Disclaimer: refers to and borrows from Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and Raleigh's "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd." Are those public domain?
A/N: Gasp, an update! Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are. So basically, instead of getting to, or even starting, all homework I should be doing, I'm cranking out the next piece to this li'l baby. Yay for academic procrastination!
This is it, folks. There'll be a short epilogue after this, then it's all done. I wanna thank you all for being so patient and committed to this story, it hasn't been easy but I'm reasonably satisfied. It means the world to me that you all like it so much. Enjoy. Un-beta'd, so any mistakes are mine. Feedback is love.
The examining room at the OBGYN is white and sterile. Spencer doesn't doubt that it's clean but it's barren as well. There's a print of "Starry Night" on the wall and Spencer thinks that a Doctor at this price good afford an actual painting, maybe not an genuine Van Gogh, but at least something that wasn't so blatantly cliché. The fluorescent lights are bright and unflattering and somehow make Spencer feel colder. She's exposed in the paper gown and uncomfortable on the metal table with the stirrups that always make her feel awkward and embarrassed. Spencer shivers and climbs off the table, takes a seat next to Ashley in an even more uncomfortable plastic chair. She listens to various machines humming and beeping, watches Ashley thumb through a magazine, and goosebumps rise along her arms, down her bare legs. She feels Ashley put an arm around her, rub her shoulder, trying to warm her up. Spencer has the insane thought that Ashley can read what she's thinking in the Braille on her skin.
Spencer feels Ashley's arm disappear from behind her and she's colder for it. She knows without looking that her mother is standing before them. Ashley hasn't been comfortable displaying any sort of affection for Spencer in front of Paula since they were in high school and it's the only reason for Ashley to have pulled away so quickly. Well, not the only reason, but Spencer hears her mother's voice and it's conformation enough.
"Ashley. Well… isn't this a surprise?" It's a question but all three know the answer. It is indeed a surprise.
"I'm just chock full of 'em."
"So it would seem." Paula ignores the chart in her hand and observes Ashley and Ashley observes her and it's with the same cool regard they've reserved for moments like these. This not-quite indifference, a silent agreement of toleration. Spencer has to clear her throat to end the staring contest.
Paula turns to her, "Shall we?" Spencer stands and moves to the table, if we must. They run through all the standard questions and Spencer tells her mother how she's feeling, that she's happy about the baby, that she doesn't care about the sex so long as it's healthy. Then she tells her that Rowan's doing fine, she leaves out that he's been recently suspended, Paula doesn't need another excuse to condemn Spencer's "lifestyle choice." All the while Ashley keeps her eyes on her magazine and Spencer doesn't blame her, she's thankful that they've both managed to pretend they don't hate each other.
When Spencer's got a thermometer in her mouth and Paula is scribbling something on a clipboard, it occurs to Spencer how odd it is, the switch of departments her mother has made. For someone who isn't exactly yay gay! Paula spends an awful lot of time between other womens' legs. That thought is disturbing and is bringing all sorts of unwanted mental pictures, Spencer tries to talk around her thermometer just for distraction.
"Where's Dr. Chase?" but it sounds more like "Pwere's saucer lace," and Spencer hears Ashley biting back a giggle.
"He's running behind," Paula says, clearly not amused as she removes the thermometer. "We're understaffed today. There's one patient ahead of you and she's having triplets, so it might be a little while."
Spencer nods. Her mother holds her eyes for a moment and Spencer can see the question in her eyes, Spencer sees all that Paula's dying to ask (why didn't you tell me? this was planned, wasn't it? who's the father?) Spencer has to plead with her eyes, she begs silently for her mother to keep these questions to herself. Saying them out loud would be ripping open fresh wounds and Spencer doesn't want to bleed anymore.
Spencer waits, seconds tick like years and Spencer can feel Ashley's eyes on her, sensing the tension blanketing the room like fog. Finally, Paula looks away. She closes her folder and Spencer's sigh of relief is audible. Paula parts with words indifferent congratulations and familiar, practiced indifference. Though, Spencer thinks, the latter was probably because of Ashley.
"That woman is determined to hate me till the day she dies." Thankfully, Ashley doesn't tack on the Let's hope that's some day soon that Spencer knows she's thinking.
It's another twenty minutes before the doctor sees them, apologizes for the wait. Spencer is back on the table, propped up by pillows, eyes transfixed on the green-black monitor in front of them. Dr. Chase sweeps the reader across Spencer's growing belly and all three women wait for the mass on the screen to take shape.
Slowly, it clears, defining itself, and the silhouette appears. One second, two, and Spencer can see tiny limbs, barely there. Her breath catches when she sees impossibly small, shut eyes, and she just knows they'll be blue. There's a steady pounding somewhere at the back of Spencer's mind and she thinks that she's hearing the blood rushing past her ears, she's so excited, but she realizes what it is. The baby's heart is beating, steady and sure, and it's enough to set a smile to Spencer's face.
The doctor is dragging a finger across the display, illustrating what line is which leg and, see? That's an ear. Spencer is beside herself, grinning and proud. She turns her head to look at Ashley behind her, she hasn't said anything yet. When she does, though, it's not what Spencer wants to hear.
"I need to go." The hand holding Spencer's is limp. Ashley's eyes are tired and there's something like resignation all over her face. "Sorry."
She wouldn't come home until it was dinnertime. She would sit on her side of the table and listen to her son recount how little fun it is being stuck at home all day. She'd smile when appropriate, eat enough to clear her plate, and act as though she had no idea Spencer was three feet away with someone else's baby in her belly, act as though it wasn't tearing her up inside.
She wakes to darkness and not-quite silence in the middle of the night. There's a flicker of shadows across the ceiling as a tree outside scatters the little moonlight. There's warm breath at her ear and an arm across her waist where Spencer has fallen asleep. There's a line of heat where Spencer's midsection is pressed against her side. Ashley closes her eyes tight against the irrational thoughts that are making her skin crawl, making her want to shove Spencer away. She thinks she can feel the baby through Spencer's skin, kicking in earnest like the interloper it is, trying to break free.
Spencer finds her in Rowan's room around four. She stands in the open doorway watching Ashley watch Rowan and it's just like after Rowan was born. Ashley would sit for most of the night, tan fingers stroking downy hair, always at his side in case he woke in the night.
Ashley can't picture herself like this when the baby is born. She tries to imagine herself next to a cradle and thinks that touching charcoal-black curls would burn her fingers. She looks up and to the door. Spencer's eyes are bright and unwavering; a beacon Ashley follows back into the dark, hoping, praying for salvation.
Salvation comes on tiny feet in light-up sneakers. Rowan has decided that Wednesday is Family Day and he convinces his mothers to make a trip to Shakey's for lunch. Ashley loses herself in Ski-Ball and Mojos and it's the most retarded fun that she forgets for a couple hours why she's hurting. Until Spencer raises her arms to Rowan for high-fives and her shirt rides up a little. Ashley sees how Spencer's showing and it brings it all back; a flood of heart break on a wave flashing lights and burnt pizza.
Ashley finds her voice that night. She's said so little that when she's hears it, it's a surprise; a stranger's voice sticking in her throat. But she's sure she can be honest now, in the dark, the anonymity of it makes her brave. So she swallows hard, tries again. She doesn't need to look to know that Spencer's awake and listening.
"I don't know if I can love this baby." They're both silent, neither sure what can be said after this inevitable truth. Ashley volunteers "I'm afraid that I won't be able to, when it comes."
"So am I."
Tomorrow comes with rain and thunder, The day is nothing but endless boredom punctuated by the tempest on the other side of the walls. It is brewing and raging and tearing at the place the sun used to be. It rages so that Ashley worries she will never see the sun again. Rowan is in her lap, they're thumbing through an old poetry anthology of Ashley's dad's. Rowan listens, reads some, and even though he can't understand a lot of the words, he is attentive as Ashley reads, anything to be closer to his mom.
The rain keeps falling in sheets, drumming on the roof and Ashley's last nerve. Rowan turns the page and the book is open to one of Ashley's favorites. She reads the beseeching words dripping with hope and curse's the shepherd's folly. She likes it's companion better, thinks this nymph was a truer woman than any. Because youth doesn't last and her love can't breed. Their joy has date and age and need.
At the next rumble of thunder, she flinches at the cracking sky. She fears it will break open and drown them all. All these nights and she cannot move to live with Spencer and be her love.
Alone together and Spencer's words have left her. She doesn't want to break this fragile truce they've established these last few days. Ashley has at least stopped ignoring her, if only for Rowan's sake. Because Spencer can handle the yelling and the fighting, it means they're being honest and sure, it hurts sometimes, but it's the days that Ashley says nothing at all that hurt the most. Those days Spencer thinks she might die of it.
So she waits. Treads softly on this line between discomfort and forced civility because it is better than nothing. Ashley speaks first. Spencer's knuckles go white around her coffee cup as Ashley speaks.
"I feel like I should apologize." Ashley looks up, then down when she sees she has Spencer's attention. "I feel like I should, but I don't want to. I'm sorry that I've been so cold to you lately but I can't be sorry for feeling rationally about this."
Spencer mumbles something about Ashley being entitled.
"I know what I said before and I see now that I said a lot of things I shouldn't have. As much as I want to fix us, I don't think it's as simple as we both want it to be."
"But I thought you wanted--you said you wanted to recommit. You said you wanted to make a new family. You said those things Ashley, not me."
"I know. I know what I said and I know it's what I wanted at the time, I'm just not sure if--"
"Dammit, Ashley." Spencer shoves herself almost violently from counter. Across the room she stands, hands on the sink, back to Ashley, breathing hard. "You can't keep doing this to me."
"I'm not doing anything to you. I'm trying to be honest. I can't keep lying and glossing over these thing just because they might be hard to look at."
Ashley moves from her seat at the table so there's only the island between them. She thinks it might s well be an ocean. Her voice is low and she's fighting to keep it steady. "I'm sick to my stomach and I'm sick to heart trying to pretend that things are okay when they're not. I can't go on like this."
Hot tears prick at Spencer's eyes and there's no fight in her left to keep her voice steady. "If you're going to leave me just go."
"Is that what I said?"
"Then I have no idea what you're saying to me but whatever it is, you need to say it fast because I can't take much more of this running around, Ash, I really can't." Spencer's hands are in her hair and she's pressed against the counter look small and distraught, a damsel in distress. But Ashley doesn't have to words to rescue her, she is armed with only truth and this truth is hardly chivalrous.
"I'm saying sorry, for one. This is not what I've wanted for us. I've wanted so badly to make you happy for as long as I can remember and I'm sorry if it ever looked like that stopped being true." Ashley's in front of Spencer now, one hand reaching for another. Ashley holds up Spencer's left, looking at the ringed finger and she speaks. "The day I gave you this I promised you that I was yours and I would love you forever. I committed to you and to us and to the family we made together.
"You need to know that this family is the most important thing to me. Rowan is my world and that will not change, I swear to you. And I love you, Spencer. You were my world, too."
Spencer's eyes snap shut at the past tense and it's all she can do to choke back a sob. Ashley's free hand rises quickly and her thumb chases away any tears that have escaped.
"No, baby, listen. Listen." Ashley waits until Spencer looks at her again, her eyes wet and her lips trembling. "I love you. I know it doesn't seem like it sometimes, but I do. You've been my rock, my partner, my lover, my best friend. We're family, always. No matter what you do or what I say, that can't change. I love you so much."
Ashley pauses and Spencer waits for the "but" she know is coming. "I'm just not sure how anymore."
Spencer doesn't bother fighting the tears now. "No, no. Don't tell me that…"
"I don't want you to misunderstand me."
"What's there to misunderstand, you're telling me you're not in love with me anymore!"
"I just think I need some time to figure this all out."
"You've had time, Ashley! I gave you all the space you needed and you still can't decide what you want."
"It's not that easy, Spencer."
"Yes it is. Either you want to be with me or you don't. Either you love me or you don't."
"I don't know what you want me to say to that."
"I want you to say that we can get past this. Now. That this waiting and this fighting is over and you can love me again. That you still want to spend your life with me. I want you to say that you want that."
"I want it. And I want you and I want us back, but--"
"No more buts, okay, please?"
Ashley closes the distance between them now. She takes Spencer's face between her hands and Spencer covers Ashley's hands with her own. The close proximity is enough to calm them both and when the tears stop, Ashley tries again.
"I don't want us to get torn apart and I'm afraid that's what's happening. I don't know how many more surprises I can take. I thought I could do this," Ashley's hands drop to Spencer's stomach and rest there. "I thought I could because I love you and our family but I don't know that I can look at this baby everyday and watch it grow and know where it came from and still love it."
"Her," Spencer says quietly.
"Her. You called her it. She's a girl."
"Yeah. You, uh, left before the doctor said."
"I know." Spencer takes a deep breath, tries to collect her thoughts. "Can I say something?"
"I know there's no excusing what I did and I won't try to justify it anymore. But I can't choose between the two of you, please don't ask me to."
Ashley looks up sharply at this. Spencer's voice is all fear and defeat and it breaks Ashley's heart. "Spencer, I would never. I couldn't." Ashley doesn't say that she knows what that's like, but they're both thinking it.
Spencer leans forward until her forehead is resting against Ashley's. She nods in understanding.
"But I can't promise that I can--"
"I know. I know." Spencer pauses and Ashley turns her head, drops it to the crook of Spencer's neck, drapes an arm around her waist. "But can you try?"
It's a full 30 seconds before Ashley answers, but there's a nod, yes.
That night, when they're in bed, Ashley watches Spencer as she sleeps. She watches and she wonders how she could question for a second that she loves Spencer. She reaches out a shaking hand and rests it gently on Spencer's stomach over her t-shirt. She's not surprised when Spencer's hand covers her own.
Ashley's voice comes out softly, surely. "We should tell Rowan tomorrow." She looks up, catches the glint of Spencer's eyes in the dark. "Tell him he's gonna have a sister."
Spencer doesn't say anything.
"I've been thinking."
"About what to call her," Ashley says. "A name." Ashley has thought, thought so long her head hurts. She decides who she loves. And she's decided.
"Okay." Ashley laces their fingers, leaves them over where this new baby grows. Yes, she's decided. "What's it gonna be?"