Previously: Chapter 5 [U]
A little bit more
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Chapter 6, I’m Glad I Spent It With You
After their showdown in the diner, Spencer stayed away for another couple of hours. When she did return, she went straight to her room and didn’t come out again.
In the morning, Ashley made a point of getting up early to catch her before work, but Spencer had left already. She didn’t come home after her shift either. By dinner time, Ashley was starting to wonder if she’d ever come home at all. Spencer’s work schedule was stuck to the fridge and she had the next two days off. She feared Spencer would stay away for both of them. It occurred to her that she was being given a taste of her own medicine. The worrying was admittedly unbearable.
While home alone, she finally recalled the full events of her night at the Plaza. She hadn’t slept with the redhead at all: she’d thrown up immediately after the body shots, then bored her nameless playmate to death talking about how incredible her wife was.
She could never tell Spencer, though. For a start, she could hardly admit that she had been so jealous that she had gone out intending to sleep with someone else. If she did, she’d have to admit to the reasons for her jealousy. Then she’d have to explain that she hadn’t been able to go through with it because she only wanted Spencer. Above all, ‘I was doing body shots with this hot redhead when I realised I really wanted to be with you’ wasn’t the best start to a conversation with a woman toward whom you had intentions, even honourable ones.
She tried to work. She had a new commission, scoring a series of promotional shorts for a travel company. Just watching the films made her long for a future in which she and Spencer shared vacations together on deserted beaches of white sand and endless ocean. She wondered if Spencer would prefer to visit the great cities of the world, ones which she had experienced before but could discover anew through Ashley’s eyes. Possibly, as a seasoned world traveller already, Spencer would choose a road trip across the USA. She could see them in some rented convertible, zigzagging across states, stopping only when and where the mood took them.
She could have scored each of her fantasy scenarios with Spencer ten times over. She could hear the languid bossa nova beat behind the beach scenes, the Euro-electro-tango mood of the cityscapes and the blues guitar overplaying their driving odyssey. As for the happy all-inclusive beach resort packages she was meant to be working on, she couldn’t think of a damn thing.
She paced for a while. She thought about texting or calling, but she couldn’t face being ignored the way she had ignored Spencer. And, of course, that made her feel even worse because she suddenly realised how hurtful her behaviour must have been. Even if Spencer didn’t care for her — and she still wasn’t at a point where she could accept that Spencer saw her as anything more than a tolerable friend to whom she happened to be married — the snub must have been incredibly painful. There was something so raw about the helplessness of not being able to speak to someone when you so desperately wanted to.
Everything in the apartment reminded her of Spencer: her clothes; the DVDs they had bought together; their Star Trek ‘wedding crystal’; the little scraps of paper that Spencer scribbled story ideas on and then left everywhere. Even in her own room, her sheets smelled of the detergent that Spencer used for their laundry. The cold half-drunk mug by her bedside was filled with Spencer’s coffee.
It was useless trying to sleep. She knew that she would not be able to rest until Spencer returned. Again, that caused her to wonder if Spencer had been the same way for her.
It was 2am when she heard the apartment door being opened and shut quietly. She listened to the sounds of Spencer fumbling around for a few minutes and then her bedroom door opened. As she was lying with her back to the door, she remained completely still, hoping her wife would assume she was asleep. She could hear Spencer’s breathing and smell the faint tang of alcohol in the air. There was the occasional sound of a floorboard creaking, probably because standing still while drunk was impossible.
She considered turning around and acknowledging her presence. Maybe it would just start another argument. She really had no idea. She’d never seen Spencer drunk. In fact, they’d never even been out for a drink together since they’d got married.
She made a mental note to invite Spencer out for drinks if they ever spoke again. Or maybe drinks and a movie. Hitchcock, perhaps — Rear Window or To Catch a Thief, seeing as she’d developed a real affinity for smart, elegant blondes recently. There was always that old Art Deco movie house out in Queens, the one that showed foreign indies. Spencer would probably like that.
Then the bed sank next to her and she stiffened. She had been so busy planning potential dates that she hadn’t heard Spencer moving and now Spencer was lying down next to her on top of the covers.
She waited. Her senses told her that Spencer was on her back, her fingers laced behind her head. For a few minutes, neither of them did anything other than lie there. Ashley tried to breathe deeply and evenly like any normal sleeping person; Spencer made the occasional little grunting noise.
“Are you awake?” Spencer whispered. Ashley neither moved nor responded. The bed shifted as Spencer turned around until she was facing her back. “I don’t want to fight with you, Ash. I hate it.”
She hated it, too, but she couldn’t force herself to say that out loud. There was silence again and Spencer flopped back.
All she wanted was the courage to turn around and say something, but it wasn’t within her.
So, she waited some more.
Eventually, the mattress shifted again. She felt Spencer’s arm sneaking around her waist and the hot warmth of Spencer’s forehead pressing between her shoulder blades. She willed herself not to react, but she let out a shaky breath anyway. Spencer’s arm just tightened around her, so she wriggled backwards until they were fully pressed together with only the bed cover between them. She lifted her left hand to rest over Spencer’s.
Within seconds, both of them were asleep.
* * *
When she woke up, Spencer was still there. They were facing each other, and Spencer’s face was tucked under Ashley’s chin, her arms wrapped around her waist. Ashley’s own arms were around Spencer’s shoulders, her hands cradling the blonde’s head.
She saw that Spencer had changed into shorts and a t-shirt. Whether that had happened when she had come home or at some later point during the night, she did not know.
She stroked Spencer’s neck with her fingertips and then moved her hand flat against the warm back. Spencer grumbled a little and pulled her tighter, which made Ashley giggle under her breath.
She heard a soft knocking at the apartment door, which must have been what had woken her. She checked the bedside clock over Spencer’s shoulder. It was nearly eleven. Easing her arm out from under her wife, she extricated herself. She put on her robe and headed out of the bedroom, pausing only to smile at Spencer burying her head under the pillow.
She was surprised to find that their visitor was Agent Sorensen who, as usual, was looking vaguely unsettled.
“Agent Sorensen, how can we help you today?” she asked, opening the door and inviting him in.
He looked over his shoulder and shook his head. “I can’t stay. I was just in the building and thought that I should let you know.”
“Oh?” She leaned against the doorframe.
“Interviewing your neighbours,” he admitted.
She shrugged. “Then you’ve spent more time with them than I ever have.”
“Yeah, I got that. Most of them just confirmed that they see you and Spencer occasionally. Only a couple even knew your names.”
“It’s that sort of building, I suppose. I hardly recognise anyone in the elevator. Spencer probably talks to them on her way to and from work. She’s like that.” Spencer was polite and friendly with everyone. She knew the names of waitresses and newspaper vendors and the coffee guy on the corner. She chatted to the grocery delivery boy about his wife and baby son.
Sorensen traced his fingers along the spine of his notebook. “I don’t even know why I’m here, to be honest. There’s nothing really new to investigate. But I wanted to say hi in case you heard I’d been here.”
Ashley suspected that he wanted to come in, but needed to be persuaded. “Look, Spencer’s still in bed, but why don’t I make you a coffee or something? It can be our little secret.”
He looked around again, as if the lobby might be bugged in some way. “Are you sure?”
“As long as neither of us ever mentions it to Agent Eaves, I can’t see the problem. Can you?”
“You’re sure I’m not imposing?” He walked into the living area as Ashley made her way over to the kitchen. “I don’t want to disturb you.” He glanced at Ashley’s state of half-dress and then towards the bedroom door. She guessed he was politely not asking if they were having a little late-morning loving.
“It’s totally fine. Sit down,” she assured him. “Cream, no sugar, right? We only have half-and-half, though.”
“I take my coffee however it’s given to me,” he replied. “Half-and-half’s all I’m allowed at home anyway.”
“Mrs Sorensen keeping you healthy?”
“She tries, anyway.”
They made some small talk while she brewed their coffees. She was thankful that Spencer had mentioned his wife being a fan of her father’s music, as it gave them something to discuss that wasn’t connected with his investigation.
She was just placing their cups on the coffee table when a sleepy voice from the bedroom moaned, “Ash!”
They both looked in the direction of the open door.
“I’d better go see to Sleeping Beauty,” she said. Her heart was racing for two reasons: she had no idea how Spencer might react to waking up in her bed in the first place or what she might say that Sorensen could overhear. She entered the room with caution.
“Hey there.” She shut the door behind her. “Sorry I wasn’t here. Agent Sorensen dropped by and I didn’t want to wake you.”
Spencer peered at her. Her eyes were bloodshot and she looked like she could happily go back to sleep for another couple of days. “I thought you might have –”
“Run away?” she finished. “No, I wouldn’t do that.” She shrugged. “Not again anyway.”
“We probably need to talk, don’t we?” Spencer kicked the bed covers off and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. Immediately, she lifted a hand to her head. Hangovers were a bitch sometimes.
“Yeah, but it’ll have to be later,” Ashley said. “I don’t want to leave Sorensen out there too long.”
“You worried he’ll think we’re up to something?”
Ashley chuckled. “I’m pretty sure he already thinks he’s caught us in the act, so to speak.”
Spencer didn’t even blush, just arched her eyebrow and looked over her shoulder at the unmade bed. “Oh, well, it’s good for our image, I guess. Why’s he here anyway? Is there another problem?”
“Nah, he’s not officially here. He’s meant to be visiting our neighbours and getting the dirt on us, but he’s too nice to do that without telling us.” Ashley was still standing just inside the bedroom, leaning against the wall by the light switch.
“He’s a nice man.”
“Yeah, yeah, he is,” she agreed. “The neighbours apparently had nothing much to say anyway.”
Spencer got up and walked towards her, stopping only a couple of feet away. “I was really drunk last night.” She was searching Ashley’s face for something, maybe just the truth.
“You were awake, though?”
“Yeah, I was.” The nearness of Spencer was making her more nervous than Sorensen being in the next room.
“Thanks for taking care of me.”
“I didn’t actually do anything.”
“Yeah, you did.” Spencer stretched her arms wide and yawned. Ashley tried not to stare at the way it made her t-shirt ride up and stretch across her torso. “Can I borrow some of your clothes? I don’t want to come out looking like this and I can hardly go to my room to get changed.”
“Oh, right.” She hadn’t thought of that. “Help yourself to anything that fits. Bathroom’s there.” She nodded in the direction of the en suite.
“I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
They stood, not quite looking at each other. It wasn’t uncomfortable, so much as it was unfamiliar. For Ashley, it was a good unfamiliar, though – a new experience she could get used to.
“Um, I was thinking we might do something together today,” she suggested. “You know, like outside, the two of us.”
“Like a date?” Spencer was smiling.
Ashley fumbled. “Or, like a non-date date. Friends hanging out together or something.” She mentally kicked herself. Her wife had given her an opening and she’d snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
“Okay, well, I think that’d be good.” Spencer turned and walked over towards Ashley’s closet.
“Yeah, I think so, too.”
* * *
Sorensen didn’t stay long. He drank his coffee, ate some cookies (he didn’t have to be persuaded into accepting those) and chatted to both of them about nothing much. He asked mostly about their work and what movies they’d seen recently. He never mentioned the investigation and they never asked.
As with their previous interactions, he was open and friendly. Ashley was convinced that he accepted them completely as a genuine couple. She felt that, too. Ten weeks of living together and having to study each other had given them a working intimacy. They were becoming a good team.
Ashley’s only concern had been that, after Sorensen left, they would fall back into the tension of the previous few days and not the closeness of the night before. But that didn’t happen.
Spencer didn’t exactly throw herself at Ashley, but they were certainly friends again. Without any embarrassment or awkwardness, Spencer announced that she needed to get showered and changed into her own clothes before they went anywhere.
While she getting ready herself, Ashley realised that it was almost mid-March and that their six-month anniversary was on the twenty-first. If things worked out, maybe they could do something to honour it. They’d missed Valentine’s Day because Spencer had been working the graveyard shift. At the time, Ashley had just been happy that she hadn’t had to stay home alone while her wife went out on a date. Now, she was thinking it might have been another missed opportunity.
She tried to think of what kind of gift you bought for the wife you wanted to date on the half-year anniversary of your fake wedding. She was pretty sure that even Hallmark didn’t make a card for that. Still, that was a thought for another day and she had the afternoon ahead to think of first. And she didn’t have a plan for that at all. She had made the suggestion without thinking and hadn’t even considered that Spencer would say yes.
Spencer appeared at Ashley’s door in a towel. “Any idea what we’re doing today, so I know what to wear?”
Ashley swallowed at the sight of so much of her wife on display. She watched a few drops of water run from Spencer’s chin onto her chest and disappear below the knotted towel.
“Where are we going?”
She ran through the ideas she’d been considering the previous night. “How about that indie movie house out in Queens?”
“There’s a Gary Cooper Western retrospective at the Film Forum,” Spencer countered. “It’s a lot closer.”
“Not a big fan of Westerns. Something modern?”
Spencer shook her head. “There’s nothing out right now I really want to see.”
Ashley was still being distracted by the near-nakedness of Spencer, but she summoned a single thought. “Have you ever been to the Conservatory Gardens?”
“In Central Park?” Spencer thought about it. “Probably not in about seven or eight years. Why? You want to go?”
“I’m a member, but I’ve never been. I think I get some pretty good perks.”
“Tickets for Shakespeare in the Park is the only thing I know for sure, but I think maybe private tours and special access or something.”
Spencer laughed. “Sometimes I forget I married a millionaire. Do I even want to know how much all this costs?”
“Worried I won’t be able to make the rent?” she joked.
“You don’t own this place?”
“It’s a co-op.” She nearly moaned aloud as Spencer bent forward to towel-dry her hair, bringing her cleavage right to Ashley’s eye level.
“Well, now that I’ve given up my place, I can kick in my share. I’m guessing my $1,400 a month should just about cover it?”
“Yeah. Just about.”
Spencer stood up straight, depriving Ashley of her new favourite view. “So, we’re definitely going for a walk in the park?”
“Sure, if that’s okay with you. Oh, but we have to have lunch first. Or brunch, I guess.”
“Oh God, yes.” Spencer’s low moan and her choice of words conjured a very different image in Ashley’s mind from a light meal. “I could eat a horse.”
“I don’t know if there are any horse meat concessions in the Park. Maybe in the French Garden?”
Spencer shook her head. “That’s just a stereotype. I spent a couple of years in France and I never saw cheval on the menu once.”
“You’re the one who suggested it!”
“Shut up and get ready, woman.” Spencer threw the hand-towel she’d been using to dry her hair at Ashley’s head, but she ducked in time to avoid it.
* * *
A walk in the park in the dying days of winter was something that Ashley would never have suggested to anyone else she’d ever met, but it turned out to be an inspired idea. Ashley’s perks did, in fact, run to guided tours and even photographs, but would have required advance booking; they were, however, given special maps which detailed the history of the plants and buildings.
With Spencer beside her, she barely even noticed the cold. Of course, it helped that Spencer occasionally slipped her hand into the crook of Ashley’s arm. Those were her favourite moments.
Because they already knew so much about each other, it didn’t really feel like Ashley had expected an important first date might. She had little experience in such things, as most of her prior dating history had been after she’d already slept with the person she was seeing. And those occasions when she’d taken a woman out were rare, in any case.
She was still nervous, though. Despite all they knew of each other, she still found herself constantly checking — visually and verbally — that Spencer was having a good time. She wanted Spencer to be happy and comfortable and to enjoy it as much as she was.
It was almost dark when they finally left the Park and caught a cab home. Impulsively, Ashley suggested that they stop somewhere for drinks. At Spencer’s pained expression, she quickly amended it to coffee and cakes. They agreed on a little Russian place a couple of blocks from their building that Anthony had recommended to Spencer.
They ordered cherry blintzes and a pot of coffee from a cheerful older woman who tried valiantly to get them to have tea instead. Ashley assured her that coffee was their thing.
“It kind of is, isn’t it?” Spencer mused.
“What is?” Ashley had been admiring how beautiful Spencer looked with her cheeks still red from the cold of the park and wasn’t paying attention.
“Coffee. It’s a thing, our thing.”
“I guess.” She was wary, unsure if that was good or bad.
“I wonder if it’ll come up in the interview.”
“I don’t know.”
“I got my date yesterday morning,” Spencer admitted.
“You did?” She tried to hide her disappointment. If they were being formally interviewed, then they were on borrowed time, one way or the other.
“You didn’t get yours yet?”
“Oh. That’s odd. Mine’s on the twenty-sixth. I’ve been told to bring Phil.”
“I’m sure mine’ll come soon.” She wished Spencer hadn’t mentioned it. Now, she felt less like they were on a first date as much as a farewell dinner.
If their time was limited, Ashley felt like she should say something about recent events. “Spence, about last night…”
They both paused as a different waitress brought their coffees and poured them each a cup.
“What about last night?”
She breathed deeply. “I was awake when you came home,” she admitted.
“I know. You said already.”
“And I should have said something.”
That was the big question, the one with so many possible answers. She looked at Spencer to see if she was giving any clues as to which the right one was.
“About being awake,” she said. From the way Spencer just shrugged, she’d struck out with her first swing. “And about how sorry I am for everything that’s happened the past few days. I don’t want to fight with you again. Ever.”
“I’ll be honest. I thought we’d fight like cat and dog from the day I moved in, so I guess going nearly three months with only one major incident can’t be too bad.”
“I guess.” She toyed with the sugar bowl in front of her. “Anyway, I’m sorry for how I’ve behaved.”
“I’m sorry, too.” There was a long pause, then Spencer said, “What happened anyway?”
Ashley’s guilt response kicked in. “What happened about what?”
“Why did you take off in the first place?”
Ashley knew she meant the night at the Plaza. It was the question she had been dreading. Maybe if they had more time, then she would have lied outright, but there seemed no point in lying. “I thought you had Petra with you.”
Spencer snorted. “Petra? I called that off as soon as I moved in. I could hardly keep a girlfriend on the side and a wife at home with the INS investigating us.”
She felt stupid for having jumped to conclusions without ever asking Spencer about it. “Oh. You never said.”
“What was there to say? We’d only been dating casually, and I told her that I’d got back with my ex.”
“And did you tell her we’d got married?” It seemed important.
Spencer frowned. “Of course. I told everyone at work that I’d got married.”
“Really? And she didn’t mind that you were seeing her while you were already married?”
They were interrupted again while the blintzes were served. The ice-cream was the soft-serve kind, almost like gelato, and it was melting fast against the hot dessert. Ashley spooned some up and tried it. It was like heaven. She looked up and Spencer had a smile of wonderment on her face.
“These are the best thing I’ve ever tasted,” Spencer said. “No wonder Anthony said we should come here.”
“Mmmph,” she agreed.
“I told her that we’d married on the spur of the moment, and that I hadn’t been sure how it would work out, but that I had been wrong to continue seeing her when I was in love with you, no matter how bad for each other we seem to be.”
Ashley’s eyes widened. Spencer was quite the teller of tales when she wanted to be. Their imaginary shared history was all her doing and she was very inventive when it came to making it fit her circumstances.
“It didn’t exactly make her happy,” Spencer continued, “but she’s been going through a divorce herself, so she understood in a way. In fact, she wished us all the best. She told me that working on relationships was hard, but worth it if you had the right person. She said she hoped you were my right person.”
Spencer was waiting for her to reply, but she concentrated on eating her blintzes slowly, savouring every bite. She feared that, if she spoke, she would admit that she wished all of that were true. She wanted to be Spencer’s right person. She wanted Spencer to be in love with her, no matter how bad for each other they were. She didn’t even think they were that bad for each other. Their day together had been almost perfect, like a half-remembered dream that you desperately tried to hold onto as you woke.
She should have said something, because Spencer’s follow-up question wasn’t any easier. “Would it bother you if I was with someone else?”
“Well, the investigation,” she hedged. “I don’t think it would look good if we were bringing people back. I mean, look at this morning — Sorensen dropped by.”
“Oh. Of course.”
She was pretty sure that Spencer didn’t believe her. She didn’t look up from her plate, but she allowed herself a small smirk. “Yeah, it would bother me,” she admitted. She wasn’t brave enough to look up, but she saw Spencer’s fork pause in mid-air before it resumed its path.
“Well, I never will.”
Never? That gave her hope that Spencer wasn’t planning on leaving as soon as her citizenship was confirmed.
“Me, either,” she agreed.
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Next up: Chapter 7 [U]