The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Part 9

Previously: Part 8, Los Angeles, California [A]

It’s the end of line.

What we call a Mars Bar in the rest of the world is called a Milky Way in the USA. So American Milky Way = UK/Ireland/Canada/Europe/Aus/NZ Mars Bar. Due to international confusion, there are now no confectionery-related brand names in this finalé.

Rated: AA.

* * * * *

Los Angeles and Ohio

I have found a convenience store and I’m buying a Diet Coke and a chocolate bar. Great lunch, huh?

I walk outside, the candy bar dangling precariously between my teeth as I struggle to get the cap off my drink. I’d swear, but then I’d drop the chocolate.

I fumble wildly, knowing that I’ve shaken the damn bottle enough to cause an eruption when I finally get it open.

Just as it pops, someone knocks into me, causing me to stagger a little. I manage to keep the bottle in my hand, although my involuntary gasp has sent my candy plummeting to the concrete. A small amount of liquid spills on my hand, but I’m able to keep most of it in the bottle.

“Damn,” I say, leaning down to get my chocolate.

I come up and find myself staring straight into the eyes of Ashley Davies.

And then I drop my chocolate bar again.

* * *

From where I stand, I am the deer in the headlights and she is the oncoming truck. From the look in those gorgeous brown eyes, she feels it’s the other way around.

How long have we been standing here? How long have the two of us been staring, shocked, hungry, openly at each other?

“Spencer!” Her gasp is almost palpable.

“Ashley.”

Oh my God, I’ve found her. I’ve finally found her. Oh my Lord.

Now what?

It has taken me months of painstaking work and newly acquired detective skills, hard slog and effort to accidentally bump into her on an LA street.

But I’ve found her.

So I should probably say something slightly more useful than her name. Something more impressive, something…

“What are you doing here?” She is stunned, I can hear it. Am I surprised? I thought Jersey might have given her a heads-up but I’m guessing not.

“I was -”

“I -” She turns, as we speak at the same time. She’s leaving, suddenly, now, without me saying anything.

I step over my melting bar of chocolate. It’s funny how I notice it. Everything is acute now, every sound and every glint of light. I can see her moving away in slow motion, body turning and leg lifting.

“Wait!” I manage to push it out of my throat, out of my mouth, reaching out to stop her. “Ashley, wait!”

She stops and turns to look at me. She looks awful. I can’t look much better and she’s been on the run much longer than I have. A year she’s been gone, a whole year. I have been away from home for five months. But she has lived this life, this deep and dark life, underground. I have merely tripped along her trail, taking snippets of her time and weaving them into a map I can follow.

And yet she looks stunningly beautiful. She has lost weight she couldn’t afford to lose and is frail. Her eyes are larger, more luminous than ever. Her hair is still curly, long, gorgeous.

God, I want to kiss her.

“Can we talk?” It’s a stupid question. I know it, she knows it. She even shows it on her face. I watch her look around at the dingy convenience store I just left, the run-down buildings. This smog-filled, rat-infested street in the middle of LA we are standing on is where I want to talk?

“I don’t know.” She is whispering, hard to hear over the distant traffic sounds.

“Please, I’ve been trying to find you.”

“What?” Her head comes up sharply.

“I’ve been looking for you. I…”

“You’ve been looking for me?” She looks stunned again. I have surprised Ashley.

“Yeah,” I’m so eloquent today. Not.

Ashley pulls one hand out of her jeans pocket and rubs her forehead, and I know she’s confused. She does this when she’s bewildered: she touches her head, tries to think of a way out of it. I’ve seen her do it a million times. The gesture is so familiar it fills me with warmth.

It doesn’t matter where we are or what I’ve been doing. It doesn’t matter that if I step four paces to the left I’ll be standing in dog shit and if I step three paces backwards I’ll be in an alley I’m likely to get mugged in. Nothing matters except her and the fact that she’s here. She’s here and I’m here and I finally found her.

I’m bursting from the inside out. My seams are coming undone. It’s taking all my energy and concentration not to drop my Diet Coke and throw my arms around her. If I do that, not only will I not let go, but I’ll probably scare the living hell out of her.

“I can’t… How did you find me?”

Wow, isn’t that a long story? I take a deep breath to start when she cuts me off.

“You know what? It doesn’t matter.” Oh God, her voice is harsh all of a sudden and I know this isn’t good.

“Ashley -”

She puts up a hand, effectively halting all movement and speech.

“You know what? I don’t… I don’t want to see you. Just go away, Spencer.” And then she turns again to walk away.

I trip over myself going after her. I grab her by the elbow but she shakes me off. I keep trying, in a haze, until I end up walking backwards in front of her and she stops, arms folded.

“Fuck the hell off, Carlin.”

Whoa!

“Ashley, wait. Listen to me.” My heart is beating so hard I can feel it in my throat. It’s making the lump that’s forming there pound. I’m so dry, I’m the Sahara, except my eyes. They’re becoming rapidly wet.

I really should have planned how this was going to go, what I was going to say.

“You can’t just descend on me after a year and expect me to talk to you. Jesus! Can you just for a second think about how someone else might feel?”

That remark cuts me to the quick. It’s so true but, because it comes out of Ashley’s mouth, it feels like more than truth.

We are on the corner of an intersection. Trucks and buses are passing us by. My hand is on her arm and her eyes are blazing at me.

“You shouldn’t have come,” she finally says flatly. “There’s nothing here for you.”

Before I know it, she’s across the road, in front of blaring traffic and angry drivers. Two trucks pass by, screaming within inches of my face as I step off the curb, trying to follow her. It’s too late. She’s across the road and running.

By the time the traffic clears enough for me to cross, she’s gone.

I can do nothing but stare. And I do, for at least half an hour. I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of the area, hoping for her to reappear, or for a miracle.

I can’t explain how I feel right now. I’m so empty and full at the same time. I can’t believe I have found her. I have seen her. It’s been my dream now for so long that, now it’s finally happened, I can’t quite believe it. I’ve missed her so much – her face, her voice – and I’m almost desperate to find her again.

Then the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach rises back up because I know that my chances of finding her again, just like that, are now slim. She’s seen me, too. She knows I’m here. If she really doesn’t want to talk to me, she’ll run. She’ll run and she’ll be more careful and it will take me forever to find her again. Even if I figure out where to start.

Or she won’t run. She’ll find me and blow me away. She’ll end this quest with one word.

But haven’t I ended it now? I’ve found her. That’s what I wanted, right?

I wanted to find her.

She left. She ran. She doesn’t want to see me. That’s clear.

No, that’s ridiculous. She doesn’t even know why I’m here. I have to talk to her, to make her understand how I feel. Then she can decide how she feels.

What if she already knows how she feels? What if that’s why she ran?

Shit. I can’t be thinking these things. My brain is in such a hurricane of a muddle that I’m actually dizzy.

The darkness is coming in and, on the streets of this part of LA, that’s a bad time to be around. I trail back to my motel, my seedy, poorly lit motel which I hate.

I lie down on the bed, staring at the ceiling which has a stain on it.

How do you get a stain on the ceiling? No-one touches the ceiling. Seriously, what, someone entertained themselves by throwing ketchup up there? Nah, it’s the wrong colour. Ew, maybe someone had good aim and a really big… That’s disgusting. Stop thinking like that.

It occurs to me that I need to make a plan. I need to think about my next move.

Today was just another step. This has been a journey. No-one ever said that it was going to be easy and no-one ever said that the destination would be pretty. But I’m here now and I have to make the most of it.

Somehow, deep inside, I know she’ll be back. I know it without knowing how I know it, so I need to think about my next move.

I get up off the bed and walk over to my stuff, my duffel bag and a few other bits and pieces I drag everywhere. It’s then that my eyes are dragged to the box. I pick it up. It’s pretty light and it has been with me since day one.

And then a plan forms in my mind.

* * *

So, I’ve been sitting in this park for three days now. Oh, not all day and night – that would be crazy – but for pretty much all of three days. It’s a playground, really, not a park. There are swings and, apart from the few hours after school when they’re in use, that’s where I sit. I swing my feet lazily, making trails in the dust on the ground.

I’m only fifty feet from the convenience store. I know, at least, that this is where Ashley will look to find me around here. But I think she already knows I’m here. I guess you could say, like my grandmother does, I feel it in my bones. Actually, my grandmother feels things in her waters but that’s just disgusting.

So here I am, swinging my feet lazily in the dust as I creak back and forth on a swing set that would pass no safety test on earth.

The afternoon sun is waning, not that you can really see it through the haze. I lean my head wearily on the chain and wonder if I’m just being stupid. Wouldn’t be the first time. Stupid Spencer rules my brain after all.

I shift the cardboard box on my lap, moving one of the sharp points away from my knee. I’m wearing shorts and it has been digging into my flesh, leaving a red indentation. I rub it with my finger, frowning. The other corner will dig into my other knee until it becomes too uncomfortable and I’ll shift it back. This silly dance will end with me having permanent divots on my legs.

I don’t have sixth sense, I just have Ashley sense. That’s why, when my heart quickens and my breath gets shallow, I know she’s there. The subtle prickling of my skin and the slight buzz in my ears help me to be sure.

And sure enough, she’s there, leaning against the rickety jungle gym. She’s wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a brown bomber jacket she never would have been seen dead in three years ago.

She traces a finger along the rusting metal, flaking off some red paint with a nail. She’s not looking at me, but she speaks,

“You’re persistent.”

“I… I am,” I concede.

She leans her head against the metal and I push down the urge to warn her about tetanus. Finally, her eyes meet mine. As usual, the shivers run down my spine and my chest aches a little.

“Why?”

I stand up. Finally I have a plan, so it’s probably a good idea if I actually put it in motion.

“Because I wanted to see you. I wanted to talk to you.”

“Why?”

“You left, Ashley. You just up and left.”

“It’s not like I had anything left there. My mother was dead. Bill and I were never really family of the year material. I had nothing to stay for.”

“You had me.” My voice is quiet, but determined. I’m afraid of her answer.

She doesn’t give one. She doesn’t need to. Our whole past and this moment are speaking for themselves. I have lied and told the truth, all in the same three words. Only she doesn’t know which one it is.

“I came to see you again,” I say, with a stronger voice. “After that day, I left you for a few days and then came back. But you’d gone.”

“It was an easy decision,” she replies bitterly.

“I know. I thought you might need some time,” I grimace, “but then you didn’t come back.” I get up off the swing and advance a few steps, scattering some random pieces of pine bark that had been laid long ago. Most of them are gone, but a few linger on, pretending to shelter the ground. “No one knew where you went, not Bill, not -”

“Because I didn’t want them to,” she interjects sharply.

“I waited,” I continue. “I waited and waited. I went back to college but I rang every day.”
I look down at the box in my hands. I’m closer to her now. I’ve been edging forwards in little steps. It feels like a metaphor for my life. Instead of saying anything more, I hand her the box. For a second she frowns, confused, as my arms are outstretched with my gift. Then she takes it.

“What’s this?”

I take a deep breath. Her fingers rifle through the contents, fluttering piece of paper after piece of paper. I can hear the rustle, see her wrinkled brow.

“Every receipt, every place I’ve been. Every motel I’ve stayed in, every bar I went to, every gas stop I made, trying to find you.” Her face comes up at my words. “I’ve been looking for five months, literally tracking you down, following you. That’s everything. I don’t know why I kept it. I just did. There’s the names of everyone I’ve spoken to, everyone who helped me, all the places you’ve worked, lived in. Everything. It’s everything, Ashley. Your life for the past year and mine for the last five months.”

She inhales sharply and I take another breath too. Now is my final stand, my courageous final words. I pull out the folded piece of paper that’s in my pocket and hand it to her. “This is the motel I’m staying at now. It’s the last piece of paper I will ever add to that box. I’ll be there for another week.”

I could say more. I could throw my feelings at her, describe my desperation, but it would be moot. She knows. It would cheapen us both for me to explain my reasoning.

Her fingers brush mine as they take the piece of paper from me. I blink at her. One last nod makes it from me, before I whisper, “Bye.”

And I am gone.

* * *

Five days is a long time. Five days is practically forever. It’s even worse when you know that you have a two-day deadline and it’s closing fast.

I’ve never really had trouble with deadlines. I’m one of those horrible people who get their work done early so they’re not rushing at the last minute. I’m not used to waiting. I just throw myself in there and get it done.

But this isn’t my choice this time. This is someone else’s and I have to respect that.

Five days is also a long time to spend in a very downtrodden motel. I’ve barely left, just in case Ashley arrives. I sleep lightly in case there’s a knock at the door or the phone rings. I’m still hoping against hope that she’ll come before Sunday does. Because I know if she doesn’t, I will leave.

I have no choice.

In a way, I’ve made a pact with myself and I know I won’t break it. I can only give Ashley what she wants and needs. I can’t give her more than that. If I’m not part of it, then so be it.

When did I get so very laissez-faire about all of this? God, I feel kind of zen. Is this zen? I have no idea. I tried to read the book about motorcycle maintenance but I got lost so I gave up.

There’s a pool at this motel. I took a look at it, shuddered at the green fringe, and decided against it. I don’t have my bikini with me anyway. If I had to, I could drive to the beach, but then I might miss Ashley. Instead I lie here, sometimes with the door open so that I can at least see the sun, sometimes not.

I visit the diner across the street to acquire more Diet Coke and some kind of vegetables or fruit when they can find me some. The first time I asked for a banana and then explained that I didn’t want it deep fried, covered in syrup, mushed with ice-cream or sprinkled with nuts, they gawked at me. It took some explaining but now they’ve gotten used to me. They even found me an apple yesterday.

The sun is beginning to set on another day. I have two more to go before I make myself leave. I roll over on the bed, throwing my magazine to the floor in a huff and leaning on my forearms. I only trust the cleanliness of the blankets and linen because I watched the cleaning lady change them myself. I smiled at her, tipped her, and I think she gave me extra clean sheets because of it.

The door is open. I should close it. Someone may come wandering in and it’s not safe. I don’t care anymore. I’ve stepped over heroin addicts shooting up in alleys just to find my way into some seedy bar where Ashley might have worked. I’ve been offered every drug you could name and more than one job as a prostitute, all in the last five months. I’ve seen everything you could care to name, people with more bullet scars than natural holes, and I don’t care any more.

See, I told you I was getting laissez-faire.

The clouds have come up to block the sun and I mumble into my arms, grumpy about it. Then I remember that there are no clouds: this is LA.

Standing in my doorway is Ashley.

Thank God.

I shoot off the bed so fast I trip in the covers as they tangle over the side and end up flat on my face on the floor. I hear her chuckle and then a warm hand helps me to my feet. At least I know I have the grace to blush. I can feel the heat creeping up my face.

“Klutz,” she says and it sounds affectionate. I blush harder.

“Sorry.” I bite my lip, tilting my head to one side out of sheer habit. I hear her sharp intake of breath. Her hand comes out, brushing fingers along my cheek.

“You really spent all that time looking for me?”

I nod cautiously. I feel her tuck a tendril of lost hair behind my ear.

“What about school?” she asks.

“I took a semester off. I can pick up later.”

“Your mother must have loved that,” she grins.

“My mother can go jump,” I answer wryly, but I’m smiling. “She was more pissed off about…”

“About what?” she encourages gently. She’s all gentle and soft today. It’s very hard not to rush into her arms and feel her against me. I want her to hold me when she’s like this. All the hard anger of five days ago has gone somewhere else and I’m glad.

“About using my inheritance from my grandfather,” I admitted. I’m not proud of it, but I don’t care if she knows what this cost me. I want her to know she’s worth it, every second of my time, every cent of my money and so much more.

“Wow. Spencer, that’s crazy.”

“I wanted to find you.”

She’s getting closer, so close now I can smell her beautiful perfume. It’s all raspberries and cream and rainy days in her bedroom with her mouth on mine. Oh God almighty, I feel myself flooding at that thought. Ashley’s finger comes up to just brush gently against my cheek.

I don’t know where this is going but she’s got me in a hurricane of confusion and, whatever she asks of me now, she can have it. All of it.

“Spencer.”

“I need you in my life, Ashley,” I blurt out. It’s probably the most important thing I can think to say and I say it, of course, at the most inappropriate time so that it bounces off the walls and echoes in my ears for a lot longer.

I can barely breathe now. She’s standing so close and looking at me. I duck my head down and she’s staring down at me, our breath mingling together in the air and almost condensing. She’s heard me, I know she’s heard me, but she’s not saying anything.

And that panic is rising in me again, starting at my toes and filling me up. I can feel it creeping along my skin, tingling as it makes its way towards my head and threatens to burst open out the top. I look up, the panic flaring out of my eyes and then…

Then she’s there, looking down at me with those incredible brown eyes which I adore and it doesn’t quell my panic but it does stop me from flaking out here and now.

I can see her, her mouth descending millimetre by millimetre. She’s getting closer and closer, I can feel her breath on my lips and I want to scream and faint. I can’t move. If I move, I’ll die and I know it.

She’s molecules from touching me, so close we may as well be one already, when I hear my name. It’s whispered on the edge of hearing.

Before she kisses me.

Oh God, she’s kissing me. I’m kissing her. At first, I can’t move and then I can’t stop. I can’t stop kissing her back and just relishing in the feel of her body being slowly but surely pressed up against mine.

How we make it to the bed, I don’t know. I know she’s there, on top of me, pushing me down into the mattress with care and, oh God, she feels so good. I can’t help but lose myself in her, running my hands over her skin as we shed layers of clothing.

I am shedding more than that. As her mouth trails delicately along my neck, I’m losing my fear and my pain. For now, for the moments that we’re in each other’s arms, there is nothing else.

I know she feels what I feel. It’s humming on her skin. It’s whispered in the husky noises and words she mutters in my ear, in the way she moans her pleasure at my touch. We roll, swap places, roll back. The generic, bland covers of the motel fall away. They have no place in this explosion of colour and sensation that is Spencer and Ashley.

Her hands are digging deeper now. She’s coming so close to merging with me and I can’t think of anything I want more. I want her to be inside me, to be a part of me, and she knows it. She can feel it.

She can feel me.

She knows me.

What we were and what we are now, that thin line that joins us: that’s all there is in the universe. It takes her knowledge of our skin and the urgency of our love and joins them into one swelling movement.

As I crest on us, gasping her name, she knows it. She’s there. She’s right there.

I will never lose her again.

* * *

The air of the open is different now. Everything is different now. I am different.

I am standing on my front porch in Ohio, listening to everything and nothing. I wish my heart wasn’t so heavy. I wish my feet weren’t so heavy. I wish I still had something to believe in, to hope for.

I have closed my eyes against the light because it’s too harsh now. I have closed my skin against the sky because that openness doesn’t belong inside me. I have closed myself off and some parts of me will never be open again.

I know where I’m standing isn’t the last step on my journey. The heavy, leaden-footed walking that took me up these stairs three days ago wasn’t either. It was the beginning of another trip, another story. But it’s a story that I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to live. I didn’t want to, but now I have to.

That’s what happens when destiny isn’t in your own hands.

I believe I owe you an explanation.

When I awoke, I knew. I knew straight away that Ashley wasn’t there. Her perfume still lingered in the air. The touch of her skin on mine still ached in the same way. But I knew she wasn’t there.

The events of the night would replay against the pink of my eyelids: our bodies coming together over and over in a litany of need and want. The taste of her, the feel of her, was pressed into me and when I finally got up on my elbows I knew it was over.

I think, when I fell back against the pillows with a soft thud, that I still hoped. I still hoped while I was packing my bags the next day, sun streaming through the open door.

I mean, we’d bumped into each other, against all probability, on a random street. Who could have predicted that? No-one. So, it was fate, right? This was going to be it. It was going to be the movie moment when she’d come bursting through the door to declare her undying love for me, the part where she’d throw herself to her knees as we sobbed, promising me she’d just been scared and that we’d never be apart again.

But it was actually the part where I did up the final zip on my bag and knew, just knew, that I had to come home.

It was over.

Those touches, all of those moments, they weren’t our hello. They were our goodbye.

I had dug underground. I had had found all the places, the secret tunnels of her life. I went in there with my light and my book under my arm and meant to find her, to rescue her.

Her body pressed against mine the night before: that had been her message. She did not need rescuing. She did not need me.

That was our goodbye. Our last goodbye.

With my heart hung low but my head held high, I slowly made my way home.

And so, here I am on the porch in Ohio. Here I am, watching the wind rustle the leaves through silken threads of cloud. Here I am, alone again.

And I should have known it.

What was I thinking? Running all over the United States and thinking she’d just fall at my feet when I found her. I’m surprised she touched me, let alone made love with me. I’m surprised she didn’t slap me and spit in my face. God knows I deserved worse.

I can hear the squeak of the screen door opening behind me. For years, my mother’s voice has echoed in my ears. “Arthur, when are you going to fix that?”

Always the same answer: “Next weekend, honey.”

And yet, never fixed. Once, he confided in me with a grin. “It’s like an old friend now, that squeak. It got so that, when you were kids, I could tell which one of you was coming in the house from the squeak. Oh, and because Glen would always break something, Clay would always squeak on the floor with his shoes and you… you were always like an island of quiet, moving through the house.” I remember the wistfulness in his face.

It must be the same look on my face now as his hand rests on my shoulder. “It’s good to have you home, honey.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

He leans on the railing next to me, looking out over my mother’s roses. I know he’ll say something wise. I know it will mean a lot. I know it won’t help. God, all this knowledge and that important piece still evades me.

“She left me once, you know.”

I have no idea who he’s talking about, but it’s a strange enough beginning for me to look at him with curiousity.

“Your mother, she left me once.”

I gape at him, speechless.

“For two days, I think. You were so small then, just gone 18 months. She wanted to take you but I wouldn’t let her. She just walked out of the house. Said it wasn’t what she wanted.”

“Dad -”

“It took her two days to come back but she said later that it only took her an hour or so to realise what she was wrong about. The rest of the time was fighting the guilt feelings about how I’d react when she came back.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, still stunned. My mother had walked out on us? Holy shit.

“I’ll never forget her words. She said ‘I thought I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t. I thought that I had to go searching, for something amazing, and I had it right here. The things in front of your face never shine brightly, until you shine a torch on them from far away.”

“That’s just a pretty way of saying ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’,” I scoff.

“Maybe.” My dad smiled. “But we all change our minds, every second of every day, Spencer.”

“I won’t,” I sigh. “Some things you just don’t change your mind about, Dad.”

“You did once.”

“Thanks for reminding me.” I can’t keep the bitterness out of my voice. “I made a mistake. A stupid mistake.”

“You don’t think she could do the same?”

“How could I know?” I whisper, almost silent. “How do I know if this is a mistake or her choice?”

“You wait.” He says it so simply. “You just have to wait.”

I look at him, those incredible green eyes in my father’s warm face. All I can do is hug him because I need it now. As his arms wrap around me, I hear his words, a blanket of their own. “I’ll be right here, waiting with you.”

* * *

I think they know. I think they all know that my heart is broken. I know it’s written on my face, but my mother is tiptoeing around me which is unusual enough in itself. She’s trying to do things to cheer me up and I’m trying to appreciate them, despite the ineffectuality of it all.

Glen has come back to visit, dragging Susie with him. Or, Susie was dragging Glen. I’m not sure which. I know that he seemed really ill-at-ease. I think it’s because he has no idea what to say. Thank God for Susie because she’s great company and, since my smiles have been a little thin on the ground, I can’t help appreciate her ability to make me giggle.

They’re here tonight which I love. My dad is cooking us dinner and smiling, his lasagna filling the house with warmth and spice.

I can hear my mother and Glen play-arguing in the living room as I set the table with Susie. I’m shocked that their argument isn’t causing more panic in her.

“Mom. Jesus! I only just got married!”

“I wasn’t asking about now!” my mother placates. “I just wondered if it was on the table. I’m not getting any younger and you know that Spencer and Clay…”

“So, what? So I’m the only married one and suddenly my wife is a brood mare?”

Susie rolls her eyes at that one and mouths to me, “He wishes!”

I can’t help giggling.

Slow motion. Everything important happens in slow motion.

My hand, putting down the knife, carefully on the right side of the plate as my mother taught me when I was so young. Glen throwing his hands in the air as he comes into the dining room with Mom practically chasing him. Susie slapping him in the abs and saying she doesn’t mind getting pregnant soon. The look of panic on his face that makes me grin as his discomfort.

The doorbell, I can barely hear it as it goes off, but my mother hears it.

It must be Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re the only people silly enough to be out during dinner time. They’ve been bothering us a lot lately, enough for me to yell out to my mother, “We don’t need another copy of the Watchtower, Mom!”

She takes them, you know, just to placate the door-knockers. She thinks it’s less rude. I tell her that taking them and throwing them out is ruder. So now she collects them to put in her waiting room at work. I laughed when I found that out. All my mother’s patients will think she’s a religious nut. If only they knew.

I see Glen’s face before I feel my heart speed up. For a minute, I’m confused because he looks stunned. He has his arm around Susie and she looks confused, too. And then, I guess it’s just a whiff on the breeze.

The unmistakeable scent of Ashley.

Here’s where the slow motion really kicks in, with me turning. I think I drop a fork.

She’s in the doorway. Oh God, my angel is in the doorway. She’s biting her lip, looking so uncertain, but she’s there. She’s really there.

“Hey, Ashley,” my father’s voice resonates from the doorway. “Lasagne’s nearly up. You hungry?”

“Hey, Mr C.” Her voice is so soft. So very, very soft. “Thanks.”

“I’ll set you a place.” It’s my mother this time, with smiles in her voice.

What is going on here? Am I in a dream? A coma? A coma dream?

“Hey.” She says this to me.

“Spence, why don’t you and Ash hang on the porch until dinner’s ready?” Glen is being forcefully jovial. I nod because I can’t think of anything else to do.

I follow her out the front door, past her duffel bag. I notice it. And it bolsters me with just a smidgeon of hope.

Outside, the air is crisp but still clean and clear. The crickets are chirping and my head is fuzzy.

Oh God, she’s really here. Three long weeks and she’s here. And I have no idea what to say.

She does, though.

“So, I had some time to think.” She doesn’t look at me while she talks, leaning back against the porch post and staring out into the night. She stares at Mrs Wheeler’s house across the street, so hard I think she’s trying to commit arson with her eyes. “I… I was running away.”

“Ash…”

“No, please, I need to say this.” She takes a deep breath.

I want to hold her while she says all this, but I don’t think I’m allowed. I don’t care if it’s not me she wants. I don’t care. I just want her to be around. I want her in my life. Her presence is giving me so much hope that I might get something of what I want.

“I spent my whole life looking for somewhere to belong. I wanted a home. Nowhere my mother was ever felt like that, you know.”

I nodded.

“And, with you, it was always there. I belonged with you, Spencer. And… and it broke my fucking heart when you ended it.”

I take a step forward. I have to. I need to say sorry. I need to make her know I’m sorry, that I never meant to treat her heart with such careless abandon.

“But it’s okay. Because I realised that I can’t expect someone else to be my home. I had no right to put that on you.”

“I love you.” My words echo off the porch. I blurt them out like bullets, praying they hit their target but really just spraying them all over.

She smiles, looking down at her feet now. “I love you, too.”

I feel like we should be touching as we say this, but I don’t move any closer.

“But I still can’t expect you to be my everything. And then I tried so hard to find somewhere…”

All those places she went to? Jesus, why would she look THERE?

“…and I realised. I realised that this was home all along. With or without you, Spencer, I’ve never been more at home than I was here in this town. But I’m more at home with you.”

“Oh.” I am officially the least articulate person on the planet.

“I spoke to Bill. He was surprisingly happy to hear from me,” she smirks.

“Ashley…”

“I’m sorry I ran away in LA.” Now she looks at me.

“I’m sorry I ran away all those years ago,” I counter. And she smiles.

“Think you might have room for another person in your life again?”

Are you kidding me? I tell her just how unamused I am by that stupid suggestion with the look on my face and she grins impishly.

I hear my father’s voice yelling from inside. Dinner is ready.

I step back smiling, opening the front door with its squeak that I love, ushering her into the warm glow of our house. As she steps over the threshold, my heart tightens. She stops just inside the door, smiling, and I put one hand on her hip. My body is close in behind her, my chin on her shoulder.

And I whisper in her ear, “Welcome home.”

* * * * *

THE END

12 Comments

  1. FishFood
    Posted 26 February 2011 at 10.06pm | Permalink

    I love this story, and the ending was genius! For me it was a little unexpected (in a good way :]), and amazing!

  2. svlo
    Posted 26 February 2011 at 10.50pm | Permalink

    hey its the other two scenes i was waffling on about in chapter 6, the the one where Spencer drops the mars bar.. ugh personally its distracting this talk of milky bars, kinda ruined that bit for me that you swapped it. And Ashley’s duffel bag, that’s still as memorable as the first time. I also wish Ashley didn’t come back. The teen chapters are amazing but i think Spencer fucked it up too much.
    you know i think this might be the first time Ive disagreed with something you have written, i feel a little bit sad about it =(

  3. laxrocker09
    Posted 27 February 2011 at 8.17am | Permalink

    Thank you Clom. :)

  4. oztrooperete
    Posted 27 February 2011 at 12.50pm | Permalink

    Omg this story was fantastic. was reading one of the others and just finished it and found more to this. I was wrapped to see more there, then u had to end it. Oh well all great stories must come to an end. :-(

  5. Dev on the iPhone
    Posted 27 February 2011 at 3.41pm | Permalink

    It wasn’t Clom who changed the Mars bar / Milky Way thing: it was me. You’re right that it feels weird, but she (Clom) clearly meant a Mars Bar as we understand it – caramel and nougat, wrapped in chocolate – and that’s a US Milky Way. I’ll edit out brand name references later, when I get a chance, and just leave it as a bar of chocolate and then no-one can be offended.

    * * * * *

    UPDATE, 28.02.11: There are now no brand name references at all in the chapter.

  6. svlo
    Posted 28 February 2011 at 5.33am | Permalink

    Solidarity of the Australian way! must we be striped of our identity in compromise? Must everyone change to be understood by Americans? I say nay! it is America that should change to understand us!. Mars bars are our culture, of which you are a part! REVOLUTION!

    or I’ve just bin hanging out with the socialists too much… Too many cooks spoil the brew and all that.

  7. dev0347
    Posted 28 February 2011 at 11.35am | Permalink

    I agree entirely that the whole world should call a Mars bar ‘a Mars bar’. But, they don’t. It was not changed so Americans could understand it. It was changed because, factually, saying ‘Mars bar’ is wrong because the nearest equivalent bar in question is called a Milky Way in America. There is an American Mars bar (also known as Almond Snickers for a while), but I refuse to believe that Spencer Carlin, even in her darkest days, would eat one because it is a foul thing which tastes like someone shat marzipan.

    PS Australia has a culture only in the sense that we (your colonial overlords) allow you to have one because it keeps you out of trouble. You eat Mars bars because we, the British, brought them to you. *runs away in case my BFF reads this comment*

    PPS Mars are fucking dead to me anyway because they changed their name in the UK to ‘Believe’ during the 2006 World Cup to show their support for England. Then they sold them in Scotland. Ignorant fuckers.

    PPPS Snickers should revert to being called Marathon forthwith.

  8. svlo
    Posted 28 February 2011 at 11.40pm | Permalink

    The only bar worth anything is Moro or a Kitkat cookies ‘n’ cream, chunky.

    lol Marathon. And im glad Spencer wouldn’t eat a Snickers

  9. yeahbutno
    Posted 1 March 2011 at 10.35pm | Permalink

    * claps *

    I flove this story and of course Ashley was going to come back, she loves Spence, even though she was a shite. We all make mistakes though and Spence learnt from hers. I like it when Glen is written to be a good guy and supportive brother too.

    And I so agree on Marathon v Snicker, I haven’t bought one forever because of that name change. I stick to Topic. Also, I kinda like the Almond Snicker as I love marzipana nd almonds.

  10. laxrocker09
    Posted 2 March 2011 at 3.42am | Permalink

    lol I just love that the comments on this final chapter have become a debate about candy bars.

  11. Jenn
    Posted 15 May 2011 at 4.26pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure how but every fic is as amazing as the one before, amazing writing, amazing stories, and a complete distraction! I love it.

  12. akairos1
    Posted 15 September 2011 at 8.25am | Permalink

    I loved this story. Oh so very much

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