The Art of War

18: The Real World

"…Spencer?" Ashley asked, pausing for a moment before reaching out to shake me. "Spencer. Baby you're turning blue." Oh. Right.

"I love you more." I finally squeaked, the sudden intake of badly needed oxygen making me almost as dizzy as the realization that the perfect, beautiful girl in front of me loved me. It couldn't be possible. She could have anyone she wanted, guy, girl, celebrity, and yet here she was, hands still on my shoulders, chocolate brown eyes dancing in the sunlight as a huge grin spread across her face.

"Nuh uhh." She replied, then abruptly hugged me so tightly I couldn't breathe again. My arms wound around her neck and my mouth crashed into hers as I kissed her hard.

"I love you." Ash repeated fiercely against my lips, cupping my face in her hands and forcing me to look at her. The little breath I had left caught in my lungs, destroying any reply I could've made. She pressed her forehead against mine for a moment, the world stopping along with my heartbeat. The wind whistled to a halt, and all of the flowers paused in their swaying, to watch me and Ashley in complete silence. It all swirled back into life when she leaned in to kiss me again, this time gentle, patient, slow…

We stood there for a long time, just tangled up in each other, until I was fairly certain that it wasn't the afternoon sun heating me.

"Break time." I panted and Ash pouted but let me go, failing to contain the smile that played across her face as she looked me up and down. Placing one hand on her hip she used her free one to torture me, running her slim fingers down my cheek, across my throat--

"So, uh," I started in too high a voice, capturing her mischievous hand in mine and holding it firmly still. "How'd you get in anyway?" Now her face darkened and she jerked a thumb over at the tall gates surrounding the estate.

"You should probably look into better security, all it took was a couple 20's and a bottle of Jack to get past those losers." I nodded, making a mental note to tell Mom later, like when I got back to the real world. For now I just twirled happily, keeping her hand in mine and starting back for the garden.

"Where we goin'?" Ash asked, moving to stand right behind me and slinging an arm around my waist.

"It's a surprise." I replied. I knew I couldn't exactly waltz a Davies up to my room, but I was pretty sure Mom would be locked in her office for the rest of the day. If she was locked in her office, then she wouldn't be prowling the grounds with an army of aides and advisors. And that meant I was free to waltz said Davies through the twisting, turning paths of the garden and into heathenistic escape known as the pool house.

Something soft tickled the back of my neck as I led her up the crumbling stone steps and up to the plain wooden door to the pool house, which had been fashioned after an old school style bungalow. I turned around to find the sunlight pushed away from us by the low hanging porch, deflected like a force field, and in the newfound shadow Ashley stood holding onto a single red rose. Smiling, I shyly reached for it only to have her draw it away from me, sliding the stem into her mouth before I could react and waggling her eyebrows.

"I'm finking of becoming the next Tuxedo Mask. What do you fink?" She asked, voice partially muffled by the flower as she attempted to give me her best sleazy/sexy look. I just laughed and she removed the rose, twirling it expertly between her fingers before lightly running the delicate petals down my nose and across my lips.

"Hmm, I wonder what your mom would say if she knew I was fucking her daughter in her own backyard." Ash mused aloud, continuing the rose's downward path, and my heart jumped into my throat just as all of the blood rushed out of my brain. I was silent for a while, not able to think of anything to say since my head was no longer functioning, and Ash grinned devilishly.

"Well what are you waiting for? I want the grand tour." She announced. I spun so fast that I tripped over my feet and got a face-first reintroduction to the pool house. BANG!

"Oww." I whispered, mortified, as I peeled myself off the door and Ash was quick to look me over.

"Aww pobrecita, you've got a scratch right here." She lightly kissed a spot on my cheek that was currently stinging like the dickens and I let out a string of nearly inaudible curses. Giggling she stared at me in disbelief, then bit down on her bottom lip slowly.

"Bet I can get you to talk like that in bed." She challenged and I opened my mouth to reply when I heard a barely-there voice from behind the door.

"Clay? Did you hear that?" The person, a girl from what I could tell, sounded terrified and when my brother answered two seconds later it was in the same panicked whisper.

"What was it? What did you hear?" Ashley and I looked at each other and she quickly tossed the rose into a nearby bush, gliding to my side as I pressed my ear up to the door, invisible to anyone who might abruptly open it. I heard the shuffling of feet against the untreated wooden floor of the bungalow, then a light brush against the door and my brows furrowed. From the complete silence that followed I realized that Clay or whoever had been talking to him had their own ear pressed up against the door from the inside. Going through my options in my head only two solutions came to me, either I could let them know I was there and expose my relationship with Ashley, or we could try to sneak off back down the stairs and into the garden again.

My brother cleared his throat.

"Who is it?" He half-heartedly demanded and his tone made my grip tighten on the doorknob. He was scared, and I had to fight against my sibby-sense that told me to barge right in there because something was very wrong. Clay faced 20-page history papers and 4 hour long exams on a weekly basis, he played basketball with Glen and always lived to tell the tale, and he'd never once missed a day of school in his entire high school career. Whatever it was that he was hiding in there, it was bad…very bad. I still didn't move. I was the Carlin with the best connections, the good girl who could get anything she wanted, and I was definitely most likely to be able to help him out a jam, but fear held me in place. Ashley, to her credit, hadn't yet made a sound, so I decided to wait it out.

"…is anyone there?" He repeated weakly and my insides turned over again.

"Clay? It's me. Spencer. Open Up." I declared in my future President voice after a second and there was a huge sigh as the doorknob twisted. I raised a hand to wave as the door opened an inch or so but was interrupted by it slamming shut again.

"What are you doing?!" The girl hissed.

"We can trust her." My heart swelled a bit at that and I patiently waited for Clay to convince whoever she was that I wasn't the enemy. Chancing a glance over at Ash I found her white-faced and shaking her head.

"It's okay." I mouthed. Her face fell.

"What if he tells your mom?" She murmured and I unconsciously reached out to take her hand in both of mine, stroking it soothingly. He'd be shocked, maybe even disgusted, but I knew my brother and he wouldn't tell Mom on me no matter what it was.

"It'll all be okay." I whispered, hoping against hope that I was right.

"Come in. Hurry up." Clay said breathlessly, opening the door and ushering me and Ashley in before he got a good look at us.

"Wait aren't you--"

"Ashley Davies, yeah that's me." She answered his question for him and gave him a look that clearly told him not to ask any more of them.

The first thing I did was hug my bewildered bro, then promptly looked around the tiny bungalow kitchen.

"…Where is she?"

"Uh…l-living room." He choked out, cutting Ash off to walk directly on my heels as I turned for said room. The two small windows in the space had been opened slightly, and light snuck in from under the sill to illuminate the room up to the feet of the wicker couch, where the girl in question sat. I couldn't help but stare blatantly. She was very pretty, but definitely looked ill. Her kinky curly hair stood up in all directions, failing to pay any mind to the pony tail it was supposed to be in, and her dark almond shaped eyes were too bright. She had to have been crying. A light blue blanket that I recognized from Clay's room was draped around her shoulders and wrapped completely around her so that all I could see besides her face and neck were her beat-up Chuck Taylors.

"Chelsea this is my sister, Spencer." She tried to smile as Clay let out a yelp. "Ow! And Ashley Davies." He added, rubbing his arm.

"Hi." I greeted gently as Ash grinned and waved. How she could still manage to be adorably charming in this situation was anybody's guess.

"Sooo, how far along are you?" Ashley asked and my mouth fell open. I whirled, meaning to scold her for saying something so mean, but Chelsea's sob beat me to it.

"A-almost four m-months."

"WHAT?!" I yelled, feeling like a heavyweight wrestler had punched me in the gut. Then I noticed the perfectly round little bump just barely poking the blanket forward and I gaped fish out of water style.

"Clay…what…how long…when did…what?" I tried to form a sentence but words totally escaped me.

"I just found out a couple weeks ago." He replied miserably and Chelsea only cried harder.

"Ah…wow…this just…wow." I sank onto the opposite side of the couch and Ashley quickly took my arm to steady me, I could see why when I spotted my shaking hand in hers. After a few more attempts at English I looked at my brother and could think of only one thing to say.

"Glen's gonna be so pissed." I groaned. Then, as if on cue, the tall blond head of my oldest brother appeared at the rooms entrance. In one hand he held a bottle of clear, ominous looking liquid with a bright red cap that proclaimed something 'proof' in little white letters and definitely had nothing to do with math, and in the other, the ass of the co-captain of my cheerleading squad.

Somewhere up above us all I was sure someone was having a great laugh.

We all just looked at each other for a long time, I sat stock still on the couch, with only Ashley having had the common sense to let go of my hand, while Clay stood beside his sobbing pregnant girlfriend and Glen and Madison blinked. Finally the silence was broken by all of us at once.


"Spence? Clay?"



"What the…?"

The chaos died as soon as it started, and I grabbed the bottle out of Glen's hand, yanked the cap off, and took a giant swig. I regretted it two seconds later as I was overcome by a coughing fit, feeling like I'd swallowed thinned out lava, and Ash's lips twitched amusedly.

"Take it easy mami." Madison announced and some of the tension slipped out of the room as I handed the death substance back to her.

"Isn't t-that what you're s-supposed to d-do at t-times like these?" I choked out. Ashley reached out to rub my back, and that seemed to bring everyone spinning back into reality.

"What are you doing here anyway Davies?" Glen asked, folding his arms against his chest and glaring at her. She stretched, her shirt slipping up a few inches to reveal the flat bronze planes of her stomach, and I didn't get it until I took in the look on Glen's face.

"Just came to hang out with Spencer. We're secret bff's." She said simply and my brother just nodded blankly. The lava started pounding through my veins instead of my throat and I could tell Madison was having the same reaction. In fact she barely even paused to stare at me before declaring coldly,

"He's taken," And grabbing Glen's arm and digging her nails into it. He winced and all I could think was that it served him right.

"Don't worry. He's not my type." Madison's eyes narrowed dangerously at Ashley's smug look before venturing curiously over to Chelsea. Her eyes widened even as Chelsea loosened the blanket desperately, trying and failed to hide the baby bump.

"Dios mio! Is she pregnant?!" Madison screeched and Glen had the exact same reaction that I had a few minutes earlier, except with an added dose of "this can't be happening" mixed with barely controlled rage. I knew in his head he was watching his brand new Range Rover being stripped away from him and handed over to our cousin Adam, or Uncle Jerry, or anyone other than him.

"Today never happened." I blurted when Glen's hands balled into fists, his head falling heavily into his lap as he sank into an armchair.

"Now hold up--" Madison started but Glen interrupted her by nodding fiercely, still looking at his knees.

"Agreed." Clay said, then Chelsea made a pathetic noise and all of us except Glen rushed over to her. She was ashen-faced and shivering even though beads of sweat had broken out all across her forehead.

"How long has it been since you've seen a doctor?" Madison asked, shoving the rest of us out of the way and kneeling in front of Chelsea. Clay, Ashley, and I shared a look, then went right back to being observers as my usually flighty, always shallow pseudo-best-friend went to work.

In less than ten minutes time we were all perched anxiously at the foot of the only bed in the pool house, Madison having forced Chelsea to lay down before propping the poor girls swollen feet up and gotten a cool hand towel over her forehead.

"You," She said, pointing at Clay, who was staring at Chelsea with a horrified expression on his face. "Hello?" Snapping her fingers in front of his face she snapped him out of it long enough to hand him the small thermometer she'd found in the first aid kit in the medicine cabinet.

"Its 99.9 right now. If her fever doesn't break by tonight or if it gets higher you're gonna have to take her to the hospital alright?" Clay gulped audibly and I heard a cap come off somewhere from the living room. Chelsea tried to reach out for his hand and Madison instantly rounded on her.

"Why can't you go home miha?" She asked bluntly.

"…my parents…" Chelsea managed and I immediately felt for her, knowing what kind of hell on earth/instant dismemberment I'd face if I were in the same situation.

"Hey Maternity Barbie, you might wanna check in on your boy toy or he's gonna need a hospital too." Ashley pointed out and we all craned our necks around the door frame in time to watch Glen chug almost half the bottle. Madison swore in Spanish and ran off to tend to him, leaving us to sit on the floor in the little room with our sick patient.

to be continued…

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