First Time, Part 4

Previously: Part 3, Under My Skin [A]

Another update. I am on fire.

Rated: U.

* * * * *

Part 4, Secret Truths

They didn’t get back together again at the night of the pre-engagement-party party. There was always something – or, more often, someone – in their way. It was frustrating for Spencer, especially as Cutter always seemed to be the one who was interfering. He wouldn’t take the hint that she wasn’t interested in him in that way; she didn’t even understand why he was interested, given that she lived pretty much hand-to-mouth on school loans, money from her parents and the pay from her part-time bartending job. When she told him that she was gay, he laughed in a way that implied he thought she was just giving him the brush-off. She made a mental note to get Kyla to back her up at some point.

She had been pretty sure that Ashley had been on the verge of admitting something pretty major. The thing was that she knew – she had always known – how jealous Ashley had been of Paige, so she wasn’t really sure what the big deal was. For all that her best friend thought that she could hide things from Spencer, she kept forgetting that Spencer was, in fact, her best friend and could see right through her.

She was surprised when Ashley left the party without saying anything to her. She didn’t even see her leave. She wandered around the room for a while, making small-talk with some of Shea’s friends, waiting in case Ashley had just stepped out, but she never returned. She even went upstairs and knocked on Ashley’s bedroom door, but there was no answer. A quick check inside proved that Ashley was not in bed, although her cellphone and car keys were on the bedside locker, so she hadn’t left the house. Just as she was starting to get really worried that Ashley had done something stupid, she bumped into Kyla in the hallway. Ashley had passed out dead drunk on Kyla’s bed.

The following morning, there was still no sign of Ashley, which Spencer put down to her sleeping off the inevitable hangover. She waited until after one, by which time the overnight guests were starting to get ready for the engagement party proper, and headed to the kitchen. She enlisted Maria’s help in preparing coffee, orange juice and an enormous pile of wholewheat toast, all of which she put on a tray and took up to Kyla’s room. She was nervous when she knocked on the door and mildly disappointed when Kyla was the one to answer it.

“Uh, hi.”

Kyla looked down at the tray and then up at Spencer. She didn’t say anything. She just raised her eyebrows with a grin and opened the door wide enough for Spencer to see Ashley lying in bed, her arm over her face and the slow rise and fall of her chest betraying the fact that she was still asleep. As Spencer stepped into the room, Kyla stepped out, giving her a thumbs-up sign as she closed the door again.

Spencer looked around for somewhere to put the tray and settled for the dressing table in front of the window. Sitting on the edge of the bed carefully, she reached a hand out and brushed the matted hair from Ashley’s forehead. Ashley awoke with a start and jerked up, the hand that had been over her eyes reaching out to grab Spencer’s wrist. She almost immediately let it go again, a sheepish look on her face as she flopped back onto the pillows.

“Morning,” she croaked.

“Afternoon,” Spencer chuckled.

“Really?” She lifted up her hand to check her wristwatch. “Shit.”

“Feeling rough?” Spencer stood up and retrieved the tray. She placed it on the bed where she had been perched and smiled fondly as Ashley propped herself up just enough to help herself to the steaming mug of coffee and take a cautious sip.

“You made me a latte?”

“Maria made it. I just carried it.” She sat down in an armchair next to the bed and tucked one leg underneath herself. “I did, however, pour the orange juice. No pulp.”

“My favourite.”

“I know.”

They were silent as Ashley pushed herself into a sitting position and took a bite from a slice of buttered toast.

“Want some?” Ashley asked.

“I ate already. Some of us have been up for hours.” She stared out of the window, avoiding looking at her best friend. “Last night, you just left.” She tried not to make it sound too much like an accusation, but it was exactly that.

“Yeah, look, I’m sorry about that. I just drank too much and I didn’t really mean to leave. I just wanted to talk to Kyla for a bit. But I, uh..”

“Passed out?”

“Yeah, apparently so.”

There was a long pause.

“Were you avoiding me?” Spencer asked bluntly.

“Probably.” Ashley sighed and finished the piece of toast in her hand, before picking up another another and chewing on it contemplatively. “Not because you’re you. Because, you know…”

“You don’t like discussing your feelings?”

“Yeah, that.”

“But you suggested it.”

“I know I did. That doesn’t make it any better.” She curled her lip. “In fact, it probably makes it worse. I’ve got no-one to blame but myself. But, it was nothing to do with you.”

“It’s not me, it’s you?” she joked.

“Something like that.”

“Are you going to tell me what you were planning on saying?”

“Um…” Ashley looked remorseful and feigned intense interest in her toast.

“I’m not going to push you. If you don’t want to talk, then we won’t. Today is meant to be about Kyla and Shea, not some drama between you and me, but you don’t have to avoid me or feel awkward around me, Ash.”

“I know, I know.” Ashley gave her a tentative smile. “I’m a complete fuck-up and you’re a better friend than I have ever deserved.”

She shrugged. “Well, I think that, deep down, you’re a much better person than you allow yourself to be.”

“I don’t know that that’s true.”

“I think you judge yourself too harshly sometimes.” She made a frustrated gesture with her hands, because she didn’t really know how to say what she was thinking without making Ashley feel worse than she already did. And that really wasn’t her intention. “You’re you and that’s not always perfect, but it’s always been good enough for me.”

“Maybe. I dunno. I don’t think I’m all that great.”

“I know you don’t.” She grinned. “Maybe you’re right, then. Maybe you are a complete idiot.”

“Thanks.” The tone was petulant, but her grin was returned.

“You’re welcome.”

“How about we make a deal? How about the next time we’re together in person, just the two of us, and it feels right, we pick this up where we left off last night? No drinking, no wriggling out of it, no running away. I promise.” As if she had caught herself being too sincere for her own liking, she rolled her eyes and added, “It’ll just be you and me and our never-ending drama.”

“I’ll be coming home when my lease ends in June, you know.” She hadn’t mentioned it before, as she hadn’t wanted to give Ashley the impression that she was coming back because of her or that they could just go back to how things used to be. Although she had only a few early indications and a fair amount of wishful thinking on which to base her opinion, she had a real sense that things had changed, that Ashley no longer took her for granted.

“For the summer?” There was an undercurrent of hope in Ashley’s voice.

Spencer shook her head. “No, for good. I don’t have a job after graduation and I don’t want to still be bartending and living in my college apartment at thirty-something, waiting for my big break. I just think there’s more chance of getting a job in LA than New York. Plus, my current place runs me $1,300 a month, and El Casa del Mom and Dad still offers rent-free accommodations.”

“You’re moving back in with Paula and Arthur? At your age?” Ashley made it sound like she was proposing ritual suicide.

“Just till I get on my feet again.”

“You know you totally don’t have to do that. You can stay with me.”

Spencer stared at her. “You think that’d be a good idea? Seriously?” They were definitely on their way towards resolving things between them, but they were nowhere near being able to live in the same apartment, even one as big as Ashley’s probably was.

Spencer could just imagine the frosty reception that her potential partners might face from Ashley. Equally, she had no great desire to be faced with the reality of what she imagined was a fairly healthy, if not exuberant, sex life on Ashley’s part. Much as she would love to be around Ashley a lot more, living together sounded ill-advised, at best.

Ashley waggled her hand in a gesture of maybe-yes-maybe-no. “Eh. Think about it.”

“How about I see how it works out with Mom and Dad first? Anyway, Glen said it was okay when he moved back in, and that wasn’t so long ago.” Her brother had lived with their parents for almost a year after a former girlfriend had kicked him out.

“Oh, hey, Kyla told me he was back with Chelsea. How’s that working out?”

“Early days, but I think they’re going to make it this time.” Chelsea was Glen’s first and only great love. The girls in between had been poor substitutes, something Spencer knew all about. She was pretty sure her brother would do anything to make his second chance count.

Ashley cupped her hands around her coffee and asked quietly, “So, we’re agreed, then? You and me have a date for when you get back to town?”

Spencer smiled wryly at the choice of words. “Sure, why not?”

* * *

The engagement party itself went well. Cutter seemed to finally understand that Spencer wasn’t interested in him and he spent his time – true to form – hitting on older, married women with high levels of disposable income. As the cliché said, a good time was had by all.

The last few weeks of her final semester were hectic, but Ashley seemed to make a special effort to keep their friendship back on track. Not a day passed without them talking, and Spencer couldn’t pretend that her heart didn’t leap whenever she got a text or a message from Ashley. On the day of her commencement ceremony, she received the largest bouquet of flowers she had ever seen, with a note attached that said, Sock it to ’em, Spielberg.

She was a little surprised that Ashley didn’t meet her at the airport on the day she came home. She didn’t even get a text message or voicemail, which seemed kind of strange. It was only when she got back to her parents’ house that her father sat her down at the kitchen table and told her that there had been an accident the previous day, but that Ashley had made him promise not to tell her. She was in a taxi to the hospital almost immediately.

Ashley’s room was near the end of what seemed like an endless corridor. She had broken into a jog by about halfway down. She pushed open the door and slipped in quietly in case the patient was asleep. That wasn’t the case: Ashley was very much awake and trying unsuccessfully to change the channel on her TV by jabbing furiously on the buttons of the remote control, her tongue poking out of the corner of her mouth in concentration.

“Hi.”

The brunette’s head snapped up in her direction, but she looked pale and a little groggy. “Hi, yourself.”

“I brought you a friend.” Spencer held up the stuffed polar bear she had bought in the hospital gift shop. “And some candy.” She indicated a paper bag full of mints and other hard candies. She had been determined to play it cool, but the sight of Ashley in a hospital bed made tears spring at the corners of her eyes. “I could kill you!” she exclaimed as she rushed over, dropping bear and candy onto the bed and wrapping her best friend in a hug.

“Hey, hey, hey!” Ashley wrapped her arms awkwardly around Spencer and inhaled deeply. They hugged for a few moments. “Don’t cry, Spence. I’m okay.”

“People in hospital are, generally speaking, not okay.” She placed a small kiss on Ashley’s neck. Even through the pervasive scent of antiseptic, Ashley still smelled like Ashley. Reluctantly, she straightened up. “How did you do it anyway? Dad was kinda vague on details.” She pulled a nearby chair closer to the bed and sat down.

Ashley scratched at the edge of the cast that encased her leg to just below the knee. “He wasn’t meant to tell you at all. I was going to call you tomorrow when I get out of here.” She looked sheepish. “I fell from a stepladder.”

“What the hell were you doing on a ladder?”

Ashley looked even more mortified. “Hanging a banner,” she mumbled.

“What?”

She muttered a little more clearly, “I was hanging a welcome home banner. For you.”

Spencer couldn’t stop the startled laughter that burst from her. “You were hanging a banner for me?”

Ashley nodded miserably, clearly not appreciating Spencer’s amusement. “I was going to pick you up at the airport and I had a big meal at my apartment planned. I invited your Mom and Dad and Glen and Chelsea. It was supposed to be a surprise.”

“If you had cooked, it would definitely have been the biggest surprise of my life.”

“Okay, so maybe I was thinking that your father would be doing the cooking. But it would be in my apartment, which would’ve meant that I was at least the sponsor of the cooking!”

Spencer shook her head. “Only you could ‘sponsor’ cooking. I’ll have to remember that one.” She smiled. “It was a lovely thought. I’m sure I would’ve loved my party.”

“You know it. I throw the best parties. No-one mixes drinks better than me.” She winked. “The secret ingredient’s extra booze.”

“It was a really great idea,” Spencer repeated, ignoring her friend’s silliness, “but maybe next time you should leave the heavy lifting to a professional.”

“You don’t get professional ladder-climbers.”

“You get professional party planners who have people who do that sort of thing, though.”

“But then it wouldn’t have been special. I mean, anyone can get someone else to throw a party for them. I wanted to do it all myself.” Ashley picked up the polar bear and hugged him to her, pouting. “And you’re not being very appreciative of the fact that I injured myself trying to make your welcome home really special.”

“You being in one piece is all the special I need, but I definitely appreciate the fact that you tried, even if you were mentally and physically incapable of following through,” Spencer deadpanned.

“This is abuse of the disabled!”

“Oh, come on, we both know that stupidity is not a recognised disability.”

“You are a horrible friend. I’m never planning another party for you again!”

“You don’t mean that. Besides, I brought you candy.” She shook the paper bag she’d brought with her.

“Those peppermints with the red and white swirls?”

“Uh-huh.”

“And Jolly Ranchers?”

“Regular and sour.”

Ashley made a beckoning motion with her fingers. “Give,” she demanded. “Give it here and I’ll consider forgiving you.”

“I don’t think so.” She moved to the edge of the chair and put the bag behind her back. “If you’re not extra-super-sweet to me, I might just have to eat this delicious candy all by myself.”

“I will kick you in the face with this cast and then you won’t be able to eat anything unless it’s through a straw.”

“Oh, that’s nice!”

“You’re the one being mean to a cripple.”

Spencer shook her head and handed over the package. “You’d probably just fall off the bed and break something else if you tried to kick me anyway.”

Ashley ripped open the paper sack and selected a bag of peppermints. “What’s this fella’s name?” She nodded towards the bear in her lap as she held the end of a wrapped candy between her teeth and twisted it open.

“He’s your bear. You should name him.”

“I’ll give it some thought.”

“You do that.” She stood up.

“Are you leaving?” Ashley sounded hurt.

“No, I was thinking that I could go and get us something to drink. I couldn’t carry everything on my way up here, but I know this hospital pretty well and there’s a little coffee shop the doctors all go to down by the day surgery unit. You want your usual?”

“Oh God, yes! The slop that they bring us with our meals tastes like dishwater.”

“I’ll be right back.”

She didn’t take long riding the elevators down to the second floor and then waiting in a fairly short line. She wasn’t concerned about time anyway. One of the perks of her mother having been Chief of ER until fairly recently was that she wasn’t particularly concerned about the normal visiting rules. She knew that she would be allowed to stay past the end of visiting hours at 9pm (within reason, of course) and that she wouldn’t be limited to the normal thirty minutes because Paula had called the nurse in charge of the orthopaedic ward in advance. Realising that she hadn’t eaten at all since a snack on her flight, she picked up a couple of chicken salad sandwiches, just in case Ashley was also hungry.

When she returned to the room, Ashley had dozed off, the white bear nestled in her arms. Chuckling at the incongruous sight of the brunette looking so child-like, she sat back down in the chair and quietly opened her sandwich. She’d only taken a couple of bites when a sleepy voice murmured, “Need coffee.”

“It’s right there on the bedside locker,” she replied.

“Too weak to lift it up.”

“Well, I’m not feeding it to you, so you’re going to have to get it yourself. Besides, if you don’t wake up, I won’t give you the sandwich I brought you either.”

Ashley opened one eye and scowled. “What is it with you withholding treats and affection today? I’m wounded.”

“I’m not withholding affection. I came here pretty much straight from the airport and I’ve brought you food and coffee and candy and a new best friend. What more do you need?”

“Love.” It was said in a tiny sad voice, but the grin playing around her lips showed that Ashley wasn’t being serious.

“Fine. I totally adore you. We good now?”

Ashley sighed and pushed herself up on the pillows a little, reaching out to grab her coffee. “It’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Drink your coffee.” Spencer smiled. “You don’t think you might have taken this too far?”

“What?”

“You promised me that the next time we were alone together, you wouldn’t run away, but I think this might be a step too far, even for you!”

“You are really not funny.”

“So is all this a ploy to get me to move in with you?”

Ashley grunted and took a bite of her sandwich. “A few weeks of Paula wanting to know the details of your every waking moment and you’ll be begging for my spare room. In fact, you’ll be happy to sleep on the beach in a cardboard box.”

“We’ll see. So, how are you planning to take care of yourself when you get home?”

“I’ll hire someone. A nurse or a housekeeper or something.”

Spencer put her sandwich down. “You do know that I’m going to have to move in? Clearly, I can’t leave you alone for even five minutes.”

“Spence, you don’t need to do that.”

“I know.” She stood and kicked her shoes off. “But I want to.” She sat down on the bed and Ashley compliantly shuffled over as best she could to give her space. “And you don’t get a say in this.” She leaned back on the pillows next to her best friend. She chuckled. “Besides, I’m unemployed. I could do with the money. I’m assuming you’d pay pretty well for a full-time nurse.”

“I should have known you were only after me for my money.” Ashley barely stifled a yawn as she let her half-eaten sandwich fall into her lap. Spencer removed it and placed it on the locker, next to the barely-touched coffee.

“Yeah,” she whispered, slipping an arm around Ashley as the brunette twisted her upper body so that she could snuggle into Spencer’s side, “I am totally after your money.”

“I don’t believe that.” As Ashley’s breathing evened out, indicating that she was falling asleep, Spencer placed a kiss on the top of her head.

“Me neither.”

* * * * *

Next up: Chapter 5 [U]

10 Comments

  1. Cass
    Posted 6 November 2011 at 7.01pm | Permalink

    I really love this fic. All of your fics, really. You’re a really brilliant writer, absolutely inspiring.

    Thanks for the update! :)

  2. tee452
    Posted 6 November 2011 at 7.57pm | Permalink

    I know this is a short one, but it’s so good it makes my chest hurt.

  3. spikkels8
    Posted 6 November 2011 at 8.15pm | Permalink

    Yes Dev you ARE on fire!! Lots and lots of kudo’s for this update. Its super awesome and I’m glad to see that Spashley is almost back to being their awesome selves.

    *mini applause*

    Now I’m off to study! But this was a perfect study break! :-D

  4. sunsetstrip
    Posted 6 November 2011 at 9.58pm | Permalink

    LOVE IT. Their banter is adorable.

  5. jsparky04
    Posted 7 November 2011 at 1.25am | Permalink

    Yippee, two updates in one week. I feel spoiled :) Loved it.

  6. waki
    Posted 7 November 2011 at 8.51am | Permalink

    I second tee452, it’s so good it makes my chest hurt.

  7. vcvc2
    Posted 8 December 2011 at 6.15am | Permalink

    ok, wtf — you’ve been busy today? Just today?!? TODAY?!? Where am I missing what I’m missing, how can I educate myself into even a 3 week window? I know I sound like I’m on crack but with you people, every post is a first hit.

  8. dev0347
    Posted 9 December 2011 at 3.41pm | Permalink

    Ahhh.. I’d promised a post yesterday, but events overtook me, ergo ‘no update today’.

    Sadly, with Big!Important!Jobs, Clom and I don’t get to write as often as we’d like.

  9. tuesboomer
    Posted 9 December 2011 at 4.15pm | Permalink

    Save civilizaton. We’ll wait… …impatiently.

    (hah! how to get around the Dev three dot ‘guideline’)

    The snow peeps and Santa hats are back!!!!!!!!

  10. dev0347
    Posted 9 December 2011 at 6.32pm | Permalink

    Oh, but there are posts a-coming! From Clom and from me. Like, sooner than you think.

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