Title: Eyes Like Mirrors
Rating: R for language, drug use, and sexual content, all involving teens.
Disclaimer: I don't own South of Nowhere, I just like to play with other people's toys.
Summary: A/U (1970s) Spencer and Ashley find each other and nearly lose everything else.
Author's Note: I realize how inadvisable it is for me to begin yet another WIP when I have so many unfinished, but frankly, I don't care. I feel like writing this one now, so I hope you feel like reading it. Un-beta'd and poorly proofread. Any mistakes are my own.
Feedback: Yes, please.
Ashley is doing something to her guitar that involves toying with the strings. When asked, she will say that she is tuning it. This is not true. There is a very short list of things in this world that Ashley wholly grateful for. Her guitar is near the top. It is never out of tune. Ashley is busying her hands. She lets them dance over the frets and tug at the strings, they play at chords and tease out notes waiting to be written. Right now, Ashley doesn't trust her hands anywhere else. Her fingers are already itching to go where they're not wanted. They are aching to hold what they cannot keep. Her ears are pricked against a sound (knocking) she does not want to hear. Her stomach is flipping at something she does not want to anticipate. Her feet will carry her to places she does not want to be. Ashley's whole body will rise against her in mutiny and she will have no choice but to concede. After all, it is inevitable.
Ashley's happy fingers will pull open her bedroom door and everything that is on the outside will tumble in. Ashley hears loud music (if you call that music) echoing off thin walls. She smells tobacco and marijuana smoke and it tangles with the scent of stale beer. She feels old air, warm and dry, scratching at her sensitive skin. She sees people, many and unwelcome, filling her poor excuse for a home. And she can just barely taste the tension rising at the back of her throat like bile in warning.
But Ashley has had none. Warning, that is. As usual, this is a surprise that has been thrust upon her, as dirty secrets so often are. Because in with the the (bad) music and smoky smells and old air and unwelcome people will tumble the source of that tension. The reason for the anticipation and surprise will fall into Ashley's arms under a curtain of golden brown hair.
Then Ashley's fingers, now full and satisfied, will slam the door shut.
Ashley wakes to the creaking of a mattress and the brightness of early morning. The sunlight breaks through the windows in bars, pieced by the blinds Ashley forgot to close. The bed will dip and rise when the weight of one body shifts, then leaves. Ashley will close her eyes (against the light and the leaving) and roll over to face the wall. She will instead listen to bare feet shuffling on her dirty floor, to the hasty pull of clothing over skin, to the reluctant sliding open of an ancient window. But the loudest thing Ashley will hear that morning is the silence of goodbyes that will not be exchanged.
Shouts and screams will force Ashley's eyes open again hours later. They are so punctual that Ashley can wake to them instead of an alarm clock each morning. She will rise to brush her teeth and pull a comb through her hair as the shouts get louder and she will respond to them with a groan of exhaustion and frustration and hope that her door is locked. It isn't, of course. It will be pushed open, much to Ashley's distaste, without a knock, while she is still in only her bra and panties.
"You up?" but Kyla does not wait for an answer and pulls the door closed behind her. She takes a seat on the unmade bed to wait as Ashley dresses. Kyla rises quickly, kicking, as she does, an errant pair of panties caught in the sheets tangled on the floor. They are not Ashley's. "Again?"
"Was she here all night?"
"We fell asleep," Ashley says, her voice muffled by the t-shirt she's pulling on. "We were tired."
Kyla will say with something that might be a smirk or the beginnings of laughter: "I'll bet."
Ashley's glare will silence her quickly, it is too early for this again. Ashley buttons her jeans and says nothing. She does not need Kyla to tell her for the umpteenth time how she feels about this.
"That girl is gonna be the end of you, Ash," Kyla says, her voice equal parts worry and derision.
Don't I know it.
"Aiden's here," and these words spur Ashley into movement. She pulls on jeans and a t-shirt, she steps into a pair of flip-flops as her sister slides open the window.
Ashley and Kyla will exchange no words as they climb out the window (because it's best to avoid their parents at times like these) instead of going out the front door. They are no strangers to parental disputes and have their means of escape flawlessly calculated. They pile into the Aiden's hulking Chevy Camaro (that Ashley has named Sheila) and he pulls out of Pine Crest Mobile Home Park and onto the road. Ashley has no idea where that name came from, there are a minute few pine trees in Hilliard, Ohio. The few there are are nowhere near what Ashley (not so) affectionately calls The Park. The few there are grow in The Valley where people start hanging their Christmas lights the day after Thanksgiving, where people have dogs named Lady or Spike or something equally, achingly benign. And it makes Ashley a little sick to know that those trees were cultivated, extracted, and replanted where they were never meant to grow. Ashley knows what it's like to be stuck forever where you know you don't belong.
Five days later, after suffering through Algebra and History, Ashley is in English (and wishing she wasn't). Aiden is in the seat in front of her, Kyla to his right. Ashley is in the very corner of the very back of the room. She chose this seat on purpose. Once a month, Mr. Reinhart accepts submissions of creative writing. Once a month, he reads them aloud to the whole class and encourages discussions of the pieces. Ashley is (more often than not) the only one to submit anything. When Mr. Reinhart reads her lyrics, Ashley's face turns red, her ears burn, and she tries to make herself as small as she possibly can. All submissions are anonymous, of course, but hearing her own words out loud in class makes Ashley feel like she's naked. Like everyone everyone sees and is pointing and laughing.
There are things (in general) that Ashley cannot say. This is not because she does not want to say them, no. This is because she has no one to say them to. These things that are intense and raw and real cannot be said to family because it would be inappropriate, if not a little awkward. They cannot be said to friends because Ashley doesn't really have any. The only person it would be right for Ashley to say them to does not want to hear them. So Ashley writes them down. She fills up notebooks and margins and napkins and any space she can put a pen to with all the words she cannot speak. And pretty soon, the words become lyrics. Then the lyrics find melodies and evolve into songs. And the songs become an outlet for thoughts Ashley didn't know she had.
There are five people in the room who know who's written this song. Ashley is the first, obviously. Mr. Reinhart is the second because, even though she did not write her name on it, Ashley is fairly certain he can recognize her handwriting by now. Then Kyla and only because Kyla sits by Ashley's door sometimes and listens to Ashley play. Aiden, well, he only knows because Kyla has a big mouth and tells Aiden things she sometimes shouldn't. The last person that knows who wrote this song (and who the song was written for) knows much more than that. Currently, she is sitting on the other side of the room (Ashley is three seats over, one behind) and she is listening intently. When Mr. Reinhart is done reciting, she looks over at Ashley as discreetly as possible for just a moment. But it is more than enough.
Aiden's talking now. Ashley catches "...party tonight..." and "...my place..." but stops listening because didn't they party last night? But today is Friday and therefore a more legitimate night for actual partying even though he and Kyla are still hungover from last night's notparty. Ashley is busy scribbling in her notebook and only mutters something in the affirmative when asked if she is "up for it." Any place is better than home.
Aiden's house is slightly more upscale than Ashley's. Slightly. And really, this is only because it is actually a house. Other than that it is still moderately run down (but in an endearing way, like a favorite grandmother who has let herself go), still cramped, and still in the middle of nowhere. But Ashley doesn't mind. With all the people (the same ones from the day before that do the same thing, a few of them in the same clothes) Ashley is able to hide in plain sight. In a corner of the couch Ashley sits and broods and smolders, like a dying ember waiting to be stoked.
It's a while before Ashley decides that she will be alone tonight. So she opts for the next best thing: distraction.
Tonight, she doesn't turn down the joint that Kyla passes her. It's the weekend. She indulges. And she is pleasantly surprised because it is not the usual shit that Aiden scores from Dino in The Park. Ashley hears someone say that his uncle sent it to him from his farm in Peru. That it's a "special blend." Ashley believes it. It is exactly random enough to sound true. Ashley takes deep drags on thing, pulling the sickly-sweet smoke into her lungs until her chest burns and her eyes water. Then she exhales. Repeats. She smokes the joint until the butt burns her fingers, only it takes her a second to notice because everything is just a little bit dull. Dull and sharp at the same time. It makes her want to laugh.
Ashley throws her head back and shuts her eyes against the room that keeps changing colors. She wonders if maybe the pot was "blended" with something more potent, something Ashley really isn't looking to get into. She can't find the words to ask because her tongue feels a bit like cotton in her mouth, so she just sits there in self-imposed exile and tries to stop giggling.
At 1:23 exactly, (because Ashley remembers 1, 2, 3 and how it was so fucking hilarious) Ashley opens her eyes. She thinks she wants to go outside, that the fresh air might sober her up a bit, but her limbs are heavy. Soon, she manages to roll her head to the side in time to see the front door open. There aren't many people left at the party (not that she notices because she only sees one person), so what would have likely been a chorus of whispers and surprise is only an unassuming glance, a quiet understanding. Because they know, they understand that there are bigger things than the co-captain of the varsity cheering squad showing up this late at some loser's party. They don't wonder why she's dropping to her knees in front of Ashley, pushing her hair gently away from her eyes. They look the other way when she and Ashley eventually disappear into a back room (again) for the rest of the night. They don't ask questions, they don't pass judgment. This is one more of those things that Ashley is grateful for.