So... I said I'd update this story in August in my last post... I just didn't realize it would be August of this year :) Anyway, enjoy!

Sleepy-eyed and sporting a massive case of bed head, Kate yawned as she began down the kitchen stairs. It was Saturday, which was both a curse and a blessing in the Spencer household. No school today, which inevitably meant that Kate would spend the afternoon studying, reading, or listening to music while holed up in her room. Nothing ever changed in that department.

As she began down the stairs, she tugged at the bottom of the long shirt she'd slept in. Goosebumps covered the flesh on her legs, and she momentarily contemplated going back to her room to pull on a pair of pants, but then decided against it. It was nothing her mother hadn't seen before, and the house was a toasty 70 degrees. She yawned as she took another step, and thought momentarily about the reason she was so tired this morning. It could have had something to do with the fact that she had been on the phone with Beth until 10:30 last night, but that was ridiculous. She'd had plenty of time to sleep after that. More likely, it was due to the fact that she'd stayed up until early this morning thinking about that conversation, and replaying it in her head. For some reason, she couldn't figure out why it had left such a deep impression on her.

It wasn't until she actually got into the kitchen that she realized her mother wasn't alone. Dressed in a short skirt and tight t-shirt, she was on her tip-toes, pressing her body against the body of another person; a taller, more muscular person. A man she had never seen before, she was sure. Kate's eyes connected with his before her mother even turned around.

At the flash of recognition in her lover's eyes, Laurie turned quickly, grinning and giggling.

"Kate, this is Jake. Jake, this is my daughter Kate. Isn't she pretty?"

Kate's lips parted in surprise as she suddenly reacted to the presence of the man standing in her kitchen. The first thought was that the man in question looked surprisingly familiar, and the next was that she was suddenly reminded that she was only wearing a t-shirt and panties.

"Jesus, Mom!" Kate cried accusingly, pulling her shirt down and bolting from the room. She raced up the stairs, slamming her bedroom door behind her. Suddenly blinded by anger and embarrassment, she ripped off her t-shirt and quickly pulled on a pair of jeans. Annoyance flushed pink in her cheeks as she tugged on a bra and t-shirt and ran a brush through her hair. There was no time to put on make-up. She was getting the hell out of here. She wasn't sure where she was going, but that didn't seem to matter right now. All she cared about was escaping.

As she reached for deodorant and perfume, she heard a soft knock on her bedroom door. Ignoring it, she went about her business, grabbing for her purse. Maybe she would see if she could go into work today. Surely they could use some extra hands on a Saturday night. Anywhere to get the hell away from this place. This place was supposed to be her retreat from the world; instead, it served as a prison.

"Kate," the soft voice pleaded as the door opened. Kate's head turned quickly to look at the intruder with narrowed eyes. It was only Laurie, slinking against the doorframe with a look of apologetic guilt on her face. "Where are you going?"

"Out," Kate snapped, her voice harsh.

Laurie heaved a heavy sigh and reached for her daughter, but Kate shrugged away.

"Come on, Kate. He didn't see anything. You don't have to be mad."

Kate ignored her, her skin flushed as she slipped into her shoes.

"Mom, you don't even know why I'm mad. Don't stand there pleading with me to meet your newest flavor of the week. It's disgusting."

Hurt flashed across Laurie's face, but she quickly replaced it with another expression.

"I should have warned you," she nodded guiltily, "but you were sleeping, and I didn't want to wake you up last night, so I just figured you would-"

"Figured I'd what?" Kate demanded, her voice nearly cracking, "Wake up this morning and wander downstairs in my underwear? That's gross, Mom, and totally embarrassing and you know it!"

"He didn't see anything," Laurie reassured her quietly, "And he's a nice guy. Isn't he cute? Please come down and meet him. I'll make sure he pretends that never happened."

Kate rolled her eyes, slinging her purse onto her shoulder.

"That's not even the main point. I'm so sick of coming downstairs to another stranger and having no idea what to expect. I thought you said you would try to change this. It's not right, Mom. It's not fair to me or you."

"I know," Laurie replied glumly, and for a moment, Kate thought she had gotten through to her. Her face looked tired, it looked as if she'd learned her lesson, and then: "But he's different, Kate. He's so sweet. God, I met him yesterday at the grocery store. He was bagging my groceries, can you believe that? And then he came home and helped me put them away." She grinned like a child on Christmas morning.

Kate shook her head at the elder Spencer, and met her eyes.

"Yeah, I can believe that, Mom. You know why?"

Laurie's questioning gaze met hers and she shook her head slightly.

"Because Jake is in my English class at school. He's a senior in high school, Mom. Congratulations; you really got your younger man this time." Kate pushed by her mother in the doorway and raced down the stairs, past a blankly staring young man in the kitchen.

"Hey Kate," he called as she passed by, "Can I ask a question about that paper we were supposed to turn in on Monday?"

Kate scoffed disgustedly and ignored him, pushing out the front door and slamming it behind her. Her house was a freak show, she quickly decided as she drew her purse tighter and began down the street. She didn't want her car. Anything that reminded her of her mother right now, she had no use for. Anyway, a long walk might do the trick enough to calm her down and keep her from running into traffic.

Kate felt like crying, but knew there was no use. It had never helped anything before, and it only left her with a headache and a splotchy red face. She wasn't sure how her life had gotten to this point. Surely worse things had happened to young women before. She had heard of plenty of girls who had gotten abused, raped, beaten, and she felt sorry for them. She didn't think her life was horrible, but she hated it. She hated knowing that at any given time, her mother was treated like a piece of meat by the many different men in her life. She hated knowing that her room, her life was right there for any of those men -if you could call them that- to disrupt. She didn't know any of them and, whether her mother wanted to admit it or not, neither did Laurie. It was all a game of chance. Who will steal that? Who will hit her? Who might decide the idea of a mother-daughter threesome is too good to pass up? It made Kate feel sick and afraid, and she decided that she wouldn't have children if this was how she would make them feel.

Lost in her world of misfortune, she didn't notice the car that pulled up alongside her in the street, and the event very well may have gone unnoticed but for the clear voice that called out for her through the open window.

"Kate," it spoke, and it took the blonde a moment to realize where the voice had come from before she allowed her attention to focus on the driver. "Hey… whatcha doin?"

Kate blinked at Beth, and then sighed.

"My mom…" she spoke softly, "I can't go home. Not right now, anyway."

Beth watched her for only a moment before leaning over the passenger seat and pushing the door open for her.

"Come on. I'm going out. I'll take you with me." She smiled gently at her.

Kate hesitated for a moment, "I think I'm okay. I just need some fresh air."

Beth quietly turned the heat off in the car and the windows slid down.

"Fresh enough?" She asked, motioning the blonde forward with a quick wave. "Come on, you'll like this."

It was cold, and only then did she realize that she'd left the house in nothing but a t-shirt. Up until now, her anger and embarrassment had been keeping her warm. A chill swept through her body and she finally slid into the passenger seat, pulling the door shut.

Beth locked the doors and eased her foot onto the gas pedal. They were silent for a moment, until Kate spoke.

"Where are we going?"

"I have an appointment," Beth replied, "You can come. I think it will help you."

"What kind of appointment?" Her voice was hesitant. She didn't feel right about imposing on something important.

Beth was quiet for a moment, and then looked at Kate.

"I've been seeing a therapist once a week since I was about fifteen. I met her right after she finished grad school," she offered without pause, "A lot of… you know, family issues. Anyway, she's really great. Her name is Alex. You'll like her."

"Oh," Kate replied, a little too quickly. Her silence came shortly after, and Beth glanced at her.

"I'm not crazy, you know. You don't have to be clinically insane to like talking to someone."

"I didn't-I mean, I wouldn't. I don't think you are. I'm just- I mean, I don't want to intrude on that-"

"Chill, Kate," Beth laughed gently, "It's okay. I'm not going to start pouring my soul out to her right in front of you. I'll go in with her for a few minutes, and then bring you in. It'll be fine."

Kate sat with her hands folded in her lap the rest of the way. Beth attempted to start several light-hearted conversations, but Kate couldn't concentrate long enough to follow through with any of them.

"So, anything exciting happen after we got off the phone last night?" Beth wondered, glancing at her blonde passenger. The conversation last night had been nothing too serious, but Kate knew that she had seemed different then. She had been happier, maybe even silly.

"No," Kate lied. It was true, aside from the fact that Kate had spent the next four hours lying in bed and replaying the conversation in her head. How it had begun, how quickly their chatter about school had turned into something else; it had eventually begun to feel like a real conversation between friends. Kate had gotten off the phone last night feeling better about herself and their relationship. She had felt so much closer to the brunette, and now she felt as if she needed to put her guards up again.

"What happened this morning?" Beth asked in her smoky voice. "Did you and your mom get into a fight?"

Kate nodded slowly, her gaze on the passing buildings outside.

"You could say that."

It was a moment before Beth responded, and not until she turned a corner and slowed the car to a stop.

"We're here." She smiled gently at Kate and unlocked the doors. Unbuckling her seatbelt, Kate climbed out and took a moment to appraise the building. It was nice; a one-floor brick building with stone pillars on either side of the front door. Bridge Over Troubled Water was printed on the glass door that led to the lobby, and Kate hesitated outside the door before Beth pushed it open, and smiled at Kate, encouraging her to follow.

Kate stood in the lobby while Beth greeted a receptionist as Charlotte and informed her that she had an appointment with Alex. A moment later, Beth took a seat on a small loveseat in the waiting room and Kate joined her. They sat in a somewhat uncomfortable silence for several minutes until the door opened and a pretty brunette popped her head out. She greeted Beth with a huge smile that showed off a set of dimples and then smiled at Kate as well. Beth stood and turned to Kate.

"I'll be right back for you, okay? Don't run away." She smiled. "And relax. You're okay."

Kate tried to relax as she watched Beth disappear. She tried to relax as she watched the clock tick away the minutes on the wall. She tried to relax as she flipped aimlessly through a magazine and wondered why the hell she had agreed to come here in the first place.

Just as she had begun to contemplate whether or not she was willing to make the walk home, the door to the office swung open once again, and Alex's head reappeared.

"Hi," she greeted Kate, who stood upon being sighted. Her hand reached out for Kate's, who shook it obediently, "I'm Alex. Kate?"

Kate nodded, and followed the woman through a hallway and past a set of doors. They turned an abrupt corner and found themselves in a small room. Beth was perched on one of the chairs next to a lamp that provided dim light. The chairs were oversized and stuffed with pillows that matched the décor on the walls. It was definitely cozy.

The walls were painted a soft taupe color, and Kate vaguely recalled an article she'd read about pink rooms being the most soothing color. She briefly wondered if that would help the patients who were seen in here and then quickly decided that pink probably wasn't what most people wanted to see when they were crying their hearts out. A box of tissues sat on the table next to the lamp beside Beth, and Kate noticed that Beth had taken one and was now twirling it in her fingers, no doubt reducing it to shreds.

Kate took a seat beside Beth and Alex shut the door, sitting across from them.

"Hi, Kate," the woman greeted her. She was no more than twenty-six years old, Kate would guess. Her long brown hair hung over her shoulders, and her face broke into an easy smile. Kate was somewhat taken aback by her attractiveness. Positive energy radiated from the older woman, and Kate immediately liked her.

"Hi," Kate responded, already warming to the therapist.

"Beth's told me a lot about you," she smiled again, "You're new to the area, right?"

"Fairly new, yes," Kate nodded, wondering exactly how much Beth had told her.

"Well, welcome," Alex replied, "I hope you like it here."

"So far, yeah," Kate returned her smile, and then glanced at Beth.

"So," Alex began without skipping a beat, "Beth tells me you've never been to therapy before."

Kate shook her head slightly.

"No, I- I mean, I don't really think I need to. I mean, I know it's not just for crazy people, but I don't-" she let her words fade, "I don't know what to say."

Alex smiled warmly again.

"Well, let me tell you a little about what we do here. You talk, we listen and sometimes offer advice. You don't need to be going through anything life-changing in order to benefit from therapy. It's a safe place; a place to escape from whatever is bothering you in your life. A place where all of your secrets are safe, and you can work on developing yourself into a healthy, happy adult." She paused for a moment, "Does that sound like something you would be interested in?"

Even if Kate had wanted to dispute the fact, she couldn't. It was perfect. Exactly what she needed, especially now.

"Actually, yeah…" Kate responded, "I mean… there are times I don't feel safe at home." The words slipped out without Kate realizing what she had been saying, and now she blushed furiously. "I mean, I don't- I'm not in danger or anything, but… you know."

Both Beth and Alex's faces took on a concerned look, though Beth looked as if she were ready to pounce into action. Alex looked thoughtful and sympathetic, and Kate liked that.

"Well, I can tell you that if you decide to see one of our therapists, they will be able to help you with that. I really think this is something you could benefit from, but it's up to you."

Kate reveled in those last four words: it's up to you. How often had she heard those words? Rarely, if never. Nothing had been up to her. Not moving, not housemates, nothing.

They spent the next quarter hour discussing school problems as a group, nothing too personal for either Beth or Kate. It was nice, Kate had to admit that, and before they left, Alex had given Kate a number to call when she decided whether or not counseling was for her.

By the time they were on their way home, Kate felt better. She had put her mother and Jake out of her mind. All that existed right now was Kate and what she wanted.

"So was it torture?" Beth asked as they coasted down the street.

Kate turned, grinning at her.

"Barely. Alex is really nice, Beth. You're lucky."

Beth paused for a moment, glancing at Kate.

"Yeah, I guess so."

It was silent the rest of the way, and Beth finally pulled to a stop in front of Kate's house.

Kate paused, hesitated to get out of the car.

"You wanna come up? We can sit on the porch or something. I'm not really too eager to go inside just yet."

Beth smiled gently at her and nodded, putting the car in park before turning it off. She followed Kate up the porch stairs, and then onto a small seat for two just outside the front door.

"Thank you," Kate said after a moment, "for taking me with you. It was nice. I'm sorry that I- I mean, I'm sorry for being so awkward."

Beth watched her for a moment, soft dimples pressing into her cheeks as she studied the blonde.

"You're welcome. And don't apologize for your awkwardness. Honestly, I think it's really cute."

Kate flushed at her words, and then nodded. She leaned back against the seat, and Beth followed suit a moment later. It was silent between them for several minutes, and then Beth spoke.

"I really enjoyed talking to you last night on the phone, Kate. It was nice. I haven't had a- I mean, it's been a long time since I've felt like I could talk to someone." In that moment, her voice sounded like a lost child's; lonely, hopeful, and mostly sad. Kate looked to the other girl.

"You have Alex," she offered quietly. Beth nodded after a moment.

"I do, but it's not the same, I guess. I mean, she's there during business hours and I get to see her once a week and that's great, but… it's not the same as having a friend."

The word struck Kate hard. Friend. She hadn't had a real friend since middle school. And even then, they had stopped talking after a couple moves, so how real was that friendship? Kate's breath caught in her throat as she looked at Beth.

"That's right, Spencer. I said friend." Her voice was teasing now, and Kate couldn't help but smile. Their eyes caught each other for a moment, and Beth grinned. "You're not as annoying as I originally thought. In fact, you're kinda sweet."

Kate teased back, "And you're not as much of a bitch as I originally thought. You actually have a heart. And a pretty good one at that."

Beth feigned horror. "Hey, don't let that get out." She chuckled lowly, "I actually kind of miss you when you're not around. Don't let it go to your head, though."

Kate watched her quietly, and nodded. "I miss you, too."

They were both aware of the sudden change in the atmosphere, and for a reason Kate couldn't quite comprehend, her stomach felt jumbled. She felt like she wanted and needed to say something, but couldn't quite make it out. It felt so nice, sitting like this with Beth. She couldn't remember the last time she had wanted so badly to spend time with anyone else, and a stirring emotion inside of her didn't want Beth to leave.

It had been silent for a few minutes and Kate felt she needed to say something. As she opened her mouth to speak, however, the front door opened and their attention was drawn to it. It was, of course, Jake followed by Laurie. Laurie was wearing a frown, and Kate assumed this meant that their tryst was over. Jake met Kate's eyes first, and then Beth's. Beth sucked in her breath and looked at Kate before the young man bounded down the stairs and to his car. Laurie disappeared back inside for a moment, and Beth spoke.

"Is that your mom's new boyfriend?" She asked, her voice tinted with disgust and horror. "Please tell me no."

"No," Kate responded after a moment, "I wouldn't say boyfriend so much as… overnight companion."

Beth's face remained frozen in an unaffected state of disgust as she watched him drive away.

"Kate, I dated him in ninth grade."

Kate stared in disbelief at the brunette for a moment. There were no words. She could think of nothing else to say. Finally, instead of speaking, she felt laughter building inside of her and released it. Beth watched her for a moment until she laughed as well, and then they were both hysterical. Tears formed in Kate's eyes and slipped down her cheeks, and Beth was gasping for air. It wasn't until Laurie reappeared on the porch that their laughter subsided, and even then it still broke out in small giggles.

"Hi!" Laurie introduced herself to Beth, "I'm Laurie, Kate's mom."

Kate forced a look of indifference onto her face, and glanced at Beth.

"Hey," Beth managed to smile at her, "I'm Beth. It's nice to meet you."

"You, too," Laurie smiled genuinely at Beth. "Listen, Beth, I'm afraid I have some apologizing to do to my daughter… do you mind?"

Beth smiled and shook her head. Her dark curls framed her face and Kate's breath was momentarily taken away by her friend's beauty. When Beth's eyes met Kate's, they were full of affection.

"Sure. I'll see you around, okay, Kate? I'll call you tonight."

Kate grinned, nodding.

"Okay, I'll be waiting."

Beth winked at her before disappearing down the steps and climbing into her car. There was a moment of silence between mother and daughter before Laurie spoke.

"I'm sorry…" she began, her voice low and guilty. Kate nodded and made noises of confirmation when it was appropriate, but her mind was still on Beth and that moment of silence between them on the porch. Somewhere in the middle of the one-sided conversation with her mother, reality struck Kate. The feelings she'd been experiencing with Beth- she suddenly realized what they were, and knew that they weren't feelings of ordinary friendship. Though she wasn't sure why or how it had happened, she realized it had been true from the moment she had met her, despite their personality differences. There was so much to think about, so much to figure out and consider. Right now, however, the only thing swirling in her mind was the one thought that she had been so oblivious to all along: Kate Spencer had a crush on Beth Davis.