Coming Up For Air, Chapter 32

Previously: Chapter 31, Coral [X, NSFW]

The Thlot Pickens.

Fish: Bass.
Rated: A.

Interestingly enough, the man who invented the bass breeding method is actually my father. It’s probably not the latest thing in bass breeding (it was in the early 80’s after all), but I thought he needed a shout out for revolutionising the breeding of bass. [And his use of hCG was some kind of spookily prescient foreshadowing of his daughter’s future career – Dev]

Dedicated to ALL the delurkers. badgirlsnz and skylar come to mind, but anyone else who delurked and I haven’t mentioned you, sorry.

* * * * *

Chapter 32: Bass

There is no such thing as a stupid fish.

Fish are fish: they just are. All of them have enough evolutionary prowess to look after themselves and, while most spawn don’t make it, enough do and that’s what they’re programmed for. There are some very smart fish out there, if you consider what most of us humans think of fish intelligence. We tend to assume that they’re not very bright, hence the myth about goldfish and two-second memory. The fact of the matter is, though, fish are fish, and they’re not stupid.

Fish don’t screw things up. Fish just do their thing.

God damn, but I wish I was a fish.

I wish that I knew how to act, how to behave in any given situation without immediately seeming like a cod-mouthed idiot.

Scratch that. I’ve thought of a stupid fish.

That damn singing bass on the wall.

Now, I’m not one for useless paraphernalia anyway – and definitely not one for things that make a mockery out of aquatic life – but that is one piece of clap trap I really hate: that stupid, stupid fish that sits on some people’s walls and sings.

Fish don’t sing. And they sure as hell don’t sing ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, which is one of the stupidest songs ever written. For God’s sake, bass are some of the most amazing creatures on the planet. They’re not going to hang on someone’s wall and sing ‘Take me to the River’.

And I doubt they call each other Billy.

I once met the man who invented the current world standard for breeding bass in captivity. He was interesting. I could talk to him. I knew how to talk to him and how to respond to him. It wasn’t difficult. I didn’t have to feign interest in what he was saying. His use of human chorionic gonadatrophin was really quite obvious and, yet, he was the one who actually saw it. It revolutionised the stocking of farm dams around Australia.

I wish he was coming out tonight.

I used to think that my problem was just that I was all about the fish. I used to think I was simply incapable of being interested in anything else, but that wasn’t true. In my heart, I actually knew it wasn’t true, but it was always a convenient excuse.

Ashley knows nothing about fish and I’m interested in what she has to say. When she talks about music, I find it fascinating. And she asks me about my day. More than that, when I answer, she’s actually listening and she cares. I care. It’s getting very strange. She’s been in Australia for a few weeks now and the fact is, I appear to have a girlfriend. A proper, bona-fide, genuine relationship that makes me happy.

Most of the time.

Times like right now, however, I’m not so much happy as scared out of my ever-loving brain.

I don’t know how to do this.

I don’t know how to turn up to her work, meet her colleagues – who she refers to as friends – and then go out with them and have a perfectly charming evening. I don’t know how to do this. I can’t even talk to Liz about it because she’s currently off with Lyndall doing whatever it is that an awesome housemate and her asshole of a girlfriend do. Thus far, I have successfully avoided having Ashley and Lyndall meet, despite Liz’s attempts. She’s been both covert and fairly straight up about it, but I’ve played it cool.

Besides, I’ve spent most of my time at Ashley’s. She lives alone and we, uh, make a fair amount of noise. That thought makes me blush as I sprinkle the last of the food into the tropical tank and rock back on my heels.

“You headin’ out, Carlin?”

I nod. Jared is wiping down a bucket and wrinkling his brow at the gunk that just won’t come out of it. I’m leaving early today, so that I can meet Ashley at her studio. I mentioned this to my boss and Jared overheard. Jared, of course, hears everything. He knows I have a girlfriend now because I let a few hints slip accidentally, genuinely accidentally, and he hasn’t let up since.

“Hot date?”

I make a face at him.

“Aww, come on, a few details won’t hurt you.”

I throw a rag at him. “If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll tell Matt you peed in the jelly fish tank.”

He looks horrified. “But I didn’t!”

“And who do you think he’s going to believe, huh?”

Jared grins. “Just have a good time, yeah?”

I remember those words as I stand in front of the door to Ashley’s music studio and my nerves feel like they’re playing some kind of guitar riff. I push the door open and make my way into a nondescript building with a small reception room. There are two plastic chairs, a plastic fern and an empty reception desk; to the left is a door. For a second, I consider standing at it and looking for a bell, or even just trying the door, but then I think better of it. I whip out my cell phone, although in Australia I should probably call it a ‘mobile’, and type out a quick message to Ashley. Within a minute, she’s coming through the mystery door and I feel my heart flip in my chest.

That happens every time I see her.

She grins, coming over to give me a quick kiss which I return.

“You made it.”

Of course I made it. I’d swim the Indian Ocean for her, so it’s not that hard to catch a tram across town. I’m so nervous that I just smile and nod.

“Come on through. We’re just finishing up and then we’ll head for dinner and drinks.” She sounds so excited. She’s been talking about these guys since she arrived. I think they’re mostly session musicians. Alan plays drums, Rachel plays keyboards and Neil is a guitarist. She also mentioned an Oliver, who I think is maybe the producer. I try to pay attention and remember everything she tells me, but sometimes it just doesn’t quite sink in. I’m more a visual person.

I trail through the door after her and down a corridor. Another door reveals a small double room, one side sealed off by a glass window and door. This side is obviously the mastering suite. I’m proud: a few months ago, I wouldn’t have known what that was, but Ashley is teaching me a lot.

On the other side of the window, I can see a man with no hair but a goatee, wearing the loudest shirt I’ve ever seen, and sitting behind a pair of drums. He’s chatting amiably to a blonde who, frankly, is hot. I mean, she’s not Ashley-level hot, but she’s a good-looking chick. Whatever she’s saying must be amusing because the bald guy is laughing. On this side is a guy who I think is probably my age, glasses, short blond hair, kinda nerdy looking.

“Hey, everyone, this is Spencer.” She puts her arm around my waist and I blush. “Spencer, this is everyone.”

“Hey, Spencer,” says the guy in the same room as me. I smile at him, as I see the drums guy raise a stick at me.

It’s not really the two guys I notice, it’s the blonde. She stares at me and slowly, under the gaze, I feel myself wilting. She has green eyes, so piercing I notice them from the other side of the glass. She hasn’t acknowledged me as such, she hasn’t given any sense of a ‘hello’ but, by the same token, she sure as hell isn’t ignoring me.

It’s so uncomfortable, I almost cough. Then Ashley wanders through the door between the rooms, and the blonde – she must be Rachel – completely changes focus and expression.

How dare she look at my girlfriend like that? That’s my girlfriend in there. I see her look and the green-eyed monster inside me is roaring. This is a new feeling because I’ve never actually been jealous before. I feel vaguely nauseous and try to push the feeling down, even as Rachel grins at Ashley.

“Hey, Superstar, we headin’ out?”

“Sure are.”

The contrast between their accents is really quite something, but I’m focusing more on the fact that Ashley hasn’t noticed the flirting. I push the monster deeper back inside. It helps that, when we’re leaving, Ashley grabs my hand and doesn’t let go, twining our fingers together and squeezing. I give her a smile, aware that I’m still blushing.

It doesn’t take me long at all to decide that I really don’t like Rachel. I feel like the proverbial fish-out-of-water at dinner anyway, but Rachel is pissing me off more than I can say. I’m sitting on one side of a six-person table with Ashley next to me. Rachel is at one end, directly across from Oliver, who’s next to me. Alan sits opposite Ashley, playing drums on the table with his cutlery.

Rachel doesn’t say anything to me to make me pissed off. It’s just that she seems to be pretending I don’t exist altogether. She captures Ashley’s attention and carries Oliver and Alan along with them. Even if I knew what to say, I wouldn’t know how to get into the conversation, but they’re talking about things I don’t remotely understand. It’s not that they’re talking about things with which I’m unfamiliar – I’m fairly used to that – but that I actually don’t have the faintest clue what they’re talking about.

“So, this weekend, totally making banana terracotta pie,” Rachel says to Ashley and I listen to my girlfriend laugh in response. I have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, but they keep talking and I sink further into my chair.

Suddenly I find my fingernails very interesting. I stare at them in my lap for long moments, wondering if I should perhaps stop biting them, stop biting the skin off the edges of them. They look ragged and ugly. A quick glance at Rachel’s hands as they tap on the table shows perfectly manicured half-moons.

Ashley laughs again, that beautiful sound, but it’s not for me. It’s for her.

If I knew what glowering was, I’d probably be glowering right now.

Through the haze, I realise that the conversation has stopped, and Ashley is now looking at me.

“Huh?” I whisper.

“You want another drink?” She looks confused, possibly concerned, so I shake my head and try a quick smile. I’m not sure how it looks to her, but from my side it feels so plastic as to be brittle.

“You okay?” she mouths to me. I nod. I’m not okay. I’m uncomfortable and bad with people and, no matter how much I try to force the jealous feelings inside me from spilling forth, I have come to the conclusion that I hate Rachel.

Rachel is after Ashley. Rachel actually seems to make Ashley laugh. They get along well. They have inside jokes. Like, how the hell can you make a pie out of terracotta? That makes no sense. Ergo, they have inside jokes.

How can I compete with that?

I don’t know. I don’t even try. I just feel like curling up into a tiny ball and pretending I’m not there. Every time someone says something to me and I reply, the words sound stupid in my head. They sound like a vinyl bass turning its little mouth sideways and singing ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. They sound that dumb.

So I keep my answers short and to-the-point. The others probably already think I’m an idiot. God knows, the looks that are coming from Rachel certainly suggest that she’s of that opinion. Food comes and goes. I don’t taste it. We drink some more. Well, they drink some more, as I sip on water.

Eventually they decide that they’re going to move on. I’m not moving on. I’m going home. I don’t belong here. Ashley doesn’t belong with me, and I certainly don’t belong with these cool, urbane people who have inside jokes about banana pies.

When we get outside, Oliver stretches. “So, Urban or Cherry Bar?”

“Oh, Cherry, for sure,” Rachel replies. “The music is vaguely tolerable.

They sound like they’re talking about chocolate. I have no idea what the hell is going on. And that just makes me more miserable.

“I love that place,” Ashley says.

Rachel snickers. “You mean you loved losing to me at pool.”

They’ve been there before. They’ve had a night out. I knew Ashley had gone out with friends, but I didn’t think it was just Rachel. The jealousy inside me swirls in with a new pain and it coils, threatening to spill out.

I feel my hand being squeezed. “How about it, babe? Cherry Bar?”

I stare up into those amazing eyes, chocolate and warm, and then pull my hand away. “You go,” I say, my voice wooden. “I’m going to head home.”

“What?”

Rachel is giving Oliver a pointed look. It’s about me. I shove my hands in my pockets and take a step back. Suddenly, Ashley and I are alone, sort of, pulled off to the side where she’s dragged me, and she begins talking in a low, urgent tone.

“What the hell is going on, Spencer?”

“Um, just don’t feel like clubbing,” I shrug. “You should go on. You’ll have more fun with them anyway.”

“What’s wrong with you tonight?” She’s angry. I look up and I can tell. The words, the tone, the look on her face and in her eyes: she’s angry with me. I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say. “You’ve been sitting there silent all night,” she continues. “It’s like you don’t even want to meet my friends. What’s up with that?”

Oh. Oh man. I can’t answer. Everything is caught up in my throat and I almost can’t breathe. But she’s waiting on an answer. She’s giving me space and time. I can’t not fill that.

“You… I mean you and Rachel… you guys…” What the hell am I saying anyway?

She raises an eyebrow. “Rachel?”

“She likes you,” I blurt out.

“Rachel?” The end of her sentence goes up, Australian style, a querulous rise that makes me shrink further into my body. “Are you serious?”

I mumble now. “Yes.”

“Spencer, that’s ridiculous.”

“No, it’s not.” I feel stubborn all of a sudden. Rachel does like Ashley, dammit. It’s bleedingly obvious. “She has a thing for you.”

“Well, she doesn’t,” comes the counter. “But, even if she did, what the hell? You’re my girlfriend. Don’t you trust me?”

Anger. She’s angry. God, she’s so angry. I know what happens now. I know what comes with the anger. I know what happens and what I need to do. I blink at her, bracing for it.

“I wanted a nice night, Spencer. I wanted you to meet my friends. I’ve been looking forward to it. I’ve been telling them all about you. Instead, you clam up like a… well, a fucking clam, and you haven’t said two words all night. When you do talk, it’s like someone’s pulled it out of you with chains.”

Oh God, she’s right.

“You’re not normally rude, Spencer, but, by God, you have been tonight.”

I cringe. I don’t know what to say. I glance up at her. “I…” I swallow. “I’m going home.” It comes out in a whisper, trembling and hot, flushing like my cheeks. “You should go out… with your friends.”

She stares at me, just staring. She’s still angry, almost shaking.

“Go,” I whisper, taking a step back. “Just go.”

I don’t know that you can call it running away when all you do is turn around, stumbling, and careen off down the street like someone who’s had just a little bit too much alcohol. While I didn’t even drink, I feel as if I were drunk.

I don’t know how I get home through the haze of my own blinding emotion. I think I take the tram. No, I know I do.

Once home, I can’t see anything, can’t think anything, can’t conceive anything except one thought which ricochets around like a ping-pong ball in a bath with a cat: Dear Lord, I am such a fucking idiot.

I am so stupid that I’ve just ruined the best thing I ever had and I don’t know how or why.

I am that stupid.

I am the big-eyed bass on the wall, but I’m not happy. And worried doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.

Oh God, I’ve fucked this up so badly.

* * * * *

Next up: Chapter 33, Frog fish [U]

19 Comments

  1. Scarsoflove73
    Posted 27 September 2011 at 8.11pm | Permalink

    That was awesome!! I can see where Spencer is coming from but Ashley had every rite to be mad. In saying that tho I’m with Spencer I don’t like Rachel either there’s just something about her….I hope the girls sort things out great fic!!

  2. Peaches123
    Posted 27 September 2011 at 9.27pm | Permalink

    Wow, this Spencer sounds so much like me sometimes…(Forget I said that, lol) I totally know how she must feel and Ash going angry is normal of course. I just hope she realises how things must look from Spencer’s POV and that Spencer get over her insecurities concerning Ash. Really intense the last coupla paragraphs where Ash is confronting Spence, you nailed it!…I feel like I wanna knock Rachels teeth out!! Would love Spence 2 grow some more confidence in her relationship with Ash and rub it in her goddamn face!…lol…great chapter!! Where’s the next 1? Or not…I gotta finish this draft and get 2 my studying first!

  3. peanut
    Posted 27 September 2011 at 10.06pm | Permalink

    Oh I know how that feels, Spence …

  4. Kinors
    Posted 28 September 2011 at 3.32am | Permalink

    D’aww…Spencey…Such a shy little cuttlefish. (Don’t know if they’re shy, but I wanted to call her a cuttlefish…so I did.) Broody Spencer is always kind of adorable and sad at the same time. That Rachel chick needs to chill a wee bit and so does Spence. Thanks for being another procrastination outlet. Always a plleeaaasure.

  5. tuesboomer
    Posted 28 September 2011 at 5.43am | Permalink

    You had me laughing at “the thlot pickens”. I was really enjoying that phrase as a stand alone…right up until the moment you introduced Rachel to the story.
    That’s when when two words and an exclamation mark popped up in my brain and sobered me up: Uh oh!

    I think it was right when she was described as hot.

    Pickening thlot equals Rachel….got it.

    Nice shout out to your dad.

  6. Mel
    Posted 28 September 2011 at 6.31am | Permalink

    *thumbs up*

    *shoves Rachel in a closet*

  7. Toni
    Posted 28 September 2011 at 11.40am | Permalink

    Wow, I know how Spencer feels! Just because people call you paranoid doesn’t mean some girl isn’t after/hitting on your girfriend.

  8. Dani
    Posted 28 September 2011 at 3.24pm | Permalink

    i understand Spencer…already been is this situation, and I did the same thing as Spencer…but…didn`t fell stupid later, just angry and sad with my girlfriend…

  9. Carrie
    Posted 30 September 2011 at 8.18am | Permalink

    If ‘Billy’ the singing fish was on her wall, Spencer could have something to remind her to “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” Instead, she is alone at home while her roommate is off with the asshole and her girlfriend is playing pool with the hottie “friend.”

    I guess swimming across the Indian ocean isn’t such a challenge, considering she wouldn’t even struggle through a night of jealousy and discomfort to appease her upset, beautiful and amazing girlfriend.

    What the hell is wrong with Spencer? When did she become so closed off from the world, insecure of herself, and so self deprecating? Why does she feel like running instead of dealing with things as they come? It would be entirely too grown-up-wise-fish to actually have a reasonable conversation about her concerns over Rachel. instead she has to go all crazy-jealous-morose-fish and react somewhere close to that of high school girl.

    Seriously. We need to figure out Spencer’s back story.

    Maybe she fell in love with a girl in high school that had a part time job at the local pet store, specializing in fish tank cleanup. Her mom intuitively put two and two together after Spencer came home several nights in a row smelling like algae. Paula then warned her to never see the girl again or else she would just have to take matters into her own hands. Spencer, of course, acted in defiance. Which resulted in fatefully finding her girlfriend drowned in a pool of baby minnows. In an act of not letting her gf die in vain, she decided to move to Australia and study marine biology. he’d move back to the states in a heartbeat if she wasn’t concerned about the police considering her the prime suspect in the death of her girlfriend. Damn her mom. Her relationship with her mother is still strained to this day.This is why she is a runner. She had to run from America and now she has to run from every girl she is attracted to. But Spencer has never allowed herself to get close to any other woman. She still feels responsibility for her first love’s death and any relationship would feel like betrayal and bestow an abundance of guilt on her. Now, having met Ashley, and not being able to ward her off with her artfully skilled fish geek-ness, she has to resort to sabotage. But you know… she has no idea she is doing ANY of it. Because she is just that effed up about it all.

    No really… this was a great update. I can’t wait to find out if this little spat ends up to be a big spat. If Spencer continues to be a whiny jealous mess or if she does something to redeem herself with Ashley. Things have been too easy for these two. I’m all for bringing on the drama!

  10. Clom
    Posted 30 September 2011 at 8.55am | Permalink

    Best. Comment. Ever.

    Not quite Spencer’s real back story but I promise we’re moving towards it. At a sea snail’s pace :)

  11. peanut
    Posted 30 September 2011 at 11.13am | Permalink

    Why does there always have to be something “wrong” with someone, just because they don’t act “normal”?

    Maybe it’s just me and the fact, that for the first time in this story, I can actually relate to Spencer, but I don’t think jealousy is the worst part in this. She’s just socially awkward and it is hard to find common ground with strangers, when you simply feel intimidated and don’t like being around many people. Rachel’s presents might have increased that feeling, because she seems to be a minor threat, but I don’t think she’s the whole reason. Blaming it on her was just the first thing that came to mind, because she stuck out in some way.

    And I think maybe it wasn’t ok for Spence to run, but it wasn’t ok for Ash to push her either. She knows how Spencer has a problem with such situations and if she doesn’t, she could have at least sensed it and do something about it.

  12. spikkels
    Posted 3 October 2011 at 10.39pm | Permalink

    Oh Spencer… *shakes head* why, why, why…
    Amazing update though as always.

    And for some reason I sat here thinking of Ash as a feisty bounty hunter and Spencer as her bounty…thingy… Haha go figure. *shrugs*

    Thanks for the awesome updateab

  13. Guin
    Posted 6 October 2011 at 1.42am | Permalink

    Based on some of the comments, it seems like some people either never read any of this fic before now, or they’ve forgotten Spencer is insecure and socially awkward. Also that she is someone prone to running if she can’t deal. Spashley never would have happened if Ashley hadn’t approached Spencer.
    Aside from Liz and her fish Spencer’s life was paralyzingly insular. If Ashley didn’t get that from Spencer’s behavior around her, maybe she should have noticed that Spencer’s ONLY friend is Liz. Ashley’s pissy questions could have waited until later at a more appropriate time in a more appropriate place.

    Ashley is the one at fault for being so demanding. Spencer’s actions had nothing to do with not trusting Ashley but being justifiably upset that someone would blatantly hit on her girlfriend in front of her and Ashley is so oblivious to it or is just simply ok with it instead of realizing how uncomfortable that would make Spencer. But it’s pretty obvious Ashley is not that attuned to Spencer’s emotions and rather than exploring that, gets pissed because it embarrassed her in front of her “friends”.

  14. Carrie
    Posted 12 October 2011 at 4.21am | Permalink

    Oh boo! I was just having fun with it ;)

  15. Guin
    Posted 12 October 2011 at 8.41am | Permalink

    *Retracts claws* It wasn’t the backstory Carrie, that was hilarious. It was the “whiny, jealous mess ” and the idea that Spencer should “redeem” herself to Ashley. I am, sadly, conditioned by ff.net and the Spashley forum.

    Looking back at my own comment Clom I realize I did not mention how utterly grateful I am for this amazing update. I continue to read and reread your awesome fics, except for 28 Days, I’ll admit it, but I do that when I find myself in need of a truly great Spashley fix. I’m an addict and you and Dev both continue to feed it. Cheers to you!

  16. Puff
    Posted 19 October 2011 at 11.54pm | Permalink

    Wondering what Spencer thinks will happen when someone gets angry. Sorry Sez I was lost a little but now I am back and continuing to love this story. Looking forward to the revelation of more of Spencer’s back story. I have to say I am a little angry at Ashley. Can’t she tell Spencer was uncomfortable? Way to make your girlfriend feel at ease by ignoring and excluding her most of the night. Oh and can we throw Rachel to the sharks?

  17. Stacey
    Posted 24 October 2011 at 6.53am | Permalink

    More please????

  18. Zan
    Posted 25 October 2011 at 10.51pm | Permalink

    I really like this spencer… I can relate to her .. The amount of times I have run from situations … When you meet the right one the pressure is that much more intensified .. I dont think spence is in the wrong… If ash knows her like i suspect she thinks she does then he knows this is a big step . Really loving it guys .. Been reading for years and this is the first time I have commented.

  19. Dovega
    Posted 29 November 2011 at 8.12am | Permalink

    Just coming out of lurkdom to say how much I love this story and how sad I am that I got to the last chapter you have written.

    I love your Spencer (and your Ashley too but your Spencer is just adorable). Also, I’m letting you know that your older Spencer looks like this now to me:

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