DISCLAIMER: South of Nowhere and its characters are the property of The N network, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Josy


Once upon a time, cheerleading made Spencer happy. No, better than happy- it made her feel invincible. She used to think it was the rush of performing, but that couldn't explain her love of cheering even during practices with no audience. For a while, after learning about hormones and endorphins in health class, she wondered if she just loved the rush of endorphins her body made while cheering. That explanation, though, couldn't explain why wearing her uniform made her feel so good. It was almost magical, like something out of a fairytale, how intoxicatingly happy she felt while cheering. Eventually, she gave up asking why she loved it and just accepted that it created a feeling beyond compare. Or at least, she'd thought it was beyond compare until she met Ashley.

Ashley somehow managed to turn cheerleading into an annoyance. How could the excitement she felt looking into a sea of screaming fans measure up to the breathless thrill she felt whenever she caught Ashley staring at her? How could the raw excitement of screaming out chants at the top of her lungs ever hope to top the way her stomach clenched and her ears burned whenever she said Ashley's name? The feeling of her teammates hands lifting her above the crowd meant nothing compared to the feeling of Ashley's hands on her skin. And that was all before Spencer even knew the constant, pleasurable rush that came with actually dating her.

Cheerleading had made her happy once, and then Ashley had come along and made her realize what happiness was. For a long time, Spencer didn't even remember to miss cheerleading. She was too busy adjusting to life in L.A. and adjusting to being in love. When her mom asked, Spencer gave several logical, pragmatic answers as to why she didn't think about trying out for the squad next year. The schools were harder in L.A., and she needed the extra time to do her homework; the girls just weren't the same and were all mean, anorexic, and way too into drugs; not being on a team gave her more time to look into other hobbies. All of her excuses were valid and all of them were lies, because truth be told, Spencer simply didn't care. Cheering had nothing to do with Ashley Davies and anything that kept her farther apart from Ashley Davies just didn't make it onto her radar.

And then Ashley left. She'd completely vanished, only she'd done it so slowly and thoroughly that Spencer only realized it when she'd reached out for Ashley and found her missing. It's hard to realize someone is leaving when you can feel their head on your shoulder and see them smiling at you and hear them assuring you that everything's fine, but Spencer should have known. She should have seen this whole thing with Aiden. If she was honest with herself, which she ironically so very rarely was these days, she had seen it. She'd felt Ashley pulling away and tried to focus on Ashley's smile, Ashley's kisses, anything other than the truth. She hid and she hid from the truth and tried to control her panic until she just couldn't hide anymore. Prom made sure of that.

Looking back on it, a very, very dark part of her thought it almost funny how the very moment she thought she'd never be happy again, she was forced to realize her stupidity in thinking her happiness only existed through Ashley Davies. As she raced to the hospital that night, her only thought was of safety, of her family, of praying frantically and wordlessly that the people she loved would be ok. And when she saw Clay- when she saw his body lying on the gurney, his face twisted into a weird parody of a smile- she realized she never knew what being happy meant before because she hadn't known what it meant to be so devastatingly destroyed.

That pain didn't stop, either. It didn't get any better after the funeral; it didn't improve at all as Chelsea started to actually look pregnant; in fact, it seemed to get worse as the summer dragged on, especially when she saw letters addressed to Clay from different colleges trying to pique his interest. As she ached for her brother she remembered happiness, and tried to find it again, to prove to herself that it still existed. One day, when the house was empty, she'd gone out to the backyard to try some cheers. From the moment her hands clapped together, she knew it was useless. Spencer felt nothing, not even an echo of feeling as she forced her body through routines that once made her feel euphoric. As she shouted her way by memory through every junior high school and high school cheer she knew, Spencer could think of nothing but Ashley, and the way Ashley had made her realize how quickly things can change.

So she tried calling Ashley. She tried, and tried, and kept trying, stubbornly dialing the number until her call history showed nothing but Ashley's name. Spencer knew from the moment her first call was ignored that Ashley would never call back, but she couldn't help herself. She missed the way Ashley used to make her feel, and craved to hide from her world, the way she always did before, in the sound of Ashley's voice. She wanted to fix her attention on her flawed and broken girlfriend because she was so very tired of her own flaws. But Ashley didn't call back, and Spencer couldn't avoid herself any longer. Unable to use happiness to hide anymore, she slowly, slowly began to listen to herself. It was surprising, the things she found as she began to accept her sadness. She learned so much that summer: how to set the table for four instead of five without crying; how to want to tell her Dad or Chelsea her thoughts or anecdotes instead of always only thinking of Ashley; and how she'd been sad before Clay died, and before Ashley left, and what it was that made her that way. In short, Spencer learned how to deal with unhappiness.

Or so she'd thought. It took one moment to look up and see Ashley, standing tiny and ashamed at King Hill high to make her realize that she still didn't know what to do with bitterness, or anger, or betrayal. She fought with herself, equally angry about what Ashley had done and about how badly Spencer still wanted her. Months in Europe hadn't helped Ashley much; she was too thin, too slouched, too obviously unhappy. And it would be so easy for Spencer to concentrate on that, to focus on Ashley's pain and to really work to make her feel happy again. It'd be so easy to go back, so easy to hide again. When Ashley approached her in Chelsea's studio, Spencer didn't hear a single word she said. It didn't matter whether Ashley chose Spencer or not, because it wasn't about Spencer, it was never about Spencer. It'd be about Ashley's pain and making Ashley feel better. The longer Ashley stood, slumped and broken before her, the more tempting the lie became until Spencer ran to it, ran to her, closing her eyes and taking Ashley into her hands, smoothing her pain away with her hands and her lips. Spencer ignored her anger, her internal arguments quieting as she focused on the feeling of Ashley's hair threaded around her fingers and the sound of Ashley's quick breathing. Every kiss, every touch forced Spencer's awareness away from herself and into Ashley, into making Ashley respond, into making Ashley's pain heal. The lie was almost complete when she heard Ashley's smiling, happy voice.

It didn't matter that her words were wrong. What mattered was that it forced Spencer to start thinking again, and the moment she started to think the lie was gone. She wasn't healing Ashley, and she wasn't helping herself. As Spencer stared at Ashley's relieved smile, she thought about cheerleading, and how it had once left her feeling as hollow as she felt here and now, kneeling between Ashley's legs. She thought about how when cheerleading had left her feeling like this, she'd walked away from it. And so Spencer took the lesson Ashley had taught her and she left, leaving Ashley's brokenness behind.

Once upon a time, cheerleading had made Spencer happier than anything else in the world. Somewhere along the way, she'd lost that happiness. But it didn't matter, she told herself as she drove home that night, back from Chelsea's apartment. She'd find it again.

The End

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