So, I finally have a new PC. Now I can write when I want... and not have to beg others to let me use their computer. An update to 'You've Got To Hide Your Love Away' will be forthcoming.

This idea, however, is bugging me. Got it from a talk with a fellow SON fan. It will be multi-chapter. No idea where it will end up. This is just a taste. I will not be updating it (I think...) until I've finished the Beatles/Spashley fic.

Right. Onward.

/ / /

She has gotten used to the music they play in this place. The dulcet tones, trapped somewhere between martinis with golfing buddies and an elevator in some antique 50's style hotel, have been echoing in her brain ever since she arrived here.

At first, she balked at the noise. Because that's what everything sounded like - noise, fingernails down the chalkboard and jack-hammers into pavement and wailing children with snot dripping from their noses. The whole world was a mass of noise and her head felt like a non-stop symphony of agony.

Then she just was disgruntled by the music. Walking from one therapy room to the next, sitting in the cafeteria, waiting to be seen by the doctor or the nurses on staff or that once-a-week hypnotherapist. It followed her around like a shadow - easy listening jazz, bossa nova blahness - and those dark fingers slipped into her dreams as well. All of her nightmares had the soundtrack from Our Man Flint running through them.

Now, though, she is used to it. In fact, guessing the title of some song or the artist who is performing it is now kind of like a game to her. She'll listen to the certain way someone is playing the trumpet or the sweep of orchestration... then she'll shift through a catalogue of musicians and see which one seems to fit.
And once she has her answer, she'll stroll over to Tammie - who controls this barrage of hi-fi classics for the system switchboards - and she'll lean over the desk with a grin, ready to test her new-found knowledge.

Just like today. No more meet-ups with the doctor and she is not at all interested in the meal of the day (stewed tomatoes and cornbeef... seriously, who comes up with this shit?). All her fellow 'inmates' are busy with arts & crafts. Or crying on some shoulder. Or detoxing and shaking and talking about spiders. The halls are quiet - except for the music, which she believes to be one Nelson Riddle.

Tammie smiles over at her and raises one finely plucked eyebrow.

"Alright, superstar, let's see you get this one..."
"It took some thought, because I think someone else did the original version... but I am going with Riddle."
"As in Nelson Riddle?"

Tammie shakes her head and Ashley knows she has gotten it right. Again.

"How the heck do you do that, kid?"
"Because I am awesome."
"You got a title to go with that, Miss Awesome?"
"That's the easy part, Tammie. 'Lamento'."

Tammie laughs good-naturedly and points a finger at Ashley.

"You sure you don't have some hidden internet access in your room?"
"Hey, this is all me here, okay? My dad collected so much vinyl he could have ran a fucking record shop, so I know my stuff."
"When you first came in here, you could barely remember what had happened the day before and now look at you..."
"Yea, clean out the drugs and a bunch of useless information comes pouring out of my mouth."

The song slowly and softly ends, with Tammie automatically pressing the red button to the left - which makes a bell toll along each and every part of this particular rehabilitation facility. A nice little signal for everyone to go to their next appropriate area, whether it be piss tests or phone-calls to distraught family members or to sit in a circle with a bunch of other junkies.

For Ashley, today is quiet. She'll steal a magazine or two, the ones that are new, and wander back to her room. She'll sit down and read every single line of every single article. And her fingers will tap, just a tiny bit, along the top of her thigh.
She used to twist her hands and she used to grip her arms until she bruised and she used to do that crazy thing - you know, rocking back and forth and angrily muttering to no one.
But not now. Now, she'll allow her fingers to tap on her thigh and that's okay.
It's better than it used to be. And that is okay.
It's better than okay. It's good.

After she's read the magazines, she'll toss them onto her bed and wander back out again. She'll peruse the menu for dinner and eat some part of it - not because it is that great, but she isn't into starving herself. That's an old habit, too.
She'll tap her fingers lightly and she'll chew on some piece of bread steadily. Maybe even some dessert, if it's that apple pie that they got last week. She'll talk to some of the others in this place - like Ron, her 'neighbor', with his big arms and the fading scars from his days as a meth user. And he'll regale her with tales of his days in the clubs, full of glitter and wild sex. His eyes will dance and she'll know he is seeing something far more seductive than bodies covered in sweat.
And her fingers will tap just a little faster, as they always do when she is reminded of those things she is pushing away.

The rush and the heat and the let-down. The burst of white-hot against her eyes, pummeling her mind like wave, as she takes the first hit. The sensation of being weightless and the sensation of words leaving her lips like they come from God. The way it made all those touches feel like bliss and the way it made all that sunlight feel like rubbish.
The rush and the heat and the let-down.
Ashley probably won't ever truly forget. But she is trying to remember what came before all of that and that is why she is here at all.
Because she started to forget Ashley and only recall the needle resting in her veins.
Because she started to forget all that pointless trivia inside. Because she started to forget to eat or shower or change clothes.
Because Ashley started to forget everything and everyone.

As the night goes on, she'll say hello to several of the nurses and they will smile at her, perhaps even stopping to chat for a moment. They'll moan about their feet or their back. Or they'll talk about their weekend and she'll actually listen.
She's learned to listen these days. She's learned to hear other people when they talk and not just tune them out, not just blank them out of her vision and daydream about all those things she used to.
Because that is how she used to communicate with people. She'd stare at them and they'd be talking and she'd be thinking if they were carrying anything - 'coz back then, she'd take anything and she'd do whatever she had to to get a high.
It was once funny to her. It was once worth it.
Not so much these days.
And once the final bell tolls, the lights will be turned off and the music will be shut off and Ashley will walk back to her room.
She'll lay down and she'll close her eyes and she'll sleep.
And the next day will be much the same.
And that's okay.

No, that's great.

/ / /

A full year is long by lots of standards, but more so when you go to rehab.
A lot can happen in a year. A lot can change in a year.
The world outside of these protected walls can be completely different than how you left it. And you don't know if what is out there is good for you, not anymore.
You don't know if you are good for the world either.
Maybe you don't mix and match so well anymore. Maybe you never did. Maybe it was all the cocaine and ecstasy and alcohol that made you fit in so well.

A year is a long time. And Ashley isn't sure she is ready for this. Ashley isn't sure she is ready to leave just yet. And her fingers tap rapidly against her bouncing leg as she sits in the visitor's lounge, dressed for the first time in something other than those uniform gray scrub pants and plain white t-shirt.
Well, she kept the pants on, because that old skirt just didn't appeal to her anymore - with it's barely there denim and cigarette burn on the right side.
But she has on the tattered tank-top she was wearing the day she arrived - they have washed it and it smells like lavender - and she picks at the frayed band logo across her chest nervously.

A year is a long time to not see a familiar face. All the people in this place have become the scenery to Ashley's life and she knows them by heart now. The people she used to know - the dealers and the misfits, the hidden faces in every bar and in every club... She cannot recall them so well anymore.
But she knows her sister the minute the girl walks in.
A year is a long time to not see your sister, too.
Especially when it was that same sister that carted you off to this place as you kicked and fought and gave said sister a nasty black-eye.
As you cursed her and spit at her. As you told her to die and to go fuck... well, just about anything.
A year is a long time no matter how you cut the hours.

Kyla waves like a little kid and Ashley awkwardly waves back. When the woman at the front of the room gives the go ahead, visitors can move forward. Some of them are crying and there are hugs, which are broken up without much fuss. The staff is fearful of drugs being passed along, even though they do a search at the gate. And Ashley gets it.
Once an addict, always an addict.

Kyla walks over and Ashley stands up, gripping her plastic bag. They stand in front of each other like strangers. Which they are, kind of. All those days of sibling teasing and birthday parties and such, they are so far from today.
Today, Ashley is feeling as lost as she ever did - like being fourteen and taunted in school - and, yet, she looks older than she should - lines on her face that fool those that look at her, seeing the marks of a hard life instead of the flush of all her young twenty-seven years.
Kyla, though, is put together and fresh-faced. Kyla tugs on a strand of her dark hair in anxiousness. Kyla is in brand-name jeans and her lips are a glossy pink.
They are like some bizarre before-and-after picture come to life.
And it all just depends on which direction you want to go - uptown or downtown, the sister with the pretty life or the sister who gave up on life.

"Hey Ash."
"Hey Ky."

The nicknames bring a smile to them both and the tension loses a hint of its edge.

"Do, uh... do you need help packing up?" Kyla asks haltingly and Ashley can't help but snort out a laugh.
"Nah, I think I've got it covered." Ashley replies, holding up the bag with her skirt in it and her old wallet and a matchbook from some place called The Shanghai Surprise.
She thinks it is a strip club, but the memories are hazy at best.
Kyla's eyes shift around and the hand is still toying with the hair. And Ashley is no longer tapping her fingers, because her foot is tapping instead.
And it is all wrong, this feeling of being disconnected, but she has no clue on how to fix it.
She could barely fix herself and it took a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of persistence to get this far.
It's hard to get back to normal when normal is like a distant shore and you are just learning to doggie-paddle.

But then Kyla reaches out, blink and you might miss it though it may be... Kyla reaches out and pulls Ashley into an embrace.
A strong arm around her shoulders and a firm palm pressed to her back. A gust of warm air against her ear, a breath with a whisper attached to it.

"Let's get you out of here, okay?"

And Ashley is pulled out just as she was pushed in, back to the world one year later, a world she doesn't know a damn thing about.
But Kyla is still holding her hand.
And for the first time in a long while, Ashley is feeling the sun on her skin and it feels alright.

/ / /

"So, I have this idea and I think it will be a good way to sort of help you adjust."

It's been two weeks. And Ashley has read more than she ever has in her entire life - magazines at first, but now it is books.
And she doesn't leave Kyla's two bedroom apartment, not even to sit on the stoop and inhale some city air.
She just reads all day long and cleans the apartment to the point that one could eat off the floor, if they were so inclined.
She's read philosophy books. And books about the second world war. She has read over cooking books and written down notes in the margins, add-ons to recipes. She has read erotica and been left feeling not so much turned-on as bored.
Is it a side-effect of purging your blood of false happiness that leaves one adrift? Is it an unspoken state of being that all of these survivors of substance abuse must get used to - kind of hiding from life and kind of numb to everything?

Or is it the fact that Ashley can feel things now and it scares her to death?

No line of powder to cower behind. No dark corner with the snap of rubber ringing in her ears to shelter her bones in. Nope, she is here in the world now - sober and eyes wide open - and she is fucking terrified.
Ashley shuts the book that is propped up on her stomach as she lays on the couch, index finger for a book-mark, and turns her gaze to her sister.

"What's that?"
"Some friends of mine are going to drive to the coast, you know, a last hurrah before college wraps up... and I was hoping that we could join them."
"Um, well... maybe..."
"Ash... c'mon, I've let you stay cooped up in here for days. And I get it, I do. You need to take your time and I want to help you in any way I can... but you have got to get out of here."

Ashley sighs and pushes her body upwards, shoving her bare feet into the cushions and she stares at the cover of her latest bit of reading material.
Zen And the Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. Heavy-handed crap masked as a revelation, that's all it is. But it takes up time and Ashley has a lot of time to take up.
Besides, she has learned the art of finding lessons in the mire of mistakes.
She's had to learn that after-all.

"I know, I know... okay, so what, it'll be... for like a day or two?"

Kyla smiles sheepishly and clears her throat.

"More like weeks."
"It's summer break and they want to do a real road-trip."
"To where?"
"The coast."
"What coast, Ky?"
"The, uh, one on the east."
"The east coast? As in... all the way across the damn country?"
"You can take 40 all the way from here to, like, North Carolina."
"They want to go to North Carolina?"
"No, they want to take 40 and then shoot down to the Keys."
"No fucking way."

And Ashley tries to leave it at that.
Because that is too much, too far, too... everything that Ashley cannot handle right now.
And Kyla should know better.
They are piecing their relationship back together and the stitching is still so fine, still so easy to rip open again.
She is trying to find her footing again. She is afraid to even go to the grocery store - fearful that she'll walk around in a stupor. Or worse, she'll never make it to the store at all.
Or worse, that she'll detour and seek out that taste of something so horribly bittersweet.
So, Ashley stays locked away and reads and cleans.

Kyla doesn't let up, though. She prods. She begs. She talks it out all mature-like. She writes up a list of pros and cons and leaves it under Ashley's bedroom door.
Kyla whips up breakfast and serves it and beams, hoping that a plate of eggs and bacon will sway Ashley to agreeing.
Kyla talks about the friends going, how cool they are and how fun they are and how they know about Ashley - but not everything about Ashley - and how they are happy to have her along for the journey.
Kyla goes on and on and on, turning this trip into the last epic thing anyone could ever want to do.
And Ashley finally breaks, unable to hold on to her ground as Kyla keeps tearing it away, a rug being subtly jerked out from under her feet.

"We can go."
"Oh my god, Ash, you'll not regret this I swe-"
"I have rules, Ky."
"Yea, sure, of course."
"Anywhere we stay, you stay with me, okay? And it's not because I don't trust you... it's, uh, because I don't trust myself. Not yet. Not fully."

Kyla takes Ashley's hand into her own and gives it a supportive squeeze.

"Not a problem. I'm all yours, Ash, you know it. I said anything and I meant it."

Ashley smiles a bit at that and allows her body to relax some.

"And I know how things like this go, so, uh, make sure to keep stuff hidden... alright? I mean like really hidden, Kyla. I want to say I can stay strong and I think I can... but I don't want to be tempted. Not by anything. Got it?"

Kyla nods quickly and then tugs Ashley into a hug. Which she does a lot of, hugging Ashley at every turn. It took a moment or two to get used to. It still takes getting used to. But this is life, full of uncomfortable situations... and pretty amazing ones, too... and Ashley wants to be a part of it. Not just a girl on the side-lines, not just a statistic, not just a random pill being popped.
And maybe this is the way to do it. Not just a baby-step out the door, but to break out into a sprint. Not really alone, but with someone who gives a damn... and, maybe, Ashley can learn to give a damn, too.
Maybe she already has.
'Day by day' they say in rehab. 'Step by step' repeated at the end of each painful session.

And so Ashley agrees to do just that, all the way to the east coast and back.

/ / /