You are laughing and I think I might fall apart - right in front of you, pieces of me hitting the ground - and what would you do then? Would those blue eyes go wide and would that voice just stutter? Or would you simply smile at my failing body, would you simply reach down and put me together again?

I think I've fallen in love with you.

And, fuck me, I don't want to do that.

/ / /

People look at you funny when you lose someone. Their gaze darts over your face, as if they cannot stand to see you, and still they cannot help but stare. They study the lines at your forehead and they linger over your lips, always trying to see how sad it is to be alone and grateful that they are not you at all.

They say things like 'sorry' and 'what a shame' and 'time heals everything'.

They pat the top of your head. They frown at you, attemping comfort and only managing pity. They fear the sorrow slipping down your face, they ignore your dark dress and hands fisted at your side.

They don't know how to handle you now. And so they don't.

They ship you to a new town, with people you don't know and houses you've never broken in to and roads you've never ran down. They ship you off and they forget you.

And you do your best to forget them, too.

/ / /

Your name follows hers.

You didn't know what a set-up that would turn out to be. You didn't know that some girl from the Backside Of Nowhere, USA would end up being your friend. Or your confidant. Or your security blanket. Or your everything.

"Ashley Davies?" And that's the third time the teacher has said your name. And you still do not answer, because you don't want to be here.

You don't want to be anywhere at all.

Except... maybe... six feet under with the rest of your family.

You've imagined your own hands digging, nails chipped and dirty, trying to reach your sister - trying to reach her giggling grin. Or your father and his warm hugs. Or your mother and her palm against your cheek, soft and sure.

You've imagined it so many times. It's all you do sometimes. You imagine being dead.

On that day, though, you didn't know. You just sat there - silent and like stone. You didn't catch anyone's fleeting glance - the girls who pondered you and the boys who drooled over you. You didn't see them at all.

And you sure as hell didn't see her, two feet to your right, the name you come after.

Carlin, Spencer.

/ / /

"Why here?"

"Because I have an aunt here."

"Do you miss L.A.?"

"No."

"Did you leave a guy behind?"

You get up then, tired of the questions and how stupid they are. Tired of this school in the middle of nothing. Tired of this town with its folksy charms. Tired of your aunt, who you never knew to begin with. Tired of a lot of things.

You don't sleep well anymore. You dream of glass and slick pavement, you dream of blood splatters and bone fragments. You dream too much and sleep too little.

And it shows - dark circles are forming under your eyes and you are pale where you used to be tan. You see yourself in the mirror, before sliding those sunglasses on, and you think that you are closer to death than yesterday.

And it doesn't bother you much.

/ / /

In a flash, though, you are awake.

Crossing the parking lot and fighting with your MP3 player (which you threw against a wall in anger just a week ago), you are not looking around at anyone at all. You can hear them in the background of your life - guys and high-fives, girlish flirting and shouts, the slam of car doors - and they are all happy for the weekend.

You don't care. You just want your stupid music to play and it won't. You sigh out loud and wearily raise your head, blinking your eyes because you forgot to push those sunglasses back down. The sun is too bright out here. The sun is too real for you.

And, in a flash, your blank stare narrows. And you hear the sound that haunts you - that terrifying squeal of rubber upon the surface, the horrible sound of life being stripped away in one quick second of time.

The car, trying to pass another, hits the curb. The driver jerks the wheel. Tires skid. And they slam another car, one just trying to get out of the parking lot, pushing up the hood like paper. There is smoke and screaming and, behind that, eerie silence.

And behind that, there is you - heart pounding too fast and breath coming too hard.

And there is you, dropping your bag and your busted player, and you are running as if being chased down, you are running towards that car and running towards whoever is trapped inside and running to L.A. and running to your sister, your father, your mother...

/ / /

Hours and hours later, you recall an image of yourself - choking back tears and pulling at a hot metal handle, shouting out at some mass of blonde hair against a steering wheel.

And that girl shakes you up something awful, that girl you became - in that moment - didn't want to die. She wanted to live, if only to save someone else... if only to save someone else from pain.

Hours and hours later, you sit in your bedroom and still in your clothes from school. You smell like burnt leather and gasoline. Your face is streaked with make-up, some kind of twisted war-paint along your flesh and, yet, you can't wash any of it off.

Not yet.

And that girl sits beside you now, that girl you became - in that moment - doesn't want to give up so easily. She wants to live. And not just for someone else.

She wants to live for herself.

Hours and hours later, you watch the dusk turn into the dawn and you finally close your eyes and you truly sleep.

/ / /

She watches you.

And you want to tell her to stop. You want to tell her to back off, even though she is not next to you. Even though she is all the way across the auditorium, you want to tell her to just stop.

But you watch her, too.

Your eyes flicked over the line of stitches down her temple and the faint red scar upon her bottom lip. You have looked and looked away so many times.

And she knows it, too.

"Spencer Carlin?"

"Here."

"Ashley Davies?"

"...Uh, here."

"Thank you, Ms. Davies, for acknowledging the roll-call. Will wonders never cease?"

And you smirk. And you shift your eyes to the right. And she is smirking right along with you.

And for the first time in a long while, you hope for something. You are not clear on what it is yet, but you want it. You really want it.

/ / /

"I heard you. And I tried to place your voice, that's what kind of woke me up, you know? I heard you and I thought, 'Wow, they sound really upset and I should open my eyes and see what is wrong.' And... there you were, all hazy and yelling."

I nod my head. I keep my eyes on the dirt and grass under my feet. I tug at the cuff of my jacket.

"But I knew you when I saw you. And then I felt sick to my stomach and I was trying to speak to you, but it felt like someone had slowed my brain down. So, I just focused as hard as I could on your eyes."

I take a shuddering breath. I sidestep all the images in my head, an endless waltz of accidents and crushed automobiles. I try to stay calm. I try to stay neutral.

"Your eyes... God, you were so scared. I could see it in your eyes... You were so scared for me and I just wanted to tell you that I would be okay..."

I swallow. I clear my throat. I want to hide now. I want to get up and walk away.

But your fingers, on my chin and tilting my face upward, halt all things.

Your touch and your gaze and your voice - you stop it all.

"I'll be okay, Ashley. I'll be okay and it is all thanks to you... thank you so much for... for everything..."

And did you know it then? Did you know that, one day, I'd look over at you and you'd be laughing and I'd just hand over my heart to you?

Did you know it then? Did you know that we'd share secrets and that we'd engage in slow torture and that we'd cross all those lines?

Did you know, with that first bit of contact, that neither of us would be satisfied with anything less again?

But you couldn't have. No one could have known.

Right?

I half-smile and you return it. You drop your hand. And I shyly look back to the ground before I speak up.

"You're welcome."

/ / /

Suddenly, where you are, there she is.

Or, in the reverse, finding yourself beside her in a line or against a wall during some pep rally.

She tells really silly stories and you think she sometimes tries too hard to get you to laugh, but you tell yourself that it would be rude not to laugh at all.

And her smiles are nice when you react as she wants. And you've not had nice things in your life for a while, so you are not inclined to give it up now.

When she asks what you are listening to, you know she means it and isn't just pretending. So, you hand over an ear-bud and let her hear whatever you have playing (The National, Liz Phair, The Runaways).

Sometimes she approves. Sometimes she does not. But her head always moves, subtle and concentrated, and you find you don't care if she likes the bands or not.

You just like letting someone in, just a bit, just a little bit...

/ / /

She is hiding in your shoulder and you roll your eyes. You don't like scary films any more than she does, but you aren't going to let her know that.

She clutches your arm and you lean over, wanting to whisper something to her - something in jest, some way to pick on her - and she glances up at you and you just freeze.

Right there, in the darkness and other people around and the film rolling on by in a roar of chainsaws - right there, you freeze and she is staring at you.

And you don't know why, but you lick your lips.

And she notices.

And you both pull away.

/ / /

Sometimes she is distant with you, like she cannot remember all the reasons why you are her friend. And she spends more time with some guy, lightly pushes him as he jokes with her.

Sometimes, though, it you pulling away from her. You'll not answer her calls and you'll not show up to school, opting to be alone and watch the clouds shift over the sky.

And that's when you'll think about them, conjure up their faces. You'll run through a cavalcade of memories, from tiny instances to larger moments, and you'll turn your face into your pillow.

You'll cry and ache and wish for time to turn back.

And that girl you are sometimes, the one that saved Spencer Carlin from a smoking car, can't always compete with the past. That girl, sometimes, has to just step back and let the old you take over.

Your fingers twitch. Your body sags. And your will to live takes a blow.

And sometimes, you are morbidly happy to feel this way again.

/ / /

She never lets up, though.

And maybe you should say something, thank her or something, but you never do.

For all the times she backs away and you conceal yourself, all the awkward times that neither of you can explain with words, she still comes to you and tugs on your hand.

You let her do it, too.

Because you want her there, in the morning and at that desk and muttering a 'good morning'. You want her there, by your side and picking at her food and nudging you as she talks about this and that.

You want her around so much more than you don't.

She brings out the best in you when you thought the best was dead and buried. She is the spark in your veins. She is the guitar solo in every good song. She is your friend, your best friend, and you've never really had one.

Not even back in L.A., not even when everyone was alive and life was grand.

And you should tell her, you should tell her just how important she is and how good it all makes you feel... but you never do.

Some lessons are still difficult to learn, even for you.

/ / /

When she dates him, you have this fleeting thought that it is all a lie and that she is doing it just to piss you off.

But that is just bullshit and you don't trust the voice saying those things.

Still, she is hanging on his arm and watching you. Still, she is accepting his kisses and ditching him for you. Still, she is his girlfriend and begging you to come over all the time.

And you wonder at yourself, too.

Boys ask you out all the time. They stare at you no matter what you wear, they follow you with leers and want. They try to cop feels at those stupid dances she drags you to and you always sneak away as soon as you can - drinking alcohol when others drink punch.

And you wonder if you like boys at all. Hell, you wonder if you even like girls at all.

Maybe you don't like anyone at all. Maybe your ability to like anyone or love anyone or desire anyone was slaughtered - cut into ribbons on some dark highway - and just a gaping hole is left in your soul where there should be... something, you don't know what...

But Spencer's face pops up in your mind.

And you sigh in resignation, because maybe you like someone afterall.

/ / /

You are laughing and I think I might fall apart - right in front of you, pieces of me hitting the ground - and what would you do then? Would those blue eyes go wide and would that voice just stutter? Or would you simply smile at my failing body, would you simply reach down and put me together again?

I think I've fallen in love with you.

And, fuck me, I don't want to do that.

But you are so beautiful, with the sun behind you like that, and I want to laugh right along with you... just to understand what I am feeling so strongly.

And your eyes meet mine. And I smile at you, trembling and petrified, because I am in love with you. I think it has always been you. I think it was always meant to be you.

The laughter dies down and you are so close and, if I had my way, I'd kiss you. I'd kiss you and finally let you all the way in. I'd not shut you out anymore. I'd push all your future boyfriends away, for good, forever.

If I had my way, we'd already be together.

"Ashley..." You say my name like it is a prayer and I stop myself from begging you to say it again and again and again.

And if I had my way... if I had my way... oh, if I had my way...

"Spencer, I--"

But no, I've never had my way. Not in such a long time. The moment ends and that guy is hugging you from behind and you look so startled - and not that pleased - and I walk off like I always do.

Would you have stopped me had I kept going? If I didn't just go to my aunt's house, if I kept on walking to that airport and flew back to L.A.?

Would you have ran after me then? Would you have chased me down?

If my car were on fire and I couldn't get out, would you be brave enough to save me?

And, in the end, would I let you?

/ / /

You don't want to be found today.

And your reasons are your own. Only your aunt knows all the details. Those kids at school, full of gossip and rumor, just catch bits of your life and blow them out of proportion.

They don't know a damn thing anyway.

You walk these unfamiliar streets, passing from houses and mailboxes right into stretched out farm-land, fields of green and gold. You walk until you are too tired, shuffling over a barbed wire fence and through the tall weeds.

You collapse. You fall back and spread your arms out wide.

And you talk, out loud, with only the insects and the birds and the sky to hear you.

And, maybe, just maybe... they can hear you, too.

"I don't like it here much, you know. I blame you all for that one. I'm not mad, though. Don't take it the wrong way or anything. It's just really boring here. Well, except for my friend, Spencer... but you probably know about her already. I've mentioned her..."

A crow coasts overhead and you think you can hear the flap of its wings.

"I'm not sure if I am gay or not, but... but I've got all these feelings for her that go beyond friendship. I'm too afraid to tell her. I mean, that's not just something you drop on your best friend, is it? I don't want to risk losing her totally. I can't handle that, not after everything else... You get what I am saying, don't you?"

The clouds are few today, but you watch them until they form shapes and you imagine them to be the faces of your parents, the smile of your sister.

"I sometimes think I am just a coward, though. I think we both are. And if I don't say anything and she doesn't either... then this is just pointless, isn't it? All of this is pointless..."

But the clouds slowly disperse and you blink away tears as your family drifts off as if they were never there to begin with.

/ / /

You are angry for a million reasons and you can't seem to get rid of this melancholy. Everyone stays out of your vision, for the most part.

Of course, she doesn't. And she tries to prod you. And she tries to cajole you. And she tries all her little tricks to uncover you and reveal you - and you deny her over and over.

Because you are scared and it shows all too well.

Because she is scared and won't even admit it.

She even tries to fight back, ignoring you and shunning you and amping up displays of affection upon that guy. But you don't jump to the bait, not this time.

You are angry. You are wounded. You are alone, despite her laughter and her grins and her hand on your cheek... You, Ashely Davies, are alone.

One single night took everything away and left you as the sole survivor.

And surviving has never been your blessing, it's been your curse.

/ / /

It hardly ever rains here and she hardly ever comes to your aunt's house.

However, this day is heavy with things you won't name and when you open the door to her - soaking wet - you know things are about to change. And you don't know if it will be for good or not, but you are tired of waiting to find out.

"Are you going to let me in or not?"

She sounds so cold. You step aside and watch her walk stiffly, jeans all the more tight due to the water, and your eyes betray you - you follow the curves laid out before you and you know you are blushing.

When she rounds on you, raindrops hit your face.

And you are angry. You are wounded. You are so fucking alone.

When she grabs your wrist, you gasp.

And she can't save you, because you are broken. You are still shattered on that stretch of road in California, still shaking and ruined as your whole world crashes. And no one can save you.

When she kisses you, soft and chilled lips against your own...

...you realize you were wrong.

/ / /

Did you know it then? Did you fall in love with me that day, outside, telling me what you saw as you staggered back to consciousness?

Did you see something there, in my frightened eyes, that just called out to you?

I'll ask you, one day.

I'll ask you and you'll tell me all about it.

But, right now, you are sleeping and your head is on my shoulder and I am holding your hand in mine. And it is raining outside and getting dark and my aunt is working the late-shift.

And you breathe out. And you breathe in. And your fingers flex against mine, then hold tighter.

"I love you..." I softly say, testing the words out and seeing how they sound coming off my tongue, how they gently bounce around this room, how it cascades down and onto your golden head.

And you burrow into me, smiling in your slumber, like you heard me.

And maybe you did.

Maybe you did.

/ / / / / /

END