Keep Me A Secret: Chapter 16

Previously: Chapter 15 [A]

Penultimatage!

Rated: U.

* * * * *

Chapter 16

Luckily, the weekend is upon me before I have to do more than glimpse Ashley in the hallways again. She doesn’t turn up to class the afternoon after our little ‘chat’, which was possibly one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever had.

I don’t hear from her all weekend and I don’t make any effort to contact her.

I stay busy with homework, spend time with my father and generally hang in my room like the pathetic teenager that I have become. If I had a penchant for soppy music – and if I could actually hear anything over my brother’s blaring stereo – I might even put something depressing on.

I’m not very good at being emo. I don’t even own any black.

I avoid her and apparently she avoids me too. Monday, she turns up to class late and sits as far from me as possible. At lunch, I sit with Mikey and his friends. I’m liking them all more and more and, somehow, they seem more like my kind of people than Ashley and Aiden’s group. The cheerleaders and I never fit together very well. The drama and math geeks share my sense of humour and something in me wishes that I’d figured this out in seventh grade instead of now.

Mikey doesn’t seem to mind me having sort of adopted him. It’s a random thing to have done but, since the night he saved me, I’ve become closer and closer to him.

I’m a little confused when Ashley doesn’t turn up to our afternoon classes, but I try to put it out of my mind. I’m walking out of school with Mikey – math is our last class of the day – when my phone vibrates. I look down, expecting it to be my brother or my father and instead see Ashley’s name flash across the screen. She’s sent me a text.

I open it cautiously and then frown.

I’ll prove it to you.

Cryptic is the only way I could describe the message. I consider replying before I realise that I wouldn’t know what to say if I tried. Instead, I shove the phone back in my pocket, say a few words of goodbye to Mikey and head to the parking lot. My father is waiting, smiling while leaning up against the car, and opens the door for me like the gentleman he always is.

I’m the only person he’s come to collect today, the only Carlin without an after-school activity, so he treats me to an ice-cream like he used to when I was a kid. We sit up at the counter and I eat my vanilla while he eats his chocolate.

He talks and I listen, which is fine by me. Eventually, the silence must get to even him because he makes me pay instant attention.

“You know, anything you ever need to tell me Spencer, you can.” I look at him, eyes wide and he laughs. “I’m just saying, I’m always here if you want to talk.”

“I know.”

“But you don’t have to.”

“I know.”

“Good,” he concurs. I smile at him. “Finish your ice-cream. We should get home before your mother so she thinks you’ve been doing homework and I’ve been doing housework.”

I laugh, but I do as I’m told.

In fact, just being with him cheers me up enough that I help him make dinner and realise that I can’t mope around forever. Don’t get me wrong: I still feel like I’ve been torn in two, but pretending that I don’t feel that way feels better than drowning myself in it. So I spend the evening pretending. I talk my parents into playing Pictionary with me and I smile like my face will fall off if I stop.

Perhaps part of it is that I just don’t want my parents to start asking me too many questions.

The only time I waver is as I’m getting ready for bed and my phone vibrates again. This message is no less cryptic than the last.

Tomorrow. Lunch.

The fact is, now she has me worried beyond all possible measure. Perhaps she’s finally had a think about things and she’s going to have a proper talk with me at lunch.

Perhaps she’ll slip Aiden the tongue in front of me again. That would be fantastic. Not.

Perhaps she’ll kiss me. I’m not sure that would be a great idea either.

I sigh and put my phone down on the bedside table. Once again, I don’t know what to think.

* * *

To say that I’m nervous as lunch approaches would be to liken the moon to a piece of turf. When I make my way out towards our normal lunch spot, my anxiety levels rise up so high I think I might have a stroke.

When I get close enough to see our table, the anxiety is equally mirrored by sheer and utter confusion.

Someone has set up a sound system on the table. I mean someone has set up speakers with a microphone attached and that someone is Ashley. She’s standing up on the picnic table, microphone in hand, and looking down at the emerging crowd of people.

When she spots me, she smiles and motions me over.

I don’t move, rooted to the spot by a combination of trepidation and confusion. Mikey appears at my shoulder, having just come out to lunch.

“What’s going on?”

“I have no idea,” I breathe out. “But I think it’s about me.”

“You?” He looks down at me and I tear my eyes from Ashley to look at him. “Are you okay?”

I turn back to look at her. “I really don’t know.”

She looks good. She always looks good but her jeans show off her ass nicely today and her top makes her cleavage look amazing without being tacky. I wish I didn’t notice these things automatically.

Ashley leans down and hits a button on the boom box I haven’t even noticed until now. Before I can make another motion, It Had to be You blares out. The voice of Michael Bublé calls across the courtyard and anyone who has not yet noticed Ashley turns to face her. They don’t know that Michael Bublé is an in-joke between us. If I ever had any doubt about who all this was aimed at, I don’t now.

“Spencer,” Ashley’s voice echoes across the microphone and speakers.

My face is now scarlet. I can feel Mikey at my elbow and, when he makes even the slightest motion to move away, I grab his arm. The crowd parts like the proverbial Red Sea and there’s now a direct line of sight between her and me.

“Spencer, I’m sorry.”

Christ Almighty!

She doesn’t stop there, though. “I’m sorry and I have something to say to you.”

Everyone is listening.

“You’re my best friend and I love you.”

My heart beats out of my chest, flopping on the ground like a fish drowning in air, still beating in the dust.

“I want to be with you. I want you to be mine, body and soul. We’re made for each other. We’re amazing together.”

Someone from the crowd yells out, “Videotape it!” and a chorus of laughter ensues.

I blink.

Ashley holds her hand out to me, her eyes shining in the afternoon sun. “Be my girl?”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see him. He’s standing not too far from me. I don’t know how long he’s been there but, when I turn my face to look at him, I know he’s heard most of what Ashley has said.

Aiden’s face is a picture of pain. He is a Picasso of agony. His left eyebrow shows sorrow; his right cheek, anger. At least, in the mixed-up, ground-down Surrealist viewpoint that I currently inhabit, that’s how it seems.

I think he might be crying.

I see him shift his bag slightly on his shoulder then he pushes through the crowd and walks off. In my peripheral vision, I see Ashley watch him go. Then I hear my voice, unbidden by my brain, call out, “Aiden!”

He doesn’t hear me and the crowd has swallowed him. If the world I’ve been inhabiting has been in slow motion, as though caught in the maple syrup vortex, then the one that hits me now is the exact opposite. My brain kicks into gear.

I march up to the table, leaving Mikey standing behind me, and put my hand up.

Ashley smiles down at me, dropping the microphone and taking my hand.

My grip speaks no nonsense, and I see a smidgeon of confusion pass across her face as I gently tug her off the table.

She goes in for the embrace but she’s too late. Taking her by the hand, I pull her away, walking towards the school. There are cat-calls and jeers, people yelling for kisses and more obscene gestures of affection.

I do believe someone yells, “Show us your tits!” but we’re inside the school before I can really register it.

I find an empty classroom and pull her inside, closing the door and pulling down the blind on its little window, so that anyone who follows us for a show can’t get the one I’m about to give.

I turn to face Ashley. She doesn’t know what to think or do. I’m not surprised when she takes a step towards me, ready to kiss, ready to touch.

She’s not surprised when I take a step back, my hands up in obvious protest. I will protect my personal space.

“Spencer…”

“What… the hell… was that?” My jaw is clenched, my teeth gritted. I push the words out from between them.

“Uh, I thought…” A break. A moment of silence.

“No, Ashley, once again, you really didn’t think.”

She looks at me, spirit flashing in her eyes. “You wanted an answer, Spencer. I meant what I said. I want to be with you.”

“That’s well as may be,” I spit back, “but you just lost any and every chance.”

That stuns her; she wasn’t expecting that.

“Sp-“

“When did you break up with Aiden?”

“Huh?”

“I’m assuming you did break up with him?” My voice is laced with venom now. I’m quite expressive when I want to be.

“Yeah, of course I did.” She shoves her hands in her pockets in a typical Ashley move. “I don’t know, a few days ago.” The indifference in her voice gives me more than her actual words.

“A few days ago?”

“Yeah, Saturday, I think.”

“Ashley….”

“What?” She looks up at me. “It’s what you wanted. You asked me who I wanted. I want you, Spencer, not him. It was an easy choice.”

The sad thing is, I know she means it. I know she cares about me and I know she thought this was what I wanted. But what it shows me is what I’m about to tell her.

“Did you see his face?”

“What?”

“When you made that little speech, he was in the courtyard. Did you see his face?”

She looks at me, straight at me. “No.”

“Well, I did, Ashley,” my voice softens. “I saw him. I saw what that did to him.”

“I thought you wanted me to break up with him!” Her voice has risen a few octaves. This is not going in the way that she’d planned.

“I did,” I explain, almost patiently. “But I didn’t want to become the next him.” She looks very confused at that statement. “What you did today wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about Aiden. It was about you. It was about what you wanted. And that’s… that’s the sad truth, Ash. It’s always about you.”

Her head snaps up. “That’s not fair!”

“I think… I think when it comes to relationships, it’s a fair call.” I’m leaning against a desk with my arms folded. I know that these are some strange home truths for her, but I also think she needs to hear them.

She takes a step back.

“Ashley, I can’t be with you. You’ll just cheat on me like you did with him. I’m not your trophy, someone you can parade around school now you feel safe enough to come out of whatever closet you’ve been hiding in.”

“Oh, you’re one to talk about closets!”

Fair cop. She has me on that one. She’s also trying to change the topic and I won’t let her.

“You hurt him today because you didn’t care enough to think about him. You’d dumped him, he was in the past and didn’t matter.”

“That’s not true!”

“Yes, it is.” I stand up straight and hoist my bag onto my shoulder, moving towards the door. “Ashley, the only person you think about 99% of the time is yourself. The other 1% you probably think about me, I’ll give you that.” I look at her sadly. “It’s not enough, Ashley. It’s not enough.”

* * *

The sunlight is bright as I walk out into the courtyard. The crowd has long since dispersed but a few stragglers hang around. Mikey is one of them. He looks up when the door bangs closed behind me. I travel down the steps and meet him where he stands, under a tree.

“You okay?” he asks. He’s been asking me that a lot lately and I have a new determination that he won’t have to ask it so much any more.

“I am.” It’s a lie, but I plan on making it the truth.

“How are you getting home?”

I gaze up into the sun, squinting. “Walking, I guess, or the bus.”

“I’ll give you a ride.” I look up at his smiling face. There’s nothing there but openness and friendship.

“That would be nice,” I reply. “I’ll buy you coffee.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I know,” I say. “But I’m going to anyway.”

* * * * *

Next up: Final chapter [A]

18 Comments

  1. dev0347
    Posted 24 April 2010 at 1.25am | Permalink

    Personally, I prefer Connick Jr to Bublé.

    Glad that Spencer continued to stand up for herself in the face of a pretty grand romantic gesture, though.

  2. peanut
    Posted 24 April 2010 at 3.20am | Permalink

    *copy & past*

    I don’t get it. Not at all. The whole story
    and why it always has to be soooo complicated.
    I said it before and will say it again: I hate complicated, it’s exhausting. I’ve never been exhausted just from reading something before, I give you credit for that!

    Again, all this doesn’t mean I like it any less though.

  3. peanut
    Posted 24 April 2010 at 3.21am | Permalink

    *paste

  4. Mel
    Posted 24 April 2010 at 4.37am | Permalink

    Good job Spencer!

    Ashley is an idiot.

    Now tell me sezzy, does Spencer meet a nice sweet girl in the end?

  5. Posted 24 April 2010 at 5.00am | Permalink

    Ashley is seriously getting a bit annoying. I swear, I just wanna….Gah. But today, I think she did something a little special, for Spencer at least. Poor Aiden.

    Spencer, keep on kickin’ butt.

    Aiden, I can’t believe I’m saying this cuz I’ve mostly hated you throughout any part of this story,
    but I feel a little bit sorry for you.

    A little.

    And Mikey: Back up your fresh-getting train away from Spencer. She’s Ashley’s, I think.

    Great update, Clommy.

  6. cosmic
    Posted 24 April 2010 at 6.33am | Permalink

    I wanted to cheer with joy with the grand gesture. But man that was a bit harsh the way Ashley treated Aiden. I mean I don’t like Aiden but seriously he’s just an innocent by stander that’s caught between the two. Knowing how Spencer is in this fic, self sacrificing, I knew it wouldn’t go down well. She got what she wanted for Ashley to admit to what she feels but not to the extent that somebody would get humiliated and hurt like that.
    It’s getting loopy since this is what, the chapter before the last one? Is it still fixable? I want my happy ending :( Does Spencer still love Ashley? With the way she was being all douchey? Does Ashley really love Spencer or is it because she’s just needy?

  7. Guin
    Posted 24 April 2010 at 8.53am | Permalink

    Before I even got to the end of the update I was thinking how ridiculously tasteless and humiliating it was for Ashley to out not only herself but pretty much Spencer as well in front of the entire school.

    I get what the intent was, but you know what they say about the Road to Hell.

    Besides, it’s like she thought one “grand” (insert sarcasm and eyeroll) gesture would make up for how she’s been using Spencer. And frankly if she’s been using her for “fun” up to now how is Spencer to trust that she’s not just going to end up getting played if they ARE in a relationship?

    As always Clom, great update.

  8. Posted 24 April 2010 at 9.26am | Permalink

    Ashley seriouslly have some thinking to do..

  9. angelv7
    Posted 24 April 2010 at 4.02pm | Permalink

    FIX IT? I -need- my Spashley ever after!

    (btw loving the angst, but please please please fix them?)

    PS Is it wrong that I don’t feel the least bit sorry for Aiden..

    and I might be the only one cheering my little heart out at Ashley’s grand gesture, but I’m an Ashley girl at heart and I guess completely biased..

    Oh and I’m sorry for lurking for so long.

  10. WaveGoodbye
    Posted 25 April 2010 at 4.30pm | Permalink

    I wanted to scroll to the end to see if Spencer fell for Ashley’s shit. I’m so glad she didn’t. I cringed. Maybe it’s also because I hate the song and I don’t like Mandy’s singing, either, haha.

    Ashley has many flaws, doesn’t she? As exhausting as she is, it’s kind of nice that you don’t have a perfect Ashley in this fic. She’s interesting to figure out. I see where she’s coming from but she needs to stop using people and wanting them when it’s convenient for her.

    I like Mikey. If Ashley continues to be blind, I’d say get them two together…if this wasn’t a Spashley fic, anyway!

  11. lee
    Posted 25 April 2010 at 4.41pm | Permalink

    Mikey–Step away from Spencer!

    Poor Aiden.

    Poor Ashley.

    Poor Spencer.

    Clom–please fix! Thanks for the great update.

  12. spikkels8
    Posted 26 April 2010 at 5.32am | Permalink

    Holy Crap Ashley. You just keep diggin that hole don’t ya…
    I would offer to help you dig but you’re doing SUCH a good job yourself…

    Poor Spencer.

    Great job as always Clom. And Dev, thanks for inspiring as always!

  13. Vibes
    Posted 27 April 2010 at 1.40am | Permalink

    ::Looks around room:: Am I always the dumb guy in the situation? I don’t get it, what Ashley did seems nice to me. ::gasp:: I’m Ashley! ::runs to go find girlfriend::

  14. tee452
    Posted 27 April 2010 at 2.36am | Permalink

    I think what Ashley did was pretty typical for a frustrated, inexperienced teenager. The fact that it is dramatic and full of mistakes makes it even more accurate. I know I would change a couple of my more melodramatic moments, if I could.

    Kudos to Clom for not giving the girls too much wisdom beyond their years (a la Dawson’s Creek, ugh). Ash has to learn just like everyone else, if only we all could have had a Spence to learn with.

    Looking forward to the end. Thanks Clom.

  15. lee
    Posted 29 April 2010 at 2.23am | Permalink

    Everyone has their teenage fantasy. Mine was probably pretty typical. I always wanted something like what Ashley did…big public display of affection…demonstration of love…but really, Spence was right–it WAS all about Ashley. Still, I want my Spashley…I just can’t help it.

  16. calgirl
    Posted 29 April 2010 at 3.02am | Permalink

    I knew there was no way Spencer would appreciate Ashley’s gesture. Spencer couldn’t be more clear about the fact that she wanted to *talk* about what was going on. She wanted a real connection. And really no one wants to be outed that way, either.

    I really love that Spencer has this new ability to be strong and has come into her own person. Really, if she had got Ashley when she wanted her it might have been the worst thing for her. Because then she could just remain Ashley’s shadow and Ash would have let her be that. Because she has to be the focus and sees those around her as supporting characters to her own show.

    All that being said, I hope it works out. Because Ashley hasn’t been acting well but she hasn’t been so bad either. She is a teenager. A self-involved teenager is hardly an anomaly. Especially, one who has never had any sort of guidance on how to behave like a fully formed empathetic normal human. Way back in the earlier chapters Spencer even said she didn’t just want to have sex with Ashley she wanted to comfort and love her because of her rough life.

    Spencer, herself, slept with Ashley knowing she was with Aiden. She wanted them to break up even though it would hurt him. She just has enough empathy to not want it thrown in his face. She also wasn’t particularly upfront with Ashley until about a week ago. Spencer is a strong person who made some mistakes but is making up for them and doing the right thing now. But Spencer had more time to think it through than Ashley did. So, although I am totally team Spencer, I have some sympathy for Ashley.

  17. ayebutnaw
    Posted 29 April 2010 at 3.48pm | Permalink

    I want to slap Spencer, she needs to get off her high horse and have a proper heart to heart with Ashley not being all so assumey and judgey.

    who cares about Aiden? I don’t give a crap about him, harsh I know, but Ashley has made the decision to move on. Is it better that she gives him any hope?

    I may also be influenced by that John Cusack moment in a movie that I think is near perfect and *mumbles*Imayhaveknickedfromslightly!

    All of the above ^^^^ is no reflection on the quality of your writing Clommie, just that it so good that it has actually stirred me to such emotion!

  18. whenanxietykicksin
    Posted 12 December 2011 at 2.11pm | Permalink

    Ashley needs to read the Confession 101 for Dummies. It’s on sale last time I heard.

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