DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never were. Not making any $$. Don't HAVE any $$. Don't sue.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: My first SoN fic. I haven't seen all the episodes; so, bear with me while I learn the characters.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: All but mostly 'Friends with Benefits'.

Down to One
By Aeryn Sun



"I'll get it!" Glen called later in the day when the doorbell chimed. He hopped off the stairs and glanced into the living room where his sister was sitting on the couch. He knew Ashley was in there too although he couldn't see her. He had no idea what was going on with the girl but there was a strange vibe in the house that was making him uneasy. He thought it was unfair that Spencer didn't have to go to school since Ashley couldn't but there was something else underneath the situation that made him keep his mouth shut.

"Ew, what do you want, Dennison?" he grumbled when the door opened to reveal Aiden. The dark haired boy frowned at him.

"Is Spencer home?" he asked. Glen rolled his eyes.

"Spence! Your man-candy is here!" he called, annoyed. "Dude, she's in the living room." Sighing, Glen returned upstairs, having no interest in his sister's strange social life, especially since it seemed to involve two of his least favorite people.

"Ashley?" Spencer called to the quiet girl who was lying with her head in her lap as they watched a movie two days later. It was Friday night; Aiden had called, confused as to where both girls were since Wednesday since neither had been in school. Spencer had covered by saying they both had the flu and that her father was taking care of Ashley. Aiden was such a trusting soul that he bought the story and told her that he hoped they both got better soon.

"Yeah?" the older girl answered her voice still soft. She had been soft spoken since the day her mother had beaten her. Spencer didn't like it; it unnerved her. Ashley was always so loud and verbose, excitable and full of energy. This new version of her was sullen, quiet and withdrawn; all things that Spencer never equated with the brunette beauty but she didn't know what to do to fix it.

Ashley was withdrawing somewhat, becoming harder and harder to engage in conversation and Spencer wanted nothing more than to pull her out of the funk. She was doing the best she could but her own guilt and sorrow were getting in the way.

She knew that Ashley was ashamed no matter how many times she and her father assured her that there was nothing for her to be ashamed of. Ashley had done nothing wrong at all, they told her. And Spencer knew that deep down Ashley wanted to believe them but for so many years had been taught differently.

"You're too quiet," Spencer said. She felt Ashley shrug against her but not verbalize an answer.

Ashley knew that her behavior was disturbing to Spencer and she wanted to let the beautiful blonde in passed her walls but it was so hard. Her heart and her mind were warring with each other, telling her that she had deserved the beating for bringing Spencer into her home while at the same time saying that her mother had no right to do what she did. It was leaving her confused and turned inside out with no clue which way to face.

Spencer and Arthur had been telling her that she had done nothing wrong and that it was all her mother's fault. But her mother always told her every time she hit her, that Ashley had deserved it, that she had been asking for it. Year after year, hit after hit and bruise after bruise her mother repeated those words. 'You are worthless; you need to be hit, to learn your place' and Ashley's personal favorite 'if you ever tell anyone, and it'll be the last thing you ever do'. Ashley wholeheartedly believed that her mother would do whatever she had to do to protect her reputation.

She sometimes wondered to herself why she wasn't a compliant, obedient child, wanting to make sure she did what she was told in order to keep her mother happy. Instead she was a rebellious, non-conforming, disobedient young adult that seemed to enjoy testing the boundaries. She pissed her mother off more often than not and would always reap the consequences for it. The beatings had tapered off as she had gotten older, Mrs. Davies seeming to know that Ashley was more than capable of defending herself. Still, the constant knowledge of how little her mother thought of her and her life drove Ashley to dark and lonely places.

It was one of the reasons she drank as much as she did, why she used it as a form of escape. It was also a reason she had entered the drug scene in the first place. When Paige had opened that door to her, Ashley had run through it without a thought to what might happen. If she ended up not waking after a binge, all the better; she'd be free of her mother's tyranny. She had been pretty deep into cocaine and ecstasy for a few months until she realized that it was making her the same sort of empty, emotionless shell her mother was.

She had quit everything, cold turkey, except alcohol when she felt she needed it and vowed to herself to never to become that evil woman. She promised herself if she was ever blessed with children that they would only know love, peace and fairness; never the back of a hand in anger or the curled knuckles of a fist in rage.

She wanted the alcohol now, had mentioned as much to Spencer late at night the second day she was staying at the Carlin house. She begged Spencer to let her get drunk off her ass so that the pain, physical and emotional would stop. Spencer had flatly refused, saying that it wouldn't help anything and instead held Ashley as she cried and sobbed.

"I'm sorry," the blonde said sadly. She had been running her hands through Ashley's hair and playing with the ear she could reach, amusing herself with the way it bent. Ashley was still sore and covered in rainbow colored bruises. Her ear was something that Spencer could touch and feel connected to Ashley without adding to her pain.

The thoughts in Spencer's head, churning over mixed with guilt and fear were burning behind her eyes, making unshed tears shine in her blue eyes. She knew that if she didn't say something to Ashley soon, found a way to lessen her guilt, she would drive herself insane with it.

Ashley picked her head up and looked at her, confused.

"For?" she prompted, one eyebrow arching in question. Spencer bit her lip. It was something that was bothering her, keeping her from sleeping the past few nights while Ashley was staying with her. She felt such a hot shame in her heart that it made it hard to breathe. She prayed to a God she wasn't sure was watching anymore that Ashley would forgive her.

"For ever being rough with you," she responded, her voice barely audible and heavy with shame. "If I had known about…your mother…" Ashley sat up quickly and pulled Spencer into her arms.

"Don't, don't apologize," she said gently. Tears began cascading down Spencer's sweet face. "You did nothing wrong."

"But," Spencer sniffled. "She should have showed you that love is beautiful and gentle but instead she hurt you, taught you to fear love. And then when I should have been gentle with you, loving you, I was rough and mean. I shouldn't have done that." Ashley brushed away Spencer's guilty tears with the pads of her thumbs.

"Spencer, look at me," she ordered. When sad watery eyes focused on her, she continued.

"What my mother…did," she swallowed hard, images playing in flash forward behind her eyes and making her wince. "And what you do are so different, Spencer." Spencer shook her head.

"I don't see how," the blonde argued.

"You might get rough and demanding once in a while," she smiled as Spencer blushed a deep shade of red. "But you love me, really love me. And if I asked you to stop or said that I didn't like something, you'd stop that second. I know you would. I trust you Spencer, with everything; my heart, my soul, my body because I know that you'll never hurt me."

"Your mother had no right…" Spencer started. Ashley closed her eyes, trying to shut out the things she could see, her childhood replaying its ugly moments in Technicolor. The look of pain on Ashley's face frightened Spencer.

"Ash…?" she whispered, reaching out to brush some dark hair away from the still bruised face. Ashley's eyes opened and focused on Spencer, making the younger girl's chest tighten at the sheer haunted look she could see there. Ashley's hand came up and grasped her own, squeezing slightly.

"Spencer, please just forget about my mother," she asked, almost pleading. She was worried that if Spencer kept with her current line of thought, apologizing and trying to soothe the emotional torment she suffered that she'd slip and tell Spencer everything. And Ashley wasn't ready for that yet.

"I can't, Ashley," Spencer sighed. "I swear to you that I will never hurt you again." Ashley rolled her eyes.

"Spencer, you have never hurt me," she said firmly. "You have not done anything to me that I did not want or enjoy. Stop beating yourself up over it. And please don't think that we can never be together…like that again. I like that free, wild side of you, Spence. I love that being with me unleashes it. Please, please, please don't let her change us. Please." Slowly Spencer nodded.

"You'll tell me right?" she asked softly. "You'll tell me if I ever do something that you don't like or that…hurts," she sobbed at the very thought. "I never want to hurt or scare you, Ashley. I'll never abuse you, in any way. I love you." Ashley pulled the larger girl into her arms and hugged her tight, trying to convey some of the same comfort and love that she had been giving.

"I promise, Spencer. I promise."



Paula arrived home Sunday morning and looked over Ashley's injuries. She was deeply disturbed by the amount of damage done to the teen's body. While she didn't personally like Ashley or want her as a part of Spencer's life, she couldn't condone child abuse. She was overwhelmed by her own shame and guilt over her striking Spencer not once but twice. She still was unable to believe that she had acted that way and hoped to be able to one day get Spencer to forgive her for it.

However, she still wanted to get the girl as far away from Spencer as she could. Ashley was the source of the gap between herself and Spencer, Paula was sure of it.

"Arthur, that girl can not stay here any longer and I am not allowing her to stay in the same bed as Spencer," she said as she and her husband went into his home office to talk privately. Arthur sat down in his chair and looked at his wife.

"Paula, I think that staying here with Spencer is the best thing for Ashley right now," he explained calmly. "She is in a real fragile state right now and shipping her to some unknown place could do damage." Paula rolled her eyes.

"Oh, she's a big girl, Arthur. She can handle staying in a hotel room," she retorted sourly. Arthur leaned forward in his chair, his elbows on the desk.

"Then you better accept the fact that if I have to send her to a hotel to stay, I'm sending Spencer with her," he said in a matter-of-fact tone. Paula's eyebrows arched in disbelief.

"What?" she asked angrily. "You would send our daughter into a possibly dangerous situation with that girl…"

"Her name is Ashley, for the last time, Ashley," Arthur snapped. "And it is precisely because her mother could become dangerous that Ashley should not be alone and is staying here."

"I do not want…Ashley, around Spencer!" Paula announced. "And her mother isn't the danger, Ashley is. Do you see the changes in your daughter since she started hanging around with that troublemaker?"

"What I see is two girls deeply in love with one another," he answered evenly. Paula's face turned bright red in anger.

"And you condone that…that disgusting depravity? You want her to live a life of sin?" she ranted.

"My daughter is happy; there is nothing disgusting about that, Paula. Spencer and Ashley are a couple and you need to deal with it because I am not going to let you try and destroy that." Paula slammed her hands down on the desk, glaring at her husband.

"How dare you…?" Arthur stood up and glared back at his wife.

"No, Paula, how dare you? How dare you push your beliefs on our daughter, push your bigotry and hatred on her? How dare you tell me that what Spencer doing is sinful or wrong when you are cheating on me? Your HUSBAND! You are breaking one of the Ten Commandments. I don't think that you are in any position to tell anyone what's right and what's wrong when you so clearly do not uphold the same beliefs that you hide behind."

"You can't speak to me like that!" Paula hissed. Arthur stood to face her.

"What? I can't speak the truth?" he spat back. "Paula, the truth is that you are using Spencer's relationship with Ashley to hide your own indiscretion. Frankly it disgusts me."

"I told you that my…relationship with Ben is over," Paula reminded him. Indeed when Arthur had called her while she was at the conference, she had admitted the whole thing to him and promised that it was over. Since it turned out that Ben was also seeing several nurses at the hospital, Paula wasn't interested in him anymore.

"I made a mistake and I confessed it. God forgives me…"

"You made a choice, Paula," Arthur began, his voice dark. "You chose to cheat on me, your faithful and loving husband of almost twenty years, with Ben. Not just one time; one time could possibly be forgiven and moved on from. But no, you were with him back in Ohio. The main reason we moved our family, our children away from everything and everyone they knew was so that you could follow him out here. You lied to me, tricked me into thinking that it was a different motivation but now I know the truth. And saying that you confessed your 'sin' and that God forgives you does not guarantee my forgiveness."

"So what exactly are you saying, Arthur?" Paula asked, her tone condescending and rude. "Are you seriously telling me that you are going to choose that girl over me, over our marriage and family? Are you really that willing to let your daughter become a dirty disgusting pervert?" Arthur tilted his head slightly and stared at his wife.

"What I am telling you is that if you make me choose, my daughter's happiness over your selfishness and narrow-minded bigotry…that you are going to lose. Every time."



"Spencer, I am so sorry," Ashley whispered as her girlfriend watched her mother's car pull out of the driveway, the tires squealing as she drove off. Spencer's head rolled forward in a defeated stance. Her mother was gone.

"Ashley, it's not your fault," she responded, her voice thick with unshed tears. Ashley sat up, her stuffed puppy clutched tightly in her hands.

"Yeah, Spence, it is," she said sadly. "If I hadn't entered your life, your family would still be happy. Look at what just me being here is doing." She got up off the bed and started to pull on her shoes. "I'm just gonna go…"

Thin strong arms suddenly surrounded her, holding her tight and unyielding. Spencer pulled her back onto the bed, covering her slightly with her larger body.

"It is not your fault," Spencer said hotly. There was no anger in her voice; the heat behind her words caused by something else entirely. Before Ashley could respond, soft lips covered her own and Ashley surrendered herself. It was the first time since her mother's beating that they had done anything more than cuddle and peck on the lips. Spencer's tongue demanded entrance that Ashley gladly allowed. She'd wanted to feel Spencer like this, hot and in control for days but knew that the younger girl was unsure what she could and could not do.

Those knowing hands slipped under her t-shirt, caressing her breasts and making her nipples harden almost painfully. Spencer's fingers toyed with the stiffened peaks, pinching and rolling them through the older girl's bra, listening to the whimpers and sighs that rolled from slightly parted, kiss swollen lips.

Wordlessly, Spencer lifted and removed Ashley's shirt and then her bra, her lips never straying far from her girlfriends' mouth or neck, lavishing attention and all the desire that had been pent up for a week. Yes, Spencer was upset her mother had packed a bag and left for a hotel. But at the same time, she wondered if for now if it wasn't the best thing, especially for Ashley. Being in the same house with another parental unit that had a less than friendly opinion of her was stressing Ashley out even if she didn't mention it.

As the lithe body below her arched into her touch, her mother's absence suddenly didn't matter. Only Ashley, soothing Ashley's pain, making the girl feel as loved as she was became the only thing on Spencer's mind.

She traveled down Ashley's neck, seeing again the faded pink mark on the brunette's neck, originally created that first night of passion that seemed so long ago, another lifetime almost. It stood out in contrast to the bruises and scrapes inflicted in rage by Mrs. Davies. Spencer wondered, hazily as she pressed her mouth to the mark first to kiss it and then let her teeth sink into it, reaffirming their connection, if the reason it looked so different was because it was created from love and not anger.

"Ahhhhhhh…" Ashley hissed at the pain of Spencer's bite. She turned her head to the side, exposing her slim neck to her girlfriend. Spencer sucked on the pulse point, feeling the pounding of the older girl's heartbeat beneath her tongue. The feel of Ashley's vitality right there, strong yet fragile against her mouth, added to Spencer's desire.

Ashley quickly found herself naked beneath her girlfriend, her body aching for release at Spencer's hands. She gasped as talented fingers easily slid deep inside her, stroking within and chasing away, at least momentarily, all the pain, physical and emotional. There was only Spencer, and the hot, burning, intensifying desire swelling low in her belly, striving for release.

Spencer growled, feeling how hot and wet Ashley was for her, the tell-tale tremors of the brunette's inner muscles telling her she was close.

"Oh God, Ashley," she panted, her arm thrusting; her mouth millimeters from Ashley's. "The way you feel…so good…I have to have you…"

"Please Spencer, more," Ashley begged. Spencer bit her lip at the desperate plea and added another finger to the first two.

"Christ," Ashley groaned. Her hips were jerking erratically as her body fought with itself; trying to get closer to and at the same time away from the intense pleasure she was feeling. Her muscles twitched, drawing Spencer in deeper.

"Ash…is this ok?" Spencer whispered into her girlfriend's ear. Ashley was whimpering and Spencer was afraid she was inadvertently hurting her.

"God, yes!" Ashley cried, her orgasm blazing through her. She clawed at Spencer's back where her hands were under the blonde's shirt, her nails leaving red tracks on sensitive skin. Spencer let out a feral growl at the burning feeling on her back. She continued to thrust deep into Ashley, sliding through her wetness with ease.

"Yes, Spencer, oh god, yes…" Ashley chanted. "Oh baby, fuck me…" Spencer shimmied down the writhing body and let her tongue join her fingers, licking at Ashley's clit, flicking across it. Ashley's hips jolted upwards towards her mouth and the brunette smothered her scream of pleasure in a pillow she pulled over her head. Her other hand buried itself in Spencer's hair, tugging hard at the golden locks as Spencer sucked the sensitive bud into her mouth.

"Oh God, Spencer," Ashley hissed, her breath hitching. Every lick and suck of her girlfriend's skilled mouth was driving her higher and higher. Spencer sped up her thrusting, feeling the way Ashley's muscles twitched with each stroke and matched the rhythm of her tongue against Ashley's clit with that of her fingers inside her.

"Speeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnncccccccccceeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrr!" Ashley groaned as she came hard, her body writhing beneath her girlfriend. She growled as the contractions continued, almost painful in their intensity.

Spencer moved up the now prone and panting body, holding her tightly as the orgasm passed.

"I love you, Ashley," Spencer whispered, placing a soft kiss to the brunette's sweaty temple. Ashley purred and cuddled into the embrace.

"God that felt so good, Spencer," she sighed. She could feel sleep pulling at the edges of her awareness, the intensity of her orgasms completely wiping her out.

"I didn't hurt you, baby, did I?" the younger girl asked carefully. She felt Ashley shake her head against her shoulder.

"You could never hurt me, Spence," she answered tiredly. "You made me feel amazing." Spencer smiled, relief flooding through her. She was still worried about inadvertently injuring her girlfriend or aggravating the injuries she already had. She could feel Ashley's breathing beginning to even out.

"Still, 'm sorry 'bout your mom…" the older girl said drowsily. Spencer hugged the smaller girl tightly.

"It's ok, Ashley. You're worth it, honey. I mean, yeah it hurts that she left but…" she started softly, knowing that Ashley was now asleep. But she still felt the need to reassure her.

"But she will always be my mom and I can't help hoping that one day, she'll come around and see that I'm still the same person she helped raise. And I think eventually, after time, she'll see what a wonderful and loving person you are, Ash. Right now my mom can't see past her religion and that makes me sad because she's missing out on so much not giving you, giving us a chance."

Ashley's slow breathing was beginning to make Spencer sleepy as well. She pulled the covers up as best she could and closed her eyes.

"She's my mom and I know that she loves me," she yawned. "I have to believe that things will eventually work out. But in the meantime, you're what's important. You're my priority, baby."

Spencer dozed off shortly after, her arms wrapped around the thin form in her arms protectively.



Both girls returned to school the next morning and tried to ignore the looks Ashley received due to her bruises and scrapes. Spencer worried about Ashley's feelings, knowing that the whispers, the pointed fingers and such really bothered the older girl even if she didn't admit it. The way Ashley walked, her head bowed and folded into herself only served to exacerbate her concern.

She was getting more and more withdrawn, speaking less and less. It had taken Spencer close to an hour to get her out of bed and going that morning, Ashley was so dead set against going back to school. But Arthur wouldn't let Spencer stay home any longer and she knew that the sooner Ashley got back into the swing of things, the better. It wouldn't do any good to let Ashley stay home and dwell on what was happening. Besides that, Spencer was slightly afraid to leave the depressed brunette by herself out of fear of Ashley taking off while she was at school. At least if they stuck together, Ashley wouldn't have an opportunity to bail.

The more time Spencer took to think about it, the more she realized that a lot of Ashley's reactions to things were caused directly by the abuse she'd suffered for years at the hands of her mother. The way she had simply accepted the fact that Spencer had hit her that morning after they first started dating, in stride and unsurprised that it happened. It still bothered Spencer to think that Ashley felt that was how things were supposed to be, that Spencer's striking her was the norm. Or the day Madison started to hit her and she didn't move, just waited for it to happen. It turned Spencer's stomach to think that Ashley felt that being hit, being abused was a way of life.

(I'm going to show her that it isn't like that) she vowed to herself while putting her books in her locker. (Even if it takes me the rest of our lives, Ashley is going to understand what love is supposed to be like and that she doesn't deserve to be treated so badly)

"Well lookie here," Madison's condescending tone broke Spencer from her thoughts and she looked up, seeing the small Latina had cornered Ashley on the quad, surrounding her with the other cheer bitches. Grinding her teeth, Spencer slammed her locker shut and started to walk closer.

"Leave me alone, Madison," Ashley said lowly, her tone almost pleading but not quite. Madison, sensing the weakness in the other girl, pounced.

"Looks like someone finally gave you what you deserved, whore," Madison teased, laughing along with her posse. "You're a mess, Ashley. A nasty freaky mess. So, who did it? Who smacked you around like the piece of garbage you are? Was it Mommy? Or maybe Daddy took time from his latest tour to show you how worthless you really are?"

"Fuck off, Madison," Spencer growled as she reached her girlfriend. Ashley didn't even look up at her when she arrived, instead focusing on the pavement beneath her. Her shoulders were slumped and her breathing uneven. She was beginning to panic like that night in Spencer's room and the blonde wanted to stop it before it got going.

"Oh look, it's Super Spencer to the rescue, like always," Madison spat. "Well, it looks to me like you didn't get there in time. Or maybe you did that to her?"

"I would never lay a hand on Ashley!" Spencer stepped up and got right in Madison's face, nose to nose. "So back off, Madison!" She shoved the smaller girl, watching her stumble back a few steps. Madison glared and brushed herself off.

"Jesus, Spencer, look what the freak has done to you," she chided. "Turned you all violent and shit. If you're not careful, if you keep leaping to that loser's defense like you do, people are going to start to talk…"

"Oh yeah?" Spencer snarled back. "And what exactly are they going to say?" Madison smiled, a sick twisted grin that turned Spencer's stomach.

"That you two are fucking," she spat, disgusted. "That you're just as sick a freak as she is. Or maybe they'll say something like 'Ashley raped you…'"

"No!" Ashley cried out, tears streaming down her face. "I wouldn't! I couldn't!"

"Ashley, calm down," Spencer soothed, automatically going from angry at Madison to concerned for her girlfriend. There was a look of panic on Ashley's face that deeply disturbed the blonde.

"I wouldn't, Spencer," she repeated earnestly, her eyes begging Spencer to understand. Spencer frowned as Ashley backed up a few steps.

"I know you wouldn't, Ashley. Don't let Madison get to you like this…" she said, reaching out her hand to brush at the tears beginning to fall down her girlfriend's face.

"What's the matter, Ashley? Feeling guilty?" Madison taunted. Ashley stared at her in horror and then looked at Spencer. The empty, frightened quality to those brown eyes scared Spencer. Ashley shook her head and then turned suddenly, taking off in a fast run as if the hounds of hell themselves were chasing her.

"Ashley!" Spencer called after her, confused. She turned back to Madison.

"You're going to pay for that," she warned. Madison just laughed at her.

"Looks like I struck a nerve, huh?" she giggled. Spencer sneered at her.

"Why do you enjoy hurting her so much?" she asked finally. Madison smirked.

"Because she deserves it," she said plainly. "You'll see, Spencer. Ashley isn't worth shit." Rolling her eyes, Spencer turned and ran after her fleeing girlfriend, hoping that the older girl wasn't heading for her car in the state she was in.

It was nearly a half hour before Spencer managed to track her girlfriend down, under the bleachers on the other side of the track across from the school. She'd searched everywhere else, missing class and finally checked the field as a last resort. Ashley was lying in the grass beneath the metal seats, hidden by the shade, sobbing.

"Oh baby, please calm down," Spencer asked, getting on her hands and knees to crawl under and get close to Ashley. Ashley hiccupped and curled into a tighter ball.

"Go away," she sniffled. Spencer shook her head and reached out to stroke the crying girl's face. She frowned, hurt, when Ashley flinched.

"Ashley, I won't…" she began. "I would never hurt you. You know that."

"I know!" Ashley wailed. She hated herself for flinching but it had happened automatically. "Please Spencer, just leave me. You can do so much better." Spencer laid her body over Ashley's, wrapping her arms around the shaking girl.

"Don't, Ashley, don't do this. Don't let Madison and her evil words, her ignorance do this to you," she whispered trying to soothe the smaller girl. Ashley only sobbed harder at the words. Spencer didn't know what to do so she just held her, rocking slightly.

"Ash, please, you have to stop thinking so bad about yourself," she finally started talking to fill the space between them, hoping that it would calm Ashley and the girl's tears would stop. "I don't like hearing how you think I can 'do better' or something. There's nothing wrong with wanting you."

"You…deserve…more," Ashley responded between shuddering sobs. Spencer shook her head.

"No, baby, there is no 'more'. You are the top," Spencer said honestly. "You are wonderful, loving, smart, funny…"

"Stop, Spencer," Ashley grunted, pulling away from the blonde. She hastily wiped at her face, smearing dirt across her bruised features. "I'm not any of those things…"

"You are too!" Spencer protested, her voice rising slightly. "I am not going to let you put yourself down like this. Ashley, you are so amazing…"

"What I am is damaged goods," Ashley spat. "Worthless piece of shit…"

"Ashley, stop!" Spencer scolded. Both girls simply looked at each other, both set in their belief and not willing to budge. The bell rang in the distance, signaling the end of another school day.

Finally, after several tense minutes, Spencer reached out again, brushing some of the dirt off of Ashley's face. To her relief, the older girl didn't flinch.

"Let's go home, baby," she said softly. Reluctantly, Ashley nodded. As they crawled out from under the bleachers, Ashley smiled.

"I just realized that I really thought of your house as home," she said softly. "I think it's the first place that has actually felt like a home to me." Spencer beamed at her.

"Because it is your home, Ashley," she agreed. Ashley managed a small smile.

"Yeah, I guess it kinda is."

Part 91

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