Addiction

Darker than normal, but lighter than I intended.
Rated AA for adult themes.

* * * * *

When Ashley felt the bench shift under the weight of another person, she didn’t open her eyes or turn around because she didn’t need to. It wasn’t because she would have known that scent anywhere, although she would have, or even because she recognised the little relieved sigh the other woman gave from hearing it countless times before, but because only one person could have found her, two hundred miles from home, in a dying town which was close to the Interstate but too far from anywhere else. At one time, silver mines had made it rich, but they were long gone, along with most of the inhabitants. Those who were left were too old or too poor to follow. Empty properties, boarded up and bleached to a faded grey by the harsh sun, lined its sparse main road.

She kept her eyes closed and her face tilted towards the sun and waited for the other woman to speak. It only took a minute or so.

“Your girlfriend called me,” Spencer said.

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“She thinks she is.”

“She’s wrong.”

“You know I don’t really care one way or the other.”

Ashley opened one eye. Spencer was perched on the edge of the bench, her forearms resting on her thighs, her head bent towards the ground. Her hair looked stringy and damp, her faded tank top sticking to her back. The clerk at the Gas-N-Go had said it was going to get hot, would probably hit one-twenty later, and Spencer’s truck didn’t have air conditioning.

“She’s still not,” she said, and there was another sigh, a different one. It was the frustrated sigh, the grow-up-Ashley sigh she didn’t like so much.

“If she knew enough to call me, she’s more than just casual. She sounded nice, and she was worried about you.”

“She’s not my wife or my mother.”

The blonde laughed mirthlessly. “Like your mother would care.”

Spencer stood up and stretched out her arms above her head, arching her back. Ashley’s mouth went dry as she watched the movement of muscles and tendons, saw the cotton ride up and expose glimpses of paler skin. She let her gaze travel down to the other woman’s ass. Spencer smirked over her shoulder at her, like she knew exactly what Ashley was doing. She always knew. That never changed.

“Did you drive?”

“Rental.” Ashley nodded towards the motel across the road and a nondescript sedan parked in front of its only occupied room. She could hardly have used one of her own cars; the last thing she needed was some over-zealous Highway Patrolman running her plate and finding out that she was on a suspended California licence. Luckily for her, she still had a couple of out-of-state licences she could use. She had a vague notion she’d heard that hot-ass judge on one of the afternoon shows say it was illegal to have more than one current driver’s licence, but, hell, she didn’t care. Most days, she wasn’t up to driving anyway.

“Not what I meant.” Spencer looked pointedly at Ashley’s right hand, where the neck of an open bottle peeked out from its brown bag covering.

“Not on the day I came. At least, not till I got here,” she admitted, shame rising like bile. She wanted to throw the bottle away. She wanted to drain it dry, let it burn down her red-raw throat and warm her churning belly.

“How long have you been here?”

“Day before yesterday.” Maybe it had been the day before that; it was dark when she arrived, and time held little meaning.

“How much?”

“Not nearly enough.” It was false bravado. When Spencer didn’t say anything else, she mumbled, “This one’s the first today.” The fifth was nearly finished, but there was cash in her pocket for more. She didn’t even know what time it was, but the sun was still climbing, so probably before noon.

“That it?”

Is that not enough, she thought, but she answered anyway. “Just this.”

“Ash?” Spencer was facing her now, hands on hips, a world of pain in her eyes.

“No drugs.”

“Since when?”

She opened her mouth to lie, but Spencer would have caught it, so she didn’t. Spencer had caught her lying too many times. And she would lie and lie again later. This one wasn’t worth the instant strain it would put on them. She shrugged.

“A while. Not sure. Last year, though.” If it was summer now, then maybe nine or ten months. Depended what month it was, she supposed.

“What?”

“Coke.” A few lines at a party, just to make her feel like she could handle it. She wasn’t even sure what she had felt she needed to handle, but it had been important at the time. The paranoia and flop sweat when she was coming back down had reminded her that her body couldn’t process coke like it had when she was seventeen and sleeping with the dealer to get a freebie wasn’t just a good idea, it was the only idea. Alcohol was better, anyway. It was cheap and legal and easily accessible and no-one looked at you twice if you had a drink with lunch. Hell, people practically forced it on you in almost every social situation, and it was almost rude to say no.

Spencer leaned down and pried the bottle from Ashley’s hand, lifting it to her nose and curling her lip in distaste. “For a millionaire, you have cheap, shitty taste.”

“Was all they had.” It had claimed to be bourbon, but it was likely sour mash. The poverty of its taste suited her: she didn’t deserve fine things, and the cheap stuff burned more, hurt more, felt more like penance than escape.

Spencer poured the remaining liquid onto the dry ground and Ashley watched as it ran in a stream like olive oil over kitchen tile, the ground too hard baked to even form a puddle. Spencer threw the bottle into a nearby trash can and made her way back over, coming to a halt in front of her. Her hand tangled in Ashley’s hair, pulling her forward. She allowed it, let her arms lift and settle around Spencer’s waist, pressing the side of her face into the warm abdomen. She wanted to purr at the sensation of well-trimmed nails against her scalp.

“You smell like a distillery,” Spencer said, but her hand kept up its gentle stroking.

She inhaled deeply, fabric softener and the lightness of store-brand body wash fighting to be recognised over the fumes of cheap whisky, sweat and dirt. “You still smell like sunshine.”

The latest sigh was the worst kind of all, the don’t-go-there-because-you-lost-that-right sigh, and Ashley’s body convulsed as a wave of nausea hit her. Less than twenty minutes since her last drink, she estimated, so it definitely wasn’t any form of withdrawal yet. The DTs didn’t usually kick in until two or three days, but the shivers and sweats would make an appearance later, maybe before midnight. No, it was the self-loathing eating her from the inside which made her queasy. Or maybe hunger. She couldn’t remember when she last ate.

“Do you need to be sick?”

She was hoping to stave off actual vomiting until later. For the first stage of amateur detox, Spencer would give her a mixture of salt and charcoal and orange juice which would bring up everything from Ashley’s distended, acidic belly before she exhausted herself dry heaving. She didn’t want to think about that yet, and she didn’t really want to speak, either. Words were hard, and not just because she was at that point where oblivion was almost within her reach, taunting her with its promise, just so close. And words never made things better. The feel of Spencer’s fingers, that made things better. The smell of generic body wash on Spencer’s skin, that made things better.

Spencer pushed her head back a little, smoothing matted hair from her forehead. Ashley had no doubt that she looked as bad as she felt, but Spencer’s eyes were kind and loving. She wanted to get drunk on that look alone, even though she didn’t deserve it and yet still resented that she didn’t have it every day. If she had that look every day, then she wouldn’t be like this. If Spencer were with her all the time, she could be strong. But Spencer didn’t love her enough to be with her every day, because she wasn’t worth loving.

“Stop it,” Spencer said, because Spencer could see inside her head and knew what she was thinking. “You need to go pack now. And I’ll take care of the car. And we’ll do everything else when we get home.”

Spencer helped her to her feet and guided her back to the shitty motel room, with its green, brown and orange colour scheme straight out of a 1970s porn movie. Not that she’d seen a 1970s porn movie, but she’d seen Boogie Nights, and maybe that was set in the 1970s, although she wasn’t sure. She was at the stage where she wasn’t sure of much of anything.

She didn’t have much stuff with her anyway, because the Gas-N-Go didn’t care what you were wearing or how bad you smelled as long as you had enough cash to pay for your alcoholic beverages, and the one thing she didn’t lack was money. Her fortune grew every day, money coming in from radio stations in Brazil, streaming services in Finland, music TV channels in Turkey. Her famous father’s legacy from dying young of his addictions was to provide the means to fund his daughters’ own addictions, too.

Her sister’s kick was bums: she attracted no-good con men like ticks to a mange-ridden dog. Kyla could hardly give them her money fast enough, always mistaking sleaze for charm, constantly surprised when their devotion waned as soon as they found out that Kyla had only an allowance from the estate and the real money belonged to Ashley. Their father hadn’t been able to tell the gold diggers from the genuine thing, either.

It was a good thing that Spencer was outside, arranging for the rental car to be towed back to Los Angeles, because she fell at least four times, careening around the room like a pinball, smacking herself on what felt like every hard surface and sharp corner. Except Spencer wasn’t actually outside, she realised, as she tried to force herself to stand upright and look less drunk, because the blonde was leaning against the open doorway, her phone pressed to her ear and an unreadable look on her face.

Spencer was still murmuring into the phone as she pushed Ashley down onto the edge of one of the queen beds, her palm coming to rest against Ashley’s cheek, and gave her that sad smile again. She hated that sad smile, the one which said that Spencer would take care of her, because she couldn’t be trusted to take care of herself. So she just watched as Spencer packed her remaining belongings into the thin plastic bag with the gas station logo, and she heard words like ‘addiction counsellor’ and ‘recovery programme’, and she had no more shame to waste on caring that some stranger in a rental car office was being told that she was incapable of returning the car. But the sly part of her brain, her addict’s brain, noted that if she ever went back to Dollar, they’d have a note on file against her New York State driving licence and American Express card, so she couldn’t use either of them again.

+

When she woke up later, buckled into the front seat of Spencer’s pick-up, her head resting against the window, there was some godawful music playing low.

“What’s the hell’s that?”

“Patsy Cline.” Spencer leaned across to place the back of her hand to Ashley’s forehead. She wanted to ask Spencer to keep her hand there because it was cool, so very cool. She probably needed it to drive, though.

“I hate country.”

“That’s why it’s on.”

She looked at Spencer’s sound system, an old radio-cassette with an adaptor connecting it to an actual portable CD player, which in turn was stuck to the dashboard with a Velcro fastener. Who in God’s name didn’t own an MP3 player? From what she’d seen earlier, she also still had the same slider phone that she’d owned when Ashley first met her. Spencer was a firm believer that good enough was just fine: Ashley didn’t even understand the concept of good enough. She could afford the best phone, the best clothes, the best shoes, the best drugs: it was never enough.

Spencer’s thumb smoothed the frown lines between her eyes, mistaking it for physical discomfort. “You need me to pull over yet?”

“No.” She didn’t want to throw up at the roadside. She needed to have the pretence of dignity.

“Then, go back to sleep now, baby girl. We’ve got another hour or so.”

“Did you move house?” She didn’t recognise where they were, but one stretch of highway looked much like any other.

“Not since the last time.”

+

Spencer’s house—not their house, never their house, because Spencer moved there after—was a sprawling ranch-style property surrounded by orange groves. It was Spanish in style, all marble and tile and sandstone walls. If things had been different, maybe they could have lived there together. Although, if things had been really different, Spencer probably wouldn’t have moved there at all.

“So, uh, you’re here at the moment, not working?” Spencer was a live-in sober companion, which was how they’d met in the first place. Ashley’s constant relapsing aside, Spencer was good at her job and very well paid for it, so she often took long breaks between jobs because she could afford to, and because her own mental well-being was always better after she had a chance to decompress.

“Yes.” Spencer dropped Ashley’s sad plastic bag onto the hall table next to her keys. “I’ve got nothing lined up till August.”

Good to know it wasn’t August yet but, God, she felt awkward. “Thanks for coming for me.” That couldn’t be the best thing she had to say, but nothing else was forthcoming. “Thanks.”

Spencer pulled her into her arms, brushing her lips against Ashley’s temple. They didn’t speak for a bit, just stood there, holding each other. More truthfully, Spencer held her up while she concentrated on not falling down.

“You’ve lost too much weight again.” She pulled back enough to draw her knuckles down Ashley’s cheek. Ashley nodded, but she didn’t want to move, not when she felt safe and protected and loved, even after everything. But Spencer was stepping away, a slight frown forming. “Your skin’s going to feel like it’s on fire later. Why do you always sit outside in the sun?”

It was a rhetorical question. Ashley sat outside because she couldn’t actually bring herself to drink inside the motel where she’d nearly died. Twenty-four, and she couldn’t make it all the way from Los Angeles to Vegas without stopping for a tweak. It was meth back then, but it could have been anything. Her body had just wanted to give out, the way her heart had years before. It could have been in a motel room or behind the wheel of her car or in a stranger’s bed. But she wasn’t like that anymore. She didn’t really do drugs. Not often, anyway. Very occasionally. She drank. That was better, right? She was a drunk, not a junkie, a few steps higher on the ladder of social acceptance. People liked drunks: they were funny, gregarious, the life and soul of any party.

Besides, she thought, she welcomed the prickling sensation of the sunburn, because pain was pretty much the only sign she had that she could still feel something. Except when Spencer was there. When Spencer was there, she could feel calm sometimes. And also hatred, irrational and fearful and insidious, crawling up her consciousness to remind her that Spencer had abandoned her. She didn’t know who she hated more: herself for pushing Spencer away, or Spencer for actually leaving.

“We should get started,” Spencer said, and she tried to force a smile in response, but even her mouth felt too weary to comply.

She let herself be led through the master bedroom and into the bathroom. Spencer sat her down on the toilet seat and told her to wait. She bent her head, unable and unwilling to look at herself in the mirror behind her. It was only a couple of minutes before Spencer returned with a large tumbler of orange juice. Only, it wasn’t just orange juice. And then Spencer was helping her to the floor and making her drink all of it, even as her stomach rebelled and her brain screamed for whisky or vodka or anything else, even just plain water.

It was hours before the dry heaving ended and she was finally able to slump back against the bathroom tile, her body wrung out and covered in cold sweat. Spencer never left, murmuring soft words and holding her hair back and rubbing between her shoulder blades. She kept making her drink water, but the second it hit Ashley’s stomach, she threw up again. Every time, Spencer told her that it was good, she was good.

“Well, that’s the worst part over,” Spencer said. But they knew that wasn’t the case. It was so far from the worst part.

Spencer retrieved some bottles from her medicine cabinet, vitamins and minerals to replace some of what had been lost. She handed them to Ashley one at a time and made her wash it down with more water, cautioning her to sip gently to see if they would stay down. When ten minutes passed with no further heaving, Spencer started to run a bath and helped her back up to her feet.

“Let’s get you undressed.” Those kind eyes were there again, the ones which shone with love even as they took in the bruises and the scratches and the way her skin hung over her ribs. Her stomach wasn’t flat any more. It bulged out from too much alcohol and too little food, and it made her feel sick again to have Spencer see her, but the blonde tilted her face upwards and said, “Hey, just look at me, okay?”

She could do that. She could look at Spencer and pretend that she wasn’t hideous. She could look at Spencer while she gave a reassuring nod and removed her own shirt slowly, carefully. Spencer wasn’t trying to be seductive at all, but seeing her undress was still a thing of beauty and it hurt something inside of Ashley to know that she had thrown this away.

When they were both naked, Spencer took her hand and helped her into the bathtub, getting in alongside her. Spencer sat first, and then Ashley sat in front of her, leaning forward to hug her knees. Spencer tried to pull her back by her shoulder, but she shrugged away from the touch. She wasn’t quite ready to let herself lean back against her naked wife, not when she was only there because she feared that Ashley would drown if left alone.

“She really isn’t my girlfriend, you know.” The girl was nice. Not Spencer-nice, but nice enough to deserve better than Ashley. She was a friend of Kyla’s, which was probably how she’d known to call Spencer. Ashley had certainly never told her she was married. The wedding ring might have been a clue, though.

Spencer pressed her forehead between Ashley’s shoulder blades and a kiss to Ashley’s skin. “And I honestly don’t care.” She tugged on Ashley’s shoulders and eased them both backwards until they were settled, her hands resting on the upper slopes of Ashley’s breasts. Spencer’s ring was still there, too.

“Why are you still married to me, Spencer?”

“I’m guess I’m just not ready to let you go, baby girl.”

“But why did you marry me in the first place?”

“I wasn’t ready to let you go back then, either.”

+

The first time she woke up, they were both naked in the middle of Spencer’s huge bed. The sheets were soaked behind her, but Spencer’s body was cool against hers because she was always just right, warm when Ashley was cold, cool when Ashley was burning up. Her face was nuzzled into Ashley’s neck, the soft breath tickling the fine hairs below her ear, and her arm was heavy but secure around Ashley’s waist.

“I love you. Go back to sleep,” Spencer mumbled.

She did. For a while, at least. She got up a couple of times to be sick, although the vomit never came, and each time Spencer was waiting for her return, her hand out to pull her back into her.

When she woke up the final time, she was alone, and feeling like a freight train had hit her. The prickle of the sunburn she’d acquired left her forearms feeling hot and tight, but the rest of her was cold without Spencer there. She looked around for something to wear, and found a hoodie and yoga pants left out for her on the chair by the window, neatly folded with some of Ashley’s own underwear on top.

As she pulled on the loose clothing, leaving the bra where it was, she caught the framed sampler on the wall, right where it always was.

‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.’ It was the secular version of the Serenity Prayer, the prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve Step programmes.

The Twelve Steps never worked for Ashley. Spencer’s father swore by AA, while Narcotics Anonymous provided the succour Spencer’s brother needed. They were Catholics, though, and the idea that fighting your addiction could be done by acceptance that there was a higher power than yourself fit with their belief systems. Some addicts in her various rehabs wouldn’t have anything to do with AA because they thought it required belief in God: ‘choosing to stay drunk for theological reasons’ was a popular addict’s joke. But Ashley knew that your higher power could be anything, like science or a lucky coin or just human nature.

She’d been in enough therapy to know that AA was just another form of behavioural therapy, providing the addict with structure through peer support to reinforce good behaviour and to help develop coping strategies, all in an environment which didn’t judge failure. Because every addict failed, and they each failed uniquely.

What the Twelve Steps needed, and Ashley lacked entirely, was faith and a desire to change. Even after her first stint in rehab—ninety days to save her life, one of the doctors had said, the glib bastard—she was using again within a week. Just a bit of smoke, a little weed to calm her nerves while she coped with not being on anything harder. Weed wasn’t real drugs anyway. Her drugs counsellor didn’t agree when she failed her hair follicle test, which was how she ended up with a sober companion. And how she got a wife.

When Spencer arrived, Ashley resented her. It wouldn’t be too much to say that she hated her. It didn’t stop her from trying to bed her, though. Because, man, one look at Spencer Carlin and Ashley Davies was so far gone that she knew she’d never be coming back. Long blonde hair, long smooth legs, soft hands, kind eyes, dirty laugh, beautiful smile. That she was also Ashley’s jailer, her conscience, never once stopped her. And maybe Ashley couldn’t believe in a higher power, but she could believe in wanting to drown herself in Spencer instead of something else.

Four months of being clean, and she didn’t need Spencer as her sober companion any more. Well, that’s what she told herself. She wanted in Spencer’s pants and that wasn’t going to happen as long as they had a professional relationship, so she declared herself fit and well. Six months of being clean, two months of being apart after being together every day, and she persuaded Spencer to go on a date. They married within weeks. They had a two-month honeymoon in bed. It wasn’t just sex: it was passion and worship and obsession and love. More than anything, it was love.

There was no higher compliment Ashley could offer than that she loved Spencer more than she loved oblivion.

A year of being clean, and a new wife she adored, and Ashley felt like she owned the world. And then Spencer went away on a job, and the voices in her head—not real voices, but the doubts and the misgivings and the deep self-loathing—came back. So, she slipped a little. A glass of wine here to get her through to dinner alone, a shot of bourbon there to help her sleep. But it was fine because it was just alcohol, and she could stop before Spencer came back. That time, she did stop before Spencer came back.

She picked her wife up at the airport, sprinting towards her across the terminal and pulling her into a kiss she’d always crave more than any high, and she was clean and sober and bright and fresh and it was Spencer. Spencer came back to her, because Spencer loved her.

But Spencer went away again, because Spencer had to work, had to help other people who weren’t her, and each time it got harder to stop before Spencer came back, until she didn’t really stop, so much as cut back enough to get away with it. Only, she didn’t get away with it. She could see the hurt and betrayal in Spencer’s eyes, mixed with love and understanding and a compassion that Ashley didn’t deserve.

Love wasn’t like it was in the movies. There was rarely one big fight, or one single reason for its end. Love faded over a thousand battles which were never even fought. It faded over a missed text and the phone call not made; it faded over nights where there were no hugs or kisses or even caring touches; it faded over ‘How was I supposed to remember your mother’s birthday?’ and ‘I’m gonna be late tonight, babe’; and it faded over not saying the thing that was on your mind, in favour of saying nothing and having a quiet life. It faded over a hundred earnest letters sent to a wife in her second stint of rehab, written every day, sometimes several times a day, and a solitary sullen letter of half-meant promises and scatter-shot blame in reply. It faded over the easy lie of ‘It’ll be different this time’ and over coming home to find your wife passed out in the front doorway. It faded as past lies bubbled up to the surface, proof of deceit appearing in credit card statements and DUI tickets and summonses from various courts.

But love didn’t die: that was the problem. It withered and turned to resentment, but it could be instantly rekindled by a kiss or the trailing of fingernails up an inner thigh or even just warm breath against your cheek. Even the sad smile, the one she hated so much, was enough. She had no idea what Spencer saw in her, but she saw something, and she always took Ashley back. And they went through the cycle of intense love through disappointment to resentment and then to hatred and passion and back to love again.

Until, one day, Spencer was standing in the hall, bags packed at her feet and the saddest of all smiles on her face.

“I can be your sober companion, or I can be your wife, Ash. I can’t be both.”

There were words she could have said, but the dryness at the back of her throat was stopping any of them from forming. Unconsciously, she slipped her hand into her pocket to check if she had any cash on her because the El Salvadorian bodega closest to their apartment building didn’t take plastic. And, even if it did, she’d at least learnt the lesson that cash left fewer traces for a wife to find.

“You don’t love me.” If Spencer loved her, if she was good enough have Spencer’s love, then Spencer would never leave.

“That has never been our problem.”

“But I need you.”

“I know.”

Neither of them was crying, which seemed significant. And then Spencer was gone from their home, gone from her life, and there were no words to describe the emptiness that she felt. And she wondered how long she needed to wait for Spencer’s taxi to be far away enough that she could go to the bodega without the chance that Spencer would see her.

+

It was nearly morning when Spencer appeared in the kitchen, wearing only a t-shirt, one of Ashley’s old ones that she’d taken when she left. Ashley had put the yoga pants and hoodie she’d worn the previous afternoon back on because they smelled of Spencer and home and love.

“What are you doing?” Spencer slid down the wall to sit next to her on the kitchen floor, and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“Dunno.” All the cupboard doors were open, bottles and cans pulled out and abandoned across every surface. Spencer never kept alcohol in her house: they both knew that. Ashley still had to look: they both knew that, too.

“Did you find what you wanted?” She took Ashley’s hand and placed it on her bare thigh.

Ashley looked down. There was a time when her hand belonged there. It looked alien, resting on the lightly tanned, healthy skin, so warm against her clammy palm. She looked up at Spencer’s face, trying to read the expression in the dark, but her mind was too tired and clouded to think.

She turned around and pushed Spencer’s thighs apart, moving herself until she was sitting sideways in the space between them, both of her legs draped over one of Spencer’s. She tucked her head under Spencer’s chin, pulling down the neckline of the baggy t-shirt so she could place her cheek against skin. She needed that warmth again.

“I just want to want you.” It was a small truth, an admission that Spencer wasn’t all that she wanted, but that she wished she could be different. “I want us to be enough.”

“I know you do, baby girl. I know you do.” Spencer’s arms went around her, rubbing her back and stroking her hair.

+

When she woke up again, she was feeling better. She was less sore, less strung out. After a long shower and a change of clothes—more yoga pants, but a tank top this time, still smelling like Spencer and all the good things—she went through to the sun room.

Spencer was spread out on the couch, reading a newspaper, a glass of orange juice in her other hand. When she looked up, she gave one of Ashley’s favourite smiles, the there’s-my-girl smile which made her feel like she was fourteen and being picked up by her date for junior prom.

“You’re not wearing any underwear, are you?” she said.

Ashley looked down at herself. “No.”

“Tease.” It was too soon for that, but maybe tomorrow or the day after they would get there. And they would get there, because they always did. But Spencer would wait for Ashley’s body and mind to be ready. She always knew when that was better than Ashley ever did.

Ashley went through to the kitchen and took a pitcher from the fridge. The homemade lemonade had ginger in it, and some other things which were probably good for her, something about electrolytes or something like that. She liked it because it was her special drink, which Spencer made only for her. Spencer didn’t like lemon at all.

She sipped at it at first, making sure her stomach wouldn’t rebel, and then drained a whole glass in barely one swallow.

“Feeling better today?”

She looked at her wife over her shoulder. She looked good in jeans and a Henley, and Ashley stared at Spencer’s exposed neck, because she had always liked the skin there best of all.

“Much.”

“You up to something to eat, you think? Maybe some toast and an egg-white omelette?” She stood next to Ashley by the open fridge, peering in to see what she had.

“Maybe.”

Spencer began preparing the food in silence, while Ashley watched her and drank her lemonade. One of the things that she loved so much about Spencer was that her wife never pushed her to talk. They were often better in their silences anyway. Addicts lied. But her heart and her eyes didn’t, and Spencer could read both. She knew how to find the truth in Ashley’s silences.

They never spoke about the reasons for Ashley’s addictions, because there was no terrible wrong, no trauma, no big hurt which could be fixed by talking anyway. Her father had been loving, when he was there, which wasn’t often. Her mother had been there all the time, but not loving at all. But, she’d wanted for nothing. She had plenty of happy childhood memories, sporadic and fleeting, but more than many kids had, more even than most. There had been boyfriends first, and then later girlfriends once she worked that one out. And there had been friends, mostly superficial and kept at arm’s length, but that had been her choice. She actually did okay in school when she could be bothered. Being bothered was always the problem, though. Everything was too much effort. Except oblivion, which was achieved easily through a powder or a pill or a bottle.

Sir Winston Churchill had called his depression his black dog, brooding alongside him, always nipping at his heels. For Ashley, it was a black velvet hole which she was constantly having to walk around. But she didn’t want to walk around it because it was warm and inviting and it blocked everything else out. The white noise of the world around her just stopped.

There were things she knew about herself, things she wished she could change. She knew that she sabotaged her own happiness. She could see it happening, and she couldn’t stop herself from doing it because, inside, she genuinely felt that she didn’t deserve happiness. And at least she was in control of something, even if it was only her misery. She took women who weren’t her wife to her bed because she wanted to feel something, but that never happened, because Spencer was the only one who made her feel anything. And she couldn’t be around Spencer while she was drinking. Not because she didn’t think Spencer would let her, but because she loved her wife enough to want more for her than that.

She moved to the stove and slipped her arms around Spencer, pulling her back into her. Ashley was always the one being held, being loved, and she wanted in that moment to be the one who offered comfort.

“I miss you every moment I’m gone,” she said, acknowledging their truth, that Spencer had never really left her. She had left Spencer for her addiction. Spencer had changed address, but Ashley had left their marriage long before that had happened.

“You were gone too long this time,” Spencer said, turning her head to kiss Ashley’s cheek where it rested against her own. It had been nearly a year since they were last like this, the longest Ashley had ever gone between sober moments since they had met. “Don’t leave me for that long again. I don’t think I could bear it.”

And she didn’t answer because her words would still be a lie. She could promise, and she would mean it as she said it, but her promises had been worthless in the past and might very well be worthless again. She just stood still and held her wife close.

+

Ashley’s life was divided into good days and bad days, and three bad days followed, in which she fumed and cursed the world for her life, lashing out at everything Spencer said and did. It wasn’t the full DTs, although she’d been through those before, but she was back to sweating and not eating and crying. And the craving became unbearable, clawing at her insides, leaving her shuddering. She ran from the house, wanting to be anywhere else, anywhere with alcohol, but she was miles from anywhere. Spencer owned a house in the middle of nowhere, down a long, bumpy road only accessible by four-wheel drive, and the keys were kept in the safe, because Spencer was married to an addict who would always try to run to the nearest source of oblivion. And she hated her for knowing that, for planning for that.

Then there was a good day, in which they went outside into the open air, and the sun didn’t hurt her. It felt good on her skin, and Spencer shone in its rays, her eyes and her smile and her goodness filling every dark place in Ashley’s soul until she felt like she could explode with it. She pressed Spencer up against a gnarled orange tree and kissed her. It was soft and hard and she drank in the little whimpers she had missed so much, because kissing Spencer was an assault on all of her senses at once.

When her hand slipped inside Spencer’s button-down shirt, its chambray soft against the back of her hand, but not like Spencer’s skin was soft against her fingertips, she was pushed back. Spencer looked at her for what felt like long minutes, before shaking her head and cupping her cheek.

“Not today, baby girl,” she said, kissing her softly. “Not yet.”

Ashley knew what she meant. She wasn’t going to give in when Ashley was trying to lose herself. She would only give in when Ashley wanted to find herself again.

+

Their moment came later than Ashley expected. It was almost three weeks after Spencer had picked her up at the motel, and August was bearing down on them with its promise of Spencer leaving.

Ashley woke up to find Spencer in her usual position, pressed to her side, mouth and arm and leg against Ashley in all the places she needed them to be, and she felt so safe and loved that she couldn’t remember why she hated herself or why she drank in the first place. Spencer opened her eyes for only a moment, pressed a kiss to her cheek, and lay back down, moving her hand to rest over Ashley’s heart. And she knew their time had come.

They ate breakfast together in silence, their eyes saying what their words couldn’t. They went back to the bedroom—still Spencer’s bedroom, not theirs, although maybe one day it could be—and undressed, watching each other. And Ashley didn’t flinch. Her body had healed almost completely, even if her mind still lagged some distance behind. But she felt physically whole, at least, and not ashamed for Spencer to see her naked.

When they came together in the bed, met in the middle, it was slow and sweet and heavy with meaning. It wasn’t like any other time, even though they had been together in so many ways over the years.

“You’re my addiction.” Spencer kissed Ashley, pushing her body into her, pressing her further into the bed. “I need you more than I need air.”

“That doesn’t sound good for your health.”

“Probably not, but it’s true.” Spencer laughed against her neck, her hands moving everywhere, teasing and pleasing.

“So I should kick my addiction, but yours is fine?”

“We’re both addicts, Ash. My addiction is just healthier than yours.”

“So, I should find a healthier addiction, then?” She trailed her fingernails up Spencer’s spine. “Or maybe you should?”

Her wife grinned and easily pushed three fingers deep inside her, swallowing her loud moan with a kiss.

“Fuck you, Ashley. I’m not giving you up. Ever.”

+

They made love for hours, their bodies slick with sweat and each other, and were lying next to each other in the tangled mess of sheets, just looking.

“It’s different this time, isn’t it?”

Maybe. Her thirtieth birthday was approaching, and their fifth wedding anniversary, and, for the first time in her life, she was contemplating checking herself into rehab, rather than being forced to go by court order. And she knew that she couldn’t just sit around Spencer’s house for months and wait for her wife to come home, because that wouldn’t be real life. It would be hiding, and she didn’t want to hide behind anything. But answering still felt like a promise and it was far too soon for promises that weren’t just easy lies.

“Will you always belong to me?” she asked instead.

Spencer smiled, the best smile of all, the I-am-so-in-love-with-you smile, and Ashley thought that maybe, this time, that smile could be enough to stop her from falling again. Because she wanted to stop falling. She wanted to be able to stand tall, on her own two feet, and love this woman next to her the way she deserved to be loved. And Spencer rolled back on top of her, pressing her lips to sticky skin, covering Ashley’s face in kisses before looking straight at her.

“You still don’t get it, do you?”

“What?” She moaned as she felt Spencer move against her thigh, wet and deliberate.

“You have always been good enough for me, Ash. You have always been all I’ve ever needed.”

She believed that Spencer meant it, and the smallest part of her even believed that it could be true, that one day she could be good enough for Spencer.

“So what now?”

Spencer kissed her nose. “Now, we try, one day at a time.”

“We try?”

“Yeah,” Spencer said, like it was the easiest thing in the world.

But she could give that a shot. She could try.

12 Comments

  1. Lyn
    Posted 21 March 2014 at 7.22pm | Permalink

    Wow. Just… Wow. This was pretty heavy, but still really beautiful. I love how it ends, it’s like they’re still inside the tunnel, but they can finally see the light at the end and that’s just amazing. Keep on writing Spashley, you guys are the best:)

  2. Amanda
    Posted 21 March 2014 at 10.22pm | Permalink

    That was very awwwww. A little heartbreaking but also with a touch of hope. Brilliant as always.

  3. Jsparky04
    Posted 21 March 2014 at 10.52pm | Permalink

    Great writing as usual. It made me very sad, but thank you for sharing, Dev.

  4. Meech
    Posted 22 March 2014 at 2.06am | Permalink

    I think this is one of my favorite things you have written. In a league of its own, really. Not going to delve into detail publicly, but this was a therapeutic read for me, at the moment. My understanding on both sides of this setting are extensive and you’ve written it perfectly. Your talent is often unmatched. As always, thank you.

  5. Posted 22 March 2014 at 3.42am | Permalink

    wow…just…wow. Heart wrenching yet beautiful…wow.

  6. Posted 22 March 2014 at 3.46am | Permalink

    This is amazing! very sad but yet there is hope!

  7. Jude
    Posted 22 March 2014 at 9.51am | Permalink

    Beautifully real. Only just found this little goldmine of SON fics, and this one is heartbreaking but ended with a sense of hope. Spencer is a beacon of devotion, strength and forgiveness, but no starry-eyed fool either. Can’t ask for much more than that in a lover.

  8. cbrammer
    Posted 22 March 2014 at 6.33pm | Permalink

    This kind of messed me up for a Saturday morning. Great writing will do that sometimes…

  9. Cassy
    Posted 26 March 2014 at 1.18pm | Permalink

    Absolutely beautiful. Words are powerful and you use them in the most incredible of ways.

    Thank you for the update!

  10. Juli
    Posted 29 March 2014 at 5.06pm | Permalink

    Beautiful, this is the third time I read it.I am full of love and compassion. Thank you ;)

  11. spikkels8
    Posted 31 March 2014 at 5.29pm | Permalink

    Just what I needed after such a hard week and weekend!! Loved it so thank you for making my Monday NOT blue. But Spash-tastic!

  12. Gelique
    Posted 31 March 2014 at 6.00pm | Permalink

    Heavy yet beautiful. Made my weekend. Thank you for a good read. Yes, there is hope.

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