I kissed Spencer Carlin when I was 8 years old.
Of course, if you ask her - which I wouldn't, because good old Spencey has a tendency to deny lots of things, she'll tell you it was a dream.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not a hundred percent sure it wasn't. It was so long ago, almost fifteen years. A lifetime. And I was so young, kids have overactive imaginations, right?
I peer down at the photograph of her I didn't know I'd kept, cursing myself for stumbling upon it.
I shake the memory out of my head, throwing the picture I'd forgotten I had back into the bottom of the old box, throwing some used textbooks on top of it. Cleaning out my dorm room, my place of co-habitation for the past four years, was going to be enough of a task without getting caught up in the past.
I am a college graduate. I have a lot to be proud of, a lot ahead of me. Leaving home at eighteen and never looking back might have made me a lot lonelier, but it did also make me particularly driven. The inheritence helped, of course. But it's not about money.
"Who was that?"
Hailey, my roommate, my fellow partier, probably my closest friend of four years is peering at the bottom of my box.
"Picture." She kicks the box lightly, cigarette dangling from her mouth.
"Some girl I knew once." I'm dismissive, and grab the tobacco stick. "Don't smoke in here."
Hailey just smirks, knowing the argument I always use - 'We have to live here, I don't want it smelling like the inside of an ashtray!' - no longer applies. After we get this place gutted, taking our belongings with us, we'll never know it again.
"Screw that. I'm finishing the pack." A match sizzles in the air and she takes the cigarette away from me, lighting it up. I draw up my nose against the smell of sulfur and tobacco smoke mixing in the air, and toss some more clothes in my box.
"When'd you know her?" Puff.
"Box girl." She taps the box again, with her foot.
"Quit it." I'm testy today. "A long time ago."
Hailey lies back on the bed. She's tall, pale, and has gray eyes. She's the only person I've met with gray eyes. Her hair is cut very short, but it suits her. Right now she has bed head, and I don't think she cares. I will be sharing an apartment with her for an indefinite amount of time after we get the hell out of here, her words.
"Don't smoke on my bed."
"Not your bed anymore." She replies quickly, smugly.
I groan out loud, hating being forced to recall details about my past and wanting her to know so, and say, "Forever ago."
She seems satisfied with my answer, knowing I'm very vague about where I come from. "Name?"
I don't want to say the name, knowing it will throw me back in time, forcing me to remember. I do it anways. "Spencer."
She sticks her hand out, waiting for it to be shaken. I've never seen a girl my age do that, and I look back from the hand up to her face. She, this Spencer, is smacking her gum loudly, squinting at me in the sun, and scratching at her ear with a funny grin.
She wears a baseball cap pulled over her messy blonde hair.
She is what my Mom will later tell me is a 'tomboy'. I'd never heard this term before.
But already, I like Spencer. I can sense her spirit, and reach out to pump her hand. "I'm Ashley."
"Nice to meetcha, Ashee." She grins wider, purposefully mispronouncing my name, and I can see she's missing a few of her front teeth.
"Ashley." I correct her nicely, I don't want to sound too mean, she's the only other girl my age in this stupid apartment complex and she's just moved in. I know because I watched them all day with my face pressed against the glass of our front window, until my Mother finally shooed me outside, telling me to introduce myself. She just wanted me out of her hair.
My Mother owns the place, and I've asked her countless times why she can't make more girls my age live here. She always patiently reminds me that that isn't how it works.
Davies Estates. I guess it's a fancy place to live. But Spencer doesn't look that fancy. "Ashee." She repeats cheekily, then blows a bubble, a big one. I am momentarily impressed, then take this opportunity to reach out a finger and punish her for saying my name wrong - twice. It bursts all over her face.
I collapse in a fit of giggles when I see her surprised face, chin covered in bubblegum. "Gotcha, Spencey!" Retribution delivered, I shriek and run before she can retaliate. She seems like the hair pulling type.
I hear her quick footsteps fall in line behind me, trying to catch me, but I run down the stairwell nearest to me, knowing she can't. I've lived in this maze of apartments and pathways all my life, all 6 years of it, and I know I'll lose her in no time.
But no. She's on my heels, even after I turn three sharp corners, run through the laundry room, across the grass pathway, over the big rock, and around the water fountain three times.
We run screaming and laughing and having a ball. Eventually I feel her hands reach my shoulders, signaling to me that I've been bested. She spins me around, and her face is pink, she's out of breath. I have to look similarly flushed. She puts both arms around her head and gives a little victory dance.
"Ha! Slow poke Ashley!" She pokes a finger right at my nose, looking extremely pleased with herslf, then falls on her back to rest on the cool grass.
I peer down at her. "I am not slow. You're slow."
She doesn't seem fazed by my protests, closing her eyes and sighing. "Nah. You're slow."
I drop to a sitting position, frowning at her. "Am not!"
Spencer turns her head, opening one bright blue eye to peer at me. "Nah. I caught you."
That she did. I throw even more sweaters on top, close the box, and tape it up tightly. I have to get this job done quickly and there can be no time for daydreaming.
"Spencer? Sounds like a dude's name." I hear Hailey say, blowing smoke rings directly at the ceiling.
"Well..." I trail off, letting her know that's all I have to say on the subject.
"Wanna get some drinks tonight?"
"Wanna get some chicks tonight?"
"Wanna watch me get some drinks tonight?"
"Wanna watch me - "
"Jesus Christ. No. I have crap to do." I nudge the box out of the way with my foot, pulling another one in closer. I never realized how much junk I had accumulated over these four short years in the tiny cell of a room.
"I'm just trying to be persistent here." Hailey butts out her cigarette. "You usually give in."
"You've put me in a bad mood." I grouch, dumping the entire contents of the drawer straight into the box.
"Well, excuuuuse me." She stands up dramatically, giving me the eye. She won't admit it readily, but Hailey's pretty perceptive. "You okay, Davies?"
"You should be psyched. No more book crackin'." She pulls out another cigarette, packing it against her wrist. I hate that.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm psyched." I grumble, aware that I'm being a complete and utter party pooper. Suddenly I'm in a funk, and I know exactly why.
Hailey gives me one last look, slouching as she walks toward the door. "I'ma peace out. Later." She sticks the cigarette in her lip and disappears out into the hallway.
"Bye." I mutter, peering into my side of the closet. "When the hell did I get so many boots?" I grab them, pair by pair, and chuck them into the box. Usually I'd be neater, but now I'm just in the mood to sleep.
I fill the storage box up halfway before I allow myself to sigh, lower my body onto my bed, and close my eyes. My mind is elsewhere, thanks to that damn photo.
Spencer's a fast runner. That's one of the things I like about her. She can keep up.
I invited her over for dinner, and she kept my Mom smiling the whole time, talking a mile a minute about Ohio, how things were back there. My Mom never smiles that much when I talk to her, but it's okay, because when I talk to Spencer, she smiles tons.
We become fast friends. I know everything secret nook and cranny of the complex, and Spencer never tires of adventures. I tell her about the broken washer, third one in the line, that steals quarters and warn her not to use it. She nods solemnly, like I told her a great secret. I teach her how to get free cokes from the vending machine downstairs. I show her how to use to speakerbox at the main entrance, in case she ever gets stuck on the wrong side of the gate.
I lead her up to the highest floor, and we drop pennies off one at a time. Spencer sometimes spits, and I tell her how gross it is and she just laughs like a maniac. One time she even got on the railing. I had to beg her to come down, and she only would when I called her Spencey, how she liked me to. I think those names are stupid, but they make her laugh.
Spencer's very brave. I guess that's what I like best about her.
By the time her front teeth grow back in, and I've lost a few of my own, we're best friends. Spencey with her cutoff jean shorts and perpetually scabbed knees, and me, Ashee, always a little neater but with all the crazy idea, ones which Spencer's always ready to jump head first into.
Sometimes I tell my Mom stories about Spencer, when she's actually home, and she just shakes her head and calls us crazy. Sometimes, when she hears us running up and down the halls making a ruckus, feet carrying us as fast as they possibly could, she calls us a nuisance. We don't care; that's how we have our fun.
Once when we were trying to coax Mr. Marshall's cat out of his front room window while he was sleeping, Spencer got a great idea and prompty forgot it.
"What was it?" I poked at her, while she was busy cooing at the cat.
"We need somethin'." She screws up her face, trying to remember. Then she turns to me. "What am I thinkin'?" She asks, like it was the most normal question in the world.
I frown at her, and then shrug. "I dunno. We need some pieces of bologna?"
"Ashee!" She claps her hands together, excited in an instant, like she always is. "You're so smart, that's the same thing I was thinkin'."
She nods vigorously. "Mhm. Yep. Yep, now go get some of that bologna."
We never got that stupid cat to come out of the window before Mr. Marshall woke up and shooed us away, but from that point on, whenever one of us turned to the other and asked, "What am I thinking?" The other always had an answer, usually the right one, and that's just how things were.
We are together day and night, and I'd never had a friend like that before. And with Spencer came her brother, Glen. And her Mom, Paula. She told me there was a Dad, but he wasn't there anymore. We grow into each other's lives like it was the most natural thing, and really, it was.
Things stay easy for a long time.
I open my eyes, feeling a bit groggy. I'd let my mind drift for far too long, and night had already fallen outside my window. Hailey's probably off somewhere doing whatever that girl does when I'm not around, and if I fall asleep early she can't beg me to come out with her again. She tends to do that.
I haul myself out of bed and finish what remained of what I had to do in a hurry, not doing a tidy job but a quick one nonetheless.
After I'm done, I fall back onto the bed, tearing the sheet off and covering myself with it. Sleep comes quickly, I'd had a hard day.
I don't think I have to tell you what I dreamed about.