I Will Always Love You — Whitney Houston (Soundtrack for Chapter 18)
When she saw Ash standing there at the place where they’d agreed to meet, Cami was flooded with emotions – first joy and relief, and then so much misery that she could not contain it. Her grief, finally unleashed, flowed from her like river, as Ash quietly held her in his arms.
“I really messed up everything,” she said after the tears had subsided, her voice hoarse. “I hurt you. And I was so stupid. You were right, Ash. About everything.” She told him about what had happened with Wyatt.
“I’m sorry,” Ash said.
“Why should you be sorry?”
Ash’s expression was tortured. “I wish that I had been there for you instead of…him.” He pressed his lips together into a tight line.
Cami grabbed his hand. “You can still be there for me. We can go away.” Her eyes brightened at the thought. “We can be a family. You and me together, and….and…”
Ash finished her sentence. “And your daughter.”
Cami blinked, stunned. “You know about Summer?”
Ash nodded. “Yeah. But listen — I’m not mad that you didn’t tell me before. You were scared, I get it. You and Wyatt had a baby together, so you got married. Still seems kinda stupid, but…life happens.”
“Wyatt and me? Wait, I—”
Ash held up a hand to cut her off. “I don’t want to be the one to break up your family. I’m not that guy, okay? So,” he said, taking a deep breath, “I’ve decided to go away.”
“What?” The blood drained from Cami’s face. “No, you can’t!”
“I can’t stay, Cami,” he said, his voice pleading. “I’m graduating early from prep school. And I’ve already been accepted into Stanford. I’m going to study biomedical research so that I can figure out what killed my parents, and what is making so many people sick around here.”
Cami’s shoulders drooped. If she told him now that Summer was his baby, then he would stay. He would want to be near his daughter, and help to raise her. He wouldn’t go away to fulfill his dreams and go to college, and he would be trapped here, just like her.
“Go and save the world, Akash.” Cami offered a weak smile. “I’ll be here rooting for you. Stanford – wow…that’s a big deal.”
“Hey.” Ash stepped closer. “You’re supposed to be saving the world, too. Where are all those flowers and trees you were going to plant all over the place?”
Cami laughed, then felt the tears welling in her eyes again. “I haven’t planted a single seed in so long. I’d forgotten all about it.”
“Well, if you don’t turn this city green, then who will?” Ash leaned forward and planted a gentle kiss on Cami’s forehead. He lingered for a moment, as though he were inhaling her scent. As though he wanted so much more. Then he seemed to catch himself, and turned away. “I love you so much, Cami. Take care of you and Summer.”
Then he was gone.
The next day, Cami picked up Summer from Dr. Mack’s house. Then, for the first time in a long time, she gathered her gardening supplies, and she and Summer went for a long walk to an empty dirt lot which overlooked the city. And with her daughter sleeping in her stroller nearby, and the late spring sunshine warming her shoulders, Cami began to plant.