DISCLAIMER: South of Nowhere and its characters are the property of The N network, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'd like to thank Andi for her oh-so-patient beta skills…and for ralst – instigating this thing took guts, milady, guts! I'd also like to note that apparently I missed the part of the last ep this season where the scene between Mr. and Mrs. C happens. Eh, oh well...
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Ashley Will (or Ashley Won't)
By OracleDelphi


Maybe Spencer doesn't smile as brightly as she used to, the wattage having dimmed somewhere between her mom's palm meeting her cheek and her lips meeting Ashley's, but no one's seeing the difference. Ashley knows, on an intellectual level, that she should put a stop to this because it will never last.

Someone like Ashley Davies never gets the girl. There will be no setting sun to ride off into, unless she's alone, and then she'll definitely be given a horse and told to leave, leave, leave. This is the sort of life she leads, and while she isn't close to accepting it, she at least recognizes it. So she'll hold on to Spencer, maybe a little too tightly, but Ashley figures that it's the only thing she can do that makes any kind of sense. Giving in was never her style.

Kisses in the car, in her bedroom, stolen in the locker room, add a certain sense of confidence to the relationship that Ashley doesn't think it deserves. A level of happiness that will fade and flicker and she'll cling to and cry over when the affair finally dies, sputters.

She refuses to think about that, to dwell, because she knows that to do that would be stupid, and Ashley is not a stupid girl; she may be a lot of things, impulsive and larger than life and scared and lonely and vulnerable and a badass. There are a lot of things she isn't, however. Like intuitive. So she'll have a funny feeling, but Ashley will convince herself that it's nothing important.

For now she'll overlook Spencer's moments of melancholy and let the blonde shrug it all off, shove it away because this is the happiest Ashley's ever been. And she'll ignore the way that Spencer takes larger and larger risks. Drinking just a little more, holding her hand in a place where it will be noticed, skipping school more often.

Taking more risks will eventually involve having sex in a public place, because it always does. And it will be hot and sweet and just a little rough, because Spencer sometimes needs it that way, and they'll quietly moan in each other's mouths. Ashley will feel naughty but elated and Spencer will feel hollow and even more scared.

And she'll hold Spencer when the world gets to be too much. The rift between the Carlin adults really had nothing to do with their relationship, Ashley knows this, but Spencer refuses to see things that way. Ashley knows that the way this has been set up in Spencer's head will be its own downfall.

Ashley has known people like the Carlins all her life. People who fall into a groove and stay there, whether or not it's a good place to be. Ashley thinks that's what Ohio was for them – a groove. This belief seems to hold at least some truth because once the pseudo-Brady Bunch clan moved to LA, everything was thrown off-kilter and they all landed somewhere completely different. And far, far apart from each other.

Mrs. Carlin, for instance, apparently decided that this was an opportunity to pursue an old flame. A few seemingly unrelated conversations with Spencer made Ashley suspicious even though the blonde didn't quite realize what it meant that her mom was stealing all of her makeup and buying lingerie. Observing Mr. Carlin made it certain. The way he watched her walk out of the room, like he was scared Paula was never going to come back.

Ashley knows how this will work, because the universe has a very sick sense of humor:

Ash won't be surprised when she'll inadvertently confirm that Mrs. Carlin will be indeed getting it on with the smarmy ER doctor guy. Ben? Bob? Bill? The name won't matter because it won't be about him or his dick, really. It'll be about Paula wanting to do something crazy. Ashley will be in some swanky hotel, having tracked down her mom for some grocery money, and there they'll be. Mrs. C will be sporting the freshly-sexed look and the guy will be ordering the bellhop to call him doctor.

She'll wonder if he makes Mrs. C call him Dr. when he's fucking her. Wonder if Paula closes her eyes tightly and thinks of her poor, dweeby husband waiting for her at home. Wonder if she even considers how it will affect Glen, Clay and Spencer. Wonder if she realizes that she's now become one of the sinners she used to abhor so very, very much and wonder if Paula hates herself just as deeply.

And maybe it will make Ashley a bad person for just thinking it, but she hopes Mrs. C avoids looking in the mirror because she can't stand to see the person she's become looking back at her.

Ashley will freak out and make bad choices; because that's the way she deals with bad situations. Should she tell Spencer? Should she be the one to break the news that the fights between Paula and Mr. C are much, much more serious than anyone previously realized? Should she put the weight of this knowledge on the poor blonde's shoulders?

She knows, somewhere deep inside, exactly what Spencer would do:

Spencer would suck it up and go to her mom and give Paula a chance to explain it all away. Paula would try her best, preaching about forgiveness and second chances and high expectations and stress. Spencer would listen, would probably argue with some of Paula's points of reason, but through her tears she would stand up for what she believes in. An ultimatum would be given: someone was telling Mr Carlin. Paula would be the one to decide just who that would be.

Of course, before any of that took place, Paula would take potshots at Ashley's character, calling into doubt what Spencer's best friend saw. She'll posture about how someone raised-like-that may misconstrue innocent situations into sinister scenarios. There will be reminders of the revolving door for men at Ashley's mother's house and the endless supply of groupies at her father's. But Paula will be lying and Spencer will see through it. It will dawn on Spence and make her finally see the rift that's begun to separate Paula from her life. It won't help that they'll both know that it was Paula who dug the trench deeper and deeper every day.

Spencer will wander through the next few days shell-shocked and trembling.

But Ashley won't want to point the poor girl down that path. There is a protective streak in Ashley, probably because no one ever sheltered her, and it is in full effect regarding the blonde. The brunette will hem and haw and avoid Spencer and thinkthinkthink for a non combative solution.

Ashley will seriously consider using her knowledge as an excuse to break it off with Spencer. She'll see exactly how it would work, with her drawing away and the blonde reacting with anger and resentment. Ashley could push and push and push and Spencer could eventually get tired of trying to push back because everyone does eventually. Ashley could be crushed but she could recover and Spencer might only glare at her from across the lunchroom for a month. She could tell herself it's-better-this-way platitudes until the sharpness of the pain wears off.

Ashley could, but she won't because she can't let go of Spencer willingly. During classes, Ashley will space out and be annoyed when the teacher notices and asks her an inane question about Hamlet – which she'll nail. Ashley won't observe the look of absolute shock on the teacher's face, but she will notice that he leaves her alone after that.

Instead of giving any thought to Shakespeare, Ashley will obsess over the fact that Mrs. Carlin hit Spencer. The blonde told her about it, but Ashley already knew. She'd seen the bruising and the hollow eyes, and she recognized the signs easily.

It will be hard for Ashley to really and truly be angry at Mrs. Carlin because, in a way, she comprehends the woman's motivations. Paula moved her entire family to LA out of sheer boredom and curiosity. Saying yes to her ex's offer was just naughty enough to give her a thrill and hope that maybe something out in sunny California could fill that hole. A hole somewhere inside Paula that had only appeared just recently, waking up risk-taking tendencies she swore she walked away from when she gave birth. But wanting something and having something are far different experiences, and the reality of Los Angeles was much, much more than she'd been prepared for.

Paula's reign over the Carlin house was broken, Clay was questioning his place in the world, Glen was being swept away by cars and girls and sex, and sweet little Spencer was turning into a raging queer. Her plan for something a little exciting backfired. Or worked too well, depending on how you looked at it.

It will just burn Ashley up that Paula hit Spencer, though. Ashley will understand feeling out of control, understand the desperation and understand the blinding anger. However, Ash absolutely will not understand the hitting.

One slap a monster does not make, but in this instance the brunette won't care. Ashley will know that she won't just be saying that because it's Spencer, she'll be saying that because she knows what it's like to be smacked around. Ashley's mom was never a good person, so it's not exactly surprising that she has never attracted a truly great guy. The first time little Ash used foundation wasn't at a slumber party with other giggling little girls, it was to try and cover up a particularly nasty welt on her cheek.

The brunette will still hear her mother's words after step dad number two took that swing. 'Next time, duck a little faster. Or, I know!, you could just not interrupt our special time.' It didn't matter that the girl had only knocked on the bedroom door because she was sick and couldn't reach the medicine cabinet. It didn't matter that the girl wasn't yet out of grade school and expected to behave more like an adult than either of her parents.

Ashley will think about how people always talk about the innocence of childhood – with a soft, breathy kind of voice – and how ephemeral it really is and how they can never remember when they lost that naïveté. Ash will believe they're full of shit because she knows that the first time she felt the sting of a palm on her face was the moment her childhood ceased to exist. When the brunette called her dad to cry about what had happened and he gave the phone to his assistant because he had a recording deadline to meet, she knew what being alone truly was. She will think about how it's difficult to finally realize what horrible people your parents are, either through sheer disinterest or a somewhat hidden cruel streak. Growing up and finally getting her driver's license was the best thing that had ever happened to Ashley.

And maybe a tiny little part of Ashley will feel justified that the Carlin's imitation of the Brady Bunch is breaking up. The cracks became increasingly jagged with the change of locale, and the whole charade was going to tumble down eventually anyway – no matter where their home might be. That Ashley had a role in the dethroning only seemed to add to her excitement and satisfaction with the whole situation.

Ashley will wonder just how much her upbringing has scarred her psyche.

Only one of the step dads has ever tried to touch Ashley. Only one has ever looked at Ashley with lust and just…reached out. She knows that she'd have to be an idiot to not understand exactly what he was thinking, and she'd have to be an even bigger idiot to let him near her again. The entire point of the learner's permit was that Ashley was too young to be driving by herself. Ashley was certain that, if she could've gotten the words out, even the most hard-nosed cop would have understood her need to break the rules. The brunette sat on the beach and watched the sun go down, shivering and holding her baggy sweatshirt close watching everything she had been wearing when the creep looked at her burning in a trash barrel. It took months before she wore anything tight-fitting again.

If Ashley hadn't already figured out that she is a lesbian, she thinks that alone surely would have driven her over the brink. Ashley knows there are some things better left to only existing on the other side of the television, and watching Law and Order hasn't been the same ever since. Spencer has tried to watch SVU at Ashley's place more times than the brunette can count, and Ashley knows the blonde wants to ask. She wants to know why Ash can't be in the same room as the little children with the sad, knowing eyes. She wants to know but can't seem to find the words. Ashley knows that she'll tell Spence when the blonde gets up the nerve to ask.

Snorting mentally, Ashley will think that she's not kidding anyone; she'd tell Spencer anything the girl asked. And probably more.

But, Ashley will think, that's the thing about the situation with Spencer's mom – the blonde's not supposed to be the angsty one. It's the brunette's job description to be dark and edgy and wild. It's Spence's place to be sweet and innocent and happy.

Of course, that won't even be addressing the ick factor of adults having sex. Gross much? Ashley will think that she did not need that visual aid, thankyouverymuch. Ashley enjoys living in the safe little world where old people definitely do not get it on. She believes it's much safer that way. Kind of like parents always tend to act like their son or daughter is still a virgin until the wedding night. One of society's unspoken rules. One that Ashley will really, really wish that Mrs. Carlin had observed.

Ashley will track down Spencer, finally, and they'll have this conversation:

Spencer will be fighting tears, because it will be about three (maybe four) days since her girlfriend last spoke to her. Her words will come out of anger and resentment and fear, "So you've finally decided to remember little old me?"

Ashley will mostly reign in her immediate, usual response of sighing and becoming bitingly sarcastic. She'll gnaw her lip, look away, and grate out the words, "Spence, that's not what… Look, I'm sorry; there was just some pretty major bad shit goin' down, okay?"

"But I'm your girlfriend…your best friend…doesn't that mean you're supposed to come to me instead of avoiding me?" Ashley won't need to be looking at her to see Spencer's eyebrows drawing together and her eyes filling with hurt. Ashley won't be looking but she'll see it anyway.

Ashley will glance at Spence, look away again and sigh, because she will know that the entire scene really is her fault – everything usually is. "Yes, yes it is…but, I just…I'm new at this whole relationship thing."

Spencer will delicately, softly, pointedly say, "I thought your mom said…?"

"I told you, they never meant anything to me. You do. There's a huge fucking difference!" Ashley will wave her arms in frustration because she will be tired of making that distinction for everyone. Yes, maybe she used to be a…slut – that doesn't mean she knows how to deal with girls after the sex is out of the way.

Spencer will raise her hands in surrender because she really did know that Ashley has avoided relationships in the past, "Okay…so, are you ready to talk about it yet?"

"I…I guess so." And here, Ashley will think long and hard for a way to pose the situation to Spencer. She will know what the blonde's answer will be, but she will tell herself that it might make things easier to clear the way. Let Spencer know how conflicted she will be. "Okay, so what if someone I know saw someone else I know in a very compromising position a few days ago."

"What kind of compromising? Like Pat Buchanan hooked on drugs compromising…that Baptist preacher caught having gay sex compromising…?" Spencer will give Ashley her I'm-really-not-that-innocent grin and Ashley will wince because this will be hard without Spence going all cute.

"Like cheating on your ball-and-chain compromising." Ashley will blurt it out, sure that Spencer will have figured it out, and turn away to stare at the sky. This conversation will have to be outside during lunch, because serious talks need lots of squinting and shading of eyes in LA.

"Oh, this is getting interesting!" And Spencer will do her cute head tilt and grin, because that's what she does when she's excited. Then she'll give voice to the question that will have been haunting Ashley for days. "So who is this someone else that someone may have seen?" And she'll squint a little at her own sentence and then shrug it away.

Ashley will smile, because Spencer has always seen through her bullshit. She'll remember what they're talking about and stop smiling. Spencer will notice and scoot just a little closer to Ash, put her hand on Ash's arm and ask, "This really has been bothering you, hasn't it? You're kind of scaring me here. Is it…oh my God, did you see Madison with someone not-Glen?"

And because that will shock Ashley, she'll turn large eyes on Spencer and just stare at her. The thought processes in the blonde's head sometimes fascinate Ash, because she would have never assumed any morally difficult hypothetical situation she posed involved the evilspawn hell bitch of doom.

This will only serve to convince Spencer further that she had guessed correctly. She'll gape and her mouth will close and Ashley will watch her in shock. "It really was! That's what you've been freaking out about! When did this happen? Right after he got out of the hospital, right?" And Spencer will stop to think for a second and a really big smile will flash across the blonde's features, "You didn't want to hurt me or Glen, did you? It was before Madison heard that his prognosis was a full recovery and came crawling back, wasn't it? Oh Ashley, honey, I'm sorry you had to be put in this situation."

Spencer will hug Ashley, who will just submit to the embrace awkwardly, and stand up with the sun directly behind her. She'll nod firmly at Ashley and give her a small smile before walking over to Glen's table. Ashley will watch in horror as Spencer pulls her brother aside and has a heated, whispered conversation with plenty of arm-waving. Glen's back will stiffen and he'll whirl around (on crutches, so it will mostly be Glen awkwardly stumbling in what resembles a circle) to glare at Madison, who will give him her best Bambi eyes. Glen will stalk back to his table and loudly break up with her after accusing her of cheating on him in front of the entire school. Madison will start crying and apologize and Ashley will be dumbstruck because Madison will have actually cheated on Glen when he was lying with his knee busted and his dreams broken – if only momentarily.

Ashley will think that she has always known that Madison was not a good person, but that that's an unexpected low. She will look over at Aiden and see his pointed avoidance of the scene and know immediately that Aiden was the other guy. She won't be flabbergasted by it, but she will be surprised at how sad it will make her feel.

Spencer will make her way back to Ashley's side and kiss her cheek and hold her hand while smiling serenely. The situation will have gotten far too bizarre for Ashley to do anything but sit there and find her anchor in Spencer's hold.

After school, Spence will drag the brunette over to her house. Ashley will enter the Carlin household the same way that she always does, she'll put one foot over the threshold and pause for a moment – building up courage to enter. It's a slight pause that no one would ever notice unless they knew what to look for.

She'll be dragged by the hand up the stairs and sit on Spencer's bed. They'll talk and Spencer will stay in almost constant contact because their three (maybe four) days apart scared her. It elated her, too, but she won't want to think about that.

Mr. Carlin will stand at the base of the stairs and call everyone down to dinner and no one will mention Mrs. Carlin's absence. Ashley won't be hungry, faced with the reality of the crumbling household, and she'll pick at her food. She'll glance guiltily at Mr. Carlin's face and look away almost instantly, over and over. Mr. Carlin will act like he doesn't notice much the same as he'll act like he's happy and not slowly breaking down inside.

Ashley will see through it, as they all do, and she'll think that they're the two people in the room who know the truth about Paula. It will feel good to think about the matriarch by her first name because it will make her more human, more fallible somehow. Both she and Mr. C will know of the infidelity, but only Ashley will have proof. She'll feel a kinship with the man and envy his courage to find a brave face.

She'll find an excuse to leave early, maybe a stomach ache. Ashley will lie on her bed and stare at her ceiling, wondering how and where and when and why things went wrong. She will close her eyes hard and think that she was stupid for believing things could ever be right.

Despite the little scene with Glen and Madison, Ashley will still feel conflicted. Because she has never been good at talking about her feelings, she'll seek out the only person who she used to be able to talk to. Madison.

She'll skulk around after school, both avoiding Spencer and trying to find the hellbitch, and end up running into the cheerleader. Their conversation will go like this:

"Freak show, watch where you're going!"

"Shut up, M-Ho." This will be said with half the vitriol normally reserved for the drive-by insult sessions they usually have about once a day. Ashley has never told anyone this, probably never will, but she feels letdown when an entire twenty-four hour span goes by without her dose of verbal sparring with the cheerleader. There's something exhilarating about trading barbs at such a fast pace. She has always assumed that Madison thinks these things up hours beforehand to get the maximum result from an economy of words, but Ashley feels spontaneity is required for her rejoinders to hold their usual special zest. Despite almost coming to blows, Ashley will hold a grudging respect for Madison's ruthlessness and special brand of poisonous mockery.

"Oh, bringing out the big guns, Davies?"

"Look, I need to ask your advice about something." Ashley won't be looking at Madison when she poses the question because the situation will be that outrageous. She'll immediately think that Aiden would have been the better choice, but he's been distant and moody ever since Spencer and Ashley became SpencerandAshley.

Madison will come to a complete stop and gape at Ashley. "You what?"

Ashley will sigh and roll her eyes because that's what she does when she's uncomfortable. "Yeah, you heard me."

And there will be a place inside Madison that must be somehow reachable and human, because something will flicker deep in her eyes that resembles compassion. "Well, just as long as you don't take up too much of my precious time and no one sees me talking to you."

"You think I'd want to be seen near you?" And Madison will glare at her, and Ashley will look down. "Okay, okay, let's make this quick. Say…say I saw something I really shouldn't have, you know, like someone cheating on someone else…and I don't know what to do."

"Someone like who?" Madison will quietly ask, almost sounding as if she cares.

"Like a parental unit." And the words will be floating out there. Ashley will almost wish she could take them back, could just get up and walk away. But she'll think that she's come this far, and there will be something in Madison's posture that says this won't be such a crazy idea after all.

Madison won't be looking at the other brunette by this point, staring instead at the smog-hazed horizon. Her voice will be soft and brittle. "Yours?"

"No. A friend's." Ashley will be thinking that she isn't sure where the situation is going, but that she actually picked a good person to ask. She'll think that maybe she needs to start listening to those little feelings she gets deep in her gut more often.

There will be a long, pregnant pause during which both girls will do their best to avoid looking at each other. Madison will swallow hard and grip the chair she's sitting on with hands that will turn white from the strain. "I think…I think that you should tell your friend."

"Are you sure about that? I don't know if I want to do that to Sp…my friend."

"Yes, I'm sure. I wish someone…I wish that someone would have told me. Maybe then her leaving wouldn't have hurt so badly." Ashley will have barely heard the words through her shock and surprise. She'll sit there quietly, wondering if Madison had ever spoken about this to anyone else. Ashley will realize that this explains everything about the Madison that suddenly appeared, filled with hate and vitriol and bigotry. She'll think that she might have more in common with the cheerleader than either of them previously realized.

"I'm sorry." And, Ashley will realize, she is. She will be sorry that Madison had to lose what was left of her innocence, had to watch her mother walk away, and had to realize that maybe a mother's love isn't perfect. A tenuous bond will have formed between them.

"Yeah, well, I don't want your pity, Tammy Lynn." Madison will be covering up her emotions, forcing back her tears and fighting the understanding coming from Ashley. The cheerleader will react with anger because that's how she deals with any discomforting circumstances. She'll feel vulnerable and realize that Ashley really is a bigger person by not turning the information against her. Madison will feel guilty, and Madison doesn't like feeling guilty.

And just like that, the moment will be gone. Ashley will restrain the urge to scream and launch herself at Madison, because they could be friends and avoid all this spite. But she'll return to their more normal brand of conversation and rejoin with, "Never said I was giving you any, Skipper."


"Please, you always were the Skipper to my Barbie." That won't be the best insult she could come up with, mostly because it paints her as Barbie, but she'll still be harboring a soft spot for the Latina. Somehow digging into Madison's skin won't seem so important after getting a glimpse underneath.

"Dyke." Madison's eyes will open just a little wider for a second after speaking, knowing somehow that she crossed a line. But Ashley won't notice because she'll be too busy clenching her jaw and scowling at the ground, cursing herself for ever feeling the least bit sorry for the bitch.

"Whore." The word will trip off her tongue as a knee-jerk reaction to that word. The word that caused Ashley so much pain when she first came to terms with her sexuality. The word that people throw around her when they're scared of something different. Ashley hates that so much meaning can be packed into four letters, but she won't be surprised by Madison using it to lash out at her.

"You breathe a word of this to anyone and I will claw your face off. Got me, donut bumper?"

"As if I'd ever admit to willingly being in your presence."

With that the two will separate like shrapnel, propelled by Madison's fear and Ashley's anger to stew in silence. Ashley will be thinking that it really was a shame that Spencer pulled her back before she could do any real damage to the cheerleader.

Ashley will then proceed to do what she always does when she's upset. She'll go to the bar and get rip roaring drunk. The stool will start to lean more with each drink and the room will twirl amusingly. She'll run into one of her ex's and for once in her life she'll say no, no, no. Not that she will be tempted, because thoughts of Spencer just grinning at her makes her blood run to parts south. No, Ashley will become a morose drunk and call Aiden when the bartender takes away her keys because he is really a girl anyway. And only a girl would understand her predicament.

Aiden will come to the bar to take a very plastered Ashley home. Ashley will wonder if he's just being a good friend or if he's hoping to get something by the night's end. She doesn't think the boy will ever learn his lesson. She also won't really blame him if he is hoping for a little action because Ashley and Spencer have been yanking him around by his chain since he's known them.

But Ashley won't really be thinking about that because she'll believe, as always, that her drama takes precedence. Everything about Ashley is designed to be larger than life, and any issues that she may have must be treated the same way. It will be something that the brunette realizes she does, but she'll be too drunk to think about tempering herself.

Ashley will blurt out the entire scene to Aiden. He'll be driving carefully because he knows he has a very drunk minor in the car with him and that if he ever let Ashley get hurt, Spencer would probably go after him with a rusty pair of pliers.

"She's cheating on him, yanno." She'll be staring out the car window, her forehead pressed longingly against the cool glass because that's the most dramatic thing she'll be able to do. Ashley will try not to think about the way her stomach dropped into her shoes the moment she recognized Paula. She'll ignore the way the blood rushed in her ears and she knew something had just changed for the worse and there was no going back.

Ashley will be immersed so deeply in her melancholy that she'll almost miss Aiden's question. "Who's cheating on who?" And she'll think about how he should have said whom but that she has a reputation to uphold, and correcting people's grammar certainly won't help it.

"Mrs. Carlin. Dr. Carlin. Mrs. Dr. Carlin." It will feel freeing, somehow, to finally say it out loud. To commit the vowels and consonants into the conversation. Because she won't be the only one with the weight on her shoulders, dragging her down. She'll realize foggily that this will be one of the most selfish things she's ever done – and that's quite a feat – but by that time it will be too late for her to take it back.

Aiden will look at her while squinting his eyes and pursing his lips because sometimes being a pretty boy doesn't leave a lot of room for intelligence. Ashley will know that that was mean, but an alcohol-laden mind refuses to lend itself to niceties. "You mean…Spencer's mom?"

She'll spit out the words in a laughing can-you-fucking-believe-it way. "The one and only." The brunette will stare out the window some more, wishing to fade into the blurriness of the LA night. She'll think very quietly that she wishes Spencer never came to LA because at least then the days were all exactly the same. There may not have been the heart-pounding joy that the blonde brought to her life but there sure as hell wouldn't be any of the additional melodrama.

And Aiden will say the only thing that's appropriate to the situation. "Shit." Ashley will smirk and scoff quietly to herself, realizing just how drunk she is. Her head will feel heavy, the world will leave trails as it flies by, and her thoughts will be sluggish and incoherent. "How do you know?"

"Apparently Mrs. C and her new squeeze enjoy fucking in the same hotel my mom uses with her boy toys." Spat with all vitriol that only the overly-drunk can manage, the words will be harsher than Ashley ever thought she could manage. Her eyes will close and stay that way for a moment, hoping that when she opens them it will have all just been a dream. A silly notion held over from childhood, Ashley will wish it were just the Boogeyman this time.

Aiden won't look at Ashley for a while, thinking about the situation. Thinking that the brunette's behavior will suddenly make a lot more sense. "You haven't told her." Ashley will make a scoffing agreement and Aiden will say, "Yeah, I wouldn't either."

And right then, right after those words leave Aiden's mouth, Ashley will know that she needs to tell Spencer. Ashley won't like what that says about Aiden as a person, because it's very difficult not to like the guy. She's not sure if he's the person she always thought he was. So Ashley will drink glass after glass of water in the vain hope that it will stem off her hangover. She will promise herself that as soon as she wakes up, she'll find Spencer and tell her everything because making the drama worse is not something she needs to do.

Aiden will spend the night, having realized that withholding information so life-changing is not something a good guy would do. Ashley will fling a pillow and some blankets at him and go to bed, dropping off much faster than she imagined she could.

The next morning, Spencer will wake up early – early for a high school girl on Saturday, anyway. She'll slowly wander downstairs and hear the front door open and see her father sitting heavily on the couch. Her face will contort with glee, imagining Glen finally getting caught breaking curfew.

Spencer won't move when she sees her mother guiltily try to close the door silently. Frozen to the spot, she'll watch the entire confrontation:

Spencer's dad will sit quietly on the couch until Paula will see him and straighten up. "I called the hospital, Paula." His voice will sound like he is very far away, like he's wishing he were anywhere but watching his wife avoid eye contact.

"Oh, well, you know how busy it can be. I'm sure the nurse you spoke to was new or just hadn't seen me. I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off!" Paula's voice, however, will sound far too cheerful and dismissing. Spencer will think that she's practically shouting that she did something very, very wrong.

Mr. Carlin will be looking at Paula like he has never seen her before. And maybe he really hasn't. The woman he married, the woman who gave birth to their children, the woman who loved him stayed behind in Ohio, innocent and loving and giving. He stopped recognizing the woman wearing his wife's body a long time ago and he will wonder if he ever knew her. Mr. C will think out of the whole family, his wife has gone through the most change while he hasn't adjusted much at all. He will think about how Spencer seems to finally be coming to terms with her sexuality, how Clay is finally starting to realize that he wants to embrace his heritage, and how Glen seems to be flourishing on the basketball court while floundering everywhere else.

Mr. Carlin will shake his head in shock when the realization hits him. "You don't even care that I know."

Paula will be caught flatfooted, never having anticipated the reality of her actions. She'll have known the instant the words left his mouth that he was right. That her husband knew more about her intentions than she did and that won't sit quite right in the pit of her stomach. Mrs. Carlin will stare at him and finally say, "No…I guess I don't."

"There isn't anything we can do to fix this, is there?" He will say it like it's a proclamation.

And, in a way, Spencer will realize, that's exactly what it is. Something changed while she wasn't looking. The only thing that she'll be thinking about is that her mother won't have a foot to stand on to scoff at Ashley anymore. Then the horrible question of custody will hit her, and she'll know that she would rather live on the streets than with her own mother. Her stomach will do a barrel roll and she'll have to swallow the bile down. Spencer will wonder if it's too late to move back to Ohio, but no, no, that won't really solve anything.

Spencer will watch while Paula squares her shoulders and lifts her chin defiantly, like a two-year-old refusing a nap, and say, "No, I don't think so."

"Maybe we should have stayed in Ohio," Mr. C will quietly say like he really doesn't believe it either. "Maybe then you would still love me."

And Spencer will be able to tell that Paula wants to refute that, to say that she still loves him in some grand gesture. But Spencer will watch her mother's shoulders sag for a few seconds before bracing again. She'll hear Paula swallow hard and say, "No, I think this has been a long time coming."

Mr. Carlin will try not to deflate, try not to feel the finality of the moment, but he'll fail. Spencer will choose that moment to finally lose it and run out of the house. Her parents will call after her, knowing that she overheard much more than she should have, but she won't listen. Spencer stopped listening to her parents a long time ago, so she'll think that it won't matter anymore. She won't remember much of the drive over to Ashley's house, her eyes so filled with tears that she almost got lost three times.

Spencer will rush over to Ashley's place and pound on the door. She'll be put off when Aiden answers the door, clearly having just woken up. Aiden will look at her while trying to hide the pity in his eyes, but Spencer will mistake it for regret. She'll storm past him, not seeing the blankets and pillow on the couch in a room definitely not Ashley's.

Ashley will be in the shower, having woken up with one of the worst hangovers she's ever had. The aspirin will have just started to work and she'll be approaching feeling human again. Spencer will catch Ashley unaware, wrapping her arms around the startled brunette's waist.

They'll have sex in the shower, because that's how people seem to deal with life's really great disappointments. Spencer will take Ashley roughly, quickly, desperately. The brunette will ride the fine line between pleasure and pain to a mind-altering orgasm in Spencer's arms. She'll think that this cannot be healthy, but that when the blonde's hands touched her, no ability to refuse remained. Ashley will then abide by the blonde's pleas for harder, faster, please! and hold her when she cries, certain that Paula either came clean or was discovered.

Ashley will think that it might be a good thing that the situation revealed itself because she has always been the kind of messenger to get in someone's line of fire. Feeling like a bad person, Ashley will dab ineffectually at Spencer's tears with toilet paper and wonder why there won't be any tissues around. She'll think that Spencer will have to get used to a life without a mother and that maybe she knows a thing or two about that.

Questioning harshly Aiden's presence, Spencer will distract herself from the pain for just a moment longer. Ashley will drag the blonde down the stairs and point at the couch wordlessly and Spencer will turn apologetic eyes to the brunette. Aiden will have left already, after valiantly trying not to listen to the girls' passion earlier, and won't be around to defend himself. Ashley will think that it's better this way, for the talk that will need to happen.

Spencer will spill the whole story and Ashley will try to act surprised, but she has never been good at faking anything, so the blonde will notice. She'll put two and two together and be shocked into silence. In her own defense, Ashley will mutter something like, "I just didn't want to break up the Brady Bunch action you guys had, you know?" But it won't assuage Spencer's anger.

Ashley's mind will realize that it isn't her that the blonde is lashing out at, but that won't make it stop hurting. Spencer will talk about things like trust and love and respect and how Ashley clearly could never have felt any of those things for a farmgirl from Ohio. Spencer will say that she was stupid to have believed otherwise for even a moment. Ashley will plead at first, not realizing that there will be nothing she can do. After a while, Ashley won't fight it anymore because the situation will have become a train wreck even Superman couldn't stop.

Thinking about the progression of their relationship, Ashley will find it really funny – ironic-funny, in a painful way – that they won't remember the small awkward moments of their first time; the teeth clicking a couple times and the hands not quite right at first and the shortness of it. The imperfections will have fallen away and all they will remember is the way they held each other afterwards and smiled, smiled, smiled.

Ashley will remember everything about their affair in quick, painful flashes while Spencer's not-quite-looking at her with tears leaking down her face. It won't be Ashley's fault, because people abandoning her has never been about Ashley's doings or wishes, but she'll take the blame anyway. She wasn't what Spencer needed, she'll tell herself. Spencer will cry and fold in on herself and mope but recover much more quickly than she really should have. Spencer will kiss Aiden and smile and the wattage will be even lower than Ashley remembers, but no one else will look closely enough to notice.

In the halls between classes, Madison will see Ashley and will turn around. She'll watch Ashley begin to self-destruct with something like sympathy but she won't try to help. Instead, the cheerleader will focus her insults and ire on Spencer, somehow sensing exactly whose fault the breakup was. She won't really want Aiden back, but she'll flirt with him to try and get him away from the Carlin girl.

Ashley will lie in bed at night and close her eyes and imagine Spencer's hands on her body, edging down her shorts and scraping nails on her thighs. She'll cry during climax because lies are never fulfilling, and she'll feel the ache even more harshly.

She'll wait and wait and wait for Spencer to come to her senses, to realize what they had together is worth any pain or discomfort or public humiliation. And eventually, she'll realize, she never knew Spencer at all, because the girl who hides in misery is not the girl she fell in love with.

Ashley will know that Spencer wanted to mean it when she said she loved Ashley enough for it to last. But in the end, it wasn't enough, because that sort of thing never is.

Being a good emo kid, Ashley will think seriously about killing herself. She'll sit on her bathroom floor and stare at the pills, the razor blade. Ashley will think darkly about who will get to find her body, who will come to her funeral, and what they'll bury her in. She hopes that Spencer will never be the same, because then Ashley will know, know, that she did mean something to Spence after all. Despite all the words and posturing, a part of Spencer will die with Ashley and she finds that she likes that idea far too much for it to be remotely healthy. The razor will be calling her name, a siren's call full of hollow promises and the easing of pain and quick escapes, and she'll get angry. An irrational fury will bubble up in her chest and she'll cry and scream and rage and in the morning she'll wake up, only to play the game all over again.

Then one day, it will stop hurting quite so badly. She'll see Spencer walking through the halls, alone because she couldn't keep up the lie with Aiden enough to keep him happy, and Ashley will feel sorry for Spencer. Ashley will be able to look back on her relationship with Spencer and see all the signs she either missed or ignored the first time around. The shifty looks and quiet sobs in the night and withdrawal from school after one too many people called her a dyke to her face. She'll smile at Spencer one day, for no good reason other than it seemed like a good idea, and Spencer will dart away to lock herself in the bathroom.

In her favorite bar, Ashley will be sitting on a stool minding her own business when a girl will walk up to her. She'll smile and Ashley will wish she grinned and Ashley will send her away. Ashley's heart will never be the same after Spencer Carlin, and she won't be sure how to feel about that.

Ashley can see these things happening on the insides of her eyelids. The images have a certain vitality about them that verifies them, brings them to life. Something very much like them will happen if she's not careful, if she lets this relationship go. But Ashley realizes that she loves Spencer. And, as cheesy as it may sound, that means she's going to give this her best shot. That involves doing and saying and thinking things that she would normally scorn. Spencer has brought out an entirely new side of her, and she's still deciding how well she likes it. She also knows that being with her has brought out an entirely new side of Spencer, one that seems capable of far more than either girl realized.

Spencer, for the first time in as long as she can remember, has the power to completely shred her heart. Ashley doesn't know how that happened, only that it is true. She thinks she can trust the blonde and tries not to dwell on the niggling doubt in the back of her mind.

She doesn't know what she can do to help Spencer, to save their relationship from the kind of disaster she sees every time she closes her eyes, but she knows she has to try. Ashley thinks that maybe if she opens up to Spencer, really opens her heart and explains everything, the blonde might be able to take something and use it. Realizing she sucks at relationships, Ashley resolves to try to not fuck up this one shiny, damn-near-perfect thing beyond repair. That thought alone makes Ashley want to cringe and beam endlessly.

Ashley hates clichés, and she hates being one – living one, breathing one – even more than that. She has heard them all growing up the daughter of a washed-up rock star and never believed in a single one. That is, until now. Now, Ashley knows that a journey of a thousand miles (or, in this case, a thousand years) begins with a single step. It's in that spirit that Ashley tracks down Spencer, holds her hand, and says, "Okay, Spence, here's the thing. You need to talk about what's bothering you and I need to listen."

The End

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