Chapter 1: Unfortunate Collision

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[A/N: Songs for the chapter:
- The Lumineers // Stubborn Love
- Katy Perry // Birthday]

"Happy Birthday Ashley!"

I groaned and heaved the duvet over my eyes, desperately clinging onto the last shreds of my rapidly departing nightmare. Behind my lids, molten gold eyes combusted into a river of red, crushed metal and deformed flesh. Bringing a hand to my throat, I tried to draw air into my lungs but thick, black smoke danced down my airways, making me cough and splutter.

"Darling, you don't wanna be late for your last first day back, do you?"

The voice sounded faraway, so faraway; as if my head was submerged in water. I tried to reach out to it but the sirens were too loud.

They wouldn't stop blaring.

"M-Make it stop, please!" I choked in a broken voice as curling smoke wrapped a hand around my throat and squeezed tightly enough to make me wheeze.

"Ashley?"

The voice didn't match the deep voice that haunted my dreams; it was much softer with a lilting twang that matched my own. A choking gasp racked through my chest, forcing me to bolt up into an upright position and frantically scan my bedroom. A sheen of cold sweat layered my body like slick oil, glistening in the dim, morning light.

"Daddy?" I called out in a helpless whimper, blinking twice as I searched for the source of the soft voice calling out to me.

"Ashley?"

Laced with concern, the new voice was thickened with fear and helplessness. I swallowed a mouthful of smoke-free air and sighed with immense relief as my eyes adjusted to my dimly lit lilac room, meeting a pair of pale blue orbs that watched me cautiously.

"Mom?" I managed in a wavering voice, shaky and breathless in the attempt to breathe too quickly.

She ignored me and strode into my room, her gaze never faltering. When she reached the foot of my bed an uneasy grimace played upon her wide mouth.

"Was it the same nightmare?"

There was no point denying the obvious so I nodded slowly, averting my gaze to my bloodied nails. They were bitten to a stub so the nail was a thin strip that was surrounded by fraying skin. I made a mental note to quit my nervous habit but for now I gnawed on my pinky, hoping that Mom wouldn't interrogate me any further.

"Maybe you should book an appointment with Dr Jillian? You haven't been to therapy since last year and she did tell you to come back if the dreams returned. Should I call her for you?"

I imagined sitting in a boxy room filled with too many flower pots whilst being coaxed to recollect my recurring nightmares and shook my head fiercely at Mom. Thick curls slapped my cheek, grazing my skin before they pooled around my waist like brown paint.

Don't get me wrong, Dr Jillian Anderson was sincere, pleasant and a remarkably good listener; but that was the problem - she was too good at her job and it was unnerving. She knew exactly what questions could push me over the edge and was far too observant for my liking. I didn't like the way she could unravel the hard layers I had around my memories with her warm brown eyes.

I'd had a lot of therapists in the past eight years but she was by far the best and managed to ease my dreams for a short time. But when the guilt worsened, the nightmares followed suit and I couldn't bring myself to let her help me anymore, I just couldn't.

I didn't want to talk about my dreams, I just wanted to forget them.

"No! Don't call her!" I said quickly before slipping on an impassive mask and waving a hand dismissively. "I mean, don't waste her time. This dream was a one off; you know that I haven't had one in almost a month."

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