Chapter Two:

Moments had passed that had seemed like hours and hours, each one longer than the last. She wasn't sure how long they had been sitting there on the hard porch floor with Spencer curled into her and her long arms surrounding her tightly, rubbing smooth circles on her back. Her mind was still wrestling with the news, trying and fighting to understand and wrap itself around it. Her eyes stared blankly out into the yard, their gaze locked on nothing in particular. She could feel that her mouth had gone dry long before as her breaths came out raggedly now. All she could manage to do as she leaned back against the house was think about her sister and so many memories from their childhood ran rampant through her mind, catapulting her back in time.

"Come on Ashy," Kyla's confident voice demanded as they sat in their tree house one late spring night. "Don't be such a wuss."

Ashley sat with the bottle inches from her lips contemplating whether or not she should go through with it. She could tell that the contents were warm by now, having snuck them up there hours before just after their dinner clean up once their father had retired to the couch for a night of wrestling on cable. Every week he would do so and be occupied for hours.

"I don't know Ky," Ashley's unsure voice said as the smell from the bottle made her snarl in response. "It smells really gross."

"It's because it's strong," she explained before gesturing for Ashley to get on with it.

Nodding, Ashley then let go and quickly downed a big gulp, coughing immediately at the burning sensation that spread down her esophagus.

Laughing at the display, Kyla said with a bit of amusement, "I didn't say to drink it all in one go. You have to take it gradually until you're used to it."

"That's disgusting!" Ashley exclaimed as a bit of beer trickled down her chin, having been expelled from her mouth during her coughing fit. Her hand wasted no time in wiping herself free of it.

"It's an acquired taste, a bit bitter at first but you get used to it," she stated simply as she took another swig, already half a bottle ahead of her twin.

"You know if Dad finds out, we're grounded for life," Ashley offered before taking another drink, scowl firmly in place as she took it slower this time.

"You and I are the only ones who know," Kyla reasoned as she shrugged off the possibility. "So how would he? Besides he hardly ever drinks them so I doubt he'll even notice the two gone. We'll put the empty ones in the back and by the time he gets to them in a week, we'll have thrown them away. He'll think he already drank them. You know he has a hard time keeping track of things."

"Yeah," Ashley wasted no time in agreeing as she swirled the contents around in the bottle. It was a habit she had developed with soda, always wanting it to go flat quickly because she hated the way the carbonation burned her throat. "He used to leave one of us every time we went to the grocery store."

"Yeah, he'd remember and when he'd go back inside searching for us, we'd be sitting by Mrs. Pullman who hated having to watch us," Kyla reminisced as she easily downed another sip, not even feeling the burn anymore.

"One time you guys even got clear home before he remembered me," Ashley thought with a sad smile as she glanced down at her feet.

"Yeah, we always liked messing with him so we never said anything," she replied with a smile at the thought of their father always chasing them around.

"I just hope he doesn't find out about this," she said with a gesture to her now half empty bottle. Taking another swig, she noticed how the burning had subsided and now she was left with only a strong bitter taste. It still made her grimace a bit though.

"Don't worry Ashy," Kyla reassured as she downed the last bit of her beer. "It was my idea, so my fault." She knew that her father was always a bit harder on Ashley for whatever reason, so she had no qualms about taking the blame for stuff. Besides, her grades were in better shape at the moment so she could afford to.

"You don't have to," Ashley argued with a shake of her head. "I'm sitting here right beside you drinking them aren't I?"

"Yeah, but you know Dad," Kyla left the statement open as they neither one really discussed how he was towards Ashley.

"I know," Ashley nodded as she looked down once more.

"Anyway, it doesn't matter because he will never notice that we took them," she said with a proud gleam in her eye. "I mean look, we've had those playboys for weeks now."

"Yeah," she agreed with a chuckle. "I guess so."

A moment of silence fell upon them as Ashley took another gulp of her drink, feeling much more comfortable with the taste now. She thought over all they had been through and wondered why Kyla always took the fall when she didn't have to.

"Why do you always stick up for me Ky?" She asked as her brown eyes sparkled in genuine interest.

"You're my sister," Kyla replied simply as she tossed her bottle to the side, the glass clanking against the wood. "I always will."

Having burned most of her bridges, she knew that no one would be there to stick up for her now. The only person who ever saw past all of her bullshit was now lost to her forever. Tears brimmed her eyes just waiting to spill out as she continued to stare out across the front lawn. She had many memories like that one and she allowed her eyes to close and momentarily savor them, knowing that there would be no more to make. Her sister was gone now and though she couldn't quite believe it, she knew that eventually it would take its toll on her.

A soft breath puffed against her neck and she averted her eyes downward to notice that Spencer had cried herself to sleep by that point, her forehead resting against Ashley's cheek and her hands firmly clutching at her strong arms. Ashley was never really good at comforting someone, but she figured she must've done something right for Spencer to have felt comfortable enough to fall asleep in her arms.

She could feel her heart break instantly as she thought that no matter how hard she tried, she could never be what her sister was to anyone. Not Spencer, not the girls, not her father… and certainly not the town in general. Kyla was a well touted hero around these parts and she cast a mighty big shadow, one which Ashley never really minded being in. She only figured that it took the focus off of her and for a while that was true. She had been able to fly under the radar and get herself mixed up in a lot of stupid things. However, now she knew that she couldn't afford to. Realization suddenly dawned on her that, for the first time in her life, she was needed. Kyla's family needed her and she would make damn certain she was there.

"Aunt Ashy?" Avery's brave little voice broke through her thoughts as she abruptly turned her head in surprise at the sudden sound, the use of her familiar nickname sending chills down her spine. No one but her sister had ever called her that before, and it had been a while since then.

"What's wrong with Mommy?" Allie's soft voice asked from her hesitant position behind her sister, her eyes scrunching in confusion.

"Umm…" Ashley's husky voice nervously began as her mind searched for a possible explanation, knowing that she was in no position to tell them the truth. "She's just tired; that's all. Wanna help me get her into bed?"

The two nodded their heads, happy to help their Mommy in any way as they moved closer to her.

In one swift motion, Ashley adjusted Spencer more comfortably and stood to her feet, having only struggled a tiny bit at first. She was stout and glad for it as she stood cradling Spencer to her and towering over the two girls.

"You're really strong," Avery observed with rapt fascination as she noticed her aunt pick her Mommy up with no trouble at all. Even their Mama had trouble sometimes; but she could tell that Ashley was taller than both of her mommies, so she must be stronger too.

"You're tall too," Allie added with the sweetest of smiles.

Ashley only managed a small smile in return as she shifted Spencer to get a firmer grasp. Gesturing for the screen door, she then asked, "Allie, will you open the door for us?"

Allie nodded with a proud smile, happy at having been picked to help. She wasted no time in bounding over to the front door and exclaiming, "Yeah, sure!"

"Shh ding dong, we have to be quiet," Avery chided before pointing at their sleeping mother. "You'll wake Mommy up."

Once Allie had managed to open the door, Ashley softly crossed the porch, mindful of her boots hitting the hardwood floor and careful to make it not echo as much. She could feel her heart beat faster at the possibility of waking Spencer and dealing with that, knowing it would be much better for her if she slept for a while. As she entered the foyer, she was also careful not to bang her sister-in-law against the door frame, maneuvering her in sideways.

"You wanna make sure the bed is ready?" She asked in a suggesting manner while the two girls once again nodded. She was glad that they were such well-mannered and well-minding girls otherwise this whole thing could prove to be a challenge for her.

The two padded their way across the hardwood floors, their sock feet slipping a bit in their haste as they rounded the corner and made the trek up the stairs. Ashley could hear each and every footstep, but she didn't think it would be enough to wake Spencer. They were quite small and their socks managed to lessen the sounds for the most part.

Her own feet then propelled the two of them in the direction of the stairs, crossing the living room and down the hall adjacent to the kitchen. Once there, she proceeded in taking them one at time as her long legs were having no trouble at all as she glided them along up the stairs. She was glad for the carpet on the stairs and, once at the top, she noticed that it carried on through the second floor. Surely her boots would have been quite loud without it.

As she came to a stop at the top step, unsure of which room was the master, the twins suddenly appeared at the end of the hallway and quickly approached her.

"We pulled the covers down Aunt Ashy," Allie proudly confessed as they looked at her for further instruction.

"Is it the last room?" She asked them, gesturing in the direction.

"Yeah, follow me," Avery demanded as her hand waved them on in the right direction. She had decided to take the lead and was becoming quite comfortable around their strange aunt.

Ashley nodded as she followed suit behind the two girls, watching fondly as their blonde curls bounced with each step. She briefly wondered where their curly hair had come from as both of their mothers had straight hair. She then reasoned it had to have been the donor's genes.

As they made their way down the hall, her eyes caught several photos staring back that were framed and hanging, spread out in a proud display. In each one you could see just how happy the little family was, smiling and carrying on with laughter and love. In several, Kyla stared back lovingly to the photographer, which Ashley guessed had to have been Spencer, as she proudly played with her daughters. There was a certain gleam in her sister's eyes in each shot and it occurred to her just how much she had enjoyed her life and loved her family. What had they done to deserve any of this?

Tears once again formed in her eyes as she lacked the strength to hold them back, allowing one to trickle down and land on her cheek. She wasted no time in wiping it off with her shoulder as she fought to maintain her composure and not awaken Spencer. She could and would not allow herself to fall apart at the seams; there was too much relying on her at the moment and she needed to stay strong for them.

Once inside the master bedroom, she took notice of just how warm and cozy it was. More pictures were displayed on the walls but mostly of the girls alone, some of them as babies crying and others of them at birthdays and Christmas. At the head of the bed on the wall was a large photo of a very pregnant belly with two large sets of hands resting upon it. She quickly averted her gaze as the longer she looked, the more she would feel like crumbling.

Walking around to one side of the bed, a side she hoped was Spencer's, she carefully and slowly set the sleeping woman down on her side, cradling her head as her fingers lost themselves in blonde locks. Gently, she pulled the hair tie from her hair as she rested her head against the soft downy pillow and extracted her fingers with care. The entire time, her hands remained steady and gentle as to not wake her. Surely nothing good could come from that. It was best to let her sleep for a while and deal with the mess of her life later.

Ashley had never really been a good friend to anyone, so caring for a person in this manner was a completely new experience for her. Usually, she just used people for all she needed and when they needed her, she just checked out and pawned them off on someone else. Thinking back on this, she shook her head with anger towards herself, knowing how selfish of person she'd always been. But with Kyla gone now, she needed to be something different entirely, for at the very least to be able to be someone her sister would be proud of.

Pushing her thoughts back, she reached her slender hands down to begin untying Spencer's white Sketchers. She guessed it would be much more comfortable for her without the confines of her shoes. Slowly, she worked the laces loose one by one until she had the shoes open enough to remove them with ease. One and then the other slipped free from her small feet as she then discarded them softly to the floor beside the bed, careful not to make too much noise.

The twins watched in curiosity from the foot of the bed as their aunt slowly began to tuck their mother's feet in, pulling the blanket up slowly across her legs and then body. They could tell from the look on Ashley's face to the tear-stained cheeks of their Mommy that something just wasn't right.

"Is Mommy sick?" Allie asked in a whisper of concern, her tiny face contorting in worry.

Ashley's head shot up from her task at hand, her brown eyes meeting two sets of worried blue ones to notice the two girls staring at her in desperate need of answers, their faces peeking over the foot board as they watched. Her heart began to beat faster again as she realized that she was at a loss as to how she should deal with the situation. She knew without a doubt that she couldn't and shouldn't be the one to tell them the news of their mother. That was something that they would need Spencer to tell them as surely she would be able to find the right words to say.

"Umm…" Her nervous voice uttered softly as her mind searched for any possible thing to say.

However, just as she was about to string some sort of statement together, a baby's shrill cry echoed throughout the upstairs. She released a sigh of thanks at the welcome interruption before a look of pure horror covered her features. It was then that she remembered that there was another one, a much smaller and less independent one. Never in her life had she been in contact with a baby, and yet she knew that she would be forced to care for the little one once she was done with Spencer. Looking to the twins for any signs of reassurance, she had no need to ask them before Avery spoke up.

"Don't worry; we'll go check on her," she whispered as she gestured for her sister to follow. "Come on Allie."

"Thanks," Ashley whispered back with a rather scared expression still marring her features.

Turning back to the task at hand, she continued to pull covers up slowly as she pooled them around her shoulders, wanting to be sure that Spencer would be warm enough. As she tucked the blankets, she glanced upon her sister-in-law as she stirred for a moment, causing Ashley to freeze with her heart pounding in anticipation. Was she going to wake up and see her standing there? Would she be angry with her for being in her bedroom?

Her entire body went rigid as she remained unmoving, praying for Spencer to remain asleep. Her hands stilled their movements as her eyes closed and her breathing halted. She could almost hear a pin drop at how quiet the room became as she wished for the courage to open her eyes. She was fearful that once she did, disappointed blue eyes would be staring back at her. That she would not be able to face.

"Kyla?" Spencer's groggy voice whispered out softly as her eyebrows furrowed in confusion, her eyes remaining closed as she was still held captive by her slumber.

Hesitantly Ashley opened one eye, noticing with relief that Spencer seemingly hadn't woken up. Instead the sleeping woman had only grasped one of her hands and pulled her closer in an attempt to cuddle up to her. This act caught Ashley completely off guard as her eyes widened in horror and she was pulled in. A moment or so passed as she searched her mind for a way out of this without waking the poor woman.

"Shh, go back to sleep," Ashley whispered as she awkwardly attempted to keep her distance.

Satisfied with hearing a voice much like her wife's, Spencer then murmured a sigh of contentment before slackening her grip and drifting off deeper once more.

With a sigh of relief, Ashley extracted herself from the sleeping woman and immediately bolted upright to a more comfortable distance, swallowing in relief as she managed to dodge a bullet just then. With one last look over Spencer's sleeping form, she reasoned that she had done the best she could have to make her as comfortable as possible. Nodding sullenly, she turned to exit the room only to be surprised by the eerily quiet watchers she noticed standing in the doorway. Her eyebrows scrunched in confusion as she wondered just what the mysterious look on their small faces meant.

"Katy-bug made a mess in her diaper," Allie was uncharacteristically the first to speak up, cutting straight to the point.

"Yeah, and it smells awful," Avery then added with a dramatic wave of her tiny hand in front of her snarled nose, chuckling as she watched her aunt's dark eyes widen.

"Right," she said deeply as her eyes closed in disappointment. "So that means I have to change it huh?" Ashley's head immediately hung down as she sighed, trying to gather up the courage to accomplish the next task she had been given.

They only nodded with their wide blue eyes looking at her with the blankest of expressions.

"You are the adult," Avery said as a matter of fact as her attitude made itself know.

With a reluctant smile, Ashley nodded her head and decided to just go with it.

"So uhh… where is she at?" She questioned with a nervous scratch to her head as she made her way towards the door, exiting into the hallway and softly pulling the door shut behind her.

"Her room is this way," Avery directed as the two of them began the march down the hallway and back towards the stairs.

Ashley paused for a moment and watched as they turned right and entered the room nearest to the stairs. She closed her eyes to mentally prepare herself for the task before allowing her feet to move in the intended direction. After a few steps, her eyes opened and she resumed her breathing, her hands clenched in nervous fists at her sides. As she made her way closer to the door, she turned her head to the left, regretting it the moment her eyes landed on another photo.

In this one, her smiling sister was pictured with her arms extended into the air, laughing or about to laugh as she held a tiny baby in her arms, seemingly twirling her around in circles. The baby's face was a look of pure astonishment as her wide eyes focused on those of her mother's. Ashley guessed that they were enjoying a warm and sunny day at the park in that photo, the family spending precious time together. Her eyes traveled down her sister's body to catch sight of the twins laughing and carrying on at her feet, both of them looking up at their baby sister.

She felt the tears build up once again as they made their way past her eyelids, having been unable to stop them. She wasted no time in looking to the ceiling to prevent further ones from betraying her, shaky hands rising to wipe her cheeks free of the moisture. Her eyes blinked back the tears that threatened to fall as she wished with all she had that she could give them that day back. Closing her eyes, she sent up a silent prayer for the strength to hold it together. Her brows scrunched tightly as she took a moment to calm her emotions.

Upon opening her eyes, she turned back to the photograph and with a firm jaw, she muttered, "I'm trying so hard Ky. I promise you that."

Without another moment's thought, she made her way to the doorway. Upon entering, she paused as her eyes took in the pastel color scheme, soft greens and blues mixing with yellows and reds. She could tell that the room would work for either gender; but the accessories were decked out in faint purples and pinks, fitting for the little girl that took up residence in there. Her eyes then landed on the beautiful mobile that hung from the ceiling. She could tell it had been handcrafted, made of hand-blown stained glass that reflected a vast array of color as light passed through it. She thought of how enchanting it must be to look up and see so many colors swirling around the room. A sudden outburst of cries broke her from her thoughts as she looked down. It was then that her eyes landed on the honey chestnut crib that was flanked by the twins staring at her in curiosity.

"She's a loud one ain't she?" Avery said with a snarky smile.

"Isn't she… you know Mommy says that ain't isn't a word," sweet Allie corrected as she looked at her smirking sister.

"Means the same to me," she replied with a defiant shrug as she turned to approach her aunt, crossing the floor to stand in front of her. "Come on," she sighed as she took Ashley's big hand in her small one and pulled her towards the source of the cries.

Ashley relented and allowed herself to be directed as she figured she wouldn't have the courage to move on her own. The closer she came to the baby, the faster her heart beat and the shakier her hands became. She could feel her breaths coming in shallow pants, so she began inhaling deeper and slower to calm her nerves. Once Avery let go of her hand, she noticed that she was standing directly in front of the crib and she moved her eyes down to take in the disgruntled form of her youngest niece.

Little Katy was a mess of blankets and flailing limbs as she cried, her tiny face contorted in discomfort and reddening by the second.

Ashley steeled herself to ward off her nerves as her shaky hands began clenching and unclenching in tight fists as they hung at her side. Mentally, she cheered herself on and forced her arms to slowly rise. Trying several times to bring them closer to the baby, she found herself pulling back hesitantly a few times in fear of being too harmful. With a deep breath, she clenched her jaw and abruptly thrust her hands into the crib, shocking little Katy into silence. Once she was confident that she had a firm grasp of the baby, she began to slowly raise her up and out, allowing her muscles to adjust to the weight of the tiny form. She watched with wide eyes as tiny legs curled up and small fists moved about. This was a day of many firsts for her, her first conversations with her nieces, the first time she'd taken care of anyone, and now the first time she'd held a baby. To say that she was frightened was an understatement and it was made obvious by her less than confident expression, jaw slightly open and eyes wide and unblinking. Once she had little Katy out of the crib and at eye level, she held her at arm's length with her elbows straight as she made eye contact with the tiniest blue eyes she'd ever seen.

Or they were tiny, until Katy's eyes widened in curiosity and surprise as she took in the appearance of the strange person who was holding her up so high. She wasn't sure what to think about it as usually she was held much closer and by someone with brighter hair. It was enough to cause her to freeze all motion as her tears stopped.

Seeing the almost frightened look on the baby's face caused Ashley to freeze as well. Had she hurt her?

Standing beside them, Avery reached her little hand up to wave at her sister, smiling and saying in a soft voice, "Hey there Katy-bug. This is Aunt Ashy. She stayed with us last night."

"So…" Ashley began without ever taking her eyes off of the baby's, unsure really of what she was supposed to do next. "I just… set her on that table thingy over there?"

Allie shrugged before answering, "If you want to. Mommy never uses it though."

Slowly, almost robotically, Ashley turned without ever bending her elbows, keeping the baby suspended in the air as far away from her as possible and moving in the direction of the changing table. The twins scurried out of her way and each grabbed a stool that was there especially for them to be able to see into the crib. After only about three steps, Ashley paused in front of the changing table on the wall adjacent to the crib and again continued to hold the baby high above.

"Okay, umm…" She said mostly to herself as she began to slowly lower the baby towards the surface of the changing table, pausing a mere inch or so above it with the baby's feet barely making contact.

"You never done this before have you?" Avery asked as she climbed up on her stool to stand to the left of Ashley.

"Never," Ashley sighed out nervously, barely above a deep whisper with her eyes still not leaving the tiny baby. It was as though she felt that if she broke eye contact, then it would all go downhill from there.

"Well Mama says to always cradle the head," Allie offered as she pulled her stool around to the right of Ashley, climbing up on it and ready to help. As she noticed Ashley not moving, she made eye contact with her twin and they both gave a look of understanding that said they knew their help would actually be needed this time.

"Ok, so…" Ashley said as she gently set the baby down on her bottom, still keeping her hands firmly under tiny arms.

Katy only wiggled a bit at first, instinctually trying to sit up on her own even though she didn't have to with her eyes widening even more as her forehead scrunched. Grunting, she then stuck her tongue out as she blew tiny bubbles.

Carefully, Ashley then shifted her big hands around to the back of her head and eased her backwards onto the small pillow that was waiting to be used. Her long fingers brushed the soft tiny hairs at the crown of her head. Once she was confident that the baby was securely in place, she proceeded to pull her hands from underneath, popping her fingers nervously as she moved them towards the snaps on the onesie. Hesitantly and as though it would burn her, she reached her thumb and pointer finger down to the first snap and just barely latched on, popping it free. Four more pops followed as she undid the bottom and peeled it away from the baby, exposing the diaper. However, once she had done so, the smell from within wafted up to her nostrils causing her stomach to turn and her anxiety to increase.

"I told you it was smelly," Avery giggled as she saw her aunt grimace, scrunching her face in anguish.

Ignoring the comment and trying to ignore the smell, Ashley then turned the top part of the onesie up to expose a tiny little belly, her fingers moving to the edge of the diaper and grasping each side firmly. With a sudden jerk, the baby slid closer to her with wider eyes and an expression of shock as Ashley failed to succeed in pulling the diaper off.

"Silly," Allie managed to say through an amused chuckle. "You have to pull the flaps first." And so she demonstrated, pulling the left flap loose as Avery pulled the right.

Ashley watched in horror as the diaper sprang open, her eyes widening as they fell upon the gooey green contents. Never in her life had she seen such an atrocity. In that instant, she felt the ill sensation in her stomach multiply exponentially as her head started to spin. Small white dots appeared in front of her face, masking everything she could see. As her mouth became increasingly dry, she took a much needed step back before falling to the floor in an unconscious heap.

Having only been out for a few minutes, she awoke to a tiny finger poking her cheek on the uninjured side of her face. Her eyelids fluttered several times before gradually opening as she took in the haziness all around her. There, hovering above her was a head of blonde curls with a look of pure shock.

"Are you sick too?" Avery wasted no time in asking as Ashley lie sprawled on the floor with heavy eyes and pale skin.

"I just… need a minute," She barely muttered out as she fought for the strength to sit upright, accomplishing it but not without difficulty. She slowly raised her shaky hand to wipe at the moisture that had accumulated on her brow, blinking her eyes to rid them of the fog.

"Maybe we should get Mommy," Allie suggested in a rather worried voice as she remained standing upon her stool in careful watch over her baby sister, making sure she didn't have the chance to fall to the floor with their aunt.

"No!" Ashley exclaimed quite loudly as she sprang to her feet, suddenly remembering why she was on the floor and what she had to do. Waking Spencer was not an option; but she was obviously not cut out for the job either. Glancing down to Avery, she noticed the almost scared expression as she realized that she had just yelled. "Sorry… I mean… Your Mommy needs her rest right now."

They nodded as Allie's attention turned back to Katy who was still squirming in discomfort at still having the soiled diaper attached to her.

"What are you gonna do Aunt Ashy?" Allie asked as she tried to calm her baby sister, offering her tiny hand to even tinier ones which latched on immediately.


That was a good question. Ashley furrowed her brows in thought, searching for any possible solution as she remained a safe distance away from the rather toxic diaper. What was she going to do? She'd never been in a situation even remotely close to this one before. If it were any other family or anyone else, she would've just bailed in classic Ashley Davies fashion; but as it stood, these were her sister's children and she couldn't abandon them even if she'd wanted to. Looking up from her point of focus on the floor, she glanced to the two girls.

"You okay here for a minute?"

They nodded in unison as Avery climbed back onto her stool to help her sister out with the baby watch.

"Good. I'm just gonna go… call a friend," Ashley nodded back as her face turned to a look of complete uncertainty. As she retreated to exit the room, she paused in the doorway to glance back, adding with pleading eyes, "Don't move." Her hands came up to motion for them to stay put as she then turned and rushed down the hall and down the stairs, panic settling itself in her stomach.

Back in the bedroom, baby Katy lay sprawled on the changing table as Avery and Allie gave one another a look of bewilderment.

"She sure is a strange adult," Avery said with a small smirk to which Allie only nodded in agreement.

Emerging from the house in a fury of panic, Ashley wasted no time in frantically pacing back and forth on the front porch, her mind endlessly searching for any possible solution to their current predicament. Her boots with their thumping against the hardwood had gone almost unheard by her as she was all too preoccupied with her own doubts and fears seeping in, daring her to run away. Maybe she wasn't cut out for this sort of thing after all. Helping Spencer was one thing, but three little ones that needed much more than she had ever known how to provide was in a whole other ballpark, and she was almost certain she would screw it up at any moment.

"Fuck…" she half whispered to herself as she brought her hands up to clutch at her hair, white-knuckling as her mind began spinning with all sorts of reasons why she was certainly the last person they needed right now.

Run away now Ashley.

It repeated on a loop in her head.

She could barely keep herself upright and taken care of on most days, and the ones where she did were absolute miracles to say the least. She had always been a train wreck and now was no exception. What made her think that she would be any different today?

Of course she needed to call someone and right away, but whom? She had no numbers. She had no friends and it was making her absolutely sick to think that poor little Katy needed something that she was just too domestically retarded to provide, nurturing and care. She had momentarily felt a flash of confidence that she could handle this situation and let Spencer have time to rest up before she would be painfully thrust into the awful situation of dealing with the aftermath. However, this whole thing was something Ashley herself had never had any practice with.

Suddenly it occurred to her that just last night Spencer's neighbor lady had been over to watch the girls while she had driven to pick her up.

Stopping in her tracks and approaching the side banister, she quickly turned her head to the right and glanced in the direction of their house at almost the same exact moment that their car had begun to back out of the driveway. Her heart immediately sank as she saw the only option she'd been able to conjure gearing up to leave her grasp.

Without wasting a moment, her hands clutched at the railing and she catapulted herself over, landing with ease on the grass below, her throbbing feet making quick work to move her towards them and ignoring their cry of pain. It had been a pretty far drop.

As she rounded the side of the house to head in their direction, she saw them momentarily stop and acknowledge her for a mere moment; but just before she could thrust her hand upward to wave to them, her right boot stubbed itself against a surfaced root from the large oak that stood prominently in the Davies' front yard with its tire swing hanging proudly from a high branch. It was almost immediately afterwards that her face planted itself in the grass and the car drove off, leaving her to think of something else.

"Dammit!" She exclaimed pounding the ground with her right hand as she pushed herself up with only her pride injured and her solution gone. "Goddammit!"

She stood back to her feet and turned back towards her sister's house, as angry as could be and swiftly kicking the root as she went. What the hell was she to do now?

"Fuck," she said a bit loudly as her jaw clenched in anger and she rounded the porch, reaching the front steps and taking them two at a time as she wiped her pants and hands of loose grass. It was then she glanced up, seeing Avery standing in the doorway, storm door ajar as she came to stand in front of her.

"Are you okay, Ashy?" Avery asked with wide eyes.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she barely answered back.

"You said 'fuck'," she then added in a whisper.

Ashley's eyes widened that moment as she feared she had let the child in on a new, rather naughty word. "Yeah, um…"

"It's okay," Avery smiled. "I won't tell. Mommy hates that word, especially when Mama uses it." She giggled and Ashley's heart rate slowed.

"Well, I was angry," she reasoned as they both entered the house, the echo of the storm door slamming behind them.

Ashley then stopped for a minute to gather her thoughts and figure this all out, her hand coming up to scratch in contemplation at the crown of her head. Surely there was someone she could call for help. She wasn't sure attempting it again herself was the best idea considered it had rendered her unconscious the last time. Her eyes glanced around without really focusing on anything in particular, only to search her mind and it wasn't but a moment later that they landed on a curly head and made their way down a tiny face, running over almost every feature.

As Avery stood there smiling up at her warmly, she could feel her heart shatter into a million pieces. Her little brown eyes held so much of her own lost sister that her angry expression immediately softened and she was able to breathe a bit easier. She just had to be strong and figure this all out; someone needed her to. Four someones to be exact.

"Did you call your friend?" Avery asked softly as she glanced up in wide-eyed anticipation.

Sighing, Ashley closed her eyes for a split second before opening them and replying equally soft, "I have no friends."

"Well I'll be your friend, Ashy," Avery smiled proudly as she took Ashley's hand in her own as a small smile hesitantly made its way to the corner of Ashley's mouth. "And Allie will too, I'm sure… even little Katy-bug, but she needs a new diaper first."

"Right…" Ashley's small lopsided smile disappeared as another sigh ran through her chest. She had to figure this out, if only for the tiny brown eyes that reminded her so much of her dear sister.