you push and you pull
and struggle with the knot
it's tying you up while you're fading
you give and you take
and take what you got
round and round 'till it breaks

-----------

You have no idea how you wound up here, back inside a lifetime of memories, back inside her bedroom. You swore the day you walked out of it, so long ago, that you would never walk back through it. You would never put yourself back in this place.

"Do you want something to drink or anything?

But here you are, never the less, standing inside the middle of your not-so-forgotten past, because this is where she wanted to talk. This is where she wanted the words to be said. You wonder if the decision, her decision, to come back here had ulterior motives. You wonder if the Ashley standing before you is the calculating Ashley you've always known, and if bringing you here was just another part of her conniving plan.

"No. I'm ok."

Standing inside this room, that doesn't look as familiar anymore, doesn't look right without those lavender candles and that lavender comforter covering her still too familiar bed. You're not sure you like this room without your lavender past, and suddenly, you start to wonder if maybe you're calculating too. Maybe you're playing her game. Because you really weren't that drunk, and you didn't really want to leave that party and the minute you saw her, you couldn't stop yourself from going to her.

And maybe in the tiniest smidgen of a maybe, you were hoping this is where she'd take you when you asked for a ride home.

Your eyes crawl across that bed with all its soft surfaces and dangerous planes; memories of limbs tied and tongues compromised flood through you. When you see that the bed has a sky colored comforter now, you think about how much you love the color blue.

And you wonder if Ashley remembers that.

You wonder if Ashley remembers anything.

"You want to?"

She points to the couch, your couch, and as you sit down you have to stop yourself from remembering all the times you fucked her right on this couch while she straddled your lap. You painfully remember how it used to be "making love", and you wonder when it became "fucking", because Spencer Carlin was a soft and gentle girl. Spencer Carlin wasn't the fucking type.

And it makes you want to cry for the girl you were and no longer are.

But this is the girl you are now, and you want this done with. Because any more time spent on this fucking couch, next to this fucking girl would be another fucking minute wasted inside your fucking past.

"So what did you want to tell me?"

There is no Spencer head tilt or shy Spencer eyes. There is nothing in the past, only the present, and you think she sadly notices and you think you're happy about that. But you sadly realize you're only trying to be happy about that.

"Oh. Ok, um, well..." You see Ashley bite her lip, and hold her tongue, and maybe there are tears in her eyes already, and you'd really hate it if she cried again, because that's really not fair in your book. She has no right to cry, "...God, I've pictured this moment so many times. I've played it in my mind over and over again, all the things I'd say to you, all the things I needed to say, and now that I have it, now that you're here, I can't think of a single thing to say."

This does not comfort you. And the minutes are just racking up and up, too many of them spent on this love-sex couch, too much of a lifetime spent sat close to this dangerously comforting girl.

"Say it."

You need this to be done with. And maybe she does too because she nods without a lip bitten or a tongue tied. Looking ready, possibly more ready than you, and just like a typical girl you never thought you'd become, it upsets you. Upsets you so much.

"Ok..." There's a deep breath, and it bothers you just as much as the almost tears, and you're starting to believe her simply breathing is what really kills you, "...Firstly, I want to say I'm sorry Spencer..." Again, you are not comforted by this, these useless apologies are what you expected, because that's Ashley Davies for you, act first, apologize later, and you're not all that surprised that that hasn't changed, "...I'm so unbelievably sorry that Clay died, and I'm even sorry for that apology because I'm sure it sounds flat and contrived, and how could words ever make up for what you lost, but I have to say it because not a day goes by where I don't think about you. About what you went through and what you are going through and how damn much I wish it weren't true. About how much I wish you peace and relief from such pain. Every day, I wish that, Spencer."

That you were not expecting. You weren't expecting such sincerity, without any traces of calculation. You weren't expecting her voice to break and her eyes to water, and you are surprised that you're ok with it. You are disbelieving by how much it moves you too.

She looks nowhere but your eyes, and you wish you could turn away, you really wish you could, but really - how could you? Not with those eyes. Not with those lips. Not with that smile. Not when so much of her has your name on it.

So much of Ashley Davies still belongs to Spencer Carlin, and you're really not sure how you feel about that.

"Secondly, I want to say I'm sorry Spencer..." You're starting to see where this is going, and you think this is what might kill you, not her breathing, but her words that hit too deep and too close and that actually sound real, sound true, and that's a sound you haven't heard in her voice for a long while, possibly ever, "...I'm sorry that I wasn't there when Clay was shot. I'm sorry I wasn't there when he died. I'm sorry I wasn't there for the days after. I should have been there, by your side day in and day out, because that's where I wanted to be. Where I needed to be. Because there was nowhere else for me but beside you. You were the only person that mattered, and if you were hurting, not only was I hurting too, but I wanted to hurt with you, so maybe I could somehow make it better, if only a little bit. I should have been strong for you, to help you stand, not fall. I'm sorry for crumbling when you needed stability. And I know these words are meaningless, I know words can't change the past, and it's what we do, not what we say, that really matters. But these words are all I have left, and if that's all I have, that's not even close to what you deserve. But it's the best I can do."

There are tears in your eyes, and you wish they'd bite back like the tongue in your mouth, caught between your teeth. You taste the blood and you wonder why you're hurting yourself instead of hurting her. You then remember the taste of her blood on your tongue from that one day, so long ago, when you beat and broke her and it didn't make you feel any better. Didn't feel any better than the blood you taste in your own mouth from your own pain.

Makes you wonder what you're still doing here listening to her words that taste a little too much like a combination of her blood and your blood mixed in nothing but pain.

And that concoction is a little too bitter, more than a little too unfair for you to take, because what's ailed her hasn't even touched what's ailed you.

"Thirdly, I want to say I'm sorry Spencer..." Sorry's becoming too hard to hear, because it's sounding too much like the truth, and your eyes are closing as she keeps going, you can't even look at her, because her voice keeps shaking, keeps crumbling, keeps sounding like your voice, "...I'm sorry for the prom and not answering you right away, for not reaffirming that you were my choice. That you were my only choice, that there never was a choice to begin with because ever since I first saw you I haven't been able to see anyone else. Ever since you came into my life, I can't remember anyone else inside it. There's only you. Only. You..." Her voice strengthens, making sure there's no room for doubt, and you think it might be too late for a room without doubt, might be too late to believe her words, no matter how sturdy they are, "...I should have shouted that to you, Spencer, I should have shouted it so loud, as loud as it blares inside my heart. You were my only one. You are my only one. And I think I might be sorry for this till the day I die, Spence, I think my biggest failure, in a long history of failures, is that one moment where I made you doubt the entire existence of my love for you. The fact that all it took was one single moment, a single second, for you to doubt me."

This room with its too familiar glow on the walls, and scent in the air - an ethereal blend of lavender, summer, and Ashley, or maybe that's just what Ashley is made of - is overwhelming, and you taste her in your mouth. Not the blood, but her pleasure and her love and her desire and you never knew one room and one person could be the threshold for all your emotion. For maybe your whole life. It makes you both sad and sickly happy to be back here inside it, next to her, and it's in this very moment where you think it's time to get up and leave because if you don't...if you don't you're afraid you might stay forever.

"Lastly, I want to say I'm sorry Spencer..." You might stay forever and when you look down, you see her holding your hands, you see yourself holding hers and you have no idea when that happened, but you're relieved for it, relieved there's something to hold onto. That there's her to hold onto, because in a brief moment of unadulterated honesty, you will fully admit that it's her you miss holding the most, "...I'm sorry for what went wrong with us, for pushing you away even though I promised I wouldn't. For hurting you, even though I said I didn't want to. For running to Aiden when I should have been running to you. I'm sorry I was selfish, so selfish. I'm sorry for this the most, Spencer, because if it weren't for this than there'd only be one heartbreaking apology. You'd only hurt once, but I'd be there for you, and maybe..." She can barely get it out, she can barely say this next part, but she doesn't really have to because,

"...maybe you'd still love me."

You knew it's exactly what she'd say. You knew this was exactly what you came here for. What she wanted you here for. She's not sorry for anything, she's not sorry for how she lost you, for everything she did wrong, she's only sorry she lost you. Her pretty prize, her reward for such bullshit.

Well you're not crying anymore, and you're not tasting her love, and you're far from running from her. Because now it's your turn to let her know why she should be sorry. It's time to make her understand how important words actually are and how they're far from useless and how much they could have changed it all. How much would have been different if the words she gave you actually meant something. If she actually believed them as much as you did.

"Spence?"

You see it in her eyes, the disappointment that you're not pulling her in your arms with joy, the surprise that her silly sorry's didn't work, because how couldn't they? She's sweet and sexy Ashley Davies, and this is sweet and naive Spencer Carlin, and how could she not fall for it?

"I changed my mind about that drink..."

But she doesn't know that that Spencer Carlin is long gone. There's only this girl now, a skewed reflection of the girl beside you, and she's just as calculating. She's just as sexy and sweet and conniving.

And it's time Ashley Davies, selfish and cold, knew it.

-----------

The truth is you know this bottle of Jack Daniel's is more than compromising. More than a bad idea, and in the back of your mind, you know nothing good is probably going to come out of the rest of this night.

In the farthest recesses of your mind, you realize this might permanently end this relationship.

Spencer Carlin might become a distant memory after tonight. One you'll never forget, but you'll try to, as hard as you can, and you think that might kill you. You think wishing to not remember Spencer Carlin might be the worst kind of self inflicted punishment.

"Here."

But you hand her that shot glass anyway, the girl of your dreams, your precious and perfect Spencer Carlin, because her eyes are still so blue, and her lips are still so sweet, and you don't want to lose them tonight, even if tonight might cost you forever.

"Thanks."

She's cold and distant. You know she wants nothing from you and you're not all that surprised by that. You knew your words wouldn't get you very far, but you had to say them, you had to give them to her, and maybe it was selfish because it might have been done for you more than for her, but you still believe you've changed from that Ashley Davies.

You still believe you are a different girl. Which you might be.

"It's my turn now."

But you don't see that this girl across from you, she's changed too.

"What?"

This Spencer Carlin is not "your" girl. Not the girl you once knew.

"It's my turn to tell you what I have to say."

There's a strange, unsettling, smirk on her lips. You wonder if that second downed shot of whiskey has turned her drunk, because you knew she wasn't drunk on the ride home. You were kind of mindlessly thrilled at the notion that maybe she wasn't asking for a ride home, but a chance to ride with you.

"Ok. Tell me." You swallow hard, bracing yourself for what you thought you wanted, "Please."

And then she laughs, so cynically that you think it cracks your heart a little, cracks it a lot. Because she is drunk, and the fact that it still only takes very little to do that to your little girl is so depressing for reasons you can't comprehend.

The way the lilt in her laughter has become so bitter is so depressing for reasons you don't want to comprehend.

"I think your apologies are useless, Ashley, but not for the words. Not for those words. They're useless, Ash, because I think I hate you." A stomach turning grin that looks more sad than anything you've ever seen breaks across her face, reflects the one cracking yours. Never knew a nickname, your nickname, could sound so much like a heart breaking, like two hearts breaking.

"I hate you for having to make a choice back then, and acting like it never was one now. I hate that you don't understand that words do mean something. How much your words meant to me, and now that you call them meaningless makes me hate them and you even more." She doesn't bother with a shot glass this time, instead taking a far too natural swig from a far too unnatural jaded bottle, and you're trying so hard not to cry, because you think she'd get even more mad, so you bite your tongue so hard, you taste the blood, and you listen, "...I hate you for giving up, even though I was asking you to, I hate that you listened. I hate that you let me go. And now, after it's all said and done, even though you're so sorry, you're still letting me go."

Confusion, unmasked and unfeigned, flashes across your face, because what is that supposed to mean? Those words, sounding like some kind of pseudo-confession, were not what you were expecting, and you feel a small part in you, a part you thought had died, slowly coming back to life. Slowly blooming a very dangerous piece of hope in a place hope should not live.

In a place called forgiveness.

"I hate that life is so different..." You have no more time to analyze what her words from before meant, because her words from now are far more important, these are the words you were hoping for, the ones she'd share with you when you weren't an italicized Ash, "...I hate how everything is so different, but we pretend it's still the same. We all pretend life is back to normal, and that we're still that perfect family, even though there's someone missing. Because mom doesn't care anymore. She doesn't get mad at me for missing church, or for eating dessert before dinner. Those things that used matter, don't now, and somehow I miss it. Because when my mother was an uptight bitch who annoyed me beyond belief, she was at least an uptight bitch that cared. At least I knew who she was, and I knew she wasn't pretending to love me."

Tears prick your eyes, but you hold them back, no matter how badly you want to cry for her, because you know she'll only see it as you crying for you.

"I hate that Glen doesn't even try to be funny anymore, and when he holds a glass of beer he looks a little too much like my Dad, and that scares me. That scares me so much, because Dad isn't Dad when he drinks, kind of like I've also lost my father when my brother died, and now I think I might be losing my other brother too. I might be losing my mother. I might have lost my entire family with one bullet. Because Mom doesn't care, and Glen isn't an asshole, and Dad..." She sniffles, breaking inside her cynicism, allowing the truth and the innocence lost to come out, and if this is what you thought you wanted, you're afraid of who you've become, because how could you ever want to see any of this in your Spencer, "...Dad doesn't cook his famous chili anymore, doesn't cook anything, and sometimes I think he's forgotten how. Because Dad's eyes aren't quite as blue as they used to be, and that scares me. It makes me wonder if my eyes still look like his. I'm afraid the life and color have been dulled and muddied just the same."

"They haven't." You can't stop yourself, and for a fleeting second she looks up at you with a world full of tears sitting on her red eyelids, eyes bluer than the comforter you bought for her, and she looks so much like your Spencer, that you can't stop the tears in your eyes from finally flowing over, and you don't want to stop them because maybe your tears mean more than your words, "...your eyes. They're still blue."

You feel stupid for saying this, but than you remember Spencer's words and you remember that she wants to hear something from you that she can believe in because it's something you believe in too. And you know that when you tell her, when you tell Spencer that her eyes are as blue as they've always been, you're really telling her that she's still the beautiful and perfect girl you've always known, even if she is broken, even if she is imperfect, she's still the same.

And you think you're starting to understand how important words are.

And you hope Spencer sees you understanding.

You think she might, because there is no more whiskey, and there are no more smirks. There is only Spencer.

"I hate that my brother died. I hate it so much, Ash, and I don't know what to do with that, because sometimes I don't hate that he died because I miss him. I-I hate that Clay died because of what it's done to the rest of us. I miss what my family used to be. Like it were Clay's fault or something, and how selfish is that? How...how awful..." She shakes her head, like a plea to take it all away, so much anger flooding through her words, biting more and more, "...I hate that my brother died at a prom where my girlfriend couldn't decide whether she loved me or her ex boyfriend. I hate that that memory of indecision is what sometimes hits me most about that night. Not those gunshots going off in the background, piercing my brothers chest. Not the screams or cries, a soundtrack to his death. No, those excruciating seconds where the girl I loved looked at me like she just wasn't that sure, those are the moments that stay with me and haunt me and kill me most. And I hate that. I hate that my brother was shot and that's what I think about. I hate that Clay was shot and almost every day I wish Aiden was shot instead. And then I hate myself for wishing such a terrible thing on someone else - even if I hate that person too."

Suddenly there's silence, and you don't know why but you plead "Spence-" like you just can't stand hearing every word of what you deserve.

"And I do hate you, Ashley, I really do."

But she's crying, and it doesn't sound at all like she means it, and you find yourself almost wishing she did mean it, because maybe it'd be easier for her. Maybe she'd find her way back to the Spencer Carlin that existed before Ashley Davies.

And maybe the day Spencer Carlin met Ashley Davies is what really killed Spencer's family.

So you tell her what you think is right, what you think will solve this, like a band aid could heal a bullet wound. "Hate me, Spence."

"Stop." She howls, voice screeching like a rubber band stretched too far, "...stop calling me that!"

Your heart aches so much that you fear it might never recover.

"Hate me, Spencer, please. Hate me forever."

You don't recognize the voice that's cracking from your lips, as her head shakes more and more, hands rubbing her tired and red eyes, and as you get a whiff of whiskey you think you might vomit. You think whiskey's been ruined for the rest of your life, because the next time you see Jack Daniels, you know you'll only see this girl before you. This heartbreaking version of Spencer Carlin.

And even though you think this might be the last time you ever see this girl, in any version, you know Jack Daniels will never let you forget.

You think Jack Daniels might break your heart for Spencer Carlin till the day you die.

"Please, Spencer. If that will make you ok, please, please, hate me."

"You don't get it, Ashley!" There is no sound, no nothing, as she finally looks back to you, and for once you actually feel scared. "...God, you just don't get it. You don't get that I can't hate you. That I'm afraid I might never hate you, because - because I still love you, Ashley." She's talking so fast you don't know if you heard her right, you pray you didn't and you pray you did all at the same time, because you have no idea what's fair anymore, but you know the tears falling down your face are neither, you know those tears are only real and true, "...And maybe that is what I hate most. Maybe my unconditional love for you is what might kill me, because everyday, just when I think I've passed you by and I've moved on and I don't need you anymore, I'll see you in the quad, just a glimpse, or I'll pass you in the hall, for just a second, and just like that I'll feel you again. I'll feel you in my chest, like you never left and it aches and hurts so much because you did leave me and I'm all alone and how could I ever miss someone who could do that to me..." You think you hear your sobs, you think you hear them mixing with hers, and even in such immense sadness, your voice still collides with hers beautifully, and you hate that that is what you're thinking about, "...but I do, Ashley. I do miss you. So much. And I still need you. So much. And I still love you. Too much. And I wish that'd go away. Because somehow, when everything in my life died, you didn't. Your love is the only thing that survived."

She stops, out of breath, tired and worn, and looking like she's just fought the biggest battle of her life. And you slowly begin to realize that might have nothing to do with you. You begin to believe her biggest battle is one with herself, and you have no idea how to fix that. You wish you knew, you wish so bad to fix her but you can't fix her. So you do what you can, what you know.

Contact. Your body around hers, that is what you know, what you've come to know best, so you reach for her with your brazen arms, with your shaking hands.

But you don't get very far.

"No."

She swats them away, head still shaking, hands going to wipe at her eyes, so furiously you know it has to hurt. So you try again, with your body shuffling closer on the couch that you will always see as the place where her fingers first entered you.

"Stop it Ashley." She physically pushes you this time, and you're not even fazed by it, not even deterred. Convinced you could never be stopped, you move closer, practically on top of her, and you're starting to wonder if this is an attempt to hug or to fight, "...I mean it, Ashley, let me go."

She's up now, moving away, and you're chasing her, hearing those words from before - "I hate that you listened." - holding on to those words with your shaking hands as you chase after the girl who's not even running away from you.

"I hate that you let me go."

"Spencer, please."

"I hate that you listened.

"NO!" A strangled cry leaves her quivering lips, looking like the picture of a broken apart girl. So broken apart you think the cracked shell has taken the girl you used to know and still love with it. "Please, Ashley, please just go away, get away, please. Please. Please. Please."

Her voice is trailing and losing itself in nothing but pain, and the only thing her "please"s sound like they're begging for is you. Begging for you to get close and hold on, not get away and let go, so you finally rush to her. Determined and protective, willing to piece her back together, needing to find that shell and glue it and shape it back into Spencer Carlin, because you truly know you'd never forgive yourself if that girl was lost forever.

Your arms wrap around her, so tight, so controlling, and she doesn't even fight this time. She wraps around you too, finally, clasping her hands around your body. Holding you tight, holding you closer than close, as her face fits into that crook in your neck, like it's never been anywhere else. You don't know whether to cry or smile because of that, you think you do a little of both in the crook of her neck.

You can feel her lips pressed to your salty-from-her-tears skin, feel them not kissing, but not unmoving. Like she were talking without words against you, and suddenly you feel like you've never understood her more. Finally you speak her language with your wet lips pressed to her hot neck, both whispering such pained kisses inside even more broken skin. Hands start moving across backs, grasping and clinging, twisting and tying.

"I. Miss. You."

Enunciated into your neck, with a shaky sturdiness, like she had to admit a fact she never ever wanted to admit. And it pulls your hands to her face, to her tear stained skin that you're now covering with your guilt covered fingers, cupping and holding like it were more delicate than life itself [because she is. You lean your forehead to hers, morphing yourself into that wall she needed so long ago, and still needs today.

Morphing yourself into someone who can fit into forever, instead of never again.

Her eyes are closed so tight that you see so many sad wrinkles spreading from the corners, tears somehow leaking between them. And when you feel her head shaking against yours, you know she knows what you're going to say, and you know she thinks she can't hear it. You know she thinks she doesn't want to hear it, but you need to say it.

"I miss you. I need you. I love you. So. Much."

Whispered, soft and true, and nothing like the way she said it just before. This was a fact you've been dying to admit. And when her eyes finally squint open, because you don't think they can open any more than that, too worn out from so many hard tears, you think she's been dying to admit more. You think she wants so much more from you.

And before you can think about it any longer, before you can morph into anything else, she bites your lips between hers. She grabs your face by her fingers in your hair, chasing after something you're not sure she'll ever find, but you're still not stopping yourself from helping her find it anyway. You're not stopping her from morphing you into what she needs.

Because maybe you're not as different as you thought you were.

"Please Ash."

"I still miss you."

As her lips pinch every ounce of your skin, every inch of your neck and your lips and your tongue, biting down, you think you might sadly be the same Ashley Davies you've always been. You might still be the most selfish girl you've ever known, and that pains you more than you still realize, but you still won't stop her.

"I still need you."

As she throws you down to the bed, looking lost between the girl you knew and the girl you see, you realize this is what will really kill you, and yet you still won't stop it. Because when she whispers how much she hates you in your ear, reaching for your heart, you don't feel her hate at all.

"I still love you.

All you feel is how much she used to love you.

And how the day Spencer Carlin walked into Ashley Davies life was the day both those girls died.