DISCLAIMER: South of Nowhere and its characters are the property of The N network, no infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This started as a 'get-well' one shot for Clomle and well, took on a life of its own.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Aeryn Sun


Part Two

Spencer was asleep in the smaller girl's arms, her body limp and sated. The way Ashley smelled had quickly become a 'safety' smell to her; she loved it. It was warm, comforting, soothing. So was the steady thumping of the girl's heart beneath where her ear rested on Ashley's chest which lulled her to sleep after a very long night.

"Spence...Spencer," Ashley, although right now Spencer had to remind herself to call her Z or Zorro, tried to wake her. Spencer grunted in response. This earned her a chuckle that shook Z's slight frame. "Come on, Spence, you have to get back to the sorority house. It's nearly dawn." Spencer's head shot up and she looked around.

She didn't remember when exactly she fell asleep but by now the sky was just starting to turn violet as the sun began to rise. Spencer looked up at Z, the girl still wearing her black mask and looking happy yet tired.

"How long was I out?" she asked. Z smiled, her nose crinkling.

"Long enough to snore and drool on my chest," she teased. Spencer scowled playfully and tapped the brunette on her nose.

"Hush, I do not snore," she declared. "Or drool." Z laughed as she helped Spencer sit upright and pull on her clothes.

"You look tired," Spencer pointed out. "Did you get any sleep?" She watched as Z's cheeks turned pink.

"Uhm, no not really," she replied softly as she readjusted the mask. Spencer frowned.

"Why not?" She buttoned her shirt and ran a hand through her hair, using her fingers to undo the tangles that had settled in.

"Because...ah...because I was watching you sleep instead," she confessed, her voice almost lost thanks to the sounds of the tide lapping at the beach nearby. Spencer tilted her head as she thought over the whispered confession. Her heart was doing a happy jig in her chest and she was deeply touched.

"I know, it's weird and freaky, I'm sorry," Z apologized hastily when Spencer was quiet too long. "Great...I am such a fucking loser..." Spencer silenced what appeared to be the start of a long, self-deprecating and obscenity laced rant by pressing her lips to Z's and kissing her until they were both left gasping for air.

"Uh...what was I saying?" Z asked a few minutes later. Spencer giggled.

"You are not any of those things, Ahh hhha...er...Z," Spencer said, correcting herself when she almost said the girl's real name and ruined the illusion Ashley was trying to create. She wasn't sure what Ashley's need for that act was but she wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize it.

"I just admitted to watching you sleep," Z said wryly, her mouth quirking up slightly. "Wow, stalker much?" She stood up and brushed herself off before extending a hand to help Spencer up.

"I thought it was sweet," Spencer told her, grasping the offered hand and pulling herself to her feet. Z blushed yet again. Spencer really did think she was the cutest thing ever. "Can we sit and watch the sunrise before I go?'

"Of course, my lady," Ashley said in her Spanish accent, making Spencer giggle. They sat in the sand wrapped in a blanket, Spencer sitting in the 'v' created by Ashley's legs as the brunette sat behind her with her arms wrapped around the blonde. Slowly, the sky turned colors, from violet to blue to pink, red and orange until the sun was in the sky. Eventually they knew that their time together that day was up so they reluctantly stood, still wrapped together.

"Ug, I gotta call a taxi to get me home..." Spencer lamented. She really didn't want to leave.

"No, no, no, no," Z said firmly. "No taxi. I invited you out here; it would have been silly for me not to arrange a ride home for you." She took out her cell phone and dialed while Spencer smiled, amazed by the thoughtfulness of the other girl. She seemed to have covered every angle.

"Yeah, it's me...I need a car out here to take Spencer back to the sorority house...yeah, that sounds good...uh huh...ok, see you then," Z hung up and turned back to Spencer. "A car should be here in about 10 minutes. It'll take you directly back to the sorority house unless you wanna stop somewhere first, like to eat or something." Spencer nodded.

"Are you coming with me?" she asked hopefully. Z smiled but shook her head.

"Nah, I gotta take this canopy down and pick everything up," she explained.

"Let me stay and help you," Spencer offered, wanting to spend just a little more time with Z before she returned to her reality where she and Ashley were barely friends.

"It's OK," Z said, still smiling. "You need to get back to the house and try to explain where you've been all night." She winked, teasing Spencer.

"Ew, I hadn't thought of that," Spencer pouted. "All the more reason to stay here and help you. It's the least I can do since you went through all this trouble..."

"It wasn't trouble," Z interrupted, her voice serious. "I wanted to do it. I...I needed to see you..." She trailed off and looked away, embarrassed by the confession. Spencer reached over and cupped the fragile girl's chin in her hand and pulled her face back around. She stared deep into whiskey colored eyes that shone both fear and hope at her. She smiled, brushing her thumb over Z's lush bottom lip, still amazed at its softness.

"I needed to see you too," she told the other girl, emphasizing her point by pressing her lips to Z's and giving her a long, loving kiss. It was a kiss of reassurance and comfort which Z gratefully returned. Spencer felt tentative but gentle hands thread through her hair and let out a happy sigh. They continued kissing, soft and slow, just enjoying each other.

"I don't wanna leave," she whispered honestly when they parted and rested their foreheads together. Being in the brunette's arms was the only place Spencer wanted to be.

"I don't want you to go," Z admitted. The confession made Spencer's heart leap with joy. They continued to hold each other until Spencer remembered something.

"Oh, I meant to mention the iPod," she started. Z pulled away slightly and tilted her head to the side.

"Too much?" she asked, knowingly. Spencer bit her lip and nodded. Zorro laughed softly.

"I thought it might be but, keep it anyway, OK? I...I know that you like music that your budget is limited. Just think of it as a birthday present or something," she smiled.

"My birthday was during the summer," Spencer teased. Z rolled her eyes in jest.

"Early Christmas?" she asked, making Spencer giggled. "Or Chanukah...or Kwanza...Three Kings Day? Maybe Chinese new year?"

"OK, OK, I get it," Spencer playfully slapped the girl on the shoulder to get her to stop. "I'll keep it. Thank you so much." Z tapped her finger against her lips as she pursed them, silently telling Spencer how she could thank her properly. They had lost themselves in the feel of the others lips again until the sound of a throat being cleared drew their attention.

"My apologies," the man who had appeared said. Spencer recognized him as her buggy driver from the night before. "Miss Carlin, you needed a ride?"

"Time to go home, Spence," Z sighed sadly. She kissed the blonde near her ear making her shiver. "The real world awaits."

"I know," Spencer replied, disappointed. "When...uhm...will I see you again?" She was afraid to ask knowing that the line between Ashley and Z was getting thinner each time they met. She didn't want to stress the musician; she knew that Ashley needed to continue the duality for the time being. Eventually, Ashley would reach the point where she would be strong enough to step forward. Spencer knew that she just had to be patient.

"Me?" Z asked with a teasing lilt to her voice. "I dunno but it won't be as long as it took me this time, that I promise."

"As for my 'other half'," she gave Spencer a lopsided smile. "I imagine you'll see her every day, same as always." Spencer leaned in and gave Z another soft kiss on the lips and pulled away grinning.

"I look forward to both!"

Although she wasn't surprised, Spencer wasn't happy to see Madison waiting for her when she got back to the sorority house. She just wanted to go crawl into bed and sleep for a while, maybe take a long hot shower first and get the sand out of uncomfortable places. In their excitement, she and Z had rolled right off the blanket once or twice and while at the time it wasn't a big deal, right now she was feeling slightly icky.

"Madre del dios, lo sabia!" Madison exclaimed. "You are in such deep shit." Spencer rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, OK," she replied. Madison was well known, by Spencer at least, for being a little over the top dramatically. Plus she wasn't all that concerned about being in any trouble.

"I'm just sayin' Spence, that the house has a curfew and you broke it. Lucy is having a shit fit!" Madison told her somewhat snottily. "I just thought you should know before she gets her hands on you."

"Whatever," Spencer waved her off, intending to head upstairs and commandeer the nearest open shower. Madison grabbed her wrist and stopped her.

"You totally met up with Zorro and got thoroughly fucked, didn't you?" Spencer screwed up her face in disgust.

"Ew, Maddy, could you be any cruder?" she asked tiredly. She wasn't in the mood to go a round with Madison and her attitude so she pulled her hand away and turned to leave.

"Me? Crude? Spence, you're the one that hooked up with some costumed dork at a party and are now having clandestine meetings with him. I mean, who is he anyway? Does he go to school here? What's his major?" Madison ranted.

"What are you, my mother?" Spencer wondered angrily.

"No, just your friend and I wanna make sure that you're hanging out with the right sort of people," Madison explained in a matter-of-fact tone. "I mean, I like that you've found someone to occupy your time so that you're not so concerned with that freak, Ashley."

"She is not a freak!" Spencer growled exasperated. "I am so tired of you always talking shit about her."

"Jesus, she got to you somehow, didn't she?" Madison said, disgusted. Spencer stared at her confused.

"Got to me? What the fuck, Madison?" she asked.

"Somehow, she's gotten into your poor innocent little country girl head, warped your perceptions and is poisoning you just like she used to do to people in high school," Madison sighed, disappointed.

"Poisoning me? Maddy, she's a person, not anthrax," Spencer pointed out.

"Oh, she's not?" Madison taunted. "Then why are you so focused on her? Why do you care so much about what I say about her?"

"I'm not focused on her," Spencer lied but hid it under the mounting anger at her friend. "And I'm not the one that brought her up, you were. Maybe you're the one who's obsessed with her since every time you and I have a discussion you drag her into it."

"El dios puede usted realmente ser ese estupido?" Madison asked. However the only part of that which Spencer understood was 'God' and 'stupid'.

"Madison, I'm tired and I just wanna take a shower and get some sleep," she said, letting her anger go. "I'll deal with Lucy later." She was determined that Madison was not going to ruin the happy high she was on after spending the night with Ashley. Madison threw her hands up in disbelief.

"Incluso no sé porqué incomodo. Significo, ella soy obviamente también el coger estúpido ver cómo es derecho soy... apenas una pérdida de mi tiempo..." she muttered as she walked away.

Spencer smiled as she watched her knowing that Madison would be over being upset by the time she saw her at dinner. At the latest tomorrow would be as long as Madison held a grudge with her. Something always came along to make Madison forget that she was supposed to be upset with Spencer.

She put the roses that she'd brought back with her and managed not beat Madison over the head with into a vase. Then she took a long hot shower, washing out all the places where sand had wandered and as soon as she was done, collapsed onto her bed in just grey boy shorts and a white tank top. Thinking about Ashley and the night that they had shared made her drift off to a deep sleep, a smile plastered on her face.

Spencer didn't know what was worse; being as close to Ashley as she was going to be in English class and not being able to talk to her or even better, touch her, or listening to Madison rant in her slightly scary obsessed way about how the day before when Spencer had missed class, Ashley had been there, looking like 'something the cat dragged in' and intermittently snoring. She felt guilty knowing that she was part of the reason that Ashley was so tired the day before. Still, she was shocked if relieved that Ashley had gone to class since in doing so, she'd averted any possibility of someone figuring out that they were together Sunday night by missing classes on Monday.

Her heart had leaped as she spied Ashley at the entrance to the class, a wide happy smile spreading across her face. The girl still looked tired but beautiful to Spencer in her low-slung jeans and green polo shirt. She had the collar popped and along with her sunglasses, a black Hurley cap on.

"Hey Ashley!" she chirped in greeting. Ashley jumped as if shocked and spun to face her. They stared at each other for a few seconds until Ashley grunted and shuffled her way into class. Even with the less than enthusiastic greeting, Spencer smiled. She hadn't missed the way Ashley's mouth had twitched as she tried not to smile in greeting.

Besides, I've heard that grunt before in a different context, she thought to herself. She let her mind drift for a moment.

"Excuse me, did I seriously just hear you just say hello to the freak?" Madison's coarse voice shook her from her happy thoughts and she sighed at her best friend.

"Yes, Maddy, I greeted her," she replied honestly. "So what?"

"'So what'? God, Spencer, haven't we gone over this enough already?" Madison huffed. "I told you that Ashley was off limits." Spencer glared at the Latina.

"Where do you get off trying to pick my friends for me?" she growled.

"I am trying to look out for you," Madison began to explain.

"You sound just like my god damned mother," Spencer spat, throwing her arms in the air in frustration and heading into class. Madison had to jog to catch her and grasped her by the arm.

"Hey, we're both just looking out for you," she pointed out.

"No," Spencer argued. "You're both trying to run my life."

"Spencer," Madison said, dragging the blonde back out the door by the arm. She released Spencer's arm after they exited the class and looked at her seriously.

"I am not trying to run your life," she said evenly. "I just...I warned you about Ashley; why can't you believe me?" Spencer took a few deep breaths to try and calm herself so that she didn't say too much and expose the Ashley/Z connection.

"Because I've talked to Ashley," she said flatly. "She seems really nice if somewhat lost. She doesn't strike me as someone who would hurt someone else." Madison rolled her eyes.

"Of course she doesn't," she scoffed. "Lions don't just walk up to gazelles and say 'hey bitch, I'm gonna eat you next week but in the meantime, let's hang out' now do they? Not in any Animal Planet shows I've seen."

"You are being ridiculous," Spencer sighed.

"No, you're being naïve and putting yourself in a dangerous position," Madison responded, shaking her head. "God, I can't believe that after all this time, that little twat hasn't changed." Finally fed up, Spencer turned and walked away.

"Maybe she's not the one who needs to grow up," she muttered.

"WHAT?" Madison squawked. Spencer stopped long enough to turn her head.

"I said," she started quietly. "That maybe you need to stop blaming her for whatever happened in high school and grow up."

English class was tense, to say the least. After her parting shot to Madison, Spencer had gone into class and taken her customary seat not caring where Madison sat. She did notice, with a smirk, that Ashley had moved up yet another row. This change didn't go unnoticed by Madison either when she entered the room. She'd glowered at the shaded brunette and then stomped her way to her seat beside Spencer.

"I don't like it," she whispered harshly. "But if you are that determined to fuck up your life, Spencer, fine whatever."

"You could just tell me the whole story of what happened Prom night," Spencer retorted as she opened her notebook to the next blank page and waited for session to begin. She heard Madison choke on her spit for a second before answering.

"So you know about that?" she asked. Spencer nodded. "The freak tell you about it?"

"No, see, contrary to what you seem to believe, I actually have a brain of my own," Spencer said sarcastically. "I looked it up." Madison opened her mouth to speak but was cut off by the professor's announcement of a pop quiz.

"Hey Spence," Ashley greeted her kindly when she showed up at the brunette's door the following Saturday afternoon. "Time to work on the assignment again?" She had her backpack with her along with a pizza. Ashley smiled and took the hot cardboard box as she ushered Spencer into her home.

Spencer watched Ashley walk across the hardwood floor in her bare feet and smiled. It was the second time that she saw Ashley without shoes on and it seemed to her that the musician preferred it that way. She also enjoyed that Ashley had greeted her so warmly. One of the worries she had when she decided to 'drop in' on Ashley was that she'd give her the cold shoulder like she had been at school all week. Aside from the occasional glance, Ashley did not approach her at all and when Spencer approached her, the smaller girl would frown and walk away.

At first, after the small smile before English class, Spencer had been hurt by the shunning. But as she had time to think about it, she realized that Ashley needed the line between 'Z' and 'Ashley' to be kept distinct. Somehow, Z was where Ashley felt safe and able to be with Spencer and when Spencer approached her at school, she felt trapped and vulnerable. So, after the first day, Spencer had backed off and settled herself for just occasionally smiling at Ashley from a distance.

That strategy seemed to work better for her because each and every time she smiled at Ashley, the brunette's mouth would twitch and a few times, Spencer saw her nose do that adorable crinkle thing she was coming to love. She responded better to the sweet smiles than the outright face to face meetings.

"Mmm, pepperoni, extra cheese, bacon and sausage, my favorite!" Ashley chirped when she opened the box in the kitchen. She'd gotten them plates and utensils and Spencer grinned when an ice cold Sierra Mist was placed in front of her without her asking for it.

"I heard it was your favorite," Spencer said shyly. Ashley tilted her head and arched an eyebrow.

"How?" she asked suspiciously. Her eyes were behind her normal glasses so Spencer could see the confusion, but no malice in her chocolate eyes.

"A sister in my sorority works at Pat's Pizza and uhm...I asked," she finished quietly. She was eternally grateful to Katie for divulging the information without much fuss.

"Did you..." Ashley started to ask, frozen in place half standing, half sitting. Spencer shook her head.

"No, no I wouldn't do that, Ashley," she replied hastily. "I asked her what sorts of things she'd seen people in the area order. Then I asked about people like our sisters, Madison, Jared, other people we knew. I threw you in the middle there somewhere, I swear." Ashley let out a long breath and sat down, apparently satisfied with the answer.

"And she remembered?" she wondered, helping herself to a large slice and biting into without cooling it. She hissed and fanned her mouth. "Yowch, hawt!" Spencer laughed.

"Of course it's hot, silly," she giggled. "Yeah, Katie remembered. She's blessed, or maybe cursed, I guess with a photographic memory. She remembers everything." Ashley nodded and took a long drink from her Mountain Dew to cool her mouth. "She thought you were cute by the way." Ashley nearly choked on her soda.

"Oh, did she?" she asked after she recovered. She was blushing but amused by Spencer's news.

"Oh yeah, she thought you were very cute," Spencer told her while blowing across the hot top of her slice. "How did she put it? Oh yeah, she said something like 'she's really cute. I bet she'd be really hot if she learned to smile once in a while.' I told her that you were cute when you smiled and that I'd seen you smile in Music class but that it might have just been gas or something." Ashley burst out laughing heartily at this, pleasing Spencer.

"Great," Ashley snorted. "Now she must think I'm a sullen, gaseous cute freak or something. Thanks for that Spence." She took another bite of her pizza, this time not burning her mouth on it.

"Oh it was no problem," Spencer said cheekily. "Really, it was my pleasure."

"Your pleasure, huh?" Ashley purred, watching the blush run up Spencer's neck and cheeks, stopping at her ears. "Look at you blush. You dirty little perv, you," she waggled a finger at her mockingly.

"Hush," Spencer groaned, embarrassed that that was exactly where her mind had gone when Ashley had used that tone. She'd felt her insides reflexively clench at the sound of it. Ashley gave her a smug but cute smirk and then went back to her dinner.

"So..." Ashley started a few minutes later when the tension had built sufficiently. Spencer looked at her expectantly.

"So...?" she repeated, waiting. Ashley grinned and turned back to her soda.

"This Katie," she said sweetly. "Is she cute?"

Spencer took a piece of pepperoni that had fallen onto her plate and flung it at Ashley who giggled and dodged. Both smiling, they went back to eating in compatible silence.

Spencer had been relieved that Katie had been so helpful and didn't question why she was asking such weird questions. But the girl's admission that Ashley was cute had thrown her for a loop. For a split second, she'd felt worried and jealous.

What if Katie is gay? What if Ashley thinks she's cute? What if I lose Ashley...?

Then she'd realized that she didn't quite have Ashley yet anyway so it was presumptuous of her to think of Ashley as 'hers' but damn it, that was what she wanted. But it gave her a small ray of hope that if Katie wasn't actually gay, she seemed rather open minded and so that maybe, if and when she came out to her sorority, not everyone was going to turn on her.

"So, you wanna work on the assignment or just talk?" Ashley asked as she picked up the dishes. "Not that you have to talk...or that I'm going to talk. Aw shit..." The brunette then blushed a deep crimson at her Spencer-like babbling and turned away. "Or whatever, you know." She shrugged, trying to look nonchalant and walked away from Spencer towards the sliding glass doors that lead outside.

"We can talk about anything you want to, Ash," Spencer said carefully. Something was spooking Ashley, Spencer could tell and she wanted to be careful to not make it worse. She decided to be as honest as possible without being pushy.

"I just want the chance to get to know you. I already think you're a great person..."

"Don't," Ashley said somewhat harshly. "Don't think that. Not until..." she trailed off and pressed her forehead against the window. A few moments later, she slid open the door and walked out onto the wooden deck, standing at the banister and looking out over the waves. To Spencer, she looked pensive, lost and it hurt her heart to watch. She had no idea what had caused Ashley's mood to shift so quickly but she didn't want to risk doing anything to startle the skittish girl further away from her, physically or emotionally.

It was early November and while it wasn't cold like what Spencer was used to back in Ohio, it was still cool enough to require a jacket. The beach was nearly empty except for the occasional person who strolled by or a few seagulls that liked to hunt on the edge.

"Are you all right?" Spencer asked softly, following the mercurial brunette outside. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Ashley was still staring out in front of her.

"I just..." she sighed. She hung her head. "I'm sorry, Spencer. I'm so fucked up." Spencer walked over and lightly rubbed Ashley's back, seeking to soothe her. She was beyond happy when Ashley didn't pull away.

"You are not fucked up," she said gently. "We all have our issues, Ashley."

"I know," Ashley sighed again. "It's just...your issues aren't always being thrown in your face by someone who you once called a friend or someone that you know you've hurt deeply." Taking a risk, Spencer slid her arms around Ashley's waist from behind and snuggled in behind her, both to comfort her and to keep them both warm. To her delight, Ashley leaned into the embrace.

"I can't pretend to understand what the bad blood is between you and Madison that keeps you so closed off," Spencer started. Ashley shook her head.

"It's not just that, Spence," she admitted. "Honestly, I couldn't care less what Madison says about me. I know what the situation is, what it was. And I know what I am and am not capable of. It's just...I'm so scared of feeling anything...now this...I just...I can't...I don't know..."

"I know, Ash," Spencer whispered. "I understand, really. And when you're ready. I'll listen."

"You know," Spencer started as she brushed a stray lock of soft brown hair away from Ashley's eyes. "That I really like these glasses more than the sunglasses you usually wear." She let her fingertips trail over the smooth skin of Ashley's cheeks before drawing her hand back, not wanting to push Ashley's limits too hard. "You have really beautiful eyes."

Ashley blushed and ducked her head slightly, avoiding Spencer's gaze. She made no effort to pull away and seemed content to sit on the couch next to Spencer, her legs drawn up beneath her and a cup of hot chocolate in her hands. After they had come in from the deck, they were both chilled so Ashley had offered to make either coffee or cocoa. Spencer, feeling nostalgic for November in Ohio had chosen the cocoa.

It reminded her of how every year as a child, after the first really good snowfall, her father would take the day off if he was working and play for hours in the snow with his three children. Afterwards, he would make them homemade hot cocoa and grilled cheese sandwiches to rewarm them.

"I like my sunglasses," Ashley retorted. "I'll have you know that they were very expensive."

"But, they hide your eyes," Spencer pointed out, leaning over to grab a chocolate chip cookie from the plate Ashley had set out. They were Chips Ahoy and not homemade like her mother would make after work on those snowy days, but they were good nonetheless. Spencer was amused by the amount sugar products Ashley seemed to keep stocked. She had offered Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Nutter Butter, and E.L. Fudges before Spencer had decided on the Chips Ahoy. She had no doubt that in that magic pantry of Ashley's there were many more boxes of cookies and treats.

"I like that no one can see me," Ashley said softly. "Well, I mean they see me, obviously, it's just..." Spencer put her hand on Ashley's knee in understanding.

"I get it," she whispered. "I always felt that you hid behind them but, if it makes you comfortable...I'm just glad that you wear these around me." Ashley gave her a smile that made her nose crinkle which Spencer was learning meant that she was genuinely happy or pleased.

"I don't mind if you see me," she said honestly. She looked at Spencer shyly, making her the cutest damn thing Spencer had ever seen. Spencer smiled back and they sat quietly for a little while.

"Have you tried contacts?" she wondered. Ashley gave her a half-shrug.

"I can wear them for short periods of time but mostly I'm allergic," she explained.

"That must suck. Have you always worn glasses?" Spencer inquired, wanting to learn more about this girl she was falling for. Ashley seemed to sputter for a moment before she put her cup down and pushed her palms across her jean-clad thighs and sighed. Spencer frowned to herself, knowing that somehow, she'd just hit another 'button' and Ashley was probably going to clam up on her again.

"I..." Ashley cleared her throat and tried again. "I had a stroke a little over a year ago and it ah...fucked with my sight." Spencer's frown deepened as she looked at the suddenly jittery brunette beside her.

"A stroke?" she echoed, surprised. That was the last thing that she expected to hear. "You're awful young..."

"Yeah uhm, I had a lot of health issues going on at the time," Ashley explained hastily, her words running over each other and blending together slightly. "But that's all fixed now and other than my eyes, 'm fine." Spencer clearly saw the 'do not enter' sign now flashing before her and made the effort to steer away from the subject.

"I'm glad you got better," she said sincerely. "So, you think that we're gonna get a good grade on the paper when we're done?" Ashley shot her a grateful look at the subject change and nodded.

"Oh hell yeah," she agreed. "I mean, I always get good grades in that class so I guess I can carry you this one time..." she finished dramatically. Spencer reached back and bopped her in the face lightly with a couch pillow.

"Hey! I get almost straight A's!" she protested as she giggled. Ashley pretended to contemplate this for a moment before she responded.

"See, key word in there was 'almost'," she teased. "It's OK to not be perfect all the time there." Spencer's eyes narrowed as she glared.

"Oh, it's on!" she warned, pulling the pillow back for another attack. Ashley grinned widely and grabbed her own pillow weapon.

"Bring it on!"

Soon they were batting each other senseless with assorted pillows, hopping up and down on the undoubtedly expensive couch and laughing their asses off. One particularly well placed hit from Spencer sent Ashley sailing over the arm of the couch and onto her back with a 'whooph' when she landed.

"Oh My God!" Spencer gasped, dropping her pillow and rushing over. All she could see of Ashley from the other end of the couch was her bare feet sticking up in the air, leaning on the arm of the piece of furniture. She reached Ashley, saw the bright red face and tears on Ashley's face and immediately dropped to her knees beside the girl.

"Oh god, are you hurt? Where are you hurt? I didn't mean to hit you so hard," she rambled. "I am such an ass!" She leaned over the prone girl, concerned but stopped when a roar of wheezing laughter broke the air.

"'m fine," Ashley gasped between fits of giggles. Spencer arched one blonde brow at her as she stayed on her back laughing. Eventually, Ashley settled down into occasional hiccups.

"Are you really alright?" Spencer asked softly. Ashley wiped at her fallen tears and nodded while she let Spencer pull her up into a more comfortable sitting position.

"Yeah," she confirmed, her voice hoarse. "It knocked the wind from me though." Spencer dropped her head.

"I'm sorry," she sighed. Ashley cupped the side of Spencer's face, letting her thumb stroke the warm skin of her cheek.

"For?" she prompted.

"I should have been more careful," Spencer said apologetically. Ashley smiled sweetly.

"I'm not breakable, Spence," she soothed. "I'm just an incredible klutz." Spencer lifted her eyes to meet Ashley's relieved by the twinkle and humor she saw there.

"So, you're seriously OK?" she checked, just to make sure. Ashley nodded.

"Yes, very," she agreed. "honest, Spence, that was the most fun I've had in...well, ever really. It's one of the things I like about being around you." Spencer tilted her head, listening.

"My ability to knock you over with a throw pillow?" she teased making Ashley roll her eyes.

"No, your ability to make me laugh, to make me feel comfortable enough to laugh," she said her voice growing softer as she spoke. Spencer felt her heart warm to hear such an honest, unprompted confession. She felt like she was making strides in getting to know Ashley and in getting past the huge, thick walls that the brunette hid behind.

"I'm glad I can do that for you," she whispered.

"So," Ashley said, drawing the word out some. Spencer recognized it as the smaller girl's way of trying to deflect attention again. "We really need to do some work on that paper if I'm going to be getting you an 'A'."

The following Monday, they handed in their assignment. Spencer was sorry that they were finished because now she didn't have a reason to just randomly show up at Ashley's. They hadn't discussed the 'Ashley/Z' link as of yet, both girls seeming to understand that it wasn't time yet and both of them were content with the way things were at the moment. While they had repeatedly acted on their mutual, primal attraction to each other as 'Spencer and Z', they managed to keep it separate from 'Spencer and Ashley'.

Spencer smiled to herself, thinking about how in her mind she now thought of the two different couplings as Zencer and Spashley. She decided that she really needed to stop watching 'The Soup' on E!. Their habit of naming celebrity couples things like 'Brangelina' and 'Bennifer' was apparently contagious.

She hoped that even though their assignment was over, Ashley would continue to open up to her. Spencer wasn't sure if the foundation of their blossoming friendship was strong enough for her to assume that she was welcome anytime at Ashley's. The only times she had gone over was when she brought her books to work on the assignment. Granted she always had a great time and it appeared that Ashley did as well. But Spencer was unsure that she was still able to just hang out.

"So, Spence, what are you doing for Thanksgiving break?" Madison asked as they walked across the quad. Spencer, one ear bud from her iPod hanging loose on the side Madison was on, shrugged and chewed on her cinnamon coffee cake muffin.

"I dunno," she mumbled, savoring the taste of the seemingly home-cooked breakfast treat which had been delivered, in a black box, from Z that morning. Spencer loved the gifts; she'd be lying if she said that she didn't like them or appreciate them. But somehow, the homemade, thoughtful gifts seemed to mean a lot more than the outrageously expensive ones did. She wondered if maybe Ashley had baked the muffins herself since they didn't look like the ones you could get at any local coffee shops or grocery stores. At any rate, they were delicious.

"Going home to Ohio?" Madison prodded, smirking. "Or staying here to spend time with your rich loverboy?" Spencer swallowed an annoyed groan along with her bite of muffin and rolled her eyes.

"I said 'I don't know'," she repeated. "First off, the idea of going home for the holidays and listening to my mother rant and rave about how I should be closer to home studying something like medicine or law, makes me nauseas. I do miss my father and brothers but she is so overbearing that it would ruin everything and I have to go home for Christmas anyway. I'd rather not subject myself to her trying to run my life any more than absolutely necessary."

"Ooooooh, a whole week with your maaaaaaaan," Madison cooed obnoxiously. Spencer stopped walking and glared at her best friend. "All that time to yourselves to suck and fuck."

"What is your problem, seriously?" she snapped. "I mean, are you jealous or something? Yes, I'm dating someone..." she didn't mind the little white lie; she really did feel like she was 'seeing' someone since most of her time and thoughts were taken up by the different aspects of Ashley Davies.

"Whom you haven't introduced me to," Madison retorted. "Afraid that he'd leave you for someone like me?" Spencer's jaw dropped.

"What. The. Fuck?" she demanded. She'd never heard that venomous tone from Madison before. The short Latina crossed her arms over her chest and smiled at Spencer smugly.

"I don't see any other reason why you'd keep him from me, not introduce us, unless you're afraid that your corn-fed, white-bred, Children of the Corn ass won't be good enough for him," Madison sneered, fed up with Spencer's increasingly pathetic attitude.

"How 'bout the way you act?" Spencer shot back. "Isn't that enough reason to keep anyone with brain capacity beyond Paris fucking Hilton the fuck away from you? God, you are so self-centered and judgmental. Were you always like this or is it some new development?"

"Spencer," Madison started, her voice losing the sneering edge and softening slightly. "I just...I don't want to see you make some hideous mistake. I mean, who is this guy? What's he like?"

"Maddy," Spencer sighed. "I'll tell you when I'm damn good and ready. Pushing me like this only makes me not want to tell you."

"All right," Madison acquiesced. "I'll let the subject of the mystery boy toy go for now." Spencer nodded.

"Good," she said relieved. She was incredibly close to just telling Madison that she was fucking Ashley just for shock effect. It might at least shut her up.

"However," Madison began, her tone turning cold again. "What's this I hear about you doing a project with the dyke freak?" Spencer slapped herself in the forehead and let out a long breath. She turned and faced her friend, her face set and angry.

"I'm just going to say this once; I'm tired of this same fucking argument so just drop it," she growled. "This subject is off limits, understand?" Madison gaped at her in shock.


"You heard me," Spencer spat. "The subject of Ashley Davies and whether or not I talk to her is not something that you and I are going to discuss." Madison's face turned purple with rage.

"What the fuck kind of friend are you that you ignore me when I tell you that she got my best friend and boyfriend murdered so stay away from her? How can you fucking ignore that?" she screamed, livid. Not far behind Madison, Spencer could see Ashley as she stopped on her way to her own class and looked in their direction. The look on the taller brunette's face was both hurt and curiosity.

"Look, I wasn't there that night, Maddy," Spencer said. "I still don't understand what happened..."

"That beast got them killed, Spencer!" Madison was all out screaming now. "I watched them die! Because of her!"

"I...I..." Spencer stammered. She didn't know what to say and it showed. She looked away from Ashley for a moment and looked at her shoes.

"You're a fucking asshole, Carlin," Madison growled. "If you've been talking to her, being friendly with her after I told you how she destroyed my life, killed people I loved then you betrayed me. You are the worst kind of piece of shit scum I have ever met."

"No, Madison, she's not," a low and slightly trembling voice broke in. "Spencer is none of those things." Spencer's head spun to face Ashley who was only a few feet away.

"Drop dead," Madison hissed at Ashley, her hands balled into fists at her side. Ashley shook her head.

"Be mad at me if you need to be, Madison, but leave Spencer out of our mess, please," Ashley requested, looking apologetically at Spencer for a moment before she glanced at Madison. "I lost him too you know." Madison stepped forward and roughly shoved Ashley away.

"Fuck you, whore!" she screamed. She glared at Spencer and then at Ashley before storming off angrily. It was then that Spencer noticed that a good portion of their college classmates were watching them with rapt attention.

"Ashley," Spencer reached out only to have Ashley shrink away. Even behind the dark reflective sunglasses, Spencer could see that Ashley was tearing herself apart.

"Apparently she was right," Ashley sighed. Spencer frowned.


"She said that I destroy people's lives," Ashley reiterated. "I guess in a way she's right since I just inadvertently fucked up your friendship."

"Ash, you didn't fuck up anything," Spencer tried to tell her. Ashley just shook her head and moved to leave. "Ashley..."

"See you Saturday, Spence," Ashley replied softly as she walked away without turning back to look at the blonde. If she had looked back she would have seen the ear to ear grin that threatened to split Spencer's face in half.

For the rest of the week, Spencer avoided Madison every chance she got, going so far as to sit across the isle from the still angry and hurt Latina. She was pleased to see Ashley switch sides in their English class so that she was still six rows behind her, sitting silently. This didn't go unnoticed by Madison who looked from the blonde to the brunette before huffing angrily and moving to the complete other side of the room where she could safely glower at them both.

On Friday, they received their grade in Music Appreciation class and neither were surprised to see the giant 'A' at the top of their papers. Spencer had glanced over at Ashley and nearly laughed when Ashley tipped her sunglasses down and winked at her in a very 'I told you so' manner. By that night, Spencer was beside herself, humming with nervous energy about the next day.

What is she expecting when I get there? How should I dress? Is she going to admit to being Z? Oh my god, I think I'm having a panic attack! She sat down on the bed and realized that she was making herself hyperventilate.

OK, let's look at things logically. I know she's Z, she knows that I know, we both know that we know the other knows...where was I? Uhm...yeah...OK Ashley is Z but has her reasons for being that way. I'm starting to see that she's just so scared of putting herself out there but she willing to try with me. I wonder what makes me so special to her.

She shrugged to herself not understanding that last part but hoping to get the chance to ask Ashley at some point. Given the girl's thoughtful and introverted nature she had no doubt that whatever motivation spurred Ashley into taking a chance on Spencer it was going to be deep and meaningful.

"Carlin, you in there?" the familiar and unwelcome snarl of Lucy came through the wood grain door. Spencer groaned in dislike; she really didn't want to talk to the ill-tempered blonde.

"Yeah?" she called out. "I'm here." She made no effort to go to the door. She heard the handle turn and jiggle since it was locked and rolled her eyes.

Guess I'm not going to be able to ignore her.

"Open the fucking door!" Lucy yelled. "It's official house business." Spencer got up and unlocked the door, opening it and standing in front of it, not wanting to let Lucy actually walk in. It was her room, her territory and the overbearing older girl was not welcome inside.

"Madison says that you're smearing the name of this sorority by hanging around with undesirables," Lucy drawled. Spencer glared at her friend who was standing a few feet behind Lucy looking smug.

"'Undesirables'? Undesirable by whose standards, Madison's? Please," she scoffed, refusing to be intimidated by the taller girl. Lucy stared her down, her blue eyes piercing.

"So you're hanging out with a murderer and dating a mystery guy who thinks dressing as Zorro is cool," Lucy said flatly. "You know that we have standards, a reputation to uphold..."

"I've made friends with the incredibly rich daughter of a dead rock icon and that's bad?" Spencer asked sarcastically. "How can being friends with someone who could conceivably end up donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the sorority simply because I'm nice to her, be a bad thing?" Lucy frowned as she thought.

She turned and looked at Madison.

"She has a point, Duarte," she said annoyed at being dragged there because Madison was a twit. "Why didn't you think of that?" Madison took a panicked step back, sputtering her response.

"I did...but no she's not...that isn't..." she tried. Lucy sighed.

"God, you're such an ass, Duarte," she declared much to Madison's horror. She looked back at Spencer. "Sorry 'bout that, Carlin. That's good thinking on your part; maybe there's a future for you in this house after all." She stalked off down the hall.

"Duarte! I want my car detailed by tomorrow," she called out. Madison gave Spencer the dirtiest look the blonde had ever seen and walked away. Spencer stayed in the doorway for a few more moments, watching the sorority members who had gathered to watch the 'show' start to wander away. With a disgusted grunt, she shut the door again.

Deciding to try and get her homework done before the weekend hit so that she wouldn't have to worry about it later, she pulled out her laptop and signed on. It beeped to alert her to new email and she rolled her eyes, expecting the usual assortment of junk mail. There were the religious chain mails her mother sent her, never bothering to put any actual 'motherly' comments in them to even pretend that she wanted to talk to Spencer; the various porn emails, promising her things like 'Budapest girls do it best' or 'get laid in your zip code tonight' among others; and the ads that squeaked past her spam filter, offering her help with erections, small penis size and fixing her credit score. Some of the crap made her laugh, most of it was just pathetic.

She went about deleting the junk until she came across one with the subject 'Hey study buddy!' from an email address bearing Ashley's name. She grinned and opened the letter.

'Hey Spence!

I just wanted to write and make sure that you were coming over tomorrow. I mean, if you want to. I know that we don't have any assignments to work on but I really liked hanging out with you. But if you have other plans, I understand and I'll see you around school (when Madison isn't around ;-))

So, just write me back and let me know if you want to hang out or what.



P.S. I totally told you that we'd get an 'A' on that paper! Ha-ha! I carried your tone deaf ass on that one. You owe me!'

Spencer let out a laugh as she read, seeing how adorable Ashley was when she was nervous even in written form. It was obvious that the brunette wanted to see her the next day but didn't want Spencer to feel at all pressured to show up. She was reaching out again, in her own way and Spencer was very pleased that she was doing it as herself and not as Z. It showed that she was really starting to build trust with Ashley which was what she wanted; she wanted to be able to slowly get passed the walls that Ashley had constructed and hid behind to protect herself with. She knew that the person behind those walls was special, worth getting to know, despite anything Madison told her.

Taking a few minutes to think of a proper response, Spencer hit the 'reply' button.

"Hey Ash!

Yeah, I'd love to come over tomorrow. I was hoping that we could still hang out like we were but I wasn't sure if you wanted to do anything beyond work on the assignment, which by the way, you did not 'carry' my 'tone deaf ass' on it! I resent that! LOL j/k Although, I am not tone deaf, thank you.

So if it's OK with you, I'll probably be over some time around noon. So don't eat anything before I get there. Maybe we could go out to eat or something. I know you don't like to go out but I guess we can think of something.

See you then!


She looked it over a few times before hitting the 'send' button before turning her attention back to her homework. She was about five minutes into her History paper when her computer beeped signaling the arrival of new mail.

'RE:RE: Hey study buddy!'


But instead of going out somewhere to eat, how about I cook us something? I swear I'm a good cook and won't poison you or anything. LOL hahaha

So, if you get this before tomorrow, what sorts of things do you like to eat? I can do almost anything with chicken, or pork or just regular hamburger. Are you allergic to anything because I'd hate to kill you by accident. LOLOL

OK, that's it for now.


"She is so fucking cute," Spencer giggled. It surprised her that Ashley had thrown in a reference to killing her when Madison accused her of being a murderer. It just made Spencer more sure that Madison was wrong and that there was much more to the story. So she went along with the joke. She also knew that like herself, Ashley was sitting right in front of the computer probably waiting for her answer.

''By accident'? Does this mean I should watch you carefully so that you don't just randomly kill me on purpose. Because I have to tell you, that is not a good hostess. I would seriously have to stop hanging out with you if you killed me.

So, a good cook, huh? We'll see about that, Miss Davies.

Anything you want to make is good. I'm not allergic to anything really. But I don't like beets. Like, really. I see a big ole red beet and I feel nauseas. They look like little bloody things sitting there and who wants to sit at the table with little bloody dead things? So no beets!

Wow, that sounds freaky, sorry. If I had to pick, I'd say that I was in the mood for pork, though. I had the hamburgers on campus today...if that was really hamburger but I digress. So, surprise me!

See you tomorrow!'

She sent it and waited to see if Ashley would respond. Sure enough, minutes later, her mailbox chirped.

'Oh it's OK, Spence, if I were to try and kill you, you would definitely see it coming.'

"I'd love to die while I was coming if you had something to do with it, Ashley," Spencer said out loud to herself. She felt herself blush and then looked nervously around her room, afraid someone had overheard her. "Oh God, I am becoming such a perv..."

'And that sounded dirtier than it should have. Wow, my bad. Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow. I have to run some errands right now so I won't be answering anymore of your emails until later.

Maybe next time...' Spencer stopped reading there for a moment, double checking that she was seeing it right.

"Next time?" she wondered. "Awesome."

'Maybe next time we could try this in an IM? My screen-name is RockrbabyAsh on AIM. Add me!


Spencer quickly went and added Ashley to her AIM, hoping to catch her before she went. She was disappointed to see an away message up but out of curiosity, she clicked on it to read the message.

'Oh ho! Too slow, grasshopper! I left already. See you tomorrow though!'

Spencer shook her head, amused that Ashley left an away message that was obviously solely for her and went back to her homework. She wanted to get it all done so she could concentrate over the weekend on just Ashley.

The aroma emanating from Ashley's house was alluring, making Spencer's mouth water as she walked up the steps to the front door. Whatever Ashley had decided to cook, already Spencer could tell it was going to be far better than any fast food she could have picked up. Slightly jittery from nerves, she rang the bell and was greeted by a smiling Ashley a few moments later.

"Hi! Come on in, I'm just putting the finishing touches on lunch so have a seat and I'll be right back out," Ashley told her cheerfully. Spencer noticed that Ashley had her hair down, the luscious brown locks cascading in soft curls around her face. She was simply beautiful to Spencer, standing there in her black jeans and two-tone grey and red Fox shirt. She had on the glasses that she knew Spencer liked framing her tan face. Spencer smiled back and nodded, taking the cool bottle of Sierra Mist that Ashley immediately handed her. She felt that Ashley's consistent thoughtfulness was sweet and attractive.

She knew now that the soda that Zorro had given her was not a 'lucky guess' on her part but something Ashley had noticed over time. Spencer could only figure that Ashley had seen her drinking it during classes that they shared and simply stored the information. When the opportunity arrived where she could put the random fact to use, she'd seized it. It left Spencer wondering what other random 'useless' facts about her Ashley already knew from observation.

"Whatever you're cooking, it smells wonderful," she said as she entered and headed towards the dining room. Already plates were set out with glasses and silverware. There was nothing for Spencer to do but sit and wait, or rather, she figured, be waited on. It was clear that Ashley was working hard at making lunch as enjoyable as humanly possible.

"Is it OK if I walk around a bit?" Spencer asked hesitantly, poking her head into the kitchen to see Ashley sample tasting something. "The apron looks adorable, by the way." Ashley blushed and looked down at her apron which stated across the front, in bold letters 'Please Keep This Person Out of the Kitchen. Thanks The Fire Dept.'.

"Should I have an extinguisher ready?" she teased. Ashley snorted and shook her head.

"Only if there is flambe involved," she retorted. "And go ahead, just don't go digging. Please?" Spencer nodded, understanding the statement.

"I promise," Spencer said firmly. "I won't leave the living room, OK? I just remember seeing some pictures and I wanted another look?" Ashley's smile returned making her nose crinkle.

"Sure! Lunch should be ready in about ten minutes; I'll come get you," she said.

Spencer wandered out into the kitchen, letting her gaze drift over a few photos on the top of the baby grand piano. She recognized a few as Raife Davies, Ashley's father at various points in his life. She was intrigued by the fact that he seemed to be white haired for the entire span of his career. She thought about it for a moment and decided that Ashley would look fairly hot with white hair. Hell, she knew she'd find Ashley hot even bald.

Chuckling to herself at the image, she moved on to a few photos of a toddler Ashley being held by either Raife or by a dark haired woman. She figured that the woman was Ashley's mother since she looked a lot like her. The biggest difference was the eyes. The woman's eyes, in every photo were either dull and bored, or angry and cold, unlike Ashley's eyes most of the time. Spencer knew the cold look enough to recognize it and could see now where Ashley got it; Raife's blue eyes seemed to always be smiling and exuded warmth.

There weren't all that many pictures of Ashley as a child; mostly they were of her father or her father and her. On the table by the hall was a picture that Spencer recognized as Ashley's sister, Kyla. She'd seen the younger sibling's photo in the news articles surrounding Raife's death and then later, the prom shooting. There were two pictures of the sister's together; one was fairly recent, Ashley's hair was streaked and she was tan so Spencer figured it was from the summer. The other photo worried Spencer.

It was Kyla and Ashley at some point Spencer figured a few years ago, at either a carnival or arcade where they had their picture taken in a booth. It had been blown up to 8x10 size to be framed. It showed that Kyla was thin and pale but she was smiling at the camera. Spencer wondered if it was sometime after the prom shooting during the younger brunette's recovery. Still, Kyla at least looked healthy. Ashley on the other hand, looked like she was only half a step away from death's door with a call ahead to make sure there was room.

Her normally luscious brown hair was thin and scraggly, looking dull and limp even clean. The skin that Spencer knew was tan and glowing, was pasty and drawn taut against bones making the older girl look ghastly. Her cheekbones were sunken and she was frowning, her full lips drawn thin. But it was her eyes that bothered Spencer the most.

Aside from being sunken in and circled in sickly black, the chocolate orbs that Spencer adored staring deeply into and so well expressed what the slim brunette was feeling were empty, dead looking. She didn't look bored, angry, depressed or anything; she simply looked for lack of a better word, dead. It made Spencer shiver to look at.

She picked up the frame and looked closer at it, wondering where Ashley had gone and what had happened to put her in this scary, dark place. And she wondered how she had managed to get back out of it.

"I keep that one to remind me of where I've been," Ashley's soft voice startled Spencer and she ducked her head, feeling somehow like she had invaded the beautiful girl's privacy.

"I...I'm sorry," she apologized. Ashley shook her head.

"Don't be," she said simply. "It's part of who I am, where I've been and it's part of what makes me who I am. I'm not perfect and I've made more than my fair share of mistakes. This picture," she picked the frame from Spencer's hands and looked at it for a moment, her face looking somewhat melancholy.

"This picture reminds me of how far I fell," she finished, placing it back where Spencer had gotten it from. "And how far I've come." Spencer nodded and looked curiously at Ashley who shook her head.

"I'm not ready, Spencer," she stated calmly, without anger. "But someday I might be. But for now, lunch is ready."

Spencer's mouth watered as she looked at the lunch set down in front of her. It was a feast, complete with a few finger snacks for her to start with and then a full, almost fancy restaurant-style layout of food.

"So, I went with what you said and I decided to make a roast pork loin with marmalade," Ashley said bashfully. Spencer simply stared in awe at the food. "Uhm, it's a pork loin, obviously, roasted, rolled in herbs, kosher salt and cracker peppercorns. The marmalade is made with orange, apricot, apples and jalapeno for a little bite."

"So, what are these on the side?" Spencer asked, finding her voice and loving how excited Ashley was about the lunch.

"My favorite part, actually," Ashley beamed. "We have cheddar mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and portabella mushrooms. I know you said that the only thing you didn't like was beets but I wanted to make sure so there's a mixed vegetable melody, carrots, peas, snow peas and corn too." Spencer's stomach growled as the brunette spoke and she couldn't wait to dig in.

"Try these to start," Ashley suggested, putting a few items on Spencer's plate. "The ones on the left are scallops wrapped in bacon; the ones on the right are water chestnuts wrapped in bacon."

"Fond of bacon are you?" Spencer teased, spearing one with her fork. Ashley laughed.

"As a matter of fact, yes," she declared. She watched as Spencer chewed. "You like?"

"Oh my God," Spencer moaned at the flavor.

"What do you think?" Ashley asked, sounding worried. Spencer looked intently at Ashley.

"I think if I stay friends with you and you cook like this, I'm gonna be a fat cow by summer," she lamented with a grin. Ashley wagged her eyebrows.

"It's a good thing that I like cows then."

"I think if I ate another morsel, I'll explode," Spencer announced as she flopped backwards onto the black leather couch with an 'ooph' and rubbed her very full tummy. If she had known that Ashley had made homemade chocolate cheesecake with caramel drizzle she wouldn't have gorged herself on the pork. Still, she somehow managed to fit a large piece of the dessert somewhere in her stomach. Right now she was afraid if she laughed, or breathed too deep, she'd barf on Ashley's beautiful shiny hardwood floors. She wouldn't trade a moment of it though. Ashley was looking far too pleased and happy for her to regret eating quite so much.

"Nah, you barely touched your plate," Ashley teased, just as stuffed and reclining in her overstuffed armchair. She dangled her feet over the arm and smirked at Spencer. "I totally ate way more than you."

"I'm not even gonna argue that!" Spencer laughed. Indeed, Ashley had managed to put away a lot more food than she had but she had come to notice that Ashley's metabolism must be faster than most other people's. There was no way that Ashley could eat that much on a regular basis and keep her toned and thin figure by just exercise and fencing alone.

Spencer looked and saw that the brunette's feet were bare as she swung them back and forth.

"You hate shoes, don't you?" Spencer inquired, pointing to Ashley's wiggling toes. Ashley looked down at her feet.

"Shit! I forgot shoes again," she exclaimed dramatically. She laughed and nodded at Spencer. "Yeah, I do. They're too constricting. I wear them when I have to but when I'm home, it's barefoot at all times. I especially love walking the beach barefoot; I love the way sand feels between my toes."

Spencer flashed on the night she met Z on the beach and the way she wiggled her bare toes in the sand.

"What's so funny?" Ashley asked. Spencer realized she had been grinning ear to ear while she thought about Z that night. She then thought of what else had occurred that evening and blushed hot while a familiar ache began between her thighs.

"Nothing," she said and then cleared her throat to try and rid it of the sudden husky and aroused quality to it. She saw Ashley arch an eyebrow slowly at the tone but decided to ignore it. "I was just thinking of someone else I know that likes being barefoot in the sand." Ashley frowned for a second before she grinned back and took a sip from her soda that until then had been sitting on the table beside her.

"Then she has good taste," she said absently.

"Who said it was a 'she'?" Spencer taunted. Ashley glared at her playfully, knowing that she was caught. She shrugged.

"I guessed," she declared. "You only seem to hang out with girls so I made a leap in logic."

"Wow, can't fault your deduction skills, now can I?" Spencer joked. Ashley smiled smugly and shook her head. "You are a regular Columbo."

"Ew, not with the wandering eye!" Ashley protested making Spencer laugh hard.

"You are a fantastic cook," she said a little later when their laughter finally died down. "I mean, really. That was restaurant quality food...wait, did you order it and have it delivered?" Her tone was teasing and to her relief, Ashley knew it.

"Ha ha ha," the brunette snorted. "I'll have you know that I cooked that whole meal, myself, from scratch. And it was a hell of a lot better than anything you'd get in some restaurant, thank you."

"OK I'll have to give you that," Spencer acquiesced with a gentle smile. "Where did you learn to cook?" Ashley stopped and thought for a few moments, the silence making Spencer worry that she'd overstepped the boundary again.

"I was...most of my childhood, the help, my parents staff raised me," Ashley began, her voice soft and far away. She was looking towards the windows, her expression neutral. It was apparent to Spencer that she was far away inside her memory and Spencer felt a small thrill that Ashley was sharing those moments with her.

"My Dad was always on tour; my mother well, let me just say that she's not Mother of the Year material and leave it at that," the small brunette went on. "I was a bit of an oddball child; I had friends but sometimes I didn't feel that anyone understood me or the things I had gone through. All my friends had two parents who were present; they were there for cub scout meetings, cupcake day in kindergarten, girl scouts, brownies and all that shit. And there was me, with Winifred the housekeeper and a tin of cupcakes but no parents. If my dad went to the school with me, he'd be followed and swarmed with reporters. And my mother, well, she was never in the state long enough to remember I existed."

"I'm sorry," Spencer said sincerely. She couldn't even begin to imagine a childhood where her parents weren't there. Sometimes she had wished her parents weren't quite as active and involved in her activities growing up but she wouldn't trade a moment of it for anything. She had always felt loved and safe and realized now that Ashley had had none of that.

"Don't be," Ashley said absently. "It's not your fault; it's not anyone's fault really unless you really wanna blame my mom for being a whore or whatever. So, they eventually divorced and that left me without even my dad all that much. So, I spent a lot of time with the staff at the house, they are the ones that raised me and stuff. I learned to cook, at least the basics from them."

"Wow, all that from the staff at your house? Pretty impressive," Spencer said. Ashley shook her head.

"No, I got the basics from them. It was after high school and...some other stuff that I had some time on my hands before college and was bored. So, I took classes," she finished explaining.

"Classes? Awesome," Spencer grinned. "Maybe I should take those classes since my cooking prowess extends only as far as cereal and the occasional soup. Other than that, I can burn water." Ashley burst out laughing.

"Well, then we'll have to send you to France and you can study with the same people I did," she joked. "We'll see if Chef Paule can whip you into shape." Spencer's eyes grew huge.

"You went to France to learn to cook? Wow!" she gushed. Ashley shrugged.

"Well, where else would you go to learn?"

Spencer was settled on the couch, her head slightly on Ashley's shoulder as they watched 'Desk Set' with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. It was getting late and she was tired but loathed to tell Ashley whose shoulder was quite possibly the best pillow she'd ever encountered.

"Spence, can I ask you a question?" Ashley whispered softly. She wasn't sure if Spencer had nodded off and didn't want to wake her if she had.

"Yeah?" Spencer wondered curiously. Ashley seemed to take several deep breaths before she spoke again and Spencer from her vantage point loved the view of her chest rising and falling. It distracted her and she had to concentrate when Ashley started speaking again.

"Are you going home for the holiday break?" she finally asked in a rush. Spencer lifted her head slightly.

"Thanksgiving or Christmas?" she asked for clarification.

"Thanksgiving," Ashley replied. "You know, the one where we stuff our faces with food to celebrate wiping out the Native Americans and raping their land. That one?" Spencer giggled.

"Wow, you make it sound so lovely," she snorted. Ashley gave her a one-shoulder shrug.

"Hey, it's true," she pointed out.

"OK, you're right there," Spencer agreed. "Uhm, I'm staying here. I'm going home to Ohio for Christmas and that's enough 'family time' for me."

"Do you have a big family?" Ashley wondered, interested. Spencer smiled, pleased beyond words that the brunette was showing interest in her family.

"I have a mom and a dad," she started.

"Oh, you didn't spring from an egg, then?" Ashley teased. Spencer tapped her on the thigh in protest.

"No, I didn't hatch from an egg, brat," she replied, lifting her head to stick her tongue out. Ashley stuck out her own in return and Spencer had to fight not to lick the end of it. Being this close, surrounded by Ashley's warmth and scent, was doing things to her equilibrium that she'd only really read about in books. She felt a myriad of things, the most prominent of them being safety, comfort and a familiar burning arousal.

She swallowed a sigh of want and put her head back down, having seen the flash of panic at her proximity in Ashley's eyes.

"Well, I was sure that you did," Ashley decided, clearing her throat before she spoke. "Color me surprised."

"All right then, I will," Spencer chuckled. She felt tentative fingers playing with the end of her hair and took it as a sign that their closeness a few moments before hadn't chased Ashley completely back behind her walls.

"So, anyway, family?" Ashley prompted.

"There's just my parents and me and I have two brothers," she told Ashley. "Glen is a junior at Duke. He's got a full ride for basketball. My other brother, Clay, is adopted. He's a sophomore at Yale. He got a full ride too based on his grades."

"Did you get any scholarships?" Ashley inquired. "Cuz you strike me as kinda smart." Spencer shook her head.

"Kinda? Ha, I'll let that one go, Davies," she chided. She loved feeling Ashley's frame shaking slightly as she giggled. "I did get a few offers but at schools too close to home for one thing. And I wanted to try to see if I could do it, be out on my own without my family. And they were for things like medical school and stuff which just didn't interest me."

"Why don't you want to see them for Thanksgiving?" Ashley asked. "Uhm, you don't have to tell me if you don't wanna though. I mean, especially if they're something like corn worshiping devil cultists or something. You can keep that creepiness to yourself."

Spencer laughed, knowing that Ashley's jokes were to cover up her asking about Spencer's home life. She didn't want to seem nosy and realized she was asking things about Spencer that she herself wasn't ready to share. She wanted to give Spencer an excuse not to answer.

"My mother and I, we don't really see eye to eye," she said honestly, deciding to be as open with Ashley as she could. If she showed Ashley that she trusted her, Spencer knew that she could continue to build Ashley's trust in her. "She wanted me to go to medical school and be a doctor like she is and I just can't be her, you know?" She felt rather than saw Ashley nod.

"Yeah, I get the whole 'not being what your parents want' thing," she said flatly. "Uhm, anyway, the reason I asked..." she trailed off making Spencer sit up and look at her curiously.

"What?" she wondered. Ashley blushed and ducked her head.

"Well, I'm cooking and Kyla is coming for the holiday and I thought maybe if you didn't have plans or anything and if you were interested that youcouldjoinusifyouwanted." Spencer squashed the urge to hug the girl; she was so cute when she was being shy.

"Wanna try that again in English?" she teased. Ashley gave her a mock dirty look.

"I was wondering if you would care to join myself and my sister, Kyla, in enjoying a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner," she enunciated snootily.

"I would love to," Spencer responded. She then winked at the brunette. "But only if you promise that it will be 'faaaaaaaaaaaabulous." Ashley smirked.

"You have my word."

Shortly after finalizing their plans for the holiday, Spencer had called it a night and went to leave. Ashley walked her to the door to see her out. There was an awkward moment where Spencer felt like they were both waiting for a kiss they both knew wasn't coming. So, to ease the anxiety, Spencer leaned over and placed a chaste kiss to the corner of Ashley's upturned mouth. She pulled back, unsure if she'd just overstepped her bounds but relaxed when she saw the happy smirk on the brunette's face.

She'd left, driving home in her Chevy, thinking about the multi-layered and intriguing girl she had just left. Somehow, she felt like she'd unraveled a few more of the layers to Ashley; squeaked passed a few of the meticulously constructed walls that the brunette locked herself away from everyone else with. And she felt like she was allowed beyond those barriers; that Ashley had met her halfway and was making an effort as well.

She wanted to tell someone about what she was building with Ashley, to shout it from the roof of the college so that everyone knew how special Ashley was. But she couldn't. She wondered if Madison wasn't attending school at the same college as Ashley, would Ashley be more open and trusting? She hated the thought that her own best friend was making the girl she was having feelings for feel so miserable about herself.

She pulled into her parking spot and walked into the sorority house, managing to get passed everyone without incident. The only person who paid her any attention when she entered was Katie who was sitting in the common room reading. The older girl simply looked up at Spencer, winked and smiled, making a small flash of adrenaline bolt through Spencer.

She knows! Oh shit she knows! Spencer panicked. She bit her lip wondering whether or not to say something to Katie. She decided after a moment to just ask her to stay quiet.

"Katie?" she said softly as she approached the other girl. "Uhm..."

"I know nothing," Katie said absently from behind her book. "I do not know who Zorro really is and even if I maybe kinda did, I wouldn't tell anyone. It's your business and no one else's."

Relief flooded through Spencer and she gave into the impulse to hug Katie, causing her book to go falling to the floor as she gave a little squeak.

"Thank you," Spencer whispered as she squeezed tightly.

"Oxygen!" Katie gasped. Spencer blushed and relaxed her grip. The older girl gave a knowing smile to the blonde. "Seriously, Spence, if you need to talk, vent, whatever you know where to find me."

"God, Katie thank you so much," Spencer sighed happily. She suddenly felt more relaxed about being at the sorority house. "That means a lot to me."

"I knew it would, Spence," Katie agreed. "I'm not going to judge you...other than maybe to call you a damn lucky bastard." Spencer looked at her in shock. "What? I have eyes; your Zorro is fucking hott!" Spencer blushed. "Oh and sh...cough he left you another gift. I should get that cough looked at."

"Really?" Spencer wondered. She wanted to ask how Katie knew but understood that the middle of the common room wasn't the best place.

"Yup, I slipped it under your door..." Katie explained as she grabbed her book off the floor. Spencer was off to her room like a shot. "Later Spence."

Spencer unlocked the door to her room and went in, shutting and locking it behind her. She was having the best day; first the outstanding home cooked lunch at Ashley's followed by several hours of just spending time with the reclusive girl; pillow fights, teasing, flirting and an invite to holiday dinner where she'd meet Ashley's sister. That little fact was making her nervous but she pushed it back for now choosing to worry about it when the time rolled around. Then she had a small good night kiss and got home to find one of her sorority sisters was on her side and she wasn't so alone in her situation. She was ecstatic already and the black envelope wrapped in a black silk ribbon only made it that much better.

She opened her envelope and pulled out the letter enclosed along with a magnetic room key for the Sofitel Los Angeles hotel. She turned the key over in her hand, slightly confused. Opening the letter, Spencer sat down on her bed.

'Beautiful Spencer,

I'd like to see you, spend time with you again. Please join me for the remainder of the weekend?


At the bottom of the note was the specifics, directions and room number. Spencer giggled as she grabbed a few things for the night. She decided at the last moment to grab a shower and freshen up before she left. After drying her hair, she grabbed her overnight bag and headed downstairs.

"Have a good weekend, Spencer!" Katie called out from the couch she was still sitting on. Spencer grinned back.

"Thanks!" she chirped as she headed out. She passed Madison as the other girl walked in. The Latina gave her a glare as she stalked by which Spencer ignored. She was in too good a mood to let her friend ruin it.

She followed the directions to the hotel, her stomach flipping and fluttering with butterflies the closer she got to her destination. She was nervous, excited, worried and feeling the familiar and welcome thrill of arousal. She couldn't wait to see Ashley again, even if it was this time as her alter ego, Z. She didn't care that she saw the beautiful girl only a few hours before and had spent the better part of the day with her; this was different. This wasn't Spencer and Ashley, the ultra-guarded, emotionally stunted girl; it was Spencer and Z, the sexy, open and confident woman. Spencer found that she liked both halves of the girl and hoped that someday soon they'd be within the same person with no more pretense or mask.

She pulled up in front of the hotel, as instructed, where the valet happily took her keys to go park the vehicle. He hadn't even batted an eye at the condition of her beat up, two tone car; he'd simply smiled and helped her heft her bag. When she tried to pay him, he'd informed her that it was taken care of and then drove off.

Shrugging, Spencer entered the magnificent hotel in awe. She took in her surroundings as she headed for the elevator, not wanting to waste too much time being thunderstruck by the opulence that surrounded her. She also tried not to think about how much this little rendezvous had cost Ashley money wise. She kept telling herself that it was Ashley's money to spend and she should just enjoy the thoughtfulness of the older girl.

She chewed nervously on her lip as the elevator rode up, the room she was directed to on the topmost level of the building. She exited the elevator and stood shyly in front of the door.

Do I knock? She wondered. I mean, I have a key but what if she's busy or something? What if she'd fallen asleep? I don't wanna wake her...

"Are you going to stand there all night or are you going to join me?" a teasing voice asked from nearby. Spencer jumped, unaware that she was so lost in her swirling thoughts that she didn't notice the door to the room open. She looked at Ashley, dressed in tight black pants, a white silk shirt that was open partially in front revealing a grey wife beater and bare feet. Her hair was freshly washed and cascaded down her face and neck. Back in place on her face was the black mask that was supposed to hide her identity. She smelled strongly of vanilla and cinnamon, making Spencer's mouth water for more than one reason.

"You smell good," she blurted out suddenly. She blushed crimson as Ashley arched an eyebrow and smirked. "God, was that out loud?" Ashley nodded.

"Yes, very," she giggled. "But it's nice to know anyway. I'd hate to smell bad." Spencer laughed.

"No, you definitely smell good, like all the time," she announced. "And I should just shut up, really."

"No, I think you're sweet," Ashley said sincerely. "So, coming in?" Spencer smiled and followed the smaller girl inside the luxurious room. It was an executive suite with all the accompanying perks and bonuses that that sort of thing brought. The bed was huge and looked unbelievably fluffy; there was a large flat screen television across from the bed and a gleaming black desk.

"Wow," she sputtered, looking around the room as Ashley took her bag and set it down.

"You like the room?" the masked girl asked. Spencer nodded.

"Yes, I do," she said honestly. She then looked at the slightly fidgety girl in front of her, glad to see that Ashley looked just as nervous as she felt. "So..."

"So..." Ashley echoed with a knowing smile. They'd had several conversations like that where they were at a loss for words and looked to the other to fill in the space. "Uhm, I need to tell you something."

Spencer felt her heart start to pound loudly. Was this where Ashley revealed herself? Was this the end of the mysterious masked beauty? Her thoughts collided and banged into each other as Ashley sought the words to explain herself.

"This...er...this is the last time that you will see me," she finally said, her voice hushed and naked. Spencer let out a small whimper of grief before she could stop herself.

"What? Why?" she asked, slightly panicked. Ashley looked at her sadly.

"Ah, my dear Spencer," she sighed dramatically. Spencer felt a little relief at the twinkle that seemed to suddenly pop up in Ashley's chocolate eyes. "There are other damsels in distress that need to be rescued. There are other beautiful women who need to be wooed."

"So, after tonight," Spencer began, understanding that this was Ashley's way of ending the Zorro charade with a dramatic flair. She thought it was cute and sweet. Ashley was still shy and guarded but she was trying the only way she knew how.

"After tonight, I'm afraid that you'll have to settle for my dour, less adventurous and insecure counterpart," Ashley informed her with more seriousness than a few moments ago. "If you wish to, of course." She suddenly looked nothing like the confident, self-assured Z and everything like Ashley, shy and unsure. Spencer wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around her.

She approached the masked girl and tilted her head slightly, leaning in to press her lips to Ashley's.

"Don't worry," she whispered, her lips brushing against Ashley's slightly quivering ones. "I'll take good care of her."

Lips met lips hungrily, hands wandering and clothes being discarded haphazardly around the room until they collapsed onto the bed together, a tangle of arms and legs. Spencer idly noticed that the bed really was as soft as it looked but quickly lost her train of thought as skilled fingers stroked her, teased her for endless minutes and then made her gasp as they slipped inside.

Spencer arched her back, panting. She thrust her hips further onto the fingers buried deep inside of her, aching for more, deeper contact.

"Fuck yeah," she moaned as Ashley pumped in and out at a steady pace. She didn't speed up or slow down, choosing instead to build Spencer's pleasure slowly until she couldn't stand it anymore. "Harder..." she begged.

"Spencer...Spence, open your eyes," she asked, hovering over the writhing girl. With much effort, Spencer pried open her eyes and looked up into Ashley's arousal blackened ones. The mask did nothing to hide Ashley's face from Spencer anymore. She only saw the beautiful girl behind the mask like it wasn't even there.

They moved together, their actions growing more and more frantic and urgent with each passing second.

"Do you..." she gasped as Spencer let out a low growl. The sound sent a hot shiver down her spine. "Do you trust m..."

"Yes!" Spencer answered wholeheartedly before Ashley even finished the question. "I do..." Ashley bit her lip and nodded.

"OH GOD!" Spencer cried as she felt a third finger enter her. Her eyes flew shut, and her mouth stayed open in a silent, bliss-filled scream.

It was the first time she had been stretched so far but thanks to the fact that she was wetter then she ever remembered being before there was only a slight burning sensation that quickly faded. She was filled with a boiling hot passion that was new to her and it built as Ashley's skilled fingers curved upwards and pressed deeper than anything she'd felt prior.

"Oh God...oh God..." she chanted, riding Ashley's hand hard. She put both arms up over her head and pressed against the headboard with both palms, thrusting almost violently back against Ashley. Those fingers inside her stroked, pulled, pushed and drove Spencer higher than ever before. She couldn't see, breathe or even think beyond the feelings Ashley was drawing from within her. When the brunette's thumb flicked up to tease her aching clit , Spencer screamed.

"Oh! Oh God...Oh...ASHLEEEEEEEEEY!" she exclaimed as she came, harder than anything she remembered. Her head flew back into the pillow as her body arched tighter than a bow. Her muscles clenched down tight on Ashley's fingers which twitched inside of her and renewed the spark, causing her to tumble over the edge again. She leaned up, desperate to touch Ashley and bit down on the rocking girl's shoulder hard enough to break the skin. She vaguely heard Ashley hiss at the sensation before she fell back onto the bed, totally spent.

It took a few minutes but eventually Spencer noticed that feeling was returning to her extremities. At first her arms and legs had felt like noodles and everything tingled as her head buzzed. She loved the way it felt. And she wanted to make Ashley feel it too.

She rolled over to face the masked girl, seeing hooded eyes looking back at her. As her hand drifted down the tanned and muscular torso, it was grasped by a perfectly manicured one.

"Not tonight," Ashley said softly. Spencer frowned at her, looking into conflicted brown eyes.

"Are you all right?" she asked, trying to stifle a yawn. Ashley smiled.

"I'm fine," she said. "But you're exhausted." Spencer shook her head.

"No I'm not," she protested. Ashley pulled her forward and let her snuggle in close.

"Yeah you are," she snickered. "Come on, I bet you had a long day." Spencer nodded, getting as close as possible to the beautiful naked body that she wanted so badly to touch. She really wanted to repay the experience but like Ashley had said, she was feeling the effects of her long, but good day.

"Yeah I did," she sighed happily. She felt Ashley slowly rubbing circles on her bare back, further adding to her drowsiness.

"Was it a good day?" Ashley asked, her voice barely above a whisper. Spencer nodded against the very warm body.

"Very," she mumbled sleepily. The last thing she heard before fading out completely was Ashley's softly spoken words.

"I'm glad."

Spencer woke up the next morning and realized two things immediately. First, she was feeling kind of sore in places. She smiled to herself remembering why. Ashley had filled her so completely the night before, making her orgasm incredibly satisfying. The second thing she noticed was the distinct lack of Ashley in the bed with her. She sat up and looked around, feeling her heart breaking with each passing moment.

She sighed when she saw the rose with a note wrapped around it lying on the pillow beside her. She reluctantly unwrapped the note and opened it, setting the rose to the side.


Something came up and I had to go. I'm sorry. The room is yours until check-out tomorrow. Please stay and enjoy it, order what you want, do what you want. The bill is on me. Sorry to bail on you but it was unavoidable.


Spencer crumpled the note in disgust and flopped back onto the bed with an annoyed grunt. She wondered when Ashley could have left and it not awoken her but figured she must have just been totally out for the brunette to manage it. She knew that if she had come to as Ashley made to run, she would have apologized.

I knew the moment her name left my lips I was in trouble, she scolded herself. She had hoped and prayed that her Freudian slip the night before as she climaxed, Ashley's name on her lips and released as a guttural scream from her throat, had somehow gone unnoticed. But no such luck. Ashley was gone.

"Fuck," Spencer growled angrily. "Fuck fuck fuck fuck me! I am such an idiot!" She grabbed the covers and threw them over her head, seeking to hide from her mistake. The blankets still smelled of the runaway girl and Spencer breathed deep, trying to keep that scent and the feelings it created within her from fading. She tried to memorize the way it felt to be there, surrounded by Ashley. She had no idea if she was ever going to have the privilege again or if she did, when.

She must hate me, she sighed. She was finally trusting me. She was going to let me know that she was really Ashley and I fucked it up. How could I DO that to her. All I wanted was a chance to show her that I'm not like everyone else in her life who's hurt her and yet, in my greed and stupidity, I did exactly that.

She must feel that I betrayed her trust. She wasn't ready for me to destroy the line between her and Z and me being me, I pretty much shit all over it. She was almost there, almost ready to be with me as herself, as Ashley and in a moment of passion, I scared her off. Wow, I suck ass.

She dozed off for a few more hours and woke up to the sound of someone knocking on the door. She got up and grabbed the blue satin robe that had been left out for her, wrapping it around herself before she hurried to the door. She hoped that Ashley was on the other side of the entrance, having calmed down and lacking her key.

"Room service, miss?" the bellhop said cheerfully. Spencer frowned.

"I didn't order..." she started.

"The order was put in yesterday, miss," he said as he pushed the tram into the room and unloaded it. "With orders that if you hadn't ordered something to eat by this time and were still a guest here, to deliver it."

He lifted the chrome metal lids to display several plates of hot food and fruits. Spencer headed to her purse to tip the boy who smiled at her.

"That was taken care of too, miss. Just leave the tram outside the door or call when you are finished," he told her. "Have a good day." Spencer tried to smile back but didn't feel like she was succeeding very well. After the bellhop was gone, she sat down heavily in a chair.

"She's such a terrific person," she sighed, running both hands through her hair as she leaned forward onto her knees. "And I totally blew it!"

Spencer stayed and enjoyed the weekend, hoping that at some point Ashley would reappear but by Monday when she checked out and returned to the sorority house, there had been absolutely no sign of the wounded girl. Spencer felt worse a day later than when she had first woken up and realized what she had done. The feeling was compounded later when she anxiously arrived in English class to see that Ashley was a no show.

She wasn't in any of their other classes either, including Music Appreciation and Spencer wasn't sure that she could possibly feel any more like an ass than she already did. She tried to tell herself that she was being too hard on herself but it was no use. All she could think was that she had this fragile and special girl's heart and trust in her hand and she had effectively dropped the ball.

She had even tried to email Ashley and try to draw her out to talk but her emails went unanswered. Ashley was either never signed onto AIM or she was invisible. Either way, Spencer couldn't reach her. It was as she searched for a way to contact Ashley that she realized she didn't even have the girl's phone number. It only served to make her feel like an even bigger jackass.

Sure, fuck her, do a project with her and let her cook you lunch but don't bother to ask for her number, Carlin, she chastised herself. You know what? Ashley has done everything in this...whatever it is, relationship or whatever. Saved you from that stupid jock the first night, knew your favorite soda...sent you gifts and food. She even emailed you first and gave you her IM name.

And what have you done? That's right, nothing. Let's make a list of what you have managed to do...uhm, invade her privacy that first day at her house. Yeah, that was a good one. Uhm, then you scared her by asking around about her with Katie and all that...oh and then when she was trying to find a way to be with you without her walls in the way, you rip down her protection and security blanket like it was nothing. You know what? Ashley deserves someone better than you, you thoughtless whore.

She blew a frustrated breath out through her teeth as she crossed the quad towards English class on Tuesday. She was hoping beyond hope that Ashley was going to show today. But some part of her knew that she wasn't going to be there. She wasn't sure how she knew but she wasn't surprised when she entered the lecture hall and saw the distinct absence of Ashley. There was no beautiful woman, hidden behind sunglasses and under a hat for her to smile at and feel herself blush. She had truly scared Ashley away.

Feeling incredibly guilty as well as sad, Spencer blinked back her tears and took her regular seat. She resigned herself to once again emailing Ashley later; she hoped to find the right words to apologize without letting on to what had happened. It was a thin line to walk, being sorry for something when she felt she couldn't come right out and say what she had done wrong.

"I am so glad to see that puta finally caught on and stopped coming to class," Madison declared as she arrived and took her seat beside Spencer. The blonde frowned at her, surprised to see her sitting there never mind speaking to her. It had been days since the last time Madison said a civil word to her and it turned Spencer's stomach to think that the only reason Madison would talk to her now was because Ashley was gone.

"Madison, maybe some thing's wrong and that's why she's not here," Spencer pointed out worriedly. She watched the Latina roll her eyes.

"God, when are you going to stop with the whole 'adopt a stray whore' bullshit?" she sighed angrily. Spencer thought a minute, coming up with a few wise ass remarks she could retort with before she decided on another tact.

"When you tell me what really happened that night," she said simply. "Prom night. What happened and how it's Ashley's fault."

"What?" Madison screeched, her eyes wide in shock. Spencer was never usually that blunt but she'd had enough of Madison running her mouth about it but always being vague and she knew that asking Ashley was out of the question.

"Look, Maddy," she started evenly. "Tell me what happened that night, what you remember and let me see and understand why you hate Ashley so much. If it really is her fault then I'll drop it..."

"And her?" Madison asked, genuinely interested. Spencer nodded knowing that it wasn't that easy. However, her friend didn't need to know that or how close she actually was to the absent brunette.

"Just tell me, Maddy. I know that it's a hard thing for you to talk about and I don't mean to be insensitive but you can't expect me to just turn my back on someone when I don't understand why I should," Spencer implored, hoping to finally have some answers to the innumerable questions in her head. "Give me a short version or something; that's all I'm asking." Madison frowned as she considered it. Finally, she gave a curt nod.

"After class, Spence," she said softly. "It'll be an abbreviated version since I hate talking about it. But I'll try to answer your questions."

They sat quietly on the stone wall at the edge of campus near the library. They'd been there for about fifteen minutes, unspeaking. Spencer didn't know what to say or how to start the conversation so she waited for Madison to work herself up to it.

"I've known freak extraordinaire Ashley Davies since grammar school," Madison finally broke the oppressive silence, her voice neutral and her eyes focused somewhere out on the quad. "She was this tiny, lanky little thing that you either loved or hated; there really was no in between with her. She made it just as hard to love her as it was to hate her, if that makes any sense at all." Spencer nodded, keeping silent and just listening.

"She was weird, even for a kid, you know? She had no social boundaries, no understanding of authority. In some ways, to a ten year old, she was the shit, you know? Cool as anything and not like anyone else. She had the best clothes, the best toys and gadgets, got dropped off at school in a limo, and you just had to try and be her best friend."

"But she was trouble, from day one. I think she got shipped to different schools a lot, I figure she just didn't do well with structure. Or maybe no one wanted to deal with her craziness. Either way, I met her in fifth grade when she came strutting into class in her expensive clothes, two hundred dollar sneakers and that fucking smirk. The whole 'I'm too cool' shit she still has going on. She put her feet up on the desk and smiled at the teacher who had absolutely no control over her at any point in time. I thought she was the end-all, be all of everything."

"So you guys were friends?" Spencer asked carefully. She didn't want to disturb Madison's recollection but she also had her own questions. The smaller girl nodded.

"Yup. Almost from day one. Which was funny if you actually stop to think about it. At that time in my life my family and I weren't as...well off as we are now," Madison explained although Spencer knew that she wasn't that 'well off' anymore thanks to her father's embezzlement and fraud charges. Still, Madison kept up the illusion well. "And here was this rock star's daughter. She was cool and I was cool by extension because I was her best friend."

"So what happened?" Madison sighed at the question.

"Life or something, I dunno," she rubbed at her eyes. "We got through junior high school all right. We both started dating different guys and then over the summer before high school, she started getting weirder. And before you ask, weirder in a way I can't explain. Before then she was confident but not an ass, you know? It just seemed like a switch or something went off in her head and by the time freshman year started, she was someone new." Spencer shifted nervously as her mind raced with more and more questions that she hoped she'd get to eventually ask Ashley.

"She was wild, beyond the whole 'rebellious' thing. She was crazy, started drinking and going through guys like most people go through socks. Her parents were no where to be found to reign her in and she was getting so that even I couldn't stand to be near her. She was in to some dangerous shit and it scared me. Then, right before our sophomore year, this new guy moved to the area, Aiden. Oh my God, Spencer I was so in love with him at first sight. He was cute, hot even at fifteen and I wanted to date him. I'd been single for a little while and I set my sights on him."

"Unfortunately, so did Ashley," she sighed again, this time disgusted. "Whereas I saw someone new and interesting, that stupid whore just saw a new conquest and someone who didn't know her reputation as a world class slut and walking STD by that point. And she saw that I was talking to him and I guess she was just so greedy and needy that she couldn't stand the thought of someone liking me better."

"So, she used her slutty ways to steal him right out from under me, no pun intended," Madison chuckled humorlessly. "And that was just a fucking train wreck from day one. She got wilder and took him along for the ride. She got the poor boy into shitloads of trouble but he stayed with her. Then she got her stupid whore ass pregnant and nearly destroyed Aiden's life." Spencer frowned, surprised.

"Ashley has a kid?" she wondered. Madison shook her head.

"No, dumbass lost it although I can't say I didn't feel that that kid was fucking lucky," she said flatly. "I mean, I totally wouldn't have wanted to see someone as messed up, drunk and high as she usually was, a loser like Ashley, trying to raise some poor innocent kid. I mean, I could totally see her trying to sell the brat to score some coke or something equally white trash."

Spencer couldn't believe it; it seemed so unlike the thoughtful and gentle Ashley that she was coming to know. She thought that while maybe Ashley had been wild, the child might have calmed her. She certainly could see Ashley as a fantastic parent. She wasn't sure why she could see it so clearly but she did anyway.

"So somehow, she lost the kid and her relationship with Aiden started to tank although honestly I was surprised she'd stayed with him as long as she had," the brunette went on, sipping her soda as she went along. "Usually she fucked them and left them before morning. She and I still hung out once in a while but my parents had come to see her for what she was and didn't want her around much. I didn't mind them hating her because the worse she looked, the better my chances with Aiden got."

Spencer took a deep breath and reminded herself that Ashley had grown-up and did not just 'fuck her and ran'. There was more to it than that but it still hurt to wonder.

"Then, get this," Madison laughed and Spencer felt a chill run up her spine. Whatever her friend was about to say no doubt had resulted in pain for Ashley and Spencer found herself already upset at the thought. "That dumb whore breaks into my house one night and wakes me up, desperate to tell me something. Turns out, she and Aiden went to some club and she ditched him for the girl at the door. Here she is in my bedroom at like four in the morning telling me about how she just had the most amazing experience with another woman!"

"She was...proud or some shit about it saying how it was unlike anything else and that she thought she might have finally figured out what it was that was that she was looking for with all the guys. She sat there and told me that she thought she was gay and then swore me to secrecy. Of course, I promised, being the good friend that I was," she laughed again, turning Spencer's stomach at the sound.

"Let me just tell you, the next day at school, I told as many people as I could to stay away from the freak," she declared, smiling happily. "Her life at school was miserable after that and she so deserved it."

"You betrayed her trust," Spencer pointed out, trying to keep her voice calm. Madison shot her a dirty look.

"No I didn't," she argued. "All I did was warn the people she was around that she was perverted and that they should stay away from her. She got booted from the cheer leading team right away because we didn't want some twisted pedophile in the locker room with us..."

"Homosexuality and pedophilia are not mutually exclusive," Spencer spat, disgusted.

"Oh don't give me that crap, Spencer," Madison rolled her eyes. "There was no reason for her to be around us normal people and I made sure everyone knew it." Spencer felt the bile rising to the back of her throat at the realization that Ashley's best friend had turned on her and betrayed her in the worst way possible. It was no wonder that Ashley was as closed off and guarded as she was. She had lost everything in less than a day at the hands of her best friend.

"And that's not the best part," Madison cackled when Spencer remained mute. "Her drinking and drugging were getting worse so Aiden left her and started dating me. We had our whole lives planned out and we were so happy. He was going to skip college and go into the NBA right out of high school and I was going to be his wife." Spencer managed to stifle her snort. She didn't think being a trophy wife was a valid life aspiration but was afraid of insulting Madison and having her refuse to finish the story.

"So, I guess it was her birthday or something and her father came to visit. And then he died that same night..." Madison continued, jogging Spencer's memories of the time when the rock star died. She couldn't even begin to imagine what kind of personal hell that must have been for Ashley.

"And well, after that and the sudden appearance of her bastard sister, she just went off the deep end. I just prayed that she'd fucking OD and save everyone the trouble," Madison decided. "Turns out she can't even do that shit right." She seemed to stop there and left the events of Prom out which upset Spencer.

The blonde waited a good five minutes before she spoke up.

"OK, not that I didn't want to know the things you've told me but how does that relate to Prom?" she finally asked. Madison got a far away look in her eyes as she recalled that dark night.

"Well, now you know what a fucking loser she was even before Prom. Anyway, she never went to dances or school functions; she thought she was too fucking good for them," Madison growled. "So there we are, having a good time. Aiden took me and I have to say we looked fabulous. But then Ashley appeared, so drunk and high that she could barely stand and she made this fucking scene right there in the gym about how she was hurting and needed Aiden. And my boyfriend, being the great guy he was, had never really shut her out and the more she fucked herself up, the harder he worked at 'saving her.'" Madison used finger quotes around 'saving her' showing Spencer exactly what she thought of that.

"I think she was doing it just for attention and to get back at me through Aiden," she decided. "She couldn't stand that he was happier with me than he'd ever been with her so she selfishly tried to ruin it for me. She was out to get me, I swear. So she throws this overly dramatic sob scene about how her father lied to her all her life and that Kyla was her replacement with her mother and shit, she could barely fucking stand, Spencer, she was so out of it. She reeked of alcohol and God only knows what she had taken by that point."

Spencer felt her heart lurch at the pain that Ashley had obviously been in and how everyone that should have cared, ignored it. She had no idea how Madison slept at night knowing that she'd hurt someone like she'd hurt Ashley.

"She sobbed and she cried," Madison recalled, her voice sarcastic. She apparently hadn't bought that Ashley was in pain and reaching out the only way she could. "Right there in full view of like half the student body, she had this fucking breakdown or some shit. She begged Aiden not to hate her, spouting some bullshit that he was her family and she needed him. More like she needed someone to clean up after her. She cried wondering why 'nobody loves me' and I told her to just look in the fucking mirror. I mean, anyone could see how worthless she was."

"Then Aiden's trying to comfort her and the little brat, Kyla shows up to take Ashley home. I guess she'd been chasing the whore all around town, trying to reel her in and get her to a rehab. She asked Aiden to help take Ashley to some detox center before she hurt herself but I told her to take her herself, she wasn't Aiden's responsibility. Ashley totally flipped her shit, screaming at me, claiming that I took Aiden from her and then just taking off out the door..." her voice trailed off for a moment.

"And Aiden followed her out, didn't he?" Spencer asked, making the connection. Madison nodded, her eyes wet.

"Yeah, he was such a sweet guy that despite all the shit she'd done, he still wanted to help. Which pissed me the fuck off. She wasn't worth his time and that loser was ruining our night, our prom. Then, Kyla was afraid the retard would try and drive so she and Aiden went outside after her," she said darkly. "I wasn't about to let that little slut or her little sister steal my man so I grabbed my best friend, Sherri and followed them out. Next thing I knew, someone screamed 'gun!' and at first I thought that they meant Ashley had a gun. But the shooting started and everyone fell..."

"You don't have to keep going," Spencer said gently. She honestly could figure out the rest. Madison shook her head.

"It was horrible, Spencer," she said sadly. "I fell, Sherri was beside me, not moving. I could hear other people crying and screaming. When I lifted my head the first thing I saw was Ashley, standing there like a deer in the fucking headlights and then Aiden tackled her to the ground. He...he died right there, after I got to him, in my arms."

"And Sherri?" Spencer whispered, wiping at her eyes.

"She was gone, instantly. So, there's Ashley, lying there looking stupid while my boyfriend and best friend died. Her sister was lying next to her, this huge fucking wound in her chest and Ashley just stared at me, blankly like she was too fucking high to see what she had done. Fuck, I don't even think the whore realized she'd been shot until a paramedic pointed it out, she was that far gone. "

"Was it bad?" Spencer asked before she could stop herself. Madison glared and tilted her head.

"What the fuck do you care, Spencer?" she hissed. "I just told you how her selfish self-destructive behavior killed my best friend and the man I loved. Why do you care whether her injury was bad or not. Her fucking sister was lying there dying and she didn't even spare her a glance."

"Maddy, the shooting wasn't Ashley's fault..." Spencer began. Madison stood up and angrily threw her soda bottle.

"They wouldn't have died if she hadn't pulled her little act, Spencer!" she screamed. "SHE is the one who stormed the prom without a ticket; SHE is the one who cried and screamed and begged for help and SHE is the reason Aiden and Sherri were even outdoors! Ashley, all fucking Ashley Davies and I am so fucking sick and tired of it!"

"It wasn't your fault either, Maddy," Spencer whispered. Madison pulled back and slapped the blonde, hard across the cheek.

"I didn't say it was, stupida," she growled. "Don't you dare think for a moment that I blame myself. That's what 'innocent victim' means, you ass. Ashley Davies with her fucking doe eyes and crocodile tears is the only one who should fucking feel guilty. And you know what? If you want to be friends with her so fucking bad, then go ahead. But I'm not speaking at your funeral." The upset girl grabbed her bag and with one last hot glare, stalked away leaving Spencer stunned and sore where she sat.

"Come on, Ashley, I know you're home, answer the door," Spencer muttered under her breath as she stood on the front step of the brunette's house. She'd been knocking and ringing the bell for close to twenty minutes but no one had come to the door. She was nearly positive that Ashley was indeed home; her black Porsche Cayenne was still parked in the driveway along with a car Spencer didn't recognize, a silver Lexus RX hybrid. Spencer figured that right there in the driveway was more money than her parents made in a year, easy.

Really, why would Ashley be interested in me? I haven't got money or the privileged upbringing she's had. What do I really have to offer?

The words that Madison had told her, the story of the Prom as seen from the view of the Latina were still fresh in her mind. Yet, despite the sad story and words of warning, Spencer just couldn't see Ashley as anything more than another innocent victim in the whole mess. She hadn't been the one targeted by the gangs, she hadn't held or fired a gun; she'd been stuck in a bad situation at the wrong moment and tragically, some of her friends died.

It didn't lessen Spencer's affection or desire for Ashley any. If anything, it increased it, knowing one of the places Ashley had been, something she'd experienced, gone through and triumphed over. It showed Spencer the tiny girl's strength and a part of what made her the way she was. It also only worked to increase her desire to apologize and get through to Ashley where she was hiding herself; the beach house.

She waited a few more minutes but when it was clear that no one was going to heed her calls, she slumped dejectedly and headed back to her car. She sat behind the wheel out on the street for close to half an hour trying to decide what to do. She could see one or two lights still on in the back of the house, near the beach.

Maybe she's outside and didn't hear the door? Spencer wondered. Still, a larger part of her feared and shivered at the thought that the other car in the driveway was someone Ashley actually wanted to be with. Madison's stories about how Ashley had slept around as a teen were still bouncing around her head and she couldn't quite shake the fear that although she had grown and changed, maybe Ashley was still prone to the self-destructive urges that so marked those turbulent years.

As the sun disappeared into the ocean, Spencer decided to try a different angle. She grabbed her Old Navy sweatshirt and pulled it on as she exited the car heading around the house to where she knew the deck and sliding doors were. She was beyond disappointed that Ashley wasn't outside on the deck enjoying the view like she'd hoped. The deck was bare save for a plastic soda bottle lying on its side under a chair.

Spencer pulled herself up onto the pressure treated wooden deck, struggling a little as she tried to haul her entire weight up with her arms from underneath. She finally managed it with what she hoped was a minimum of noise and brushed the sand off of her pants before she headed towards the doors. She grunted in annoyance when she realized that they were locked.

"Well, fuck," she sighed. Not wanting to but seeing no other choice, Spencer reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the blue utility knife Glen had given her when she left for college. He'd been terrified that she was going to be in California with all the wild kids, rapists and whatnot even though Spencer had explained that she was in no more danger there than she was at home in Ohio. California did not have the corner market on evil people; they were everywhere. Still, he wanted her to have some protection and gave her the blade which she dutifully carried in her pocket most of the time.

"I had two parents," she whispered to herself as she took out the sharp blade. "They were always home, always attentive. I did not have a wild childhood." She carefully slipped the blade between the sliding doors, guiding it down over the seal until she hit the lock. "But I had two older brothers and I am not as innocent as I look." With a slight grunt of effort, she popped the lock and the door slid roughly an inch open.

"And yet, I can pick locks and doors," she finished proudly. A part of her shouted that she was wrong in what she was doing but she was desperate to reach Ashley. She needed to apologize for her actions but more than that she had to reassure herself with her own two eyes that Ashley was all right and just being reclusive.

She put her hand through the space and gave a push, watching happily as the glass door slid to the right. She was about to step in when a loud, angry siren pierced the air and she jumped.

"Shit!" she exclaimed, knowing that she'd just set off Ashley's security system.

That's bound to win me brownie points. Nice fucking job, Spence.

"You know, I could shoot you right now and legally get away with it?" a dry, unamused voice pointed out. Spencer looked over to the hallway and saw Ashley standing there in blue basketball shorts that nearly covered her knees and a tee shirt that announced 'Sarcasm is your body's natural defense against stupid'. Spencer couldn't help but feel that it was a message meant solely for her.

"Uh...sorry?" she tried, standing there feeling like she'd just got caught breaking a family heirloom instead of just being someone who was trying to check on a friend. The look on Ashley's face as she disarmed the alarm was one of betrayal and surprise but nonetheless she looked as hurt as Spencer knew she was.

"Whatever," Ashley sighed. "Why are you here?" Spencer took a step forward and nearly whimpered when Ashley took a step back. She was watching the brunette who struggled so hard to reach out to her, retreat into her self-imposed and lonely exile. The blonde had simply hit the wrong button and chased the side of Ashley that was trying so hard to trust again back into its shell.

"I'm sorry," she whispered to Ashley, her eyes downcast and afraid to see the damage that she knew she'd done. "I wanted to check on you."

"I'm fine," Ashley snapped tiredly. "You can go...please" Spencer nodded, feeling her eyes stinging with the onset of tears. She turned to head to the front door.

"Ash! Ash what's going on!" a female voice yelled out from the direction of the bedroom.

Spencer felt her stomach churn and then drop, landing somewhere in the vicinity of her toes. "Is it a burglar? Are we gonna die? Wait, are you dead?" Ashley rolled her eyes.

Oh God, she was here with someone! Spencer thought, her heart breaking even as anger and jealousy built up. What is so great about her that Ashley will let her in but not me? I can't believe that I've screwed up so badly that I lost her. The bitch back there better not hurt her or I'll kill her.

"It's not a burglar," she called back. "It's just..." She looked blankly at Spencer. "A persistent saleswoman. We're not buying what she's selling though." The sound of bare feet padding out towards them drew Spencer from her contemplation of her shoes as she headed to the door.

"What the hell are you talk...oh, I see," the girl stopped beside Ashley and looked at Spencer. The blonde immediately recognized her as Ashley's sister Kyla and mentally kicked herself for thinking the things that had been going through her mind.

"So, you're the reason my sister started calling me at three in the morning, crying?" Kyla growled protectively. Spencer froze in place, feeling her own tears spill over and slide down her face.

"I..." she tried, not looking up. She wore her guilt like a cloak, letting it cover her and show to the two other girls.

"Look, why don't you just go, OK?" Kyla said forcefully. "You've hurt my sister enough and she doesn't need that shit. Just go." Spencer nodded and unlocked the door so that she could leave.

"Ky, I...I can't be out here. I'm not...just lock the door behind her and reset the alarm, please," Ashley sighed turning away. "I'm gonna go back to what I was doing."

"It was an accident!" Spencer screamed suddenly, startling both Davies sisters. She whirled around to see one looking shocked and the other looking...pleased? She shook her head to rid it of the confusion and took a step back into the house.

"I'm sorry, Ashley, OK?" she pleaded. "You have no idea how bad I feel over what happened. But don't you understand why it happened? I knew it was you; I wanted you, not some carefully constructed illusion. I knew it was YOU!"

"Go!" Ashley yelled back, pointing towards the door. "I can't, Spencer, please. I just...can't!" Spencer dropped her head for a moment, the words stinging as she fully comprehended the damage the tiny slip had really done.

"I'm not asking you to do anything, for anything; only to understand that I didn't mean to do it," Spencer implored. "But I don't regret it. It was you, always you making me feel so...so fucking good that I never wanted it to stop. Ash," she stepped towards the taller brunette, seeing that she was shaking and about ready to run. "Please...please don't run away from this, from me. Please?"

"Ashley, come on," Kyla said softly, nodding her head towards Spencer. "Just listen to her." Ashley glared at her.

"Whose side are you on, Kyla? Jesus," she growled. "You know how upset I've been..." Kyla glared right back, unruffled.

"She's obviously genuine, Ash. Stop pushing her away and try," Kyla responded. Her voice stayed soft and gentle, a tone Spencer recognized as something you'd use on a scared animal. Kyla knew her sister well and understood that Ashley was simply reacting out of fear.

"I swear I'm not going to hurt you," Spencer said, mimicking Kyla's tone. "You were starting to trust me before; please give me a chance?" Ashley watched her carefully for a few very long minutes, clearly thinking it over. Finally, she nodded and then turned away.

"All right. Be here around 9 Thursday if you wanna help with the dinner," she whispered. "But I'm tired right now and I just wanna be by myself. Ky, can you lock the door behind her?" Kyla nodded.

"Sure thing, Ash," she chirped. "I'll be in to finish watching the movie in a few minutes." Ashley turned her head one more time to look at Spencer, her face sad but her eyes apologetic before she walked away.

Spencer couldn't help but grin as she walked to the door. Sure, she had been dismissed by Ashley and not invited in or anything but at the same time, Ashley had left the opportunity for her to still spend the holiday with her and Kyla. Spencer felt elated and relieved all at once.

"Sorry, I broke in here like that and scared you," she offered to Kyla, not wanting to start out on the wrong foot with Ashley's sibling. Kyla shrugged.

"Don't worry about it," she said simply. "Just...just don't hurt her again, all right?" Spencer shook her head almost violently.

"No, never," she said fiercely. "I screwed up and I am so sorry. But it really was an accident."

"She didn't tell me exactly what happened but whatever it was, you spooked her real good," Kyla explained. "I haven't seen her that rattled since she..." The younger girl trailed off and then just stopped. "And that's something you don't need to know unless she wants you to. Oh, I'm Kyla by the way." She extended her hand which Spencer happily shook.

"Spencer Carlin," she responded. Kyla arched an eyebrow and smiled.

"Oh, I have heard all about you," she teased. Spencer felt her ears burn in embarrassment. "Relax, Spencer, most of it was good." Spencer groaned.

"I can imagine," she sighed although she was still smiling. For some reason she was surprised that Ashley had spoken about her to Kyla but at the same time, it gave her hope that Ashley really liked her if she was willing to discuss it with her sister.

"It's been a long time since Ash has had a friend," Kyla said honestly.

"i noticed that," Spencer agreed. "It seems like a shame since she's so awesome." Kyla nodded.

"She is. But she's very...how do I say this politely? Jaded, distrusting, emotionally retarded...yeah that just about covers it," she snickered. "It's been longer still since there's been someone who makes her light up the way you seem to." The smaller girl then eyed Spencer suspiciously, making the blonde feel like she was under a spotlight and about to be interrogated.

"I wasn't sure you were worth her time when you first got here though," Kyla decided. Spencer frowned.

"What? Why?"

"Well, you went through all the trouble of breaking in here and then you just walk away the first time she tells you to," Kyla explained. "Hardly seems like someone worth my sister's time if you're just going to give up on her that easily. She is not easy to be with."

"I was trying to be respectful," Spencer countered insulted. "I didn't want to crowd her, you know how private she is."

"True, but there is a difference between being respectful and just giving up and you came dangerously close to the latter," Kyla told her.

"Is that why you told me to go and then looked happy when I started yelling?" Spencer wondered. Kyla laughed.

"Yes," she agreed. "I just wanted you to try, to show me and Ashley that despite making a mistake, you weren't just going to lie down and die or let her pull away. I was fucking thrilled that you started yelling, showed some fire. If you expect to get through to Ashley, you're going to have to be willing to fight for it." Spencer smiled, seeing that she was being given advice on exactly how to reach Ashley.

"Thanks," she said sincerely. Kyla smiled back.

"You're welcome. And don't be late Thursday. I hate tardy people."

Wednesday sped by with amazing speed for Spencer. Even though Ashley was again not in class, she knew that the brunette was fine, probably at home preparing for the next day. She couldn't wait for Thanksgiving to arrive so that she could spend it with Ashley and Kyla, getting to know them both a little better. She was determined not to screw it up again.

The fact that she was even getting a second chance amazed her. She understood that her little slip up, while not that big of a deal in the real scheme of things or from an outside view, had meant something more to Ashley and it had scared her. Despite the fact that Ashley had already announced that that meeting of Spencer and Z was the last one, she had needed to do it on her terms so that she could stay comfortable with the transition. And Spencer screaming out 'Ashley' as she orgasmed had taken the much needed control away from Ashley.

That was why Ashley had left during the night; Spencer didn't even have to ask. For Ashley it must have been akin to being someone's Secret Santa and just as you go to admit it, the other person ruins the reveal by saying 'eh, I knew it was you' and taking any joy or pride away from the situation. Either that or maybe Spencer was paying a little too much attention in Psych class.

She shifted in her seat during English, totally missing whatever their professor was talking about but she wasn't the only one. At some point during class, Madison had managed to finish painting her nails and the girl to Spencer's left had pretty much texted 'War and Peace' to whomever was on the other end of her Motorola Razr. Again, this reminded Spencer to ask for Ashley's number at some point over the holiday.

"Spencer, you know you're welcome at my family's for dinner tomorrow, right?" Madison said as class ended and the college was free for the long weekend. The Latina made no mention of the day before or the slap that Spencer had received. If she thought anything of it at all, she wasn't letting on. On the other hand, Spencer was annoyed by it, thinking that she hadn't really done anything to warrant being hit and that friends didn't treat each other like that; at least not where she was from.

"Thanks but I think I'm just gonna relax and do my own thing," she lied, keeping the disgust at the thought of a whole day with Madison and her family out of her voice but just barely. Somehow Spencer knew that an entire day cooped up in the Duarte household would only end in her proclaiming her affections for Ashley and pointing out that Madison was a self-centered bitch in front of the extended family. Decidedly unfun.

Madison smiled at her sweetly which only served to turn Spencer's stomach even more. The story that the smaller girl had told her the day before was still fresh and at the forefront of her mind. There were questions she wanted to ask, things that she wanted to point out to show Madison that Ashley was not the responsible party in the whole ugly mess. However, she knew that it was pointless and would only cause more drama which was something she wanted to avoid.

"Are you sure? My cousin Jeremiah will be there," she reminded Spencer. Madison, in her own way, thought she was being helpful in telling Spencer when her cousin, a model, would be around. She was convinced that Spencer liked him; much the same way she thought that Spencer liked Jared. In both cases the girl was hideously wrong but Spencer was too nice to point it out to her. She had met Jeremiah a few times and felt he would be better matched with Lance Bass than he would her. The boy nearly set her eyebrows on fire each time they spoke. She wondered how Madison missed seeing it.

Must be nice to see things in such a way that benefits you all the time, she thought to herself, annoyed.

"I'm sure, Maddy, but thanks," she replied trying to at least sound genuine. She must have succeeded because Madison said nothing more other than to simply wish her a good holiday before she headed home to her parents without another comment or taunt about Ashley. She must have figured that Spencer was absolutely done with the musician because otherwise, Spencer knew, she'd make another dig and then make absolutely sure that the blonde went no where near the other girl for the holiday.

If only she knew, Spencer laughed her herself as she bought a vanilla chai and headed to her sorority house. Once there, she went right upstairs to her room and put her bag down with a sigh. Now came the hard part.

She stared at her closet, wondering what she was going to wear the next day. She wanted to look nice without looking like she was heading to church or to a party. Then she wondered what Ashley and Kyla were going to be wearing.

Well, let's see...Ashley will be cooking in her own home so chances are, she'll be in simple jeans or something, she thought logically. She pulled out her best jeans that had no ink stains or strips of torn and faded cloth coming off the pant leg and hung them on a hanger for the next morning. She knew that she was probably not going to be able to sleep too well that night but wanted everything ready in case she overslept.

God, I had better not be late. I already made a shitty impression on Kyla since Ashley called her crying the other morning. I feel so fucking guilty that I made her cry. But I hope she understands what happened. I mean, I did try to explain that I screamed for her because I wanted her, knew it was her. Still, I do understand why she freaked. Feel incredibly guilty about it, but understand it anyway.

I am determined not to screw this up again, she thought fiercely. I hate that there are so many things that I might do or say that could hit one of her 'off topic' subjects but I have to try. And I need to remember what Kyla told me about having to fight for her. I think...no, I know that Ashley is something that I want to fight for.

She let out a loud, amused laugh.

Oh my God, I am such a lesbian! She giggled. I'm going to Thanksgiving dinner at a hot girl's place to eat and here I am, tearing my closet apart to make sure that I look nice for her. If you had told me last year...hell, if you had told me two months ago that I would have had gay sex, and LIKED it I would have probably been upset. And now, here I am, spending my nights alone with my mind replaying each and every moment I spent with Ashley's 'Z' which usually ends with my hands in my pants. Shit, gay sex and masturbation. I am on the fast train to hell.

"Ha, I'm probably sitting in the front row," she snorted out loud. "If I know my mother, she'll get me first class, front row express tickets." She sighed and went back to her contemplation of her wardrobe.

Spencer puttered around her room for a while after she'd decided on her jeans, Converse and a long sleeve light green sweater that was thick enough to keep her warm but thin enough so that she wasn't hot. She tried to find something to distract herself with for the rest of the day but didn't have any luck. All she could think was that she was spending the next day with Ashley. The sorority house was nearly empty, most everyone else had already left for the weekend. Spencer appreciated the quiet as she turned on her computer to write an email to her parents wishing them a good holiday.

The male metallic voice greeted her and then informed her that she had mail, which didn't surprise her. She had been neglecting her mailbox knowing that most likely somewhere in it was a scathing letter from her mother no doubt scolding her for not coming home. It was the only time she really heard from her mother; when she didn't do exactly what was expected of her and she could be yelled at. Even in a quiet, soundless email, Spencer could hear her mother's disapproving tone and see the angry look she knew would be on the older woman's face. And there were always a list of things her mother would say or ask which never changed from one email or phone call to the next.

Sighing, she clicked on the message that arrived that morning, just wanting to get it over with.


Well, I have to tell you that I am very disappointed that you will not be home for Thanksgiving. Your brothers will be here. Clay already arrived this morning from Connecticut and Glen will be here sometime this afternoon. I don't see why it's so hard for you to come home from California. You are not any further from Ohio than Clay is and yet he manages to buy his ticket home and make the time for his family.

I understand that money is tight for you and if we had to, I suppose your father could wire you the money for a ticket home if you can't manage it. But if you can't manage to do these things for yourself, Spencer, maybe you should consider moving back home.'

Spencer rolled her eyes. That was one of the constants in her mother's communications with her; she always told her to come home to go to school. It annoyed and hurt her that her own mother wouldn't or couldn't support the fact that she wanted to be independent.

'I spoke with Russell's mother the other day. He is doing fabulous in law school and she says that he's asked about you. Spencer, I still don't understand why you turned down his marriage proposal and ended it with him. He is such a sweet boy and I'm sure that you could be happy with a nice Christian boy like Russell.'

"Sure, except for the whole 'I'm really sure that I like girl's' thing I got going on now," Spencer scoffed. "Yeah, that's gonna go over like a fart in church."

'I don't like that you're out there in California without any spiritual support. Are you even going to Mass every Sunday? I bet you aren't. Spencer, you need guidance and you need to be diligent at staying within the church. I don't want to see you become wild like some of those children you go to school with.

I received an email from your little sorority sister, Madison, and she told me that you have been asking about some girl named Ashley that she warned you to stay away from. I will not have you spending time with bad influences and from what Madison tells me, Ashley is nothing but trouble. She also told me that you're being stubborn and won't stop trying. I'm telling you to right now: You are not your father; you do not need to take in every stray that crosses your path.'

"I'm gonna kill Maddy," Spencer growled angrily. She felt betrayed that her friend had written her mother and ratted her out. "Where the fuck does she get off writing my mother? God, I never should have let them meet last year. And why does everyone keep calling Ashley a stray? She's not a damned poodle or something."

'I am disappointed in you, Spencer. It seems like you are making poor decisions and I worry for you and your soul.'

"Oh god, here we go," Spencer groaned. This was the part where her mother started praying for her and things like that. She decided to skim past the scripture and pious remarks until she found anything worth reading.

'I expect to hear from you on Thanksgiving. If you can't make time to come home you can at least have the decency to call. And your father and I expect you here for Christmas. You will celebrate the Lord's birthday with us. At home. I only want what's best for you, Spencer. Remember that.

Love, Mom.'

"Yeah, 'love Mom'," Spencer snorted. "I love that the whole letter is rude and condescending and she thinks that showing a little affection at the end of the letter totally erases that. Gah!"

She closed the window and deleted her ever growing collection of porn mail. She nearly erased one too many, gasping as she suddenly noticed an email from Ashley.

'Thanksgiving' it read simply. Spencer swallowed hard, afraid that the note was going to tell her to stay home and never show up at Ashley's again. She tried to calm her racing heart as she clicked to open it.

'Hey Spence,'

Relief immediately flooded through Spencer; Ashley had used the nickname 'Spence' which was a term of endearment so Spencer hoped she wasn't about to be told to kiss off.

'Just wanted to make sure you were still coming tomorrow. Kyla and I have our little traditions and if you want to participate or anything, you should count on getting here no later than 9 AM. If you'd rather just eat and not have to put up with any Davies sister craziness, which I would totally understand, anytime after 2 is good.

You don't have to bring anything, except yourself and a huge appetite. So, try to do better than you did last Saturday because you barely touched your plate.'

"Oh bullshit," Spencer giggled. "I ate myself nauseas."

'So, we both hope to see you tomorrow.


Btw, when Kyla hands you her 'special' sweet potato casserole, just nod like you're going to eat it and when she's not looking, I'll help you ditch it. Trust me. Your health insurance will appreciate it.'

Spencer grinned. The note did a lot to ease her nerves about how Ashley was feeling towards her. She was back to teasing and sounding nervous and even though she signed it 'Ashley' instead of 'Ash', it was friendly and lighthearted. Spencer hoped to eventually get back to where she was with Ashley again before her slip up at the hotel. It looked a lot more possible now than it had earlier.

Part 3

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