Hey everyone! How's it going? :D Happy 2014! LOL better late than never, right? Well, I hope your year is off to a great start and just gets better from here on out! :)

So, I've been messing with this chapter for awhile now cuz I prewrote some scenes a few years ago and had to properly fuse them with the new stuff. I also had to do a bit of editing cuz I didn't wanna throw out an overly dramatic chapter, but the drama in this chapter that I can only describe as a total clusterfack was pretty fun to write (I won't spoil it for you)! I'm working on the next chapter, but just wanna do it right, ya know? So, please forgive me for the lag time? *bats eyelashes* Pretty please? I know, I know... we're all not getting any younger. I'm working on it though! Oh and... just out of curiosity, what other era/country would you have liked to see historic Ashley traverse? :)

A ginormous THANK YOU and a huge HUG to you for reading and/or reviewing! I very much appreciate the support and the feedback! You're the reason the story keeps going... 5 years later! Thanks for sticking with it! SPECIAL thanks to the beta for drama-certifying this chapter, xdarkphoenix (i really hope this chapter lives up to your standards!), son-lyn (it's getting there!), kairiSD (hi friend! how's college life?), Godlove, Ryoko05 (i vote for crumbling to the ground lol), trmack9 (are you watching the new rw?), harley quinn davidson, doble vida, babykennedy (i take coffee for bribery lol jk), lalalalee (thanks for putting up with the gaps! this cycle is def on repeat!), who cares, kooks78, hijkay, lynettecullen, hollymarie4 (if it's spashley you want, then i feel i must oblige :), wolf2468, sorryimcanadian (2 days? wow, that's fast!), and compelledbylove.

Hope you guys enjoy! Happy MLK Day! :) 1.20.14

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

9:54 am. Saturday, April 11.

I was sprawled out across the couch in my favorite plaid pj's, phone in hand. I would keep pressing the menu button to check the screen for any missed calls or text messages, but it would still leave me with the same unsatisfactory outcome – just the date and time glaring back at me.

9:55 am. Saturday, April 11.

No, nothing's wrong with my phone. My phone works perfectly fine. The ringer volume is on max, but I'm convinced that I've missed her call or there was a lag in the text message delivery. I've got full bars and I was running out of excuses.

I sighed.

Every time I pressed the menu button and the display mocked me in such brilliance, I imagined it would say to me, "Sorry, loserface, but you should get used to disappointment."

Suddenly, I heard Madison's bedroom door open and her bare feet shuffling across the carpet. I could hear her thoughts as she momentarily paused at my door to see if I was up, and I automatically cringed at the impending interrogation.

She walked around the couch and didn't give me so much as a single look, yet I felt vulnerable in her presence. I watched her from my peripheral, pretending to be preoccupied with my disappointing phone as she plopped down in the adjacent loveseat.

Madison curled up against the armrest, proceeding to play with the threads on one of the throw pillows she picked out from Target when we first moved in together, still not addressing my presence, though I could clearly hear the question lingering in her mind.

"So," her voice was louder than necessary, but that's Madison for you, "what the hell happened last night?!"

I rolled my eyes, purposely throwing my useless phone into the abyss between the couch cushions. "I don't wanna talk about it." I crossed my arms, staring at the ceiling.

"Really? Are we five now?" Madison quipped.

I finally sat up and glanced at her as she looked at me questioningly. "Well, I was drunk last—"

"Bullshit, Spence! You had half a glass of wine! That's not enough to even get you buzzed and you know it." She cocked her neck at me. "Try to pull that one on someone who doesn't know your alcohol tolerance."

"What do you want me to say, Mad?" I mumbled dejectedly.

"That you're an idiot." She crossed her arms.

"Fine. I'm an idiot." I shrugged. "Happy?"

"Not remotely." She paused. "I just don't get why you put on this whole pony show to dance around the issue instead of going after what you want."

What I want is so fucking complicated.

But before we get to that, let's rewind about 24 hours.

10:05 am. Friday, April 10.

I stared intently at my phone as I ate some Puffins cereal. The apartment was severely quiet, despite the loud chewing of my crunchy peanut butter breakfast. Madison didn't come home last night… and neither did Liz. I guess I should've seen that one coming, but it wasn't like her to forget to text me "goodnight" when she got in.

I already texted her the moment I woke up, but hadn't received a response. I took a sip of the strong cup of coffee I brewed and debated calling her. If I couldn't get a hold of her, this was going to be more than impossible to get her to come to dinner.

Suddenly, my phone chimed loudly.

10:11 am – Madison: hey roomie! we crashed at jtons. r we set for 2nite?

I raised a brow. So, everyone bunked up at Jton's then?

10:12 am – Spencer: not yet. so, liz is with u?

10:14 am – Madison: its just ash, lei, jton and i. thought she was with u?

I made a face. Lei? Since when were Madison and flower girl on nickname basis? Plus the visual of a foursome slumber party sent chills down my spine like nails on a chalkboard.

10:16 am – Spencer: nope, but i'll let u know about dinner asap

I had nothing to report to Madison. So, I decided to swallow the rest of my invigorating coffee—along with my pride—and give Liz a call.

First thing's first: Must find the girlfriend.

Four rings and… "You've reached the voicemail box of… 3-1-0…" I ended the call. At least her phone wasn't off.

I thought of how much easier it would be to let plans fall through the cracks and just call it a day, but I know my friends were pretty excited about the idea of an intimate and proper send off. So, I had to put my selfish desires aside for a moment.

I picked up a grande Americano at the café and a nice cream cheese-filled crepe at this French bakery Liz loves before heading over to her place a few minutes away.

I parked the car in one of the guest spots below her place. The blinds were shut and it didn't look like anyone was home. I glanced at my phone one last time.

11:02 am. Friday, April 10.

There was still no response from Liz. So, I carefully exited the car with coffee in hand. I walked up the hollow steps that made my feet sound heavier than they actually were. I knocked on the heavy wooden door in front of me with my free hand. It had been awhile since I'd stayed at Liz's apartment, much less visited. She always found it more convenient to stay at my place which was much closer to school. But now that finals were over, I'm sure she didn't feel the need to… though there were other implied reasons.

I knocked a little louder after there was no answer. I started to hear footsteps grow closer as they shuffled across the linoleum.

There was a pause, and I know she was looking through the peephole. The loud clank of the deadbolt sounded and the knob turned defiantly before the wooden door was ripped from its fitted frame with much protest.

Liz opened the door just slightly enough for me to notice I had woken her. She kept her glances to the floor as the bright sun shining against the faded paint of her door contrasted greatly with the dimmed interior of her place.

"Hey," she grumbled, not the least bit pleased with my impromptu appearance. Her stoic demeanor spoke as voluminously as her grumpy thoughts.

"Hey," I responded softly. "Sorry for waking you. I just wanted to drop off some breakfast and see you."

"Come inside," she mumbled, shielding her eyes as she pulled the door open a little wider. I stepped in and had to let my eyes adjust a bit. Her place was spotless, with the exception of a lone glass filled with a little bit of water, just sitting on the countertop by the sink. I noticed a sheer layer of dust collecting on the appliances that she never used… mostly because she was always at my place. But, she had cinnamon diffuser sticks that kept the apartment smelling like it was being inhabited.

I placed the coffee and crepe box on the dining table as she plopped down on one of the seats. She buried her face in her hands, still feeling sleepy and hoping for the life of her that I didn't come to argue.

"I didn't know you were stopping by."

"I tried to call you, but you must've been knocked out."

"Yeah, I was. It's early."

"It's 11. I didn't think you'd still be in bed."

She reluctantly grabbed the cup of coffee and sipped it slowly, since it was still piping hot. "I'm hungover."

"You didn't come over last night." I pulled out a chair and sat adjacent to her.

She sighed behind her palms before she rubbed her face and ran her fingers up through her messy hair. "I got home at about 4 in the morning. I didn't wanna disturb you."

"That wouldn't have bothered me, but I understand." I watched as she opened the box of crepes. She took a quick glance before carefully putting the lid back on.

"Thanks for breakfast. You didn't have to do that."

"It was a big night last night. It's the least I could do to congratulate you." Our conversations no longer seemed emotionally charged. It felt like a business deal. A proposition. We were being cordial with one another, avoiding any talk that would stir up conversations about our relationship issues.

I was tempted to ask her why she didn't tell me ahead of time how much of a big deal her performance was, but that would definitely open up Pandora's box and wouldn't be an optimal situation to lure her to dinner.

"I appreciate it," she gave me a small smile as she played with the hair on the back of her head.

"Well," I cleared my throat, "I actually came by to see if you were free tonight. Maybe we could grab dinner before you leave tomorrow morning."

"Why does that sound like a bad idea?" She thought guiltily as she arbitrarily pulled her dark bangs to the side. "Maybe. I have a lot to do before I go. I've got several loads of laundry and some packing to do, and I gotta check in with my mom and make sure everything's okay with her before I leave."

"Look, I promise I won't talk about us, okay?" I found myself negotiating our business deal, hoping to come to a consensus. "Let's just have one celebratory dinner before you leave and I don't see you for a week."

The corner of her lips curled into a smile.

11:20 am – Spencer: we are go for dinner. buca's on 2nd. we'll be there at 7!

11:23 am – Madison: sweet! cant wait!

I left Liz to tie up loose ends, run her errands, and do her chores. The night seemed promising and I think it was relieving to both of us that we weren't going to get into it about where our relationship was going. And knowing the gang was going to be there helped take the pressure off of me to come up with lively and thought-provoking conversational topics to prevent awkward silences.

The hard part was over.

Knock on wood!

I picked up Liz about half an hour before dinner. We were both dressed pretty casually, carefully not exerting too much effort into acting like everything was normal. The car ride to dinner was fairly quiet, but wasn't too excruciating. I was happy to hear that Liz got everything done that she needed to do and that her mom was doing just fine. We managed to score some pretty sweet parking on the street right in front of the restaurant.

So far, everything was turning out alright!

"There she is!" Madison's voice squealed over the boisterous chatter of others dining in the same room. It nearly alarmed Liz, but when she saw the table of friends applauding her, she immediately turned to me.

"You planned this?" She smirked.

"We wanted to wish you well." I smiled, patting her back and leading her to the table.

"Wow! You guys!" Liz grinned. "What is all this for?"

"Celebrating your awesome performance, part two!" Jton wrapped an arm around her and handed Liz a stiff drink on the rocks. Everyone else followed suit and hugged my girlfriend. Unfortunately, that included the pretentious flower girl who had been draping herself all over Ashley up until that point.

We took our seats at a round table sitting in a circular nook that was framed in white pillars. The walls were covered in all those random and funny black-and-white photos of hairy men and crazy nuns eating spaghetti and messy pizzas. Above us sat this antique-y chandelier that lit the room dimly with off-white and red bulbs.

I sat to Liz's left. Next to me were Madison and Jton. To Liz's right sat Leilani and Ashley. Everyone was enthralled to hear about the tour schedule, now that Liz had all the details. However, I couldn't help these subtle-to-the-naked-eye glances Leilani was throwing to Jton. It was irritating, to say the least, considering that she grinned unabashedly and turned her attention to Ashley anytime Ashley looked adoringly at her. I knew she was pretentious for a reason. I just couldn't quite put my finger on it yet.

The waitress brought over pitchers of sangria, which was a nice distraction to everything – the weird tension between Jton and Leilani, Ashley's odd adoration for the flower girl, Madison's confusion over current and past love interests slash hook-ups, and mine and Liz's unspoken issues. Outwardly, everyone seemed civilized, but inwardly, weird and interesting things were brewing.

"So, what's your schedule looking like, Liz?" Madison asked before taking the first of many sips.

"Well, we're all taking the tour bus down to San Diego tomorrow. We'll be working our way up to Irvine, LA, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and then all the way up to San Jose and Frisco." She nodded, as the others sat in congratulatory amazement.

"Dude, that sounds so awesome! How many of you are going?" Jton placed her hand on the back of Madison's chair. I don't know why, but I instinctually glanced at Leilani who was squeezing Ashley's arm a little tighter. It seemed like a strategic game of chess between the two.

"There are twelve of us going, not including the main headliners."

"Hey, you should totally give us a shout when you become famous and go on interviews like on E! True Hollywood Story! We're like your first fans." Miss Pretentious chimed in. I squinted at her in absurdity. Who does this girl think she is? She doesn't even know Liz! She's just some random girl who managed to squeeze herself into our little group.

My girlfriend chuckled, "I doubt I'd ever make it that big, but your guys' support has meant the world to me. I'd definitely be an ass not to give a shout to you guys while on the tour."

"Especially to Spencer." Ashley's voice caught my attention. "She's truly understanding and supportive to let you go on your own for the week." Was it me or was that laced with a little bit of contempt?

"She's… the best." Liz glanced at me, but not for too long or else we'd all catch how fabricated that statement was.

"I wonder if spoken word artists pick up as many groupies as rock stars. Damn, I really need to learn how to spout poetry like Shakespeare." Jton sipped from her glass and although it was a superficial thought, it made me a bit unnerved.

"Hi, welcome to Buca's! Are we ready to order?" The waitress stepped in.

"Hey," Madison whispered over to me while the waitress went around and took orders, "Guess who's been trying to call me."

I gave her an incredulous look, "Did you max out your credit card again?"

"Oh please! Not since Nordie's had that half yearly sale and I had to buy their entire summer collection." She rolled her eyes as I smirked. "No, but Aiden's been calling me. He left a message the other day that he wanted to talk."

I raised a brow, "Okay? And?"

"You don't think that's a little weird?"

"The guy wants to talk. It doesn't mean anything, Mad."

"Yeah, but this is Aiden we're talking about. Aiden doesn't do conversations."

I chuckled because Aiden and I have acclimated to one another and now I realize how much of a girl he is inside. "Stop being such a tool and talk to him."

"Yeah, but—"

"And for you, ladies?" The waitress came around.

My phone rang and I wondered who could be calling, considering everyone I talk to was sitting right in front of me, sans flower face. It was Glen. I quickly declined his call and mumbled my order, slightly distracted.

"Who was that?" Liz turned to me.

"Just Glen." I shrugged. "I'll call him later."

She looked pointedly at me, "It could be important."

"If it was, he'd leave a message." I quipped.

My phone rang again.

"Told you so," Liz looked at me knowingly. "Try not to ignore everyone who cares about you now."

I rolled my eyes and stood up, "I'll be right back." I walked to the restaurant lobby. "Hello?"

"Hey Spence!"

"Hey Glen." There was this awkward pause as I waited for him to respond. "Hello?"

"What's all that noise in the background?"

"I'm at Buca's. What's up?" I didn't particularly care for the small talk.

"Oh? What's the occasion?" But he insisted.

I sighed, "Liz is going on a spoken word tour and we're just celebrating with her before she leaves."

"Oh cool! Tell her congrats for me, will ya?"

"Yeah, okay," I shrugged. "What's up? Why'd you call?"

"Well, that sounds perfect that she'll be out of town so you can come up to Santa Barbara."

"And why would I have any interest in going to Santa Barbara?"

"Mom's finally getting discharged this weekend. So, Clay and I thought it'd be great to throw mom a 'welcome home' dinner on Monday. Just the family… with Chelsea of course."

"Mm… I don't know, Glen. I think my being there would only stir the pot. She practically had a seizure just seeing me again during our hospital visit."

"Don't be silly, Spence, she's just—"

"No, Glen! When are you going to grow a brain and realize that mom and I don't get along. We never have and we never will!"

"Can you stop being selfish for two seconds and think about your family for once?"

"You're such an ass! This conversation is over!"

"Chill out and think about it—"

I pressed the "End Call" button.

I was so pissed! Where does Glen come off telling me that I'm the selfish one? Why am I supposed to cater to my mom? What… just because she was hospitalized? I've already gone above and beyond in my efforts to restore our relationship, but it's obvious she's not having it. Maybe he needs to talk to her about it! Sheesh!

I stormed into the bathroom and ran my hands under some cool water, just to calm myself down and clear my thoughts. I glanced at the mirror and saw my reddish complexion, my heart still beating in rage. The back of my cool hand felt nice against my warm forehead.

"Shut up," someone whispered from the closed stall. At first, I thought it was the sound of the water running, until I heard the unmistakable sound of giggling and… kissing?

"You're such a bitch sometimes," another whispered before the kissing noises continued.

I cleared my throat rather blatantly and shut the water off, letting the unidentified couple know that they're not as discreet as they think they are.

"Shh," someone whispered.

I rolled my eyes, "Is there someone in here?" I looked past my reflection in the mirror to the small crack between the door and stall, and noticed a dark shadow.


I raised a brow, "Jton?"

Jton laughed nervously, "Fancy meeting you here!"

"Who woulda thunk with this very public bathroom, huh? Go figure!" I smirked as I wiped my hands.

"Ha… yeaaaaah." She laughed again, "So, this isn't awkward."

"You guys are such freaks," I shook my head, grabbing the bathroom door handle. "I'll let you and Mad get back to it. I was just leaving anyway." I giggled as the door shut behind me.

"No wait—"

Boy, was Madison more confused than ever… with her Aiden issues and hook ups with both Glen (gag!) and Jton. I chuckled to myself as I returned to the table…

Only to see Madison sitting there, debating on whether or not she should respond to a text she received from Aiden… and what looked like a heated debate between Ashley and Liz on who was more timeless: Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Marc Smith.

"I don't know how you can compare a hardly known Victorian poet to the likes of the father of slam poetry." Liz scoffed.

"Oh, please! We all know Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was practically the forefather and inspiration to spoken word today!" Ashley responded as Liz rolled her eyes. "Who doesn't know Browning's Sonnet 43?!"

Liz smirked, "Sonnet what?"

Wait... if Madison's here, then who's with Jton?

I turn around to see Jton looking flushed and Leilani trailing behind, brushing her messy locks down.

Oh, no they didn't!

"Please don't say anything." Jton had the nerve to mumble to me as she brushed past me. I looked at Leilani who didn't even look like she cared that she got caught. I knew there was something shady about this girl!

Ashley sat up with an incredulous look on her face. "'How do I love thee, let me count the ways?' How do you not know that poem?! It's a classic!"

Liz laughed boisterously, "Get with the times, Ash! Poetry now is very in-your-face and real! None of that dainty crap!"

"Dainty my ass," she mumbled to herself as Leilani immediately went to tend to a somewhat fuming brunette.

"Order me a drink… please?" Flower girl batted her eyelashes. I looked down at Liz as she sat back and laughed to herself in all her haughtiness, thinking she knew everything there is to know about poetry now that both the wine—and the fame—have gone to her head.

I slapped her arm, "What's the matter with you?" I whispered to her, "Keep it to a two-drink minimum, will you?"

"Yes, mother." She squinted at me, not the least pleased with my tone. Liz already made up her mind that she wasn't going to listen to anything I said, even if it was for her own benefit. At this point, it really did feel like a parent-to-child relationship with my bratty, immature girlfriend. "By the way, I ordered you the chicken limone."

"But I hate capers," I said evenly. She knows I hate them.

"It's okay. You can pick them off." She sipped her sangria.

Ashley's dagger-like glances at Liz quickly softened at the flirtatious teasing of that pretentious flower girl. Now, I could feel myself giving her the evil eye as I noticed Jton in my peripheral, cautiously glancing at me from behind my roommate who was overly preoccupied with her phone.

"Please don't say anything. Please don't say anything." Her thought rang in my head. I briefly turned my head and gave her a dirty look.

"How could you?" I mouthed, not caring the least bit that I wasn't so subtle.

"How could you what?" Madison quipped. I didn't realize she finally tore her eyes away from her phone. She glanced at both of our faces.

"How could you do that to your—"

"Shit! I totally forgot!" Jton blurted, her eyes in a slight panic.

"Forgot what?" Madison was more confused than ever.

"The cake!" Jton responded in a hushed tone. "I was supposed to ask the waitress to bring a surprise cake for Liz."

"Aww, that's such a sweet idea!" Madison whispered… which hardly qualified as quiet, but it didn't faze Liz who was busy drinking excessively and talking to that player sitting across the table. Leilani was only making Liz's head grow beyond proportion as she predicted the lavish life my girlfriend would have very soon. For some reason, Ashley looked out of her element which was surprising to me, considering the riches she had to her name in Portland. Then again, she was never the type to outwardly flash the materialistic things she had.

"Yeah! So, Mad, can you distract our celebrant while I talk to the waitress?" She then glanced at me, "Spence, you mind going with me for a sec to order the cake?"

I silently complied as I stood up. I didn't feel the slightest bit entertained or pleased about the chaotic night at hand. I had nothing nice to say to Jton at that point. She followed me to the front, just down the hall from the scene of the crime. When we got to the lobby, I abruptly turned and glared at her.

"Okay," she had her hands up, gesturing me to calm down. "Take it easy, Spence."

"Take it easy?! How could you, Jton?" I couldn't help the volume of my voice that matched just how infuriated I was. "Ashley's your best friend!"

"You don't think I know that?" She gestured as if I was stating the obvious.

"Clearly not!"

"C'mere." Her voice softened as she tugged on my forearm, leading us out the front door. I tugged my arm back as I continued to follow her. I could tell she was nervous about one of our friends witnessing our little spat.

"And what about Madison? What exactly are you doing with her then, huh?" The bitterness in my tone was mellowed out by the rushing traffic. "If you think you can mess with the people I care about, then you have another thing coming!"

"Madison and I aren't serious. We're just having fun. You should know that!"

"Right." I scoffed. "You don't do straight girls… well, technically you do do them, but—"

"Isn't it obvious, Spence?" She leaned up against the window pane, crossing her arms and looking so pointedly at me. "She's still hung up on that Aiden guy… and I'm not all about that drama, okay?"

"Ironic, considering your recent hookup choice and who she's currently dating." I rolled my eyes. "Do you like my roommate or not?"

Jton's eyes panned across the traffic, the brisk air blowing her bangs across her gaze. I already knew the words that she was about to utter, but the second she does, maybe she can stop making it so complicated for everyone.

"I like Lei." Her tone was sincere as she looked back at me, "I really like her, Spence. And I think she likes me, too."

"I can tell by the way she's got herself all over Ashley," I mocked.

Jton scoffed, "She's just doing that to get a rise out of me. She knows I like a girl that plays hard to get."

"Umm, she's with Ashley, Jton." I reiterated. "I don't know how to spell it out for you, but—"

"I know, I know," she shook her head as she glanced at her shoes, "she likes me though… and I like her."

"So, when are you planning on telling Ashley, your best friend?" I felt like guilt-tripping the hell out of her because I still think the cheating is bullshit.

"I don't know, Spence. This kinda just happened."

"And by 'just happened,' you mean you guys just kissed for the first time tonight?"

She winced, "No, we kinda made out last week at Here Bar."

"What?! The same night she was making out with Ashley at the bar?"


"What a dirty little player!"

"And we kinda made out last night at the Poetry Lounge."

I was utterly disgusted at that point, "What? When Ashley went out for a smoke?"

"No, while she was on stage performing."

"Oh my gosh, you make me sick, Jton!" I turned to go back inside.

She grabbed my arm, "Wait, wait!"

"You tell her tonight or I will. You hear me?" My tone was laced with venom. "That's some fucked up bullshit, Jton! Ugh! I can't believe you, of all people!"

"Okay, I'll tell her tonight!" She mumbled as I forced my way into the restaurant.

"And I hope Ashley knocks you out for it!" I snarled behind me before I plopped onto my seat.

Madison glanced at us, "Everything set with the cake?"

"Well—" Jton made her way around.

"Not quite," I interjected. Madison furrowed her eyebrows. "Jton was very conflicted over which dessert to pick."

"Spencer…" Jton let out a nervous chuckle.

"See, she's grown quite fond of tiramisu… almost too much, but I never had issues with it because it seemed she made the tiramisu happy." I glared at her.

"What?" My roommate wore a look of utter confusion.

"But all of a sudden, she starts to eye the spumoni and has this unhealthy obsession over it… like she's gotta have it at all costs," I spat.

"Spencer," Jton said a little more sternly.

"Alright, so did you order the spumoni then?" Madison raised a brow.

"Nope." I sat back into my chair, crossing my arms. "They're all out of spumoni and… well… Jton's tired of tiramisu."

Madison shrugged it off and thought nothing of it, while the glaring contest between Jton and I continued to intensify.

Leilani clinked her glass several times with a fork. "I just want to make a toast," she cleared her throat. Ashley smirked as her eyes were firmly placed on the flower girl. As I realized how their chairs were practically squished together, I began to think that perhaps the reason Ashley hasn't removed her arm from behind Leilani's chair is because her arm fell asleep at some point.

"Speech, speech." Jton egged her on as Leilani gave her a knowing look.

Flower girl raised her glass, "Cheers and congratulations to Liz!" My girlfriend chuckled. "You're definitely an inspiration and the epitome of what it means to chase after your dreams. I wish you the best of luck on the tour and hope it only propels you further as a profound spoken word artist."

I gotta give her credit. She has a way with words. Perhaps some of that education at UCSD is actually paying off as much as Madison and Jton led on.

"Cheers to that!" My roommate raised her glass.

"And…" Leilani briefly glanced at Ashley as she rubbed her thigh ever-so-gently, "if it wasn't for Ashley, I wouldn't have met such a sweet, welcoming bunch of friends like you." Quite the contrary, as it was our friends who introduced the two. I started to get annoyed at the barrage of flattery, mostly because I was the only one who saw past the pretentious behavior.

"Aww, now who's the sweet one?" Liz babbled.

"Cheers to the cute couple!" Sometimes, Madison shouldn't say words.

"Cheers," Jton mumbled under her breath as we all proceeded to clink glasses with one another and sip our wine.

"Naw," Leilani placed her glass on the table, "if only we can become half as cute as Liz and Spencer, then I'd be happy with that."

Although everyone smiled and aww'd, there was this weird look in their eyes—almost like pity—and at that moment it became blaringly obvious to me that the strange tension between Liz and I wasn't so subtle; they all put two-and-two together and figured out we're going through the growing pains of relationship issues.

I glanced at Leilani who smirked defiantly at me. Her thoughts made me realize that she heard the little spat between Jton and I, and didn't quite fancy my timing of the discussion. So, she decided to contribute her own flavor to the melting pot of issues at hand.

I scoffed, "Not possible."

"And why's that?" She dared ask.

I pointed between Liz and myself, "We don't slut around."

"What the fuck?!" "Spencer!" Liz hissed as Jton and Madison's eyes bulged out at me.

"Excuse me?!" Leilani challenged.

"Alright, here's your order!" The waitress had exquisite timing as her army of waiters began swarming us and strategically placing the hot dishes on the table.

I hastily stood and grabbed my clutch without making eye contact.

"Where are you going?" Liz growled from behind me. "This is so embarrassing!" She proceeded to apologize to Ashley and the pretentious flower girl for my behavior.

"Is everything okay?" The waitress asked in genuine concern.

"I hate capers," I huffed unnecessarily.

I left the restaurant and immediately went to my car. When I started the engine, I noticed Liz briskly walking to the passenger door. I rolled my eyes, bracing myself for whatever she had to say… and think. She didn't waste any time.

"Okay! What the hell was that all about?"

"Put your seatbelt on." I ignored her question and began driving off.

"Fine," she clicked the seatbelt in place. "Now, do you mind telling me what's going on?"

"I just don't like her, that's all."

"You don't even know her," she reasoned. "This is the first time you got to hang out with all of us for more than a few seconds and she was a completely cordial human being."

"Please." I scoffed at the thought. "You're just enthralled by her stroking your ego all night." I thought Yvette was bad, but Leilani gives "trash" a new meaning!

"Still doesn't give you the right to humiliate her in front of everyone." She paused. "I just don't get why you hate her so much."

"Look, I know what I saw, okay?"

"And what did you see? The two of them being affectionate the way we were?" I was quick to notice her usage of past tense. "Ashley deserves to be happy, you know?"

"Rightfully so!" I raised my voice. "But Leilani's a player! She's been hooking up with Jton and just using Ashley to make Jton jealous!"

"Oh yeah? And where are you getting your information, huh?"

"I walked in on them in the bathroom tonight." I gave up holding such reserve at this point. "Not to mention, I can read her mind! She's such a—"

Liz burst into laughter. "Read her mind?" "Oh goodness. My girlfriend needs mental help. Actually, a few days in a room with cushioned walls could do wonders for Spencer." She chortled. "What the… Spence? Come on."

"It's true! I can read people's minds."

Liz laughed again. "I get it, I get it. You don't like her."

It's always like this… and it's nothing new to me. My friends don't believe me and I end up having to prove it to them in the most obvious manner. It's gotten so old that I've become callous to the reactions I get. At this point, I figured it was time she finally knew.

"Why would I make this shit up?" I threw a hand in the air, the other still on the steering wheel. "Do you know how crazy that would make me sound?!" She was still incredulous. "And no, a few days in a room with cushioned walls would not do wonders for me, but thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt," I said sarcastically.

"What did you say?" She furrowed her eyebrows, her voice reduced to a timid tone. "Are you really reading my mind right now?"


Her eyes turned towards the road in front of us. "How long has this been going on for?"

I lowered my voice. "It feels like since birth. I can't remember exactly when it started, but my parents tell me it was since I was a kid."

"Who else knows?" There wasn't an ounce of humor left within her.

"All my friends. But they're used to it."

"Oh shit!" "The whole time, Spence?" I knew this was gonna happen, but she had to find out sooner or later. "The whole time?!" Liz's eyes were wide as she turned to face me… and raise her voice at me. "I mean… what?! So, you mean to tell me that you… you knew everything from the beginning?" She said more as a statement. "You knew I liked you? You knew what I was thinking about on our dates this whole time… you knew I was throwing you a surprise party for your birthday… and you never told me?!"

"Yes." I cleared my throat. "Yes to everything… sorta. I didn't know everything about the surprise party."

"Oh, right. You must've had a great laugh pretending to be surprised." Her tone was still understandably upset. "When were you going to tell me this?!"

"Honestly, I don't know." I looked the other way as I prepared to make a right turn.

"This is something you tell someone on the first date! You don't just… drag it on for however long you feel like it!" She scoffed. "We've been dating for months now, Spence!" Liz paused. "I feel so… violated! How could you not tell me?"

"I don't know!" I began to yell, throwing equally upset glares her way. "How was I supposed to bring this up? That's obviously not a normal conversation starter for a first date!"

"Well, yeah… this isn't normal! I feel so betrayed."

"Well, how do you think I feel?"

Liz scoffed, "You tell me. I'm not a mind reader."

"You think I wanted this?! You think I asked to be this way where people regarded me as a freak growing up?" I felt tears well up beneath my eyelids. "My mom hates me, Glen despises me, Donny won't talk to me and the rest of my friends can't be around me without having to be careful what they think about." I sniffled and sobbed. "I just thought that… if you didn't know that your girlfriend was a freak, I could actually have a shot at something normal."

"I don't know what to think right now." Liz ran her hands threw her hair and buried her face in her lap. I started to hear her quiet sobs before she shot up and looked at me. "So, is this the normal you were looking for?"

"You had your secrets too, sweetie! Don't act like I was the only one who hid anything." I roughly wiped at my tear-ridden cheeks.

"That's different!"

"Nope, it's the same shit! The only difference is that despite everything, I'm the one who wants to fight for us. I accept you… faults and all." I huffed, "I'm sick of being in a relationship that is so one-sided."

"You didn't even give me a chance to accept you with your faults. You just drop this bomb on me and expect me to be okay with it!" Liz yelled. "And who said I wasn't fighting for us? You're going back to the 'my way or the highway' talk that you've been spouting the past several weeks!" She had her fingertips pressed to her temple. "I already told you last night that we'd work on us when I got back from the tour!

"If you even come back after the tour," I responded spitefully.

"What? Can you foretell the future, too?" She asked bitterly.

"No, it's pretty clear by your actions that your aspirations for spoken word overshadow any shot we have at working this out!"

"Don't blame my aspirations, Spence! You don't even realize how selfish you sound right now!"

"Ha! I'm selfish?" I scoffed. "All I wanted was to coexist with your aspirations, but it's clear there's no room for me in your future."

"I can't handle this right now, Spence. Just take me home." She conceded. I cringed at the fact that the rest of the time, she was rethinking every conversation we had and the thoughts that had exposed her at those moments.

When we got to her place, she lethargically stepped out of the car. Liz turned towards me. "Question. Can you hear my thoughts on the phone?"

I sighed dejectedly, "No." I regarded it as a curse because it always has been and always will be the downfall of all my relationships.

"Okay." She responded indifferently. "I, uh… I'll talk to you when I get back."

"Okay." I whispered, avoiding eye contact as tears began cascading down my cheeks without reserve. Liz's sympathy led her to climb back into the car and give me a consoling embrace.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled into my shoulder.

"Me too." I sobbed. She wordlessly turned and left my car.

After wailing like a baby for the remainder of my drive back to my apartment, I looked like a hot mess and wiped smeared mascara off my cheeks. I parked my car and proceeded towards my front door, where I noticed Ashley stand up from where she was sitting on the front step. I never felt so annoyed and so disinterested to see someone, and I've never seen her look so angry. I so didn't have the energy for this.

"Ashley, not tonight." I huffed. She must've noticed my reddened eyes and cheeks because her mood changed a smidge.

"What happened?" She asked, despite her upset demeanor.

"I don't wanna talk about it." I unlocked the door and let myself into the dark apartment. I felt around for the lights and turned them on. The brunette let herself in and shut the door behind her. "Ash, this isn't a free invitation to—"

"You're upset. I get it." She spoke so directly. "But, that doesn't change the fact that you were inexcusably rude tonight!" I said my reddened eyes and cheeks changed her mood a smidge… unfortunately, not enough to create miracles.

"Honestly, Ash," I shrugged, "I don't give a fuck."

"Exactly!" She yelled. Really? As if my girlfriend yelling at me wasn't enough. "If you don't give a fuck, then what's your deal? What's wrong with you, Spence?"

I rolled my eyes, "Please. You always say something's wrong with me, never something wrong with you… or Leilani!" I placed my purse down and stomped my way to the living room.

"What's it to you anyway?" She followed closely, which only amplified her yelling.

"Leilani's not a good person for you, trust me!"

"Why? What if I actually like this girl?"

I made a face… and I suddenly realized how bad I've gotten over the years at hiding my true emotions. "Fine! Go for it! See if I care that she plays you and leaves you high and dry just like Veronique." I knew it was a low blow, but I didn't care.

"Oh, this coming from the almighty mind reader who can barely keep her own relationship afloat."

Instinctually, my hand fled towards her face. But, Ashley stopped me at the wrist. I could instantly feel her pulse course through her fingers.

"You have some nerve—"

Ashley pulled me towards her when I suddenly felt her lips crash against mine. I couldn't describe this feeling I had. All I knew was I didn't have control of how feverishly my body responded to her. I felt Ashley's hands wrap around my waist and run up the small of my back. My hands grazed her soft cheeks and lost themselves in her curls. It was the comfort that I had been craving for so long.

"Tell me why," she whispered between hurried kisses, "you care about me with Leilani." Her lips engulfed mine again, as I let out a soft sigh of gratitude.

"I don't," I kissed her more softly, "want you to get" and another tug at her lips, "hurt. You're too good for her."

We pulled away a bit as my eyes opened to meet her hooded ones. She brought her hand up, delicately resting it on my cheek. "And you're too good for tears, Spence." Ashley whispered. She proceeded to kiss my cheek in soft, slow kisses. I felt tingles shoot through my extremities as her lips grazed my neck and trailed up to my chin. Her lips finally found mine once more and I grew weak in the knees, drowning in this intimate moment in my living room. I felt like everything we couldn't say in words was sensually expressed in such soft, warm kisses.

I began to feel Ashley walking into me, walking me backwards towards the hallway. I wrapped my arms around her neck as our kissing began to intensify. But reason struck me cold like lightning! What the hell was I doing?!

"Wait," I pulled back. "What are we doing?"

"I don't know," she whispered behind hooded eyes. Her pace was still moving in the direction of my room. We breathed frantically as I made every effort to restrain myself… mentally… because of course, physically, my hands were running up her arms and over her shoulders.

I couldn't get into this with Ashley, not after having a rough night with my girlfriend. The guilt would just overwhelm me.

Ashley licked her lips, her forehead touching mine as she embraced me even tighter. "Tell me you want me to stop."

"I, uh…" I found my back against the door.

"Tell me now or else I'll have no restraint left in me, Spence." Her eyes searched mine as she pressed herself up against me, enough for me to feel her heartbeat racing. I could barely get another rational thought going the second her lips gave me a barely-there kiss.

"I'm with Liz." I blurted before I could let my emotions consume me.

Ashley froze. She let out a painful sigh before immediately stepping back. The brunette wordlessly turned and proceeded to let herself out.

"Ashley, what—?" Madison was startled as she watched the brunette brush past her in the door way. My roommate then looked at me.

10:01 am. Saturday, April 11.

I managed to dig out my phone from underneath the cushions. I sighed agonizingly, the screen still mocking me in all its HD display.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door which immediately caught my attention like blood to a hungry shark. I immediately felt anxious… and hopeful.

"Liz?" I uttered.

Madison rolled her eyes at me as she got up to answer it. "We both know that's not who you're looking for."

"Hey!" I heard the excitement as Madison opened the door to a rather large arrangement of lilies. "What's all this?"

"A beautiful flower arrangement," Jton's voice echoed from behind the white flowers in full bloom. "They're for you!"

Madison grinned and she took in the soft, sweet aroma. "How'd you know these are my favorite flowers?"

"Actually, they were on the doorstep when I got here!"

"Oh my gosh," my roommate jumped up and down as she snagged the card and proceeded to read it. "They're from… Aiden!"

"Jton." I immediately growled, glaring at her as she placed the arrangement on the dining room table.

"Spencer," she responded nonchalantly. "You wanna put away those daggers you're shooting at me?"

"Did you tell Ashley?" I blurted, continuing to give her the death glare.

"Of course!" She took a deep breath. "Of course I did!" I knew by her thoughts that she wasn't lying. "She broke it off with Lei last night."

"Poor Ash." My expression immediately softened. "She must be devastated."

My roommate scoffed, "Don't pretend like you're not even slightly happy about that, Spence."

"Um, speaking from experience, there's nothing happy about it, Mad!" I glared at her.

"You liked Ashley the whole time," Madison quipped as she stood over me. "Anyone could see that."

"Yup," Jton nudged Madison before she plopped down on the loveseat. "You called it," she said so matter-of-factly.

"Shut up, you guys! I'm in a committed relationship and we are going to work things out!" I enunciated. "In fact," I reached for my phone, "can you take me to the airport, Mad? If I can book an early enough flight, I can get down to San Diego before Liz gets there."

"Why are you in such denial, Spence?" My roommate proceeded to sit down next to me. "Things aren't working out with you and Liz because you've had your heart set on someone else," her tone softened. "Do you even realize the ridiculous sparks that fly when you and Ashley are simply near each other?" My phone hit the ground as I instinctually dropped my head in my hands. "No one's judging you, Spence." Madison rubbed my back. "We're all," she quickly glanced at Jton, "guilty of some form of bullshit."

"I love Liz," I looked up at my roommate, "I love her." The desperation was obvious in my tone, but it felt crucial that someone believed me when I said it.

"Do you like Ashley?" Madison asked so casually, despite the fact that it was such a loaded question. If I say "yes," the situation wouldn't change. I'd just look like a complete noncommittal jackass who just went against everything I ever said about being monogamous in a committed relationship. In the end, I'm still going to try and make things work with Liz.

"No, I d—"

"Bullshit!" Jton blurted.

"Chill out, Jton!" Madison yelped.

Jton stood up, "Spencer, you both just need to stop pretending there isn't something going on between you two! You need to find her and tell her."

"Jton!" My roommate called out.

"You need to find my best friend and get her back!" Her voice started to mirror my desperation.

I furrowed my eyebrows. "What the hell are you talking about, Jton?"

"Ashley's skipped town." She sat back down with her defeated demeanor. "After she broke it off with Lei, she told me she had to leave. She hasn't responded to my calls or texts."

"So what? She'll come back," I responded evenly.

"How can you be so sure of that? Look at you," she gestured. "You're just sitting there in complete denial which you mask with this fake sense of uncertainty. It's frustrating to say the least."

"Whatever! Even if she's gone, what makes you think I can bring her back?"

"Because… she listens to you. She cares about what you have to say." She sighed, "Please… can you just call her?"

I pondered it for a second. There's nothing I can say or do to bring her back. Ashley will come back on her own accord. "I'm sorry, Jton. I already have one girl I need to bring back."

"Spencer knows what she's doing." Madison chimed in as she pat me on the back. She picked my phone off the ground and gently handed it to me. "You still need a ride to the airport?"

I took my phone from her hand and stood up decisively. "Yes please," I murmured. I refused to make eye contact with them as I quickly made my way to my room to pack a small bag for the weekend. I shut the door and just sat on my bed, trying my best to block out what they had said so I could get up and focus on getting the things I needed. I had been waiting for Liz to call or text me back all morning. It made practical sense that the next step was to go to her and resolve it in person. I had made up my mind and I didn't want anything to change that… not even my own wits.

My phone chimed loudly in my dimly lit room. I immediately jumped to read it.

10:21 am – Aiden: did madison get the flowers i left?

I smirked.

10:22 am – Spencer: of course! U shouldve seen it... she was so happy!

10:23 am – Aiden: thnx for the advice, obi wan. hows it goin on ur end?

I sighed, lying down.

10:25 am – Spencer: thurs was a bust and shit hit the fan last night. im doing a banged up job fucking it all up.

10:26 am – Aiden: still tryin to do things ur way i c

I scoffed at how ridiculous, yet truthful he was.

10:27 am – Aiden: stop using ur brain, start using ur heart

Funny how love makes one look completely idiotic, but brings perfect clarity all at the same time. I found it amazing how I was witnessing a miracle happen – Aiden was finally turning over a new leaf and acting like a man for once, instead of a total buffoon.

I smothered my face with my hands, realizing how the tables had turned on me. All I wanted was clarity and normalcy, and what I got was the complete opposite. Why do things have to be so complicated?

I started to wonder whether it was true that I was forcing pieces in where they didn't fit, like a square peg in a round hole. Everyone stared at me with sad hopelessness as I sat there in denial, trying to trim the edges and force that peg in, when it just wasn't happening.

Maybe it was time that I took a different approach and start listening to all that advice I'd been dishing.

It felt like it took an act of Congress to hit the "purchase" button when I finally bought my plane ticket. What's done is done. I just need to give it my best shot.

"So, what are you going to say to Liz when you see her?" Madison broke the seemingly perpetual silence in the car ride to LAX.

"I don't know, Mad." I mumbled as I glanced out the window, "I haven't really thought that far ahead." I was nervous to say the least. I didn't know what to expect from this trip. I didn't know what the outcome would be.

I watched as the glare of the afternoon sun against the buildings made the skyline look like it was on fire. We hit a little bit of traffic, considering I had to be at the airport a few hours prior. The earliest flight I could get was at 6:50 pm.

"What terminal?" Madison asked as we drove under the large "Departures" sign.

"Terminal two."

As she parked curbside, I grabbed my backpack and wordlessly got out of the car. I wasn't expecting Madison to get out of the car and hug me as tight as she did.

"Good luck, chica!" She squeezed again, "I'm here if you ever need anything."

"Thanks Mad," I smiled at her as we let out of our embrace. "Talk to Aiden already, will you?"

"Maybe," Madison smirked. "Have a safe trip and come back with your girl."

Once I made it through security, I walked towards Gate 41 and sat down at a chair facing the window that overlooked the tarmac. I wanted to kill time by listening to some music, but I felt complacent in my frozen state. I watched as planes would take off and land, mimicking the fickle thoughts that would come and go from my brain. I kept wondering what I was doing as I started to lean towards the thought that perhaps this was a very bad idea.

Regardless, there really was no turning back at this point, now was there?

I glanced at my phone.

6:20 pm. Saturday, April 11.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We will begin boarding first-class ticket holders for flight 705." The gate attendant smiled cordially as she spoke into the intercom. "Non-stop to Portland."