Hey guys. Sorry this took awhile. I had exams.
Hope you guys. Enjoy this chapter. We'll find out who Paige texted. And of course... I plan on Spencer and Emily having a scene together next chapter. The last couple of episodes of PLL, is kinda how I picture prison!Spencer looking. That whole haggard and worn look. But also older and scarred. Troian is killing it in Season 3B right?
Thanks for all the reviews and follows. I love reading them so keep em coming. Thanks for being patient as well.
I don't own PLL or we'd get to see Spencer's cupcakes.
The shop was practically empty when she got inside. Spencer blamed it on the weather. It was freezing, and the type of cold that didn't know if it wanted to be rain or become snow. It was indecisive, but it was brutal. Ice was the weapon of choice, and it hacked down to the bone.
She was glad she had changed into something warmer before she and Paige had left the storage unit. The jeans and sweater still fit but the thermal top she pulled out was a little tight around her biceps. In high school, she had avoided the weight room out of some fear of putting on too much muscle. But that fear was one fed to her by the media. Because the exercises she did in prison to keep focus and strength of mind just left her more toned and defined. The muscles in her arms were visible without flexing. She wondered how different she looked from her younger self. Waifish and thin to lean and athletic. Adults had always remarked she acted mature for her age, but now she probably looked older than she actually was. Prison aged you quickly she had been told.
There were some photographs in the footlocker along with her junior yearbook. She took them and some of the clothes she had owned. They were in the Rosewoood high gym bag slung over her shoulder. She had left the journals behind since she didn't know how to explain them to her parole officer. They would be there when she went back tonight.
Spencer greeted Karolina and Solomon who were behind the counter. "Morning."
"Missed you yesterday. After your disappearing act." Karolina was angry. She had every right to be. It was Karolina's job to watch Teddy. Spencer pretty much took her charge and left without telling anyone. Then she had taken the morning off to accompany Emily to the vet's and had begged off work in the afternoon, which Nina had allowed since she was taking time off for herself. But in reality she had gone to the storage unit to start reading the journals.
With being mad at Emily then having the woman mad at her and having them forgive each other and making up only to have Emily angry at her again, Spencer had not given her younger friend a single thought. "I'm sorry. I hope Emily didn't tear into you like she did me."
"I'm not mad because you got Doc Fields pissed at me." Karolina was frustrated with her. Solomon frowned at her as well. Spencer hung her head.
"I should have told you I was okay. I mean you worry about me. A lot. It's just something I'm not used to. Having people."
Spencer felt that she had left everyone who thought she mattered behind in Muncy. People she probably wouldn't have given a second thought if she had met them on the street. But being in the same situation eventually forged strong friendships. Without that catalyst she wouldn't have friends, she'd have connections and people she'd use to get ahead. Like Alison bringing the four of them together. When she was gone, Spencer threw herself into academics and getting into U Penn and her social life didn't exist. Then A reunited them. She was alive again, instead of wires and circuits. She felt, cared, and loved enough to sacrifice herself.
Those first years in prison, Spencer had shut off again. She had gone through the motions unless Milk and her posse had decided to entertain themselves by bullying her. None of that hurt because though she didn't feel and she didn't care. She didn't love. The Professor and Mac would still try with smiles and greetings. Chuck would talk shit about her. Semi would flirt with her. She couldn't get attached.
But the outside world could still shatter her.
"Spencer, I ran into Pam the other day and she told me some amazing news. Emily got engaged. She proposed to that nice girl from-"
She drowned her mother out in shock. Emily was engaged. Her throat went dry. She shouldn't have been hurt. Emily had to move on with her life. That's why she had done all this. The girl didn't even know she was supposed to wait for her. She hadn't told Emily about her feelings. She hadn't told Emily anything.
She was never getting out. She was never going to be with Emily. What had she been thinking? Her brain shut down and she spent the rest of her mother's visit on autopilot, spitting out the appropriate mumbled responses. She hugged her mother goodbye and then went to be strip-searched.
She coasted through that as well. Even if Emily's engagement wasn't currently making her go numb, the process didn't get to her anymore. This was no longer humiliating to her. She didn't feel. She didn't care. It was just another ritual.
She removed her shoes and socks, then her shirt, pants, and undershirt. She lifted up her bra and bared her breasts. She lifted up her feet to show her soles. She turned around, her back to a female prison guard. She pulled her underwear down and dropped into a squat. She coughed, completing all the motions so the COs could look for contraband. Every prisoner had to go through this if they wanted visitors. And her mother needed the visits just as much as she did. Spencer just hoped her mother didn't have to go through anything degrading just to visit her.
She got dressed quickly. She had to find her. Because she felt this. And she did care. But she didn't want to. She wanted to feel anything but destroyed at actually losing Emily. It hurt. Her heart hurt, being squeezed and then shredded. She started jogging towards the woman's cell, where she knew she'd be.
There she was on the bottom bunk in her cell. The semi attractive woman from her first day. The woman that showed her a kindness when Spencer would only spurn her. Who chuckled at her when she couldn't cut vegetables and showed her how to use a knife. Who sat with her at breakfast and would have a cup of coffee ready for her, black the way she liked it. Who would sing Nina Simone and Billie Holiday to her and surprise her with French poetry or Pablo Neruda. Who made sure she'd have gloves or scarves or wool hats. Who would look at her cuts and bruises with concern and try to tend to them. Who would steady her by putting a calming hand on her shoulder, which she'd shrug off.
Semi looked up from the book she was reading, it looked like Finnegan's Wake. Which if you were in prison and cerebral enough, seemed like the exact book to tackle. Semi was hard to define, charming and relaxed to vicious when a prisoner broke an unspoken rule. The woman could be refined and classy, but also brutish and crude depending on the situation. She was the most respected prisoner. Even Milk was afraid of her. Spencer wanted to stay away, but always found herself pulled back to Semi. There were chess games and debates and dissections on different topics. Arcade Fire lyrics and chemistry formulas. Semi was the deepest fountain of knowledge.
How could someone so intelligent end up in prison?
But that wasn't what she came to ask.
"My Lioness." Semi smiled. It wasn't a predatory grin. Semi never was. She was a warm embrace. She was solid. There was trust there only if Spencer would take it.
Spencer's voice was brittle, desperate not to hurt and seeking shelter in the safest place she knew in this madness.
Karolina came around the counter and wrapped her in a hug. "Stop scaring me like this. Because I can't stay mad at you. You're like a wind up toy that just started getting played with again. You're just so socially awkward and it's adorable."
Spencer cocked her head to the side. "They still make those?"
"I had one when I was a kid. It was a robot. Nice and made of tin. I took it apart to see how it worked. It ended up going faster." Solomon shrugged. "My origin story."
Solomon was working through grad school. He was getting his Master's at U Penn in engineering. Karolina was taking a year off from school so she could earn more money in order to finish her degree in speech therapy. Both of them had their parents helping them out.
"Like Tik-Tok." Karolina said.
"The Ke$ha song?" Spencer asked confused. The couple started back at her. Had she just dated herself?
"You practically inhale books, but you haven't read the Oz series?" Karolina was surprised.
"I read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. And I borrowed Wicked from a neighbor." Spencer explained. Mac did not let up on her recommendations, so for the first time in her life Spencer had read comic books. From Watchmen to Gotham Central to Runaways. But her favorite had to be Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.
It was about a man at different points in his life, an obituary writer who thought about life and death. Beautifully written with gorgeous artwork, Daytripper called for her to close the book more than once and reflect. It made Spencer think about her life, and the different paths she could have taken. Where could she have ended up? Had she died in the bell tower with Ian. If she had gone over the cliff instead of Mona. If she had thought to join with A and counter act all of their actions back then, instead of going to prison to save the other girls and damning herself in the process. A thousand different timelines where she had acted differently.
It was a heavy book and it weighed on her soul. One she wanted to keep tightly to her chest and share with strangers on the street. Even now, she had to pause, recalling each end Bras de Olivia Domingos came to. She shut her eyes, reveling in the caress of a cherished book.
"And a yellow hen. So Tik-Tok was a mechanical man. That had different windings for thought, action and speech. But he couldn't wind himself up. So he would shut down during the most inopportune moments." Karolina explained with the air of a diehard fan. Her face and voice were full of passion and delight at sharing what had to be a beloved series. "He wasn't alive which meant he couldn't feel emotions, so he couldn't love but he was loyal and devoted to Dorothy."
"Sounds like a toaster." Spencer deadpanned. "Loyal to making me breakfast and devoted to making sure I don't starve. Turn it on its side and it makes a decent grilled cheese."
"So you're saying Spencer's a toaster?" Solomon shared a look with Spencer.
"No! I was just bringing up Tik-Tok because you made me think of him."
"So you're saying I'm like this robot? Unfeeling and unable to love? And I freeze up in high stakes situation?" Spencer said in monotone, deciding to tease her with Solomon. Even though she felt like a machine sometimes with the routines, she still felt emotions no matter how hard she tried not to. She enjoyed being around her younger co-workers more and more. She could forget how much older she was than the both of them. She could forget the past and how the first letter in the alphabet was stalking her. If only for a moment.
"No. You guys are assholes!" Karolina threw her hands up. "If anything Spencer is the Tin Woodsman."
But there would always be reminders tearing into her.
If you only had a heart.
Spencer recoiled. "I better put my stuff up and get started." She shrugged her shoulder up, gesturing at her gym bag. She left and pushed into the kitchen. She set her bag down on her shelf then took off her jacket. She balled up the old thing and shoved it in next to her bag.
The scarf Emily made her was still around her neck, like a noose. She tore it off and rubbed at her throat. She still valued it though, so she rolled it up and went to place it in her bag.
Unzipping it, she found a Manila envelope right on top of her clothes. She tucked the scarf along the side. She pulled out one of the photos. It was of the four of them after one of Emily's meets. Of course, the Sharks had won. Hanna was actually captured in mid-scream. She hadn't stopped cheering yet. Aria had on her usual gentle grin, happy for her friend. Emily, despite beating her personal best in the freestyle and bringing it home in the medley relay, was looking away from the camera. Always humble. And Spencer.
Spencer was looking at Emily as if she were the only thing in the whole universe.
It seemed so obvious glancing at this photo that Spencer was in love with Emily. But she hadn't realized it then. The moment of epiphany came too late for them.
She had changed just as much as she had, but she was so much more better for it. She had always been a beautiful girl. A whole other level. Spencer knew a lot of words. Stunning. Tantalizing. Pulchritudinous. She prided herself on her vocabulary but no words could do Emily justice. Spencer didn't think it was possible, but Emily had only gotten more gorgeous.
Curves she had been envious of had become more ample. Her skin was enough to incinerate, and Spencer didn't mind the slow death. Her face was unreal. To see Emily once, was to see her every time you closed your eyes, each feature imprinted on the back of your eyelids. That was the type of beautiful only heard about in mythology. Like Helen of Troy, Guinevere, Sita, or Kaguya combined.
Everything for Emily was a kindness. But for Spencer, Emily was maddening. She was caustic.
"You're in early."
Spencer quickly put the photo up, and turned to her bosses. "Good morning. Uh, yeah. I don't have any where else to be really." She shrugged.
"I know what you mean." Eli smirked. The older con noticed the envelope in her hand. "What's that you've got there?"
"I'd love to see them." Nina said.
Spencer hesitated. But she was conditioned to hand things over to authority. Just as she had done with Paige, she did so now with Nina.
She knew neither woman would use anything against her or punish her for anything. There was nothing to be ashamed of in the photos really. No. It was that she was distances away from who she was then that cause a flicker of hurt. The texts didn't explicitly reveal details about Emily kissing her. No. It was that she was stupid enough to think she wouldn't get caught that stung.
"Oh. These are precious." Nina beamed. She shared one of the photos with Eli. The woman just nodded. "Emily was... a lot less thick back then. But she's the type that'll look great either way."
"Me, I prefer my women with a little meat on them." Eli pinched Nina on her side, making the other woman laugh and slap her hand away.
"Cut that out." Nina shook her head in amusement. She went back to the photos. "And you, Spencer. You have a brilliant smile. It should come around more often."
Spencer felt her lips quirk up and her eyes crinkling at the complement. She thought of Emily's smile. Hers could not compare. That smile was a sin, and Spencer was no saint. Truth was that it was fire and brimstone, and she wouldn't repent. She'd always lift Emily up over her own salvation.
That why her life was in shambles. Emily was chaos. Her downfall.
Coughing, Spencer looked down and away. Her hand went to the crook of her elbow. "What should I get started on?"
"Oh." Nina sounded confused at the sudden change in Spencer.
"There's the pans and bowls from this morning."
Before Nina was finished speaking, Spencer was already at the sink, rolling up her sleeves. She grabbed a cupcake pan. It was a mess, and she knew messes. She was currently living one. Fortunately, it was easy to clean up compared to the situation with Emily.
Spencer had found it easier to make Emily angry than to explain anything to her. To tell her about the journals would mean to open up about all the lies she had spun. She couldn't do that just yet. And Paige didn't want Emily to know about the journals. Her mother didn't want her to know about the journals. And she didn't want her to know about the journals.
She just wanted Emily to live her life. To do her job, and to save lives. To raise her daughter. To love her... wife. To love Paige. That's what she traded everything for. For Emily to have just a normal life, and to not be pulled down with her.
Emily was angry with her, but she would live.
"So you went to high school with them? Emily, Paige, and Hanna?" Eli was at her side. She added another cake pan to her pile that needed to be cleaned.
"Yeah." Spencer didn't look up from her work.
"That must be some history you have together."
"I suppose." She paused and took off her sweater, setting it aside. It was warm in the kitchen and Eli was making her sweat. She picked up the cake pan that Eli had added.
"You didn't just go to high school with them. You all were friends. There were five of you until there were only four of you."
"Someone knows how to use Google." Spencer deadpanned. "What happened to never asking what someone did to end up serving time?"
"One, I didn't ask. Like you said I Googled. And two, we're not in stir anymore so the rule doesn't apply. Because I'm sure as hell going to look out for Nina. And I'm looking out for you in the long run."
"Really? By digging into my past?"
"Yeah. Because Emily was dating Maya St. Germain. And I'm thinking she had something for Alison DiLaurentis. Those photos. You were stupid in love with her. It was all over your face."
Spencer looked at Eli and then she started laughing. The story everyone knew was that Spencer had Garrett Reynolds so wrapped around her finger that she got him to kill Alison DiLaurentis in order to have Ian Thomas's affection all to herself. Ian Thomas was then killed by Garrett Reynolds out of jealousy. Maya St. Germain, poor girl, had found evidence about Alison's murder and went to Spencer with it. Her mistake was trusting her girlfriend's best friend and it cost her her life.
It all made for a very melodramatic and overwrought made-for-tv movie Spencer found out. Some 27-year-old actress played her.
"That's... that's a new one. You're saying what? That I got rid of my rivals for Emily? That blonde one and Paige are still breathing." Spencer still had an amused smirk on her face, as she continued scrubbing.
"A little odd that Paige got blown up and the cops still don't know who the doer is."
"So I ordered a hit. From prison?" Spencer started up her laughter again. The theory sounded like something that she would have come up with in high school. That Alison and Maya were killed by someone that wanted Emily all to themselves.
She stopped laughing. That was something to think about.
"You done? Because what I'm saying is that you went to prison because of Emily. And you'll end up there again because of her." Eli warned. "Or you'll end up dead."
The older ex-con spoke again after a beat. "I know love. And it makes you do stupid shit. Don't do some stupid shit because of Emily."
Spencer slammed the cake pan in her hands down on the sink with a clang. "And how about Nina? Are you doing stupid shit because of her?"
"Yeah. I am. But this isn't about me." Eli didn't rise to the bait.
"You don't know me." Spencer spat out each word with harsh, burning emphasis.
"I know enough that you couldn't have killed anyone."
Spencer clenched her jaw. Eli was close. All of that had just been to gauge her reaction. Did she have a tell? Mac had figured it out. And so had Semi. She told them the truth and they weren't in a position to believed.
It was another way that Semi had surprised her.
They were out in the yard. Spencer was laid out on the grass with hand behind her head, eyes closed. She loved the feel of the sun's warmth on her face. Semi was sitting next to her, as close as she could get without breaking the rule about physical contact between prisoners. But that was one rule Spencer would break with Semi when she could get away with it. Stealing caresses and kisses. She turned her head to look at the woman.
Semi was probably once fully attractive, but prison took years from you quickly. Spencer had that to look forward to. She kinda reminded her of the protagonist from Flashdance, if she never left her job at the steel mill to pursue dancing. Long dark curly hair and olive skin. Kind brown eyes that were full of mirth even though she was serving a life sentence. There was a small scar on her chin, as if someone had struck her while wearing a ring.
"How are you so sure?" Spencer asked.
"Because only an innocent person would look so guilty all the damn time. It's in the way you walk and talk. It's in your smile. You sleep it and you breathe it. You even bleed it all over when you fight. I'm here because I killed someone. That's no secret. You're here because you're keeping so many. You're not a murder mistress. You're just a liar."
"Didn't you watch the Lifetime movie? I'm the psycho whore that got an easily lead man to kill for her." Spencer gritted her teeth. It should have been amusing. That the movie had demonized her and had given Alison a soul. She couldn't finish it and had left the net cafe in disgust.
"I did. And it was really bad. Just horrible."
Spencer barked out a laugh. "Yeah. It was, wasn't it?"
"I couldn't finish it."
"Neither could I. I was actually offended at the cheap production value. At least the actress that played me was decent."
"Yeah. She's awesome. She was in some great indie films." Eli paused. "Are you okay though? I know I play the strict parent to Nina's fun one. Give out the tough love. But I'm just worried about you. I was where you were. Some days I still am." Eli stood in front of her. "If you feel like I treat you like a child, then I'm sorry. I can't help it."
Spencer knew where Eli was coming from. She knew what the older ex-con was saying, but couldn't say out loud. She saw Spencer as a daughter. It was something she had seen in prison. There would be groups of women that played at being a family, with a mom and a grandmother, sisters and cousin. She hadn't really gone for that, trying to be a loner. The closest thing she had to family in there was Mac and Chuck and the Professor. She didn't think of any of them as parental. She guessed Mac and Chuck treated her like a kid sister. They were better sisters than Melissa was to her. And the Professor was like an experienced aunt that only came around a few times a year. That's how little her bunkie spoke.
But Eli and Nina were definitely the parents of their little work family. Frida was the hardworking honor student of a little sister. Travis was the musical middle sibling trying to make it big with his indie band. And she was the failed older child that wasn't going places and doing the equivalent of living with the parents. This bitter thought made her cast Karolina and Solomon as the aunt and uncle playing favorites by taking her to movies and out to dinner.
They all had something, while Spencer just had a dead end. This was as good as it was going to get. Even outside of prison, she was a lifer. She was going to be stuck working at the coffee shop while every one of her co-workers would be moving on eventually. They were friends now, but Karolina and Solomon would finish school and get the jobs they wanted. He would propose and she would say yes. They'd get married and then have adorable mixed race babies. They'd drift away from her and she'd probably be teaching new employers how to work the espresso machine until she died. Or went back to prison. Which with A around, could be at any moment.
Spencer sighed. She shouldn't be bitter, but happy for her friends. They had found each other in this fucked up grey world. But instead of making her hopeful, it just made her depressed. She wanted things for herself that she was never going to get outside of a dream. She had lost Emily. And she had lost Semi. It was unlikely that she'd find that kind of love a third time. It was hard enough without a criminal past.
"I appreciate it. I do. But I guess it makes me homesick." Spencer offered as an olive branch. "My mother died while I was down. Breast cancer. She was the only person in my family that stuck by me. Everyone else, my dad, my sister, and my brother washed their hands clean of me."
Peter Hastings. He had paid a private investigator in order to protect Melissa, but had done nothing for her. She didn't think a parent could stop loving their child no matter what mistakes they had made. Even if they had kicked them out of the house and took down all their photographs. She thought there would always be a piece of their heart living outside of their bodies. Always feeling an ache that they wanted to mend. But for Spencer, Peter stopped loving her the moment she was arrested. He didn't have any problems pretending he only had one child. It wasn't much of a stretch since Melissa was the favorite. Spencer knew that he wasn't pretending. He wasn't aching on the inside.
He hadn't taken the piece of his heart back. It was as if he hadn't given it to her in the first place.
While Bruiser was a nickname Paige had given her after the punch she was still ashamed of, Spencer much preferred it over Hastings. If she wasn't being insulted or addressed as Teach, she'd be called Hastings. It's what the COs shouted when they wanted her attention. Each time she heard it was a blow, as if being whipped on her back. The welts of which were reminders that she was cast out. A pariah.
"That's a hard thing to deal with. But you have us. Anytime you want to talk." Eli gave her a warm smile and a hand on her shoulder. "I'll let you get back to work."
Spencer put up the cake pan and went to a mixing bowl. She washed it out and thought about the families you built against the ones you were born into.
The first family she had and the one that she bled herself dry for hadn't stuck by her and she had burned her bridges with her second family. Hanna hated her and Aria was gone, their tether severed. She had to leave her third family behind when she was paroled, but they wished her nothing but the best. Yet for all the care they had shown her, Spencer had yet to return it by writing or calling them. Her fourth family was the most mixed. Not hers only by default but through affection.
Then there was Emily, Paige, and Teddy. She felt welcomed with them. But the A text had been a reminder that she was only playing house. Paige was just an associate. Teddy wasn't her kid. Emily was never hers to have.
Her head was screwed up place and she knew it. One minute she would lash out at someone, the next minute she would be laughing and joking with them. Then she would share something she had been gripping so tightly to her chest. She had no control anymore. There was falling to pieces, and there was what she was going through. She was being ripped into different directions all at once.
A mountain slowly erodes into sand or it gets blasted apart through eruptions and explosions.
As what happened most of the time, Spencer had been so agonized in thought that she had finished off most of her pile that needed to be washed without realizing. All that were left was a measuring cup and some whisks. She finished those up and and headed towards the front of the shop.
Hand about to push the door open, she caught her name being passed between Karolina and a man with a baritone of a voice. She paused to listen in, trying to place the voice.
"Spencer?" Karolina asked loudly, as if she knew she had an audience. "How do you know Spencer?"
"We met yesterday. She was walking Dantes and I was walking my dog. Then I met her and her friends. Paige and Emily? And their daughter. She said that she worked here."
Spencer's heart thudded in her chest. What was he doing here? She didn't think he would actually show up. He had been polite and she had been polite, striking up conversation because they both were out with their furry canine companions.
"Hmm. What did you say your name was?" Karolina spoke with suspicion.
"Oh. Sorry it's Gavin. Gavin Andrews." His voice was soothing, and she could practically hear his charming smile. That thing probably got him so many places.
"Uh. Right. Let me go see if she's busy."
The door swung forward and almost hit Spencer in the face. She jumped back. Karolina stared back at her.
"There's a painfully attractive man up front asking for you. But you probably already knew that." The young woman started smirking at her. "Damn, Spencer."
"I..." Spencer looked down at her shoes. She was nervous. So she knew that she was interested in Gavin. Curious about him. It wouldn't hurt to get to know him. But it would for him to get to know her.
"Come on." Karolina grabbed her hand and made her sit on a stool by the shelves. She left and came back with a small make-up bag.
"Oh." Spencer said. Did she look unpresentable?
She had a rough night and maybe it showed. She did after all sleep on the floor of a storage unit. It hadn't been comfortable and she probably dozed off for twenty minutes before giving up. But then Paige made her take a nap and it had been the closest thing to a decent night of sleep for her in the longest time. It had been peaceful and uninterrupted. Nightmare-less. She had woken up snuggled into Paige's side and had blushed. She had choked out an apology.
"No. I mean you should just run a brush through your hair and maybe mascara?" Karolina took out a tube of mascara.
Spencer didn't really mess with make-up these days. In prison, she hadn't seen the point and it was an attitude she brought with her when she left. She felt that she should make some attempt, but most days she didn't bother with more than eyeliner. Because at the end of the day, when she had to choose between bread or make-up she'd go with bread.
But she nodded to Karolina.
Eye make-up applied and Karolina convincing her that her hair looked better down, Spencer went up front to meet Gavin.
"Hey. Sorry to interrupt." Gavin greeted her warmly. "But I was in the neighborhood and thought I'd drop by."
"Oh. No. I wasn't too busy." Spencer didn't know what to do with her hands. She looked around the shop. It was still pretty empty. "It's a slow day."
"Spencer! Tell your friend he should try the cinnamon rolls." Nina was holding a tray of the pastries. "Fresh out of the oven."
"Well. I guess I have to get one then. And maybe two cups of coffee?" Gavin took out his wallet. "What'll you have?"
"Charming thing aren't you?" Nina laugh. "Go ahead, Spencer. There's not much for you to do. Take a break."
Spencer let Gavin buy her a cup of the brewed coffee and he bought a latte. Karolina winked at her when she put the cinnamon bun on a tray along with two forks. When their order was complete, Gavin picked up the loaded tray and carried it to a table. He set it down and pulled out a chair for her.
It threw Spencer for a moment. She didn't think that people still did that. She sat down and then Gavin took his seat across from her. Spencer picked up her mug and wrapped her hands around it. She looked down at the dark liquid.
"Thanks for taking pity on a guy in a new town and having coffee with me."
"Thanks for the coffee and making my day a little brighter." Spencer looked up at him bashfully.
"It's no problem." Gavin cocked his head to the side and watched her. "So tell me about yourself."
"There's not much to tell." Spencer went back to divining answers from her coffee. How fast would this guy run from the table if she told him she had been in prison for the last fifteen years and was currently out on parole? When exactly did you bring something like that up? The fifth date? Was it going to go anywhere?
She told herself to relax. It was a friendly cup of coffee. Just like Emily had said.
"I'm sure that's not true." Gavin offered a smile that would left even the most frigid of women a puddle on the floor. "But I'll go first. And if you think it's interesting and sufficient enough, maybe we can trade stories? Or else we're going to have to get another cup of coffee sometime soon or maybe even dinner."
Spencer laughed. "Sounds good."
It was a light conversation. Spencer learned that Gavin had moved to Philadelphia from Chicago to work at a social news network. He was a journalist, which was another thing that surprised Spencer. Print media was dying, and newspapers had been the first to go. That was one thing she had noticed no longer littering the streets. While everything had moved to electronic copies and tablets, books and magazines still held on.
But he still spoke with passion about his profession. He was excited because he had been hired on not only to write articles but to report them in clips that people could go online to watch or stream. At least that's what Spencer inferred. She really didn't know for sure, but someone that had been a part of the world for the last fifteen years who know what he was talking about. She didn't own a tablet and she didn't know how to get her phone to go online. She still used her phone like a phone.
She learned that he had gone to Northwestern. His parents still lived in the house he grew up in back in Kentucky. He preferred the Rolling Stones over the Beatles. He had a sister that worked in the Foreign Service. He broke his arm his freshman year of high school when he tried to launch his bike off a homemade bike ramp.
And Gavin learned that Spencer liked to drink her coffee black.
"So I guess we're going to have dinner sometime?" Gavin grinned.
"I guess so." Spencer nodded shyly. She was actually looking forward to that.
He put her hand on top of hers and she tensed. He looked at her in apology. "Thank you for having coffee with me and sharing a cinnamon bun. I hope I didn't bore you."
"Not at all. Sorry I let you do all the talking." Part of it was not knowing what to say, but mostly because the sound of his voice was calming and had her relaxed. Maybe next time she'd relax enough to share some of herself.
They exchanged phone numbers and then after a promise to call and a quick goodbye, Gavin was gone.
Spencer sat at the table quietly, staring at an empty plate and mugs of coffee. Could something be so simple? So easy. The questions and laughter flowed freely from her mouth and she enjoyed listening to his answers while sipping on her coffee and cutting of bites of a sinfully sweet pastry.
There would be no complications. Gavin wasn't married. He didn't have a daughter. But he didn't know her past. There still would be lying. There still would be secrets. And that seemed to be apart of any relationship Spencer had been involved in.
She hadn't gotten far with Alex and she never told Toby about A. They didn't get back together after Mona had turned out to be A and they had found Maya's body. They had tried, but she had been more concerned with how Emily was doing and Toby left town before she had made the deal with A and had been arrested.
Her most honest relationship had been with Semi. The woman knew everything about her. Even about A.
She wished she could be honest with Emily. Tell her about what she really did to end up in prison and why. Come out and just say how she felt about her.
But what would it achieve?
A was still out there and Paige could keep Emily safe. Probably even more than she could. An ex-con had no real standing in the world, while a sought after lawyer could keep her out of danger. For whatever reason, Spencer was A's favorite target and as long as she was then Emily wasn't in the line of fire.
Karolina slipped into the chair across from her where Gavin had been sitting previously. "So?"
"It went okay. There are plans to have dinner. But I don't know." Spencer admitted.
"You don't know?"
"He was nice. He made me laugh but..." Spencer hesitated.
"It's okay. You don't have to commit to anything. Go your own speed." Karolina suggested hopefully. "I mean you're new to dating. It's been awhile right?"
"That and why I'm back to dating." Spencer was breathing harder.
She went to prison while still in high school. She'd only been with boys, not men. And the last person she'd been with was a woman. She didn't even know how to talk to people, let alone date them. And of course explaining why she had been in prison.
"Tell him when you're ready. That's all I can say." Karolina stood up and started clearing the table. Spencer helped her and then went back to work.
After her shift ended, Spencer found herself standing in front of Emily and Paige's building. She adjusted the strap of her gym bag as she gazed up at it. She missed Dantes.
She had told Paige that it would have been for the best that she didn't show up at their apartment to walk Dantes, in case she ran into Emily. Paige had told her not to be an idiot and to show up anytime to see her dog. Emily was just mad at her, the lawyer had said. She didn't hate her. She wouldn't keep Dantes or Teddy away from her.
Still, she didn't want to see Emily so soon least she ending up confessing everything. So she told Paige that it was too cold for the little dog to be out and asked if she wouldn't mind looking after him. Paige didn't push her and said she would take him for the day.
But now she was standing there feeling extremely lost and lonely. She got herself to move and started walking towards her bus stop. Every step she took was a step further away from Emily.
The sidewalk was empty just like the shop had been. The sky was still grey. She adjusted her scarf to cover the lower part of her face to shield it against the wind. Her hair whipped around her face and she wished she had picked up a sweater with a hood this morning or had a hat.
Her arm was jerked back. And she almost ended up punching Paige again.
"Whoa, Bruiser. I didn't mean to startle you but I called your name twice." Paige was grinning at her with her hands up in front of her in defense. "Caleb even honked the horn." She nodded her head over her shoulder. There was her silver Mercedes parked alongside the curb and Caleb was waving at her from the passenger seat. Paige took her gym bag. "Come on. It's cold as Hoth out here and I left my coat in the car."
Spencer followed the lawyer to the car. Paige opened the door for her and she got into the backseat. Paige put her bag in the trunk and got behind the wheel. She looked up at her in the rearview mirror. "Put your seatbelt on."
Spencer did as she was told.
Caleb turned around in his seat and greeted her warmly. "Hey."
"I texted him this morning." Paige turned her head and once there was an opening she pulled away from the curb.
"A is back and I want to help." He was nothing but determined. "She can't hurt Hanna again."
Spencer stared at him in disbelief. His hair was shorter than he wore it in high school. And he had a thick beard going on that was neatly trimmed. She wondered how Hanna let him get away with it. But he didn't look scruffy or hobo-ish. He looked polished and put together in a suit and tie. Spencer shrugged out of her jacket suddenly feeling shabby around him and Paige.
"This is dangerous." Spencer gritted her teeth. He and Hanna had a child on the way. Paige and Emily had Teddy. Spencer had no one and she was starting to regret ever involving anyone.
"Believe me, I know." Caleb replied. "When your breaks get cut, there's really only one person at the top of the list of suspects."
Spencer bolted out of the seat but stopped when the seatbelt hindered her movement forward.
"Seriously, Wolfie? You just don't spring that kind of thing on people." Paige deadpanned but kept her eye on the road. There were less buildings now. They were leaving the city center and heading for a less populated area. Trees lined the road, like sentries.
"How exactly did you tell her about you getting blown up? In a greeting card?" Caleb fired back.
"Ezra." Spencer interrupted their argument. She had to know. They had to confirm it for her. Nothing else mattered except finding that out. Not even the fact that she was breaking the terms of her parole by leaving the city without permission. "What happened to Ezra?"
Caleb looked at Paige. The lawyer focused on driving. "We're not out of Philly, so calm down."
"What happened to Ezra?" This time she was screaming at them.
"There was a fire at their apartment." Paige started slowly. "Aria got out but Erza didn't."
Spencer squeezed her eyes shut and clamped her hands over her ears. She began wailing, a sound ripped away from deep in her soul. It was an inhuman noise and she couldn't believe that it was her throat it was escaping from. She knocked her head against the door. She flailed her legs out and hit the back of Paige's seat.
The car swerved violently, but she kicked her legs out again.
"Spencer! Stop! You'll get us killed." Caleb pleaded and she responded with more primal shrieking.
That's what she did. Got people destroyed. It was the only thing she was capable of. She had handed them all death sentences without a thought. She had only selfishly thought of saving Emily. Aria and Hanna were just bonuses. Damn everyone else. Caleb was lucky. Paige had survived, but had been maimed. But she had gotten Ezra killed. Just like she had killed her mother.
No good deed goes unpunished.
She was contorting her body to escape, the seatbelt strangling her. She had to get out. She had to get away. Her hand reached out for the door, but the handle eluded her panicked grasp. She pounded her hand against the door repeatedly.
There was the sound of enraged tires screaming to a stop followed by a click of a seatbelt unlatching. It was hers and she got the door open finally.
She was crawling out of the car, gravel biting into her palms. Soon she was up on her feet and running past bare trees and over decaying leaves. The only sound was the blood rushing in her ears. Nothing else existed but the need to escape.
Then something slammed into her and she ended up laid out flat on her back. She was being pinned to the ground. She struggled, bucking her hips and kicking out her heels. She started clawing at the person on top of her, desperate for them to hurt her back. She had to be punished. She was begging to be punished.
There was a sting against her cheek and then she was gasping for air in shuddering breaths. Her face was wet and her vision was blurry with tears but she could make out Paige's face staring down at her own.
Paige looked scared even though she was the one straddling her and thus in a position of power. There was a trickle of blood from a cut on her chin and her right eye was clamped shut. Her glasses were gone. Spencer realized that she was crying too, but tears were only trailing down the left side of her face.
Paige got off of her and Spencer just laid there in the dirt moaning. She felt Caleb standing over them. She closed her eyes. She didn't want to see the pity he had for her.
They should just leave her there. Didn't they know what she had done to them? She had to warn them. She was poison. She was an inferno. She was a plague and would only bring them down. Suffering was contagious and should be done behind closed doors.
But strong arms wrapped themselves around her in an embrace. Paige dragged her into her lap and cradled her tightly. Spencer sobbed against her chest, while the woman soothingly ran her fingers through her hair and her other hand rubbed at her back.
"I have you. Let it all out."
"It's all my fault. I'm sorry." Spencer shuddered again. She clutched at Paige's jacket. "I'm so sorry."
Paige kept holding her as if she was attempting to keep her from crumbling again. It felt too late for that. She was just so tired. Despair stretched before her and it invaded everything like a disease. It was too much.
"No one blames you." Paige was trying to comfort her. She wanted to believe, but it was a lie. Her dad. Melissa. Hanna. And probably Aria. They blamed her.
"It'll be okay." Another falsehood.
"You don't know." Spencer cupped Paige's scarred cheek. She needed her to listen. To understand. "I did that. I'm sorry."
Sorry was the word that she held onto. If she said it enough times, maybe they'd forgive her.