In the Gray (In This Moment Book 3)

By: A.D. McCammon


The second I hit the highway, I roll down all the windows and turn the radio up as my foot presses heavier on the gas pedal. Bush’s “Glycerine” begins to take over my jumbled thoughts as I stick my arm out the driver’s side window. My fingers spread, allowing the wind to flow through them. My hand feels weightless as it soars through the air. Spring is taking its time stepping aside for summer, and there’s a chill in the night air, but I welcome its bite on my skin.

Since I started driving, this has been my therapy. Maybe it began long before that, when I was a little girl riding in the back of my daddy’s Camaro with the T-Top down. Those are some of my best childhood memories—traveling down those country backroads, a slight drop in my stomach as he sped over the tiny hills. In those moments, I was truly happy.

Even now, there’s something so freeing about a long drive with the windows down and music up. It makes me feel like I can go anywhere, be anyone.

If only that were true. It’s not that easy to escape our lives. Your troubles will always find you, no matter where you go. A person can’t change who they are any more than a zebra can change its stripes. Sure, anyone can better themselves, even make a whole new life somewhere different. But they’ll still be the same at their core; they’ve merely painted over their markings.

There’s a simple fact of life I’ve come to accept. I’m damaged goods—fundamentally broken in ways that prevent me from living the life I dreamed of as a girl. There’s no point in trying to run from it or pretending to be someone I’m not. I own my darkness—I’ve shaped it until it fit me like a damn glove.

Still, with the open road in front of me and fresh air blowing around me, I almost feel unburdened. Where I’d been today and the stories I heard almost forgotten. At this point in life, I’ve developed a thick skin. There isn’t much that can penetrate my shell. But talking with Ashland, hearing the details of what that bastard put her through, nearly wrecked me.

As a writer, I always strive to tell the ugly stories—the ones people tend to avoid or ignore. Everyone loves a story with a happy ending, and most writers will twist truths and bend facts until everything is tied into a nice little bow. Not me. My writing always reflects the truth. And the truth is, life isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. There isn’t a clean beginning and ending to every story. Instead of something being black or white, it’s a mixture of both, forming a nice shade of gray.

That’s the way most of us live—in the gray.

When I first heard about Ashland Martin, I knew I wanted to tell her story. If it were left up to the masses, they’d paint her as a villain. After all, she is a murderer. She’d gone into the home of Jim Engels and brutally killed him. Most wouldn’t have even stopped to ask why this young woman would commit such a horrendous act because they don’t care.

I do.

I know what kind of a man he was—the kind of things he’d been capable of. My sister was one of his victims, and she suffered in silence for years because of what he did to her. For that alone, I’d kill him myself. Even if I didn’t know the kind of monster he had been, I would’ve been drawn to Ashland’s story.

Now, after the things I learned, I’m not sure I can go through with it. There’s only one story I’m too afraid to tell: my own. And Ashland’s words today—the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that led her to that fateful night—hit way too close to home. Her pain mirrored my own as she recounted the level of fear she’d felt knowing someone she loved and trusted could hurt her in such a way. It felt as if I were interviewing the eighteen-year-old-version of myself as she described her confusion and how she coped by separating the man who hurt her from the man she cared for.

My entire face begins to tingle as tears prick my eyes. My throat swells and chest tightens as they fall. It isn’t often I allow myself to shed tears for the naive and trusting girl I used to be. I don’t dwell on what was or could have been. Doing so won’t change anything. It won’t take away the pain he caused or the scars he left behind. Besides, maybe those marks on my soul aren’t such a terrible thing. They’ve certainly made me stronger, wiser. My refusal to let people in would probably be considered more of a weakness than a strength.

The ringing of my cellphone replaces the calming melody of the music. I pull my hand back inside the car and swipe it across my cheeks to dry my face. My eyes leave the road briefly to see who’s calling, and I groan when I see Steven’s name across the screen. Any normal, sane person would’ve given up on me a long time ago. Yet, Steven has been relentless and persistent in his quest to break past my guarded exterior. And it was him I ended up revealing my darkest secret to. Now, I consider him one of my closest friends. The man knows me better than most—he knows more than most, and he still wants to be in my life.