God help me, but I can’t be angry with her for it either.
I know that I must look spectacularly dumb right now.
I mean… “I still can’t believe you bit me.”
She laughs a little harder before tucking her legs up under her and sighing happily.
She’s swimming in a terry cloth robe, her hair is slightly disheveled, and she’s throwing all kinds of shit my way, but everything about her is a sight for sore eyes.
For a moment, just a moment, she’s the same girl that I fell in love with… before I hurt her.
“That night, did you have any clue what was really going on with me?”
I’m not scared anymore. I’ve already run away. That’s the whole point of this foray down pain lane, right?
I’m trying to run backwards.
And a straight jacket…
Her face becomes pensive. “You mean, did I know that you thought that you were in love with me?”
I nod once, swirling the meager contents of my mug to keep from arguing that it wasn’t a thought, but the truth.
Somehow, I know that she won’t be receptive.
“I had no clue at the time. I thought that you were just being selfish. And, I’ll admit that I was just too wrapped up in my own confusion to deal with yours.”
She smirks. “If only I’d been telepathic. It would have saved us both a lot of heartache.”
“You mean that you would have stayed away from me?”
I set my mug down right on the glass table next to me.
Without a coaster…
Take that sea-witch.
She stares down into her mug as if it’s a crystal ball, her voice small and overwhelmingly tender. “There’s nothing that could have stopped me from falling in love with you, Ash. It was inevitable.”
I frown. I mean, it’s incredibly sweet, and my heart is swelling with hope, but… “How would telepathy have helped then?”
She sighs, setting her own mug on a matching table without a coaster.
0 for 2, sea-witch.
“If I’d have known that you were going to leave me, I could have at least tried to stop you.”
She stops my words with a tearful glance, her voice cracking. “Do you have any idea what I went through to be with you? Any at all?”
Of course I do. I was there, and it wasn’t easy on me either.
I finished hanging the last string of paper lanterns and climbed down off of the ladder to step back and look at my handiwork.
The place looked awesome. The pool was full of various toys, the lighting was festive but intimate. The ice cream cake that looked like a giant clapperboard was chilling in the freezer along with a couple of kegs, and there was a fully stocked bar. And, of course, the band was setting up on a platform at the back of the yard.
The patio doors opened up to the pool area, letting in the warm July air, and combining the indoors and outdoors into one massive, open expanse of party room.
Seventeen was a big milestone, senior year an even bigger one, and I was determined to make this party an extravaganza that Spencer wouldn’t soon forget, no matter where she decided to go when we graduated.
She’d done no less for me nine months prior, even though I’d managed to ruin it for both of us. Because of me, Christine had overheard our shouting. She’s decided to wait until Spencer left to save me the embarrassment of getting reamed publically, but the party would be cancelled, the booze confiscated, and the parents of all involved would be informed so that we could all be grounded.
My jealousy had ruined the last leg of summer, and nearly cost me my best friend.
It’s for that very reason that, since that night, I’d backed off of Spencer.
Now before you start flipping out, it’s not like we weren’t still seeing each other all of the time. She just couldn’t be responsible for my feelings anymore. It was time for me to make myself happy, and in turn, hope beyond hope that she’d find her own happiness too.
It had become achingly clear to me that Spencer would never be receptive to my feelings, because only two weeks after my blow-up, she’d started dating a guy named Patrick. Apparently, her mom had set her up with him and they’d hit it off.
He was nice enough, if not a little conceited and a complete douche, but he seemed to really like Spencer. Spencer at least kept me in the loop, so the best friend traditions were being observed to the full extent. And it opened us up to talk more about those things, though I quickly learned that I hated it.
She’d had her first kiss and was dating regularly. She’d even let him feel her up. Do you see why I hated it? I mean, be careful what you ask for. But then, to make it worse, she was constantly asking about my romantic life and guys, but I just didn’t want one – double intender intended.
She didn’t know that I was hurting over her, and she sure as hell didn’t know that I was gay – like, straight up no interest in guys at all, lesbian. It was just going to take time to get over her, and well, until then, I was kind of like a neutered puppy. If not for a broken heart, I’d have probably been breaking a few hearts of my own.
Ultimately, I just wasn’t sure how she’d react, and I didn’t want to strain our friendship any more than it already was. And it was, she just wasn’t aware of that either.
So I found myself with some free time on my hands while she went and did her hetero mating rituals, which was often, and both music and programming had proved to be very therapeutic.
I was officially the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of The Runaway Chase.
Yes, I chose the name.
And then, you know, homage to Lita…
We had a full set of originals, but tonight would be mostly covers. Either way, we stuck to a distinct, yet familiar indie rock sound with a little electronic synth mixed in.
That just so happened to be my favorite.
This party for Spencer was sort of a sending off if you will. Once school hit we’d be focused on homework, and I’d be focused on music while she focused on her boyfriend. And of course, there was also college preperation.
I still hadn’t chosen a college, and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to attend one. I pretty much didn’t have anything worked out, and that was probably one of the more noticeable differences between me and Spencer.
I always knew that I wanted to play music and I didn’t need a degree for that. I’d been writing and recording my own stuff at home for years, and I already had a ton of training under my belt. And now, with my band, I was racking up experience via local venues on the weekend.
Bands rarely made it big in the industry, but I decided to live in the moment, future be damned.
Spencer never really had a passion like that. It was almost as if she enjoyed too many things to ever be able to select just one. But, when the career fair came to campus just before summer break, she’d finally found her calling: she wanted to direct movies.
It made sense really. She’d always been nuts about movies. She’d taught me everything that I knew, and ever since then, there’s been a camera permanently attached to her hand. It would be irritating if not for the light in her eyes when she’s behind it.
And I wanted her to have that light forever. I hoped that she’d find it in both the professional and romantic realms. I hoped those things for myself as well, however lofty.
“We’re all set,” Aiden said happily. “Bring on the hot girls in bikinis!”
He gave me a lascivious grin and I punched him in his arm. I knew that I was hot, and I knew that wearing nothing more than a black bikini top and daisy dukes only made it worse, but he was such a… well, guy.
He couldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
My cell buzzed in my pocket and I pulled it out to see a text.
‘K,’ was all that he’d be getting back.
As I mentioned, Patrick seemed like an alright guy, but we weren’t friends. I’d never really like him at no fault of his own, and it just felt gross getting texts from him.
“Spencer will be here in half an hour,” I relayed to Aiden.
He grinned and pulled out his own phone, swiping his finger across the screen a few times before stowing it again.
My phone buzzed again but I didn’t need to look. It was Aiden’s group text. People would be arriving any time now, and as if on cue, the doorbell rang.
Aiden opened both front doors and just left them that way. People started trickling in immediately, and I could see the headlights of more cars coming up the drive.
I watched as a couple of the first arrivals helped Aiden set the kegs in Rubbermaid buckets full of ice and decided to go and warm up with the band until she got here.
We tuned up and started a lazy free-style to work out the kinks. It seemed like only minutes before Aiden came running up, swiping a hand across his throat for us to kill it.
This was it.
The house was packed with bodies by the time that Patrick was helping Spencer up the steps to Aiden’s front door. A blindfold was obscuring her vision and everyone was ungodly quiet as they parted to let the couple through.
Patrick carefully led her around the pool to our low stage, and nodded to me just before unceremoniously tearing the blindfold away.
Spencer’s eyes were wide with confusion as she glanced around in shock.
The whole of Whickliffe high yelled, “SURPRISE!”
I could tell that she was embarrassed, but she was smiling. When her eyes met mine, I immediately broke out in an electric shredding solo of happy birthday, embellishing when possible and letting my freak flag fly.
And, if I was being honest, I was rubbing my skill in Patrick’s face a little. When I’d first met him he had been excited to learn that I play because he was a guitarist as well. I hadn’t realized until he picked up my guitar to show me some stuff, that he’d immediately assumed that he was better than me.
Man, he’d been so wrong…
I mean, Lita Ford was my hero…
His style was more contemporary praise and worship.
I think I bruised his ego a little bit.
Once the last grungy note squealed out of my strat, the band kicked in for a more traditional run through of the song, and everyone in the crowd sang along.
Spencer was beaming and holding her hands to her chest. I was surprised to see the camera missing. Patrick must have forced her to leave it. He really hated that thing.
The song finished and everyone cheered.
“Happy Birthday, Spence,” I said into the mic.
Patrick pulled her into his arms and leaned in for a deep kiss. I looked away, focusing on the rest of the crowd and forcing myself into the energy of it all.
I’d be okay if I could play some music.
“Is everyone ready to PARTY,” I shouted and there was another round of screaming.
“We’re The Runaway Chase, and since it’s Spencer’s birthday, be sure to embarrass the shit out of her!”
The screams mixed with chuckles and even a couple of wolf whistles, and Spencer pried herself away from Patrick long enough to give me a scathing look.
I ignored her, grinning like a fool.
Everyone was pumped up enough to start so the drummer kicked us off into a cover of The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Phenomena’ and I lost myself in the set. We played some Runaways, Naked and Famous, Metric, and Dead Weather to name a few.
I was feeling pretty good by the end. The music was upbeat but slightly angry, so it was therapeutic. I slunk off of the stage and smiled my way through all of the adoring drunkards and pool splashers. I was in desperate need of a bottle of water. It was warm out and playing always made me feel sticky.
Once the water bottle was empty, I traded it for two red solo cups full of suds and started to look for Spencer. She’d danced at the stage for a while before Patrick had pulled her away into the house.
That had been about an hour ago. I searched the sea of people, albeit slowly. I was stopped every few seconds to be adored, and I soaked it up easily with smiles and only mild annoyance at Spencer’s absence.
I took a sip from the second cup, the other empty a while ago, and sat down on the foot of the staircase.
Maybe they’d left…?
A boy and girl came down the steps and I had to scoot over to let them pass. They were holding hands, her hair was mussed, and both of them were flushed. A dark thought struck me and I glanced up to the top of the stairs.
I hadn’t checked up there.
I finished off my beer and got to my feet, hanging my cup like a hat on the bannister before working my way up. I side-stepped the trash and apprehensively checked the frantically groping party-goers that lined the walls, but none of them were Spencer.
I did get a few dirty looks though…
Aiden’s house was pretty much a mini-mansion, so there were at least five rooms up here, as well as a couple of bathrooms.
I decided to start with the first door on my left. It wasn’t locked, so I peeked inside. The couple on the bed was going at it pretty good, but there was a lamp on in the room and not a single blonde hair in sight, curtains or drapes.
I breathed a sigh of relief and closed the door quietly before making my way to the next door.
This door was locked but I didn’t need to look in there. There’s no way that the girl inside was Spencer. This chick was yowling like a howler monkey in heat to the slaps and grunts of her partner’s thrusts.
The door across the way was locked but I heard a toilet flush. So I moved to the next door, stopping dead in my tracks when I heard the voices inside having a heated argument.
“God, Spencer, what’s the problem!?”
I could hear rustling. And since when was her voice so small? She’d never put up with that shit…
“It’s Ashley, isn’t it?”
“Ashley has nothing to do with this, Patrick.”
Well, that was more like her, but I slumped against the wall, unable to move.
“I’ve seen the way she looks at you,” he said angrily. “And you… you like it!”
It became incredibly quiet, and the atmosphere inside of the room grew so thick that I could see green fog seeping from beneath the door.
“You… like her…don’t you?” This time, his voice was low and accusing.
My heart nearly burst from my ribs and my head started reeling. And it had nothing to do with the two cups of beer.
It also had nothing to do with Aiden’s booming voice. “Ashley, there you are!”
He came bounding over to me like a golden retriever puppy with a tennis ball in its mouth. I shot off of the wall, held my hands out, and shook my head frantically in a silent plea.
“Your bandmates are looking for-“
He finally caught on, but it was too late. The door next to me had opened and a furious Patrick was standing there still buttoning up his shirt. His eyes raked over me like he was trying to set me on fire before he gave Spencer one last seething look over his shoulder.
“Fucking dykes,” he mumbled before brushing past me, and without any real intention, I found my foot hooking his leg to send him sprawling in the hallway.
He stood up slowly, and for a moment I thought that he was going to hit me, but Aiden put himself in the way and shoved him back.
“Get out of my house, asshole.”
There was no mistaking the threat in his voice.
Patrick seemed to think about it for a moment before turning and leaving in a huff. Aiden turned to me with apology in his eyes and I reached up on my tiptoes to give him a kiss on the cheek.
I wasn’t sure why I’d felt the need to do that, but sometimes he showed just how big and loyal his heart was, despite the fact that he was just… a guy.
He blushed a little, and it was kind of cute considering how huge he was. He scrubbed at the back of his neck and awkwardly pointed down the hallway before ambling that way without a word.
My attention went straight to Spencer. I didn’t know what to make of what I’d just seen or heard. I pushed the door open a little and found her folded up on the floor, her back resting against the foot of the rumpled bed while she hugged her knees to her chest.
She was wearing only her underwear and one of her bra straps was hanging loose down her arm. Her ponytail was lopsided and she seemed so small and so broken.
I shut the door and sat next to her, mirroring her pose. She hadn’t looked up at me when I’d approached, so I just sat there, figuring that she’d talk when she was ready.
It took at least ten minutes.
“I couldn’t do it, Ash,” she choked out.
I frowned for a moment, but then her words clicked with her appearance.
I’d kill that bastard…
She lifted her head and finally looked over at me, resting her tear streaked face on her knees. “I couldn’t sleep with him.”
I wanted to hate myself when a wave of relief swept through me. I should have been more worried about how she was feeling.
God, I was a truly terrible friend. She’d needed me and I hadn’t been paying attention. He could have raped her, and I wouldn’t have even known.
Well, I was paying attention now.
“It’s okay to not be ready, Spence.”
She shook her head and swiped angrily at her eyes before leaning her head back against the bed. “That’s not what I mean.”
Okay, so I was even more confused. She felt bad for not being ready when he was or… what?
“I am ready,” she said.
She turned her head and looked right at me, right through me. “Just not with him.”
We’d never talked about it this in-depth before. Sex was always something that had been hanging over my head like a guillotine blade. And for whatever reason, Spencer avoided it too. I just didn’t know her reasons, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask.
But maybe now I could be the good friend, despite my feelings. I didn’t want to know, but she needed to talk, so I just opened the door.
If she said Aiden, I was going to hang myself.
Shaking sobs overtook her slowly at first, but then picked up in intensity. I pulled her to me, tears stinging my own eyes though I had no idea why. I just hated to see her hurting so badly.
How had I not seen that she was hurting so badly?
She buried her face in my neck and wept for a long time, and I just held her and rocked her and stroked her, having no idea what else to do. Besides, my mind was still trying to figure her out. The tears finally subsided and that’s when she surprised the hell out of me.
“I’m gay, Ash.”
It was almost so quiet that I didn’t hear it.
“I don’t want to be, but I just can’t help it, and my family’s going to hate me.”
Now I understood, really understood. I was gay too, but I wasn’t worried about Christine or Kyla. Christine didn’t tell me how to live my life, so much as remove the bad and smack my hand when I tried to reach for it anyway.
But her parents… Mrs. C was a complete control freak, and she was religious.
I had no idea what to say to my best friend who I’d been neglecting when she’d needed me the most. I had no idea how to fix anything for her. And ultimately, even if I did, I couldn’t. No one could fix this situation but her parents.
All I could do was make myself just as vulnerable and see if knowing that she wasn’t alone would help.
“I’m gay too, Spence.”
Immediately a weight lifted from my chest, and I didn’t just mean Spencer’s head. She was looking at me in confusion and shock but I just felt free.
Hell, I was smiling.
“I’m gay. I’m a lesbian.”
There, I’d said it again. It felt even better the second time, that is until Spencer shot to her feet.
“What,” she asked.
I frowned and stood up as well. “I’m gay too, so, so I get it…”
Where was that whole don’t be rash and impulsive talk now?
“When did that happen?”
Why did she sound so affronted, as if I’d just slapped her?
God help me, I was sputtering, saying things without thinking them through.
“I guess, I’ve always kind of known, but I didn’t really realize it until…”
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…
At least her voice was gentler now.
I exhaled heavily. There was only so much that could be cleared up in one night, and she didn’t need a declaration of eternal love and devotion added to her already full plate.
And, I was a coward.
And I was trying to talk myself out of it.
I mean, just because she was gay, didn’t mean that she’d want me.
“It’s… it just clicked,” I deflected.
“How,” she asked forcefully.
I stared at my fidgeting fingers. “Spence, don’t ask things if… if you might not like the answers.”
She slumped onto the bed. “Was it some fan girl…?”
I sat down next to her and stared nonplussed. “Oh my God… No, Spence. I haven’t done… that… yet.”
She sniffled and seemed to relax a little bit, but she was still so sad.
Oh well, here goes nothing.
I reached over and turned her face to mine, gently stroking a thumb over her cheek to clear away a fresh tear.
She was flushed, her face wet and the skin around her red eyes was puffy, but I loved her all the more for it. I was just about to tell her that, but the words tangled up in my mouth. I didn’t know how to say it; I didn’t know how she’d take it; I only knew that I felt it. And for the first time, I wanted her to feel it too.
I leaned in instinctively and tenderly pressed my lips to hers. It was only a brief contact, over before I could really register the feel of it, but all of my apprehension and fear dissipated.
It felt as if I had been born for this, born to love her. And all of my insecurities melted away when she leaned in and kissed me back.
Something I didn’t even have a name for roared to life inside of me. My skin felt tighter. The throbbing of my heart was noticeable in places that hadn’t really registered before.
I gasped, she stole that breath, and before I knew it, the kiss had deepened. It became firmer, warmer, and wetter. My fingers found their way to her neck and I felt a caress to my thigh. I was on sensory overload. I hadn’t entertained these needs before and they wanted to come rushing out with a resounding, “YIPEE.”
But this was Spencer. What I wanted didn’t matter in the face of what she needed. And what she needed was gentleness and kindness and a return on some of that warmth that I’d been sapping from her since the day that I’d met her.
I pulled back, reluctantly breaking the kiss and looking into her eyes. She smiled a very Spencer smile, even when more tears came. And I held her close. I had no idea what would happen from here. I only knew that whatever it was, I’d love her through it.