"Wait, you were a photographer for PIC magazine?"
Ashley nearly drops her fork, and as I nod yes, I can't help feeling proud of my old job.
I try looking offended, but I can't,not with her smirking at me in that way. No, I could never look anything but thrilled when she looks at me that way, so instead I break into laughter, not able to hold it in anymore. She starts laughing too, and something tells me it's because she hears me doing the same. Because she likes how we sound laughing together.
It's been a week since Ashley met up with us at O'Neills [aka the most torturous night ever Glen and Ashley were cordial, sharing laughs and innocent touches [always initiated by Glen. Even that was hard for me to stomach, and I probably would've called it an early night, leaving them to fall in love without me having to watch, but something prevented me from leaving. Something in the form of Ashleys eyes and subtle touches with me.
She may have gone to meet Glen, but she stayed to hang out with me. I may be clueless sometimes, but I'm not dense, and that is a fact I'm sure of. I mean, why else would she jump at the chance to be alone with me whenever the possibility arose? Why did she follow me to the bathroom every time I went, lamely [but adorably saying it's because we were "Loo Buds"?
And why did her eyes remain on me whenever she told a story? A table full of eyes, and she kept hers right with mine the whole time. Telling [ime[/i a separate story from what she told the table.
I'm not really sure whether they [Glen and Ashley hit it off or not, but I am sure that we [me and Ashley really did. Which is why we're here now, having dinner together inside her small, but perfect apartment.
"So what's your beef with PIC, hmm?"
I smile cheekily, realizing that when it's just me and her, I'm different. We both are. It's like we're finally ourselves, or something. I've never felt that way with someone, and if I weren't having so much fun, I'd probably freak out.
But the truth is, it's only a matter of time before I freak out. Because I know there's something developing here. Something that scares me in a way I can't put my finger on.
"Oh well my old band, The Drumsticks, tried to get you guys to cover a story on us for like ever. But we were always stupidly turned down."
I nearly cough on my beer, "The Drumsticks?"
"Yup. Why you remember us?" She has her own cheeky grin, and I wish I could say I do remember, but I don't.
With a teasing scoff, I lean back in my chair, arms crossing, "Well, Ash, with a [ilaaaaame[/i name like The Drumsticks, is it really any surprise we turned you down?"
Her mouth opens in a surprised gasp, the first time I've ever really teased her, her first glimps at my sarcasm, before she smiles.
"Wow, low blow Spence..." holding a hand to her heart, she laughs, "...low blow."
She smirks around her drink, and I feel something flutter inside my stomach for the 2,387th time tonight. I'm in trouble. I'm in so much trouble, because I know I'm getting myself into something I'm not ready for.
No, I'm not just getting into this, I'm already very much inside [ithis[/i...whatever it is..and, yeah, I'm definitely not ready.
I've finally gotten to know Ashley Davies, tonight. Through the smidgiest bits of information she's divulged, I feel like I know her. Born and raised in downtown Cleveland [the bad parts, she grew up fast, living with only her mother. Money was always tight, her mother literally saved their lives by working three jobs, and that's all she shared about her childhood [so different from my own. But that was ok with me, that was fine by me, because I felt special just to hear it. For hearing something that sounded like no one else had ever heard.
No one but me.
She loves music, and loves it in a [her words, not mine "crazy, obsessed way." With no boundaries, or segregation. Seriously, she is the Rosa Parks of music, leaving no artist behind to ride the back of the bus. Glancing over her CD collection proves this; Led Zeppelin, Laura Nyro, Destroyer, Bananrama, Pearl Jam, Temptations, Spice Girls, My Morning Jacket. The list could go on forever, cause the CDs certainly do. [and really, who still buys those things?
Well Ashley does. Yes, she's a rare kind these days; a rare bird that pays for every bit of music she owns. I like it.
While she's an honest and law abiding citizen [in the ways of music, that is, she's also talented. Yup, she can play the drums, guitar, piano, violin, and she can sing. She studied music at a community college [that she's still paying for, and aspires to pursue a career there, inside music, in whatever way she can.
Which has me curious as to what she's doing here, but when I asked, she merely shrugged, giving me a simple answer, "Just felt time, you know, time for a change in scenery."
That was it. My 101 crash course in Ashley Davies, and I have to say, I'm happy I signed up. No, I'm positively thrilled I was even accepted.
We finished the delicious meal she cooked a little while ago, and neither one of us have made any signs of moving anytime soon. No, we both seem so content to just sit right here all night, drinking our drinks, and telling our tales.
But something in the air just changed. Something just shifted.
"So your brother called today."
And there it is. That's why things are different, because suddenly, she's different. She seems strange, now. Almost like she's putting it out there just to see how it's received. Like she's winding up and pitching me a ball just to see if I'll actually hit it.
Just to see if I even can.
I try sounding nonchalant, cause lord knows I'm beyond interested [and, weirdly, definitely not interested at the same time
Those dark eyes stare straight through mine, and I have to look away, I have to peel at my beer bottle label. I have to laugh and turn on the sarcasm; my tension reliever since 1980.
"Wow, finally, we were starting to think he'd never learn how to use that damn thing. But I guess Glen can make phone calls all on his own now, so, yay, good for him!"
She smiles, but it's in a very "I'm serious" kind of way, and I waste no time in following her silent command.
"Ok, so he called. What did he want?"
But I already know very well what he wants.
"Weeeell..." she's tentative, she's ready to throw that curve ball that I can't handle [and something tells me, she knows it "...he wants to go out again this weekend..." a deep breath "...with just me."
"Oh." I can't hide the defeat [for a reason I'm still so unsure of in my voice this time, but I quickly recover, "...that's cool."
"Is it?" She seems disbelieving, and I'm feeling more and more uncomfortable.
What's going on here? Why is she looking at me like that, and why do I feel like I'm on fire?
"I mean, that's what you wanted, right?"
Please say no. Wait...why? Why do I need her to say no? I mean really, why does her dating Glen, hell anyone, why is it bothering me? No, why is it eating at me?
"I don't know..." I see something in her I've never seen before;
hesitant fear. And I know she's about to get honest with me, I know she's about to slowly start stripping herself, "...it feels kind of weird. Like, I'm wrong or something. Like it's wrong to do to you. That I have to talk to you about it, you know, run it by you first."
Oh, so that's whats going on here: Pity. And if there's anything I hate more than Ryan Seacrest, it's a pity party.
My wounded pride shows, as I reply in a somewhat offended tone. "That’s stupid, Ash, you should do what you want, don't worry about me."
"Oh no no..." Her words are leaving her lips fast, so fast, that it makes me even more nervous "...I'm not worried about you. No, that's not what I meant. I just..." There's that fear again, there's that deep breath, and this time it feels like she's gonna strip away everything, leaving her completely bare before me "...I just don't know if he's what I want. I don't know if that's what I want. Don't get me wrong, aside from being a jackass, your brothers nice..."
She smiles, and even though I feel like I'm going to explode from a bomb made of fear and confusion, I smile too. I can't help it; not when she's looking at me like that.
"...But I think..." now her eyes are nowhere but on mine, searching, reaffirming. There's no fear in those eyes and there's only relief as she practically whispers "...no, I know, I could have something better, something more real, with someone else."
Oh God. That internal bomb just blew up and it's shattered me. I'm terrified. I'm sweating. I'm drinking gulp after gulp of what little beer I have left, and I'm jumping from the table; quickly retrieving another one.
Is she talking about me? Does she want...something...with me?
Sitting back down, looking at her through the bottle sitting between my lips, I widen my eyes. "Yeah?"
But it's lost in my swallows, and she looks sad. So sad.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine." I've always been good at lying, and this time is no exception, except this time, someone reads through them. This time, she sees everything I hide, and it scares me shitless.
Yes, I am scared shitless, cause I'm starting to see where this is going. I'm starting to understand what's had me lost, flustered, excited, confused, and frightened.
"Spencer, come on, you're not fine, you're practically eating your bottles over there, and you won't even look at me." She pauses, reaching across the table to hold my trembling hand, and I know she feels just how shaky it is, cause she actually stills it between hers, "Hey, look I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you. I mean, is that what's wrong? Was it something I said?"
"No..." I say, quietly, truthfully, feeling like I have to because she's holding me, "...no it wasn't anything you said."
It's the truth, but it's still a lie, cause it’s exactly what she’s said that has me acting like this. However she doesn't seem to realize it as she softly smiles. "Ok, then what is it?"
Her thumb strokes over my skin, so softly, so so softly, and that's it. That's what it is.
She's what's wrong. This is what's wrong. This is not an innocent crush. This is something I still can't, and don't want to, put my finger on.
Because if I do, then that means...that might mean I'm gay.
And I can NOT get into that. I just can't. That means everything I've thought about my life, everything I've thought about me, isn't true. Nothing is as it was. And I can't break that. Because, as I've said, I'm the girl who doesn't break routine. I'm the girl who sets her desired path, and sticks to it, no matter what other forks tempt her
along the way.
And this fork, this girl before me, she is so tempting. Too tempting. And I'm not ready for it. I'm not ready for her road.
"Spence?" I break from my thoughts, realizing at some point I removed my hand from hers, leaving me colder than I was before. She looks so insecure. She looks so out of her element, and it hurts me, cause I know I've thrown her inside that unsure place, "...What's wrong?"
She's staring right inside me from across her small kitchen table. She's looking straight through me, and we've never been closer. In this moment, we see everything. We see everything we want. We read every word we're not saying.
I can't let her see that far inside me, anymore. I can't let her see what I hide. I can't let her see me being...gay. I can't let her see that word, the one I hide so well. The one word I don't want to spell. Cause that word changes my whole freaking life.
I'm just not ready for that, and what's even sadder; I don't think I'll ever be ready.
And that's why I muster up the saddest smile in sad history as I look into her open and honest eyes. That's why I have to speak in the smallest voice I have, hoping with the tiniest sliver of hope that she'll still see the truth inside these lies I'm about to tell.
"I think...I think you should call my brother."
"Spence..." She's not ready to let me take this road. She's still trying to give me strength. She's still reaching her hand across the table to keep me warm, and I'm still shutting her out. I'm shutting her right out, leaving us both with nothing but the freezing cold.
"No, really, you should. I mean, you'll never know what could be real if you don't try, right?"
I say these hypocritical words, genuinely. These words that I should listen to. My own advice I should be taking. But I'm not. Because I'm too much of a coward. Because I don't have the balls.
Because she should have had pity earlier. She so should have.
I can feel the disappointment dripping from her, leaking all over this table, and filling every empty space inside me, as she just looks. She looks for a beat longer, one more beat, as if she were waiting. Waiting for me to change my mind. Waiting for me to say something else. For me to say the real words. The words she sees inside of me.
The words she wished I would have said.
But I'm not, and that one more beat is up. That one last hopeful breath has been breathed. And she sighs. She sighs in a way like she's giving up. And I'm colder than I've ever been.
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
Through the smallness of her voice, through the sadness of her eyes, she still manages to wear a tiny Ashley smile, telling me it's ok. Telling me we're still ok.
And I'd believe her, I mean I should believe her. But it's her eyes that mislead me, cause those eyes are once again telling me a separate story.
Because it's one only I can read.
"So..." one heavy sigh, and a deep swig of a vodka tonic, "...I guess I'm going out with your brother again."
"Yeah..." one regretful sigh, and a half-a-bottle swallow of beer "...Guess so."
With the excitement held for her yearly physical, she breathes out "Awesome."
And as I sadly glance down on the dinner she's made us, I look like I'm in the middle of one.