I shrink under Shirley’s disbelieving expression.
“You just left her with your rental car in a prison parking lot to go get drunk…? Seriously…?”
She really doesn’t believe it? I mean, it’s my modus operandi. But then she shakes her head and I know that this isn’t the case, and that’s exactly why she’s so disappointed in me.
It does seem a little unfair now that I think about it, if I were a reasonable person. But I wasn’t reasonable at that moment. I was falling the fuck apart. And I sure as fuck didn’t ask Spencer to be there.
“It was a bad day,” I say.
“Then why not let Spencer help you instead of getting loaded and getting on a plane?”
“Well…,” I search my brain for anything that might excuse my behavior, knowing that there really isn’t an excuse.
I panicked and hurt Spencer and just left her there to deal with my fallout. And walking away knowing that I’d done that to her only made me angrier, so I wound up grabbing a taxi, going back to the hotel, stuffing my bag, downing that bottle of patron, and heading straight for the airport.
I don’t remember much after boarding…
Shirley’s smug because she knows that I have no response, so I pull one out of my ass.
“At least I had the wherewithal to come here. That should make you happy.”
“You also puked on the carpet last night.”
I cringe. I can still smell it and it’s only worse when she points it out. It makes my stomach roil and I’m forced to swallow thickly.
“God, don’t remind me.”
“You also woke up at some point during the night and wrecked our kitchen making mac n’ cheese.”
My stomach flips and my mouth waters in gross anticipation.
“I’m glad you feel sick. It serves you right.”
Shirley’s voice is semi-teasing and I know that she’s not really mad or malicious, but I do feel bad about wrecking the kitchen and then regurgitating patron soaked mac n’ cheese on the carpet.
I close my eyes and rub at my tender temples looking for a relief that I’m not so sure exists. My head feels like there’s castanet dancer squawking and twirling around up there in her Tuti Fruiti hat, and my mouth feels like it’s stuffed with cotton that’s been soaked in rubbing alcohol and sour cream.
Ultimately, I feel like utter shit, both inside and out, and I know that I was a superb bitch to Spencer yesterday, but…
But nothing, really.
I’m not even sure what happened with her. I was just so out of my comfort zone.
And my emotions…
I don’t really have words for it all. I only know that haven’t hurt that badly since the day that CPS carted Kyla off and I had no idea if I’d ever see her again.
I glance down at my phone. It’s almost dead and I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I doubt that it will magically glow back at me from a touchscreen. And yet I keep looking every few seconds. It’s kind of like visiting the fridge at night over and over again but always walking away empty-handed.
And the screen is sticky. I really don’t want to know why…
“Still clutching that thing for dear life, I see,” Sam says as she sits on the couch with Shirley and hands her a mug of coffee.
Normally, I’d kill for a cup, but not today. Even the smell is nauseating.
“What,” I ask.
“When you got here last night, I kept trying to get you to just lie down and sleep it off, but you were texting someone and nearly gave me a black eye when I tried to take it from you,” Sam clarifies.
She shrugs and takes a sip of her coffee.
I frown at the screen. I don’t have a voicemail, email, or text notification. I definitely don’t remember talking to anyone.
I click the messages icon.
“I didn’t ask.” Sam continues. “I managed to get some water in you, and then went back to bed. And not only did I step in your mess this morning, I was late to work because I had to clean it up.”
I look up and give her my most pathetic expression. “I’m so sorry, Sam.”
She smirks over the rim of her mug.
“I don’t think that color or smell is ever coming out,” Shirley adds tossing her arm over Sam’s shoulders.
I slouch further into the sofa. “I’ll pay to have the whole place re-carpeted.”
Shirley sighs, finally taking pity on me. “Oh, come on. You know we feel compelled to give you a hard time.”
I nod. Everyone has their hobbies, I suppose.
“And you know that we only care about you. What you did was cruel and reckless, Ash.”
I nod again. I agree, really I do, but I know I’ll do it again. I always do. I suppose it’s one of my hobbies.
I notice that the screen’s about to go dark and click open the first name on the messages list to keep the phone awake. I don’t recognize a single bubble of this ever lengthening conversation.
And of course, it was a conversation with Spencer.
I sit up sharply, every inch of my body protesting the movement but I don’t care as I continue to scroll up to the last normal message that I remember.
I run a hand over my face and feel my stomach grow even more sour. God, not only did I treat her like shit, but I scared her. Given the timestamps, these started right after I left her in the parking lot. I remember it buzzing but I ignored it.
I have no idea when I started answering, but it must have been right after I boarded the plane because I’m noticeably soused in my response.
For fuck’s sake, her name’s at the top of the screen…
Seawitch? Seriously? I mean, I use that word a lot now that Spencer’s back in my life, but never with Spencer herself. Did my phone really have to give me away?
I sigh. I guess I can’t be too indignant. I don’t even know what I was trying to say so I can’t expect the phone to.
At least I’m so incoherent that Spencer won’t get the reference.
Damn you auto correct…
Damn my tequila soaked brain…
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…
I frown at the next timestamp. Did I black out? I wrack my brain and try to remember something, but it’s all a blur of shapes and shadows.
I’m actually not so sure about that. I mean, this is a disaster, but it almost feels good to know that I was honest for once, even if it was in the worst of ways.
Just fuck my fucking life up its fucked, fucking ass…
And I don’t want to read on. That is probably the most honest thing that I’ve said in years. Part of me needs to hear her say it, to make it real so that I can accept it. But the other part of me knows that I’m not going to like the answer, and no amount of knowing will lessen the sting or make it okay.
This is so bad. I’ve laid it all out there, finally, and there’s no way that I have a chance with her now. How am I going to fix this? I pinch the bridge of my nose and determine that I need to read to the end, as painful as it may be, and see how we left things before I can even attempt a salvage mission.
And at this point, I might tear the hair from my very temples because: 1 – Spencer admitted that she still has feelings for me that will never go anywhere, and 2 – any doubt that she misunderstood my use of Seawitch earlier just flew the fuck out of the window.
I’m never drinking again…
Never fucking again.
Though I may need one now.
That’s it. She hasn’t responded since. I feel a little dumbstruck. And it must show on my face because Shirley and Sam are looking at me as if they expect me to sprout a third head.
I mean second head…
Fuck, just one head doesn’t seem to work right. I couldn’t imagine having more than one, especially with the double time tempo Tuti Fruiti’s adopted up there.
The fruit wearing cunt…
“Ash, who was it,” Shirley asks.
I scroll back to the top of this catastrophic conversation and toss the phone to her before putting my pounding head between my knees. I really just want to curl up and die right now…
It’s moments or years later when I finally look back up at them to see them both in states of uncomfortable merriment. Shirley’s looking away with a smirk on her face and Sam’s got a hand to her mouth to hold it in.
A surge of righteous anger sparks through me.
“You think this is funny?”
They look at each other for support but it’s nearly their undoing. It’s Shirley who’s able to speak.
“No, no, not funny, persay. Just…”
And here she has no words that aren’t lies so Sam steps in after clearing her throat.
“What my lovely wife is trying to say is that it’s not funny, it’s hilarious.”
I gape at them as they finally start to laugh.
“It’s so doomed, isn’t it,” Shirley asks Sam.
Sam nods enthusiastically.
“It’s cute though, don’t you think,” she asks.
Shirley pulls her wallet from her back pocket and starts to riffle through the bills inside.
“My money’s on six months.”
She gives me a shrewd glance.
“Actually, make that eight. She’s the most stubborn person I’ve ever met.”
“One year, even,” Sam says as she takes the twenty that Shirley offered her before pulling another bill from the same wallet to cover her half of what appears to be some sort of bet.
Shirley looks at her nonplussed and she shrugs her shoulders.
“We have joint checking,” Sam reasons.
Shirley glares at her for a second before taking the money back.
“Okay, then let’s raise the stakes.”
Sam smiles almost erotically. “My, my, aren’t you confident?”
Shirley puffs out her chest a bit and Sam leans in to nuzzle her cheek.
“It’s sexy,” Sam murmurs.
Shirley blushes and clears her throat as Sam starts to toy with the buttons of her blue oxford collar.
“Laundry,” she nearly squeaks.
Sam shakes her head.
“All the housework,” she purrs back.
Shirley scoffs nervously at her. “You’re on.”
“For a month,” Sam adds, undoing the top button.
Shirley stares at her for a moment before a grin so roguish it nearly gleams overtakes her face.
They kiss each other and I have to look away because, well, gross. I mean, I’m not fazed by it. I’ve seen them be affectionate more times than I can count. They’ve never been shy. But they’re like parents.
Besides, I’m having a crisis and their response was what, some sort of elaborate mating dance or high stakes poker? And if so, how did it involve me?
More importantly, why did it involve me?
After several disgusting moments of forced blindness and no way to make the sounds stop, I glance back but they’re still kissing so I try to get their attention.
“Come on, you guys…”
Nothing. Well, Shirley moans a little and Sam giggles.
That did it, although reluctantly. They pull apart with a loud smack and cuddle up together to sip their coffees and smile at me.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I gesture at the wallet. “What just happened?”
Sam’s eyes twinkle and Shirley’s grin is shit eating.
“Eight months,” Shirley says.
“Twelve months,” Sam corrects.
And in unison, “You and Spencer will get back together.”
And now it’s my turn to laugh, although it doesn’t last long. It quickly becomes a wince of pain, but it’s worth it. It’s rare that I get to make fun of these two. And this is the dumbest thing that I’ve ever heard escape their mouths.
And that’s saying something.
“You have no idea how wrong you both are.”
They’re still smug as they just silently watch me like two overly patient parents with a misbehaving child.
“So are we,” Sam says.
They’re supremely confident, so I decide to entertain them.
“Okay, Spencer said that she still has feelings for me.”
“She also said that she’s in love with the Seawitch.”
Shirley chuckles. “So that’s what that meant…”
Sam shoots Shirley an expression that chokes her.
“Stay on topic, please,” Sam says a little too nicely.
Shirley straightens up, all business apparently.
“We’ve both moved on,” I say with finality.
And do I ever feel that finality. It’s like a spear through my ribs.
“Ash, in all of the time I’ve known you, you’ve never even dated,” Shirley says.
I squint my eyes at her. “I was dying. Forgive me for not feeling all that sexy.”
“That was only the first couple of years. What excuse do you have for the last two,” Sam asks.
I blow out a breath and even I can smell how putrid it is. In fact, I’m certain that it came out green. God, I need a shower, a toothbrush, a bed, and maybe a teddy bear or a binky.
I rub at my temples. “That has nothing to do with Spencer. I just haven’t… found… anyone… interesting.”
And I don’t even know what I’m saying. Interest doesn’t take much when you’re horny as fuck. Women are attracted to me, and it’s nearly killed me to walk away from some of those exceedingly hot and easy offers.
Hell, I got very close once to giving in, but couldn’t follow through, no matter how much I wanted to.
Oh God, how I wanted to…
“Girls throw themselves at you all the time, Ash,” Sam mocks, knowing everything I just thought as if I’d said it out loud.
“No they don’t,” I defend weakly.
We all know that’s a lie. Kate, Shirley, and Sam are the only ones who know that I haven’t been able to seal the deal since Spencer. Jac and Jon think that I’m some modern day lesbian lothario. They act as if I wear a rainbow cape.
The look Shirley gives me over the glasses perched on her nose makes me feel like I’m made of two-way glass.
“You know that we’ve been to a couple of your shows, right?”
“I once saw two girls…” Shirley holds up two fingers. “Count them, two gorgeous, young blondes…”
Sam elbows her in the ribs and she immediately tucks her tail like a scolded puppy.
“Anyway, two blondes asked you to sign their bare breasts, Ashley.”
I shrug. “Yeah, so?”
She rolls her eyes and slumps back on the sofa as if affronted by my sheer stupidity.
“They invited you to their hotel room,” she continues in a bored tone.
I shrug again. “I didn’t want to.”
That’s another lie. I really, really, really wanted to.
She shakes her head and laughs. “That’s a load of malarkey and you know it. You made out with both of them, did body shots with them, and just when they wanted to get serious, you petered out. I know for a fact that you wanted to.”
Okay, now I feel a little offended.
“So I’ve had opportunity and I’ve turned it down. Do I have to sleep with every skank that’s willing?”
“Of course not,” she says in exasperation. “Ash, you aren’t asking the important question here.”
I look to Sam, silently pleading for her to just get to the fucking point since Shirley’s too frustrated.
“The question is why,” she says with a kind smile.
Oh, well that’s easy: it just felt wrong. It felt like a betrayal, not just of Spencer, but my feelings for her. Besides, even if I could get past those feelings, the most that I could have would be casual encounters.
No way would I let someone fall in love with me.
That’d be too cruel.
So I just gave up on love and sex altogether, choosing instead to fap myself nearly blind.
Why are we talking about this, especially with all that’s already happened, and when I feel like I just went twenty rounds with Ronda Rousey?
Oh, right, they think that we’re going to get back together. And they think it’s funny that Spencer and I don’t see that. And maybe the situation is funny, but not because we’re clueless. It’s the very notion of a reconciliation that’s a joke.
I’m the joke, because even if it were possible, I couldn’t do that to her. I have a year. She deserves a long, full life.
They’re still watching me, waiting for that answer that I don’t want to give. But it’s futile. They know. For some fucking reason I’m an open book to those who can see past my bravado.
“Ash,” Sam says gently. “If you love her, and she loves you, nothing, not even death, can stop it.”
What can I even possibly say to refute that?
I can think of only one thing: “She’s in love with someone else.”
Shirley shakes her head and Sam leans forward to put a hand on my knee.
“You can love more than one person in a lifetime. But the honest truth is that the lightening kind of love only strikes once.”
She squeezes my knee and leans back into Shirley, and I see it, that lightening kind of love. I know that it’s real because it’s right in front of my face. It’s in a gentle but complicated gaze shared between two people who aren’t two people at all. They’re just pieces of a greater whole.
“We don’t doubt that she loves the Seawitch,” Shirley continues and Sam gives her a warning glare. “We just know that what you two have is stronger. Unfortunately for Sea- men, uh, Carmen, it’s only a matter of time.”
They have no idea how much I want to believe them, but I can’t. They just don’t know what I know.
“How can you know that’s true for us? You’ve never even met Spencer.”
Sam links her fingers with Shirley’s.
“Well, first, you’ve been celibate for four years, despite the fact that women are all over you like kittens to cream,” Shirley says.
“Celibacy is for the devout, sweetie, and somehow I doubt you’re religious,” Sam adds.
“And, you made her admit her feelings,” Shirley continues.
“And just like you, she ran,” Sam says.
“You scared her,” Shirley adds with a knowing nod.
“And I don’t think that it’s because you’re just all that intimidating,” Sam mocks gently.
God, these two… they’re like my fairy gay godmothers, from hell. First they convince me to live and now they’re trying to convince me that there’s hope. I want to believe it, so much that my eyes are starting to water.
“I can’t do that to Spencer,” I murmur, tasting tequilla soaked defeat on my tongue.
“You can’t what, love her,” Shirley asks.
I roll my eyes at her and she chortles.
“Honey,” Sam says. “If she chooses to deny the truth, she’ll regret it for the rest of her life. Being truly happy with you, even if it’s only for a short time, she’ll never regret that.”
“It’s kind of like being gay,” Shirley adds with a shrug. “Eventually, you just can’t deny it any longer.”
“Ash, what have you got to lose if you at least try?”
She’s got me there. Whether they’re right or wrong, there’s nothing to lose at this point except Spencer’s friendship. But then, that’s just not working anyway.
“I keep running.”
They both nod.
“So how do I fix that?” I point to the phone. “How do I fix any of this?”
“Well, first,” Shirley says, disentangling herself from Sam to get to her feet. “You smell like Runyon Canyon after a light rain.”
She grabs my hands and yanks me to my feet, and I can’t help but groan. With an over-zealous shove, I nearly trip over the chair as I stumble towards the hallway.
“Go get a shower. You know where a fresh toothbrush is, and then get some sleep. You’ve got eight months to straighten your act up.”
“Twelve,” Sam corrects.
I give them both my most hateful expression to which they just chuckle. I start my walk of shame to do as I’m told, but Shirley’s voice stops me.
I turn back to her and she walks up to me, putting her hands on my shoulders.
“You need to decide if Spencer’s worth it.”
And with a pat, she goes back to her wife on the couch and leaves me with no idea what I even believe anymore. Everything’s just up in the air. My very heart’s up in the air, and I know that it’s going to come crash landing to the ground.
But no matter how far I might manage to get away from it, it’s still going to hurt. I have to find a way to stop running, because for all that I don’t know, I’m absolutely certain of one thing: Spencer’s worth anything.
I’m not sure why I chose this coffeehouse again. Spencer isn’t working anymore, so there’s no reason to be on this side of town with all of the pretentious movie snobs. I guess it just seemed familiar.
I still can’t believe that Universal threatened to fire her when she requested time off, dying friend or not. But then, I guess I really can believe it. This town is full of assholes on a timetable and life is cheap in the face of convenience.
Why Spencer wants to be in this industry is beyond me. She’s too good for them. But, it’s what she wants. So what did she do? She put in her notice and finished her two weeks, giving up what she wants for me.
That’s how much she loves me.
And I don’t deserve it.
I keep hurting her, but I just can’t stay away from her. She’s like the air or the sunshine. And then I catch myself thinking things like that and feel like an even bigger idiot. I’m beginning to believe that love is irrational. It’s like the minute that it happens, all sense of reason is flushed, and what’s worse is that your heart toggles the handle happily.
Whoosh – and life becomes one giant shit storm.
I take a sip of my coffee and try to calm myself, though I know that it’s impossible. I have no idea how to face her. It’s been a few days since I left her standing in the carnage of my great escape, and getting ahold of her proved to be challenging.
She only answered back today. Now I just need to figure out what to say to her. Shirley and Sam were useless on this front. They want me to lay it all on the line, but I can’t do that. She’s not available.
It would be wrong.
It would be disrespectful.
So I’m left with groveling.
Do I apologize for being honest?
Do I apologize for forcing her to be honest?
Am I even sorry for that conversation?
I know that those texts were sophomoric, but alcohol knows no pride. What it does know is how to drop the barriers in a piss poor manner. It’s a little ironic how I tried to bury all of my feelings in Patron when true to its nature all it did was raise my freak flag to full mast.
And there she is, wafting through the door like some hauntingly beautiful apparition that makes my heart flutter. Her eyes find mine almost unerringly and there’s this moment where I can tell that she’s debating the merits of this meeting as much as I am.
And as she gets closer, as her eyes get bluer, the edges puffier, her hair sloppily pulled back, I realize that she sees me, really sees me, and it makes me uncomfortable. It’s not because I want to hide from her. I’m irrationally in love, not stupid. I’m fully aware that there’s no hiding it from her anymore.
No, I’m uncomfortable because something’s off, something’s different, and something inside of me knows that I’m not going to like it.
She sits quietly and it’s awkward. And for once I’m thankful for the interruption of a the waitress because it gives me just a few more seconds to decide whether or not to play that entire conversation off as drunken idiocy or refuse to deny the truth of it.
She orders a plain, black coffee and I feel a little perplexed. She hates plain coffee. The waitress leaves, plunging us back into that fragile stillness that neither of us seems willing to break as if by some unspoken agreement.
Her hands rest daintily on the tiny café table and she’s so close that I can almost feel her warmth, yet everything about her feels so far away.
Even when Carmen’s around, she’s never this far away.
Her fingers start to fidget and I find myself staring at them, trying to figure out what it is that has me so unsettled. But all I can think about is how I’ve always liked her hands. They’re feminine but they’re still strong. They were always such a comfort. And I remember how perfectly my smaller one fit into them.
I remember because I don’t have a choice, especially not now when I know that she remembers it too.
The waitress delivers the coffee and Spencer takes a short sip, making an adorable face at the bitter taste.
“Carmen saw the texts,” she blurts quietly.
The very air shatters with her raspy voice, and I close my eyes to swallow hard. This changes everything. For one, I know that I’m going to lose her. There’s no way that Carmen will let us be friends now. And second, maybe she didn’t run away scared from that conversation like Shirley and Sam said. Maybe she just got caught.
What do I say, sorry? I say it so much that it seems cliche.
“I’d say I’m sorry, Spence, but I always am and it never seems to help.”
She doesn’t say anything, choosing instead to stare into the murky water in her mug.
“But mostly, it would be a lie.”
Well, I guess the decision is made. I’m not going to deny it, even though it means losing her. Because, let’s be honest, I’ve already lost her.
She looks up at me and for once I don’t care if I drown.
So be it.
“I’m sorry for leaving you like I did the other day, and I’m sorry that I had to get drunk to say what I couldn’t face sober, but I’m not sorry that I said it. It was honest. And that’s why I couldn’t stay there, with you.”
She takes a sip of her coffee and the stillness around us tightens in. I suppose that it’s only fair for me to be the one to break it this time.
“Are you sorry for what was said?”
She leans back in her chair and plays with a sugar packet on the table. And I feel something solidify in my stomach as several minutes pass without an answer. Or maybe her refusal to speak is the answer.
“It’s okay, Spence.”
She drops the sugar a little too roughly.
“Carmen forbade me to see you.”
I stare at the table and nod.
“And I can’t blame her.”
I nod again, only this time my throat feels tight. It’s coming – that riptide that will pull me completely under and leave me with no sense of which way is up. But at least this will be an honest break, a clean one, if there is such a thing.
“I decided to just stay away from you, but after a couple of days, I realized that I can’t be with her.”
I look up at her, concerned that I’m hearing things. But her gaze is steady.
“I also decided that I can’t be with you either. I need to take some time and figure myself out before I can be any good to anyone. And even if that weren’t the case, Ash, it still couldn’t be you.”
I can’t help but agree that I’m a fucking wreck, even as I feel like the very sky is falling in on me. But why couldn’t it be with me if she loves me?
“But you said that you-”
“You run when things get hard, and I can’t be with someone like that anymore than I can be with someone who controls things like her.”
I blink a few times and stare at my cup, trying to process what I don’t want to hear.
“I also can’t do this push me, pull me thing with you anymore. You ask me to come with you, to suspend my life for a full year just for you, and when I do, you start pushing me away.”
I don’t look at her because I can’t face the fact that I’ve made her cry yet again.
“I’ve decided that this year isn’t just about you. It’s about me too.”
She stops to swipe at her face.
“The truth is that I love Carmen, but it’s never been enough. I never got over you, even when I’d convinced myself that I had. It hasn’t been fair for either of us, least of all her. And I just can’t grieve over you anymore. I just have to figure out how to stop, to let you go…”
Wait, let me go…?
“I guess I should at least thank you for forcing me to come to terms with everything that was staring me in the face.”
I really want to leave right now, leave and go somewhere safe to try and hold my very guts inside because she’s just eviscerated me so thoroughly. But for some reason my feet feel nailed to the floor, my arms roped to the table.
Maybe I know that if I run, I prove her right. Or maybe I know that she deserves to finish what I started and I love her enough to endure it for her, even if it’s only once. Either way, I just want it to go faster, because she’s twisting this knife far too slowly.
But then I want time to pause, to slow down, because I know for sure that once we say goodbye, I won’t see her ever again.
Or at least I want to understand.
I frown at her and she shakes her head a little angrily.
“I don’t think you understand at all, and that’s the worst part of all of this. You just don’t see what’s right in front of you.”
What’s right in front of me? Her, I see her. I’ve made that clear, right?
I guess not.
Fight or flight…?
“Spence, if this is about you coming with me this year…”
She laughs humorlessly. “See what I mean? You just don’t get it.”
“Get what? I didn’t ask you to break up with Carmen. Is that what you’re talking about? I’m sorry that our conversation upset her-”
She runs her hands through her hair stopping to grip it at the temples.
“This has nothing to do with Carmen.”
“Look I know you don’t understand. I know it. It just pisses me off, to be honest.”
“Why don’t you just tell me?”
She laughs through her tears.
“If I could just tell you it would make things so much easier. But you’ve already been told. You already know, you just haven’t figured it out yet. And I can’t help you with this, Ash. I wish I could, but I can’t.”
And now I’m frustrated.
“How can I fix something when I don’t even know what’s broken?”
“Just look around you, Ash. Everything’s broken. You can literally take your pick.”
I really want to run right now, but I’ve shifted from being nailed down to gripping the table as if it will keep her here with me.
“I-I’m sorry. I don’t know what you want me to do.”
She shakes her head and stands, and the room loses all oxygen, as if a black hole has opened up behind me.
“I don’t want you to do anything.”
She riffles through her purse for some change and tosses it on the table with a hollow noise that reverberates in my chest.
“You asked me to let you go, Ash. So, I’m going to give you what you want.”
She turns and she weaves her way to the door, and I feel frozen. I did ask her to let me go. I just hadn’t considered that by doing so, I’d have to let her go too.
I-I can’t do that.
I asked for this, and she’s giving it to me.
But I don’t want it anymore.
I’m shaking as I shoot up from the table and toss some bills. My limbs feel stiff but I race out the door and nearly plow down some yuppie idiot yelling into his Bluetooth. Movement catches in the corner of my eye as he berates me, and I just barely catch a glimpse of Spencer rounding the corner to my right.
My lungs can’t find the air, so my shout goes unnoticed.
Or maybe she’s ignoring me.
I sprint around the corner and see her opening her car door.
“Spence, please wait!”
She throws her purse into the passenger seat and I grab her arm to stop and turn her. And for once, I can see just what she meant when she said that it’s all so broken. It’s in everything: the corner of where her lips meet, the tangle of fissures in the ocean of her eyes, the hollow feeling in my chest that’s leftover from the first time that I lost her.
I want to erase it all, smooth it out and make it whole. And something in me knows that she’s just given me the keys to that kingdom, the push that I need to finally choose a door and walk through it.
Maybe she’s challenging me.
Am I ready to meet that challenge?
What will it take?
What do I even have left to give?
There has to be a reason for all of this, right? It can’t all have meant nothing. It can’t all be beyond reproach.
I tug her to me and my hands find the warmth of her neck and the small of her back, my thumb finds the soft skin of a cheek and the gentle slope of an ear. And her mouth, God, it’s just like I remember it: sweet, warm, and velvety soft.
She tastes like peppermint and passion, and promises and secrets. And for a moment, I’m fumbling through this heady haze that she’s weaved around us with a gasp that pulls me into her deeper.
And she kisses me back, fervently, feverishly, and I remember only the good. I remember the sweetest of touches, the most delicate of scents, the most intricate of tastes – the most tender, the most simple yet profound of joys.
I remember what it was like to love her and to be loved by her, to stay in one place and let it all in.
But then she’s pulling away, and she’s gazing at me with watery eyes, and I remember what it is to run and keep it all out.
“It’s not enough,” she says and her voice breaks.
I want to shout that she’s wrong, that love is everything, but if I truly believed that none of this would be happening. She’s hurrying to get into the car, but mostly she’s just running away from me.
And it terrifies me, because this isn’t her. This is her pain, her heartache, finally reaching that point where it’s pushing her into the same sad state that I’ve trapped myself in. And maybe this is why she’s rejecting me: she doesn’t want to end up like me.
But she’s not like me. She doesn’t give up. She bends; she doesn’t break. God, please, don’t let me have broken her completely.
Somehow, despite what I now know, I feel lighter, freer, even as I realize that I’ve ruined her trust, that I’ve pushed her away. I’ve pushed too much, too far, and now it’s all falling over an edge.
It’s like everything’s changing so damn fast that I can’t even remotely keep up with it.
And it’s all me.
How can I not keep up with myself, understand myself?
If I can’t, no one can…
But I have to try, even when I’m not sure what I’m trying for. And I’m only just able to grab the door before she shuts herself into the car that’s she started.
“I get it, Spence.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
“You think a kiss fixes anything?”
“No, not at all, but it gives me something to run towards instead of always running away.”
She shakes her head and I can’t tell what she’s thinking because I can’t see her face. She’s hiding, but I do finally get it. I got it the minute that she left the table. This is what I’ve been doing to her. This is how it feels to put everything that’s sacred out there on the ocean only to be left wanting on the shore.
She needs me to break open, to swell and burst. She needs me to let her in. She needs me to show her my insides.
“Come with me this year, Spence.”
She shakes her head harder.
“I can’t, Ash.”
“All that I have, all that I am, is yours, Spence.”
God, that broken voice is so unlike her, but then, the girl that I used to know is deeply buried by the person that I became.
She needs this year too, to get her fire back.
“I wish that were true.”
“Let me try, Spence. I’d give anything to fix this.”
She’s still crying, but she seems to have calmed some. Several minutes pass before she finally speaks again.
“I need to move forward, Ash.”
And then she’s looking at me, stabbing me, penetrating everything soft inside of me to leave me bleeding with her words.
“What if I need to do that without you?”
The knife in my gut digs a little deeper, and my voice gets a little rougher, but I mean it when I say, “The only thing I’ve ever wanted in this world is for you to be happy, Spencer.”
And there, I see something alight inside of her, and I know that if she believes nothing else that comes out of my mouth, she believes this one thing because she knows that I love her. She can’t deny it any more than I can.
“I wanted to come with you, Ash…”
“But it’s your turn to let go of me.”
Those words, my words, they’re like a wall that appears out of nowhere while running. It hurts, it hurts more than I ever thought possible. I did this. Why did I do this?
“What does that mean, Spence?”
“It means that we both need to focus on ourselves. What I do right now has to be about me, and the same goes for you.”
“It means that we have to be friends or nothing at all.”
No… no, no, no…
“I want to be your friend, Spencer. I’ve been trying. I just don’t know how to…”
She laughs wryly. “I get it. Believe me.”
Tears sting my own eyes, but I’m not going to let them fall. I would have if this had gone differently. I was finally ready, but now… now I don’t think that she wants to know what’s in there anymore.
“I can’t not love you, Spencer.”
She swipes at her eyes and sniffles.
“Just… boundaries, Ash. I get that you feel how you feel. No one can help that. But you can’t act on those feelings, not with me.”
I understand that she wants to put herself together after all that I’ve done to fuck up her life, but I have a feeling that if her answer had been different during that conversation, Carmen wouldn’t have given her the ultimatum.
None of this would be happening.
The fact is that she loves me too.
And maybe that’s enough.
“Okay…,” I say.
“You definitely can’t kiss me like that again, Ash. If I’m going to get through this, I need you to promise.”
She turns her head and looks up at me. “I need you to promise.”
I’d do anything for her, or at least I want to say that. But I can’t even stay put long enough to let her in. I’m not sure what to do about it, how to stop myself, how to control my impulses. And I’m definitely lost when it comes to rules. I’ve always lived under the belief that rules were made to be broken. In fact, knowing that I can’t do something makes me want to do it all the more.
But this is Spencer. I have to find a way to keep her and stop hurting her. And if these rules will help me accomplish that, then I’ll do everything that I can to walk within the lines.
“Okay, Spence. I promise you that I won’t kiss you again…”
The words leave my mouth and I know that it’s an empty promise. That will never work for me.
All I want to do is kiss her.
All of the time.
Someday I will kiss her again. Whether it’s the end of all of this mess or the beginning of something better, I don’t know, but it’s going to happen, because she’s her and I’m me and there’s no way to escape that.
“I promise that I won’t kiss you again, at least… not until you ask me to.”
For all that I do to fuck things up, I never make promises that I can’t keep. And she knows this. In fact, she’s relieved by it, so relieved that she closes her eyes.
“Thank you,” she murmurs.
And at this point, I feel like something in me just died. Maybe it’s hope, or just the hope of her. But oddly enough, I feel like I can finally breathe. Each intake hurts, but my broken lungs are at least working again.
Something in me starts to panic and as I scan her, looking for the cause, I realize that her car is packed to the gills.
“Spence, where are you going?”
She sits back in the seat and stares out of the window, her expression so emotionless and void that it serves to intensify my panic.
“I don’t know yet. I’ve been staying in a hotel.”
I swallow hard. “Not The Tarte again?”
“Don’t, Ash. You know I can’t.”
I crouch down and turn her face to look at me, hating myself for how dull her eyes are.
“I know that it would look bad, but you’re in this situation because of me.”
She shakes her head and I take one of her hands.
“Spence, you don’t even have a job because of me.”
“I made my own choices, Ashley.”
“Because you love me.”
She blows out a breath and I plead a case for reason.
“I’ll abide by any boundary you set, but don’t ask me to leave you with no money and nowhere to go.”
She’s quiet for a long time.
“And what about the dogs,” I ask.
Sobs overtake her and I’m not sure if this is a no-no, but I lean in and hold her, and she doesn’t fight me.
“I don’t know what to do about them. Carmen told me they have to be out of there by tomorrow. I can’t take them to the hotel…”
“Please let me help you, at least until you figure out what you want to do.”
It takes a few minutes and a few pathetic sighs, but I eventually feel her nod against my shoulder.
“But just for a night or two.”
I can’t help but smile at her.
“Look, you’re in no shape to drive. Why don’t I call Kyla and she can drive your car home while you and I go get your dogs?”
She leans back and pats my hand in a very platonic fashion, making it clear that she needs some distance. It’s with a heavy heart that I oblige.
“Thank you,” she says.
Reaching into the car, I pull the keys from the ignition and get to my feet to hold a hand out to her. She takes it and once she’s on her feet, I hug her again. She’s a little stiff, but I need to make another promise that I’ve never made to anyone before.
I turn my face into her neck and whisper, “I’m not going anywhere anymore. I promise.”
She starts to sob again, but relaxes into the embrace, allowing me to just hold onto her. I have to hold onto her if I’m going to keep this promise, but maybe just making it will be enough to keep me honest.
So much is happening, and for once I’m looking for an anchor, not a sail. I want her to be that anchor. I need her to be, even if she can only ever be my friend.
I’ll find a way to live with that.
I’ll find a way to stop hurting her.
I’ll find a way to slow down, to stay still in the storm.
I know that it will take time, but this weekend is a fresh start. I have no idea how this weekend will play out with all that’s happened this week, but maybe the snowy Canadian scenery will clear our heads and our hearts so that we can have an actual shot at figuring ourselves out.