Spencer grabs a napkin and cleans the chocolate from her chin.
“Speaking of low blows,” she says darkly.
I try to stop myself from saying words, really I do, but I just can’t help myself…
“No, not low, exactly…” I pretend to think about it. “I mean, you nailed me square in the nose.”
She’s quiet and sad, and for a moment, it looks like she might cry.
“Spence, come on. It was funny.”
She sniffles and I feel like an even bigger shit. I was here to apologize to her, to explain to her, not hurt her more than I already had.
“I’m sorry, Spencer…”
She nods once, and just like that, she’s perfectly fine.
“Sucker…,” she says.
Oh, apparently low blows are on sale today.
And it’s also her turn.
That’s really not fair considering that she just got in a free potshot. Two for ones are definitely against the rules.
“Oh, come on, Ash, it was funny.”
Her voice is mocking… and she’s using my own words against me.
This will not do, not at all.
Come on, Davies. Where’s your wit? Say something clever. Throw her off balance.
“Not nearly as funny as when you thought I was dating Aiden though.”
Man, she’s on a roll, and I don’t know if I can keep up…
Remember when I said that Spencer never talked about sex or liking someone… like that?
Now, remember when I also said that I’d found myself kind of wanting to talk to her about it?
So, that was three years prior, and I still hadn’t worked up the nerve to follow through.
But some of the stuff that had been happening had me reeling, and a little jealous – okay, maybe a lot jealous – and Spencer’s unwillingness to wait forever for me to find said nerve, was about to force my hand.
What had been happening exactly?
Well, things had been trucking along just fine, just like always. I mean, change was constant, but we kept coping. It wasn’t always easy and far from perfect, but we had each other. In the blink of an eye, another year of holidays and photos and memories had been catalogued. Summer was in full swing and with age came more freedom.
We could drive now and all of the other amazing run amuck rules had become applicable. We’d been filling our time with trips to the lake, movies, and sleepovers. But as summer had begun to dwindle down, something interrupted that flow: Spencer’s time was at a premium.
Now when I say that, I don’t mean that she was visiting her grandmother or working a summer job. I mean that she just wasn’t as available… to me. You see, she’d started spending a lot of time with Aiden… alone. And this was time that we’d normally spend together.
And I wasn’t the only one that had noticed, not by a longshot. Of course, being hormone driven sixteen-year-olds, everyone had sex on the brain. Glen and Madison were on-again, off-again, Clay and Chelsea had finally paired off, and the unconfirmed consensus was that Spencer and Aiden weren’t just dating, but sleeping together.
Now when I say unconfirmed, I mean that Spencer hadn’t said anything about it to me; not a single word. In fact, she still hadn’t talk about sex at all. And Aiden was just as implacable. Even when we were all hanging out together, and Glen inevitably teased one of them about it, neither of them gave a damn thing away. They just shook their heads and shrugged.
There were no overt touches or glances, or any of the other ridiculous stuff that is expected from a pair of star-crossed lovers. It was like nothing had changed, except that Spencer had taken half of the time that she was with me and focused it on Aiden. And I had no idea why. All I had were rumors, and they were churning out of the mill like inbred puppies.
But I just wouldn’t believe it, not until I heard it directly from Spencer. She couldn’t – wouldn’t – do that without telling me…
Would she? I mean, I was still her best friend and confidant, right? And sex was a huge, up all night telling your best friend every detail kind of experience, right?
See, I thought that too, but then I had to consider that if the tables had been reversed, I wouldn’t have breathed a word to her. In fact, I’d been keeping all of those same thoughts and feelings from Spencer for three years.
Remember all of those things that I had been noticing about Spencer? Yeah, me too. It was pretty much all that I could think about. Well, I had quickly realized that what I was feeling for her fell directly under the column of sexual. I’d seen enough of sex to realize that it was all about the senses.
I’d see someone kiss and then wonder what it would be like to kiss Spencer like that.
She’d move, I’d see skin, and I’d wonder what it would be like to touch it, maybe even taste it.
It just wasn’t a gross idea anymore, at least not with Spencer.
That realization had been just as thrilling as it had been scary. It had made me feel alive and on fire. But, those feelings had also left me feeling ashamed. I mean, was it wrong for me to look at her like that, to desire her?
There had been this part of me that had immediately said yes, that I was acting like a creepy mouth-breather and taking advantage of her trust. But my hormones had been screaming no.
My head and body were at war, and no victor seemed to be in sight.
So, I’d opted to suppress my desire for her. I didn’t want to abuse her trust, and since I couldn’t be sure if I was, I just wouldn’t do it.
I mean, I loved Spencer…
And that… that one idle thought had caught fire inside of me.
See, most people believe that love and sex are two completely separate entities: love is all heart and sex is all body. I’d seen it often enough with those around me to know that it was true. I mean, Glen and Madison hated each other half the time, yet they were boning like monkeys. But once the deed was done, that was it; there was nothing substantial left.
There’s a certain level of clear-headedness when you deny yourself, and that’s when I’d realized that love is what makes sex substantial. And if you love that person, it’s not wrong to want to show them that love physically. But while it may not be wrong, it most definitely could hurt.
Once I understood what I was feeling, I’d stopped tramping down on my desires and had begun to focus on why I had them. As a result, I had begun to fall more and more in love with her. It hurt to feel so much and be forced to bottle it up because I knew that those types of feelings had to be reciprocated. And if I put myself out there only to find out that Spencer didn’t love me like that…
Well, for all that I didn’t know, I was certain of one thing: I’d lose her completely.
I mean, wouldn’t she have said something by now? She was always ahead of me in the emotions arena.
But she hadn’t…
So that’s what brought me to this point where I was pacing in my room and going out of my mind. I hadn’t seen Spencer for nearly three days and she’d only called twice. We only had a week left of summer and normally, that’s when we started to wind down and do our own thing.
Just the two of us…
What happened to just the two of us?
I snatched my cell from the end of my bed, pressed 1, and held. Almost immediately the phone started ringing so I put it to my ear. I’d been doing this all day, but still, she wasn’t picking up. And it was getting late…
Her phone went to voicemail again and I hung it up a little violently before slumping onto the bed. I knew that it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. I just wasn’t ready to talk to her. I was beginning to think that I was never going to be ready. I blew out a breath and scrubbed at my eyes. Ready or not, I just didn’t have a choice. I needed to do something before it was too late.
Hell, if everyone’s suspicions were correct, it already was.
Just then the phone rang and Spencer’s face lit up the screen. I answered it so immediately that I caught the end of the conversation that she was having.
“Stop it, Aiden! She’ll hear…”
My heart fell into my stomach.
“Hello…,” she asked. “Ash…?”
Fuck, what was I doing? I could hang up…
“Uh…,” I cleared my throat. “Uh, hey, Spence.”
My mind was reeling with this new information, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want it to mean what I believed it to mean.
“Hey,” she said brightly. “I just noticed that you called. I’m sorry, I’ve just been… busy…”
I closed my eyes against the acute pain that lanced through me. No, it still wasn’t enough. She was going to have to crush me completely before I’d believe it.
“So…,” she drawled. “What’s up?”
“Oh, I…,” I swallowed hard and started picking at the imaginary lint on my comforter. “I just wanted to see if you could hang out, but you’re busy, s-“
“Actually, Aiden’s about to drop me off at home. I can come ov-“
I cringed. That was really loud. And very conspicuous.
Well done, Davies…
“Ash…,” she said more seriously. “Is everything okay?”
I wanted to cry, but I wouldn’t let myself. It wasn’t over yet, but I felt raw and exposed anyway. I might as well just get this over with.
“Actually,” I started. “I kind of need to talk…”
Fuck, it was out there now and I didn’t have a good lie hiding in wait.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes, okay?”
She sounded worried.
I just nodded and hung up, forgetting that she couldn’t see me.
I was on my feet and pacing again. I needed to think this through. I had issues with that. I always just rushed in. And it always got me trouble. If I lost Spencer because of this…
I felt trapped. If I told her, and she rejected me, then I’d have to run. There was no way that I could deal with that. But, if I didn’t tell her, I’d be running from the truth anyway. It was like there was no other option but to run. I only got to choose the direction…
And both sucked…
I was so lost in my internal diatribe that I didn’t hear the doorbell, and before I knew it, I was crying and wrapped up in strong, tender arms. I buried my face in her neck, thankful that she was a little bit taller than me now. I liked feeling small in her arms. It somehow felt safer, and I was going to lose that safety.
I was pathetic, but that’s love.
She leaned away from me but I didn’t have the heart to face her, so I kept my eyes trained on the carpet. I felt her fingers lace through the hair at either side of my face and push it back to the base of my neck. I couldn’t help but be comforted by it. It was my thing. Everyone has one – that pleasure hound spot that makes your leg kick wildly.
I was fast becoming a puddle when she said, “Talk to me, Ash.”
But my tongue was knotted in my throat. I really had no idea how lose her gracefully. I finally looked up at her. Her skin was perfectly tanned and slightly freckled, and her hair several tints of sun-kissed gold. Compassion radiated from her oceanic eyes, and I just didn’t know what to do.
I couldn’t put myself out there and lose her, not yet. But I did still need to know…
“Do you love Aiden?”
Surprise passed over her face before her brows furrowed. “What?”
She stroked my hair again.
“Is that why you’ve been avoiding me?”
Her hands fell away and she seemed to be debating something with herself. I could tell by the way that she crossed one arm in front of her stomach, propped the other’s elbow on it, and then tugged on her bottom lip with her fingers.
Oh, God. There was that crushing feeling I’d been waiting for. I sat bonelessly on the end of the bed, my shoulders slumped. The bed shifted a little next to me to absorb her weight.
“Ash, I haven’t been avoiding you.”
I looked over to see her fidgeting with the zipper of the green hoodie draped across her lap. She was nervous.
“We don’t hang out nearly as much because of Aiden…”
She sighed. “Ash, I can’t really talk about it…”
“Why? We used to talk about everything.”
“It’s just complicated, Ash.”
I felt bolder now. “Why, Spencer, because you’re sleeping with him?”
I was finally met by angry eyes. “You think I’m sleeping with him.”
It wasn’t a question, but a statement, and I scoffed. “Come on, Spence. Glen teases both of you all the time, and why else would you be spending so much time with him?”
I was on my feet, anger coursing through me though she’d done nothing wrong. But I had, and she had every right to be angry with me.
“Wow, I never, in a million years, thought that you’d be so…,” She spluttered. “Dense.”
She was on her feet and staring a hole through me with blue lasers. “You seriously think that just because I’m spending time with Aiden that I’m whoring around with him?”
Well… I guess I had.
“You really think that little of me.”
Again, a statement, and again, I guess that I had, but I hadn’t meant too.
“And you thought this because Glen is just so fucking smart?”
Well, I mean, it was more than just Glen… but mostly.
She laughs humorlessly. “Did it ever once cross your mind to ask me what was up?”
“That’s what this is…”
Whew, I got one of those thoughts out there. Too bad that it did absolutely no good.
“You call this asking!? You call me over and over, then hang up when I call back, then accused me of being some slut, avoiding you, and abandoning you…”
She was about to continue, but I was taking a turn.
“Now wait just a minute, I asked you what was going on and you said…,” To my everlasting shame, I made air quotes. “It’s complicated.”
“IT IS,” she yelled.
“WHY IS IT COMPLICATED,” I yelled back.
“BECAUSE IT’S A SURPRISE PARTY FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY!”
Wow, okay, first I noted how quiet it had suddenly become. And mainly, I noticed that first because I was avoiding the deep, deep embarrassment that was about to follow. And then, then the embarrassment came unbidden and flushed to my face.
“Oh,” I said lamely.
“Yeah, Ash. Oh…”
She shook her head, grabbed her hoodie, and made for the door, but I grabbed her arm. “Spence, wait…”
I’d beg if I had to.
I turned her but her arms were crossed and she wouldn’t look at me. “I’m sorry… I just-“
Her head snapped up. “You just what, couldn’t let me do something that didn’t revolve around you?”
She laughed mirthlessly. “Even though it did…”
Wow, Spence. “I just didn’t understand.”
She blew out a breath and ran a frustrated hand through her hair. “I can believe that. You aren’t exactly winning IQ points tonight.”
Okay, I deserved that. But there was still logic in my confusion.
“My birthday isn’t for another month.”
She threw the hoodie onto the futon a little harshly. “We wanted a big party while it was still summer. It’s only a month difference.”
Okay, but, “Why Aiden? Why not Chelsea or Glen or Clay…”
Or anyone else…
“Why does it matter?”
That was a good question. To which, I had no answer, at least none that I was willing to voice.
“Why… just… Aiden?”
She sighed and sat down on the futon utterly defeated. “It’s happening at his house. His parents are leaving for Europe this weekend. We’ll have the house and the pool to ourselves.”
I slumped down next to her, equally defeated. “What were you doing over there?”
“It’s going to be a huge party, Ash. We have a live band coming and we needed to start getting alcohol now so that we’d have enough without getting caught. It’s not easy to find buyers, especially for this much.”
Her tone was a little biting.
I thought about her question for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, I’m dense, but I’m also happy.”
She groaned. “What?”
“You know that I hate surprises.”
“Yeah, I know.”
A long moment of silence ensued.
She thwaked me hard with one of the pillows behind her, but I was ready for the second swing and caught her hand. The contact was awkward for a moment and we stared at each other before I quickly let her go.
I cleared my throat and continued. “This is why I hate surprises.”
She toppled me over on the futon, straddled my leg, and started to dig her fingers into my ribs. It hurt but I had no choice but laugh through it.
“God, you’re such an ass,” she shouted.
I was nearing the point of asphyxiation before she relented and slumped next to me. She laid her head on my shoulder, both of us breathing heavily and exhausted.
This time she bit me on my arm and I yowled, nearly elbowing her in the face in an effort to pull it away, but she held me in place. I wanted to resist, I swear…
“I can’t believe you just bit me…”
She poked me playfully. “You deserved it with your paranoia and Spence this, Spence that. You’re making me crazy!”
I lifted my arm and found a row of even, crescent-shaped marks.
“I can’t believe you actually bit me…”
I mean, she really bit me. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. It was kind of… hot…
“Hm…” I was still staring at the wound and trying to puzzle out how I felt about it.
“What were you going to say?”
I tried to give her a dirty look, but I could only see the top of her head. “You attack me for saying something and then want me to say it anyway?”
“And you call me crazy…”
She tilted her head and smiled cutely. “And you’re crazy about me, so we’re even.”
For a moment, just a single moment, I considered telling her that it was the truth. But I didn’t, and I hated myself for my cowardice.
“So…,” she tried again.
I smiled, albeit a little sadly. “I was just going to say thanks.”