Previously: Part 2 [U]
May the fourth be with you, as they say. There’s still a concluding Part 4 to come.
* * * * *
"Yo!" Ashley was standing in the wings.
Sister Ruby Theresa turned to her. "Ashley, why aren’t you dressed and where’s Spencer?"
It was the dress rehearsal, so both of them should have been there in their school uniforms. Instead, Ashley was standing alone in her normal clothes. "I can’t find her, RT. And, believe me, I’ve looked."
"Have you two been fighting again?"
She winced. "Not exactly."
"What have you done this time, Ashley?"
"For once, it’s not my fault." She shook her head. "Not entirely my fault."
"This is the dress rehearsal!"
"I know, I know. I just came in to see if she’d shown up here." She checked her watch. "What’s the latest we can get away with?"
Sister Ruby Theresa referred to the clipboard in her hands and scanned down it with her pen. "The running time’s not as tight as I’d like it and you’re second-to-last. Allowing for do-overs and changeovers, how about you’re back here in ninety minutes? Both of you. In uniform."
Ashley touched her fingers to her forehead in mock salute. "Gotcha." She jumped down from the stage and jogged across the hall. She reached the front doors of the school and looked out over the grounds.
She couldn’t think of anywhere else to look that she hadn’t covered already. Spencer hadn’t been in her room, and her roommates hadn’t seen her at all, which meant she had left at least an hour before breakfast. So she had started at their clearing — strange, how quickly it had gone from hers to theirs — and worked her way back. She’d checked under the bleachers, in the pool house and five or six other outbuildings scattered across the sprawling property.
She considered heading into town, but was certain Spencer would want to be alone and myst be hiding somewhere on the grounds. What she needed was perspective. She walked around the building to the fire escape and looked up. She hadn’t been up on the roof since she’d wandered too close to the edge one evening and had been gripped with a paralysing sense of nausea and dread. Breathing deeply, she set off up the stairs, climbing until they gave out just beyond the upper floors.
She stared at the iron ladder fixed to the wall that was the last stage of her journey. "I am better than you," she affirmed, grabbing a rung at head height and stepping on. "I am not afraid of heights." She kept her eyes on the wall, looking neither down nor to the side. "There is nothing to be afraid of."
There seemed to be a lot more steps than she remembered. Or, possibly, time was starting to move backwards. By the time she was pulling herself up and over the ledge, her back and forehead were bathed in sweat. She scrambled away from the ledge and towards the middle of the roof, her heart beating furiously and her gaze fixed on the ground.
"You don’t have to rescue me. I’m not going to jump."
Her head shot up and she spun around. Spencer was sitting nonchalantly on the far ledge, her legs dangling over the side.
"I didn’t know you were up here."
Spencer was picking at the plaster next to her and tossing loose chips over the edge. She didn’t turn around, keeping her back to Ashley.
When Spencer remained silent, Ashley said, "Ruby T wants us both in the hall."
"It’s the dress rehearsal." She didn’t know what else to say.
Ashley took a few steps closer. "Is there any chance you could come off the ledge? I’m not a big fan of heights."
Spencer looked over her shoulder at her. "You do look terrible," she commented.
She stuffed her hands in her pockets and tried not to look in Spencer’s direction. "How about we go get dressed for the rehearsal and then find somewhere to talk? I mean, if you want. Or, not."
Thankfully, Spencer swung her legs up and over the ledge so that she was sitting facing Ashley, her feet on the roof. "Why would you come up here if you hate heights?"
"To see if I could see you."
"Well, you found me."
"I see that." She couldn’t look at Spencer for more than a few seconds at a time without fear gripping her and it wasn’t just because of her proximity to the building’s edge. "So, do you fancy coming back down now?"
"I’m good here."
She tried looking upwards. The sky looked the same whether you saw it from the ground or a few hundred feet up. "Well, I can’t leave without you. I promised RT I’d bring you back."
"I’m not coming down."
"I don’t think I can persuade her to hold the rehearsal up here, but I can always go ask, if you want." Maybe a joke would work.
"I’m not doing the show."
"You know why not." Although Spencer was staring off to the side, it was clear that she was trying to hold back tears and had been crying already.
"I’m sorry about last night, Spence." It wasn’t strictly true. She wasn’t sorry they’d kissed, only for the circumstances surrounding it. And that wasn’t even her fault. She hadn’t started it, although she shouldn’t have allowed it to get as far as it had. "I shouldn’t have done that."
"Why shouldn’t you have kissed me? I wanted you to."
Why were other people so confusing? She didn’t obsess over her own actions, and she didn’t understand people who needed to evaluate the meaning of everything. Sometimes, things just happened and you moved on. She did, however, want Spencer to feel better and didn’t know where to start with that, but she could feel Spencer’s gaze upon her, waiting for her answer.
Eventually she mumbled, "You were really upset. You didn’t know what you were doing."
"I’m eighteen, Ash. I understand what kissing is." Spencer’s voice got even smaller. "You mean you didn’t want to?"
"No!" That sounded wrong. "I mean, no, I did want to. I wanted to kiss you." Better. "I still do." Too much?
"See? That’s why."
"Okay." Why what? Was there a secret ‘girl code’ that no-one had told her about?
"I took advantage of your friendship."
Seriously? It wasn’t the past that was a foreign country: it was other people. Specifically, other women. The whole conversation was unfathomable. "You really didn’t."
"No!" Spencer was vehement. "I did. I felt sorry for myself and I used you to make me feel better and that wasn’t fair to you."
"Right." Well, when she put it that way, it was pretty insulting.
"Dinner with Guy went badly. He said some really hurtful things."
"They must have been pretty bad to make you randomly kiss someone you don’t even like." She didn’t want to sound petty, but she was aggrieved at being told that she was nothing more than a pick-me-up, like a pint of ice-cream or a family-sized bar of chocolate.
"I do like you. Just not like that." Spencer shook her head and said quietly, "I’m not gay."
"I’m not going to hold that against you." She could have pointed out that straight girls didn’t usually kiss other girls, but that was hardly true any more. In her experience, straight girls often did a lot more than that. Ashley didn’t care one way or the other: she wasn’t into labels. The heart wanted what it wanted and giving it a name never really changed anything. "Honestly, it really doesn’t matter, Spence. We’re all allowed to do random, dumb shit sometimes. Obviously, you weren’t quite yourself."
"It, uh, turns out I was wrong about Guy. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to have sex with girls. He just didn’t want to have sex with me." The blonde looked up at her for only an instant, a flash of pain in her eyes. "He’s apparently been having all kinds of sex with any number of random girls, including Brynn and Sophie." They were two of Spencer’s closer friends. Ashley already hated them, but was a little shocked that they’d betray Spencer like that.
Spencer bit her lip. Tears were starting to form again. "He said that, that he went out with me because he thought it would look good for him, not because he was really interested in me. He said I was…" She exhaled slowly, wiping at her eyes. "That I never showed any real emotion for him or anything else. That there was nothing there, that I was, essentially, dead behind the eyes."
"Well, that’s just fucking bullshit!" She ground her teeth in anger. She hated when guys called women frigid — which was clearly what Guy had said, if not in so many words — just because they didn’t live up to their expectations of having porn star appetites. Maybe Spencer had been reserved or withdrawn with Guy Hamilton, but the Spencer that she’d gotten to know was funny and smart and vibrant and so authentic and real that it almost hurt to be in her presence. "Maybe you were like that with him because he was a gutless fucktard who doesn’t appreciate when he has the best thing in the world right in front of him. Maybe you weren’t interested in him because he’s just not fucking interesting!"
She realised that she was shouting, so lowered her voice. "In my meagre experience, guys say worthless shit like that so they can make it all about you and they can tell themselves that nothing’s their fault." She snorted. "You can’t listen to something like that and let it affect what you think about yourself. You’re a good person, Spencer Carlin. Only a week ago, I would never have dreamed that I’d say this, but you’re probably the best person I know."
Spencer shrugged the compliment off. "A good person wouldn’t have treated you the way I have."
"I thought we were over that? The past’s the past. I’m not interested in raking it up."
"I meant yesterday."
"Ah." She smiled. "Let’s be honest, that’s not your fault. You were powerless to stop yourself. And who can blame you? I am totally all that and a bag of chips. You are, too, you know. If Guy Hamilton was too fucking stupid and blind to see that, then that is truly his loss."
"But I can’t face them."
"Who? Those losers downstairs who fucked your boyfriend? Because they are fucking dead to me and should be to you, too. So, that’s easy. We ignore those ones for two more days and then you never have to see them again. Alternatively, I can punch them for you, if you like. I’ve always wanted to, so this would give me an excuse."
Spencer looked unconvinced. "It’s not just that."
"If you’re worried that people will find out about us, then I wasn’t planning on wearing a t-shirt saying ‘I kissed Spencer Carlin’ or making you wear my class ring or anything, so it’s not like anyone’s going to know. Unless — wait — did you get a t-shirt made?"
Spencer made a noise, half way between a laugh and a startled grunt, and shook her head. "No t-shirt. And we don’t have class rings."
"Fine, so neither of us is taking out a billboard, but what would it matter if they did know anyway? Neither of us will ever see any of these girls again after this weekend. And if the worst thing they can find to say about me is that I was kissed by Spencer Carlin, I can totally live with that. I know I’m not quite the catch you are, but there are plenty of girls in this school who’d be happy to brag that they got a shot with me."
"Is that what it was, a shot?"
She ignored the softly-spoken question and continued, "And, finally, I don’t want to sound all-about-me or anything, but I kinda need this. My participation in this little shindig isn’t optional. If I don’t perform tomorrow, the Penguin’s gonna flunk me and I’ll have to repeat the year."
"Oh. Well, I didn’t know that."
"But, if you really don’t want to do it, I can go on by myself. You need to let me know now, though, because I have to go to this rehearsal, with or without you."
Spencer wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "But it’s a duet."
Ashley could tell that at least one of her arguments had worked. "Hey, I’m awesome enough to carry both parts."
"You can’t sing counterpoint to yourself."
"No, but I could change the arrangement. It’s not like Adele needs anyone else to sing with her when she does it."
"You can’t just dump me from this act at this late stage, Ash." Spencer walked towards her, smiling weakly.
"Hey, I wasn’t the one trying to break us up."
"No, no you weren’t." Spencer was standing only a few feet away, her shoulders hunched, her hands stuffed in the pockets of her jeans. Ashley gave her a reassuring smile and Spencer nodded in silent acknowledgment.
Ashley rolled her eyes. "Good. Now, can we get the fuck off of this roof? Cold sweat is so not a good look for me."
They walked towards the metal staircase which led to the fire escape. Ashley tried hard to control her breathing, not wanting to look like a complete tool. Spencer paused at the edge.
"You really are scared of heights, aren’t you?"
She tried and failed to smile in return, ending up with a kind of awkward grimace. "Technically, it’s not heights. It’s falling and hitting the ground with terminal velocity that bothers me. As long as there’s a decent wall or window between me and the huge fatal fall, I’m golden."
"Well, thanks for coming up here for me anyway. I’m really sorry about all of this. And I —"
Ashley held her hand up to stop her. "Spence? Seriously, it’s no problem." It wasn’t that she didn’t want to talk this over more. She’d happily talk until the following month, but she really, really wanted off of the roof.
"All that and a bag of chips, by the way?"
She smirked. "Hey, don’t hate the player, hate the game."
* * *
They made it to the rehearsal with time to spare. To the untrained eye, they looked no different from their normal selves. Closer scrutiny would have shown that Spencer stood closer to Ashley than she normally did to anyone. A particularly keen observer might also have noted that Ashley’s usual physical boundaries, the danger zone of personal space that she so assiduously guarded, meant nothing around Spencer. In fact, she touched the younger girl almost constantly.
Their performance was flawless. Even Spencer’s little crowd of sycophants — minus Brynn and Sophie, who were conspicuously absent, she noticed — complimented Ashley on it. Not that she really cared: she was only interested in one opinion.
With it being the last proper school night, the seniors had been given special dispensation to have a party in the large common room. Decades of tradition suggested that there would be soft drinks, snacks and loud music. A blind eye would be turned to alcohol, as long as it was discreet and no-one got really drunk. As part of the relaxation of the normal rules, they could choose to leave the grounds instead, as long as they got permission. Although relationships with townies were officially frowned-upon, there was a tacit understanding that couples should be allowed one last chance to be together.
Ashley’s plan had always been to meet up with George. She had indicated her preference on the form they’d been asked to fill out weeks before. But, as she got dressed in her bedroom, her roommates all a-twitter with their thoughts about what kind of alcohol might be smuggled into the party, she found herself wishing that she’d elected to stay.
She had only two more evenings to spend with Spencer before they went their separate ways for good and she didn’t want to waste one of them getting drunk with her best friend ten miles away. But Spencer hadn’t asked her to stay and she couldn’t let George down again so late in the day. So she walked out to the gates with a slightly heavy heart, even though she was glad to be spending time with George.
As usual, his truck was parked about a half-mile down the road. She meandered towards it, luxuriating in the evening warmth, reaching her arm out full-length so that her fingers could trail through the long grass that bordered the sidewalk. As she approached the truck, she saw that George wasn’t alone. Grinning, she tried not to speed up or show any reaction.
Pulling open the passenger door, she climbed up and sat down next to the other passenger on the long front bench.
"Picked up a present for you," George commented, jerking his thumb towards Spencer, who was staring straight ahead, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
"Nice gift," Ashley acknowledged. "How did you know what I wanted anyway?"
"My mom told me."
Ashley looked between Spencer and George. "Your mom?"
"Apparently, they’re old friends." He started the engine and looked over his shoulder before pulling out from the roadside.
"So, what’s a nice girl like you doing in a fisherman’s truck like this?" she asked Spencer.
"I thought you might like to take me out for a drink."
"Of course. I’d love to." Ashley tried to concentrate on the other girl and not George, who was half-turned towards the window in an attempt to conceal his amusement. If she had been sitting in the middle, she might have punched him in the side. He was enjoying himself far too much. "You don’t have anywhere else to be this evening?"
Spencer shook her head. "Nope."
"So you just…"
"Called Mrs Kochanski and asked her where you two were going. She was most forthcoming on the matter. She doesn’t think girls our age should be drinking, but she trusts you to look out for her son and him to keep you from getting arrested for juvenile delinquency."
George snorted with laughter. His mother adored Ashley and it was entirely in keeping that she would say something like that.
"That’s, uh, good to know."
"I said I’d look out for both of you. I don’t drink, so you two can cut loose. I’ll drive us back."
Ashley shook her head. Her best friend was all but snickering because she was so tongue-tied over a girl. And she was tongue-tied because she was starting to think that Spencer might actually be the girl. And there was only a day and a half left to do something about that. But Spencer had freaked out about the kiss. Yet, Spencer had been the one to kiss her. It was more than a little overwhelming and confusing.
She let George pick up her slack. He asked Spencer a whole bunch of questions that filled the entire drive up to Emmett’s Tavern. She made polite noises at the appropriate times, but wasn’t capable of much else.
When they entered the tavern, Sadie, daughter of the eponymous Emmett, greeted them with her normal enthusiasm, then asked for a quiet word with George. As he headed up to the far end of the long bar with her, Spencer turned to Ashley.
"What’s that about?"
"One of two things. She’s either giving him the talk about you being too young to drink and how she’s already out on a limb serving me or she’s asking if he wants to stay over." From the sly grin on George’s face and the way Sadie was leaning into him, it was probably the latter.
"They’re a couple?"
"Kinda. Maybe." She watched her best friend easing himself back. "He’s thinks she’s just in it for the sex." She lead them over to a table in the corner. "And she thinks the same thing about him."
"Is that true? I mean, for either of them?"
"I don’t think so." The age difference was the root of their problems. It made George think that Sadie was out of his league and made Sadie feel like she was robbing the cradle. "They probably just need to tell each other how they really feel."
"How long have they been…"
"Sleeping together? About a year, on and off. It’s got a lot more on than off recently, though. I think since he turned twenty-one, she feels better about it."
"What age is she anyway? She doesn’t look that old."
"Thirty-two, maybe thirty-three." She subtly made a shushing gesture as George approached, two beer bottles in one hand, a glass of Coke in the other. "You all done?" she asked him.
"Sadie? She was giving me the speech about corrupting minors." He placed Spencer’s soft drink in front of her. "Sorry."
"It’s okay, I told you I’m not drinking."
He sat down. "Yeah, but it’s your last night out before school’s over. You should be celebrating with at least a shot of something." Although he was talking to Spencer, he kept looking over the blonde’s shoulder to Sadie. "What’s the last night of high school without serious amounts of alcohol?"
"Technically, graduation’s Saturday, so that’s the last night," Ashley pointed out. She turned to Spencer, "In fact, if you’re not doing anything after the ceremony, we’ll be back here again and you’re more than welcome to join us."
"You’re not going back to LA?"
"Nah. Mr and Mrs K offered to put me up until I get somewhere permanent, but I spoke to Nat at the Beachcomber and he’s set me up with one of the summer cottages he rents out. I pick up the keys tomorrow, and I’ve got it month-to-month."
"So, you’re staying here?"
"Yeah, I figure Boston’s a good distance away from Christine without leaving the country altogether. Anyways, I couldn’t leave this one alone. He can’t take care of himself." George didn’t respond to her taunt. He was watching Sadie. "Go talk to her," she ordered quietly. "We’re fine."
"What?" He turned, feigning ignorance.
"She’s on her own. Go keep her company." The bar was quiet because the fishing boats weren’t due back in until the following morning, so Sadie was polishing the bottles behind the bar, trying to look busy.
"You just want rid of me so you can make your moves on this beautiful young lady." He tried to cover his eagerness by laying the blame at Ashley’s door. She had to admit, he wasn’t wrong.
"Babe, you wanna talk to her and she wants to talk to you." She smiled. "It’s fine. Honest." Spencer nodded her agreement as well.
"Well, only because you two ladies are insisting."
"Oh, we’re most insistent," Spencer deadpanned.
George grinned. "I like you, Spencer. You shoulda come out with us before. We coulda had some good times. Eh, Ashley?" He winked at her.
She made a face. "Go be with your woman and leave me alone."
"With your woman?" he retorted, skipping deftly out of her reach as her hand shot out to slap him. "Too slow, Davies. I’m too fast for the likes of you." He turned and trotted over to the bar, where his would-be girlfriend was making a show of not paying attention to them.
"I’m sorry about that. He’s usually more housetrained."
"With your other women?" Spencer laughed.
"With adult company in general."
Ashley chuckled. "Thanks."
"So, do you think you’ll ever go back to LA?"
"It’s not like I have plans for what I’m going to do with my life or anything, but I definitely don’t have anything there anymore."
"I’m in LA," Spencer countered. "Well, this summer, at least."
"Yeah, then Wellesley, right?" She didn’t respond to the implication that Spencer seemed to want to spend time with her after school ended. That would be getting her hopes up too soon.
"I guess." She sounded uncertain.
"You changed your mind about that?"
"No. Maybe. I don’t know." Spencer slumped back in her chair. "Things seem to be changing pretty fast. A week ago, I was so certain that I’d be at Wellesley, pre-med, and Guy would be pre-law at Harvard. Now, I don’t know."
"You’re not seriously changing your mind about something that important because of him, are you?"
"No! God, no. I mean, I’m the one who decided to end it, even if… It’s just, everything feels so different. I feel different."
Ashley leaned forward. "How so?"
"I feel like I don’t know who I am any more."
"But you still want to be a doctor, right?"
"That’s the thing. Now I’m starting to wonder if maybe that’s not just someone else’s dream as well." She stared down at her hands. "I don’t know how much of me is me and how much is me being what people want me to be, you know?"
She didn’t. She’d never known what it was to have anyone expect anything of her. All Christine ever asked was that she didn’t get arrested and that she kept away from the house when the latest meal ticket or toy-boy was dropping by.
She reached out and covered Spencer’s wringing hands with one of her own. "It’s not like you have to make any decisions now. As far as I know, you get to change your major or whatever after you start. So, you go, you see what interests you and you do that."
"You make it sound easy."
Ashley wondered if Spencer was even aware that their hands were still linked or that she had turned one of her hands over and was absently stroking her thumb over Ashley’s palm.
"One thing I’ve learned from all the therapy my mother sent me to was that everything starts with you. You have to learn to make you happy. Depending on other people for validation or whatever just makes you dependent. Force yourself to say out loud that you are the most awesome thing in the world and, pretty soon, you’ll start believing yourself." She chuckled. "Of course, other people agreeing with you helps. I mean, it’s no good telling yourself you’re the best surgeon in the world if all your patients die on the table."
Spencer laughed in reply. "I suppose."
"We’re only eighteen, Spence. No-one really expects you to have your entire world mapped out right now. I bet at our age, Alfred Einstein dreamt of being, like, a competitive surfer and just kinda fell into the science thing."
"Albert. Albert Einstein. And I think he was a post office worker or something originally."
Spencer laughed along with her for a few moments, then looked down at their linked hands, her face turning serious again. "Can I ask you something?"
"I get a feeling that saying no wouldn’t stop you anyway."
"Why do people think I’m gay?"
"Um." Okay. That was a bigger question than she was expecting. Her first thought was to say that they were out on a quasi-date and holding hands, but that probably wasn’t the answer Spencer was looking for. "Like who?" she stalled.
"Well, you said it and Guy —"
"Oh, for God’s sake! If I hear one more thing about him, I swear to Christ I will have him knee-capped."
"You know someone who can do that?"
"No, but I’m sure I could find a fisherman who needs a few extra dollars." She shrugged. "I don’t know what to tell you, Spence. I said already, I didn’t really mean what I said. I just wanted to hurt you and I had no idea what else to hit you with."
"Really? I always thought you could see right through me."
"I’m honestly not that good with people." She wanted to lean back in her chair, but she really didn’t want to unlink their hands. She was enjoying the patterns that Spencer was drawing across her palm with her thumb.
"You’re more than fine with me."
"You’re easy," she joked.
"That’s not what people tell me."
She glowered at her. "If that’s another comment about Guy fucking Hamilton, I’m gonna start getting angry."
"It’s not just you and him. Other people have said."
That was definitely intriguing. "Said what?"
"My dad once asked me if there was anything important I wanted to tell him. I had no clue what he was talking about, so I just brushed him off. He asked a few times, though, so when I asked him to tell me what he meant, he basically said that he would love me no matter what, no matter who I loved."
Ashley chuckled wryly. Spencer’s father sounded like a good guy. "Well, maybe he could just see that you weren’t happy with Cock Boy and jumped to the wrong conclusion?"
Spencer spluttered, "Cock Boy?"
"If the name fits."
"But why do people think that?"
Because you so are, she thought. Best not to say that one out loud.
"Maybe there’s something in what you were saying before about feeling like you’re playing the part of Spencer Carlin, instead of being Spencer Carlin. I think people who really know you can sense if you’re not comfortable in yourself. If you’re not being bullied and you’re mentally well-adjusted and you don’t have an eating disorder or substance abuse problem, there aren’t a lot of other possibilities."
"Look, in all kinds of ways, being gay is several shades of awesome. And, in other ways, it’s much more shitty than being straight. Girls can lie and cheat and break your heart just as easily as boys can. And then you have to cope with random people hating you. But all I know is that I feel better for coming out, because I never want to hide who I really am or feel ashamed about it. And when you know who you are, you’ll feel better, too. Maybe you’ll meet a nice fisherman here and become the world’s happiest fisherman’s wife with no money and eight kids, but plenty of love. Or maybe the real Spencer Carlin is a daring cat burglar with a string of handsome European playmates, who all make Johnny Depp look ordinary. When you know, you’ll know."
Spencer laughed. "You’re kinda weird, you know. A cat burglar?"
"Why not? A woman can be anything she wants to be these days."
"What about you?"
She grinned. "Nah, obviously scaling tall buildings to get into the room with the diamonds would be a problem."
Spencer rolled her eyes and finally leaned back, breaking their hand-hold, much to Ashley’s dismay. "No, what do you want?"
It was such an obvious opening, given their current conversation, but, for the first time in her life, Ashley had no idea if someone was flirting with her. She went with a straight answer. "Honestly? I think I’d like to write music, like my Dad."
"That makes perfect sense. You’re so good at arrangements, I bet you’d be awesome."
"I doubt it, but thanks." She blushed. She wasn’t used to non-sexual compliments.
"You’re really great, and you have a really beautiful voice, too."
"It’s okay, I guess."
"What happened to ‘all that and a bag of chips’?"
"That’s when it comes to girls. Totally different thing."
"Well, I think you’re definitely all that. In every way. And it’s not up for debate."
She raised her hands in supplication. "Okay, I give. You’re right. I really am the greatest thing ever."
* * *
True to her word, Spencer drove them all home, even George, who decided not to stay over at Sadie’s. They dropped him and his truck off at the boatyard and walked back to school. As they approached the main door, Spencer pulled Ashley back.
"I had a really great time tonight."
"I just want you to know I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me today. You’ve been so understanding and patient and really unexpectedly wise —"
"Hey! Enough with the ‘unexpectedly’!"
"Incredibly wise, then."
Spencer looked down at her feet, which allowed Ashley the chance to follow her gaze and stare openly at Spencer’s legs. She had amazing legs, taut and tanned, no doubt from running. It had been difficult for Ashley not to reach out and touch them during the drive back.
"I was thinking. About after graduation."
"I was wondering if it would be okay if we kept in touch. Like, by phone. Or email. Or whatever." God love her, Spencer looked so embarrassed, like she was asking for the biggest imposition ever.
"Are you kidding me?" Relief flooded through her that Spencer had been the first to say it when she hadn’t known how to approach the subject. "You’re not getting away from me that easily, Carlin. Not only do I expect you to write and call and text and email and all that stuff, but you better come visit me when I get my awesome apartment."
Unconsciously, she threw her arms around Spencer and pulled her into a tight hug. As the calming warmth of the other girl seeped into her and she felt the perfect way they moulded together, images of their kiss immediately flooded her mind. She stepped back quickly.
"We can even start planning your first heist together. I’ll scope out some rich Boston widows whose jewels you can boost," she joked. "I’ll leave the Johnny Depp part to you."
Spencer smiled back at her in a way that seemed to say she was aware of Ashley’s attempts at deflection. She lifted her hand and cupped Ashley’s cheek for a moment, letting her thumb brush across the skin, before folding her arms over her chest.
"Do you think we’ll ever have a conversation that doesn’t end with you making a joke?"
Ashley breathed deeply. "I think it probably depends on the conversation," she answered honestly. That seemed to satisfy Spencer, who turned and started walking inside.
"We should both get our beauty sleep. Big day tomorrow."
"Yeah, big day," she echoed.
* * * * *
Next up: Final part, Part 4 [A]