Best For Me: Chapters 16 to 20

Previously: Chapters 11-15 [X, NSFW]

Hey, it’s the return of Dev’s side project! Please go back and familiarise yourself with parts 1 to 15.

The song in chapter 20 is – I think – Kate Miller-Heidke’s Space They Cannot Touch. Why not YouTube it, as I can’t do that from here?

Disclaimers: The-N. Tom Lynch. Yada, yada, yada.
Rating: A. Just the one kiss, but a whole lot of crying.

* * * * *

Chapter Sixteen

Gray looked at Spencer as if she had suddenly sprouted horns from her head and had started running around the room screaming, “I am the lizard queen”. She stared him down, willing her insides to be as calm as her outsides were.

“What?”

This time his voice was hoarse and it broke on the single syllable.

“I’m leaving you,” she reiterated softly. Spencer felt as though her world was shattering from the outside-in and that she was standing in the centre, the cracks racing towards her like a speeding train. Any second now, they would crash into her and she would fragment, falling into small pieces on her living room rug. “It’s over, Gray.”

“What the fuck are you talking about??”

She had his attention now. He was on his feet angry, and red-faced.

“Is this a joke?”

Spencer took a step back, alarmed at his sudden anger. She had convinced herself that he wouldn’t care that much. She should have thought better of that really. “Gray, this isn’t working and I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it.”

“For fuck’s sake, Spencer! Is this about the goddamn argument, because this is a screwed up way to win?” Gray’s fists were clenched, as was his jaw.

“How could you think that?” she wailed, now as furious as Gray. “This is so much more than this, Gray. I can’t be married to you any more. I just can’t.”

“This isn’t funny.” He looked aghast.

“I know,” she replied, softly. Tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. she bit her lip. “I’m sorry, Gray, but this is what I have to do.”

He sat down, stunned. Spencer’s subconscious forced her arm out towards him in a pleading gesture for him to understand, but conscious Spencer pulled it back.

There was nothing she could do to help him here. There was nothing she could say that was going to make a difference. She was acutely aware of her little girl sleeping in just the next room over and her own urge to run away. She owed it to Elly and to Gray to stay and talk this out. Nothing was going to alter her resolve or change her mind but she knew she had to stay. Even feeling as nauseous as she did.

“Just like that?” Gray spoke. making Spencer jump.

“No, Gray, not ‘just like that’,” Spencer replied evenly. “This has been a long time coming.”

“Because of my job? Is that it? Because I’m so busy? Dammit, Spencer, I know this is hard on you, but it will get better. We’ll pull through this. It’s no reason to break up a marriage.”

“What is a good reason, then, Gray? The fact that we don’t have the same vision for our path in life? The fact that we’re never going to agree on what’s best for Elly? The fact that you don’t love me?” She let the last comment drop in the air, knowing full well that it was so hot it could explode.

“That’s not true.” He sounded vehement, but Spencer knew he was arguing for the sake of arguing.

“Gray, we’re not going to work. This isn’t going to work. We want different things in life. You want your career. I want someone by my side.”

“I am by your side, dammit! I’m just not always here. Do you want me to quit? Have no income? Is that what you want?”

He was off the couch now, standing in front of her with his teeth gritted. Spencer thought he looked like he might foam at the mouth. She backed off a little.

“Gray. I don’t…”

“What?”

“I don’t love you. Not like I should.”

There. The truth was out.

“You married me.” His eyes were blazing.

“Gray, I’m sorry. I can’t do this. I can’t be with you and love you the way you need. I want something else from life, not this. Something that I’m never going to find in this marriage.” Spencer spoke softly, her eyes closing and her thoughts swirling away.

I want someone that isn’t you. And I want a better life for Elly than a father who doesn’t love her.

Both of those things were true and they were valid reasons for her to leave Gray. But there was no way in hell she was going to say that now. She just wasn’t that callous.

Gray surprised her by stalking off and grabbing his keys and coat.

“Where are you going?” she asked, her brow furrowing in confusion.

“Out. Away. Leaving. If you’re the one leaving then I’m the one that gets to go. I can’t stay here.”

“Where will you go?”

“What the fuck do you care?”

And with that, Gray was gone.

Spencer fell on the couch, so drained that she thought she might shrivel up and die.

She’d done it. She’d actually left Gray.

Admittedly, he had then left her, but that was okay. She hoped.

All of her energy suddenly left her. She was mentally and physically gone. Amazed that she could actually muster any movement, she dragged herself to bed and slept more deeply than she had in years.

* * * * *

When Spencer awoke, the Sunday sun was streaming in the window and she knew instantly that Gray had not returned. His side of the bed was untouched.

It was a strange feeling.

She got up and found Elly on the floor, watching cartoons with the sound off and subtitles on, a bowl of cereal on her lap. It was the first time ever that Spencer could remember her daughter fetching her own breakfast. A little amazed, she walked into the kitchen. The milk was open on the bench and there were cornflakes littered around it, with the box standing nearby. Actually, it was about half the disaster zone that Spencer had expected and she cleaned it up without a fuss. Her brain was too tired to think and definitely too tired to complain; her body, however, still felt wired. The last few days were just too much to think about.

She anticipated Gray returning some time that day. Despite her assurance the previous night that she wouldn’t flee, she was overwhelmed with the urge to do so now. When Elly had finished her cereal, Spencer got them ready quickly.

“Where are we going?” Elly signed, confused.

“Grandma and Grandpa’s,” Spencer signed back.

“Oh.” Elly looked happy, but a little nonplussed. Spencer ignored her daughter’s expressions and got them into the car as quickly as she could.

The way to her parents’ was clear and they made good time. Spencer had no idea what she was going to say to them. She knew that telling her parents was going to be nearly as hard as telling Gray. And she still had no idea what to say to Elly. She was leaving that one until later. But her parents…

Now that the scariness of actually breaking up with Gray was over, the only fear she had was her mother’s reaction. And she knew she wanted to get that over with as quickly as possible.

Spencer’s father opened the door with a surprised look on his face.

“Spencer, Elly, what do we owe this visit to?” He opened the door letting his daughter and granddaughter in.

Spencer put Elly down, watched her give Arthur Carlin a huge hug and then run off to find her grandma. Spencer kissed her father softly on the cheek.

“Hey, Dad.”

Arthur grinned at her, his gray hair curling at his temples and the warm look never leaving his eyes. Just his presence made Spencer feel a little less shaky.

God, this was almost worse than leaving Gray.

She walked into the kitchen with her father, taking in the view of Elly in her grandmother’s arms and the smile on both of their faces. No matter what, at least they still loved her. Her mother was going to absolutely die of shock, however.

“Hey, Mom,” she said softly.

“Spencer,” Paula replied, putting Elly down. “What a lovely surprise!”

Spencer kissed her mother on the cheek. Unwilling to wait too much longer, she signed to Elly for the young girl to run off and play. Heading for the play area her grandfather had set up for her, Elly looked delighted. Spencer smiled as she went.

Then, she sat down at the kitchen table and gratefully accepted the cup of tea her father wordlessly slid across to her.

“What’s wrong Spencer?” he asked.

Spencer didn’t question the fact that he knew something was up. She knew that it wouldn’t have mattered what expression had been on her face when he’d opened the door, he would have known anyway. She and her father were just like that.

“Is something wrong?” Paula looked surprised. As much as Spencer loved her mother, she and her mother were NOT like that.

“Yes, I guess there is. And, in a way, there isn’t,” Spencer replied, non-commitally.

“What are you talking about, Spencer?” Paula raised an eyebrow. It was a movement that Spencer could parody perfectly.

“I… I left Gray”. She let the comment hang.

“Oh, Spencer -” her father breathed out, at the same time as her mother exclaimed, “What??”

“I’ve left Gray,” Spencer reiterated, a little firmer.

“No!” Her mother was still in shock. Arthur moved around the table and sat next to his daughter, putting one hand on her shoulder.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yes,” she replied simply. “It was the right thing to do.”

“Are you crazy?” her mother burst out sharply. “Spencer, this is your marriage we’re talking about! How can you be so flippant?”

Spencer sighed and turned to look at her mother. “Mother, this is what’s right for me, what’s best for me.”

“How can this be what’s best for you?” Her mother looked thoroughly confused.

“It just is. I know that now. I can see that now.” Spencer was starting to lose her grip on the situation. She could feel tears rising up inside her. Arthur’s hand lay gently on her shoulder still and she could sense the strength that it was giving her. “Mother, this isn’t up for discussion. I came to tell you, not to argue it through with you.”

That, of course, did not stop Paula from arguing. For the rest of the morning, in fact. Spencer eventually grew tired of the fight and left.

She left her mother still angry and confused in the kitchen, while her father walked her to the door. He hugged her close and whispered to her, “Call us if you need anything. Anything.” The emphasis was on the last word.

“Thanks, Dad,” she whispered back.

Gray didn’t come home on Sunday. He didn’t come home Monday. By Tuesday morning, Spencer was beginning to panic.

She called his work but got no answer. When she finally did get an answer, he hung up the phone on her. She supposed she’d deserved that.

She went to her job feeling particularly uninspired and put in the lousiest day’s work she had in a long time. Her boss looked at her thoughtfully and sent her home early.

When the phone rang that evening, she pounced on it half-way through the first ring. She was amazed that she was disappointed when it wasn’t Gray.

“Hey, that was fast,” Ashley’s voice teased from across the end of the line.

“Oh. Ashley.” Spencer’s surprise was evident.

“You were expecting someone else?” The musician’s tone was now serious.

“Sorry, I was waiting on a call from Gray.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll get off the line.”

Spencer appreciated the other girl’s offer but, after two days of being stuck in her own head, she suddenly felt like talking.

“No, it’s okay. I don’t think he’ll call,” she said.

“Oh, is everything okay?” Ashley’s question was guarded and carefully framed.

“Not really,” Spencer admitted.

“I’ll be right there.”

And all Spencer was left with was a dial tone.

* * * * *

Chapter Seventeen

Spencer fiddled on the couch waiting for Ashley to arrive. She was getting a little sick of these scenes where she had to tell people things. It made her shiver to think about what she was going to tell the little girl in the next room.

Daddy isn’t going to be around any more.

Daddy was never around anyway.

Mommy doesn’t love Daddy any more.

Because love can just fly away like that. Better hope it doesn’t happen to you.

Jesus, what the hell was she going to tell Elly?

The doorbell jarred angrily, jerking Spencer out of her thoughts and off the couch before she realised what the sound even was. She was half-way to the door in her Pavlovian response when she realised that it must be Ashley.

Her heart was still skipping beats when she opened the door. And there she was, leaning against the door frame with her hands in her pockets, cheeks red from the slight chill in the air. She was so beautiful she took Spencer’s breath away. Letting it catch in her throat, the blonde stepped sideways, letting Ashley into the house.

Busying herself making coffee, Spencer tried not to connect eyes with the musician. The brunette’s intense stare somehow inveigled its way deep under her skin and manifested itself in ways that Spencer wasn’t entirely comfortable with. She slid Ashley’s coffee across the table to her and sat down, cradling her own warm cup and failing to meet those chocolate-brown eyes that had such an effect on her.

“Spence, do you want to talk about this?” Ashley’s voice was soft and caring but still didn’t bring Spencer to meet her eyes.

“About what?” Spencer played for more time with a vague response.

“Okay.” The simplicity of the reply brought bright blue eyes up to meet serious brown ones. “How’s Elly?”

It was the sudden return of thought to her daughter that sent Spencer over the edge. Soft, plump, salty tears welled up and spilled over, coursing a slick path down her cheek and gathering at her chin.

In an instant, Ashley was beside her, one arm on the back of Spencer’s chair and the fingers of her other hand winding their way through Spencer’s now-shaky digits. Spencer let go of Ashley’s hand and sniffed as she wiped the tears off her cheeks and pushed back. Grabbing Ashley’s arm, she led the confused brunette to the couch, sat her down and pulled a pillow to her chest, hugging it close for safety.

Taking a deep breath Spencer looked Ashley in the eye and said, in a trembling voice, “I left Gray.”

It took a moment for the shock and understanding to dawn on Ashley’s face.

“Wow,” she breathed. “Fuck.”

“Uh-huh,” agreed Spencer with a slight laugh.

“Are you okay?”

“I guess. I left him. I don’t really have a choice about being okay. And besides, he’s made it kind of easy. I haven’t seen him since he walked out.”

“Wait. He walked out? I thought you left him?” Ashley’s brow furrowed with confusion.

“I did. Then he left. I guess there was a whole lot of leaving going on.” Spencer hugged her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on them and squeezing her lips together. “I told my parents.”

“I’m guessing it didn’t go down so well.” Ashley knew enough about Spencer’s family to have sensed that one fairly easily.

“With Dad, it was okay. With Mom… It went down like a lead balloon.” Spencer gave another wry smile. “She’ll get over it.”

“And Elly?” Trust Ashley to hit on the sore point. She was a little too astute at times.

“Elly? Yeah, haven’t quite gotten around to that one yet.”

“Spencer, Jesus! Gray might be an ass but he’s her father.” Spencer glared at the brunette as soon as the words had come out. “Okay, okay, sorry, you probably don’t need that right now.” Ashley reached across and rubbed the back of the blonde’s hand soothingly. “Was it the right thing to do?”

Way too astute.

“Yes,” Spencer answered without hesitation. “Absolutely, yes.”

“Then it will be okay,” Ashley said with conviction. “And you aren’t alone. You know that.” The thumb brushing across the back of her hand made Spencer shiver. She looked up into chocolate-brown eyes and felt her insides melt a little.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

“Any time.” Ashley’s nose wrinkled adorably with her smile.

And so the conversation eased. Ashley adroitly steered it away from Spencer’s current predicament. Now that the truth was out, Spencer was glad for the opportunity to talk and think about something else. She knew that eventually they’d get back around to the topic and some of the other things that they would have to talk about, but, for now, she was enjoying the ease of being with Ashley. It was the small hours of the morning when the musician’s yawns alerted her to the late hour.

“You’re tired,” Spencer whispered softly.

“I’m okay.” Ashley’s eyes could barely stay open.

“The spare room is always made up. Crash here.”

“No, it’s okay,” Ashley protested, but Spencer refused to listen. Dragging the other girl down the corridor, she had her in the room with towels and necessary bits and pieces before another word could be said. Ashley chuckled ruefully. “Okay, I guess I’m staying.”

Spencer slid her hands into her back pocket, elbows jutting out, as she played with an edge of the carpet with her toe. She felt a knuckle slide under her chin as Ashley lifted her face up. Suddenly the musician was just too close for comfort and Spencer’s body rioted in need and want. It would be so easy to slide forward, to close the door and let Ashley soothe away all the roughness of the past week. It would be so good, so easy, to feel those long, delicate fingers find their way to places that ached with memory.

Her eyes must have given her away, because all Spencer heard was Ashley groan and then the distance between them was closed. She wrapped her arms around the brunette’s shoulders and opened her mouth under the assault of soft, gorgeous lips. Ashley’s tongue slid out to tangle with hers and the kiss intensified gloriously. They broke apart for oxygen after what felt like hours. Shaking, Spencer pulled herself from Ashley’s embrace and stepped back.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“No, no,” Ashley put her hands up in emphasis, “you have nothing to be sorry for. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

“No, it’s not that. I liked you doing that.” Ashley raised an eyebrow but stayed mute. “It’s -” Spencer lost her words.

“What?” the brunette prompted gently.

“I, I didn’t leave Gray for you, Ashley.”

“I know that.”

“No, I mean I didn’t leave him for you. I left him for me. And I’m so sorry. Because I can’t do this. I can’t be with you.”

Spencer’s voice broke on the last word as, once again, her pain lifted inside, and it was mirrored on Ashley’s face.

* * * * *

Chapter Eighteen

Spencer rolled over for the third time in as many minutes and punched the pillow. She’d pretty much fled from Ashley, like she was fleeing from everything else in her life. No, that wasn’t fair. Leaving Gray had been the right thing to do. She wasn’t running from that: she was trying to get her life in order – to actually have a life she felt like living – because she knew that she owed it to herself and to Elly to stop living for other people. They’d both be happier in the end.

The only problem was that she knew that there were some things she had to do and some things she couldn’t. And the look on Ashley’s face when the truth had emerged hadn’t exactly brightened Spencer’s day. Ashley had been completely understanding. But, then, when you are standing in someone’s spare room with a pair of fluffy pyjamas in your hands and a rejection speech still hanging in the air, what are you supposed to do? Run screaming from the room? Throw your pyjamas up in disgust and destroy the lampshade? What can you do? Spencer knew all this, but it didn’t make it any less painful. She sighed and rolled over again. She wasn’t going to get any sleep tonight.

It was a good thing that she was awake because it meant she heard Ashley attempt to sneak out sometime around seven. Wrapping herself in her dressing gown, she moved into the living room. The brunette was on the couch, silently slipping on her shoes. She jumped when Spencer spoke.

“Can we talk?”

The musician turned and serious brown eyes regarded Spencer evenly. “I’m not sure I’m up to it, Spence.”

“Please.”

Sighing, Ashley stopped putting on her shoes and turned to face away, clasping her hands. It took Spencer a moment to realise that the brunette was waiting to be joined on the couch. Taking a seat beside her, Spencer mirrored her companion’s position, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees, hands clasped together.

“What did you want to say?” From the tone in Ashley’s voice, Spencer could tell that she was strained. It was probably a mixture of hurt and anger but, either way, strained.

“Ash…” Spencer could hear the pleading in her own voice. It wasn’t deliberate but she couldn’t erase it either. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, Spence. You actually don’t have anything to be sorry for.” Ashley smiled ruefully.

“I do. I’ve hurt you.”

“That’s my fault. And my problem.”

Spencer put a hand on Ashley’s arm. “I never wanted to hurt you.”

“I know that.” Ashley shook her head at Spencer and looked at her, eyes wistful.

“I like you.”

“I know that, too.” Ashley let out a bitter laugh. “We have the suckiest timing.”

“Yeah,” agreed the blonde. “I would love to be with you. I wish I could. But -”

“I know, Spence,” Ashley cut her off.

“No, please, let me explain.” Spencer sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. Looking away from the girl sitting next to her she tried to find the right words. “It’s… It’s like this. I can’t be with Gray. I don’t love him and I probably should never have married him. I’ve spent so many years trying to make this work and now I see, finally, that I’m crazy. It’s never GOING to work. And it’s wrong for me and it’s very wrong for Elly. But that’s, like, the hugest step I’ve ever taken. And I’m taking my daughter with me. I can’t disrupt her life more than this. I can’t disrupt mine. I can’t do that to either of us. And I definitely don’t have the strength to get a divorce, come out of the closet and fight Gray for custody all at the same time. I’m so sorry.”

“I understand all that, Spencer. God, I really do.” Ashley rubbed a hand across the back of her neck and sighed. “I… I just like you and I knew that this was crazy.”

“It’s beyond crazy, Ashley. I’m still married and you have Liv.”

Ashley let out a rueful chuckle. “Yeah, not so much, though.”

“Huh?” Spencer let her thoughts stop churning with some confusion.

“I’m not so much with Liv any more.”

“Oh.”

Spencer didn’t know how to respond. In truth, she wanted desperately to wrap herself up in Ashley. She knew she couldn’t and really, really shouldn’t. All the same, there were a whole bunch of things in her head that she kept rotating to remind her why the two of them should just keep their hands inside the fences. Liv had been one of them. It was bad enough that she was cheating on Gray, let alone the fact that they were both cheating. Now, it appeared that neither of them were cheating. An alarming thought sprung up.

“Oh, Ash… Not for me?”

Ashley looked away. Spencer didn’t need words. She grasped the brunette’s chin and brought her face gently but firmly around until their gazes met.

“It’s okay, Spencer.”

“No, no, it isn’t.” Of all the things that had happened in the last fortnight – all the people she had hurt – this was the one that she felt the most devastation about. God, how much had she led Ashley on? The girl had ended a relationship for her! Christ on a bicycle!

“Spence, I didn’t end it for you.” That got the blonde’s attention. “I ended it because of you, but not for you.”

“Oh.” Spencer wasn’t so sure that made it any better.

“I like you. I like you a lot. That was enough to tell me that Liv and I weren’t exactly meant to be. And she must have sensed something because she does not like you.” Ashley chuckled slightly at that thought. “And she was jealous. I realised that she had something to be jealous of. I didn’t do it in the expectation that something would happen between you and me. Liv and I were just seeing each other. You’re married!”

“Not so much.” Spencer smiled slightly. “I’m still sorry.”

“What can you do?” Ashley shrugged. “Our timing sucks.”

“I know.”

“I’m not going anywhere, you know.”

“Then why are you putting your shoes on?”

“Not now, you goofball!” Ashley nudged Spencer sideways and smiled that adorable smile. “I mean, I’m not going to leave and not see you again. I’m sticking around.”

“Thank you.” An indescribable feeling of relief shot through the blonde. “I think I can use all the friends I can get right now.”

“Well, at the risk of sounding like a bad song, you’ve got a friend in me.”

“You sound like a terrible song.” That earned her another nudge.

“I really do have to go, though. I have an early appointment and have to go home to change.” Ashley finished tying up her shoes and stood up. Spencer stood with her and trailed the brunette to the door. “I’ll call you, okay?” Spencer nodded. “And I want you to call me if you need me. For anything.”

Another nod.

Spencer felt choked up and didn’t want to attempt to speak. She let Ashley’s hug engulf her and buried her head in the girl’s shoulder momentarily, taking in the only comfort she could find at the moment.

Then Ashley was gone.

* * * * *

Chapter Nineteen

Spencer wedged the phone in between her ear and shoulder and tried not to drop the folder she was carrying.

“I wish,” she murmured into the mouthpiece, frowning at the pages in front of her. “But, no, I have to go. I’ve turned them down for every invitation they’ve thrown at me in the last few weeks. I really couldn’t say no to this one.”

“All right, but you leave as soon as you want to. Don’t go letting them upset you,” Ashley’s voice cautioned from the other end of the line.

“Inevitable. They’re my parents,” Spencer sighed. “It’ll be okay. I hope. Dad’s cool and Mom… Mom will get over it eventually.” She frowned again. “I hope.”

“Still planning on tonight?” Ashley asked.

“Yeah” Spencer bit her lip. “I have to tell her, Ash. It’s been three weeks already. She hasn’t even asked me where he is. Even for Elly, that’s weird. I know they’re not close but he’s never been gone for three weeks before. It’s time.”

“Okay. I’m still coming over at nine.”

“You don’t have to. I’ll be okay,” Spencer protested, but her heart wasn’t in it. “Really.” So not in it.

Telling Elly was petrifying her and she was grateful for the possibility of an outlet afterwards. At least her daughter should be asleep by nine.

“I’m coming. This is not in question.”

“Okay, I’ll see you at nine then. I gotta go. This paperwork is driving me bananas and I think I should get around to concentrating on it.”

“Bye, Spence. Good luck, yeah?” Ashley’s breathy voice made Spencer’s head spin. Once the phone was hung up, she couldn’t help but reflect on how much of a friend Ashley really had been lately. Supportive in all the right places, backing off when needed, giving just the right amount of physical contact to be comforting but never making Spencer feel like she was pushing for more.

Dammit, she’s like the perfect woman! Why, oh why, can’t you just get lucky for once?

She frowned so much these days she swore permanent creases were going to appear on her forehead. The frowning continued while the paperwork got done.

Spencer decided to ease into the topic with her daughter while they were having dinner. It was easier when she had a captive audience and, anyway, if she got upset she at least had something to throw. Somehow, Spencer didn’t think that Elly would throw anything but figured she had a right to if she wanted.

“Elly, honey, there’s something we need to talk about.” Her fingers were careful and deliberate as she motioned out her sentence. She had no idea about how to go about this.

Elly looked up and cocked her head to one side. She didn’t say anything in response, though. Spencer considered her next sentence. “Daddy isn’t going to be around here with us any more. You’ll still get to see him, but he won’t be living with us.”

Elly chewed her mouthful thoughtfully before putting down her knife and fork.

“Are you getting a divorce?”

How the hell did her four-year-old daughter know what a divorce was?

“Yes, sweetheart, we are.” Spencer didn’t know what else to say.

“Okay.”

Wait. That was it?

“Are you okay?” Spencer asked cautiously. Elly shrugged.

“Will Daddy still play with me sometimes?”

“Of course he will!” Spencer exclaimed. “You can see him as much as you want.”

The expression on Elly’s face went from thoughtful to frightened in a myriad of moves and Spencer’s heart jumped.

“Will I still get to live with you?” the little girl signed fearfully. “I don’t want to leave you!” Elly’s bottom lip trembled and Spencer could see tears forming in her eyes. She got up and rounded the table hurriedly, pulling the little girl into her arms.

Pulling back, she signed frantically, “You never have to leave me. You’ll be staying with Mommy, no matter what, okay?” Spencer gently drew one thumb across a spilled tear on her daughter’s cheek. Elly sniffled.

“Promise?” the little fingers signed back.

“Cross my heart.” And Spencer did, drawing a slender finger in an x across her chest.

“Okay.” That seemed to end the tears and bring Elly back to some semblance of happy. “Can I go watch cartoons now?”

She’d finished her vegetables so Spencer let her go. Washing up the dishes she thought to herself that things could have gone a lot worse. Her daughter was so much more mature than she expected sometimes. Who knew that the kid already knew what divorce was? And Gray thought she was backwards because she couldn’t hear. Spencer gave a derisive snort into the kitchen air, though there was no one to hear it.

To Spencer’s relief, Elly really did seem okay. She was her normal charming self when bathed and put to bed. She enjoyed the tickle game just as much as she always did and, if she clung to Spencer just a little longer during her goodnight hug and kiss, the blonde didn’t really mind. She also thought it probably didn’t signify much.

Sighing as she gently half-closed the door behind her, leaving the hall light on for comfort, she made her way into the living room and collapsed on the couch. Her watch told her that she had half-an-hour before Ashley was due to arrive. She closed her eyes and groaned. Just enough time to make herself look presentable.

Spencer was even more grateful for Ashley’s company the following day, given how crappy it really turned out to be. Ashley had hung out with her, watching videos and making stupid jokes until the early morning. It had been perfect. Every moment she spent with Ash reminded her how crappy some of the other moments in her life could be, moments like this one, the one where she was standing in her parents’ hallway staring at her soon-to-be-ex-husband.

“What are you doing here?”

“Your mother invited me,” Gray explained, reaching out his arms to Elly and engulfing her in a hug. He kissed the little girl on the cheek and put her down so she could run off to find her grandfather. “We need to talk.”

“Here?” Spencer wasn’t amused in the slightest. “Gray, this is my parents’ house.”

“I assumed that made it neutral territory.”

“You assumed wrong.” Spencer crossed her arms. “It makes it somewhere I go to see my family and escape.”

“I am your family.” Gray put his hands in his pockets and regarded Spencer evenly. “Spencer, this is crazy. I’ve given you time to cool off. Can we please now talk about things?”

Spencer was furious that her mother had pulled this on her. She should have expected it. She also knew she was being deliberately obstinate. It was her father passing in the distance, flashing her an “I’m sorry about this” smile, that made her calm down.

“Okay, Gray, we’ll talk. But not here. In the back yard, okay? This is none of my parents’ business.”

She moved past him and led him out to the back yard. Ignoring the chairs on the deck, she found her way to the bench at the back of the yard, sitting on it and swinging her legs back and forth, scuffing her soles on the concrete below. She let Gray sit next to her, elbows on knees and hands clasped together, not looking at her.

“You’re serious about this, aren’t you?” he said quietly.

“Yup.” After it was out of her mouth, Spencer realised that she should probably sound less flippant about the end of her marriage. “Gray, you know this is right for both of us.”

“Is it?” He still wasn’t looking at her.

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t love you anymore.” She owed him the truth. It got him to look at her.

“It changes that easily?” He sounded hurt. She’d hurt him. She was surprised at how much that ached inside her.

“When did it change for you?” she countered. “Gray, you have to stop pretending that what you feel for me now is what you felt for me when we got married. Or even before that.”

“People change, Spencer. Feelings change.”

“Not this much, Gray. Not so much that you don’t care that you never see me.”

“It’s not like that” he protested, throwing his hands up. “That’s about work.”

“Yes, I know, and it’s important to you. I get that. That’s okay, too, Gray. Only, it isn’t important to me. And what is important to me isn’t important to you.” She scuffed the concrete more. “You weren’t there for me when I needed you,” she added softly.

He turned to look at her again. “When?”

“Elly.” It was a simple reply, but shot through like a bullet.

“That’s not true.”

“Yes, it is!” Spencer let some of her anger creep back into her voice. “Gray, you left. Slowly but surely you just left. You weren’t there when I needed you. You still aren’t.”

“I can change.”

She snorted. “No, you can’t.”

“How do you know! You can’t just say that!” He was angry now, too.

“I can, Gray. You don’t want to change. You know that. I know that. So why are we making a huge deal about this? Nothing is going to change. We don’t belong together.”

“So, that’s it?”

“I guess so.”

“What about Elly?” Gray’s question threw her a little bit.

“What about her?”

“You don’t think this is fair on her? You can’t think that.”

“She’s okay, Gray. She will cope. She coped with finding out okay.”

“You told her?” He sounded madder now.

“We haven’t seen you for three weeks, Gray! I had to tell her something.”

“That’s because I was giving you space!”

“And I’m grateful.” She reached out and put a hand on his arm. “Gray, we can work this out amiably and you know it. If you were really against it, you’d be madder. Or fighting harder. I know you.”

“You do, do you?” he sneered.

“Yes, dammit, I do.”

“Fine. What about custody?”

“You can’t be serious,” she laughed. “You barely acknowledge your daughter’s existence. Why the hell would you want custody of her? She’s staying with me, Gray. Don’t be an ass.”

She watched him deflate a little. He hadn’t been serious and they both knew it.

“I still want to be a part of her life, Spencer.”

It dawned on Spencer that he was finally giving in to the inevitable. Part of her was sorry that he was doing it so easily. He was hurt but knew that it was the right thing for them. It hurt her a little that he really didn’t love her. She’d been aware of that truth for some time but it didn’t make the pain any less sharp.

“You’re her father, Gray. Nothing will change that. Nothing,” she emphasized the last word.

“Come on,” he said, standing suddenly, “let’s go and let your mother down gently.”

Amazed at his sudden burst of energy, Spencer trailed after him, blowing out of her lips with a gust.

At least it was really, finally over.

* * * * *

Chapter Twenty

Spencer threw the tea-towel into the washing basket with extra vigour and was satisfied when the lid slammed down in response. It was an appropriate echo of the emotions that were running in her own veins.

What the hell is wrong with you, Spencer? You’ve finally taken control of your own life, so get a damn grip!

Spencer sighed dramatically and realised that there was no one there to hear it. Didn’t really matter. It was the gesture that mattered.

She glanced at the clock. Eight o’clock. Great. The funny thing was, she’d left Gray. He’d left her, found himself an apartment. And he’d never been home anyway. But now that Elly was asleep, Spencer found her life feeling disturbingly empty and void of anything. At least she used to have arguments with Gray to look forward to. Maybe that wasn’t quite the way she felt about them at the time, but the hours spent between Elly’s bedtime and Gray wandering in the door had been spent in angst, working herself up to fever pitch with indignation. That was over now, so what was she going to do with herself?

Dammit, she needed a hobby.

Or Ashley.

Spencer shook her head, despite the still-patent absence of anyone else to watch, and stopped herself from grabbing the phone and calling the sexy musician. Over the last two weeks, she’d found herself leaning more and more on the brunette. She had heard no protests from the other girl but she still knew she couldn’t depend on her forever. Ashley wasn’t around for her entertainment. She had her own life to live. Surely she was out now, on a Friday night, having fun, seeing friends… meeting girls.

That thought sent shivers up Spencer that weren’t well-received. She wasn’t allowed to be jealous. Hell, she wasn’t even allowed to be interested! Dammit. Being good was never this hard before.

Grabbing the phone, she dialled a number before she could stop herself. The dial tone sounded on the other end and for a few moments Spencer thought there might be no-one there, but then a familiar voice sounded on the line.

“Hello.”

“Hey, Dad,” Spencer breathed out, happy that he was, in fact, home.

“Spencer!” His voice was warm and the warmth traveled through the phone and down into Spencer, making her relax a little. “How are you?”

“I’m okay actually, Dad. I just wanted to hear your voice, have a talk. We don’t talk enough.” Spencer sat back on the couch and smiled.

They chatted easily, and Spencer felt her old self – her more reassured, stable self – creep back in. They were in the middle of a conversation when she heard the beeping on her phone.

“Hang on, Dad,” she said, “I have another call, I’ll be right back.” Putting him on call waiting, she answered the other line. “Hello?”

“Hey, Spence.” Ashley’s voice drove straight into her insides, picked up her reassurance and stability, and threw them out the front door. It brushed its hands off in the gesture of a job well done.

“Ashley,” Spencer breathed back into the phone. “Hey.”

Okay. Very smooth.

“Am I interrupting something?” Ashley was nothing if not astute.

“Oh, sorry, I have my dad on the other line.” Spencer cursed herself; now the other girl would go.

“Oh, oh, I’m sorry, I’ll be quick. Listen, I’ve got a show tomorrow, just a small thing… I was wondering if you’d like to come?”

“I’d love to!” Spencer breathed a sigh of relief inwardly. It was probably exactly what she needed, and she hadn’t been out of the house in two weeks, not since she last visited her parents and broke her mother’s heart by actually leaving Gray for good. “But I have to check with my parents if they’ll watch Elly for me. Hang on a tic… Hey, what time?”

“Eight.”

“Hang on.” Spencer switched the phone over. “Hey, Dad?”

“Yes, sweetie.”

“Can you watch Elly tomorrow night? A friend just asked me out and I’d really like to go.” She crossed her fingers.

“Of course, we’d love to have her, and I think you need some down-time.”

“Thanks Dad! Hang on a sec, I’m just gonna let her know, okay?”

Feeling like she was running between two sets of goal posts, Spencer grinned and switched the phone back to Ashley.

“Hey, it’s no problem, I’ll be there.”

“That’s great! Look, I’ll let you get back to your dad. Meet me here at seven thirtyish?” Ashley was smiling, Spencer could tell. That warmed her heart; at least she was making a friend happy.

“Will do. Looking forward to it!” Spencer hoped she didn’t sound quite so excited as she felt.

She switched the phone back to her father and spent the rest of the conversation talking to him in somewhat of a daze. She couldn’t quite get her mind off Ashley. It had been a growing problem of late. In her defense, they’d both been making a concerted effort to be good friends. Ashley had been succeeding, but Spencer couldn’t help chastise herself for the constant thoughts running through her head. She had to find a new distraction.

Keeping herself busy until the next evening was hard work, but Spencer managed somehow. As usual, her daughter was of great help and Saturdays were always fun. Getting Elly to do some chores was its usual difficult job but together they made a game out of it. Elly was wriggling with excitement by the time four o’clock came around; the prospect of spending the night with her grandparents was always exhilarating to the young girl.

“Do you have everything?” Spencer signed, knowing full well that they did, but wanting her daughter to check.

“Yup.” Elly grinned.

“You have Mr. Ruffles?” Spencer signed again, knowing that the lack of a certain stuffed elephant would bring catastrophe to the neighbourhood at large.

Elly held up Mr. Ruffles.

“Okay, then, time to go.” Spencer held out her hand and picked up Elly’s overnight bag with the other. She opened the car door.

“In we hop, Mr. Ruffles… and Elly,” she added as an afterthought, prompting giggles from her little girl. She strapped them in – well, she strapped Elly in – and off they went. She would have strapped Mr. Ruffles in but he gave her such a stern glare that she didn’t dare touch him. He could be a feisty elephant when he wanted to be.

Pulling up to her parents’ house, she wondered briefly if her mother would pull the same stunt again, and she’d find Gray waiting inside. Thankfully, that was not the case. The only people waiting to receive them were Spencer’s mother and father. She handed over Elly and Mr. Ruffles and hugged her father.

“Have fun, honey!” she heard him call after her as she made her way back down the path.

I hope so, she thought.

The venue was much smaller than the last one she’d been to. It was a lot more intimate. The lack of Liv glaring at her constantly also made Spencer feel a lot more at ease. She was allowed to hang by the stage while Ashley set up, and was grateful that there were chairs at this show.

“Smaller than last time,” she commented randomly to the musician.

“Yeah, but it’s a real show, not just entertainment at some bar.” Ashley grinned. “I’m kind of excited. I don’t get to play too many of these. I’m so glad you’re here or I think I’d be passing out from hyperventilation!”

Spencer grinned back. “Don’t worry, I won’t let that happen. You’re gonna be great, you know that.”

“I hope so.”

“You are… Haven’t you ever considered doing this full time?” She was curious: Ashley was a great performer and Spencer knew she’d be first in line to buy the album. Okay, maybe she had ulterior motives but she knew talent when she heard it.

“Naah.” Ashley plugged her guitar into the amp. “I like this, but my job with the kids, that’s the real stuff. Music can change lives, you know. I want to do that. Not at a distance like this but up close. Besides, I love the kids.”

“That’s so sweet.” Spencer felt her heart melt.

“What about you? What do you want to do?” Ashley asked it like Spencer was a kid just out of high school.

“I always wanted to be a writer,” Spencer admitted, blushing a little. “But then I got married, had Elly. I don’t know if I could get back into it.”

“Maybe you should give it a shot?” Ashley smiled knowingly.

Spencer gave a wry look back at her. “Maybe I should.”

They were distracted from their conversation by the band setting up, and Spencer pulled back to watch. She chose a seat in the front but on the side. From here she could see the musician perfectly and didn’t feel quite so in the middle of it all. As the venue filled, she got a little nervous for her friend, but, when Ashley took the stage, she looked so beautiful and flashed the blonde such a cute grin that she relaxed immediately.

The show was amazing. Throughout it, Spencer constantly felt like she was in the presence of someone truly incredible. And at only one point did she seriously think her heart might stop beating.

“This song is one I wrote just a few days ago. No one’s heard it yet, so I guess you should all feel privileged,” Ashley grinned on stage and a few people laughed. She gently strummed and just from the first few chords, Spencer could feel her body tighten.

How’s my luck
But somehow
I’m with you, let’s leave now,
Let’s leave them,
And their point of view,
My favorite place is me and you.

I wake up,
In darkest night,
Watch you breathe in shadow light,
A perfect world, lies next to me,
I don’t need to sleep to dream.

I just hope, I am good enough to keep you.

Morning sun, warms our skin
Distant sounds
The day begins
Soon the world will come calling for us
But this is Space they cannot touch

I just hope, I am good enough to keep you.

As the last strains of the song drained away, Spencer felt the air slide out of her in a slow stream of ache. Her head was swimming with visions of her and Ashley side-by-side in Ashley’s room, the brunette’s fingers gently tracing a line around Spencer’s lips, their cooling bodies tangled. Spencer’s heart was beating slowly, but so hard she thought she was sounding out across the room.

She was barely aware of the show ending, and of people making their way out. She was only aware when Ashley emerged next to her, grinning and sweaty. Spencer stood up.

“That was unbelievable!” she croaked. Her head was spinning and she wasn’t sure if it was the dense air or the girl in front of her. She realised too late that it wasn’t just her insides; her head was actually spinning. She watched, too late, as the swirls made their way in front of her eyes.

“Spence?” Ashley was asking.

Spencer could hear the concern in her voice but it was coming through like the brunette was speaking underwater.

“Shit,” she whispered, and fainted dead away.

* * * * *

Next up: Chapters 21-25 [A]

6 Comments

  1. WaveGoodbye
    Posted 29 August 2008 at 8.44pm | Permalink

    Sarah, you know I couldn’t love this more if I tried.

    Every one of your fics are legendary, but this one…it’s epic.

    Elly is the cutest kid ever. Makes me think I wouldn’t mind having one someday. Someday FAR, far away.

    I’d say these chapters were my favourite, or the NEXT bunch is my favourite, but every chapter to this was just completely essential to the story and none of them lacked in anything.

    I think everyone loves the smut in this, and I ABSOLUTELY agree, but I really don’t like smut that’s too smutty (it’s tacky) and I think the first few times they made love in this was when I was like “Finally” because finally, it had been written well.

    So yeah, love this, love you for writing it, and much adoration for Dev who posted it :)

  2. Puff
    Posted 29 August 2008 at 9.16pm | Permalink

    Woo hoo thanks I was hoping this would all find it’s way over here. I love this story even though I occasionally want to throttle Gray.

  3. Seriesaddict/Sassy
    Posted 29 August 2008 at 9.58pm | Permalink

    I think this is one of the first stories I’ve ever read and the first one by Clom! I was immediately addicted! I remember I loved Elly to no end! And Ashley was the sweetest!

    I started re-reading it on the other site,then I decided to wait till it was posted here!

    One of the best stories ever!

  4. Payne N. Uranus
    Posted 31 August 2008 at 5.53pm | Permalink

    Gah!

    *grabs story in tight hug*

    *gives it a gentle noogie*

    Damn I love this story. It’s certainly one of my favorites, and every time I read it, it’s like it’s the first time all over again. =) Thanks for posting again, Dev, and thanks for writing it, Clommy!

    Speaking of it being like the first time…I totally forgot why Spence passed out. Which kinda explains why I’m almost hyperventilating. *wide eyes* Ack! Must know, must know!

    *ponders pros and cons of running to other site*

    *sighs*

  5. evilgiraffe
    Posted 7 September 2008 at 4.42pm | Permalink

    Aw I love this fic, no matter how many times I read it. I think it may have been the second one I read after 28 days and it just confirmed to me what a great writer you are. And I’m v excited by the prospect of a finale to LM!

    I totally agree with Wave’s comment about the smut, it really was written well and in no way tacky. Also, all the smut scenes in this are absolutely essential to the plot, there is no gratuitous smut here, each scene moves the story forward and is clearly necessary.

    Your Ashley in this one is so perfect, who wouldn’t fall in love with her?

    On a different note, I have always wondered in this one whether a four-year-old would be able to sign the word divorce. Surely it would have either had to have been taught to her as a whole word to sign, and if so, who taught her that word? Or she would have to spell it out and surely a four-year-old couldn’t spell that word? Anyway, I know nothing about children or sign language so I could be talking complete crap, but every time I read that conversation, I question it.

  6. Posted 16 December 2012 at 6.52am | Permalink

    “Ashley’s voice drove straight into her insides, picked up her reassurance and stability, and threw them out the front door. It brushed its hands off in the gesture of a job well done.”
    You are a master wordsmith, and that section there gets me every time I read this. Thank you.

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