She's yours Justin."

Justin's mouth was wide open. "That's impossible."

"I'm afraid it's true." Ashley's dad said as he walked over to them.

"No. I don't think so." he denied.

"She's three and a half, her name is Gracie and she's yours Justin." Christina said bluntly.

"This is way too much right now. I can't believe you are telling me this." he said as he leaned on the wall.

"Would you like to get a DNA test if you don't believe us?" Ashley's father jumped in protectively.

"If this is true then why didn't anyone ever tell me?"

"Well, she was going to but she decided to wait for your response to her letter so that she could figure out the right thing to do. When she heard back from you that you didn't want to be with her anymore, she totally freaked out. She decided not to tell you because you were so devestated with what happened between you two that she didn't want to add more fuel to the fire." Christina finished.

Justin paused. "That sounds understandable at the time. But, if she's mine, ya'll didn't have to wait for something like this to happen to tell me. God, I might have never known." he cried lightly.

"I'm sure she would have told you sooner or later." Christina continued as Ashley's father left the room.

Justin leaned down to the little girl who had herself wrapped tightly around Christina's leg. "She looks exactly like me." he added as he looked at the girl with big blue eyes and light brown naturally curly hair.

"It's unmistakable if you really look at her closly." Christina said as she looked down at both of them.

"Hi." Justin said softly, not really sure what to say to a three year old."

"Hi." she smiled back at him bashfully.

"She's cute." Justin said as he leaned back up to Christina. "Ashley said I would be mad when I found out she lied to me. I didn't know what she ment at the time."

"Are you?"

"Yes, I am mad that she lied to me. I missed three years with this little girl because of this. If she really loved me than she would have told me."

"Justin. You have to understand."

"What do I have to understand? If I would have known, than we could have worked things out. Instead she keeps it to herself and decides to stay with someone that is abusive and who tried to kill her." he said as his face became flushed.

"Sorry." Christina consoled him.

"You know what? She's not even sorry. She thought it was for the best. You can't keep someone you love in the dark about their own kid." he quieted down.

"I know this is all hard to grasp right now, especially with everything going on, so lets go back out to the waiting area and wait until you can talk to Ashley and work this out." she said as she walked back out the door and into the hall.
"Sounds good." he sighed as they walked back down the hall. They got near the waiting area when they noticed doctors pouring into Ashley's room and her father embracing her mother with tears in their eyes.

"What's going on?" Justin exclaimed.

"She's gone. There's nothing they can do." he sobbed.

"No. No!" Justin yelled as he started to run down the hall but was stopped by the doctor.

"Justin, I'm sorry. There is nothing else you can do for her."

"No. Save her. Do something!" he cried.

"It's too late. She's gone." he consoled him as he put his hands on his shoulders to stop him from charging the room.

"I can't believe this. I lost her again. I just got her back and I lost her again." he repeated himself.

"I'm sorry." the doctor finished.

"Justin." Christina came up behind him with Gracie in her arms.

Justin turned around and Christina gave him a long hug as they cried on each others shoulder. As if Gracie had heard what Christina said earlier, she put the words together and said what came after Justin's name. "Daddy." she said in a soft tone.

Justin looked at her. He looked at his mirror image, the living and breathing soul of Ashley grew within her. He could not deny that she was his child. He felt it in his heart so naturally when he looked at her. Gracie's eyes lit like the flame of a candle. She reached her small hands out to him and he took her in his arms.

He knew that he would not be lost without Ashley and he now knew what she ment when she said that she would always be with him. He knew that he would never be alone for he had now given his heart to another.

Christina stood there watching. Justin had now found his kindred spirit. She knew that somewhere, someplace, Ashley was happy and smiling just for him.

Never Again
Lyrics by Justin Timberlake

Would have given up my life for you
Guess it's true what they say about love, its blind
Girl you lied straight to my face lookin' in my eyes
And I believed you cause I loved you more than life
And all you had to do was apologize

You didn't say you're sorry, I don't understand
You don't care that you hurt me
And now I'm half the man that I used to be
When it was you and me
You didn't love me enough
My heart may never mend
And you'll never get to love me...again

Sadness has me at the end of the line
Helpless, watched you break this heart of mine
And lonliness only wants you back here with me
Common sense knows that you're not good enough for me
And all you had to do was apologize and mean it

But you didn't say you're sorry, I don't understand
You don't care that you hurt me
And now I'm half the man that I used to be
When it was you and me
You didn't love me enough
My heart may never mend
And you'll never get to love me

Wish like hell I could go back in time
Maybe then I could see how
Forgiveness says that I should give you one more try
But it's too late, it's over now

You didn't say you're sorry, I don't understand
You don't care that you hurt me
And now I'm half the man that I used to be
When it was you and me
You didn't love me enough
My heart may never mend
And you'll never get to love me...again

Again, again, again...never get to love me

The End