Full summary: Set in college. Spencer is a "special" type of person -- she can read people's minds, often not by choice. Her powers, so to speak, have hindered her relationships and love life, until she meets Ashley. All she hears is... silence. But why? Come to find out, Ashley has a secret of her own. (No, I don't do vampire Spashley, sorry. I'll leave that to the more talented writers :) but this fic idea was inspired by Dead Until Dark and the Sookie Stackhouse series, now made into a tv show on HBO called True Blood... still, this fic is not about vampires)
HEY EVERYONE! It's great to be back with another fic :) I didn't wanna release it until I had a few more chapters written, but I thought I'd give you a little teaser. I'm apologizing in advance because I don't think I'll update as quickly as I did with Delta One (not right now at least). Life is too crazy/busy right now. I'll try my uber best to get the next chapter out ASAP. Reviews are always welcome, though I'm grateful enough that you gave it a read! Thanks River for beta-reading! 2.21.09
Disclaimer: I don't own South of Nowhere or the characters.
Today was not a day I felt at my best. Nor could it have been my worst. I guess it was just a mundane winter morning. Nothing particularly special, nothing out of the ordinary… for me, that is.
I still have a blistering headache from yesterday's midterm. You can't imagine how painful it is to take a midterm in a lecture hall filled with 300 people, all thinking about different things. You've got the typical frat boys from Kappa Lambda and Sigma Alpha Sigma drooling over the girls in skinny jeans and emu boots. In turn, those girls in skinny jeans and emu boots are worrying about next week's social event, one of them worrying about her credit line in particular. And there are the ones who actually studied for the test. I never risk reading other students' minds. It drives me insane! Some of these people get their facts mixed up and their OCD-like thought processes have them dancing in circles between 'D: A and B only,' or 'E: All of the above.' I hate those questions anyway!
As much as I was tempted to pick a few brains, I stuck to what I knew. I just wish I had more time to study. The night before the midterm, I had a huge fight with Melinda, the girl I've been seeing for five months. I can't say it was the smoothest five months of my life, but it's the closest to normal I'll ever feel… or as normal as a lesbian my age can feel… a mind-reading one at that.
I met Melinda at this local dive bar, right across the street from campus, called the 'Dubliner.' It sat adjacent to the Freshman dorms. Ironic, isn't it, that they'd put a pub next to the Freshmen? The first week of school, which mainly consisted of orientation, raging parties, and the redundancy of having to tell each person you meet your name, year, and major, was when the Dubliner first opened. As a third year college student, the whole raging party and rushed introduction was no longer my scene. Been there, done that! I usually hit the bars with friends, but they were ending their summers in their hometowns. After all, anyone who's not a Freshman knows that the first week of school isn't mandatory. So I went to the Dubliner solo. I bought one drink and decided to nuzzle up against the back wall and disappear from the crowds. It makes me wonder what I did, if anything, to catch Melinda's eye that night. If I didn't know any better, I would've thought she was the mind-reader. She had accurate gaydar! She approached me, with her dirty blonde hair flowing below her shoulders and her blue-green eyes meeting mine right at eyelevel. She was totally on the tipsy side as she started talking to me like the sophisticated lady she is. I peeked into her mind: she's a Freshman with a fake ID. At first I thought she was shallow, but it surprised me that she wasn't the typical Freshman out to make her mark. She was actually looking for some form of a long-term relationship! It's kinda naïve of her. But I admired her for knowing what she wanted… or at least she did at the time.
Months later, she does a 180 on me. She became distant, didn't want to go out much, wouldn't return my calls. Part of it isn't her fault: she's a freshman who's exploring the college scene, attending different social events, and meeting tons of new people everyday. I didn't want to be the one holding her back from that, but I wanted to be sure I was still in a committed relationship. It'd be nice to know from time to time, you know? It'd also save me the embarrassment of claiming to have a girlfriend, when really she's a no show and everyone thinks she's just a figment of my imagination. I wouldn't have known otherwise until I actually saw her after one of her classes. One look in her eyes was all it took to know: she was cheating on me with Vanessa, her Resident Advisor. I didn't even try to read her mind. Instead, her thoughts blinded me as if she was carrying a huge neon "I'm cheating on you" sign on her back. I should've known it would be inevitable, given the close living quarters, bonding, seeing each other all the time, and eventual flirting. But I thought there were strict rules that clearly stated you couldn't hook up with your Resident Advisor. I guess I was the naïve one for being so trusting.
Melinda saw me that day. Her eyes twitched as I caught her off guard. I pretended not to know, of course, especially because she and Vanessa went out of their way to keep things extremely discreet. It's not like I could accuse her of cheating after I just violated her privacy, not to mention she'd totally freak out if she knew I was "special."
A few weeks later, and after working two shifts, I finally found a moment to study for that midterm. But my very short-lived study session turned into a three-hour feud 'til 2AM. Melinda showed up at my apartment with the intent to break up so that she can run along with Vanessa. I was so ticked that she chose to do it that night, knowing I had a test to study for. I lashed out; that much of it was my fault. I brought up the cheating, and she accused me of spying on her and snooping through her things. I'd rather her accuse me of that, than her finding out I read her mind. She stormed out, not actually saying she was breaking up with me. It was almost unnecessary; her thoughts had said enough.
I gave the granite countertop one last swipe before stacking additional cups and attending to the register. There were maybe just a handful of people, quietly burying their heads in books and laptops, which made for a calming afternoon…for the most part. After all, they couldn't help it if their thoughts were prolonging my migraine.
My eyes pan to the entrance as the afternoon sun reflected off the quickly swinging front door. Cute little quaint, yet fashionably tasteful customer struts in my direction. For a second, I'm aimlessly wondering where she got those nice little polka dot flats.
"Hi," I say with a look that says I'm dead behind the eyes, "what can I get you?" It's only 5PM and I'm already wishing it were closing time.
"Can I get a venti Americano please?" She didn't even look at the menu. But I'm no longer a sucker for girls who seem to know what they want.
"Are you sure?" Oops! Did I just say that out loud?
"What?" She scoffed at the absurdity of my question, but smiled nonetheless. "Of course I'm sure!"
"S-Sorry." I shake off the embarrassment and frantically search for my Sharpie, just so I can briefly change the subject. Where the hell did I put it? Ugh… screw it! "Can I get your name?" I reach for an empty venti cup.
"Liz." She mumbled as she squinted at me from behind those dark, straight bangs hovering over her left eye. Where… the hell… did I… oh, found it! It was in my pocket. Duh! The corner of my lip curls slightly as I smile with my eyes. She noticed. "Highlight of your day?" Hmm… another mind-reader.
"Am I that transparent?" I smile. A genuine smile? Really? I almost forgot what it's like to actually smile and mean it. "Yeah, I guess you can even say this is the highlight of my week… finding my Sharpie." I hold up my prize. Sarcasm saves me sometimes.
"Must've been that midterm." Wait, what?
"What?" I squint in curiosity. "How'd you—"
"I'm in that class." She smiled as if I should've known this information already. "Dr. Steinhaus. He's a toughie."
"Yeah," I laugh nervously and divert my eyes as I carefully scribble her name on the cup. What am I supposed to say? I've never seen her before. Shows you how self-absorbed I am. That, or just completely oblivious to other people, unless they're screaming their thoughts at me.
"So… are you a psych major?
"Minor. I'm majoring in Anthro and Philosophy."
"Double major." She raised her eyebrows. "Wow! With a minor too?" I nod. Oh goodness. I should've known. She was flirting with me. And telling her I'm a double major just floored her. Another girl with crazy accurate gaydar. What is going on here? Do I have on one of those sticker nametag thingies that says Hello! My name is 'who cares, I'm GAY'? Seriously though…
"I better get that cup of coffee for ya." I turn towards the brewing machines and duck behind them.
"Take your time! I'm in no rush." I cringe. I slowly (and I mean very slowly) pour her coffee. It's nice to just hide back here. I close my eyes as I read her thoughts. Geez, she's a smart girl. Political Science major, I can tell. All she's thinking about is her Foreign Policy midterm, how to distinguish the head of state from the head of government in countries like France… and how cute I look in my green apron. Wait, what?! "Um, Spencer?" How does she know my name?
Oh yeah… I do have a nametag.
"Yeah?" My eyes jolt open and I notice her leaning over the counter.
"Sorry, were you… meditating?" She smirked at the state she found me in, as she clutched her purse closer to her body.
"N-no." I put the coffee pot down and wipe up the puddle that had formed from excess coffee spilling over the brim. What is wrong with me today?
"Did you… want me to pay for that?" I must've looked completely stoned or something because she had to practically draw pictures, color them in, and explain it to me as if I were a third grader. "…the coffee?" She pointed.
"Ha, yeah!" I'm trying not to be so clumsy, but I'm a bit flustered. Whatever. I place the lid on carefully, as if I'm performing some intricate surgery, and wrap a sleeve around the cup. "Four forty-seven."
"Keep the change." She smiled, sliding over a five-dollar bill.
"Awesome! Fifty-three cents, just for me!" Sarcasm, I tell you. It's my saving grace.
"Mmhmm!" She humored me. "Hopefully that'll be a better highlight." She glanced at the bill one more time before leaving.
I scoff. Is she serious? I was joking, but whatev— what… is… this? I pick up the bill noticing some black marker seeped through. I turn it over.
Oh ho ho! She's slick… leaving her number like that… and using my Sharpie. I grab the Sharpie and stuff it in my pocket as if I'm robbing the supply room. My Sharpie.
I'm not calling her though. Not anytime soon, at least. I'm pretty sure things are done between Melinda and I, but she never really said it. I have to know for sure. After all, I'm not the cheater.
"What're you doing?" Donovan, my partner in crime, emerged from the backroom. He tied his apron on as I ripped a blank piece off the register receipt roll.
"Nothing." I say so smugly as I copy the number down and put the bill in the register.
"I don't know what you're talking—" He lunged for the bill in my hand.
"Who's Liz?" He grinned. I immediately go into guerilla warfare mode, pouncing like a cheetah just to get it back.
"Is she hot?"
"No," I finally pry it from his hands, "I don't know!" I turn my back on him, looking at the writing. She did have a cute way of writing her Z's. Kinda looks like a fancy 3.
"Wow," he was surprised. I looked over my shoulder. I knew what he was thinking: Melinda didn't mean that much to me if I'm able to rebound so quickly. He walked to the other side and began to pour coffee beans into the grinder.
"Donny, Melinda cheated on me. And Liz gave me her number. I didn't ask for it. I didn't even flirt with her! So don't expect me to feel guilty!"
"Stop reading my mind. I hate when you do that!" He began to grind the coffee beans as if that would make it harder for me to hear his thoughts. The loud noise somewhat provided a peaceful buffer between us, and allowed for a transition in changing subjects.
"So, what were you doing back there?"
"Delivery truck came early."
"Oh." I honestly could care less, but I didn't want to go the rest of the shift not talking. I felt bad for violating his mind like that. I can't help it sometimes. It just… happens. I can't control it. Anyways, I don't feel I owe him an apology. So I hope his guy instincts kick in and he just gets over it quickly. "Did they bring more coffee cake?" Again, not caring. Just testing the waters… and sending the 'no hard feelings' vibe.
"Yeah," he scratched the back of his head, careful not to ruffle his black faux-hawk.
Okay, that didn't work. Cue awkward silence.
"Listen," he called for my attention, "what Melinda did was pretty fucked up." He said so matter-of-factly. "I know it's not easy dealing with cheaters. I've been there."
"And I'm sorry for giving you a hard time," he lazily rolled his head, "even though I was just thinking it." We laughed. "So I want you to know I'm on your side… always." Such simple words. Sometimes I do miss the simplicity of dating guys, since they tend to say what they mean.
"Thank you." I smile and nod. Not as genuine as the last, since this is a touchy subject. But I still manage to smile nonetheless.
Donny walked towards me with open arms, and we hugged.
Hours passed at the speed of molasses. The café would teeter between desolate hours and bustling hours throughout my shift, peaking around 7PM when students would drop by with their study groups after class discussions. Not good for the migraine! I remember looking at the clock at one point, and it showed 8:42PM. I did a million things after that, and it seemed time was finally flying. But I was wrong; when I looked at the clock again, it was only 8:49PM. Sigh. Longest night of my life.
Thoughts of Melinda would creep into my mind, and I'd feel my chest tighten. The question "how could she do this to me?" would constantly echo through my head. I had an array of answers, including the idea that maybe I did something wrong. I'm trying so hard to hold back tears. I just have to keep moving forward, despite the fact that I just want to go home and curl up into the comfort of my bed.
I try shaking it off by forcing myself to focus on the tasks at hand. It was hardest during the desolate hours, when there wasn't much to do but restock and wipe down tables. That's when I go into auto-pilot mode; my body is doing the job, but my mind is elsewhere. I tried distracting myself with unnecessary and trivial tasks, such as stacking all the sugar packets facing one direction with the label up, lining up all the chairs perfectly, and vigorously washing and drying coffee pots, shakers and stirrers until they were literally spotless.
Donny looked fearful. But he knew me too well to bother me about it. He knows that this is how I deal with my frustrations: working like a maniac.
I finally let out a sigh of relief when the clock showed 10:52PM. Scratch that. It was more like a beg for mercy, rather than a sigh of relief. I was worn out, and my head felt like it had swollen twice its normal size. As the last customer left, I leaned over the countertop and buried my face in my hands.
Finally… a little peace!
"Tough day, huh?" It was the first casual thing Donny's said to me all day since we talked about Melinda. He pitied me. I could tell with the tone of his voice.
"More… than… you… know." I leave my face resting against the palms of my hands before lowering even further and burying my head into my arms. I hear him washing down a few more dirty coffee pots and mixers. He nudged me playfully to elicit some type of response. I couldn't blame him. I looked like I died on that countertop.
Somehow I find the strength to pull myself through the home stretch of my shift. I start turning the chairs over on top of the tables before grabbing the mop. I could faintly hear Donny grabbing the trash and walking out through the backroom.
I drag the mop and lock the front door. From the shadows of the grocery store parking lot, I see a figure approaching rather quickly. The café lighting revealed her face as she stepped closer. She looked at me with an inquisitive expression, pointing at the door. It didn't take a mind-reader to figure out what she wanted.
"Sorry, we're closed." I shrug.
"Ugh," she pulled back her jacket sleeve to look at her watch, "it's… a minute 'til. The sign says you close at 11." She grumbled from behind the glass. I seriously don't need this right now. I stop mopping and turn towards the clock situated over the menu. The second hand counted down from 3…2…1…
"It's 11." I turn around and point behind me towards the clock. "We're closed." I say with a little spite. If I wasn't being paid to be all cheery and polite, I would've been harder on her. But I'll be civil.
"I missed it by a minute." She jeered. "Are you serious?"
"Look," I stop mopping, "I don't mean to be a pain or anything, but we close at 11. Not 11:01."
"But I need my latte! I sped my ass over here from Santa Monica."
"It's not like you're gonna die if you don't have your latte." I almost giggle at the desperation in this poor girl's voice. Nobody's that big of a latte addict.
"You don't know that. What if I do die because I don't get my latte? Would you want my death on your hands?" I laugh. I couldn't help it! But I stayed put, amidst the amusement. "C'mon! If you had let me in when I asked you to, I could've ordered my latte and been on my merry way by now." I grumble and nearly roll my eyes as she slouched and pouted. I really don't know what drove me to do it but…
"Fine." I hear myself say. Sometimes my mouth seems to have a mind of its own.
"Really?" She grinned at me in surprise. Sarcasm is super tempting right now. But, uh-uh… this doesn't warrant a response. I give her the most lethargic look of my life. You can imagine I didn't even need to try so hard. I was exhausted! I lean the mop against one of the tables and unlock the door.
"Better hurry up before I change my mind." I hold the door open for her. It amazes me that I even have this tiny ounce of kindness left in my body. At this point, I'd do anything just to get her to leave and have that small bit of tranquility back.
She followed me to the bar. I washed my hands as she sat at the counter.
"What kind of latte do you want?" I huff, amidst the sound of the water hitting the stainless steel sink.
"Vanilla latte." She hung her chin over her wrist and watched me curiously.
"Tall." Gah… what? I scoff. "What?" She sat up. I guess I wasn't being so subtle with my body language… and sounds.
"You hauled ass to have a tall latte?"
"If I'm going to dirty up this machine after extensively cleaning it, I might as well make you a venti or something."
"Suit yourself." She nonchalantly leaned back into the barstool. "You know, they don't make latte's like they used to."
"Like who used to?" I furrow my eyebrows as I fill the filter with 18 grams of the dark French roast.
"The Italians." She plopped her purse onto the countertop. "A real latte consists of a double-strength coffee brewed on the stove, and poured into a cup of heated milk. None of that foam hodge-podge." Sounds a little high maintenance to me. I stop what I'm doing and rest my hands on my hips. This is getting kinda ridiculous…
"So… do you want your latte with hot milk or with steamed milk then?" Please don't make my day any worse. I don't get paid overtime, you know?
"I'll take the hodge-podge." Thank you! She smiled with her eyes. She probably sensed the tiredness in my voice.
"I make a mean hodge-podge vanilla latte." I try to bring my energy back. Misery can be contagious.
"I bet." She was just being polite as her eyes wandered aimlessly around the café.
"So… I take it you've been to Italy." I start the espresso machine.
"Yeah. Lived there for a couple of years." Hmm… Interesting!
"Really? What part?"
"Tuscany." She grabbed her phone which was set on vibrate. "Near Florence." She sounded like she'd been asked that question so many times. I figure that's all I'm gonna get out of her, since she shook it off like it was no big deal. "Hello?" She answered the phone as she hopped off the stool and walked outside. That's probably best since I was about to start the frother to steam the milk.
She left her purse here… on the countertop. I watch her from behind the brewers as I froth the milk. She paced back and forth, but not once did she turn to check on her purse. She's pretty trusting. No, more like… really naïve. How does she know I'm not gonna go through her purse and steal her stuff? Strange girl…
"Ugh," she strut back in after ending her call, "women."
Really? No, let's make sure. I don't want to make assumptions…
"Is your… friend giving you some trouble?" She climbed back on top of the barstool and tossed her phone in her purse.
"Something like that." Again, she shook it off. Whatever. I'm not going to push the question. I yawn effortlessly as I pour the espresso in a large cup. I take a clean spoon and gracefully line the top with my frothy concoction. Just a few squirts of vanilla and I'll be done! "Spence?"
I really gotta do something about this nametag. It trips me out when strangers call on me. And Spence?! Who does this girl think she is?
"I appreciate you doing this for me, especially since I'm nothing but a stranger to you." Indeed… nothing but a strange girl. I cap the cup, wrap a sleeve around, and place it in front of her.
"Well, that can't be right." I stick my hand out. She looked at me awkwardly. "Hi, I'm Spencer," I say with the most energy I've had all night. Even I'm surprised!
"Hi, Spencer," she shook my hand hesitantly, at first, but grateful nonetheless. She said my name as naturally as if we'd been buddies forever. "I'm Ashley."
"Nice to meet you, Ashley."
"Likewise." We shared a complacent moment, and again, that genuine smile crept onto my face. "So," we let go, "how much do I owe you for all the trouble?"
"Four seventeen." She reached in her wallet and slapped a fifty on the countertop.
"Keep the change." Is she trying to show off? Or is she just plain crazy?
"That's one expensive latte." Ashley hopped off the chair and carefully took a sip.
"No," she grabbed her purse, "that's what I call one mean hodge-podge latte. Worth every penny." The brunette walked out the front door and disappeared into the darkness of the parking lot.
The exhaustion snuck up on me again. I just need to get home already! I began to close the register as Donny came back. He had his apron off and tightly rolled in one hand. He noticed the espresso machine was on, and that I had dirtied a mug and a pitcher. It didn't take him long to realize what had happened.
"Who was here?" He stood absolutely still and pointed at the machine as if he were Sherlock Holmes, scavenging for more clues.
"Friend of yours?"
"No one in particular." I turned the machine off and proceeded to clean the dirty utensils. "A stranger… if you will." I turned my nose up and mocked. He spotted the bill and almost dove for it. "Hey, that tip is mine!"
His thoughts surrounded the name of Liz.
"No, it wasn't Liz." Pfffft. Donny's an awesome friend, but he's awfully nosey for a guy.
"What did this customer order?" He sounded slightly disappointed when he found the bill had no writing on it.
"Just a latte."
"Let me get this straight." He leaned up against the counter. "You open the door after hours to a stranger, make a latte out of charity for the poor soul, and this person just so happens to leave you a hefty tip?"
"Mmhmm. 'Kill 'em with kindness,' I always say."
"Riiiiiight." He squinted at me in skepticism.
"And it wasn't like she was an obnoxious customer either."
"She?" Donny shifted his weight and crossed his arms. "Oh, okay… I see what this is now."
"What?" Oh goodness. Here we go…
"Was she hot?"
"What?! No! Stop asking me that!" See what I mean? Nosey as hell… and shallow, might I add.
"Well," he placed the fifty back on the countertop, "whatever it is that you do, I hope you decide to share the wealth next time… or at least teach me your secrets." I laugh as I walk around the counter to lock the front door.
I turn and reach for the mop. I could hear Donny's thoughts: He was completely bewildered with the idea that someone would willingly spend fifty dollars on a latte. What was she thinking?
…And then I finally realized something.
I stopped dead in my tracks and turned to him.
"What?" He wrinkled his eyebrows at my baffled expression.
"I have absolutely no idea what she was thinking. Her thoughts were… completely silent."