Five Times, Part 1

This started as a companion piece to What the Butler Saw and was meant to be five times that Arthur saw Ashley’s love for Spencer. It became something else, so now it’s five times when Ashley’s heart nearly broke. It’s three parts and not as angsty as that sounds.

First part is rated U.

* * *

Part 1: Arthur

Arthur Carlin smiled fondly at the young woman at his kitchen counter. She was shovelling linguine into her mouth as if she hadn’t seen food in weeks. He leaned back against the kitchen counter and took in the sight of his cooking being appreciated.

“Tastes okay, then?” he asked.

“So good.” Ashley rolled her eyes back in pleasure. “So, so good.”

“You always were my favourite critic.” He sipped his ginger ale. “You sure you don’t want something to drink?”

“Water’s fine.” She nodded towards the glass of ice water next to her. “Busy eating.”

It was constantly surprising to Arthur how a young woman as spare as Ashley could eat so ravenously. He suspected that she skipped a lot of meals, not intentionally, but because she was always getting caught up in other things.

“So, how’re things with you anyway?”

“I got that part I told you about, the superhero thing.” Ashley was a voice-over artist. Her career to date was mainly in radio advertising, but she was starting to get some TV work, too. A few weeks before, she had auditioned for a recurring role in a new animated series.

“That’s great news, Ashley! I’m so happy for you. So, tell me everything. When does it start? What’s your character? Is it a long-term thing?”

As Ashley started to explain the full details of her latest job, Arthur reflected on how much he enjoyed this ritual with Ashley. She would call him about once a month, and he would suggest lunch at a time when they would have the house to themselves. Once there, Ashley would eat like a woman starved and Arthur would wait in amusement as she held out for as long as possible without mentioning the one thing she most wanted to discuss: his daughter, Spencer.

They chatted about their usual neutral topics—work, music, television, random news stories—while Ashley finished off two bowls of linguine carbonara and several thick slices of garlic ciabatta.

When Ashley finally pushed her plate away, Arthur decided to steer her in the right direction. “Seeing anyone?”

She snorted wryly, “No.”

“What happened with that actress?” The last time they met, Ashley mentioned that she had been asked out on a date by someone she met at a casting call.

“Never happened.” Ashley shrugged. “Plenty of fish in the sea, right?”

“So I hear,” he agreed. And Ashley wasn’t interested in any of them.

“So, how’s Paula?” she asked, her fake nonchalance fooling neither of them.

Arthur gave a startled laugh. Paula had, for a long time, been Ashley’s nemesis. Arthur could hardly blame Ashley for that; Paula was a formidable woman, even to those whom she loved. And she had never really loved Ashley; in fact, it had been hatred at first sight. Although Ashley eventually won Paula over, the break-up changed all that. Paula was Team Spencer all the way, so Paula and Ashley’s truce was back to being an uneasy one. They had met in person twice, and Paula had been civil, nothing more.

He updated Ashley on the latest developments at the centre for at-risk teens that he and his wife ran, as well as Paula’s other job as a part-time intensive care physician at the county hospital. Ashley managed to feign interest well, he noted. She even asked about Glen, who worked with them as a sports coach at the centre.

After half an hour talking about everyone else, he paused and looked at her. “Are you going to ask about her now?”

Ashley’s grin spread slowly. “Why ask when I know you’ll tell me anyway, big guy?”

* * *

Nine years ago

The first time Arthur met Ashley, she was seventeen. She turned up on his doorstep one morning to give Spencer a ride to school.

His first thought was that he was happy that Spencer had managed to make a friend in her first week at her new school. His second thought was that this new friend had the look of a potential suitor.

He looked behind her to the street and saw a late model Porsche, so she had to be one of the rich kids.

The most interesting thing, however, was that he knew nothing about this girl, who introduced herself as Ashley. It was very unusual for Spencer not to tell him about her friends. And the fact that she had never mentioned Ashley told Arthur more than he needed to know.

All the signs he had noticed over the years, not to mention his instincts as a social worker, pointed to his daughter being gay. He knew that Spencer would tell him when she was ready and that, whenever that day came, he would tell her that he loved her and only wanted her to be happy.

He hadn’t actually thought about what sort of girl his daughter might be interested in romantically. The girl on his doorstep was certainly beautiful: brunette, petite, deep brown eyes. She dressed with the deliberate casualness of the knowingly attractive, projecting an image of not caring what she looked like, but still calling attention to herself. Her posture was an arrogant slouch, but it was coupled with the most nervously hopeful face he had ever seen, as if she fully expected to be turned away.

He was definitely intrigued.

Naturally, he invited her in and went to Spencer’s room to fetch her.

When he and Spencer came down the stairs together a few minutes later, he saw Ashley’s face light up just for a moment before she caught herself and guarded her emotions, choosing instead to project a brash diffidence. But he could not mistake what he had seen. It was not the hormonal, glowing love of a typical teenager—although that had almost certainly been there as well—but the most astonishingly bare display of adoration and longing.

He looked sideways at his little girl and saw her own more-than-fond smile. As he looked back again at Ashley and then to Spencer, he was certain that his daughter was falling in love for the first time, and with someone who had already fallen for her.

As a father, he should be concerned for Spencer. First love was, after all, the one that could hurt the most, and possibly even more so because his daughter was gay. These girls would face additional hurdles that other young couples would never know. Their friends and even some of their family would never accept them, and the rules would be different for them. It was not going to be an easy road.

And, yet, somehow he was not worried about how all that might affect his daughter, the kind, thoughtful girl who always wanted to believe the best of people. No, he found himself concerned for this almost-stranger. Something within him just knew that the young brunette looking up at the two of them was the one who really stood to have her heart broken wide open.

“So, you ready to face another exciting day at King High?” Ashley asked, her hands on her hips, a lop-sided smirk on her face. It was hard to believe that she was the same girl whose vulnerability he had briefly glimpsed. She was well-practised at covering her emotions.

“Yeah,” Spencer replied softly. “We should do that.”

“Would you girls like some breakfast before you go?” Arthur asked. He wondered if they realised just how transparent their feelings were, although he doubted that they even thought about it.

Ashley didn’t reply, but looked to Spencer. He liked that she waited for Spencer’s response. It showed respect. That was a good sign.

“Nah, thanks, Dad,” Spencer said. “We can stop and get something on the way.”

“So, what are your plans for the day?” he prompted.

They looked at each other. They had hardly looked anywhere else since being in the same room, their eyes telling stories that their voices would never reveal.

Finally, Ashley said, “Oh, you know, learning and education. The usual.”

“After school?”

Spencer narrowed her eyes at Ashley, tilting her head to one side. “Maybe go to Ashley’s house?” The brunette nodded shyly.

“As long as you let us know where you are and what time you’ll be home, kiddo.” He slipped his arm around Spencer’s shoulders and dropped a kiss on top of her head. “Anyway, I’m sure you two want to get going, so, go on, scram!”

Ashley watched as Spencer collected her book bag and slung it over her shoulder. She followed the blonde towards the front door, before turning around and saying, “It was really nice to meet you, Mr Carlin.”

“You, too, Ashley. I hope we’ll see you again soon.”

She looked at Spencer, who nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

He followed them and stood in the open doorway, watching as the two girls walked to Ashley’s car.

They were talking in low voices, their bodies unconsciously leaning in towards the other. Ashley opened the passenger door for Spencer and solicitously helped her in. As she got in the driver’s side, she said something that made Spencer laugh and place her hand on Ashley’s forearm.

He shook his head, remembering when he was their age and head over heels in love with Paula. Spencer looked so much like her mother at that age, his heart ached for all of them.

* * *

He moved around the kitchen, fixing coffee and putting a couple of slices of apple pie onto plates, listening to Ashley talk about her sister Kyla’s latest disastrous relationship. Ashley had changed the subject again, avoiding discussing Spencer. Usually, he let her, but, for once, he wanted to push the issue.

“Anyway,” he said, sitting down on the stool next to her at the kitchen island, “Spencer.”

Ashley picked up her fork and turned it sideways to cut a large piece from the pie. “Spencer,” she echoed.

“She misses you, you know.”

“Oh, I’m so sure.”

Arthur shook his head. One of the few things he would change about Ashley was her lack of self-belief. The scared kid he’d known had grown into a young woman who still didn’t think she was worth all that much. His daughter had, sadly, played a part in that.

“She does.”

“Yeah, I got that from her throwing me out and shacking up with the mistress.” Her jaw was tensed and her eyes held anger.

“You know I’m on your side with this.”

“I don’t expect you to take sides, Arthur. She’s your daughter and I’m… Well, I’m not.”

He put his fork down and placed a consoling hand on Ashley’s shoulder. “You’re not just my daughter-in-law. You are like a daughter to me. And I can love my own daughter and think she’s wrong. And, in this case, I think she’s wrong.”

“You’re not going to hear any argument from me.” There were tears at the corner of Ashley’s eyes. She didn’t bother to wipe them away. She shrugged and picked at her pie without eating any of it. “So, how’s she doing?”

“She’s back in LA.”

Ashley’s head whipped up. “What?”

Although he hadn’t really expected that his daughter would inform her estranged wife that she had moved home, it hadn’t stopped him from hoping that Spencer might surprise him anyway. Obviously, that had not been the case.

“She came back a couple of weeks ago,” he admitted.

Ashley shook her head bitterly. “Just visiting, or did the mistress throw her out?”

“They’re not together any more.”

“Shame. And she seemed like such a nice girl as well.” Ashley shrugged. “Of course, we only met that one time and we were hardly formally introduced.”

No matter what his wife chose to believe about Ashley being the one who left Spencer, Arthur knew that their daughter had given up on her marriage too quickly to be entirely blameless. She started her next relationship within a couple of weeks of Ashley moving out. It was pure conjecture on his part, but he suspected that Spencer was already contemplating the relationship while still living with Ashley. About a month after Spencer asked Ashley to leave, Ashley went back to Seattle, hoping to reconcile with her wife, and found her in bed with her new girlfriend, Erin. The reconciliation ended before it began.

“I only met her once, too,” he said. “And I never cooked for her. I wouldn’t cheat on you like that.”

Ashley looked at his deadpan face and burst out laughing, despite her hurt and betrayal. He grinned back at her.

“I didn’t know you’d met her at all.”

“They came to visit for a weekend about a year ago.” It was only a couple of months after Ashley had moved back to Los Angeles. “I didn’t know how to tell you,” he said honestly. While they always talked about Spencer, they never spoke about Erin.

“Hey, honestly, it’s okay. Like I said, she’s your daughter.” Ashley wiped the drying tears from her cheeks. “So, they split up?”

“So I hear.” Over the past year, his own conversations with Spencer had been strained. Spencer rarely discussed anything other than work. Unfairly or not, Arthur neither liked nor accepted Erin, and he told Spencer as much. Whenever he mentioned Ashley, Spencer would get annoyed with him, thinking he was trying to make her feel guilty. That wasn’t entirely true, although he did genuinely believe that his daughter was still in love with her wife and that Ashley was Spencer’s soulmate.

“Did she leave, or did the mistress throw her out?”

He chuckled. Referring to Erin only as ‘the mistress’ was very Ashley. “Spencer left of her own accord, but I don’t really know too much about what happened. She talks to her mother about those things more than me.”

“Still Paula’s golden-haired child, huh?”

Arthur shrugged. He didn’t understand why Paula was the only one Spencer confided in these days. He suspected it was because, unlike when she was a teenager, Paula was the one taking Spencer’s side.

* * *

Eight years ago

Arthur contemplated the bottle in front of him. He wanted so much to give into the temptation to open it and drain the contents. That it was barely daylight made no difference. He looked down at the green chip in his hand, turning it over and flipping it across the back of his fingers. He was only a few days away from upgrading to a blue chip signifying six months’ sobriety.

He looked from the chip to the bottle and back again.

The main reason for his drinking hitting rock bottom had been the slow disintegration of his marriage, but he had forgiven Paula’s planned infidelity because she had never actually gone through with the affair. And he thought that they had been working hard at their marriage since then—in particular, at trust and honesty. Then Paula found Ashley in Spencer’s bedroom and dragged Ashley out by the hair, banning her from any contact with their daughter.

He was shocked by Paula’s actions, but even more so by her staunch adamance that homosexuality was wrong. How could his wife think that their daughter, their beautiful Spencer, was anything other than perfect? Spencer was kind, thoughtful, intelligent and healthy. That was already more than most parents had a right to expect. She worked hard in school and would have her pick of colleges in a few months. And her teenage indiscretions were nothing as to Glen’s. How could Paula so easily forgive Glen’s drug abuse, but have no room in her heart for Spencer, whose only transgression was falling in love?

Almost overnight Paula became someone he didn’t even recognise. Not only was she unrepentant about her actions, but she truly believed she was in the right. He could hardly bring himself to even speak to her. It was a much greater betrayal than contemplating adultery.

He stared at the bottle once more. It was almost as if he could hear the liquid within calling to him, promising to envelop him in its warm embrace and allow him to let go of everything else.

His musings were interrupted by the sound of creaking floorboards.

Quickly, he grabbed the bottle from the dining room table and put it back on the wet bar. He listened for further movement, but the house was silent.

Stepping into the family room, he came face-to-face with Ashley. She was barefoot, her shoes in one hand and what looked like half of her clothes in the other. Her eyes widened as she realised that she had been caught, but Arthur shook his head in reassurance and placed a finger over his mouth. He nodded his head in the direction of the front door. Nodding, Ashley tip-toed to the door and opened it carefully, so as to make as little noise as possible. Arthur slipped his feet into a pair of boots by the door and followed her outside.

“Car?” he mouthed to her. Ashley grinned and pointed down the street. She was still barefooted and he wondered that she didn’t seem to feel the small stones under her feet.

When they reached the sidewalk, he turned and saw Spencer’s bedroom curtains twitch. She was probably checking that her girlfriend had made it outside safely. It would do her good to worry for a little while about finding said girlfriend in her father’s company.

When they were out of sight of his house, he said quietly, “Nice to see you again, Ashley.”

“Uh, yeah.” She didn’t look up, probably as anxious as Spencer doubtless was about being caught. She was putting the rest of her clothes back on as they walked.

“Do you mind if we sit in your car while we talk?” he rubbed his arms. “It’s a little chilly out.”

“Sure.” She winced as the car alarm beeped twice in response to the key remote.

Arthur didn’t bother pointing out that she had already been caught red-handed. He climbed into the passenger side and turned around to face the younger girl, his back leaning against the door. Ashley was staring pointedly at her hands.

“Ashley, it’s okay,” he said. “You’re not in trouble.” She gave him a dubious look. “Honestly. But we do need to talk,” he added.

“Yeah,” she mumbled.

“I’m not Paula.”

She nodded. “No, you’re not.”

“I never got a chance to tell you properly how sorry I am about that.” He sighed. He had no words to explain his wife’s behaviour; he didn’t even understand it himself. “I don’t agree with Paula. As far as I am concerned, you’re welcome in my home any time.”

“Really?” Ashley narrowed her eyes, as if trying to find the hidden trap in his statement.

“You’re Spencer’s girlfriend. She loves you. I want what makes her happy, and you make her really happy.”

“I do?”

The uncertainty in her statement was almost heartbreaking. She seemed so small, sitting there in the huge chair of her car, a child in an adult’s guise. For all that had happened to him since they first met, Ashley hadn’t had her troubles to seek in the last year, either. Her father had died, resulting in both a minor media storm and the appearance of a sister about whom Ashley had known nothing. And even though Raife Davies had been an absentee father, he had been the only one of Ashley’s parents who actually seemed to love her.

“Yes, you do,” he confirmed.

“Doesn’t seem like it.”

“Her mother is making things difficult for you both right now, but that doesn’t change the basic fact that I’ve never seen her as happy as she is when she’s with you. You’re good for her. Your love is good for her.”

“You really think so?”

“Of course it is!” If Ashley were one of his clients, he would have brought her mother, Christine, into his office and given her hell for the way she treated her daughter. Ashley was just a kid who wanted to be loved, but her parents had left her feeling like she didn’t deserve it. Neglect, he knew, had many different faces; it wasn’t just a lack of food or material things.

He wanted to reach out and reassure her with a touch or a hug, but Ashley was reserved, and physical contact would make her uncomfortable. Another legacy from her parents, he mused.

“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to her.”

Ashley bit her lip and looked out of the window next to her. “I’m losing her,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself.

“Don’t say that.”

“No, it’s true. I am.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “She wants her mother to love her, and that isn’t going to happen while she has me. I know she doesn’t want to choose, but, when the time comes, she’s going to choose Paula.”

He couldn’t deny what Ashley said. He could see it happening already. Because she was a good girl, a good daughter, there was a very real chance that Spencer would put her mother’s happiness before her own.

“It’s too hard,” Ashley said, almost a whisper.

“Then you have to fight for her.”

“I’m tired. I’m tired of not being what anyone wants, of being the one who’s just there. I want someone who just wants to be with me and who doesn’t find it some kind of sacrifice. I want someone who chooses me without needing to think about it.”

The way she said it, taken with the look in her eyes that she she was trying to hide something from him, told Arthur she already had someone else in mind. Aiden, probably. His son’s best friend, Ashley’s ex-boyfriend, was always lurking in the background somewhere. He felt sorry for the young man, as he remembered what it felt like to love a girl who was with someone else, but he wished that he would stay out of his daughter’s relationship.

“She does love you.”

“I know.”

It didn’t look like that fact made her any happier, so Arthur tried for a little levity. “She must do if she’s willing to sneak you into the house in the middle of the night.”

Ashley shot him a sideways glance and grinned. “I guess.” She paused, “About that…”

“I said you’re not in trouble, but it is a school night and you can’t do this again, Ashley. And it’s not because you and Spencer are gay. I wouldn’t let Glen have one of his girlfriends stay overnight in his bed, either. On any night.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know.” He shrugged. “What you two do when you’re not under my roof is your own business. And if she asks me if she can stay over at your house on a weekend, I won’t say no.”

“What about Paula?”

“If you want Paula to stay over at your house at the weekend, I won’t say no, either,” he joked.

Ashley laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“I know that, no matter what, you and Spencer are going to have sex,” he had to stifle a grin at Ashley’s look of embarrassment, “and I don’t want you to think that I disapprove, but there’s a time and a place for everything. And our house on a school night is not the time or the place. Your house on the weekend, or even after school, is fine. Just tell Spencer to ask me for permission. I’ll handle her mother.”

Ashley regarded him with suspicion. “You’re really okay with this?”

“Well, I’m Spencer’s father, so ‘okay’ is a relative term, but I support your relationship. I trust you with my daughter, and that’s a big part of it. You’re a good person and I know you love her.”

“I do. I love her more than anything.”

“Then hold onto that, and fight for what you want.” He looked out at the sky. It would be daylight soon, and Paula might wake early. “Anyway, I should go.” He opened the car door. “Think about what I said, Ashley. You both deserve to be happy. Together. Relationships need a lot of work sometimes, but when it’s right, it’s worth it.” He stepped down onto the street. “Go on, go home and get dressed for school. I’ll let Spencer know that neither of you are in trouble. Where are you picking her up later?”

Ashley didn’t even try to pretend that she wasn’t planning on returning in a couple of hours to pick Spencer up for school. “Tell her I’ll text her.”

“Okay. Drive safe.” He started to push the car door shut.

“Mr C?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks. For everything.”

“No problem. Oh, Ashley?”

“Yeah?”

“Your skirt’s on inside-out.” He shut the door.

* * *

“So, where’s she staying?” Ashley asked. “Here?”

Arthur nodded. “She’s looking for somewhere to rent, but I think money’s a problem.”

“Working?”

“Not yet.”

“Maybe I should speak to her.”

“Yeah?”

“I suppose I should see a lawyer about a formal separation or a divorce. Maybe we could work out an allowance or a settlement or something. I don’t even know how that would work, but there’s no way I want her having to live off you. I can afford to support us both indefinitely, after all.” Ashley shook her head. “How did we get here, Arthur? This is so not where I wanted to be at twenty-six.”

He stood up and moved behind his daughter-in-law, circling her shoulders with his arms. She leaned back into his hug and he dropped a kiss on top of her head. “I wish things were different, too.”

“Maybe they’re as they were meant to be.”

“You don’t really believe that, do you?”

He felt her sigh. “No, not really. But I thought me and Spence were forever, and I was wrong about that.”

“I know, honey.” He didn’t know everything that had happened between them, but he had gleaned enough from each of them while they were still together, and from Ashley after she had returned, to guess that jealousy was at the root of it all. She started to cry again, so he tightened his hold on her.

“I know we had our own lives, but it didn’t occur to me that she resented me for not being there. I thought the one thing we shared was that we always wanted to come back to each other. I never thought she’d pick someone else, someone…” Ashley broke off.

Arthur had been there. He and Paula had made the same mistakes when they first came to Los Angeles. Unlike Spencer, Paula had never gone through with a new relationship, but he wasn’t sure that made any difference. Betrayal was betrayal, whether it was of the heart or of the flesh.

“I can’t blame her. I did the same with Aiden,” she sniffed.

“That was a long time ago.” Those had been hard times. Clay was gone, the world seemed to be falling apart around all of them, and Ashley had, as he had feared, found solace in the simplicity of Aiden’s adoration. But being with someone who adored you was not the same as being with the person you adored. She wanted Spencer. She loved Spencer.

“No, not then.”

Arthur didn’t understand. “When?”

“Seattle. Maybe two years ago.” Ashley wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Things were really bad. We weren’t talking. She was away for months on end. I was still in the band, and I could tell that was coming to an end, too.” She tried to take in a few shaky breaths through her tears. “He came to surprise us both, but Spencer was in Vancouver, filming. I didn’t—” She sniffed loudly. “I couldn’t sleep with him, but I wanted to. I spent the night with him at his hotel, and I had every intention of going through with it when I went there. I didn’t tell her he’d been to visit, but she found out a few months later. I don’t know how she found out or who told her. I suppose it doesn’t matter. She wasn’t exactly happy.”

Arthur could only imagine how upset Spencer would have been. Aiden was very much a sore point with her, and she would have been devastated that Ashley had gone to him when things were bad, repeating their mistakes of the past.

“So, yeah, it’s all my fault. I ran. Or I pushed her away. Or both. I don’t know.”

“It’s not your fault,” he reassured her. “I’ve been there and it takes two people to ruin a marriage.”

“Oh, I dunno, my mother managed to ruin all of hers by herself.”

Arthur chuckled. “Okay, well, serial philandering and pathological lying aside, it takes two people to ruin a good marriage.”

“I just want to be her wife again. And I kinda hate myself for that, for not being able to move on the way she did.”

“She didn’t really move on. She ran away. She wasn’t happy. But running away didn’t make her any happier.” He wasn’t sure what to say. “You were the first thing she asked about when she came back.”

Ashley shrugged her shoulders and eased herself out of his hug. She turned around on the kitchen stool to face him. “She probably wants to know about getting a divorce.”

He shook his head. “No, I get the feeling she knows how big a mistake she made. And she still loves you. No matter what, you don’t just walk away from eight years together without still caring.”

“She hardly walked away, considering how often she sneaks back.”

“What do you mean?”

Ashley grimaced. “We’ve been seeing each other.”

“Really? When?”

“A few times.” She shrugged. “Five.”

“She came to LA?” Arthur was surprised that Spencer had managed to keep this fact from him. Or maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe she had told Paula. No, he doubted that. Paula would not have kept that information to herself. At the very least, she would have wanted to complain that Ashley was still leading her little girl astray.

“The first time, she appeared at my door in the middle of the night. We, uh, didn’t really talk.” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively. “In fact, we’ve hardly talked any of the times she’s dropped by.”

“You never said anything.”

“You wanted me to tell you that your daughter drops by for booty calls?”

Arthur shook his head. “Probably not.”

“Anyway, I never knew she was leaving the mistress. She never even hinted.”

“When did you see her last?”

“Eight, ten weeks back. She was waiting for me when I came home from work. She still has a key.”

Ashley had moved back into the loft that she had bought with her inheritance from her father. It was their first official home together after they were married, but Spencer had been living there since she had turned eighteen, long before she officially moved out of the family home.

* * *

Five years ago

“I don’t know why we can’t go out for dinner,” Paula said, adjusting her hair as they waited outside the front door of Ashley’s loft.

Arthur was used to his wife’s minor complaints about Ashley and Spencer. The truth was that she disliked being in the apartment. She might have come to accept that Spencer was gay, but she didn’t like the constant reminder that her daughter chose to have sex with Ashley.

“They want to cook for us,” he said.

“Oh, how cute. The children want to play grown-up.”

“We were married and had Glen already at their age,” he reminded her.

“That’s different.”

“Why?”

“We were married,” Paula responded, as if it were obvious.

“We were married because we got pregnant. Otherwise, I would still have been sneaking into your mother’s house while she was at work. And you’d have been staying over at my dorm room while your mother thought you were studying with that friend of yours.”

Paula gave him one of her patented icy stares, but he just grinned back. And then the door opened, revealing Ashley.

“Mr C! Paula! How lovely to see you both,” she said, stepping aside to allow them to enter.

“Something smells good,” Arthur said.

“Anything good is down to your daughter. Anything burnt or charred is all me.”

Arthur chuckled, as Paula went over to the kitchen to greet Spencer. Ashley waited until she was out of earshot before leaning in. “A word in the bedroom?” she asked.

Puzzled, Arthur followed her through to the bedroom area. It was separated from the main living space only by a curtain of hanging beads. It was obvious which side of the bed was whose. On one side, there was a pile of books, mostly biographies of film directors and technical manuals for camera equipment. The other side was covered in make-up and the floor next to it was a mess of discarded clothes, sheets of music and notebooks full of lyrics.

“What’s up?” he asked.

Ashley wrung her hands, and it was the first time that he noticed that she was dressed up, even by her own high standards. She was also obviously nervous.

“Spencer thinks we’re having you over to tell you that she’s been offered a job after graduation.”

“That’s great!” he said.

“Yeah, yeah, you might not think so when you hear it’s in Seattle. Anyway, so not the point.” She shook her head in irritation. “It’s not really about that.”

“It’s not?”

“No. Well, yes. I mean, it’s a big deal for her, for us, and obviously it’s a huge thing ’cause most film school kids don’t get a lot of work outside of McDonald’s or Kinko’s, but that’s not the really big deal.”

“No, obviously.” He smothered a laugh. The logic in Ashley’s brain was often hard to follow.

“This is the really big deal.” She opened the top drawer of a tallboy and pulled out an unmistakably-shaped red box.

“Oh.” Arthur looked at the box nestling in Ashley’s palm.

“Yeah, oh.”

“So, you’re asking?” He wasn’t sure whether to say ‘my permission’ or ‘my daughter’s hand in marriage’.

“I figure you’re gonna be okay with it, but I was wondering what you thought they will think.” She inclined her head towards the other room.

Arthur rubbed the back of his neck with the palm of his hand as he thought about what to say. On the one hand, he didn’t expect Paula to be ecstatic, but then Paula’s mother had hardly been over the moon when her beautiful girl—who was studying to be a doctor, after all—announced that she was going to marry the boy who wanted to be a social worker. On the other hand, she wasn’t asking Paula. She was asking Spencer, and he knew that the sun rose and set on Ashley as far as Spencer was concerned.

“I doesn’t matter what I think, or what Paula thinks. It matters what you feel about Spencer,” he said.

“I wanna be with her forever. Longer, if I can manage it.”

“Then ask her. Not tonight, though.”

“Why not tonight?” Ashley looked confused.

“Because when you ask, it should be about you and her and nothing else. And also because this is her night, her big announcement.”

Ashley’s face broke into a beaming smile as she recognised the truth of his statement. “You’re a wise man, Arthur Carlin.”

He looped his arm over her shoulder and gave her a brief squeeze. “Put it away for now and pick your moment.”

“Yeah.” She hugged him briefly and then re-opened the drawer, putting the ring at the very back, closing it firmly. she leaned against the wall and smiled at him. “I wish I’d had a dad like you.”

He winked. “Well, if she says yes, I come with the package, so you might get a dad like me yet. And I’d consider myself very lucky to have you as a daughter.”

Ashley was contemplative for a moment, that familiar look of self-doubt clouding her features. “Do you really think I’m doing the right thing?”

“You love her, she loves you, you’re both over twenty-one.”

“You don’t think we’re too young?”

“Not ten minutes ago, Paula and I were discussing the fact that we were married with a child at your age.”

“You were?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Shotgun wedding?”

He laughed. “I’ll never tell.”

“Well, I promise you I haven’t knocked your daughter up.”

“I should hope not!”

The sound of heels clacking across floorboards quietened them both. Spencer popped her head through the beaded curtain. “Is this a private thing, or can anyone join in?”

“Your girlfriend was just asking for some fatherly advice,” Arthur admitted, ignoring Ashley’s annoyed look.

“Oh, was she?” Spencer came to stand next to him, slipping her arm around his waist.

From the look on Ashley’s face, Arthur guessed they were doing the silent communication thing they always did.

“I was asking your dad about investments,” she replied mysteriously.

“Investments? My millionaire girlfriend was asking my social worker father about investments?” Spencer didn’t believe a word of it.

“I am knowledgeable on a whole range of subjects,” he said.

“He is a very wise man,” Ashley agreed.

“I’m not even going to ask,” Spencer said. “I just came through to say that dinner is almost ready and I need you two to come help with plates and wine and stuff, instead of hiding in here having secret conversations.”

The way Ashley was staring at his daughter, Arthur wasn’t too worried about their future. Love like that didn’t come along too often, he knew.

“I’m going to go check on Paula, make sure she’s not breaking the flatware,” he said, stepping away from Spencer.

As he was leaving, he saw Ashley move towards Spencer.

“You look amazing,” she said, pulling the blonde against her.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” Spencer replied. “I might just keep you.” She dropped a kiss on the tip of Ashley’s nose.

“I sure hope so,” Ashley replied, her voice growing husky, as she leaned in for a more intimate kiss.

Arthur left quickly, wanting to give them their privacy.

* * *

“Have you told her that we see each other?” Ashley asked.

Arthur nodded. “She knows.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“She doesn’t feel like you’re picking sides?”

“I told you, it’s not like that. I love you both.” Arthur reached past Ashley to clear their plates. He walked over to the dishwasher and started filling it.

“I’m not sure I could be that magnanimous if you were my dad.”

He sighed. “Yeah, but I kinda am your dad, unless you’ve found someone to replace me.”

Ashley picked up a stray receipt from the kitchen island and started shredding it. “No, but you were her dad first. And… I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m saying.”

He finished loading the dishwasher and leant back against the counter, folding his arms across his chest. “So, now what?”

“Now that I know she’s back? I don’t know.” She discarded the pieces of paper and swept them into her hand. She got up and went over to drop them into the trash. “She usually comes to see me. I never went back to Seattle after that one time.”

“What do you want to do?”

She sighed and stared up at the ceiling. “I want to go back to when things were good and we were happy and then work out what I could do differently. But that’s not gonna happen. I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe if I see her, I’ll know.”

“You’ll know what?” Spencer asked from the doorway.

* * *

Next up: Part 2: Ashley [AA]

11 Comments

  1. Charlotte
    Posted 22 June 2013 at 4.50pm | Permalink

    This was just incredibly good. I love this relationship with Arthur and the flashbacks, and basically everything. Great story. I’m really looking forward to the next part.

  2. Gis
    Posted 22 June 2013 at 5.43pm | Permalink

    Loved it! Can’t wait for more. Thank you for another great story!

  3. Tiff
    Posted 22 June 2013 at 8.15pm | Permalink

    Always makes my day when I come to your page and see a new story or update!!! Thanks for sharing your gift of writing! =)

  4. spikkels
    Posted 22 June 2013 at 9.27pm | Permalink

    Aaaagggggg cliffhanger!!!!!!!!
    As always, super excited for any from of a update. :D
    Can’t wait for the next part.

  5. Willweaver
    Posted 23 June 2013 at 2.40am | Permalink

    Oh, I like this. Has a different feel to it…but in a good way. A new way. So glad you have a new story, and I’m so looking forward to the next chapters!

  6. Lyn
    Posted 23 June 2013 at 2.53pm | Permalink

    Sooooo good:). I’m pretty sure this is the first time you have actually taken elements from the original series into your fics, and I gotta say, you really make it work. Can’t wait to read more of this story (yes your stupid cliffhanger works, lol;))!

  7. Meech
    Posted 23 June 2013 at 10.07pm | Permalink

    I like this, it’s interesting because it’s different from the usual Ashley being the one that screws up. It’s not often you’ll see it written the other way around like it seems to be in this. With that said, I’m sure mistakes on both parts will be revealed. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds and find out what has happened and where they’ll end up. As always, I love your continued investment into Spashley goodness :) Thanks Dev!

  8. Anne
    Posted 24 June 2013 at 3.13pm | Permalink

    Really, really good. Thank you! I’m never the one for flashbacks but the way you do is just marb.

  9. yeahbutno
    Posted 25 June 2013 at 4.37pm | Permalink

    Hmmmnnn Spencer doing booty calls huh!!!!! methinks there is more to this tale!…well at least a couple more chapters.

    I did a booty call once, all others were “dates”, I felt really shamelfull the next morning when I left the house as I knew that all the housemates, 5 of them, all awake and in the sitting room I had to walk thru, ALL knew that I was a hussy. I did end up marrying her and that incident was brought up in front of my MiL and FiL at the wedding reception. Cheers!

    I am not a huge fan of flashbacky stories either, mainly as I get confused, but I really like the rythmn of this one and Arthur and Ash as buddies is always enjoyable.

    So who is this Erin woman??? and why is she messing up our couple? I want to stick a bullseye on her arse.

    Please tell Dev. And as always merci for another story and making the time.

    *awaits update*

    PS what is that Birds of Prey thing? was it shown here? and why replace Sherilyn Fenn, ever????

  10. Posted 25 June 2013 at 4.55pm | Permalink

    This is so painfully good… I need more.

  11. lol
    Posted 29 June 2013 at 11.42am | Permalink

    YES YES YES! Just switched on my computer to check if there were any updates and bam! both parts of five times were up, so happy here!!! :D

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