The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Part 6

Previously: Part 5, On the I-44 [X, NSFW]

It snowed so much in Albuquerque this week that the schools were closed for two days and they’re extending the school year into June to compensate. The most surprising thing for me was the school year normally ending in May! We finish last Friday in June and start back mid-August.

Rated: AA.

* * * * *

Albuquerque, New Mexico

I have reached New Mexico. It’s a nice state, very dry. Well, duh, I guess everyone already knew that, but it’s new to me. I really should pay more attention to where I’m going and the things along the way. I complain about the shoddy motels and the even shoddier diners that I eat in, but, really, there’s so much beauty out there in America that I should pay more attention to it.

Sometimes it’s hard. I do most of my driving at night and a lot of that on the freeways, the highways, the interstates. Believe it or not, they aren’t the most amazing places in the world. Sure, I’ve seen some lovely overpasses – I’ve even seen some lovely postcards of overpasses – but I’ve not yet really fallen in love with them.

Once, for Christmas, Glen gave me a book called ‘Boring Postcards’. Although he is mostly an ass, sometimes we can just look at each other and have, you know, that connection, that laugh. I opened it, glanced at him, and we rolled on the floor for ten minutes. The only other person who got it was my father. Seriously, this book was full of real, honest-to-God photos of motels, overpasses and the occasional diner. Of course, the book isn’t as funny any more because I seem to be living my life in it. I am a sequence of boring postcards.

That being said, Albuquerque is a strangely nice city. It’s taken me a while to find the address I was given and I was initially shocked to find myself standing in front of somewhere that is NOT a hovel or flop-house motel or any other kind of run-down, low-life-holding dive.

It’s a quiet neighbourhood – poor, but quiet – the kind where young families live when they’re just getting started out. The address I have is an apartment building, nothing too nice but less shabby than I’d anticipated and nowhere NEAR a strip club. I cannot tell you how happy that makes me.

So, Ashley lived here. Turns out, she house-shared with a lovely forty-year-old lady with two kids. This, I’m having trouble believing, but the way she’s looking at me suspiciously and the way she’s describing Ash leave no doubt in my mind. I’m still tripping over the idea of my girl – forgive me, I still cannot help but think of her thus – living with kids! My name brings no recognition, so I guess they weren’t THAT close. She refuses to tell me anything further. I can’t convince her that I’m not a debt collector or, I guess, a bounty hunter so that’s that.

Now I’m stuck again.

Believe me, this is not going to get me down. I have learned SO many tricks during this trip and I haven’t exhausted any of them yet.

To the department of public records, I go.

* * *

So, this seems far-fetched, but it’s true. There is a whole Department of Public Records and you can actually search for things in it. Things made public. It’s unbelievable how much information is out there and how easy it is to get to it. Or, for that matter, how easy it is to lie your way through when it’s not as easy.

Phone records. Most people have cell phones. There’s always a number SOMEWHERE on the system, attached to an address. Now, this is so wrong of me, but I know every single one of Ashley’s details: birthday, social security number, etc. I can ring up and coax information out of the tightest source usually.

One day, I’m totally going to get arrested. I’ll be in Las Vegas or something and the FBI will descend on me for inter-state stalking with intent to… uh… intent to… well, intent to do whatever it is she’ll let me. I’m not a very good stalker, am I?

The trick is to find something, anything to tell me where she’s gone. So, now I’m sitting in the department of records looking for a small clue. I find a number. It’s just a phone number, a local one. With any luck, it won’t belong to her ex-house mate. If it does, then I’m back to square one.

Here’s how this works. I use the payphone and check the number. It’s no longer connected and that’s a good thing. Next, I choose a very important job. I am her doctor, and not just any doctor, I’m her oncologist. Random.

I ring the phone company.

“Hello, I have this number for a patient, but it says it’s no longer connected…… It was fine last time I used it, surely this is recent…… No? Not recent…..” That’s my first clue she’s been gone a while. “Perhaps I have the wrong number, can I give you some details and check if it’s here….. Oh, she’s gone? Forwarding address? Her current one says this…… No, oh wait, I think I have her next address, is it?…. Oh, no, no no, I don’t have her Phoenix address……. Oh, I understand, you can’t help me. Privacy laws and all that…… No, I understand. Thank you for all your help.”

And suddenly I know she went to Phoenix. Finding more information there might be harder, so now it’s a choice. Do I stay here and look for something more concrete? Do I head back to her old house and try my luck with her housemate again? Do I just head on to Arizona and cross my fingers? Choices, choices.

The determined, anxious part of me wants to keep going, to just head on rather than waste more days here only to end up in Arizona anyway. I may as well waste days there. Only I know that if I can find something concrete here, I’m less likely to have trouble picking up the trail in Phoenix. Yet I still want to rush on, find her as soon as possible. Every city I go to, I’m a little more ahead or, more correctly, a little less behind. Ashley usually stays anywhere from three weeks to several months in a place. I, on the other hand, stay no more than a week. I’m catching up. I’m still a fair while, maybe as much as a few months, behind her, but I’m catching up.

In the end, this is all stupid. I know where she’s going and where she probably is. Don’t scream, don’t yell. There’s a good reason why I’m doing it like this, piecing together her trail.

I know she’s in LA. I can just feel it in my bones. There’s no logical place for her to be other than the only city she ever called home. But LA is huge. If I had started my search for her there, I’d never have found her. My best chance, therefore, was always to find something before that, a clue to give me starting place. Even then, I suspect that my search in LA will take as long as my entire journey to get there.

Los Angeles, the city of her father. Los Angeles, her birthplace. Los Angeles, the place I think she’s gone to find solitude and something, a kernel of something inside that tells her who she is. I know when she began to lose all that. I was there.

* * *

It would have been too much to ask for it all to be happy, right? I mean, we were so in love, so entwined in each other, there had to be a downside.

I won’t pretend that we didn’t continue the way we started. Once we got that first, well, not literal taste of each other, it was all freewheeling from there. Our make-out time morphed into sex time and, you know what, teenagers have sex drives like you wouldn’t believe.

We got more bold, more adventurous. We found new ways of pleasing each other, and amazed each other with the things we could do and feel. I loved BEING with her. Now, don’t get me wrong: the more mind-blowing, soul-searing, body-wracking orgasms she gave me, the more addicted I became. But there were still those days when we were so tired, or sore, or just not in the mood, that we lay together on her bed and just were.

My head on her shoulder. Her head on my shoulder. Talking. Laughing. We were inseparable.

We were very careful not to get caught. So much of our time together was close that we were labelled dykes by the cool kids at school anyway. That was Madison and Samantha, of course. Ashley didn’t care. She knew they had no real idea. I cared, but I shoved it down inside of me. I wasn’t ashamed of Ashley but, at the same time, I knew that if our parents found out, if the community found out, my life would become something akin to a living hell and I wanted to avoid that for as long as possible.

Ashley just didn’t have anyone she cared to tell. Her parents were barely a feature of her life. My parents were far more so, and she did care what they thought. We both knew what they were likely to do, or at least how my mother was likely to react, so there was a tacit agreement to hide for as long as possible.

We thought we were invincible.

We were so wrong.

Who could really say when the downward slide began? I guess, in a way, it began the first day I kissed her, on the steps of the Scout Hall in full daylight.

But the actual start of the slippery slope, on the actual day that we got close enough to know there was a precipice there and that we might tumble over it, something else was far too large and in the way to let us see. It didn’t matter anyway, that day: our sexuality, our hiding was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

That was the warm summer’s day in the beginning of my sixteenth year. Ashley was older than me, already sixteen. My birthday was scant weeks away. School was over for the year and we had resisted all parental efforts to ship us off to some kind of camp for the summer.

Instead, we had long lazy days by the river, in the park, in her room, in her bed, in my room, in my bed. You get the idea. We were spending the summer wrapped in each other and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

That July day, it was screaming hot. The sun melted ice-creams before they hit your mouth and the asphalt seared bare feet, if you were stupid enough to chance it. The local swimming pool was packed and we had no intention of sharing our day with five hundred other screaming children and parents. Shooed out of the house and away from air-conditioning, we ran to the river.

I say river. It was more like a creek: way too small to swim in, but nice to dangle your legs in. You couldn’t catch fish, but sometimes in the right season there were tiny little crabfish. If you caught somewhere in the realm of fifty, you could have a small snack later on the barbeque.

That day, we were alone. Sitting in the shade of the trees, melting anyway and dangling our feet in the cool water, it was too hot to kiss or to lie on each other. Instead, we lay on the warm earth and just talked, our fingers lazily tangling together. We talked about weird things: cloud shapes and the potential existence of aliens. Always, we avoided the known hard topics of family, parents, the future. Living in the now was everything to us.

By four, we knew we had to wander back to at least make ourselves presentable for dinner.

We separated at my gate with a knowing look, a wistful one at that. There were no goodbye kisses but looks that promised ‘perhaps later’. I went inside, baking and ready for a shower.

My parents were both sitting at the kitchen table and that’s when I knew something was wrong. It was way too early for my mother to be home. It was very strange for them both to be sitting there. And then there was the stare they gave me. I dropped my sneakers, which had been dangling precariously on the tips of my fingers.

“What?” I said. I knew, I just knew.

“Honey, you should sit down,” my father said. There was that knowing look exchanged between my parents again. Something was incredibly wrong.

Pulse racing, I moved towards the chair like I was stuck to the floor with taffy. They knew. They must know. Why else would they be cornering me like this? How could they know? How the hell did they know?

“Baby, it’s about Ashley.” My mother’s voice was soft. My ears heard the words and the panic escalated. Oh shit, they really did know. I was so dead, I was so… Then my brain caught up with the tone. Something else wasn’t right.

I knew Ashley was okay – she’d just left me at the gate not three minutes earlier – so I was very, very confused.

I must say, my confusion and terror probably worked to my benefit because I was too stunned to speak and at least I didn’t start babbling some kind of explanation that would have given the game away.

“Ashley’s father died this morning,” my father said. His hand covered mine.

I had known loss, but not really. My grandmother had died when I was ten and I missed her. I never knew Ashley’s father. I’d never met the guy. He’d been mostly out of Ashley’s life for the last six years, although she did occasionally fly out to see him. All I knew was that he was absent, but she adored him. I would hear about him from time to time; it was always a wistful voice that spoke of him.

My parents anticipated how I would feel, how I would react. That I would take Ashley’s pain and make it my own, that I would appropriate her grief. Without knowing the full extent of our relationship, they knew what I would do. I think that’s why they told me before she could.

My feet skidded on the kitchen floor and I left the front door open. I later remember my father being on my heels but, at the time, but I needed to be somewhere else.

She met me on the sidewalk between our houses. I had my arms open before she hit my body and they folded around her, pulling her sobbing form in and holding it tighter than possible. Her hands gripped my shirt, pulling and grasping.

In that moment, my heart broke for her.

We fell to our knees, the sounds merging into a cacophony in my ears: the cracking of the heat, slowly dissipating in the dusk; the crickets beginning their mating cries; and Ashley’s sobs, wracking her slender frame and slamming into me. I held onto her for dear life.

It was only when my father put his hand on my shoulder, kneeling down next to us and drawing both of us into a strong embrace, that my attention was ripped away from her. I could see then her stepfather on the doorstep of his house, Ashley’s mother at the gate watching her only daughter disintegrate. If I’d been able to turn my head 360 degrees, I’m sure my mother would have been at our gate.

It says volumes that Ashley stayed at our house that night. My parents had no issue with her staying firmly and bodily attached to me. Whereas she had a double bed in her room, I still had a single and she normally had a bed made up on the floor. Not that night. That night, she was in my arms and it wasn’t ever raised as an issue.

My father had some words with her parents and then he gently but firmly led us back inside my house.

Everything was a blur. It was like she was allowed to grieve for that evening and then pressure from outside began to force her to exist again. She had to fly back to LA for the funeral. I begged my parents to let me go, to let me stand beside her, and my father agreed. Only her mother vetoed the idea because it was a public funeral and she insisted that she and her daughter should go as a pair.

Ashley hated her mother for that. My father had been willing to pay for me and in one of my mother’s finer moments she’d agreed without hesitation. But, no, Ashley’s mother wanted some publicity stunt of it just being her and Ashley, side-by-side.

Fiercely, I promised her I’d see her off at the airport, be attached to the phone whenever she needed me and pick her up when she came home to me.

But Ashley had begun the process of dealing with the pain in the only way she knew how. The girl I left at the airport was the beginnings of the girl that came back and the end of the girl I’d known. And that was, in itself, the beginning of the trouble for us.

* * *

I make it sound like I’m blaming Ashley for our problems. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not. Sitting here in the Albuquerque public records department, with this on my mind, I can wholeheartedly say that I am to blame for well over half of it. But this story is linear and I can see where the threads that tied so deeply began. I can now see the tendrils creeping together, that the cord that knotted us together would end up choking us. I just didn’t know it at the time.

* * *

The last time I was home with Glen, the time before his wedding, we sat on the couch one Saturday afternoon and had a movie marathon. We also had a punchathon, but that’s just Glen and me. Jesus, he can be an ass, but I love him anyway.

We watched Shrek because I’m a sucker for cartoons and if there’s true love involved, well, my romance bone gets tickled. Does anyone else think it’s odd that so many cartoon movies revolve around romance? We imbue this real sense of the perfect romance into our kids at a young age. It’s almost scary how well we train them to think about what their future relationships are supposed to be like, especially when you consider how wrong most of that teaching will turn out to be. At least Shrek gives the idea that your future husband is likely to be a disgusting ogre who burps, farts in bed, can’t find the vacuum cleaner and has some kind of an ass for a best friend. At least they’re honest.

The line I’m thinking about in Shrek is the one that’s just before my favourite part of the movie. I LOVE the part about parfait. It rocks. The bit I’m thinking of now, though, is the bit where Donkey starts singing ‘On the road again’. It’s stuck in my head, just those four words, over and over. I feel like slamming my forehead into the steering wheel but that will probably just give me a migraine and I’ll still have that song in there.

I didn’t find anymore information in New Mexico, so I’m on my way to Phoenix with little or nothing to go on. I’m so close, and I’m heading in such the right direction that if I don’t find anything more, if the trail goes dead, then I probably WILL just head to LA. I’d still rather get there with something to go on, though.

Great, now I have that parfait line stuck in my head.

“You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait”? Parfaits are delicious!”

I suppose it’s better than the song.

So to Phoenix I’m heading and the closer I get the more I feel like I’m driving towards fire. I guess that’s really ironic, driving towards Phoenix and fire. You know it’s going to rise again. Sigh.

Will I be able to get my life to rise again? Can I get Ashley to forgive me? More to the point, am I ever going to convince myself I’m forgivable? You know, there are things I’m not proud of. Lots of things. I think I did an okay job of the first half of our relationship. Even when things started to get hard, I was there. Ashley didn’t make it easy. I might have been the most important thing in her life but that doesn’t mean she let me in much. At this point, if my father was listening to the conversation in my head, he’d point out that she let me in more than she let anyone else in. I think my dad always understood Ashley on a level that I didn’t. Then again, Ashley was always older and more mature than I was.

He wants me to find her. Hell, he wants me to bring her home with me because, in his mind, she’s almost as much of a daughter as I am. That’s my dad, adopting everyone. I’m very surprised that Clay is the only officially adopted kid in our family. You’d think we’d be overrun by now.

I’m getting off track again.

Anyway, I know that I did okay through some things. Like the death of Ashley’s father, I did my best and it was good. But there had to be a point when it got shaky. And I wish I could say it was mutual. I wish I could say that it was us, fighting against the masses and it got too hard. But it wasn’t. It was me. And I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive myself.

* * *

It took some time for Ashley to be even moderately back to normal. I guess that was to be expected. I had no idea what to do and if it hasn’t been for my father I think I might have gone crazy.

Ashley was at our house more often than not, which was great for our relationship. Only I had no idea when an appropriate time to start touching her was and I didn’t want her to think I was only in it for the sex. It was the furthest thing from the truth, but after you start sleeping with someone, sex can be an automatic response to most things. I’d never thought I’d try to comfort someone by sleeping with them, but as a knee-jerk reaction, I guess you do.

I let Ashley take the lead, slowly and surely. Part of me wanted to jump her, just to reassure her that things were okay and hadn’t completely changed. But for her, they had. That one safety reserve was gone now. She had no back-up, nothing left, just me and my family. And we both had a feeling that, when my family discovered us, there would be hell to pay.

I don’t really remember when we sort of drifted back into the old Spencer and Ashley routine, but it happened. One incident does stand out in my mind, only because it was rather out of the ordinary for us.

We were in my room, a Friday night with the moon streaming in the window. One of my hands was buried in her hair and the other was creeping down her abdomen, sliding across her smooth, silky skin. My mouth was firmly planted on her neck, sucking gently.

She kept moaning. It was driving me crazy and I loved it. Every time she made the little sounds, my centre flooded with wetness and need. Except my parents were two rooms over and my brothers were home and we had to be quiet. Very, very quiet. Any minute, someone was going to try to come barging in and wonder why the room was locked. My brothers and I weren’t supposed to lock our doors.

“Ash, shh,” I whispered.

“Sorry,” she replied huskily. “You’re just… That feels really good.”

I grinned. “Good, just… we need to be quiet!” I returned my mouth to hers, then trailed across to her ear. As my fingers rifled through dewy curls, she let out another moan, this one straight into my ear. I removed my fingers, ignoring her whimper, and put them over her lips. “Shhh!”

It didn’t work. Every time I touched her, when my tongue finally hit her, she made noise. She just couldn’t stay quiet. Eventually, I pulled away completely.

“Don’t stop,” she groaned. We’d gotten pretty far, so I guess she was fairly worked up.

“Put your clothes on,” I said quietly.

“Huh?” She sat up on her elbows, frowning at me. It was an odd request, given that we had been midway through having sex, but still.

“Put your clothes on.”

“You’re kicking me out?” she replied incredulously.

“No, silly,” I grinned. “But if you want me to finish what I started, you’d better get dressed.”

Confused and grumpy, she watched me start to clothe myself and then grudgingly did the same.

“You’re so weird.”

“Yeah but you love it,” I replied cheekily.

“I don’t love that you’re a tease.”

“Hush, I’ll make it up to you.”

Once we’d managed to get our shoes on, I unlocked the door and grabbed her hand. Tiptoeing quietly, I made sure the house was quiet before we creaked down the stairs. We were pretty quiet, sneaking out the front door with a click and scurrying down the road.

After a few blocks, she spoke. “Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

“Okay, but this is ridiculous.” She frowned again. “And I’m really uncomfortable.”

I rounded on her, pulling her into a quick kiss and hug. “Trust me.”

In silence I led her down to the river bank where we spent our summer afternoons. I’d grabbed a picnic blanket from the cupboard next to the door before I left. On the hard earth next to the stream, I laid it out and pulled her down.

“Here?” Ashley asked, knowing my intent.

I leaned in to her ear, whispering in the sexiest voice I could manage, “Here is good. Here, you can scream if you like.”

“Oh.”

“I think I’d like it if you screamed my name.”

I watched her swallow as my face burned with embarrassment. That was by far the dirtiest my talk had ever gotten and thank GOD it was dark so she couldn’t see.

Her lips hit mine urgently, as she pulled me backwards onto the picnic blanket.

Oh boy, was she loud. She took full advantage of the fact that for once we weren’t stuck in our homes, and we were a good distance from any nearby houses. I loved it. It was one of the sexiest things ever.

Every thrust inside her, she made a noise. She urged me on. She told me what she wanted me to do with my tongue, my hands. She made me feel like a complete stud with the way she responded to me.

When she came around to reciprocating, I was so trigger-happy it wasn’t funny. She had me tied in knots and I nearly came when her hand slid in my pants. It definitely wasn’t long and it was so quick she looked stunned. I blushed again, burying my head in the crook of her neck with shame.

“God, that’s sexy, Spence,” she whispered.

“I’m sorry,” I moaned. “I’m so sorry.”

“No, no, I love it.” She grinned into my hair. “Means I can do it again.”

And she did. Wow.

We snuck back in as well. If it had been a movie, we so would have been caught, but no-one ever mentioned it and we got away with it.

It almost spelled normality for us. The return of the dazzling duo. I carefully nurtured her laughter and joy, making sure she still had time to grieve but wasn’t completely depressed. I think I did a good job.

One day it had to change, we both knew that. One day, and it wasn’t carelessness, or sloppiness or anything like that. I guess it was just sheer dumb bad luck.

One Saturday morning, we were in the kitchen. Glen was at basketball and Dad had just taken him. Clay had a science club meeting and Mom was driving him on her way to the Saturday free clinic. Ashley and I were in the kitchen making pancakes. Well, I was making pancakes and she was making suggestive promises about the maple syrup.

Mom had left around about ten minutes before, Dad, five. Mom wouldn’t be back for hours, at least until three, and Dad had to wait around for Glen and then pick up Clay. We had a few hours to ourselves.

I was flipping the final pancake onto the plate, having turned the stove off, when her arms came around me from the back. I leaned to the side and let her kiss my neck, quivering a little. She brought her index finger up, let me lick the maple syrup off it, while she whispered something insanely dirty in my ear. Blushing, I turned to give her a sugary kiss.

I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face when I pulled out of it.

* * *

I’ve done some things I’m not proud of. More than a few. This journey, whatever its destination, whatever its outcome, might make up a few karma points.

I hope so.

Because I’m badly in debt and I think I need the help.

* * * * *

Next up: Part 7, Phoenix, Arizona [AA]

5 Comments

  1. dev0347
    Posted 4 February 2011 at 12.34pm | Permalink

    What the fuck is parfait(s)?

  2. svlo
    Posted 4 February 2011 at 9.24pm | Permalink

    memorable quotes for me, Our make-out time morphed into sex time.
    she made me feel like a complete stud.
    I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face when I pulled out of it. and also the ‘she took my hand’ line when spencer runs away crying and they skip sch. the do you want half my brownie bit, the sentence where spencer drops the mars bar.. or i dunno some-kind of chocolate bar (moro is better). and the bag ashley has when she comes back. those are the emphasized pieces in my brain when i think of this one… i dont really like rereading it cos of Spencers present burnt out parts, even tho spencers past parts are just… huggable. religion ruins everything… not really it just always gives me a sick angry feeling im my stomach maybe one day ill get over my anger… not today tho. *sighs* i wish i could give this Ashley a hug, spence get the cold shoulder hufph. i love this chapter the best =) thanks

  3. svlo
    Posted 4 February 2011 at 9.27pm | Permalink

    parfait |pärˈfā|
    noun
    1 a dessert consisting of layers of ice cream, fruit, etc., served in a tall glass.
    2 a rich cold dessert made with whipped cream, eggs, and often fruit.
    ORIGIN from the French adjective parfait, literally ‘perfect.’

    its not me but my dictionary thats a smart ass ;)

  4. asdf
    Posted 5 February 2011 at 8.22pm | Permalink

    Actually they closed school in Albuquerque for 4 days this week. And it didn’t have to do with the snow, it had to do with it getting so cold that the diesel in the school buses turned to gel and they couldn’t run. And the fact that parts of New Mexico ran out of natural gas also played into the shutting down of the colleges and schools.

  5. dev0347
    Posted 6 February 2011 at 1.19pm | Permalink

    @asdf, it was only 2 days when I beta’d the story and made the comment!

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