DISCLAIMER: Not mine. Never were. Not making any $$. Don't HAVE any $$. Don't sue.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Aeryn Sun
As she regained consciousness, Ashley was aware of one thing above everything else; every piece of her hurt; every muscle, every hair, everything.
<Cells, particles, atoms, neutrons Her mind drifted off into her science class and the Periodic Table of Elements that she was trying to memorize before she wandered back to the present. <I hurt everywhere.>
She just wanted to close her eyes and let go, to stop hurting once and for all but one thought kept nudging her awake. Spencer. She had to tell Spencer.
Opening her eyes, she was glad to see her cell phone lying in her field of vision, her purse having spilled open where it fell during the altercation. After a couple of pain filled attempts; she finally managed to grasp it.
She hit #1 and waited for the other girl to pick up; all the while she felt darkness creeping into her vision.
"Hiya, Ashley! What's up?" Spencer's cheerful voice answered on the second ring and tears immediately sprang to Ashley's eyes.
<I love her so much and never said
"Ashley? Are you there? I hear whimpering " Spencer's voice went from cheerful to concerned in record time.
"Spen Spence help " Ashley managed to pant as her vision swam.
"Ashley, what's wrong? Are you hurt? Where are you?" Spencer was now beginning to panic and it carried over to Ashley.
"Please " Ashley dropped the phone to the pavement, too tired to hold on to it or speak anymore. Her body was going numb. She could still hear Spencer across the line.
"Damn it, ANSWER ME ASHLEY!"
"Spencer, why are you screaming?" her father asked as he opened the door to her room. She grabbed him by the arm and headed down the stairs.
"Something's wrong with Ashley, Dad. We have to help her," she explained, trying not to let her panic overwhelm her.
"MOM!" she screamed when she got to the bottom of the stairs. Paula exited the kitchen and frowned at her daughter.
"What is it, honey?" Spencer thrust the phone at her father, unable to vocalize the situation or her fears.
"Here, listen." Arthur put the phone to his ear.
"What is all this noise? I'm trying to study " Glen complained as he came down the stairs, followed closely by Clay. Arthur held up his hand to silence everyone.
"Ashley, sweetie, it's Spencer's father. I can hear you. Can you answer me?" Arthur said gently but firmly into the phone. His response was a sick gurgling sound.
"Arthur, what's going on?" Paula asked as she watched her husbands face pale and Spencer pace.
"It's Ashley, Paula. I think she's hurt."
"Where is she? We should get her help," Clay jumped into the conversation, pulling on his shoes and then standing next to Spencer, rubbing her back to try and calm her.
"Arthur, you don't know that for sure. You know how that girl is " Arthur handed the phone to his stubborn wife.
"Listen for yourself. She's making enough noise to keep the line open but can't speak," he explained. Paula put the phone to her ear. After a second or two, she switched gears.
"Glen, go get my emergency bag from the upstairs closet. Arthur get the car keys," she turned to her daughter. "Do you know where she is?" Spencer shook her head, tears borne of fear and terror rolling down her cheeks.
"No, she said she had errands to run, that's it," she cried.
"OK, honey, calm down," Paula said gently.
"Mom, keep Ashley on the line. I have an idea," Clay instructed as he rushed upstairs, taking the steps two at a time. He returned a few moments later with his laptop in hand.
"Here, cell phones nowadays have built in GPS units. If Ashley's is activated, we may be able to find her that way." He typed Ashley's phone number into the program and waited as Glen returned with the medical bag.
"We going or what?" he asked impatiently. Paula shushed him. It was a tense few moments as they waited to see if the GPS would work.
"Here Spencer, talk to her. Keep her there," Paula instructed as she handed the phone back to Spencer. While she was no big fan of Ashley's and felt that she didn't belong as a part of her daughter's life, Paula was still human, as well as a mother and doctor. She didn't want to see the teen hurt.
"There!" Clay exclaimed. "She's about 7 miles west. But I can only pinpoint which block, not where exactly."
"Should we call the police?" Arthur asked. Paula shook her head.
"Let's make sure that this is for real and not some sort of sick joke," she countered. Every member of her family glared at her and she prayed that her decision wouldn't cost Ashley her life.
"We're coming, Ashley," Spencer whispered into the phone as they all climbed into the car. "Hang on, baby, I'm coming."
The ride to the neighborhood was tense, filled only with Spencer softly reassuring the injured girl on the other end of the line that she was almost there. Ashley's whimpers had grown softer, being drowned out by a crackling, gurgling sound that terrified Spencer.
"Please hang on, Ashley," she begged. Clay hugged her gently from the side while Glen twitched with anxiousness on the other side.
He wasn't Ashley's friend but she WAS his sister's friend and he knew that she was important to his little sister. And he also knew that Ashley would never pull a prank like this on Spencer. He knew it was real. So he was beyond pissed that someone had hurt a person his sister cared about. He wanted desperately to bust someone's head open for it.
"Spencer, where do you think she is?" her father asked from the driver's seat as they got to the block radius that Clay's computer had indicated Ashley was in.
"Dad, I don't know " Spencer panicked.
"Spence, calm down. You have to help Ashley now, so think," Clay encouraged. Spencer closed her eyes and took a deep breath, listening to Ashley's pained breathing over the phone line.
"Errands she said she was running errands. And if no one's found her yet then it must be the parking lot of something closed?" she thought out loud.
"Kramer's," Glen suggested. "I heard Ashley tell Aiden in the hall today that Kramer's has the best ice cream and that she was gonna go get some later. They close at 6."
"It's up ahead, we'll try that parking lot first," Arthur agreed.
"Dad, honk the horn," Spencer said suddenly.
"Honk the horn. I might hear it," she explained. Arthur did as she said and watched in his rearview mirror as Spencer jumped.
"She's close, that was loud," she said.
"There's her car " Cay pointed it out as he saw it. Wasting no time, Arthur pulled the car in. The family collectively gasped as they saw Ashley lying on the ground motionless.
"Oh God " Spencer whispered in horror.
Paula was out of the car before it had completely stopped, medical bag in hand, followed closely by Spencer. Spencer ran to her fallen friend and dropped to her knees beside her.
"Ashley, Ashley can you hear me?" she asked desperately. Very slowly, Ashley's eyes fluttered open and Spencer nearly gagged at the pain so clearly written in those soulful brown eyes.
"You you came," Ashley gasped. Spencer managed a watery smile.
"Of course I did," she sniffled. She wiped gently at the blood oozing from the corner of Ashley's full lips in a strange parody of what Ashley had done for her own split lip.
"We all did, Ashley. Now lay still and let me take a look at you," Paula instructed. She was sickened by what she saw. Someone had beaten the young woman very badly, leaving her splattered with blood and covered in developing bruises. Her normally shining dark hair was now plastered to the side of her head from dirt and blood. And to add insult to injury, the assailant had ripped open the girl's shirt and scrawled 'dyke' across her chest black marker.
Ashley let out a sharp cry as Paula pressed on her injured ribs.
"I'm sorry Ashley," she said sincerely. "Arthur, did you call 911?"
"Before the car even stopped," her husband confirmed as he stood a few feet away with Clay and Glen.
"Mom?" Spencer asked frightened. She was carefully cradling Ashley's head and stroking the prone girl's matted hair away from her face. There was glass all over the ground and in Ashley's hair, some of it biting into Spencer's hands. And there was blood running freely from Ashley's right ear that scared Spencer.
Paula spared her distraught daughter a quick glance.
"It's bad, Spencer. She needs to get to the hospital." She didn't want to scare her youngest child but she didn't want to lie either.
Spencer lowered her head so that her mouth was beside Ashley's ear.
"You're going to be all right, OK? Mom will take care of you until the ambulance gets here and then they'll fix you right up at the hospital. You'll be fine in no time. Then we can go to the beach and hang out and look at all the hotties in the surf " Spencer babbled to keep herself busy and to distract herself from the bubbling, overwhelming horror that was clutching at her throat.
"Where the hell is the EMS?" Paula muttered. She understood the severity of Ashley's injuries and the longer they waited, the worse her chances got.
"Hurts " Ashley sobbed. "Can't breathe " Paula placed her stethoscope over Ashley's chest and listened, a concerned frown wrinkling her brow. A sudden coughing fit rocked through Ashley's frame, splattering foamy blood down her face.
"Easy, sweetie," Paula advised as she helped Spencer hold Ashley's shoulders down. "You have some broken ribs and I think that they may have punctured a lung. Lie still and just concentrate on breathing." She turned to her husband and sons.
"Get me a blanket, Arthur. Clay, Glen, please go sit in the car while we wait." Clay and Glen both shook their heads.
"I'm not gonna go sit in the car " Glen started.
"I'm staying here " Clay protested. Paula let out an impatient breath.
"I need to drain the blood from her chest cavity and I don't want you to see that!" she explained, annoyed. Still, neither boy moved. She then looked up at Spencer. "Spencer "
"I'm staying right here, Mom. She needs me." Having expected no less and knowing that there was nothing she could say or do other than bodily drag Spencer from her best friend, Paula nodded. Arthur returned with a blanket that Paula put over Ashley's legs before getting what she needed out of her bag.
"Arthur, keep an eye on the boys and listen for the ambulance while I do this. Spencer, this is going to hurt her." Tears splashed down Spencer's cheeks.
"I know," she croaked. She could feel Ashley's frame shaking beneath her hands. "Please, Mom, just help her!"
"Spencer, I need you to hold her still. If she moves too much I could do more harm than good," she explained. At Spencer's nod, she continued.
"Ashley, can you hear me?" Ashley managed a weak 'yes'. "All right. You have a punctured lung and it collapsed. You can't get any air because there's blood pooling there and it's putting pressure on your lung. I need to put a tube in to drain it. And it's going to hurt. I'm sorry."
"'k," Ashley whimpered. Spencer placed a small kiss to the injured girl's forehead, heedless of her mother's presence.
Paula removed a sterilized scalpel from her bag and after looking at her daughter once more, she felt around Ashley's broken ribs for the spot she needed. She could hear distant sirens but knew that Ashley couldn't wait for them. Taking a deep breath, she began to cut into Ashley's side.
"Jesus Christ," Glen groaned, turning away sick. His father clasped him on the shoulder.
"It's OK, Glen. It'll be OK." The sound of the approaching sirens began to grow in volume.
Ashley all but screamed with what strength she still had as the new pain
flooded her system.
"I'm sorry," Paula flinched as another cry was ripped from the teens lips as she inserted the tube to drain Ashley's chest. She could now see the flashing lights of the ambulance as it drew nearer.
"Ashley, it's OK," Spencer cried quietly. "Ashley?"
"She's unconscious, Spencer," Paula pointed out softly. "But she's breathing easier."
"It'll be OK, Ashley," Spencer vowed to the unconscious girl. "I promise it will." The ambulance pulled up and Paula quickly went about explaining the situation.
"Spencer, come here and let the EMT's do their job," Paula instructed although her voice held nothing but concern and patience.
"I don't want to leave her," Spencer protested.
"You're not, hon. We're not leaving until they do and then we're all going to the hospital," Arthur informed her. "Just let them work on her. That's how you can help her right now." Reluctantly, Spencer knew her parents were right.
"I'll be right here, Ash. I'm not gonna leave you," she told her friend even though Ashley couldn't hear her. She kissed Ashley on the forehead one more time before she stood up and joined her family a few feet away.
The ride to the hospital was quiet, her father and Glen saying nothing from the front seat while Spencer and Clay sat in the back. Her mother had gone in the ambulance to explain the details of Ashley's condition en route. Clay had his arm around Spencer, seeking to comfort his distraught sister as much as he could.
Spencer stared at her hands. They were covered in blood; Ashley's blood. It was mixed with the blood from the cuts on her hands caused by the broken glass in Ashley's hair, drying and caking to her hands as she flexed them in the dim light of the car. She looked at her jeans and her top; again they were splattered and stained with blood.
"Is she OK back there, Clay?" Arthur asked softly, seeing the shell-shocked look on his daughter's face through the rearview mirror.
"Spencer?" Clay called to her, his voice barely above a whisper.
"I'm covered in her blood," Spencer responded, her voice bland and monotone.
"We'll get you cleaned up as soon as we get to the hospital, hon," her father assured her.
"You're hands are cut," Clay pointed out. "Here." He grabbed the blanket that they'd used with Ashley and ripped off a few pieces that were fairly clean to wrap around Spencer's hands.
"We'll get those looked at when we get there, OK?" he assured her. She barely nodded her understanding, her mind not on the present.
The images of Ashley, lying so badly hurt, struggling to breathe and trembling in Spencer's arms turned themselves over in the quiet blonde's mind. They were the images of a horrific nightmare only this time made flesh. Spencer hoped that it WAS a dream; that she'd wake up at home, tangled in her sheets. The she could call Ashley and find that the girl was unharmed. Upset at being woken up for a nightmare, but safe and whole nonetheless.
She shivered as the heavy weight of Ashley's blood on her clothes sank into her body, rooting her painfully to reality and crushing all hope that it was a dream.
"This is real, isn't it?" she asked Clay, finally looking up from her hands. Tears threatened to fall from long lashes. "This isn't a dream, is it?" Clay shook his head sadly.
"I wish it were, Spencer. I really wish it were."
They sat in the waiting room for what felt like hours. Spencer pulled nervously on the collar of the scrubs that she'd been given upon arrival to replace her blood stained clothes. Then she picked at the bandages covering her hands. She never even felt pain from her lacerations, even the one that had needed stitches. She fidgeted nervously, needing something to do other than sit there and continue to replay the entire evening over and over in her head on endless loop.
She stood up and started to pace.
"Spencer, sit down, honey. Don't get yourself all worked up," Arthur told her calmly. Spencer threw her arms in the air and then glared at her father.
"Don't get worked up? Dad, we just picked up what was left of Ashley, my BEST friend from the sidewalk! I was covered in her blood! She couldn't speak! For all I know she's lying dead back there and they don't want to come tell us! When do you think will be a good time for me to get WORKED UP??!!"
Arthur stood up and went to embrace his youngest but she pushed him away.
"No, I don't want to be hugged," she protested. She looked around wildly. "Where the hell is Mom? Why hasn't she come out to tell us what's going on?"
"Spencer," Clay said calmly from the seat he was in, putting down the months old copy of US Weekly that he'd been trying to distract himself from. "When there's something to tell us, Mom will be here. But you need to stay calm until then. Stay calm because Ashley is going to need you." Spencer went and sat down next to Clay, turning her body to lie across the unoccupied seats beside him. She put her head in his lap and started to cry.
"I'm scared, Clay," she sobbed. "What if?...What if?" Clay stroked her hair away from her face, glad to at least try to soothe his sister.
"Don't even think that, Spencer. Ashley's a strong girl," he reminded her. He bent down close to Spencer's ear so that their father and Glen wouldn't hear him.
"She'll come back to you, Spence. You have to believe she will."
A few feet away, Glen fumed and cracked his knuckles in anger.
"It's not right, Dad. It's not right," he grumbled. "I mean, I don't agree with Ashley's lifestyle but I'd never hurt her for it. What gives people the right to DO that? How can you do something like this just because of you don't agree with someone? She wasn't hurting anyone. It's not right."
Arthur nodded, agreeing. He never wanted his children to have to face issues such as this if he could protect them from it. But since the move from Ohio, it seemed like all the issues that never intruded on their lives were suddenly storming through the door, leaving both Arthur and Paula feeling ill prepared.
"It's the nature of fear, Glen. And that fear can become hatred. People fear things that are different. And some people don't see that it's wrong to push their ideals, their opinions on others. They think that it's ok to single out someone for being different and punish them for it. It's happened throughout history. Wars have been fought over things like religious differences. Because one person didn't agree with another."
"That doesn't make it right!" Glen yelled. He blushed when the nursing staff at the desk glared.
"I know it doesn't. Nothing does. You'd think that in this advanced day and age that we'd be beyond this sort of hatred as a society. But unfortunately we're not. Look, Glen, whatever your dislike of Ashley, your sister is going to need you right now "
"I don't dislike her, Dad," Glen protested, cutting his father off. "Hell, I barely know her. I just, the whole 'gay' thing freaks me out." Arthur nodded again.
"I understand, son."
"But as much as it freaks me out," Glen continued, quickly wiping at the tears that threatened to fall. He hated the whole situation and its inherent unfairness.
"As much as it freaks me out, Dad, I could never do something like THIS."
"Because you were raised better than this."
It was several hours later when Paula emerged from the ER with news about Ashley. She looked at her husband and Glen, asleep on the couches near the windows and Clay sleeping in an uncomfortable position in a hard plastic chair. Spencer was laid out beside him, her head on his lap. Paula could see the tracks tears had left on her daughter's face.
She knelt down next to Spencer and gently shook her.
"Spencer? Spencer honey wake up, it's Mom," she whispered. She watched Spencer's eyes flutter open and fill with confusion for a split second before the memory of what had happened flooded back to her conscious mind.
"Mom?" Spencer asked fearfully. Paula helped her sit up as the rest of the Carlin's awoke.
"Mom?" Glen called.
"Mom, how is she?" Clay wondered while Spencer simply waited silently. She'd already tried to prepare herself for the worst, thinking that the only reason that it would have taken that long was if Ashley was so badly hurt that she couldn't be saved. And her mother looked exhausted. That couldn't be a good sign.
Paula pulled up a chair so that she faced Spencer. The look of fear on Spencer's face tore at her.
"She's alive, honey," she said softly, reaching up to brush her daughter's hair from her face. "She's stable and on her way to the ICU." The relief that flooded Spencer's young face was almost tangible.
"She's OK?" she said cheerfully. Paula bit her lip.
"Don't get too excited, Spencer. She's alive but she's in critical condition," she explained. Spencer paled and for a moment, Paula thought that the girl was going to faint.
"How how bad, Mom?" she asked, tears now running unchecked down her face. Visions of Ashley lying in the hospital, hooked up to machines and the long drawn out beep of the heart monitor going flat-line all flashed through her mind.
"Bad, Spencer. Whoever did this, they were brutal," Paula began. As a mother, she didn't want to tell her daughter the truth. "Have you called her parents?"
"I did," Arthur spoke up. "I called her mother's house and left a message for her to call."
"She's she's on a cruise," Spencer whispered. "Her Dad is doing a tour in Europe and I don't know how to get a hold of him." Paula frowned.
"Well, I'm not supposed to tell you the details of her condition, Spencer." Spencer looked at her mother in horror.
<Is she really not going to tell me?>
"I HAVE to know, Mom," she said firmly. Paula nodded.
"I know. And given what I know of her parents, I know that it's you that Ashley would want to know." Her mothers understanding stunned Spencer but she didn't have time to think about it as Paula continued.
"I'll tell you but just keep quiet that I did." The entire family nodded in agreement. "Spencer, she's got some broken bones. You know about her ribs and I was right. One of them did splinter off and punctured her lung. The drain tube I put in helped keep her breathing. She's on a ventilator and we're trying to re-inflate her lung."
"Ooookay," Spencer breathed, the room starting to spin dangerously. "Keep going."
"It's going to take her a long time to recover from that, and the other injuries. Her arm is broken. Her spleen was ruptured and had to be removed. She lost a lot of blood. Right now, it's still close. She's hanging on but by a thin thread." Paula took a deep breath and prepared herself for what she had to say next.
"They lost her once on the table, Spencer. Her heart stopped and they had to work hard to restart it," she said softly.
"Oh God!" Spencer wailed, collapsing onto Clay. Paula wrapped her sobbing child in her arms and rocked her gently.
"Is that it, Mom? Is that all that's wrong with Ashley?" Glen asked timidly. He was feeling ill as his mother had described the energetic brunette's injuries. The sad shake of his mother's head made his stomach turn.
"No, I'm afraid that there's more," she said sadly. Spencer lifted her head from her hands.
"More? God what else?" she cried. She looked at her mother, fear etched into each feature.
"She has a severe concussion. The beating fractured her skull but didn't cause any fragments to press into her brain tissue. That's a good thing, Spencer."
"Good? GOOD?" Spencer parroted incredulously. "They split her skull open and that's 'good?'"
"Spencer, calm down," Paula tried to calm her daughter before the teen hit full-blown hysteria. "It means that there's a chance that there won't be permanent brain damage. They're monitoring some swelling in her brain but it's under control."
"God, Ashley." Spencer's anger deflated as she realized how badly hurt her best friend was. She looked at her mother, her eyes pleading. "I have to see her." Paula shook her head.
"You can't, Spencer. You're not her family and until we hear from them, you can't see her." Spencer's eyes grew wide.
<I HAVE to see her! I NEED to see her! She needs me!> Spencer thought frantically.
"She needs me," she argued. Paula sighed. It was the truth and Paula knew it. She knew it and the closeness between the two girls made her uncomfortable.
"I know, honey. Get a hold of her father and get his permission and then you can see her. I already broke the law telling you her condition. It's as far as I can go." Spencer nodded, understanding even if she disagreed.
"Is she awake, Mom?" Clay asked, afraid of the answer. Paula hung her head.
"No, Clay. She's not. And we have no idea when, or if, she will."
Spencer's world went dark.
Spencer came to later laid out on a gurney in the ER, a brother on each side and her parents whispering to each other a few feet away. She blinked wearily and sighed.
"What happened?' she asked softly. The light hurt her eyes and her head was throbbing.
"You uh fainted," Glen said. Spencer turned her head, squinting at her blonde brother confused.
"I fainted? Then why do I have a headache?"
"You went down so fast that Mom and I couldn't catch you," Clay explained. "You hit your head pretty hard on the floor."
<Ah, that would explain why it feels like someone's playing with Ashley's drum set in my head> she figured. The thought of the brunette's drum set reminded Spencer why she was in the hospital in the first place.
"Mom? How's Ashley?" she called out. Her mother turned to look at her.
"The same, Spencer. How's your head, sweetie?" Paula walked to the side of the bed and brushed her daughter's hair out of her face.
"I'm fine," Spencer declared, sitting up a little too quickly and regretting it as the room spun at a fantastic speed.
"I need to see Ashley," she told her mother while she swung her legs over the side of the bed. "Did you try to call her father?"
"I did, honey," Arthur informed her as he approached the bed. "Stay in the bed, Spencer. There's nothing you can do right now for Ashley so take care of yourself." Spencer slumped back onto the bed, defeated. She knew he was right and she hated it.
"Did you get a hold of him?" she wondered. She knew that if her parents got a hold of either of Ashley's parents, that they'd likely give permission for her to be allowed in Ashley's room. She was Ashley's best friend after all.
"It took some doing," her father started. "I called some friends of mine that I've made in the police department and they managed to get through to Danger Davies' manager. We're waiting to hear from him now. Should be soon though."
"And her mother?" Spencer watched as an annoyed and disgusted look crossed her mother's face.
"We got a hold of her too," Paula said. Spencer could tell by the tone of her mother's voice that Paula was already not a big fan of Mrs. Davies.
"She said that she wasn't going to come running home because her daughter got herself into trouble. If there's any change we can leave a message with the cruise line." Her father's words cut deep into Spencer's heart.
<How can she be like that? Her daughter could die!> Spencer felt anger bubbling through her pain.
"That woman should have never had children," Paula said bitterly. "I may not be Ashley's biggest fan but a true mother would be there for her child, always. That woman is well I don't know what that woman is but she's certainly not a mother."
"Welcome to Ashley's life,' Spencer muttered. She hoped now her own mother would be a little more understanding towards Ashley. The petite brunette couldn't exactly pick who she wanted for parents and the ones she was given were sorely lacking.
Paula heard her daughter's acidic comment and frowned.
"Spencer, I know that I've never been very fair to Ashley. And I'm sorry. I still have my issues with the girl but when this is over, I promise that I'll try to be more lenient with her. Her upbringing isn't her fault and I treated her like it was."
"Her parents suck," Glen interjected. Paula rolled her eyes.
"Glen, you know I hate that word," she reminded her son. She looked at Spencer. "Even if he is right. Spencer, Glen called Aiden and told him what happened. He wanted to be here with you but we told him to stay home since there's nothing that he can do right now. He'd like you to call him at some time." Spencer nodded.
"I will." She looked at her father. "Do the police know who did this?" She figured that she already knew who attacked Ashley.
"They have no witnesses so far," Arthur said sadly. "But it's only been a few hours, Spencer. They'll get who did this."
"We know who did this, Dad," Glen spat, voicing Spencer's own thoughts. "Denise and her friends. The same ones that have been harassing Spencer for weeks now. God, Spencer, I wish you'd told me sooner. I don't like hitting girls but this one time I could make an exception." Spencer opened her mouth to respond when her mother cut her off.
"Harassing you? Spencer, what is Glen talking about?"
"It's a long story, Mom," Spencer sighed. Paula scowled.
"Then start explaining."
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