Best For Me: Chapters 6 to 10

Previously: Chapters 1-5 [U]

This is usually where Clom would write her bit, but she’s off being a good Austra-Canadian and celebrating Canada Day. When I asked her, she said – and I quote – “You can write my AN for me. Use me as a puppet. Shove your hand up my ass and make me talk.” I’ll leave you all to consider that mental image for yourselves, then.

Rating: A. Safe for work. A little bit of kissing. A whole lot of angst.

* * * * *

Chapter Six

Spencer tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. She’d parked a good ten minutes ago but she kept reaching for the ignition, keys still swinging back and forth as she grabbed them and let go, grabbed them and let go.

This is crazy. I’m going home.

But she didn’t start the car and she didn’t move. The wind outside whistled with ferocity and whipped up leaves from the sidewalk. They whirled in a maelstrom, a mini-tornado, flying past the car with intensity and purpose. A tornado carrying Spencer to another place and a whole new… a whole new what?

Swallowing her stomach back into her abdomen, she got out of the car and locked the door behind her. She leant against the cold door of the car, feeling the wind brush through her hair. There was a scent carried on it, one that lay against her tongue with a slight acid print and made her think of snow and icicles. Her fingers curled around the metal of the handle, feeling the cold bite into her skin and she pulled up, the give of the spring against her palm. The door was locked and the movement meant nothing but it kept her fixed to the spot. Her eyes shifted to the house across the road, with its warm front porch light and waiting door. There was a knocker in the middle staring back at her as if to say, ‘Come on, pound me’.

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Spencer wondered what the hell she was doing. She’d called Ashley and asked if she could see her. She’d made the phone call and had endured the surprise from the other end of the line. She’d felt the surge through her when the brunette had invited her over and had wondered if it was relief or pure panic. She’d started this and now she was too damn chicken to follow it through.

For God’s sake, you just wanted somewhere warm with a coffee. Somewhere that was… easy. This wasn’t easy.

Getting a firm grip on herself Spencer stood up straight, brushed down her shirt and crossed the road. She made it all the way to the porch and up the stairs, facing the front door, before her nerve died again and she was left standing, rigid and stone-like again. She had raised her hand for the millionth time, ready to knock but never quite making contact. When the door opened. Spencer lowered her hand and grinned sheepishly at Ashley who was leaning against the door frame with a bemused look on her face.

“I heard you come up the steps. Wondered if you’d gotten lost on the way from the stairs to the door.” She raised her eyebrows and nodded at the three feet of space that occupied said distance. Spencer just continued to smile ruefully.

“I didn’t know if you really wanted me to bother you,” Spencer admitted with a half-lie.

“Of course I did. Otherwise I wouldn’t have invited you over. Come in.” The musician shifted sideways, edging open the door with the swing of a hip that made Spencer feel just a tad dizzy. She moved into the house like she was wading through toffee.

Ashley led her to the kitchen, a surprisingly warm room with wood tones and character that Spencer felt she should have expected, but didn’t.

“Coffee?” the musician asked her. It would keep her up all night but Spencer nodded anyway. “Sugar? Milk?” Yes and yes.

Spencer sat on a stool at the kitchen bar, watching the light frame of Ashley move around the kitchen, lithe and nimble.

I bet she dances well, even if she said she didn’t.

Coffee was made and set in front of her, but no words were said. Spencer knew that Ashley had a right to ask all those questions. What’s going on? Why did you call me? Are you okay?

Instead she seemed to sense the blonde’s reticence and leant forward, hands cupping the coffee like it was a baby.

“I love coffee. I used to think that, when I was a grown up, I’d drink a million cups a day. That was before I found out how wired I was WITHOUT caffeine. Now I have to limit myself or I’d be a rubber band.”

Spencer smiled at the honesty in the other girl’s voice. Honey-tinged and sweet, it made Spencer feel like melting. It also put her at ease and she found a rhythm in the conversation. They kept talking as the clock ticked the minutes past, and then the hours. She found out about Ashley’s life and she shared hers. For the first time in a very long time she found someone she felt like opening up to. She had Ashley in fits of giggles with anecdotes about Elly and her occasional crazy behaviour. Ashley had her in stares of wonder as she described growing up in LA with a famous father.

On the couch in the living room where they’d ended up, legs curled up under her comfortably, Spencer realised that it was one in the morning. She should go home but she didn’t want to. She didn’t want to see Gray or think about her anger with him. Or think about what that anger meant. Even now she could see that part of her was overreacting. Maybe not what she said but certainly how she felt. Gray had gone through busy points in his life before; she wasn’t sure why this time was any different. She chewed on her lip, frowning while she considered her options.

“Are you okay?” It was the first time the brunette had asked the question, letting Spencer take time to prepare an answer.

“Yeah,” the blonde eventually answered. “I just had to get out of the house tonight.” She offered no further explanation and none was expected. She felt the brunette’s hand slide across hers, resting gently on top. The sensation it created felt like electricity had exploded out of the hand and rioted through her body. Swallowing, she looked up to catch serious brown eyes regarding her.

“You can come here any time you need.” A smile spread across that beautiful face. “We’ve talked for hours. We’re officially friends now, so I’m all yours any time you need to talk.”

Spencer appreciated the way nothing had been said but she felt so much better anyway. And she had a new friend. As she drove home through the late night frost she thought about what she had to do. Things with Gray had been bad for awhile, but this sudden exhilaration in her soul made her realise that she still had the ability to feel. And she’d felt this way about Gray once, hadn’t she? She owed it to herself, and to Elly, to try and get this life of theirs back on track. She had to be happier in herself or she’d never be able to make the rest of her life work.

Maybe that was half the problem. She was expecting all her happiness to come from her relationship and her home. She was very happy with her part time job, that was something Spencer truly enjoyed. So she just needed to find other things to make her happy. A new friend, a new hobby, and a fresh new take on her marriage: that’s what she needed.

* * * * *

Chapter Seven

Spencer fumbled in her bag for her cell phone, trying to answer it without dropping everything out of her handbag all over the supermarket floor. She kept an eye on Elly as she flipped it open, leaning on her trolley and scanning the shelves for the right kind of cereal.

“Yello!” she said absent-mindedly into the phone, not bothering to check the caller ID.

“Hey.” Ashley’s soft voice resonated across the line and made Spencer stop in the middle of the aisle, suddenly acutely aware of every nerve fibre in her body.

“Hey, Ashley,” the blonde replied. She spied Elly rounding a corner and quickly shot out to grab her. She caught her daughter just as she was about to grab a coffee jar from a carefully-constructed pyramid display. Of course, with four-year-old logic, she’d reached for the one at her own height, threatening an avalanche of mediocre instant coffee grounds and one hell of a clean-up in aisle five. Spencer pulled her away firmly, wedging the phone in between her ear and shoulder and signing frantically to Elly to stay put and leave all coffee and other displays ALONE. At least the little girl had the decency to look a tad guilty.

Holding tightly to her daughter’s hand, Spencer brought her attention back to the phone where a voice was now saying in some confusion, “Spencer? Spencer, are you still there?”

“Sorry, Ashley. Preventing minor disasters involving my four-year-old and a mountain of coffee,” Spencer laughed ruefully.

“Sounds like you have your hands full,” the grinning reply came.

“Yeah, you could say that. I now have them full of Elly so that it won’t happen again.”

“Well, I won’t keep you long then. I have a favour to ask you,” Ashley sounded out cautiously.

“Shoot.” Spencer hoped her voice didn’t betray the quickening of her pulse. Come to think of it, she hoped her hands weren’t shaking. Elly didn’t seem to notice if they were.

“A friend of mine is having a gallery opening on Friday night. I promised her I’d go and my… other friend has bailed on me. I’m really not keen on going alone given the pretentious wankers that my friend promises will be there. I was wondering if you’d accompany me and help me escape when we can?” The offer sounded casual and friendly. Spencer let her heart dance a crazy beat anyway and then formulated her reply. Carefully.

“That sounds like fun, actually. I haven’t been out in a while. Let me check if someone can be with Elly. Gray’s been working a fair bit lately and I can’t be sure he’s home but, if he is, or if I can find a babysitter, I’d love to come.” She tried to keep her answer as casual as the offer had been.

“Great. I’ll wait to hear from you, then.”

“I’ll get back to you as soon as I know,” Spencer promised.

Ending the phone call, she got the rest of the shopping trip over with as quickly as possible, figuring Elly needed to be out of potential disaster zones today. Normally a well-behaved angel, she was showing some devil signs today and Spencer was smart enough to heed the warnings.

She’d managed to get Elly inside and settled into a relatively safe entertainment and was unpacking the shopping when her phone went again. This time she checked the screen before answering: Mom.

“Hey, Mom.”

“Spencer.” Paula’s voice was warm and fluid. When she was feeling down, it always made Spencer feel better. And yet she knew what could lurk beneath the waves when her mother was angry or upset. Spencer knew better than to pull that out.

“What’s up?” she asked, while putting the groceries away.

“Can’t I just call my daughter?” Paula asked with a laugh. “Well, I can. But not this time. Just checking what time you’re coming on Sunday.”

Spencer wracked her brains frantically. Sunday? She hesitated too long because her mother picked up on it.

“You haven’t forgotten about Sunday, have you?” the older Carlin said dryly. “Spencer, the Johnstons are coming over to show us photos from their Bermuda trip. You and Gray said you’d be there.”

“Oh, right, right.” Spencer had forgotten. Now she wished she had a decent excuse. Hang on, she did. “Mom, Gray has to work this weekend. He has some big project and it seems important to him. I want to support him. -”

Paula interrupted her blatant lie. “Of course you do, hon. But that doesn’t stop you and Elly from coming.”

Spencer couldn’t think of a decent excuse. “Okay, Mom. We’ll be there.”

After the phone call, Spencer felt drained. She hadn’t done much through the day to get her to that state but lately her emotions seemed to be running riot. She finished putting away the groceries and for the first time in her life, wished she had a good stiff drink. Gray had some whisky somewhere. She was halfway to searching for it when she realised that it was a stupid thing to do. Looking over at Elly, who was painstakingly drawing a masterpiece at the dining room table, she let out a breath and thought about her life. Last week, she’d been so sure that all she had to do was take the time to get her life back on track. She’d talked to Gray about his project, and tried to understand where he was coming from. She’d thrown herself into work and Elly more than ever. Despite everything, Spencer still felt strangely empty.

Every now and then she found herself drifting off, her mind elsewhere. The disturbing fact was that it inevitably ended up on one curly-haired musician. She was different. She was cool. Spencer, never the cool kid and never the popular one, wondered if that was her wish: to be friends with the coolest person she could find. Ignoring the glaring neon signs inside her that pointed to directions she refused to acknowledge, she regretted the fact that a lot of her friendships had slipped by the wayside. Sure, she had friends at work, and friends through her parents and Gray but her life was getting predictable and dull.

Spencer was suddenly dreading the thought of being the reliable, bake sale mom that her life was leading towards. Hell, she’d go out with Ashley and she’d have fun. It would be good for her. And if she was happier, then her life would be better. Her marriage would be better and she could be more supporting of Gray. And everything would be… okay.

* * * * *

Chapter Eight

Spencer smoothed down her top for the umpteenth time and calmed her shaking nerves and tremulous hands. One last glance in the mirror confirmed that she looked good as she walked out of the bedroom. Elly met her in the living room with an awe-filled look on her face and a cookie in her hand. Spencer appreciated the way she’d managed to interrupt the eating of said cookie just with her emergence.

Keeping Elly from a cookie was well-nigh impossible so at least she knew she looked pretty good. That being said, she let out a chuckle when her daughter crammed the rest of the chocolaty goodness in her mouth and signed at her, still in awe, “You look beautiful.” The little girl’s eyes were round and brilliant.

Careful not to get chocolate on her outfit, Spencer knelt down and swept her into a huge hug, tucking a stray lock of blonde curls behind one ear on her little girl. Every day Elly looked just a little bit more like Spencer. Sometimes Spencer wondered if her heart could hold any more love but every day Elly found a new way to make it do so.

“Thank you,” she signed back.

Gray came out of the kitchen, a tea towel slung over one shoulder and his jeans riding low on his hips. To Spencer’s surprise, he’d been more than happy to be home in time so she could go out. In fact, he’d been positively encouraging.

“That’s great. You should go out. You need more friends. I can be home in time,” he had said, a cute smile on his face. Spencer had bitten her lip and, yet, had still questioned him.

“Are you sure? You have this project.”

“It’s fine,” he had protested. “I can take one damn night off. You have fun.”

And here he was, true to his word, in a damn hot tight t-shirt, with a sexy grin on his face. Spencer wished she felt more tightening inside at the sight of that but she supposed after being married for so long you just got comfortable.

“My God, don’t you look sexy?” he said, eyebrows raising suggestively.

“Do I?” Spencer hoped so, but she was still so unsure.

“Very much so,” he agreed, approaching and sliding his hands around her waist. “You could blow off this thing and stay here with me…” He was grinning, his whole posture, tone and body language pointing to exactly what he’d do if she stayed. She swatted him away playfully.

“And lose my fun?”

“Oh, I’d make sure we’d have fun.” Gray pulled her in close, running his rough lips over hers.

“You’ll ruin my lipstick,” she murmured, but returned the kiss. She’d missed this, the Gray she’d married. Sometimes he popped back up and she was so grateful she thought she might cry. “I should get going.”

Gray looked disappointed, but it was mostly put-on and they both knew it. He let her go with a smile and a wave, and she walked out the door feeling a little bit guilty without knowing why. Stepping into her car, she felt the anticipation build. Spencer had never been to a gallery opening before. The idea was frightening in itself. All those poised, perfect people who actually knew what they were talking about. She knew nothing about art and Ashley was going to think she was some kind of idiot. As she drove, the panic in her built and she was practically in a frenzy with it by the time she got to the brunette’s house.

Ashley opened the door and Spencer felt her world contract. Any panic she had felt about the night was momentarily forgotten, as was everything else that wasn’t her, or the beautiful musician standing in front of her. She was… breathtakingly gorgeous. Tall, curls hanging neatly around her shoulders, Ashley was dressed in a simple pair of slacks and a halter-neck top made of silken material that ended well above her navel in the middle but arched round at the bottom to hang down the sides. It was a deep green, complementing her creamy skin perfectly. Spencer took it all in and felt her own eyes widen in a perfect replay of her daughter’s just an hour before. Then she realised that she was standing in the doorway staring like a zombie. She smiled ruefully.

“You look amazing.” Her voice was vibrating with nerves.

“Thank you.” Ashley blushed, making Spencer’s insides squeeze. “So do you.”

“No. I look…” Spencer looked down at herself, her neat skirt and top, and wished she’d dressed better. “I look okay. You look incredible.”

“You look really great,” Ashley disagreed.

“I feel like I should have dressed better. I’m going to look so out of place.” Spencer couldn’t help feeling like she hadn’t made enough effort, despite her hours of preparation.

“Spencer,” the brunette sounded exasperated, “you look amazing. Stop it!” She punched the blonde gently on the shoulder. “We should get going, though. We’re already fashionably late.”

Spencer glanced at her watch, noting that she was in fact earlier than Ashley had suggested. “You said seven,” she said, confused.

“Yup, and, as I planned, we’re fashionably late.” Ashley grinned cheekily. “Never, ever be on time to these things.”

Spencer shrugged. She didn’t know what you did with these things. She’d never been to one before. Her nerves were coming back on-line and she couldn’t tell if it was because she was now walking next to the brunette and could practically feel the warmth radiating off her, or if it was the prospect of what was to come.

Ashley drove them to the gallery, knowing the way. Spencer didn’t know what to expect from Ash’s car, but the blue convertible really fit her perfectly. It made Spencer feel reckless somehow, even as a passenger. They parked and emerged. Spencer’s heart was pounding like a big, bass drum. She imagined Elly’s eyes wide with her hand over Spencer’s chest, feeling the vibrations.

“It’s just over here.” Ashley’s voice echoed off the empty street and brought Spencer back to the present. She moved over and walked next to the brunette, letting her lead down to a glass fronted shop that was alive with light and music. She felt the musician’s hand slide into hers and squeeze in a reassuring manner. She looked up to find Ashley grinning at her. “Let’s go.”

Inside was alive with people. Paintings hung on the walls, and plinths dotted the rooms, sculptures forming islands in the moving mass of art lovers. It was buzzing, but not overly full. Ashley had dropped Spencer’s hand, leaving the blonde feeling a little emptier inside, and was smiling at an amazing-looking statuesque woman who was striding towards them.

“Ashley, you came.” The beautiful woman kissed the musician on the cheek. She was tall, with incredible ebony skin and cheekbones that highlighted her bright, haunting eyes. She had a series of round necklaces that put Spencer in the mind of Masai tribesmen, and her outfit was both avant garde and chic. Spencer had never felt like more of a dowdy housewife in her life. “And who is this?” The other woman’s eyes lit up at the sight of Spencer. There was a pointed question in her tone.

“Mireille, this is my friend, Spencer. Spencer, this is Mireille, the artist behind this unbelievable work.” Ashley introduced them and Spencer shook the artist’s hand shyly.

“I should circulate” the third woman said, still eyeing Spencer with a look that the blonde couldn’t decipher. “Find me later.”

Ashley and Spencer were left alone and the musician took the blonde by her elbow, guiding her into the throng. To Spencer’s relief, the brunette clearly had no intention of leaving her side. They toured the gallery and found themselves lost in conversation with each other. Ashley seemed to know what she was talking about, but she sounded neither pretentious nor full of crap. Spencer found she could actually discuss the work quite well when she realised they weren’t talking ‘art speak’ and warmed to the topic. It took them a long time to make it all the way around and Spencer was on a high by the time they returned to the beginning of the exhibition. Ashley was intelligent, articulate and full of cheeky humour that made Spencer chuckle. She was having fun.

Ashley was relating some anecdote about her class at the community centre and had Spencer completely enthralled, when Mireille resurfaced. Spencer resented the intrusion but put on her most welcoming face for the interruption.

“Did you enjoy the show?” the statuesque artist asked Spencer.

“It’s incredible,” Spencer enthused, honestly. “I loved the amazing collages over there. They’ve got so much in them, I was overwhelmed.” Spencer couldn’t help warm to the other lady a little when she saw the excitement wash over her face at Spencer’s words.

“Thank you, they’re my favourite pieces.”

“If we could afford some, we’d buy them,” laughed Ashley, “But we’re too poor, so we just come to admire and steal your champagne.”

“Well, you’re welcome to it,” chuckled Mireille. “Oh, great. My manager.” Mireille suddenly looked downcast as a slimy-looking man in a suit approached.

“Uh, we might get out of here,” Ashley said hurriedly. Mireille glared at her for the abandonment but Ashley grabbed Spencer’s hand and pulled. “I’ll call you, okay? Great show.” And with that, the brunette led a stunned Spencer out the front door.

“What’s that all about?” Spencer couldn’t help but ask when they were back at the car.

“I hate that guy,” Ashley admitted, her face dark and angry. “He’s a slimeball and Mireille can do so much better.”

“For a manager?” The blonde looked confused.

“For a boyfriend,” Ashley retorted, her voice thick with emotion. “He’s… Oh it’s a long story.”

“You could tell me over coffee,” Spencer ventured, unwilling to end the evening yet.

“That I could,” Ashley smiled, breaking the dark mood. “My place? I have fresh roasted…” The dangling temptation in the musician’s voice made Spencer laugh and she got into the convertible with a happy nod.

Back at Ashley’s place, Spencer found herself in the living room, her hand around a warm cup of coffee and eyes mesmerized by the woman in front of her. Trying not to lose herself in the sudden alone time of the two of them, she babbled.

“Tonight was so much fun. I didn’t expect it to be that much fun. I always thought that it would be full of these amazingly pretentious people who’d be talking in some language I don’t understand. But the paintings…. Wow. I wish I had talent like that…”

Ashley laughed, interrupting Spencer’s monologue with an amused expression on her face.

“I’m babbling,” Spencer admitted.

“It’s okay. I’m just wondering if you were paying attention tonight because those pretentious people were everywhere,” the musician commented.

Spencer knew that her attention had been drawn firmly and completely to her companion all evening but she couldn’t admit that now. “I didn’t notice them,” she said.

“They were there, trust me.”

Spencer looked at her watch. It was getting late and she knew she had to go. She didn’t want to but she had to. Ashley noticed the movement.

“You have to leave?” the brunette asked, regret tingeing her voice.

“Unfortunately,” Spencer frowned. She let Ashley pull her off the couch and nearly gasped out loud when it brought their bodies closer than ever before. She could feel every nerve ending in her skin screaming. Ashley was a foot away, her hand still in Spencer’s and her eyes intense and hot. Her chocolate gaze was melting Spencer’s blue, blue eyes and making the blonde’s legs wobble. Ashley let go and Spencer took a step back, breaking her daze. She walked to the front door, stopping before opening it. She turned to Ashley who was just behind her.

“Thank you so much for tonight. I had an awesome time.”

“Thank you for coming,” the brunette returned earnestly. “I wouldn’t have had any fun without you. And it was awesome.” The smile on her face made Spencer feel weak again. This was insane. Spontaneously, she hugged the musician, pulling her slender body into a warm embrace and feeling arms move around her. The hug went on for longer than expected and Spencer was dizzy, unwilling to let go. She pulled back and found her mouth inches from Ashley’s. She couldn’t move, paralysed and breathless. She heard a whisper on the other girl’s lips: “Spencer.”

And then she closed the distance, her lips crushing into Ashley’s and moving frantically. One arm wound around the brunette’s neck and the other, her waist. A hand snaked into her hair, pulling her into a deeper kiss, their mouths moving together over and over. Spencer felt a tongue sneak out to run across her lower lip and her knees nearly buckled. She let her own slide out to dance with the other girl, revelling in the silken feel of the kiss.

And as abruptly as it had started, it ended, with Ashley pulling back, panting and blushed. She stared at Spencer wildly and the blonde leaned back on the door weakly, unable to speak or support herself.

“I’m sorry,” Ashley whispered, causing Spencer’s head to whip up and meet her gaze. “I can’t… We can’t…”

“I know,” Spencer managed to blurt out. “It… I…I should go.”

“Spencer -” Ashley reached out and put a hand on her arm, the warmth burning into the blondes skin and making her want more.

“Can I see you again?” Spencer had no idea where her words were coming from. They were forming somewhere in her subconscious and she had no control of them as they flew out of her mouth. “I like being your friend, Ashley. I don’t want to ruin that.”

“You won’t,” Ashley reassured, dropping her hand back to her side. “I like being your friend, too.” She opened the door and Spencer stepped out, turning around half-way down the steps to regard the brunette.

“It…I…” she felt the need to say something but couldn’t formulate anything coherent.

“It’s okay,” Ashley reassured again. “I’ll call you.” There was a definite promise in the words and Spencer walked into the night more confused than ever.

* * * * *

Chapter Nine

Spencer opened the door to her quiet, darkened house with her heartbeat echoing in her ears. It was a cool night outside but her skin was covered in a sheen of light moisture and her palpitations were making her edgy. Every small sound made her jump and her pupils were dilated in confusion and fear. All she could feel and all she could think about was Ashley’s lips pressed desperately up against hers. She could still imagine the curve of the other girl’s body pressed into her own, and she wanted it back again. Closing the front door of her house, she leaned back against it. She could imagine Ashley here, pressing her into it, sliding to the floor.

God, she had to stop. This was insane. This was cheating and this was an affair. She was cheating on Gray. Oh my God.

Shaking, she dropped her bag onto the dining room table and went to the kitchen, pouring herself a glass of water and dropping ice cubes in it, as though she could cool down just by drinking. It didn’t work and her shakes intensified as the moon shone through the window, casting silvery light all over her. Trembling, she moved to the cabinet in the living room, rifling through it with as much silence as she could muster, pulling out Gray’s whisky. Moving back to the kitchen, she poured herself a stiff drink and downed it in one go. The burning liquid slid down her throat and made her eyes water. Gulping, she poured herself another and slid to the floor, cradling the glass to her chest and feeling the tears begin to gather. Slumped on the kitchen tiles in a corner, she hugged herself and sobbed, letting the fear and the emotion pour out of her in a torrent of salty tears and guilty recrimination.

It was morning when she finally rose. Her face stiff from the tears and her body stiff from the position she’d occupied all night, she put the whisky away and poured what remained in her glass down the sink. The sun was coming through the window as it rose, heralding the dawning of a new day and for Spencer, the dawning of a whole new lie: her life.

She had showered and had breakfast on the table by the time Gray emerged from the bedroom. Rubbing his head sleepily, he walked past Elly, who was watching cartoons on the living room floor, and kissed Spencer on the cheek.

“You didn’t come to bed last night,” he commented.

“I got home but I fell asleep on the couch,” she lied.

“Uncomfortable. Ooh, bacon!” Distracted by the food, he seemed to be over her absence. Spencer felt an internal sigh of relief. “I gotta eat fast. We have a meeting at nine.”

“On a Saturday?” Spencer didn’t know why she was surprised. Gray had barely been a part of their lives for months, but she still couldn’t keep her annoyance down. Maybe it was just the well of guilt inside her coming out in other ways. If Gray noticed the tone in her voice, he didn’t respond to it.

“Yeah, clients want to meet today.” Shoving the last of his breakfast in his mouth, he left the table and went for a shower.

Spencer’s confusion only worsened when she realised that she was both pissed off with Gray for leaving and relieved that he wasn’t spending the day near her. She spent the day playing with Elly and trying not to fall asleep. She also spent the day reliving her kiss with Ashley over and over in her head. When she felt the tug between her legs intensify and her body shake with heat, she had to hide in the bathroom until it went away. Distracting herself around the house and with games with her daughter, she prayed for night to come. She desperately needed sleep and some time to clear her head.

She cheated on Gray.

It was only a kiss.

It didn’t mean anything. She was lonely. Gray was never there any more. She was looking for something and Ashley had been nice to her. Spencer had taken advantage of her.

It was only a kiss.

She cheated on Gray. How could she?

She was just looking for some closeness. She was lost, and she needed Gray to find her.

It was only a kiss.

It was the most amazing kiss of her whole life.

Oh God, she’d cheated on Gray and she wanted to do it again. She wanted closeness, but she didn’t want Gray. She wanted Ashley.

She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t.

She wanted to. Ashley was all she could think about.

She’d cheated.

She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t.

She was started out of the endless repetition in her thoughts by her daughter tugging on her arm with a confused look on her face.

“I’m hungry,” the little girl signed. “Can we have dinner?”

“Sure,” Spencer signed and said back. “What do you want?” She was more grateful for the distraction than she could have expressed.

“Hot dogs.” The light in Elly’s eyes switched on at the thought. “And ice-cream”

Spencer chuckled. “At the same time?” she signed.

“No, silly,” Elly giggled as she motioned the words. “Ice-cream goes after!”

“You sure?” Spencer teased. “I can make you hot dogs with ketchup and ice-cream sauce?”

Elly wrinkled her nose in disgust. “NO!” She was emphatic. “Just hot dogs with ketchup.” She frowned, looking adorable. “Then ice-cream.”

“Okay, okay.” Spencer raised her hands in mock-submission. “Hot dogs it is.”

The hot dogs went well. Elly helped, which was always a riot, and Spencer couldn’t help grinning later as she wiped the ketchup off her daughter’s cheek. By the time that bath time, story time and bed time were over, Spencer was exhausted. She always loved spending time with her daughter but today it had been a necessity. The rest of her life was spinning round her like a crazy tornado and the little girl was the only thing that was solid and real. Spencer pulled herself to bed with the last of her energy and wondered if she’d wake up in Oz.

She felt Gray hit the bed next to her sometime in the middle of the night. He woke her up but she kept her eyes closed. She needn’t have bothered since his snores were echoing around the room within moments. Closing her eyes, she tried to get back to sleep and prayed her dreams wouldn’t betray her any further.

Waking on Sunday was no picnic. She had been exhausted enough that she had slept through Gray leaving for work, and it was only her daughter jumping on her excitedly that had woken her up. Grumbling unnecessarily, she got them ready to go to Spencer’s parents’ house. Spencer had no idea how she was going to face her mother with her thoughts in a maelstrom as they were, but she had to make the effort anyway. Elly was excited: she loved her grandparents.

Truth be told, they were great grandparents. They were great parents, but the way her mother stared at her sometimes made Spencer nervous. It was like Paula could see inside her daughter’s brain and pick out her most intimate thoughts. At the moment, Spencer was less than keen for her mother to read her mind. Still, it was too late now, as they were almost there.

For Spencer, the afternoon was a combination of slow torture and reprieve. Her mother wouldn’t let up quizzing her about Gray and showing her off to all their friends.

“This is my daughter. Her husband couldn’t be here. He’s an engineer. He’s just gorgeous, you should meet him.” Okay, so Paula didn’t quite gush that much, but, to Spencer, that’s what it all sounded like. Sometimes she wondered if she should just offer him up to her mother and let it be. That thought disturbed her greatly. Luckily her father was around to distract her. Watching him play with Elly and just talking to him made her happier.

The worst point was when she was trapped with her mother in the kitchen. The constant diatribe about Spencer’s life was starting to push her closer and closer to the edge. She tried desperately to hold her tongue but her mother’s nagging was stronger.

“You know, you and Gray should consider coming away with us this summer. We’re heading up to… and it was such a fun time last year…. You two can get started on …” her mother mused, not really paying attention to Spencer, who was only really hearing every third sentence.

Suddenly she broke. “Hell, Mom, I can’t get Gray to stay home for dinner, his new project is so fucking interesting! What makes you think I can get him to come away with you and Dad?” the blonde snapped, unable to hold back any longer.

“Spencer, that language!” her mother began to scold.

“No, Mom.” Spencer was on a roll and nothing was going to stop her now. “Your perfect son-in-law isn’t so perfect, you know. He’s never home and, to be honest, I don’t know if he gives a flying fuck about his wife or his daughter.” Ignoring her mother’s open mouth and her own language, she threw her hands up, rant in full swing. “You like him so much? You marry him. Because if he doesn’t get his ass into gear sometime in the near future and actually spend some time with his family, he won’t have one.”

It took mere seconds for the silence between the two women to harden into a moment that seemed frozen in time. It also took the same amount of time for Spencer to realise what she’d said. What she had finally articulated. And she knew, in that space, in that time, that everything she’d just yelled hadn’t really been said to her mother.

She’d said it to herself.

* * * * *

Chapter Ten

Placating her mother enough to be able to escape home had been difficult. Placating Elly at being torn away from her grandparents had been even harder. As close as the two of them were, Spencer knew that her daughter was not happy.

She was cute when she was mad, arms crossed and a frown across her little four-year-old brow. She looked like Spencer when Spencer was mad. She was so damn cute that Spencer couldn’t possibly have been mad back, but that didn’t stop the four-year-old from quite pointedly not talking to her. Spencer was impressed with that. Her daughter didn’t actually talk at all and yet managed to convey the message that she was not talking on purpose at this point in time. It was cute but slightly infuriating.

By the time they got home, Elly was in the worst mood possible. The car trip had been hot and there was an accident, causing traffic to back up for over an hour. If there was one thing that Spencer didn’t need right now, it was a grumpy four-year-old. Yet, she had one. The grumpiness culminated in an almighty tantrum on the living room floor. The child managed to throw it without making a sound. Had she spoken, Spencer supposed she probably would have woken the dead, but instead she threw the most impressive silent tantrum the blonde had ever seen. It ended with Spencer picking her up off the floor and dumping Elly in her bedroom, on her bed, shutting the door behind her and leaning against it.

Rubbing her forehead, she wondered what she was going to do with herself. She could hear Elly throwing things in her room and debated about going in there before serious damage could be done. She decided against it. Elly was the best-behaved child she’d ever known, even with her occasional breakdowns. Chances were that she’d get over it soon.

Spencer sat on the couch and hugged a pillow to her chest. The weekend had managed to drive her insane and she longed for work on Tuesday, something to get her mind off things. When Elly was at school, Spencer was determined to go back to longer hours at work. She missed the stimulation, the challenge. She knew she’d miss being home with her daughter too, though.

She was still caught up in her thoughts when her cellphone jumped, vibrating off the coffee table and landing with a thud on the floor at Spencer’s feet. Interrupting the annoying ring,-tone she answered it.

“Hello?”

“Hey.” Ashley’s voice sent shivers into Spencer’s insides and left her momentarily speechless. The lack of answer led the brunette push on. “How was the barbeque?”

“Horrible,” Spencer admitted with a laugh, her insides relaxing just a fraction. “And I think Elly had too much red cordial because I seem to have brought home a demon child.”

“Oh no! Is she okay?” Ashley asked with concern.

“Oh, she’s fine. She’s throwing a tantrum in her bedroom.”

“She always seems so well-behaved.” Ashley sounded doubtful that the little angel she’d met could throw a fit.

“Oh, she is,” reassured Spencer. “This is a once-in-a-year kind of thing. I blame my mother but, to be honest, I think that the sugar high is probably to blame. She’ll calm down in a while. Until then she stays in her room.”

“I remember being sent to my room,” admitted Ashley. “Like, every hour. I was a little terror.”

“I can imagine,” Spencer replied dryly.

“Hey!” Ashley exclaimed, pretending to be hurt. But she was giggling too much to pull it off. “Okay, I was a handful. But I’m very well-behaved now.”

“I find that hard to believe.” The sentence just slipped out of Spencer, and the throatiness of her reply made both girls stop short, their breaths sounding across the line. Spencer realised her blunder and tried to cover it up. “So, to what do I owe the honour of this phone call?”

“I did say I’d call,” reminded the brunette. “Besides, I had fun on Friday… at the gallery, and I was wondering…” she trailed off.

“You were wondering?” Spencer prompted when the silence had gone on for just a little bit too long.

“I kind of have a gig this coming Saturday. Would you like to come?”

“A gig?” Spencer let the awe flow into her voice. “Like playing in front of people?”

“Yeah. It’s not a big deal, just this little club a friend of mine owns.”

Spencer couldn’t help noticing that Ashley knew a lot of cool people, in complete contrast to herself. She found her subconscious slipping words out again as she said: “Are you sure you want me to come?”

“Of course I am. I’d be touched if you would.” Ashley sounded so genuine that Spencer felt her innards melt.

“I’d love to, Ash. I’ll ask my mother if she’ll watch Elly. That will cheer both of them up.”

“Great. I’ll put you on the door list. Hey, don’t worry if something comes up, yeah? I know you’re busy.”

Spencer thought about her empty life and how busy she wasn’t, and managed to hold the thought in her head instead of blurting it out on the phone. “I’ll be there, Ashley. I wouldn’t want to miss it.”

Instead of sounding pathetic, she sounded needy. Great.

“I’ll give you the details later, okay? I think you should go rescue your four-year-old from the depths of her despair.” Ashley chuckled on the other end of the line. Spencer grinned at the phone, though no one could see it.

“I guess I probably should. Talk to you later?”

“Absolutely.”

There were no noises coming from Elly’s room, so Spencer ventured a look. The four-year-old was lying prone on her bed, a small hurricane having made a humongous mess of the room. Spencer sat on the edge of the bed and put a hand on the little girl’s shoulder. It was shrugged off. Spencer shook her gently and found her hand gently pushed away. Apparently, Elly wasn’t over it yet. Shrugging her shoulders, Spencer went out to the kitchen to make sandwiches for dinner.

It must have been hunger that finally drove the small child from her room. Her face was creased from being crushed into a pillow, and she was biting her lip, just like her mother did. Spencer looked at her, one eyebrow raised. Elly fidgeted, and Spencer caught a glint of self-conciousness in the little girl’s eye.

“Can I have a sandwich?” Elly signed hopefully.

“That depends,” said Spencer cautiously, despite the fact she’d already made the girl a sandwich and it was waiting on the bench with a glass of juice. “What do you have to say?”

“Sorry?” Elly signed.

Spencer knelt down and brought the little girl’s eyes into line with her own. “Honey, you have to tell me what you’re sorry for, otherwise it doesn’t work.”

The little girl swung back and forward shyly. Spencer raised her eyebrow again.

“I’m sorry I was naughty,” Elly signed.

“And?” Spencer signed back.

“I’m sorry that I threw stuff and got angry.”

Spencer gave her a hug and kissed her forehead. “That’s okay. I have a sandwich for you.”

And, as quick as that, it was forgotten. She really was a great kid. She even tidied her room after dinner, with Spencer’s help of course. Later that night, instead of sneaking out after reading time, Spencer found herself holding her daughter in her arms, stroking her head and rocking her gently as she fell asleep. Lying on the single bed, she stared at the plastic glowing stars that littered the ceiling and felt the gentle soft breaths of her daughter as she slept, cuddled in close.

She was still very confused. She’d agreed to go to Ashley’s gig and the thought gave her a thrill. On the other hand, she knew that the right thing to do would be to never see the musician again. She’d cheated on Gray, sort of. She’d kissed Ashley and she had to be honest with herself she wanted to do it again. The right thing would be to end this now, before she could be tempted again, before she could put herself to the test and fail. But Spencer couldn’t do it. The musician was the first friend she’d made in a very long time. And she was one of the nicest people Spencer had met. Just spending time in her presence made Spencer feel warm and at ease. Those feelings were in such contrast to the rest of her life – except for Elly, naturally – that Spencer just found she couldn’t part with them.

So she had a choice: she could ring Ashley, and tell her that they could never see each other again; or, she could get some backbone and leave it as just friends. She could find that control and that line wouldn’t be crossed. Finding some strength in herself, she resolved to do just that. Why couldn’t they just be friends? That’s all they were now. There was no need to ever go there again.

So why, she wondered as she heard Gray come in, did she not want to go to bed? And why did she doubt every word she’d just told herself?

* * * * *

Next up: Chapters 11-15 [X, not safe for work]

10 Comments

  1. Posted 1 July 2008 at 3.49pm | Permalink

    “It was only a kiss”
    I was listening to The Killers Mr. Brightside when I read this .. and that line is acctually a line in the lyrics.. hmm anyway..

    I have to read the rest.. more feedback and love later..

  2. Posted 1 July 2008 at 3.58pm | Permalink

    Man I love this story.. I don’t know.. Spashley and kids just melts my heart.. And Elly is so adorable..

  3. dev0347
    Posted 1 July 2008 at 4.39pm | Permalink

    Anna, my little Swedish cherub, I am officially 108 years old. I don’t even know who the Killers are! Possibly your other mother is more au fait with them, though.

    she is

  4. lesmiserables1998
    Posted 1 July 2008 at 4.45pm | Permalink

    OK, I know I’m being completely demanding, but can you post “Circles and Circles,” too? Hey, you’re the one who mentioned it :) All I can remember of that story is Ashley standing on the landing … Spencer deciding to be with her …
    PLEASE.

    [I’ll get to it. I really will. In the last 48 hours, however, I have beta’d 6 chapters of Million Acres, 4 chapters of Forever, 6 chapters and a epilogue of Precious Things, 10 chapters of Best for Me and 6 chapters of 28 Days. Devs need their rest, too.]

  5. Posted 1 July 2008 at 4.52pm | Permalink

    haha oh mommy! I’m so sorry if I made you feel old. I was just listening to the song and well I just had to write it.. and well still you would be the coolest 108 year old ever!

  6. Payne N. Uranus
    Posted 1 July 2008 at 5.08pm | Permalink

    You know, that situation with the dad never being home and the mom feeling left out and alone, it reminds me of my family. Only there were three of us kids, and Mom didn’t leave Dad for a hot and sexy girl brunette.

    Shame.

    Oops, did I say that out loud?

  7. WaveGoodbye
    Posted 1 July 2008 at 5.24pm | Permalink

    First of all, much love to Dev for re-posting this. It’s such a favourite of mine, you have no idea. *bows to you*

    And also, Sez, I loved how you used the name “Mireille” in there. I had a friend in school called Mireille and she would get SO pissed off when people pronounced her name wrong.

    Mind you, she’d been going to the school for three years and some teachers still didn’t remember. I’D get frustrated if I were her.

    They’d always call the register and say “Mir-elly?” and she’d do the biggest eye-roll and sigh and say “It’s *Mir-ay.”

    I thank god my name is somewhat common :p

    Anyway, sorry for that. I just felt the need to tell you. Have fun celebrating Canada Day. I was making coffee this afternoon and suddenly remembered what day it was, and then wanted to celebrate a little. Strange.

    Thanks, you two! <33

  8. smurfturkey
    Posted 1 July 2008 at 6.37pm | Permalink

    IM pretty sure Dev must be the most amazing Beta evverrrr

    BFM is my Anti Drug

  9. Melxgibs
    Posted 1 July 2008 at 9.33pm | Permalink

    I had forgotten how much i love this story.

    And…GO dev!!

  10. Vibes
    Posted 2 July 2008 at 7.10pm | Permalink

    This may be my all time favorite fic of all time. Like ever…anywhere. I mean it.

    P.S. I sent the story again, two actually. Let me know if you got em.

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