Spencer shuts her eyes. “Thank God,” she breathes almost desperately.
I gaze at her curiously. “Thank God?”
“Thank God you had someone to help you.”
“Oh,” I say.
“Even when you wouldn’t help yourself,” she chastises.
I look down properly contrite. “I was young and scared, Spence.”
It’s quiet for a moment, but I can tell that it’s going to take some time for her to really let what happened go, despite my reasons, or excuses, or whatever she thinks they are.
“So she took you in,” she changes the topic.
I nod, thankful for neutral territory. “Pretty much, and good thing too. I started taking this medicine that they give to chemo patients to reset their immune system. My hair fell out and I got pretty sick, but it seemed to work.”
“So that’s why your hair is so much shorter,” she observes.
I reach up to finger the shoulder length curls absentmindedly. “Yeah, it’s a good thing it grows fast. Bald is not a good look for me.”
She smirks at me. “I bet you still looked beautiful.”
I grin at her and she clears her throat. “So all you needed were pills?”
She’s good at this ‘changing the subject’ thing.
“No, I kept relapsing every couple of months. Shirley and her partner, Sam, took care of me.” I shrug. “And we waited.”
“Waited… for what,” she seems almost afraid to ask.
“For a donor… or death…”
She wipes at her red, swollen eyes. “Did you… finally get one?”
I sigh. “Yeah, but it came at a price.”
Spencer frowns. “Like… the black market?”
I chuckle and shake my head. “God, Spence, I wouldn’t even know how to do that. I mean, put a post on Craigslist or something?”
She laughs with me for a moment before I truly consider the question. “Actually, now that you say it that way, it’s not too far from the truth.”
“How do you mean?”
“Do you remember all the programming I used to tinker with?”
She rolls her eyes. “God, sometimes I had to practically straddle you naked to get you to take your eyes off that screen.”
Wow, there’s a mental image I can totally live with.
We’re both quiet for a moment before she finally says, “Sorry, that was a little… awkward.”
I grin slyly at her. “Speak for yourself.”
She reaches over the table and smacks me on the arm. “Lech.”
I chuckle. “Guilty as charged.”
“Anyway,” she says pointedly. “What about the programming?”
“Remember that app I made where I could upload my playlist to the internet and access it from anywhere?”
She nods, a wistful smile lighting her features. “That thing was pretty cool. It was kind of like Spotify.”
I grin at her. “That’s because it is.”
Her brows furrow for a moment before her jaw goes slack.
I nod. “Yeah, I mean, they added sponsors, a bunch of chunky code for looks, make people pay for it, and changed the name for obvious reasons, but…”
She leans her head back and laughs. “Beaver Destroyer’s Symposium of Music…” She facepalms. “It’s little wonder…”
I chuckle with her. “Yup, BDSM…”
“God, you were so twisted.” She glances over at me. “I’ve missed your sense of humor.”
I smile at her. “I’ve missed yours too, Spence.”
More than she could ever know…
It’s quiet again, but not so loaded, and I’m thankful.
“So, you sold it?”
“How,” she asks.
“Well, we’d been waiting for about a year and I was certain that I was going to die, so I asked Shirley to sell all of my worldly possessions: one whole bag of clothes, my laptop, and Al.”
“No way… you sold Al?” She frowns. “But you played him last night at the concert.”
I grin because she’d noticed.
“I was just being dramatic, but she did as I asked.” I laugh as the memory catches up to me. “Shirley doesn’t put up with my shit… at all. She figured if I wanted to be a dumbass, I’d have to pay the consequences. Little did she know that my melodrama gave her an opening that would extend my life.”
I can tell that she’s confused. “So, how does that relate to buying a donor?” She scrunches up her face. “There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.”
I chuckle at her. “The guy who bought the laptop, Joe, was a friend of Shirley’s. He’s a programmer who works for Microsoft. He showed up at the house about six months later and told me that one of his friends in Sweden, who had been trying to market something similar without great results, had taken a look at it and wanted to buy it. Now, technically, when Joe bought the laptop, he owned anything on it, but because we programmers have a code that we live by,” I smirk at her and rolls her eyes. “He handed me a check right then and there for half of the purchase price. After taxes, I had about 12.5 million.”
Spencer looks like she’s going to pass out and I chuckle.
“Woah,” she says.
“Indeed,” I agree. “I found Al again later, and after some shrewd haggling, he’s probably the most expensive guitar on the planet.”
She nods. “And with good reason. He’s Al… You can’t not have Al.”
I can’t help but agree. Al’s gotten me through some really crazy shit.
“Wow… so you took the money and paid off a donor.”
I exhale heavily. “Actually, it wasn’t just some random person. Shirley got desperate as things got worse and went to visit my biological mother in jail.”
“You’re kidding me?” I shake my head. “God, you must have been furious.”
She knows me so well…
“I was. But, I couldn’t really argue with the results, because ten thousand dollars later, I not only had a donor, but a blood-related donor.”
She crosses her arms over her chest. “I can’t believe your own mother made you pay for her help.”
I shrug. It was par the course for dear old mom.
Her eyes are sympathetic as she looks to me. “Did you… talk to her?”
“I didn’t want to; she didn’t want to. It was just a business deal.”
I jump a little when I feel a hand take my mine across the table.
“I’m so sorry, Ash.”
I run my thumb over her knuckles absorbing the comfort and marveling at how such a small gesture can mean so much.
“It’s not your fault, Spence, and it doesn’t matter. She was just a stranger, no different than a random donor from the list.”
We sit like that for a moment before she pulls her hand away.
Why’d she pull her hand away?
She frowns. “Wait, didn’t she have the disease as well?”
I lean forward and rest my elbows on my knees, feeling far too bereft without that contact.
“Um, not necessarily. The disease is pretty rare, and far more common among adolescents than adults. They did some tests on her first to be sure, but being in jail all those years had kept her clean and given her body time to repair some of the damage. They determined that she was an optimal choice, so I had the surgery.”
“And that was how long ago?”
“A little over two years.”
She mirrors my pose, her thoughts turning inward. “So… obviously you’re still here.”
“Are you… cured?”
I sigh and stare at the dingy carpet, letting my mind consider what those stains could be, even as much as I don’t want to know, because I’d rather focus on anything right now than have to answer that question.
But my lack of answer is taking too long.
“Ash…,” her voice is pleading.
“I’m in remission and I haven’t relapsed since the transplant, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t at any time. I won’t know for another year or so if I’m really in the clear. I may not ever really know until it just happens.”
It’s quiet again, the oppressive kind, and I glance over at her to see her folded over on herself and sobbing so hard that it doesn’t even make a sound.
I kneel before her and take her in my arms, resting my chin on her shoulder while she cries it all out. She clings to me so tightly that I think that I might break, but then maybe we both need to.
I can’t help but join her. All of it’s been so hard, so unfair. And it’s my fault that she’s so hurt.
“I’m so sorry, Spence. So sorry…”
I’m not sure how long we stayed this way, but the sun is coming up through the window now.
My legs are numb but I still don’t want to move. I just want to hold onto her, but I know that I can’t. She’s not mine to hold onto. I gave up that right ages ago.
I lean back and look into her weary face, realizing that doing this to her isn’t fair.
“Hey, why don’t we get out of here,” I suggest.
She exhales heavily. “I don’t want to go home and face the music just yet.”
I smile at her and the words tumble out before I can stop myself. “Come to my place.”
Her face falls a little bit. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“Why not?” I try to recover. “I have a fully loaded guest room, it’s quiet, and you can stay as long as you need to.”
She seems to consider before shaking her head and pulling back a little further.
“I really don’t know where I stand with Carmen right now, but I know that going to your place, even for a few hours, would only make things worse.”
She’s got to be kidding…
Okay, Davies. It’s her life. If she wants to be with the sea-witch, that’s her right.
I get to my feet to put a little more space between us.
“I should probably go home anyway,” she continues. “I have to call in to work, and my dogs need to be fed.”
I frown. “You have dogs?”
She smiles. “Yeah, two Dobermans: Flotsam and Jetsam.”
I put a hand over my mouth to just contain whatever this is I’m feeling. I mean, this has got to be a joke.
“What,” she asks. “I’ve always loved The Little Mermaid.” She shrugs. “You know that…”
Indeed I do.
Spencer is truly one poor, unfortunate soul…
I suck in my cheeks to hold in an outburst before clearing my throat.
“Well, the offer still stands, for the three of you.”
“So… what do you want to do, because I know you’re dead on your feet and like I said, I’m not leaving you here.”
“Um…,” She scrubs at her tired eyes. “I think I’ll go home. Carmen and I need to talk, whether I’m ready or not.”
“Alright,” I say, holding out a hand to her as I hold in my comments. She takes it and I help her up. We turn in the room key and I stand at her car awkwardly, not wanting to let her go just yet.
“I, um, I’ll follow you?” She glances up at me curiously. “Just to… you know, make sure you get there okay.”
She smiles and nods, and just as we’re about to part ways to enter our respective vehicles, the hooker I helped comes up to us.
“Hey, you,” she slurs.
She throws an arm over my shoulders and leans in close to my ear, her other hand snaking a finger around on my collarbone.
“You showed me a real good time last night. Are you sure you won’t let me thank you properly?”
I disentangle myself from her. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Aw, okay,” she stumbles away before turning and walking backwards and shouting, “But if you change your mind…”
I scrub a hand over my face.
“Friend of yours,” Spencer asks.
I glare at her. “She propositioned me last night and I gave her some money to make her go away. That’s all.”
I have no idea why I feel the need to explain myself.
I glance back at the trick’s retreating form a little dejectedly. Apparently she put my generosity to good use…
“Sure,” Spencer says with a smug smile.
I open her car door and hold it for her. “Just get in the car.”
She chuckles but does as she’s bade, and I make my way to my Humvee, happily surprised that it’s still intact and graffiti free.
I follow Spencer to her house, which when taking a direct route, is only about ten minutes away in the light, early morning traffic.
The yellow jeep is nowhere to be seen and a relieved breath escapes me, knowing that I can at least talk to Spencer for a little longer.
I park and meet her at her car to walk her to her door, a question burning on my lips. “So what happened with you after I left, Spence?”
She unlocks the front door and I follow her inside. She begins to talk as she heads straight back to the French doors off of the kitchen.
“I was a mess, in all honesty. Mom was ecstatic but dad tried to be there for me. I just wouldn’t have it. I only barely pulled myself together in time for school.”
“I’m so sorry, Spencer…”
She opens the doors and two rambunctious Dobermans come frolicking inside happily.
“Hello, my babies!”
She ruffles the fur on their heads and continues to coo at them before picking up their bowls and setting them on the counter.
“Stop apologizing, Ash. I’m still angry at you, but I understand why you did it.”
I stare down at my shoes. “Do you understand?”
She glances over at me, that pensive look washing over her again. “I understand that you thought you were saving me pain, but I don’t understand how you thought that would work.” She shrugs away her frustration. “Either way, there’s nothing that can be done to change it now.”
I nod. “So, what happened after you went to school?”
“Oh… I sort of sunk into the school work and became a loaner. I avoided deep emotional attachments, but there was a girl who really pursued me.”
It’s kind of cute how the dogs sit and stare at her, their heads moving in unison with each movement she makes as she fills their bowls with chow.
“I dated her for a few months and she kept pushing for more, but I just didn’t feel it. I couldn’t really love anyone. She gave me an ultimatum, and I just didn’t care, so that was it. That’s how it went with the next girl too. I thought maybe I was just too broken to ever love anyone again, until I met Carmen”
She smiles and I feel my stomach flop when I see that it reaches her eyes.
“She was the first person who was really there for me, who took the time to really get to know me, and even when I was kind of cruel to her, she still stuck around. She gave me time and space, you know? But I was still determined not to let it get serious. After graduation, I decided to move out here to pursue a job with Universal, essentially breaking up with her. But instead, she gave up everything to move with me. That’s how much she wanted to be with me.”
I tuck my hands in my coat pockets and watch the dogs tear into their breakfast.
“Are you in love with her,” I ask.
She nods. “Yes. She’s a good person, she’s attentive, she looks out for me, and I know that she’s committed to me.”
Where’s the passion? Where’s the ‘I can’t live without her’?
And… “What about last night?”
She leans against the counter and sighs. “She’s always been jealous of you – your memory, I mean. She knew that I had been completely in love with you,” Had been… “And so you were the reason she’d had to fight so hard to help me through it. But that was the past. Neither of us thought that I’d ever see you again, but then Kyla…”
She throws her hands in the air in frustration and we both laugh knowingly.
Darn that meddling kid…
“So, I found myself in a situation that I didn’t think I’d ever be in. She knew how much it had hurt me the first time. She didn’t want me to talk to you.”
“She hates me.”
It was more of a statement than a question.
Spencer shakes her head. “Carmen’s not like that. She doesn’t hate people she doesn’t know. I think she just resents you for what you put us both through. But, I convinced her last night that you didn’t want anything to do with me, so it didn’t matter. And I thought that I’d say hello and that would be it.”
God, Carmen sounds like a saint.
She gives me a pointed look. “I assume you followed me to the motel last night, but how’d you find our house anyway?”
“Kyla,” I say without remorse. She deserves to be thrown under the bus after what she pulled.
“Figures…,” she says.
It’s quiet – nothing but the dogs licking at their bowls, and a thought comes to me.
“So why’d you talk to me when I showed up here?”
She shrugs. “I guess I just… needed to know… you know?”
I really do. That’s why I came.
I also know that I shouldn’t say anything. But… “She shoved you, Spence…”
She presses her head against her palm and groans. “I’ve never seen her like that before! She was just so…”
“She doesn’t trust you,” I finish for her.
She looks over at me. “She doesn’t trust you,” she rejoins. “She thinks you’re here to sweep me away, and she’s afraid that I’ll let you.”
God, I want to ask. I want to know. I want to sweep.
“She loves me, Ash, and I love her. When you showed up, I pretty much told her that I was going to talk to you whether she liked it or not, knowing full well how much that would only further hurt her.”
The dogs, now fed, find the next most interesting thing in the room: me. They’re sniffing my feet but their tails are wagging. I reach a hand down and they sniff it as well.
Their furry muzzles tickle and I smile.
“They like you,” Spencer observes. “They don’t usually like other people.”
I grin a little more. I’ve never been one for animals, and squishy cat used to drive me crazy getting into everything when Kyla would let him roam the house like a spaz, but I find that I like these two.
“Why do you keep them outside,” I ask. I mean, she obviously adores them.
“Carmen doesn’t like how hairy they are, and she says they smell.”
I frown. Their coats are sleek and shiny, and they’re unusually clean. Even what little bit I can see of their teeth is white. Spencer obviously takes exceptional care of them.
I reach out and pet one of them, scratching a little behind his pointed ears. I glance up at Spencer to see her staring down at the floor, her face a mask of worry.
“Spence, I’m not trying to cause problems with you and Carmen…,” I start.
Is that a lie?
“But she shoved you…”
Yes and no…
She glances up at me, her eyes giving me a warning. “I think I owe her the benefit of the doubt after two years,” Spencer answers. “We have some problems, but I’m willing to work them through, whatever it takes, and I know that she is too.”
And, like a knife to my heart, I realize that Spencer’s lost. I messed things up too badly and there’s no going back.
But I’m not ready to lose her again. I need her in my life, even if it’s just as friends. I can do just friends, right?
Does she even want that?
“So, um… where, I mean, what happens now,” I ask, hoping to prod her for answers I don’t have the guts to ask directly.
“She sighs. “I… I’m not really sure. I mean, I have to talk to Carmen. I know that she wouldn’t like us being friends.”
“Right,” I say. “Okay, well, I really appreciate you listening to me. I’ll, um, I’ll go now.”
I turn and make my way to the front door, the dogs following.
“Ashley, could you stop trying to run away long enough for us to finish a conversation?”
I turn back to her. She’s standing there with her hand on her hip and a frustrated expression on her face.
“I was just going to say that we should exchange numbers and keep in touch. I’m sure things will settle down with Carmen once she sees that we’re just friends.”
Fuck me, this so totally blows…
“Besides,” she steps closer to me. “You’re family, Ash. I’m not going to let you face this alone.”
“You don’t owe me anything, Spencer.”
“I know that,” she says testily. “But I want to be there for you.”
She crosses her arms and shakes her head as if I’ve slapped her, and I can see the tears are trying to come again; I can feel the tears trying to come again.
“I’m glad that you came to see me, Ash.” Her voice is so broken. “I’m glad that you told me.”
I swallow my emotions and snort incredulously. “You’re kidding, right? All I did was deck your girlfriend and make you cry a lot.”
She smiles a watery smile. “You also gave me a lot of closure.”
Closure? As in done, final, over…?
I nod. It’s the best that I can do.
She steps forward and holds out her cell, and I dig in my jacket pocket to retrieve mine. We exchange them and I see the picture of her and Carmen smiling together on her background before hastening to add my number to her contacts.
We exchange back and she closes what little distance is left to give me a hesitant hug.
I sigh, wrapping my arms around her and closing my eyes.
“You’re not alone anymore, okay? Just remember that.”
It was just a whisper, but as she pulls back, I find myself losing the fight with my tears.
I really don’t want to cry anymore.
“Thank you,” I choke out.
I gaze at her face, trying to memorize every feature. I’ve felt so starved for so long…
The door opens behind me. “Spence…?”
Spencer steps away quickly and we both turn to see an angry Carmen standing in the door like a statue and staring at us.
After a moment, she shuts the door calmly, too calmly.
“Can we talk,” she looks at Spencer, ignoring me completely.
Spencer nods and walks up to her, hugging her in a way very different from the one that I just received. It’s more proprietary, more… just more.
I need to get out of here.
“I’ll let you deal with your stuff,” I say as I step towards the door where Carmen immediately situates herself.
She looks me right in the eyes with cold indifference, saying everything even as she doesn’t say a word. It’s hard to feel threatened with the evidence of my having won the first fight darkening her left socket, but I know that she’s just itching for a rematch.
The dogs growl and Spencer tugs on Carmen’s arm until she finally relents and steps aside.
I open the door and hear some low whispering, but can’t make out the words. It doesn’t matter what’s being said though. It’s over now. At least she feels better. At least she’s happy.
I run down those wonderful, toe-stubbing steps, and just as I reach the bottom, I hear Spencer call out to me.
I stop and pull it together long enough to face her. She shuts the door behind her and meets me at the bottom of the steps with a smile.
“Text me when you get home to let me know you’re safe?”
I swallow thickly. “Okay…” This is it. “Bye, Spence.”
“I’ll see you later,” she responds pointedly.
I nod though I don’t believe it, and jog across the street to my car, hoping that I can find sleep when I get home but knowing that neither my mind nor my heart are going to be so accommodating.
Once I’m inside and the engine is started, I look over in time to see her wave. I wave back and remember why I did what I did the first time. It was to avoid situations just like this one.
It hurts too much to care enough to stick around and lose it all.
But, like a trainwreck, as much as you don’t want to see it happen, you can’t help but watch. And I do as she disappears back through the door and back out of my life.
I make my way home, not even really paying attention to all of the hustle and bustle that’s going on around me. I feel like I’m in a daze, back in that place of going through the motions that Shirley had only barely pulled me from.
Part of me wants to hate Shirley right now. It’s her fault that I’m alive and dealing with all of this.
Well, she’d better not be home.
But as I pull up into my driveway, I find the garage door already open and I see her unloading a cage from the back seat of my convertible Porsche.
I park and step out of the Humvee.
“Hey,” she greets brightly as she sets the cage down. “I’m glad you’re home!”
I don’t say anything as I inspect the backseat of the Porsche more carefully. A giant bag of cedar chips, a watering bottle, tiny toys, a long collapsible tube, Ferret food…
“Kyla, you didn’t…”
She immediately finds the concrete at her feet interesting as she scuffs the toe of her flat against it, and I feel deep remorse for giving her full access to my bank account.
“Kyla,” I groan and pinch the bridge of my nose against the headache that’s starting to form.
“Come on, Ash…,” she bounces over to me. “She’s soooo cute and cuddly and sweet and you’re going to love her, I promise.”
“Take it back,” I say coldly.
“Ash,” she whines pathetically.
She crosses her arms over her chest. “I live with you now, so this is my house too.”
I nod. “Yes, but you never said that you’d be bringing home rats like the pied fucking piper.”
“She’s not a rat,” she says indignantly. “And you know that I’ll take care of her.”
I sigh. I know that much is true. She adored Squishy Cat, who I learned made it to the ripe old age of nine before kicking the water bottle last year.
Kyla’s watching me, waiting, but she already knows that she can wear me down and I’ll give in to most anything, especially when she pouts.
What’s that all about anyway?
Must be left over from our childhood…
She’s still watching, growing more and more excited, and I finally roll my eyes.
“Fine,” I snap.
She squeals and throws her arms around me, and I hug her back. I’m growing soft in my old age of twenty-two.
I lean back and point a finger at her. “If I smell that thing… even once…”
She shakes her head. “You know that I’ll clean her habitat every day, just like Squishy…”
She gets a little sad and I feel myself getting sad with her. Why is life like that? Why are we destined to lose the ones that we love no matter what?
I’m talking about Spencer, not Squishy…
“I’m still pissed at you Kyla.”
There, that snapped her out of it. “Oh come on; it’s just a ferret…”
I gaze at her incredulously and it takes a few seconds, but her eyes finally light with understanding. “Oh! Yeah, you have to tell me everything!”
God, am I really so non-threatening?
She grabs my arm and starts to drag me into the house through the garage door, her mouth going a mile a minute.
“Did you tell her? What did she say? How’d she react? Was she sad or mad? Did she kick you out? Was she-”
I mean, she fucking smiles when I shout at her…
“Sorry, okay, tell me everything, don’t leave out a detail, and start from the beginning.”
About this time a rat scampers over my feet, startling me, and I fling it off in reflex.
“ASH,” Kyla shouts, picking the squeaking thing up and cooing to it before scowling at me. “You could have hurt her.” She glares at me as the thing crawls up on her shoulder. “Were you trying to hurt her?”
I gape at her. I mean, I’m a lot of things, but I don’t abuse animals.
“It… scared me, that’s all,” I defend.
She thinks about it for a second and then grins. “Yeah, you screamed like a little bitch.”
“I did not.”
“You so did.”
“Kyla…,” I make my voice menacing.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, thin ice, last nerve, and all that.” She rolls her eyes. “What’s it gonna be: hot oil or the rack?”
Why did I agree to let her stay here again?
Oh, right, I’m bound to her by blood.
Fucking life, man…
I hang my jacket on the hook by the door with an exhausted sigh and she follows me into the kitchen where I grab a bottle of water from the fridge. I’m hungry too, but I’m too tired to eat.
“So…,” Kyla starts impatiently.
I uncap the bottle and take a sip as I turn to her. “So what?”
She merely points to one of the high stools around the kitchen island, and like the whipped dog that I am, I sit without protest.
It’s exhaustion… I swear…
She puts the rodent on floor and walks to the sink to wash her hands.
“Talk,” she orders.
I take another deep swig from the bottle and shrug. “There’s nothing to tell really.”
She dries her hands, puts a skillet on the range, flips the knob to medium, and gives me a pointed look.
I sigh. “I told her everything.”
Kyla starts to pull stuff out of the fridge and I watch her curiously. I’ve learned recently that my baby sis is old enough to cook now and while that terrified me at first, she makes a mean scrambled egg and the house didn’t burn down.
“How’d she take it?”
I think about that for a moment. “Well, she wants to stay in touch, but her girlfriend is going to have issues with that.”
Kyla scrunches up her face in disgust as she cracks a few eggs in a bowl kind of harshly.
“I don’t like her girlfriend,” she says.
I chuckle. “That makes two of us.”
She starts to beat the eggs before putting a pat of butter in the warm skillet, and I consider if I should I tell her…
“I uh, I sort of decked her…,” I blurt out.
Kyla turns to me with wide eyes. “You didn’t!”
I nod. “She shoved me.”
I reach behind my head to rub at the small knot on the back of my skull. “And then she shoved Spencer.”
She stops pouring the eggs to look at me incredulously.
I nod and she shakes her head, emptying the bowl in the skillet. “I can’t believe Spencer puts up with that.”
I snort. “Yeah, well, the way Spencer tells it, she walks on water.”
Kyla pulls out a couple of sesame seed bagels and loads them into the toaster before pushing the fluffing eggs around in the skillet. “I don’t get it. I’ve met up with Spencer a couple of times over the last two months.”
She smiles at me almost apologetically.
“And every time I asked her to meet up, she either had to bring Carmen or Carmen didn’t want to. I practically had to beg them to come to your show. Of course, they didn’t know…”
I take another sip of water to cool my frustration, but it’s no good. “Why did you do that, Kyla? I asked you not to tell anyone, especially not Spencer or Christine.”
A shot of panic races through me “Did you tell Christine,” I almost shout.
She knocks the spatula against the rim of the skillet a couple of times before turning to me with a serious expression. “No, I didn’t tell her, and I haven’t asked her to come out here for an impromptu visit, but she’s going to find out, Ashley.” She points the spatula at me. “It’s only a matter of time. She knows that I went looking for you and that I’m staying in California for a while.”
I close my eyes and sigh with relief, the toaster’s popping springs snap me out of it. Kyla turns the burner off and starts to angrily smear some cream cheese on the bagels over a couple of plates.
“She shouldn’t have to find out like that, Ash. She deserves better than that.”
“I’m not ready, Kyla, and I’m tired of you telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. This is my life.”
“Then start living it,” she says testily, nearly throwing the cream cheese back in the fridge and yanking out some orange juice.
“It’s not that simple and you know it, Kyla.”
She sighs and finally nods her understanding as she plates up the eggs. “I know that anything could change, Ash, but your situation is really no different from anyone else on the planet.”
I snort a laugh. “Are you high?”
She pours the juice in two glasses. “Think about it. You don’t know what’s going to happen to you or when. I could step off a curb tomorrow and get hit by a car. It’s the same boat we all live in.”
She sets a plate and cup in front of me before grabbing a couple of forks and taking the seat slightly across from me.
I can’t help but stare at her. When did she become Yoda or the Dalai Lama?
Oh, right, the yoga…
“You know I’m right, or you wouldn’t have texted me for Spencer’s address after you sped away last night.”
I push the eggs around on my plate while I think about it. Really, it is no different at this point. Maybe before it was, but not anymore. And why else did I reach out to Spencer?
I take a bite of the eggs and my stomach grumbles causing me to focus on the food a little more. I’m thankful for the distraction. Besides, Kyla’s quiet, and I’ll take that as long as I can get it.
And, of course, I spoke too soon.
“Thanksgiving’s coming up…,” she says so innocently.
My fork clatters to my plate with frustration. “Kyla, that’s not a good idea. Besides, you know I always go to Shirley’s.”
She takes a sip of juice before starting what must be a planned speech. “Shirley will understand. We can take Kate and ride down, spend the holiday with mom.”
I’ll never really get used to hearing her call Christine mom. For some reason I still get this mental image of a crack whore passed out in the living room of our trailer. That’s our mom, but she doesn’t remember that. She doesn’t seem to remember a lot of things that haunt me.
Kyla’s hand rests on mine for a moment. “She misses you, Ash. You have no idea how much…”
Yeah, well I’ve missed her too, that doesn’t mean anything can go back to the way that it was. Spencer is living proof of that. She may forgive me, but after Spencer, I just don’t think I can take anymore.
I take another bite of eggs just to give me an excuse to break the contact. I need some resolve, some time, just… something concrete. Everything’s too up in the air now.
Kyla sighs. “Will you just think about it?”
I’d do anything to get her to lay off about it, so I just nod.
She smiles, resuming her breakfast and glancing knowingly at me from time to time. And I know, deep down, that the time I need to think things over really just means one thing: it’s all the time she needs to wear me down.
I’m so fucking doomed.
Breakfast has lost its luster so I leave it half eaten and get to my feet. “Text Spencer and tell her I’m home, will you?”
“Tell her yourself,” she yells after my retreating form. “And you’re welcome for breakfast!”
I retreat to my room, and pull out my cell.
I type quickly before plugging the charger into my phone, tugging my blackout curtains shut, and stripping.
I crash land on the bed, ready to shut out the world when a buzzing sound interrupts my need for isolation.
I turn and lift it to see a text from Spencer.