There's really no apology that would be enough. So...here's a new chapter. There's only two or three chapters left. And the next one has ALREADY been written so there won't be this huge gap. Also, I really liked the sound of that ice cream. But no coconut. Indeed.

Standard disclaimers apply.


Chapter 25

Glen was annoyed.

For three days now Spencer had moped around in near silence. She still did her chores, went to school, and ate dinner with the family so she didn't arouse the suspicions of their otherwise occupied father. But Glen wasn't so self absorbed that he hadn't caught on. Especially since her moping made her move slower and once again they would be late for school.

He also wasn't so self absorbed that he hadn't noticed there had been no Ashley interrupting their lives during this time of moping. He was sure many people would be surprised to learn he also wasn't that self absorbed to feel sorry for his sister. He was, however, too self absorbed to ask for Spencer to fill in any details so he could help.

"Spencer, get your ass downstairs!" he yelled up to his younger sister, tired of waiting.

He was answered with a light slap to the back of his head and his dad entering his line of vision. Mouthing, "language," Arthur disappeared out the door on his way to work.

Before Glen even finished rolling his eyes he was yelling back upstairs, "Damn it, Spencer…." He was interrupted from his rant as his sister finally appeared at the top of the stairs. He had to give the girl credit, despite the downtrodden way she carried herself she still managed to look classy.

"About fucking time," he said as she reached the bottom of the stairs.

"I'm sorry," she replied without looking him in the eyes. Without another word she started towards the door.

With a sigh Glen just followed her. He would never admit it out loud but he missed his sister dishing it out as well as she got.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Aiden stared at Ashley as she sat behind the wheel of her car in the school parking lot. It had been three days since the "breakup" as it was labeled in Ashley's mind. Despite his numerous attempts to cheer her up the smile never seemed to reach her eyes and all the laughs were forced. It hurt him to see his two friends hurting knowing exactly what it would take to heal them. But not being able to actually step in and do it himself.

He hadn't spoken much to Spencer, but that was because she seemed to be avoiding everyone at this point. She would arrive with her brother, eat alone, walk the halls alone, and then leave. The only person Aiden saw her interact with was Chelsea. He was glad she had someone she could turn to. And he was determined to be Ashley's someone until all this could be worked out.

Reaching Ashley he tapped on her window and grinned as he watched her jump in surprise, her hands finally releasing their death grip on the steering wheel.

Moving out the way so she could open the door and begin her day, Aiden cocked his head and smiled softly at her. "It's gonna be okay. We'll just start on our plan today."

"Aiden, we didn't have a plan. I ended up eating ice cream and crying like a catholic school girl who just lost her virginity in the back of a pickup. And the only plan you came up with was to kidnap her."

"I still say it would work," Aiden protested sheepishly. Putting his hand on her shoulder he gave it a soft squeeze. "So, are you ready for a new day?"

"A new day of watching Spencer refuse to look at me? To have to pretend my heart isn't aching for her? Yeah, why wouldn't I be ready?" Ashley snapped back at him before turning to stride towards the school.

"That's not exactly what I meant…no," Aiden whispered quietly to himself as he started to jog after her.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It wasn't until lunch that Clay was able to catch up with his sister. In the few days since her fight with Ashley she had managed to perfect the art of keeping a low profile. With that in mind he was surprised to find her sitting at a table out in the open and seemingly staring off into space. It wasn't until he sat down next to her that he saw a certain brunette across the court.

"Let's get out of here," he suggested once he knew Spencer had sensed his presence.

"It's not her fault you know," Spencer whispered starting down at her hands fidgeting with the water bottle.

Clay was silent for a moment as he ran back over the image of his sister's tear streaked face as she ran away from Ashley. "You're never going to be able to convince me of that one," he responded with a snort.

It was Spencer's turn to be silent as she looked away to stare at Ashley again. She began to speak so quietly that Clay had to strain to hear her.

"It wasn't anyone's fault. It was…unfortunate. A series of moments, of past moments, that collided and yes, I got hurt. But Ashley did everything she could to try and soften the blow."

"And if that's all it was, then why this?" Clay asked, waving his hands vaguely towards where Ashley was sitting and then back at Spencer. "Why not just be together?"

For the first time Spencer looked up and met his eyes. He could see the unshed tears there and he felt his heart break for her all over again.

"Because it's just not that easy. Because I have things I need to finish working through. Alone," stressing the last word Spencer stood and walked away from the table.

Glancing from the retreating back of his sister back to the slumping form of Ashley, Clay cursed silently to himself. In high school as well as matters of the heart, it only took one small mistake and it would all go to hell. He had no idea how we was going to fix this one.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Hi."

Ashley's head shot up, her eyes betraying the surprise she felt at Chelsea standing before her. Chelsea couldn't help but grin at the confused look splashed across Ashley's face. But her grin faded as the surprise slipped back into looking like a kicked puppy.

"May I sit?" she asked the moping girl.

Ashley waved her hand to the empty spot next to her.

"She was staring at you," Chelsea offered up, as a way to lead into the topic but also show she wasn't there to judge.

Again Ashley's head shot up and took a desperate look around the area. Chelsea could tell she was searching out that piercing blue stare.

"She's gone now. But she was watching you the whole time," Chelsea admitted.

"So what does that mean?" Ashley asked.

"That things aren't as bad as you seem to think they are," Chelsea answered softly. "She just needs time, she hasn't stopped loving you. Quite the opposite it would seem."

"And why wouldn't she just tell me that?" Ashley probed deeper.

Chelsea just raised her eyebrow and waiting for the brunette to answer her own question.

Finally, with a sigh, Ashley conceded. "She tried and I just wasn't listening. But this is so stupid. I don't understand why she's so upset. It's the past and it has nothing to do with us or my love for her. I know I shouldn't have lied to her about it, but in my head it was nothing. Not even worth the mention."

Listening carefully Chelsea nodded slowly. "I can understand that."

"But…" Ashley questioned.

"But, obviously it means something to Spencer. You might not be able to understand where she's coming from but you have to respect her feelings."

Noticing Ashley about to open her mouth, Chelsea held up her hand. "Which you are obviously doing, I know. But instead of stressing about why she's upset, just accept that she is wait for her to work through her issues on her own. She will come back to you. If she had no intention of doing so, she wouldn't be as hurt as she is right now. She would just brush you off and move on. She's not moving on, she's dealing with what she needs to."

Ashley narrowed her eyes, "So, how much do I owe you?"

Chelsea just laughed and patted the other girl on the shoulder. "Consider this a free consultation. Sometimes you just need another girl to talk to about things. He might be sweet and fun to look at but Aiden can't be too good at emotional advice."

"He wanted to kidnap Spencer," Ashley agreed with a chuckle.

"I'm going to go old school here, but like grandma used to always say, buck up camper. Things can only get better from here," Chelsea added with a grin as she got up and walked away from the table slowly.

She had only gone a few steps when she heard Ashley repeat quietly to herself, "Things can only get better. Unless they get worse."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

At some point after lunch Spencer had decided to skip the rest of the day. There was no point in being there when she was unable to focus anyway.

Standing at her locker she heard soft footsteps approaching behind her. She didn't even have to turn around to know who it was. They were footsteps she would know forever.

"Hey," she whispered.

"Hi," Ashley whispered back. "Shouldn't you be in class?"

Spencer turned around and looked shyly at the older girl. "Shouldn't you be?" she asked lightly.

Ashley gave her a small grin in return, "Am I ever?" she asked, prompting polite laughter from both of them.

When an awkward silence overtook them, Spencer turned back to her locked and pretended to be searching for something hidden inside. After a moment it was Ashley who began to speak again.

"You know, our friends are probably going to start plotting ways to get us back together," she said with a forced chuckle.

Spencer rolled her eyes at her locker. "Well, it would be pointless of them," she groaned. Turning to look back at Ashley, she noticed the other girl looked as if she had been slapped.

"Oh." The word just seemed to fall out of her mouth.

"What?" Spencer began, before realizing exactly what the older girl must have thought. "No! No no no, I mean, it's pointless because…because it's nothing that can be fixed like that. It's all because of me, inside of me. And besides, I don't see us as apart. I just need time."

"Because of you?" Ashley snorted. "I'd like to hear that logic."

Spencer took a deep breath and steadied herself against her open locker. How could she possibly explain something she didn't understand fully herself? She seemed to always be in this position. Lost and yet trying to put it all into words.

"My world has been shaken lately. As you know. You know all of this. We moved, I made new friends, lost those new friends, met you. Fell in love with you. I've been judged not only by people who I've never met but my own mother. I was threatened to be sent away because I am wrong and broken in her eyes. My mother left. My father has begun drinking and he's rarely home. I've felt more lost than I've ever felt in my life. I was searching for a steady foundation and I thought that foundation was you. But then, I was wrong. Again something that I had placed all my faith in turned out to be shaken. I'm not saying I don't have faith in you, or that I don't believe in our love but in the end it still hurt me. And all of this just made me realize I need to be my own foundation. I can't place it all on another person, it has to be me. And that's what I'm working on Ashley. Placing my faith in myself. Becoming my own foundation. That's why I need space from you. Does that make any sense? Can you understand that?"

Ashley just nodded and Spencer could see the unshed tears in her eyes.

"I wish I could be that for you," she whispered, her voice breaking.

"I know," Spencer agreed, "but it can't just be you. It has to be me as well. And I need to get to that place."

Wiping at her eyes Ashley just nodded again. Spencer kept her gaze on Ashley's as she slowly closed her locker. Taking a few steps backwards she began to disengage from the confrontation, her eyes still meeting dark brown ones. She saw red lips form the words, "I love you," before turning her back to the brunette, her heart no longer sure if she was making the right decision.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Ashley leaned her head against Spencer's locker and felt the cold metal seeping into her brain. What could she possibly have said to such a confession? It was honest, heartfelt, and most of all she could understand Spencer's decision. But it didn't make anything easier. It didn't chase the loneliness away. It didn't make her miss Spencer any less.

Just as she felt the first few tears slipping down her cheeks, she felt hands grasp at her shoulders and spin her around. The next thing she knew Spencer's lips were crushing her own. She gasped into the mouth on top of hers and froze for only a second before wrapper her arms around the body before her.

Spencer's palms were against the lockers behind Ashley, keeping her in place as she leaned in even closer. Ashley felt Spencer's body hard against her and the locker digging into her back. But she didn't say anything, she just held on tighter and pulled her in even closer. And as Spencer's tongue began to lick at her lower lip, she forgot everything else but that feeling.

And she realized that Chelsea was right. It could only go up from there.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Spencer was drowning. And though she splashed around helplessly in the deep waters, she didn't call out for help. Although she was tired and aching from trying to keep afloat, she knew she had to save herself. But no matter which direction she turned, all she saw was more water. She was lost. She was alone. And she was tired.

It wasn't until she finally stopped looking towards the horizon and focused on what was right in front of her that she noticed the life preserver floating in the water. And she realized it wouldn't save her, it wouldn't swim her to solid ground. But if she held on then at least something else was helping to keep her afloat. She wouldn't be holding on alone.

So, as her lips crashed into Ashley's she grabbed hold and she held tight as Ashley kissed her back just as hard, her hands grasping at Spencer just as desperately. Because, Spencer realized, she was Ashley's life preserves just as much as Ashley was hers. They were stronger together.

Finally pulling apart to breathe, Ashley's head rested for a moment against Spencer's until, exhausted by her emotional breakthrough, Spencer finally let her head fall against Ashley's chest. Resting there she listened to the older girl's ragged breathing and the heart racing beneath. Spencer wasn't sure how long she rested just listening when Ashley clearing her throat brought her back to reality.

"You know what this means right?" Ashley asked, her hands softly stroking Spencer's hair.

Spencer straightened herself and looked into the eyes she adored. "It means we're officially back together," she said quietly.

Ashley frowned slightly at the words, "Well, I was thinking about the fantastic make-up sex, but yes, I suppose that works as well."

Spencer couldn't hold back the loud laugh as it bubbled out of her, happiness finally finding a place inside her again. "You never change, do you?" she giggled, giving a light punch to Ashley's shoulder and turning to start walking away.

Over her shoulder she could hear Ashley yelling after her again. "Hey! Hey! But you wouldn't want that right, baby? Baby? You don't want me to change, do you? I mean you love me for me, right? Is it too soon to joke about this?"

Spencer's happiness and Ashley's words made the blonde laugh so hard her shoulders were shaking but she kept slowly walking away.

"Heeeeey! Baby! Where are you going?"

Finally turning back around Spencer called back just as loud, not caring who could hear her from the classrooms. "The sex isn't going to have itself, Ashley. Get your cute little butt in gear."

"YEAH!"