Chapter Twelve: I Go Blind

Two Years, Two Months Ago (Junior Year)

"I guess it couldn't have gone worse." Ashley runs the cigarette under her nose- a habit -and stares out into pitch black. The bright white glare of the streetlight makes an empty reflection in her eyes and Aiden looks away. She's different, this Ashley. She's almost as forlorn, almost as discarded as he is. She leans back against the rusty sides of the truck and slides a lighter from her pocket.

"I guess." Aiden agrees, and lets his elbows rest on his knees. He's frowning, his eyebrows creased, and Ashley sweeps her eyes over his face before looking away. She doesn't know why she let them end up like this.

They're in the back of his dad's old truck, parked at the edge of the theater's parking lot. Brand new street lights stream down around them. It's past three in the morning and Ashley's cheek is still pink from the impact of Kyla's hand. Aiden drops his head onto his arms.

"She'll get over it." Ashley says, in a dry voice that isn't her own. There's no answer. Minutes pass and she drags on her cigarette. It's a terrible habit, a future-ending one, but with her sister's angry words echoing in her ears and Aiden's legs against hers, she feels she's earned it.

Finally, he raises his head.

"Don't you have a show tomorrow?" He asks, glancing at the cigarette in her hand.

"Yeah." She says, and takes another drag, just to elicit some emotion. He reaches over, plucks it out of her hand, and tosses it onto the cement. She has half a thought of shoving him away, jumping out of the truck, walking until she's back home, but then she's kissing him.

The go down under that streetlight, in a rusty truck bed, and Ashley wonders why she let it get so bad.

IOI

Spencer stopped noticing it after a while.

She didn't ignore it- honestly –she just forgot to be awkward about it. She forgot that there were reasons why it shouldn't be happening. And, maybe, she didn't really believe it was possible. They locked themselves in that half-furnished classroom with the lights off and told each other secrets. It wasn't romantic- not yet. In fact, she wasn't sure if it ever would be. Ashley was getting so close to her, so near that Spencer couldn't look around her anymore. She was falling in stupid, doomed love.

She didn't really notice.

Wasn't love supposed to sweep you up, blind you to normal problems? She was blind, certainly, but so blind she didn't even realize it. Ashley was right in front of her, constantly, deliberately, and Spencer forgot that the older girl was new. Forgot that there were rules and stuff, forgot about all the dating rituals they were imitating. They weren't usual in any sense. They rarely saw each other in public. For a long week, they drowned in each other's private company, stolen in short hours and passing smiles.

Spencer brought coffee from the place down the street on Tuesday and Thursday, and Ashley bought expensive pastries and cappuccinos from the bakery by her house on every other day- they had agreed on it sometime during that long Sunday fundraiser. They split the bread sitting on the desk, and spread it on napkins, sipping at coffee. Ashley would laugh, her knees pulled close to her body, her dark eyes sparkling in the gray light. She would grin, letting her eyes linger. It was so deliciously wrong- so excruciatingly right. They fit.

Ashley could never finish Spencer's sentences. Couldn't guess what she was thinking. She was fascinated by the younger girl- the way her head tilted innocently, the way she flushed when Ashley caught her staring. If she was staring, that is- there was always that slight doubt. It was instinctive, if no words had been spoken to disprove it.

They didn't make it anything more. They kept it at early morning smiles and sleepy eyes. A week passed. They dreamed about each other. They smiled in the car on the morning- Glen always eyed Spencer warily when she dropped into the front seat, blue eyes sparkling. Kyla didn't say anything, because Ashley made Jenny's breakfast and her coffee, and smiled genuinely. She didn't want to mess that up.

Ashley wrote, every day. She wrote songs at three in the morning, at five in the afternoon. She couldn't stop herself- it was starting to scare her a little. Some were good, some not so much. All that mattered was the ink on the paper and the calluses reforming on her fingers. She hadn't played for Spencer yet. In fact, they hadn't even started voice lessons again. Not since Ashley's hands had been pressed against Spencer's stomach, since her heart had thrummed with the closeness. It wasn't that it was dangerous, just that it was stupid.

Everything about them felt stupid.

Stupid with impulse, stupid with fear, with hesitation, and supposed familiarity. Stupid with ignorance, or maybe just chosen delusion. They were falling in stupid love, but neither was able to admit it. They saw themselves as odd friends, or restrained something. Something weird, or poetic, or young. They were young.

They told each other everything, except that they were gay. They closed their lips tight on that subject, shied away from talking about relationships. That was telling in itself, but they were stupid. It was Friday and they were so wrapped in their early morning delusions that nothing existed from dawn 'til the end of first period. God, they were caught up in each other.

"So." Ashley was there first, cross-legged on the teacher's desk- her desk. A simple, white paper bag sat in front of her. "I got apple Danishes today." She reached inside as Spencer climbed up onto the desk beside her and grabbed the coffee from behind the keyboard.

"I love apple anything." Spencer smiled, accepting the Danish from Ashley's fingers.

"I know." Ashley said simply, catching her eyes for a split second. She shifted hers away and went back to digging through her bag. "And some bagels, and this weird…bread…thing." She fished it out, and held it up for inspection.

"It kind of looks like an éclair." Spencer said, frowning as she stared at it. She bit into her apple Danish. Ashley shrugged and took a bite. She chewed thoughtfully.

"It's good, whatever it is." She held it out to Spencer, who lifted it toward her mouth and took a small bite. Ashley watched her distractedly, unable to hide her fascination when Spencer's face.

"Definitely good." Spencer smiled, handing it back. Ashley dropped it into the bag. "What are we doing today?" She was a little nervous about the answer. Ashley always had something planned for them- something musical, of course, but completely unrelated to the class they were supposed to be in. Yesterday, they had listened to Jimi Hendrix, lying flat out on their backs in the middle of the classroom- all the lights off and the door closed. Spencer had shut her eyes, her heart thumping solidly in her chest, Ashley's breath a few inches away. She had listened to the wail of a guitar and felt so tortuously close to her teacher's warm body that her hairs had stood on end.

That was why Spencer got nervous. Things like that.

"I don't know, actually. Ms. James said she had a surprise for me and to suspend lessons for the day." Ashley ripped another piece of Danish off and popped it into her mouth. "I guess we wait." She said, curling her legs beneath her. There was a quiet pause, the silence dripping through the classroom. "So what'd you do last night?" Spencer smiled to herself.

"I went for a run with Glen and helped my Dad make spaghetti. And did my homework. And slept." She smiled, leaning back on her hands. "What about you?"

"I had to watch Jenny- my niece, for Kyla- my sister." Ashley made a face, but her dark eyes were sparkling. "And she made me watch Spongebob with her." Her eyebrows went up and Spencer chuckled.

"How exactly did she make you watch Spongebob? Isn't she, like, one?" Spencer asked, laughter in her voice. Ashley laughed then, and the open sound of it caught up in Spencer, tied her in knots. She blushed.

"Well, that doesn't mean-" Ashley was interrupted by the click of an opening door. She and Spencer both glanced over at the classroom door to see Chelsea peeking in. The other girl smiled. If she was surprised to find her friend and her teacher sharing a desk and Danish, she didn't show it.

"Ms. James wants to talk to you, Ms. Davies." Chelsea said. The syllables rolling off her tongue- Ms. Davies –made Spencer uncomfortable. The separation between teacher and student- the one so blatantly missing from their relationship –painted her a picture of their isolation. She was different. They were different. It was a soft realization, but she tried to push it away.

Ashley glanced over at Spencer as she slid down from the desk.

"If I'm not back, do you mind…" She waved a hand toward the remains of their breakfast. Spencer nodded.

"Sure, of course." She answered, feeling awkward while still perched on the desk. Ashley looked at her for one last second and Spencer barely held the gaze. Then, she was gone, across the classroom, and Spencer was chasing her with her eyes. She was Ms. Davies again, with skinny jeans and curly hair, with an authoritative, untouchable attitude, and Spencer was a world away.

"Is this all you do?" There was laughter in her voice, but Spencer could hear curiosity in Chelsea's tone. The girl walked closer, glancing around the darkened room.

"Nah, it's just a Friday thing." Spencer lied. She slid off the desk, started sweeping crumbs from the surface. Chelsea wandered over and pushed the plastic trashcan toward Spencer with her foot.

"Lucky." She sighed, her eyes still traveling. They danced across the white board, smeared with green and blue ink after Ashley's failed attempts at drawing Spencer, trailed over the upturned chairs, remnants of an impromptu drum set. Spencer felt exposed, suddenly. Wide freaking open.

"How are you and Clay?" Spencer cut off those feelings with filler words, hopping back up onto the desk. Tried to shove Chelsea into a place that had only contained her and Ashley- tried to make them boring, disconnected. Chelsea smiled, her lips curling, eyes warming.

"Your brother is so sweet." Spencer watched the other girl's eyes light up, her focus shifting. "We're going to a film festival this weekend." Chelsea lowered her eyelashes, blushing a little. Spencer was fascinated. She had never seen someone react to Clay like that. Clay was sweet and nice and naïve and not… blush-inducing. Spencer opened her mouth to respond, but the classroom door opened again, this time swiftly, and Ashley darted in.

"Ohmygod, guess what?" She was grinning, and Spencer slid off the desk, instinctively, to get closer.

"What?" She asked. Ashley left the door open behind her and walked forward, still smiling.

"We're getting a piano in here!" She exclaimed. Spencer smiled. The older girl moved toward the desks, pushed them against the wall. Spencer and Chelsea went to help without really knowing what they were doing.

"A piano?"

"Yeah, they're just storing it in here, but we can use it in the morning." Ashley was apparently really excited and it was amusing and endearing and adorable at the same time. It made a tiny smile linger on Spencer's mouth as her eyes darted toward her teacher.

"We're getting it right now?" The blonde asked. Ashley nodded, pushed the last desk against the wall, and turned back to the middle of the classroom. The center was completely cleared out now- although their "drum set" had been left untouched- and she placed her hands on her hips, a smile creeping onto her face.

"A piano." She turned to Spencer, her smile widening. "I'll play for you." She promised, eyes locking with Spencer's for two long beats. Then, her eyes darted to Chelsea, who had been forgotten for a second. She shifted her smile, her eyes, and turned away. A distressing pit rolled in her stomach, some combination of nervousness and guilt. Spencer watched her carefully.

"You ready, Ashley?" Ms. James walked in, hand pausing on the doorframe. Ashley smiled and nodded. Her eyes darted back to Spencer's.