Disclaimer: Don't own.
Under the circumstances, I hadn't liked Ashley Davies very much.
I met her in junior high senior band camp. I was twelve, she was thirteen. I skipped a grade. Not many people liked me. I think I intimidated them, or they were resisting picking on me.
At first, I thought she was a boy. She pinned her hair up in a big messy pile on top of her head, she was wearing shorts and some band shirt with the words Purple Venom on it. I think it was a popular band. A lot of the kids were talking about it.
She was playing soccer with the guys when I first saw her. I remember watching her make a goal, receiving the fists to the shoulder and offers to chest-bump like a pro.
I thought she was a boy.
Until she waved her goodbyes and walked off the field, letting her hair down in one fluid motion. The brown curls cascaded down to her shoulders, naturally highlighted with hints of red, they were messy and endearing and I twirled a strand of my impeccably straight honey blonde around my fingers. I remember a slight twinge of envy.
Then I saw her face, and I knew she definitely was no boy.
I was never that girl. I never got what was so interesting about boys, about makeup, what cooties were.
I wasn't a prude, either. I just didn't choose my own clothes, trusting my mother to buy them for me: simple jeans and knee-length skirts with no frills and no labels. Solid colour t-shirts and sweatshirts, white runners and white socks, occasionally dyed pink when it was Glen's turn to do the laundry. They were just enough to be feminine, but no more.
I was simple and grounded and saw things the way they were. At most times, things were silly.
I think that's how I was attracted to Ashley.
She seemed to be fearless and strange, unassuming and unpretentious. She hadn't tried to impress any of us when I first met her, in fact, she laughed.
There was a spider in the girl's dorm. It was the size of the palm of my hand, with yellow markings.
I had reacted quite contrarily. I didn't scream, hadn't run as the other girls did. I had no fondness for the leggy creatures myself, however. The few survivors, we gathered in a C-shaped crowd around an unlucky girl's bunk, trying to wish away the revolting creature.
Ashley had come back from her game covered in grass stains, slinking straight through the crowd of us for her bunk. One look at her bed, she turned around, looked at all of us, and scoffed.
Then without hesitation, she picked up the fiend by it's back leg, marched to the door, and let it down the front steps.
Then she looked back at all of us, and laughed.
The next time I saw Ashley, I think she was trying to get a canoe to herself.
One of the teachers told her it would be impossible for a little thing like her to move that boat, and pushed me into the path of the brunette's glare.
I ducked my head and waited for the blow, but had I looked up I would've known her eyes were dancing with good humour.
"You were one of the girls standing around my bed."
She sounded on the verge of laughing, and I looked up in indignation. "There was a spider!"
"Sneaky little guys, aren't they?" She smirked at me, like she knew my secret.
"I spider-proofed the canoe, if that's what you're waiting for," she went on teasingly, still with that infuriating smirk. "I won't bite unless you ask me to. So get in."
I stepped gingerly into the boat, accepting the oar she offered to me handle-first.
"I'm Ashley Davies," she told me. When I latched onto the oar, she pumped the oar up and down in handshake fashion, while I grasped the handle.
She let go and looked at me. "You are?"
"Uh, Spencer Carlin."
"Nice to have already met you," she winked impishly at me and I tinged red.
"Spiders aren't that bad," I told her, desperate to cling onto my dignity.
I couldn't see her face because of the glare of the sun, but I could hear the amusement in her husky voice. "Really? What in the world could be worse than spiders?"
"Um. Ghosts?" I erred.
She burst out laughing, and I flushed again. If she noticed, she didn't say anything, instead began rowing.
And for a slender little thing like her, the canoe had moved quite a distance from the shore before I realized I hadn't moved yet.
She let out a little chuckle when I dipped my oar gingerly into the water, almost dropping it when it bounced back up from the pressure of the water. I glared at her, but she had looked away again.
Ashley Davies was infuriating.
"Ash!" An unmistakably male voice called from behind us, and Ashley slowed down our progress without a word, since my efforts to move the canoe were coming to no fruit.
It was one of the boys from the soccer game, I think. He grinned at Ashley when he came close, the slight swelling movement of his chest not gone unobserved by me.
"You finishing the game with us later?" He asked, completely disregarding me.
I didn't mind much. I didn't care much for boys.
"Of course." Ashley smirked. "If you're ready to get lose to a girl, again."
"Hey!" He grinned in challenge, when someone from their side bumped into their canoe in good humour, normal boisterous teasing between the male population that I didn't understand.
It had the domino effect. Their boat knocked into ours, ours received the brunt and toppled over.
The water was warm, but that made no difference. I hadn't known how to swim.
I thrashed about, hands sliding off the slippery boat and the water flitting around my neck until I felt two hands clasp onto my waist, and I froze, dead weight. She didn't seem to mind the extra weight, taking the pause in the pandemonium to whisper in my ear.
"Kick your feet!"
And so I had, and kept myself afloat as she propelled the both of us to the shore. There, I latched onto the beach like my life depended on it – which it did – and she crawled onto the sand after me, keeping one hand tight on my waist.
"All right, Carlin?"
I nodded, coughing away the burning in my throat from swallowing water the wrong way. She patted my back lightly until the harsh sounds subsided, and tapped my head fondly.
"I'll have to teach you how to swim," she said.
For the rest of that summer, we were the unlikeliest pair.
She was athletic, slender, strong, always knowing the things to say and favouring the wrong things, her favourite pastimes included clogging toilets and letting live animals into the boys' dorm.
I was lanky, couldn't catch a ball to save my life, preferred sitting to standing, would rather hold a pencil opposed to anything else, and didn't speak unless spoken to.
It was only one night she showed me we weren't so different after all.
"What're you doing up?"
I knew the voice and swiftly sat on my sketchpad, hiding the pencil behind crossed arms. "Enjoying the view."
She sidled up behind me, the marred wood creaking with her slight weight as she looked out over the still flat blue-black lake and the stacks of canoes, then back to the sand-caked docks where I sat with my legs dangling off the side. "Not drowning in the view, I hope."
"Shut up." I elbowed her leg, letting out a frustrated hiss and an undeniable smile.
She only laughed, slipping silently to her knees beside me, splashing me with the water as her runners skimmed the surface of the water. I noticed the notepad she had under arm, and she noticed the one I was sitting on.
"No way," I put on my best stern front, and she snickered.
"You look funny when you do that."
"No I don't."
"Yes you do. Admit it."
My response was cut off my her merciless fingers on my sides, probing my ribs and in my haste to stand up, I lost my balance and tumbled off the side of the dock.
"Spence? Spencer?" There was genuine worry in her voice when she called out, leaning over the side of the dock on her hands and knees as my head broke the surface.
"The water is shallow, Einstein."
It was true, and the water sat still around my chest when I stopped my frantic splashing to glare up at her as she laughed helplessly.
"Thank you, Sherlock." I paused, crossing my arms, splashing myself in the face in the process, prompting a fit of spluttering and a fit of laughter from the brunette. "That wasn't funny!"
"Oh, it so was."
She chuckled a bit at my petulant response, and to my surprise, got onto her knees and offered out her hands. I had only touched the tips of my fingers to hers when she withdrew them and grinned under my withering glare.
"Only if you give me one of your drawings, hm?"
"That's not fair," I pointed out. "You push me into the water and won't even help me out?"
"I didn't push you. You fell in."
"Ugh." The chill had set in, and I gave up. "Fine."
She smirked and grabbed my sketchpad, flipping through it and ripping out a page. Wordlessly, she put it back down, grabbed my hands, and lifted me until I could pull myself from the water.
"I'm going to change," I snapped, as soon as I was on dry land and my sketchpad was back in possession. I was being petulant, but the water was cold and the unpleasant sensation was doubled when the air hit my skin.
Sensing my petulance, she ripped a page out of her notebook, the notebook that she never opened in front of anyone, and tucked it into my front shirt pocket.
"See you later," she smiled slyly, picked up her things, and went her way.
When I flipped through my sketchpad later, the uncompleted picture I'd drawn of the curly-haired brunette was gone.
Ashley changed a lot when she hit fourteen. She started wearing midriff-bearing vests and tank tops, skirts that barely skimmed the tops of her thighs.
She had every right to, I guess. Her skin was perfectly and flawlessly tan. Her abs were subject to envy and she had svelte, toned legs that screamed athleticism.
Once again, I found myself in her shadow. I had always been in her shadow, but I hadn't minded so much. It was only then I found myself subject to scorn.
I'd become Ashley's best friend then, her distraction from the hordes of girls and boys looking for her attention. She was a goddess in her own right, the quintessence of high school popularity. Underneath her unearthly beauty, unbelievable confidence, infamous arrogance, I lost faith in the tomboyish brunette I knew from summer camp.
And I started avoiding her. I wasn't that girl, I never was. I couldn't compare to the boys that looked like they'd just stepped out a magazine, the girls that radiated confidence and beauty that I would never have, competing for Ashley's interest. For the life of me, it would best be ludicrous to stand next to Ashley Davies and pretend to belong. The best thing I could've done was cop out of the competition before I could be let down with excruciating slowness.
I was Spencer Carlin, the faceless girl.
She was Ashley Davies, and she was everything.
"Why are you avoiding me?"
I was never good at lying to her. She was never good at leaving me alone.
She sighed, crossing the empty restroom in a few steps and cornering me between the sinks and the stalls. "You know, you're a horrible liar."
My eyes drifted over her shoulder, instinctively looking for the quickest escape, but my voice gave away everything. "You locked the door."
"I won't lie about that." She sighed and placed her hands on my arms. "Stop squirming and look at me.
"Answer my question." Her voice demanded, her eyes probed, and everything was as clear tot her as if I had screamed the answer to the empty room.
Her eyes widened and she took her bottom lip between her teeth, taking away her right hand to trace the path of a tear down my cheek I hadn't noticed with the pad of her thumb.
"Spencer…" She stepped forward, fingers curled tightly around my shoulders. "You know I'll never leave you, right?"
She pulled me into her, wrapping me up too easily in her warmth and reassurances, like she always had been able to. I wondered if she could feel the unbearable pressure in my chest, the simultaneous sensation of guilt and relief.
"You're everything, Spencer."
She was Ashley Davies, and she saw things nobody else could see.
It was the fourth summer after summer camp, rushing by because I let it. If only I had known, I would have never let go.
She rolled onto her stomach, caressing the wrinkles from the covers of her bed. "You know how I've been auditioning?"
She smiled softly, as if only allowing herself a minimal amount of excitement. "I got a record deal."
If she wasn't about to show appropriate enthusiasm for herself, I would show her more than my worth. I let out an uncharacteristic scream and crushed her hand between mine.
She grinned at my outburst. "I know."
"What do you mean you know?" I shook her hand wildly. "This is great! No, it's not just great, it's amazing. You've been auditioning for so long. God, Ash!"
The grin faded and she looked so grave I paused to allow a frown. "What's wrong?"
She let her hand fall from my grasp, forehead lined with worry as she contemplated my face. There was a sudden flash of fondness, then, softness in her striking features, promptly replaced by regret. "I'm moving to Hollywood. The label doesn't want me moving back and forth all the time." She squeezed my hand, searching my face nervously. "It's only about an hour from here, you know."
"Okay," I uttered, all coherent thought leaving me in one breath. But I plastered a smile on my face, because Ashley had been wanting this longer than I had known her. It was laughable to think I could ask her to stay.
"I'll call and visit." She seized my hand, pinning me with an ardent look before I could nod and smile away the heavy moment. "I promise, Spencer."
It was my mistake to think Ashley would go without a bang.
It could've just been a kiss between friends, it could've just been the single most devastating and achingly perfect moment of my life. It was quick, over before I ever even could comprehend that her soft warm lips were touching mine in an intimate gesture she seemed so used to and I'd never had the pleasure of having before.
I didn't know if Ashley Davies counted as my first kiss.
"You know I'll never leave you, right?"
I couldn't know, because the next thing I knew, I was smiling and waving to the back of a limo.
It started with the smell of salt, a soft wet breeze, sand-caked wood, and water flitting around my neck. It started with breathless panic, and a calm in the form of hands meant to save me.
I ease into the water. It's the dead of winter, the water's black and calm for miles around. The only light is from the moon and the distant, foggy lights of the city. The only lights worth keeping are the memories she left me with.
"I'll have to teach you how to swim."
The water flits around my neck and closes around my head, but there's no panic. It feels comforting, like the sea I've come to know and love, and familiar like the impulse to begin to kick my feet and swim back to the shore with practiced ease from six summers ago. Four of those summers of those to keep me warm tonight, and the seventh summer I know will never come.