Hey everyone! I know this is a long time coming, but happy 2013!

So, I know… I'm totally lame for not posting a chapter for the longest time. I wanted to make sure the world didn't end with an angsty chapter hanging out there… LOL okay no, but believe me when I say I had to really take my time in developing the plot for this and the next 2 chapters, since these are pretty pivotal (and angsty) upcoming chapters. Please accept my apologies!

I have 6 minutes to post this before it's February 15th in California, but I wanted to post this on February 14th because... even though the world is celebrating a day of love (rightfully so!)... today is my beta's birthday! This is my gift to her, since she specifically requested for an update by her birthday. So, thanks to her for the inspiration in posting a chapter already! I had planned to post 3 chapters worth of robust plot development at once, but a promise is a promise. HAPPY BIRTHDAY BGITW! xoxo! :)

I also have a confession to make - I do stalk you LOL… okay, not creeper status, but I enjoy checking bios of all you who review/favorite me or my stuff. I like getting an idea of what kind of people read this fic and I get an idea of what types of stories you like based on which fics you read/favorite. I swear I'm not a stalker, but it's kinda cool when I'm like "oh yeah, I like that fic/author too!" And to no surprise, this fic does draw in a lot of Twilight fans and more of the younger crowd than my other fic, Delta One. Anyways, I can't get enough… if you happen to drop a review, please feel free to drop a fun fact or two about yourself as well. Or hey, if you don't care to leave a review right now, but wanna drop a fun fact, I like that too! It's kinda nice to feel connected to you beyond what you think of this fic :)

Another thing I wanted to get your feedback on… When I started Daunting Silence, I decided that this would be strictly rated-T and that I wouldn't even touch smut or change the rating for a chapter or two… or three or four. But, for future reference, what's your stance on the smut?

Okay… longest A/N ever! Just wanted to say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for reading! And thank you, kate529 for the PM! Really appreciate the support! :) I will try to get chapters out faster and hope you enjoy it! 2.14.13

Disclaimer: I don't own South of Nowhere or its characters.


Ding.

The timer sounded and I immediately grabbed the oven mitt before slowly prying the door open. The heat immediately brushed against my face and I carefully took the chicken out of the oven. It was perfectly baked under this thick, creamy layer of mushroom gravy. I checked the recipe again for finishing touches. Pinched a little lemon pepper on top and it was good to go.

I sighed at my creation, smiling to myself with satisfaction. The veggies had succulent grill marks on them and the homemade mash potatoes were to die for.

Hell yeah, I can cook! 'Tis the magic of the Food Network!

"What smells so delicious in here, Spence?" Madison sauntered down the hallway and into the kitchen.

I looked over my shoulder at her, "Just dinner."

"Since when did you go all Kat Cora on me?" She leaned over the chicken and gave it a whiff.

I chuckled, "I can cook. But, just because I can doesn't mean I want to."

"Look at you," she turned to me, her hand firmly placed on her hip, "all domesticated and shit." My roommate gazed at my red apron with white polka dots.

I shrugged, giving her a crooked smile.

"Someone's getting laid tonight!" She thought as she cocked a brow expectedly.

I feigned surprise. "You mean to tell me that tonight's the night you and Jton go all the way?"

"Shut up!" Madison squealed as I laughed boisterously.

"You set yourself up every time, Mad!" I chuckled.

"Whatever," she crossed her arms, a playful smirk tugging at her lips. "We're just having fun, she and I." She needlessly explained herself.

"Not my business," I quelled her inner monologues of trying to explain her casual relationship, let alone a casual relationship with another female.

"Well, thanks… for that."

"Just do you." I smiled genuinely and she chuckled, nodding in affirmation. "So," I turned to grab some apples and romaine lettuce out of the fridge, "I know we haven't had a chance to talk this week, what with our busy schedules and all, but I meant what I said about checking in with you to see how you were doing about—"

"Aiden," she blurted.

I glanced at her, surprised at her certainty that she hadn't forgotten, "Yeah."

"Well," Madison proceeded to settle on top of one of our barstools, "it's… confusing, to say the least. I could've sworn that he and Sasha were a thing, you know? He broke up with me, so what could he possibly want from me than to rub it in my face even more?"

"You never told me what went down when you told him." I started washing down and peeling the lettuce, facing her at the sink.

"Well, he knew Glen had been over because he found Glen's hat and all. You know that part." She explained as I nodded. "So, he called me out on it and I could've lied to him, like I actually contemplated lying, but I figured 'what's the point,' you know?"

"Sure, but what was the point in making out with Glen?" She gave me a pointed look and I immediately raised my hands in defense, "Not judging. Just asking."

"I don't know," she huffed, more frustrated with herself than the question at hand. "Glen and I have history, you know? And when he's around, we fall into this familiarity that I can't explain." She paused, with a slight smile on her face, taking a moment to acknowledge that about my idiot brother. Suddenly, her face turned pseudo-serious, "I blame him though, the fucking idiot that he is."

I chortled, "It's a two-way street, my friend."

"Well, he's so damn… good…" Madison whined, "Great at flirting! It sucks me in every time, I swear. He may be dumb as a doorpost, but the boy can charm, I'll give him that."

"God, you're so fucking easy," I laughed and she threw a dishtowel at me. "I'm joking!" She knowingly shook her head at me, a playful smirk tugging at her lips. "I don't get it though. If things are so great with Glen, why didn't you ever try getting back with him?"

Madison gave the question serious thought before we both knew the answer spurring on from her brain stem. "Because," she sighed, "deep down inside, I knew that what Aiden and I have, and would've had in the future if he didn't dump me, would've been worth any compliment your brother can throw. What Aiden and I had, even if he didn't show it some times—okay, most times—was really, really worthwhile. No fling with Glen could ever topple that."

"Did Aiden know that?"

"Hmm, no. The guy is like a brick wall! He doesn't do romantic. His idea of being romantic is telling me my ass looked plumper than usual," she rolled her eyes, as I smirked. That's Aiden being Aiden. "Which, in girl terms, means 'you're getting fat!' That's one of the reasons I fall back into Glen whenever he's around. He makes me feel beautiful and wanted."

"Much like what Jton does for you now?"

She inhaled sharply, about to feign insult, but her thoughts admitted to the validity of my question. "Jton is a charmer," she nodded. "And we're having fun. That's all!"

"Fine, fine." I began slicing at the strained lettuce.

"Huh," she pondered aloud, "maybe I am easy."

"I'm glad you've moved past the first stage of denial," I laughed.

"But yeah," Madison revisited the previous topic, "Aiden doesn't do romantic. He doesn't express feelings and emotions. It's like… guy code or something."

"But he was obviously jealous over the Glen issue to go so far as to break up with you, right?"

"Yeah, I guess that's his way of expressing himself." She scoffed, "That's what you get when you have two of the hottest people in Los Angeles in a constant power struggle of a relationship, trying to one-up the other."

"Eventually, one gives in."

"And that would be him."

"How do you figure?" I asked, trying to get her side of it even though Aiden's revelations from last week basically showed Madison had topped him. She didn't know that, though. She doesn't have to. "I hate to point out the obvious, but he dumped you and moved on to Sasha Miller."

"And yet, he's calling me."

"Aaaand… you freaked out about it."

"Hey, whose side are you on here?" Even though she said it with a smile, she was pretty serious about wanting to know why I kept raining on her parade.

"No one's, but it just goes to show that you ain't all that and a bag of potato chips. Neither of you are."

Madison scrunched her face, "Who says that anymore? No one takes you seriously if you're using lines from 1998."

"Thanks for the tip." I quickly dismissed her comment. "So, did you call him back?"

"I don't have reason to." Her ego was her worst defense. "Why should I?" She gawked at me like I was completely ridiculous for even asking.

"See, the way the telephone works is when someone calls you, it usually means they want to talk to you." I responded so matter-of-factly.

"Ah, thank god! I wasn't sure what that ringing piece of technology was used for."

"Seriously."

"No, Spence." Her tone became grave. "If he wanted to talk to me so badly, he would've left a message."

"Okay." I shrugged. I wasn't up for arguing with my roommate. I don't know how many times I would have to reiterate to her that it takes two to tango. Hmm… does anyone even say that phrase anymore?

"I'm over it, Spence. I'm above getting hurt again by that brick wall. And you should be supportive of me, trying to move on from all of this bullshit!"

"I am supportive. I just don't think Aiden knows how to communicate his feelings, for lack of better terms, with you. What if he realizes he fucked up? What then?"

"Well, tough shit. He's gonna have to try harder to get my attention. One missed call doesn't mean anything." She glanced at her nails, as if that would've shielded her from being so overly exposed to her roommate.

"You're absolutely right… and I understand."

There was an awkward silence that filled the room as the sound of the knife slicing through the crisp lettuce and bluntly hitting the chopping board orchestrated itself between Madison's inner monologues of assuring herself that she's not in the wrong. She knew I could hear them, which is what forced her to change the subject so abruptly.

"What time does Liz arrive?"

"She gets in…" I glanced at the clock on the microwave, "in about an hour. I'm gonna leave in a few to go pick her up." I watched her pick up one of the grilled asparagus spears I had already plated. She bit into the slight crispness of it, nodding her approval at the taste. "What are your plans tonight?"

"Oh, you know…" she shrugged, "the usual." Here Bar became Madison's go-to spot on Friday nights with Jton. She was starting to become a regular… what, with the bouncers and bartenders knowing her by name now. I don't know how she managed to get on their good graces after throwing up on one of them. "I better start getting ready." She hopped off the stool and pranced away towards her room. Soon, I could hear the shower running from behind her closed door.

I turned to the adjacent countertop and began sprinkling tiny chives and stirring them into the mash potatoes, when I heard an abrupt knock on the door. I figured Jton was here early, as usual, and would just watch TV here while she patiently waited for my roommate. I gave my hands a quick wipe before reaching for the knob.

When I opened the door, I immediately felt my face slack with seriousness. It had almost been a week since I'd seen her. Part of me was glad to see her. I had been thinking about her all week, and to finally see her right before my eyes just dumbfounded me. But the other part— the greater part of me— was upset that things were severely left in the air. There was no rhyme or reason (that I could figure out) as to why Ashley would tell me what she told me the night of the concert. How could she just… ninja me like that and drop everything on me like a ton of bricks with no explanation?! She knows I'm with Liz. Why would she do that?! Why would she mess with my head? More importantly, why was I letting her?! Ugh!

"Ashley," I broke the silence.

"Spencer, hey." She gave me a small smile as she let out a short breath. I gawked at her and willed myself to keep my gaze on her eyes and nowhere else. Never mind the fact that she looked gorgeous in just dark jeans and a cardinal hipster top under this dark grey cardigan. Ashley Davies was redefining casual wear. "Can I… come in?" She raised a brow.

"Uh… yeah." I stepped aside as she strolled right in, a spiral notebook tucked under her arm. I followed her, carefully watching her eyes pan around the room and at the table I had set.

"I'm here for Madison. I promised her I'd lend her my sociology notes for our final next week."

"She's in the shower." I threw my thumb towards the hallway.

"Hmm."

"So," my hands did this uncertain wringing gesture around my apron. "If you want, you can leave your notes and I'll be sure to let Mad know you stopped by."

Her gaze was suddenly on me, a hint of surprise in her eyes. "Kicking me out already?" Ashley smirked.

"Well," I scratched my forehead, not sure how to deal with her right now, "I'm kinda in the middle of cooking dinner and I have to leave soon. Sorry, I don't have the time to entertain guests right now."

Ashley looked me up and down, noticing my domestic look before she shrugged. "I don't mind." She moseyed over to the kitchen counter and sat on one of the bar stools.

I rolled my eyes behind her back and made my way to the kitchen to finish cooking. I proceeded to dice the red apples to throw into the salad, but I couldn't help but feel Ashley's stare boring into the side of my head. I sighed deeply, trying my hardest to just be happy at the fact that I was going to see my girlfriend in less than an hour.

I love Liz. I love her. Yes, I do!

"What's with the silent treatment, Carlin?" Her voice filled the small kitchen.

I scoffed, "I could ask you the same thing, Davies." I kept my eyes on the task at hand.

"What are you talk—"

"Umm," my eyebrows shot up while I still kept my gaze on the apple I was chopping, "I distinctly remember calling you several times this past week, but I guess you're too cool to answer your phone."

"I was busy." She retorted as if I should've known her schedule or something. Oh, please! How can she kiss me the way she did and tell me she's in love with me, and then avoid me like the bubonic plague all week, making some stupid excuse that she was busy?! I may be slow, but I'm not that slow.

"How convenient." I finally gazed back at her with slight annoyance as I threw the apple cubes in and tossed the salad.

"Geez, what's the big deal anyway?" She furrowed her eyebrows and had this strange, but slightly entertained smirk on her face… as if it pleased her that I was disturbed.

"Nothing, apparently," I shrugged, my gaze returning to the salad.

"Ashley!" My roommate waltzed right in, wearing her bathrobe. Perfect timing.

The brunette leaned back, removing her elbows from the counter, "I came by to drop off my sociology notes for you." She grinned at my roommate, which only annoyed me more that she wasn't the slightest bit frazzled. Ugh!

"Oh, awesome! Thanks!" Madison nodded. She turned towards me, "Spence, can I borrow your silky, red top? You know… the one that laces up on the sides?"

"Knock yourself out." I gently pulled the apron off of me.

"Heading out?" Madison's voice was surprisingly chipper.

"Yeah," I placed lids on all the hot food, "Gonna go pick her up now."

"Okay," she nodded, "You joining us at Here Bar after your little dinner?"

"Nah," I grabbed my purse, "I was thinking of having a quiet night in. We haven't seen each other for a whole week." I sighed with this smug smile on my face. "Probably catch a movie on Netflix and call it a night." I winked.

I was hoping that talking about Liz would elicit some sort of response out of the brunette, but the Ashley that was indifferently observing the idle chat between my roommate and I was a completely different Ashley than the one who confessed her feelings for me six days ago. It's like night and day! And you don't just pull that type of shit and pretend it never happened! It's just not… normal!

"Yawn… boring!" My roommate made a face at me before she turned to Ashley. "Please tell me you'd be down to hang out with your bestie and yours truly over at Here Bar." Madison pressed her hands together. "Please?"

"I'll try," she shrugged as she stood up, "but, I kinda have a date tonight, too."

What?!

I flinched for a second and even though Ashley's eyes were firmly placed on Madison's, I knew she saw me from her peripheral. I knew she saw that her words had an impact on me.

"Oh, whaaat?" Madison beamed with delight. "With who?!"

"Okay, bye guys!" I grabbed my keys and wordlessly walked out, interrupting the awkward brunette before she could answer.

I need to stop. Seriously. I need to stop thinking that the kiss was anything worth mentioning… much less, worth thinking about. She's acting like it didn't mean anything and I need to do the same.

I parked my car near the International Flights terminal and checked my watch one more time. Traffic down the 405 freeway to get to LAX was a killer. Liz landed 20 minutes ago and texted me once her plane was taxiing down the tarmac, but I knew going through customs and gathering her luggage would take some time.

I passed by a flower vendor and decided to pick up a small bouquet of red carnations. I took in the soft, sweet aroma wafting from the buds in full bloom as I made my way to the terminal. The exit terminal was packed with tons of people flagging down loved ones. You could see smiles on faces and warm hugs at the arrival of many that were just so excited to be in the presence of those waiting. I leaned against the railing and smiled to myself, enjoying this fascinating moment of people-watching that I don't get to do often. There's almost never a negative thought that passes my mind. Whatever the negative thought – lost luggage, delayed flights, screaming kids kicking the backs of chairs for hours on end – they whisked away the moment passengers were reunited with familiar faces.

I felt the tips of petals brush my nose as I inhaled the soft scent so deeply. The delicate scent was nowhere near comparable. The silky feel of the petals grazed my lips as I suddenly had the flashback of the moment her lips touched mine and I was engulfed in the moment. We were in our own world for what felt like hours, even though it was mere seconds. I remembered so vividly how Ashley's smile after our kiss stole the last bit of breath I had in me. And then… the moment was over, like in a dream.

I shook my head, trying to shake the thought away. God, I felt so wrong!

I lifted my eyes from the sea of red petals to see a dark-haired girl in the distance, her piercing eyes glancing back at me from behind those side-swept bangs. She smiled and I knew she was sincerely glad to see me. A wave of relief washed over me as I reacquainted myself to the feeling of being wanted. I smiled back at her, pushing myself off the railing and making small steps towards her. She rolled her black luggage behind those dark-washed jeans and I suddenly missed everything about her.

"Hey, I know you." I grinned as she stopped in front of me and encased me in her arms. I took in her familiar scent as the cellophane of the bouquet crinkled slightly. "I wasn't sure you'd find me in this busy terminal."

Liz chuckled, "It was easy. I just looked around for the hottest girl I could find and there you were."

I laughed as we let out of our embrace. "Beautiful flowers for the beautiful lady." I held the bouquet in front of her.

Her face lit up as she pressed them to her nose. I watched as the petals brushed her lips and her thoughts compared the silky feel to kissing me. I couldn't help the guilt that tried to creep up on me at the thought of how moments ago, I was thinking of the same thing… but it was someone else's lips on my mind. "They're amazing. Thank you, babe!"

I suppressed the guilt with a smile, "Anything for you." I reached around and grabbed her luggage as we proceeded to make our way out of the terminal.

On the car ride home, I held her hand firmly… to the point where I knew my hand was sweaty. I thought that maybe holding onto her would rid the guilt… that having her here and within reach would subdue any residual thoughts of the awkward brunette.

"How was your flight?" I looked over at her once we stopped at a red light.

"Oh, it was much better than going there." She glanced at me. "My connecting in Frankfurt was a short one. So, I didn't have to wait too long. I know the wait makes mom antsy. So, I'll be sure to have her take Lufthansa when she comes home."

"When's she coming home?" I turned and focused on the road as the light shone green.

"Next week. She wanted to spend more time with my aunts and uncles, which I think would be good for her anyway."

"You didn't want to stay longer?"

"Nah, I have a final next week." "I needed to get away," she shook her head and I gathered that the trip was a very solemn and intense one. "Besides," I glanced at her as her tune became a more jovial one, "I couldn't spend any more time away from you." Liz kissed the back of my hand. "I missed you."

"I missed you too, sweetie," I sighed my gratefulness, thankful that she was back.

I unlocked the door and switched the light on before throwing my keys on the countertop. Liz dragged her luggage in as I held the door open for her.

"Mmm," she sniffed at the succulent aroma in the room. "Something smells so good!"

"I hope you're hungry." I mumbled before leaning over and kissing her sweetly.

She kicked the door closed before her hands slipped through the front of my coat and slid around my hips. "Can we skip the main course and go straight to dessert?" Liz wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.

I wrapped my arms around her neck, chuckling before giving her nose a quick peck. "I like to keep it old school, you know? Wine and dine my girl first, but there will definitely be plenty of dessert." I managed to pry myself out of her grasp before I rolled her suitcase into my room. "Make yourself at home. I'll have dinner out shortly."

"Look at that," I heard Liz call out, "candles and everything." I took my coat off and threw it on my bed before making my way back. "You didn't have to go all out on me." She carefully lit the candles propped on the dining table.

"Of course I did," I mumbled against her cheek before kissing it sweetly. "You're worth it." I felt her cheek bulge from that smile as she turned, tossing her dark bangs to the side. She wrapped her arms around me and we shared a comforting, yet passionate kiss.

"What's that?" Liz pulled away for a second, her eyes trained on an object behind me.

"What?" I looked over my shoulder as she reached for a folded note on the countertop.

She read the note out loud, "'Welcome back, Liz. If you're not too jetlagged, come join us at Here Lounge. XO, Madison'"

Fucking Madison. I shook my head to myself. Way to spoil my night!

Liz chuckled, "Hey, look what she left me." Her secure arms left my body and soon she was amused by these Mardi Gras colored beads that had a plastic shot glass dangling from it.

"Oh Madison," I retorted evenly, not the least bit pleased, but I tried my best to smile it off. "You probably are jetlagged, which is why it would be great to enjoy dinner and stay in." I tried combating her thoughts on wanting to go drink and party.

She paused for a moment, weighing her options, before she looked up at me. "Yeah, maybe… we'll see." Liz shook her head, now realizing how rude that sounded. "I mean," she put down the beads and wrapped her arms around me, "of course we're going to enjoy this succulent feast you prepared."

"Thank you," I briefly hugged her before I proceeded to set dinner on the table. Liz grabbed one of Madison's unfinished bottles of white wine from the fridge and poured it at the table.

Once we both had full plates, we carefully dug into the chicken. It came out moist and perfect! I nodded, pleased with my creation.

"Mmm… this is such a tasty meal, sweetie." Liz mumbled, still munching on her food. She pursed her lips at me and I kissed her gently before she raised her glass. "Cheers to being home."

"I'll toast to that!" I lightly tapped it with my own before we sipped the crisp wine. "Glad you like the food!" I smiled at her as she reached out and brushed a strand of my hair behind my ear.

"So, how'd the concert go last weekend?" She smiled unknowingly.

"I-It was good! Best birthday gift ever, babe!" My tone was a tad higher than normal and she knew something was off. With the exception of the great music, everything was off! Where do I begin? Donny bailing, Melinda showing up, or Ashley making out with me?

"You're lying." She pointed out as she sifted through her salad with a half smile. "But, that's okay. You don't have to explain." Liz was hard for me to read. She spoke her thoughts, so reading them was futile. But her feelings almost always contradicted them and her emotions were pretty obvious. I wanted to make it better, but I didn't know how.

"I just missed you, that's all. It would've been nice to enjoy the concert together." If Liz was there, none of this would've happened and this unnecessary feeling of remorse would've never existed.

"She does know that my grandmother died, right?" "I know. I wish I was there, too." Liz gave me a tight-lipped smile and I felt like a totally insensitive asshole.

"Liz," I reached over and ran my fingers down the length of her forearm before gripping her hand. "You know I'm grateful for everything you've done for me, concert included… right?"

"Of course," she scoffed with a smile, as if my question was preposterous and out of the blue. "And I'm grateful for everything you've done for me, too."

"Okay, good." I wasn't quite satisfied with her answer, though I knew it was genuine. Thoughts of my insensitivity lingered about. My own thoughts. I was reeking of guilt. "So, tell me about your trip." Her smile dropped a bit, not in a drastically obvious way, but by her thoughts, it was clear that the subject was still a sensitive one.

"It was… okay." She concluded before dipping her fork into her salad.

My eyes turned downward as I picked at the apple cubes on my plate, listening to the crunch of the salad between her teeth. "Did you get to spend some time with your cousins? I remember you saying you're close to them."

"Yeah," she blurted. I bit into an apple cube and took a sip of the wine. "I saw them during the funeral and the days of mourning that followed, which is a religious custom for my family." I could see, then, how her trip had been a very somber one. Her time was spent mostly with family and the days of mourning were very quiet, somber days.

"I see," is all I could say. Death made me feel weird. It never made sense to me that one second someone's there, and another second, they're not. And I never knew the right thing to say or what I could do, if anything, to help.

"Hey, do you mind if we turn the television on or play some music?" Tears welled up in her eyes as she glanced at me. "It's a little too quiet in here for me." "…And I might start crying." She fought the urge.

"Yeah, not at all!" I jumped out of my chair and turned the stereo on, letting Madison's pop music play from her iPod.

I slowly walked up to my delicate girlfriend as she finished the last bites of her meal. "You must be tired." I gripped her shoulders firmly and started to massage the knots in her shoulders. "Wanna watch something on Netflix? They finally have Shark Week."

"Mmm…" she rolled her head and flexed her neck muscles as I continued massaging her. "I'm actually restless. Too much sedentary time spent on the airplane and I feel wide awake."

"What did you have in mind?" I said through gritted teeth, already knowing her answer.

She stood up with this boyish smile and gave me a peck on the lips. "It's Friday night! We should go rage or something. What do you think?"

I sighed. "Not what I had in mind, but whatever you want to do, I guess." I was hoping she'd be considerate and maybe we can compromise on an idea…

"Awesome!" She kissed my cheek and made her way towards my room. "I'm just gonna freshen up first."

…but of course, drowning out her feelings in liquor and pretending like they don't exist were the most alluring option. Feels like nothing's changed since she left.

Liz took my hand and twirled me around, gripping my hips and gyrating hers into mine. I tried my best to laugh it off, but I couldn't help shaking my head slightly. She gave me a quick kiss and made her way down the hallway.

"Oh, babe?" She stuck her head out from by room. My arms were firmly crossed as I looked up at her. "Thanks for dinner! It was the best meal I've ever had," she grinned. "Dessert when we get back?" Liz winked.

I gave her a half smile before she disappeared and I proceeded to put leftovers away. I bit into an asparagus and finished my wine. Well… so much for that.

When we got to Here Lounge, I had this overwhelming sense of discomfort. I was not in the mood for going out with my girlfriend. The music was deafening. The girls were way more intoxicated, which led to people bumping into one another and one girl spilling her AMF all over my shoes. Even though the patio was outdoors, I was choking on cloud after cloud of cigarette smoke. On any given night, I could easily join in on the fun and drown out the chaos. Hell… I could even indulge in it! But tonight, I was not feeling it.

"Hey! You guysss!" Jton yelled from her usual, faux candle-lit table. Madison looked up and was equally ecstatic to see us… more so my girlfriend than me.

"Liz!" She squealed, jumping up from her cozy spot next to Jton. I had to admit that my top looked really good on her, but that's beside the point. She's still a cock block… or I guess… a twat swat! "You maaade it!" Not to mention, my roommate's trashed.

I glanced around the table to see four unfamiliar faces – well, technically two. There was one couple heavily making out in the corner, and the other couple nestled into one another, having a very thought-provoking conversation on politics.

"Well, yeah! How could I miss this?" Huh… that's the biggest smile I've seen on my girlfriend's face in the past 2 weeks.

And as if on cue, Lady Gaga's Poker Face started blaring throughout the club.

"Oh. My. Fucking. Goodness!" Madison gawked at me as if I were the DJ. "This is my song!" My roommate bellowed almost louder than the song itself. "Let's dance!" She linked her arm around Liz's. Simultaneously, Jton handed her vodka soda over to my girlfriend as she chuckled to me over Madison dragging her down to the dance floor. "Don't worry, Spence!" My roommate yelled over her shoulder. "I'll return herrr!"

I waved them off with a tight smile, "Have fun!"

"M'ladyyy!" Jton was equally drunk. I turned towards her, surprised to see her jumping on the couch like Tom Cruise's 'I'm in love with Katie!' moment on Oprah. "What beverage can I pour you?"

"Oh my gosh, Jton!" I half gasped, half laughed at her. She jumped off, carefully stepping over her friends' feet… which was somewhat unsuccessful in her inebriated demeanor. Jton stumbled a little and I grabbed her before she crashed right into me.

"I'm… o-kayyy!" She nodded lazily, her soft bangs tousling my nose.

"You're quite the social butterfly." I referred to the table at large.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah!" Jton briefly glanced at them. "These are some of my buddies. Tha's Gina and Nichole over therrre." Gina's blonde, shaggy 'do was getting even shaggier the way Nichole kept running her hands through as they made out. I could barely see Nichole's face, hiding behind that curtain of wavy, mousy brown hair. The only thing I could tell was she must've been wearing bright red lipstick with the stains on Gina's white collar. "And tha's Shay and Sarinda." They briefly paused their conversation to acknowledge me. "Guysss! This is Spencerrr. She's fuckin' awesome!"

"Hey Spencer!" Shay stuck out her hand for me to shake. She looked like she could work for Hollister, with her long tan legs and toned body, yet she seemed like a great person to have an intellectual conversation with… that is, if you can look past the legs. I might've gawked a little longer than deemed appropriate, but she graciously let that slide.

"Nice to meet you!" Sarinda placed her Long Island down and smiled at me with pearly whites that contrasted her dark skin. Her button-up shirt was open, generously exposing her neck and ample cleavage.

I seriously don't mean to stare, but c'mon guys! It's been awhile since I've had sex with my emotionally detached girlfriend!

"Ah, I know! You like vodka cran." Jton turned to pour me a drink.

I chuckled, "You know me well!"

"Spencer?" I heard a familiar raspy voice.

I turned my head and god damn… I don't know if it was the sexual frustration that was building up, but I couldn't help how heavy my jaw felt when I saw this sultry body strut towards me in a black tunic dress that was loose and flowy up top, but tightly hugging the perfect curves around those hips and thighs. Long, gorgeous legs which, I must say, put Shay's legs to shame, stemmed from these studded, black pumps that fastened around the ankles.

"Ashley," I blurted until too much time had passed for it to be deemed utterly awkward of me, Miss Gawky Gawkerson. I ripped my eyes from below and, with every effort, glanced at that pretty little face, framed in brown curls and red bangs.

"Didn't expect to see you here." She genuinely seemed surprised. "I thought you and Liz—"

"She wanted to go out." I nodded in absolution.

"Oh, well… I'm glad she got back safely!" Ashley smiled before she sipped her drink – a Dirty Martini. "Where is she?"

"On the dance floor with Madison."

"Hmm."

"Here you go, m'lady!" Jton handed me my drink before she plopped down next to Shay and Sarinda.

"How'd your dinner turn out?"

"It was great!" I nodded before she nodded with me. Great. We were having this highly superficial conversation, when I knew she could give two shits about what I cooked for my girlfriend.

"Great!"

"Right." I rolled my eyes.

"What?" She furrowed her eyebrows.

"Look, I know you don't really give a shit about the dinner… or what I did for my girlfriend… any of it, really."

"I don't?"

"No, you're just being polite and it annoys the shit out of me." I was being honest for once.

"Why?"

"Are we ever going to talk about it?"

"Talk about what?"

"C'mon, Ash! Don't play dumb with me… please!"

She looked behind me, concerned someone would eavesdrop. "Let's go over here." She motioned towards the bar away from the music and dance floor. I followed her and, at the same time, I was putting my foot down – she needs to talk. I've done a lot of talking already.

When we got there, I leaned over the counter, my eyes glued on the shelves of alcohol behind the busy bartender. Ashley leaned her back on the counter, facing opposite of me, but also not looking at me.

"Well?" I huffed.

"Spence," she finally turned towards me, "there's nothing to talk about. I think I made myself pretty clear that I don't want to cause any problems."

"What if you weren't the one causing problems, Ash? What then?" I gawked back at her, waiting for a response that would never come. She opened her mouth to say something, but stopped herself.

"Can we just… forget it ever happened, Spence?" Ashley spoke so calmly. For some weird reason, I felt a pang in my chest.

"You kissed me, Ash. You told me you love me!"

"I know what I said!"

"And now you're asking me to for—"

"I'm not asking," she shook her head, "I'm begging you to forget what I said."

"Then, why'd you say it?!"

"I didn't mean it!" She blurted. Another pang. "I was… confused. You touch me and something happens to me, and I can't think right!" I just shook my head at her, biting my tongue from saying awful things and holding down the urge to slap her... and then kiss her. Ugh, what's wrong with me? This is so frustrating. "I'm sorry, Spencer. I shouldn't have done what I did that night. I was out of line."

Why did it hurt? Did I want it to be true?

"Fine," I snarled. "Consider it forgotten."

"Hey, there you are." A voice squealed from behind me as I turned around. She was this dark-haired girl in a scantily clad dress, gawking at the awkward brunette next to me. "It got a little lonely waiting for you in the bathroom. What took you?" She now glanced at me, slightly annoyed at my presence as jealousy swarmed her mind.

Ashley threw on a smile and was now sporting her game face, having that dangerously coy look that could bait any girl. But because I knew better, all I could see was the old Ashley and the look I had come to hate.

"I ran into a good friend of mine," the brunette signaled her over, snaking an arm around her once she was within reach. I would hardly consider Ashley as a friend at this point, but hey, I'm a good sport. I can play along with the charade. "This is Spencer."

The girl needed no introduction. I recognized that fake-flower-in-hair look. "Nice to meet you," I nodded, refusing to extend a hand.

"Spencer," Ashley's gaze landed on me, "This is Leilani, but I'm sure you knew that already."

I squinted at her, trying to figure out what type of game she was trying to play here.

"Oh yeah? And why's that?" The dark-haired girl spoke out of curiosity.

"Because I've heard so much about you… from Ashley." Two can play this game. "She's always talking about you."

Leilani's eyes gleamed and her smile grew wide. "Really?"

"Yeah," I smirked, knowing my tone was dripping with spite, "You're really something special."

I don't know why I didn't just shut my mouth and walk away. The bullshit I was feeding Leilani caused the girl to squeal and aggressively press her sloppy mouth (God knows where that's been!) all over Ashley's divine lips. I felt the bile in my stomach stir and I had wished I vomited right then and there… right all over her white stilletos. I hate her. Something about her spells "pretentious." I wasn't sure what it was, but I got that vibe.

This strange bitterness that consumed me was also confusing. Maybe I hated the idea of Ashley dating… because that meant we wouldn't be able to hang out as much. Maybe I missed her… or I mean… I missed hanging out with her. I was just getting to know her and now someone else gets to see the intimate side of Ashley. And now, this hussy's thin, shitty lips had tainted the perfection that is Ashley's. There's a reason why people in museums yell at you for touching the art. I was about to do the same when Madison plopped down onto the bar right next to me.

"Biiiiitch!" She spun me around before laughing at her drunken stupor. "Spencerrrrrr… I fucking loooove youuu!"

"Grow your own Spencer." Liz draped her arm over my shoulders, nestling herself on the other side of me. "This one's mine, Mad!" She joked.

Madison grinned, "Ffffffucking Liz. You're so… awesome."

"Of course I am!" She smirked as she tried to flag down the bartender.

My roommate turned to me, "So, you've met Leilani, right? Is she totally hot or what?!" I nodded, failing miserably at acting impressed, but she wouldn't have noticed otherwise. "Jton and I did goooood!"

"Eh, she's not really my cup of—"

"Madison, babe!" Jton wrapped her arms around my roommate's waist and I was suddenly invisible to her. She whispered something in her ear along the lines of wanting to dance, which masked her real intention of wanting to shamelessly make out.

"Be right back, Spence!" Madison blurted before Jton dragged her away with such resolve.

"Three dollars!" The bartender yelled over the music as Liz drew some bills from her wallet. I turned to her and couldn't help but notice the back of Ashley's head from the other side of my girlfriend. It didn't take a genius to tell that she was still at the mercy of those thin, shitty lips. The bitterness in me grew like a gnarly tumor once the realization set in that while Ashley was avoiding me all week, she was courting this tasteless and unworthy being.

"It's happy hour, sweetie!" Liz grabbed the very blue AMF in front of her. She threw the straw aside and began gulping eagerly. "Three-dollar well drinks. Did you want something to drink?"

That question… and being in this moment and being in a place and situation I didn't want to be in just made me hit a wall. Nothing about tonight sat right with me. Not the happy hour drinks and the ridiculously loud music. Not Ashley and that fake flower girl. Not Madison's desire to rain on my plans. Not the sex appeal that was all around me and the sexual frustration that was building. And certainly not Liz and her desires to drown out her issues. That's when it hit me: We're that couple that seems right as rain on the outside, but doesn't ever resolve our issues on the inside. We're that couple that never talks about their problems. How did we ever get here? I couldn't take it. It was too much for me to deal with in that moment.

"No thanks, hun. You enjoy yourself." I turned to leave, but Liz grabbed my hand.

"Whoa. What's going on?"

"This," I shook my head, crossing my arms, "just isn't my scene tonight. I'm going home."

"C'mon, Spence." She scoffed. "I haven't seen you all week. I just wanted to spend some time with you."

"Yeah, well," I shrugged, "so did I, but you seem to want to acquaint yourself with the Cuervo. So, I'm gonna go."

"I thought you wanted to have fun tonight."

"You wanted to have fun. You wanted to go out. I wanted to stay in and just enjoy being with my girlfriend. Is that too much to ask?"

"Wait," she placed her drink on the bar, "why is it always about you?"

I furrowed my eyebrows. "Excuse me? I've done nothing but bend over backwards for you. I've been doing all these nice things for you and have been patiently waiting for you to want to talk to me about what's going on with you."

"Look who's talking! You can't even be so honest as to tell me how the concert went."

"Alright, you want to know? I had a shitty time! Donny bailed on me and I ran into my ex. Not the way I wanted to spend my evening." Not to mention, the brunette behind you made out with me and confessed her feelings for me, bailed on me, and later told me she didn't mean it. Oh yeah! Can't forget that!

She pinched the bridge of her nose, "I wish you could be a little more sensitive to the fact that I just lost my grandmother, Spence. I told you I would've been there if—"

"I'm not insensitive, sweetie! I get that! But you gotta give me something here. You're so closed up, I don't know what to do." I threw my hands up in frustration.

"And the times I want to talk to you," she started counting on her fingers, "you cut our date short, you forget we have a lunch date, you're filling someone's shift at the café, you're locked in a bathroom…"

"That's not my fault, Liz!" I interrupted.

"I know, but my point is… you're never there."

"How can you even say that?" I was utterly flabbergasted.

"And even when you are there, you look like you've got more important things on your mind like…"

"Ashley?!" I heard this shrieking noise. "What the fuck?!"

I glanced to my right and noticed a fuming, messy blonde push her way to the brunette. She slapped Ashley on the shoulder. It was Yvette. Oh, great. As if the universe didn't think this moment was chaotic enough.

"Take it easy, Yvette." Ashley held her hand up, trying to quell the situation.

"Is this the skank you dumped me for?!" Well, she's one to talk.

Leilani scoffed, "Oh hell no…" She started to inch up to the crazy blonde. Suddenly, I heard a loud smack and saw Ashley face turned to the side. The bitch slapped Ashley!

Without hesitation, I threw my drink at her. Yvette gasped and watched the droplets run down her outfit.

"Don't you ever lay your hands on her!" I shoved her back. "Get the fuck out!"

"…Spencer?!" Her look changed from angry to desperate. "Hey, how come you never called me?" The girl was a hot mess, minus the hot. She was also quite inebriated. Go figure.

"Because I'm not attracted to trash, but I'll call you if I've severely lowered my standards."

Her expression went back to raging and she charged at me like a bull to a matador. "You little shit!" Before she could reach me, a tall burly man grabbed her around the waist and picked her up. "Get off me!" She flailed her arms and legs about.

"You four… out." He barked sternly, allowing us a head start before he let the crazy bitch out into the wild.

I turned to look at Ashley who seemed a bit shocked at how things had turned out. But even though it wasn't my most graceful moment, I could see the gratitude in her eyes.

Liz, on the other hand, looked thoroughly disappointed and embarrassed. But, I'm sure it had to do with something more than the fact that I'd ruined her happy hour.

She trudged up next to me. "Maybe your response to that girl should've been about the fact that you're already in a relationship." Are you serious right now?! "But I guess it shows me where I rank in the scheme of things." Ouch.

She brushed past me and made her exit. I turned and watched her walk away as the fearful realization hit me that I just might be seeing her walk away from me more often that not… because, God forbid, we actually talk our issues out.

"That was really cool of your friend to do that," Leilani muttered to the awkward brunette. Oh yes, that's me. Ashley's friend. Never mind that we were introduced a few minutes ago. No, Ashley's friend does not have a name.

"Yeah," Ashley husked. "Let's go." Her tone seemed indifferent to the flower girl. Maybe Ashley was just as distracted as I was. I don't know. It was a clusterfuck of mixed signals that I didn't have time to analyze at the moment. Besides, she made it pretty damn clear she wanted me to forget about her.

I wordlessly rushed out before them. Before I had to look at Ashley again. Because if I had to look at her one more time tonight, I knew that forgetting her would be impossible.