Title: Altered Realities
Fandom: South Of Nowhere
Ratings: PG and one or two PG-17 Later but I'll mark them
Disclaimers: Not mine unfortunately, except the original characters. Please don't sue!
Authors Notes: Arthur finds out some interesting info at work. What is it and how will it change everyone's lives?
“I can’t believe summer’s over already. I so don’t want to be back in school again.” Spencer Carlin spoke as she stared out at the gorgeous Pacific Ocean. She found it hard to believe her family had only lived in California a little over a year. It was days like this that made her wonder how she’d ever survived back in Ohio, not to mention how she’d survived before she met Ashley.
“And it was such a nice day. Geez, Spence, why do you always have to bring reality into things when we’re relaxing? We’re done for the day – I’d like to leave it back there instead of bringing it into our quality time together.” Ashley Davies took off her sunglasses so her girlfriend would get the full benefit of the dirty look she was sending the younger girl’s way.
“I’m sorry, babe. I don’t know what came over me. I guess I was just getting weird looking out at the water. Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m here.”
“You are, and I’m so happy we found each other, Spence.” The brunette reached over and gave her girlfriend’s hand a squeeze.
“I am too, believe me.” Spencer returned the squeeze and continued idly massaging the other girl’s hand as she continued rambling. “We’ve been through so much in such a short time, but you know they say tragedies either bring couples together or tear them apart.”
“Very true. I had a feeling we’d be ok though when you didn’t let me push you away after my dad died. Little did either of us know what else was going to come. Your mom having an affair with Dr. Ben and moving out after your dad found out –“
“She’s such a hypocrite! She’s against our relationship because being a lesbian is against what God teaches. There’s nothing in the Ten Commandments that says being a lesbian is wrong, however, there is one that says you shouldn’t fuck someone else when you’re married!” The blonde knew her face must be flushed, but she always became furious when she thought about her mother.
“Shh, Spence, I’m sorry baby. I didn’t mean to upset you.” Ashley sheepishly tried to calm her girlfriend down.
“You didn’t do anything. It’s ok, Ash, I just won’t think about her anymore. I’m done letting her ruin our time together. She’s been gone almost two months and I’ve only had to see her once. The boys go every week or so but I don’t blame them. They can do what they want. I’m just so glad dad overruled her sending me to that deprogramming camp in Maine.” The blonde shuddered at the memory, causing her girlfriend to hold her closer. “He told her if she was actually going to move out, she had no say in what went on in the house anymore.”
“Your dad is awesome. I would have followed you though. We could have had our own version of But I’m a Cheerleader, even though you’re not anymore.” This earned Ashley a shove and smirk from her girlfriend. “Besides,” her voice took on an unnaturally serious tone, “There was no way I was going to let her take you away from me too, even temporarily. Losing Aiden and Kyla was bad enough.” It was the brunette’s turn to shiver now.
“Aw, Ash, I’m sorry.” Spencer moved closer and held the petite girl as tightly as she could. “I didn’t mean to make you think of them again.”
Ashley gratefully returned the embrace, settling into her girlfriend’s arms. “Spence, it’s ok. You know it helps me to talk about them. I know you miss them too. You didn’t do anything. It has been an eventful summer though. I’m anxious for a nice, calm, normal junior year.”
Just then, Spencer’s cell phone rang. “Hi, Dad! What’s up? – I’m at the beach, with Ashley. – Sure, we can come home right now, see you in a bit. Is everything ok? – Of course we will.” She hung up the phone and turned to look at her girlfriend, matching her equally puzzed stare.
“I have no idea. Dad’s at home and wants us to come home now. He’s not usually home this early. He wouldn’t tell me anything else. God, I hope everything’s ok.” She shivered as she started to gather her things together.
“Come here a sec.” Ashley wrapped Spencer in her arms for a minute, smoothing her hands over her girlfriend’s back and hair in an attempt to calm her. “Whatever it is, we can get through it together, you know that. I’ll be right there to help, I promise, baby. It’s going to be fine.”
“I know this wasn’t my night to get dinner, and I’m sure Dad would have told me if that was why he wanted me to come home. I know I’m not in any trouble, I wonder if something happened to Glen or Clay?” Spencer kept going over all the possibilities in her head.
“Or your Mom. Who knows what it could be. It’s not report card time, but you’d never get bad grades. Speaking of report cards, this is the first one I’m not actually dreading. You’ve helped me want to stay in school and learn a little. Guess you’re rubbing off on me. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. I better be. I can’t have a girlfriend who spends most of her days in detention. That would totally ruin my image.” The blonde teased the older girl who retaliated by playfully slapping her girlfriend at the next light.
“Come on Spence, you know part of the reason you love me so much is my rebellious side. We balance each other out.”
“I guess you’re right.” Spencer flashed Ashley the grin that still made the brunette weak in the knees. Luckily she’d gotten better at controlling it while driving.
“I’m always right, you didn’t forget did you?” Taking advantage of the stop and go traffic, the brunette playfully shoved her girlfriend while flashing her a seductive smile.
“God, you and your ego. I’m sure that’s partly why you got a convertible, right? Easier for your big head to fit?” The smile took any sting out of Spencer’s teasing.
“You know you love it. I can put the top back up if you’d like.” Ashley put her hand on the controls.
“I do love it. I never said I didn’t.” The girls continued their playful banter all the way home, enjoying their time together and relishing how comfortable they felt with each other.
* * *
The girls got home in about thirty minutes. It seemed like no time to Spencer and Ashley - battling LA’s afternoon traffic was always an ‘adventure’, and even after all the time they’d spent together, they never got tired of being together. They could spend two hours together and only feel like minutes had passed. They’d talked about this before and hoped that things would always be that way. Neither girl, not to mention most of the brunette’s friends, could believe the changes in the older girl since they’d begun hanging out
To Arthur Carlin waiting at home for the girls to arrive however, it seemed like days had passed. He still couldn’t believe what he’d found and he knew that what he was doing was probably wrong but he couldn’t keep this to himself.
“Dad? What’s going on?” Spencer burst through the doorway with Ashley close behind her.
“Thanks for coming home so fast, girls. Um, Ashley, I need to talk to you for a second, why don’t we go in the living room? Spencer can go change or something.”
“Did I do something wrong, Mr. C?” Ashley looked at him with a worried expression on her face as Spencer moved forward and grabbed her girlfriend’s hand.
“Oh no! Not at all. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just thought it might be easier to talk to you alone first. That’s all.”
“If it’s ok with you and Spence then, you can talk to us both. I don’t keep secrets from her.” Ashley gave Spencer’s hand a grateful squeeze as they moved into the living room.
“I shouldn’t be telling you this. Unless we handle it carefully, I could lose my job, but I thought you should know, Ashley.” The normally jovial man had a grave expression on his face, worrying both girls more. “Can you promise me that you will let me help you deal with this so I can hopefully contain things?”
“Sure, Mr. C.” Ashley gazed at the man with a puzzled expression on her face, which matched the one on her girlfriend’s.
Arthur stood up and began pacing back and forth as he spoke. “Ok. So two days ago, I was assigned a new case. I thought something was strange right away, so I did some digging and checking and finally got all the pieces back this afternoon. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Ashley, but I \think your daughter is my new client. She was abused by her adoptive parents and she was placed in foster care as the result of a report a few days ago.” He looked at the girls who sat looking back at him with their mouths hanging open.
Ashley was the first to regain her composure several seconds later. “Mr. C? Did you just say my daughter? Is this some kind of sick joke?” Spencer took the agitated brunette’s hand and rubbed her thumb up and down, trying to comfort and reassure her.
“Not at all. I would never joke about something like this. You did have a baby girl a little over two years ago, right? Your name was on the original birth certificate.”
“Yes, but my mother told me she was born dead. She said it would be too upsetting for me to see her so I wasn’t allowed to. Of course, she wasn’t going to let Aiden come to the hospital either even though he was the father, so I couldn’t even tell him in person. She hated him for getting me pregnant. I think she was just worried she was going to have to put up with me that much longer.” Ashley struggled to hold back tears as Spencer moved to put her arm around her. She gratefully snuggled into the embrace as she continued speaking. “She said she wasn’t going to spend money to bury a ‘mistake’ and I didn’t need to have a grave as a reminder anyway. Like I’d forget. I think she was partly afraid that the press would find out about the grave, and I do have to admit I wouldn’t have wanted to see my baby’s grave on every tabloid and magazine across the country.” Ashley stopped to take several deep breaths in a futile attempt to regain her composure before continuing. “My dad was going through a really wild phase back then too and he wasn’t much help. He was already in one magazine or another almost every week for something. She told me that since I was a minor, even though I was Sydney’s mother, she got to decide what happened next. She said she donated the body to the hospital and by the time I was aware enough to know what was going on, it was too late to do anything. They’d already taken her away.” Ashley began full out crying now.
Spencer rubbed her back and did the best she could to comfort her. “Aw, Ash, I’m so sorry she put you through that. I cannot believe your mother lied to you. Ok, yes I can, but that’s still a crappy thing for a parent to do to their kid. I wish I’d been here back then. I would have been there to help you through it no matter what your mom said or did.”
Several minutes later, Ashley got herself under control. “Thanks, Spence. I know you would have. I wish you had been too. Sorry for losing it like that, I just get so upset when I think about her. I was going to name her Sydney Rose. I had so many plans. My dad had even given me money for the nursery and a nanny while I was in school. I was going to do things right. So much different than my mom did. I loved her so much. I can’t believe I never even got to see a picture of her.” Ashley almost broke down again but managed to remain in control.
“You have nothing to apologize for, babe. Your mom is the one who needs to apologize. What she did was a terrible thing, but now we have a chance to make it right, don’t we, Dad?” Spencer couldn’t imagine going through what Ashley had, never mind going through it alone. She knew Ashley’s ‘mother’ had been a useless form of support back then. She wanted to do anything she could to help her girlfriend make things better.
“I think so, yes. Ashley, I’m so sorry. I thought you knew about this. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I know you didn’t, Mr. C. It’s ok. I’m glad you told me. You said that they abused her? Is she ok? What’s her name?” Ashley looked at Arthur with concern in her eyes, remembering how he had said her daughter had come under his notice.
“Yes she’s fine. She just has a few bruises. Luckily we got her out before they did any other physical damage. Her name is Samantha Grace. I left the rest of the file at the office. I shouldn’t even be doing this yet, but here’s a picture of her.” Arthur opened a folder that had been sitting on the coffee table and handed the picture that was inside it to Ashley.
She took it and looked at it for several seconds saying nothing before handing the picture to Spencer as tears started falling down her face again. “Oh man. She looks so much like my baby pictures. All that hair. She’s so cute.”
“There’s no denying she’s your daughter. She’s gorgeous! I can’t wait to meet her.” Spencer handed the picture back to Ashley who looked up at Arthur with fear in her eyes.
“Can I please keep the picture? I wont let anyone else see it, I promise. My mom doesn’t bother going through my stuff much anymore. That might imply she gives a damn about me.” Her tone turned bitter toward the end, making Spencer put an arm around her, which she gratefully sunk into, soaking up the comfort of the younger girl.
“Of course you can. I trust you, Ashley. I made a copy just for you. You can even take a camera and your video camera if you want when you go visit her.” Arthur smiled at the brunette, trying to put her at ease.
“When can I see her? Can I take her a present? What do we do now? She won’t go anywhere permanent before I get a chance to take her, will she?” Ashley looked horrified at the prospect of losing her daughter again, causing Spencer to stroke her girlfriend’s hair with her other hand in an attempt to help her stay calm.
“Well, unfortunately this could get complicated. Since your rights were terminated, you're going to have to prove that your mom did this and you didn't know about it."
"Hm, how can I do that?" Ashley's thoughts were swirling and she started to panic at the idea that she'd lose her daughter a second time.
"I know!" Spencer spoke up as she continued to smooth Ashley's hair away from her face. "Does that business manager still handle the money? I don't see your mom paying any bills. If it's the same one that was around then, maybe he knows something."
"Spence! You're a genius! I'll go try to call him in a minute. If nothing else, I'm sure he paid the hospital bills, maybe he knows something. I'm just worried that he'll be loyal to my mom cause she pays him though."
"Either way, if he does know something, I'm sure your lawyer can subpoena him, Ashley. Don't worry, we have ways of getting our info and I'm sure your lawyer has ways of his own." Arthur looked over at the girls with a huge smile on his face. "That's the way to start then. I'd say contact him and contact a lawyer. It's better to have the lawyer make first contact with our office too, they can't give you any information until they do the DNA testing. It's not fair, I know, but it's a security measure."
"I'm going to figure out a way to tell them I know without getting you in trouble too, Mr. C. I promise! I just need a little time to let this all sink in."
“I didn't think you were going to get me in trouble, Ashley, but it was worth the risk. You've been through so much just since we met you, I couldn't let your daughter get away if I could do anything to help. It's going to seem like forever until you get to see her, but we'll help you however we can. When you do see her, of course you can take her a present. I’m not totally sure yet, but I think we can keep her where she is until I have a chance to help you figure things out and make some plans. She will not be placed anywhere permanently though, no, so don’t worry about that. I do have say in that part of things at least. You’re going to be 18 in about three months, right?” Arthur looked thoughtfully at Ashley as he spoke.
“Right.” Ashley stared at him with a puzzled expression on her face.
“If we get you emancipated, I think you can have access to the money your dad left you now instead of waiting until you’re 21. We can turn the guest room into a nursery and you two can sleep in there if you’d like? If you want to stay here with us, that is?”
Ashley sat there in shock, looking from Arthur to Spencer and back for several seconds, tears again flowing down her face before she spoke. “Wow. Thank you so much, Mr. C.! I think I can call the lawyer or business manager my dad used to find out if I can get the money sooner if I get emancipated. They both know my mom and I’m sure they’d be willing to do anything they could to help me.” Ashley smiled at the prospect for a second before her expression grew serious again. “But, um, are you sure you want us living here? What about Paula? I know she won’t want us living here, corrupting Spencer. Can you imagine what she’s gonna say when she finds out I have a kid? I’ll be lucky if she doesn’t put you in some sort of boarding school with mean attack dogs and twenty foot walls far away from me.” Ashley looked at Spencer with a stricken expression on her face. “I don’t even know how you feel about all of this yet either. Maybe you don’t want me living here. I can probably afford a house with my money when I get it, can’t I?”
Arthur and Spencer both started speaking at once. Spencer let her father go first with a nod as she continued to hold and try to comfort Ashley. “I am positive I want you and your daughter living here with us. You’ve done so much for Spencer since we moved here. You’ve been a great friend to her and it’s time that we return the favor. I’m not even going to think about Paula right now.” Arthur had begun standing up for himself more after his wife left and it made things much better around the Carlin home. The tension that had wrapped the house like an ugly fog before was now almost non-existent much to the delight of everyone. “We have a lot of stuff to work on before I’ll even consider letting her move back home. If she does come back, she’s going to have to realize she’s not going to be able to control everything anymore. She’s going to have to accept that things in this house didn’t stop when she left and if she wants to live here she’s going to have to deal with the fact that Spencer is growing up and may choose to do some things that she doesn’t always agree with. You and Samantha have more of a right to be here right now than she does. If she can’t tolerate you living here, then I don’t want her to come back. Let me worry about Paula, not to mention Glen though. As far as I am concerned, you are already family, Ashley. We have more room now with Glen away at school too.”
Ashley was not used to people being so nice to her and helping her so she started crying harder and Spencer embraced her tighter before speaking. “As for me, Ash, there’s no way you’re going to get rid of me that easily. I think this is great for you. I love kids. You know that. I’m not going to let you run away or let you push me away this time. I can’t wait to meet Samantha. I’m sure it will take you a while to get used to being a mom, but I’ll help you however I can. I know you’re going to be a great mom! I’d love to have you guys living here too! We’d get to spend so much more time together! When can she move in, Dad?”
“I can get the paperwork together for you to sign tomorrow, Ashley. When your mom signs it, it will take about a week to be final. Can you pretend nothing is going on until then? I just don’t want her to know anything until this is over and done with.”
“It will be hard but sure I can. She’s only going to be around for another two or three days anyway and then she and her latest boy toy are going on some stupid cruise. This is good timing then. I don’t want you to get in trouble, Mr. C, don’t worry.” Ashley smiled at Arthur, thanking him yet again for coming to her rescue. She thought again how much she envied her girlfriend because she had great parents. The brunette hoped she could be more like Arthur and less like her mother had been.
“Can Ash spend the night tonight? That’s nothing unusual, and that way her mom won’t hear us talking about anything.” Spencer looked pleadingly at her father.
“Of course she can. You know she’s welcome here anytime, but you two are going to go to school tomorrow, right?” He smiled at them gently. “I know you don’t skip much, but just so you know, Ashley, the state will have to do a background check on you as part of the process. Now that I think about it, I’m sure that has to happen before they’ll let you see Samantha. I’ll try to have them do it as fast as they can though. School attendance will probably be part of that. I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle your case since I know you so well and you’ll be living here.”
“Will you still be able to keep Samantha’s case?” Ashley looked at Mr. Carlin nervously.
“I’m not sure, but I’ll do my best. If I can’t keep it, I can probably have some say in who gets it though, so please don’t worry, Ashley. We will work something out.”
“But if you don’t keep the case, how do you know she won’t go to a permanent home before I get her?” Ashley started to freak out again.
“Wait a minute. Dad, didn’t you say the original birth certificate was in the file?” Arthur nodded at his daughter. “Well, I know Ash’s rights were terminated, but can’t you say something at work about how you know her and this didn’t sound like her to you and you wanted to talk to her?” Spencer wanted to help any way she could.
“No, honey. That would be violating the confidentiality rules as well.” Arthur looked sadly at the pair on the couch. “Let’s all sleep on this and maybe we can come up with a better plan tomorrow. I can promise you, Ashley, we have plenty of time. Why don’t you guys go up to Spencer’s room and relax and I’ll get dinner. We’ll eat in about half an hour.
“Thanks Dad! I love you!” Spencer reluctantly let go of Ashley to go give her father a hug.
“Thanks, Mr. C. This means so much to me.” Ashley cautiously gave Mr. Carlin a hug on the way out as well.
As soon as they left the room, everything began to really sink in for Ashley. The more she thought about it, she was more apprehensive than she wanted to admit at the prospect of being someone’s mom, but she knew she wanted to try. She just hoped her parents hadn’t screwed her up so much that she wouldn’t be able to do a good job. Spencer had come into her life and terrified her. She had made her feel things she’d repressed for a very long time. Ashley loved being with Spencer and she loved Spencer more than anyone else in her life, but this was different. Samantha was someone she was related to by blood. Even though she and Spencer had been together for a while and their relationship had survived so much, the older girl was far from confident that they would last. She was worried that this new development might be the final straw in their relationship, or that with her history, it was inevitable that she would do something to fuck it up. Her own mother thought she was a mistake and everyone else she had loved and let close to her either died or screwed her over. Her father, everyone she’d been with before, Kyla and Aiden. Why would the blonde be any different? At least her daughter couldn’t leave her for a long time to come. Plus, Samantha did have half of Aiden’s DNA, so maybe the little girl wouldn’t be as wild and rebellious as she had been. She hoped not anyway.
“So,” Spencer started, sitting down on her bed and pulling Ashley down next to her. “Wow, this is pretty cool, huh?”
“Cool? Spence? You’re not even seventeen yet. You have another year of High School before college and who knows what after that? How can you think this is cool? I’ve managed to fuck things up for you yet again. If you stay with me, you’ll be throwing your life away!” Ashley began pacing, trying not to look Spencer in the eye. She was terrified of what she would find there, the love and acceptance that she’d come to count on, or the anger and hurt that the latest statement was sure to cause the younger girl.
“Ash, what do you mean, if I stay with you I’m throwing my life away?” Spencer stood up and tried to stop the pacing brunette. She placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Come here, tell me what’s going on. I’m not going anywhere.”
Ashley shrugged the hand off and continued pacing. “Please don’t touch me right now. I need to think this through. I can’t deal with anything else. I have to figure out what I’m going to do.”
“I know, this was a huge shock to you. I want to help you though. Don’t shut me out, baby.” Spencer took a few more steps toward her girlfriend. “We can figure it out together.”
Ashley swirled around to look directly into Spencer’s eyes. The expression of love, patience and understanding that she saw there that was so typical of the other girl made her shut down even further. Her expressive dark eyes flashed angrily as she yet again started speaking before she had really thought about what she was going to say. “I know that if you stay with me, I know that somewhere down the road, you’re going to look back and wish that you could have gone somewhere else for college, traveled more, gone out more, anything that you can’t do when you have a kid.” Ashley tried hard to stay angry so she could keep the tears at bay. She knew she had to do this; it was best for everyone. “This is so gonna limit things, Spencer and I’m not going to do that to you. I’m sure you haven’t thought any of that out. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. This is my responsibility anyway, not yours. I’m not saddling you with this.” Ashley took a deep breath trying to pull out all the stops before continuing. “Also, she’s half Aiden’s. Can you really help me raise her with that reminder around every day? Can you look at her and not resent her because she’s half his?”
“Ok, I know you’ve just had a huge shock and you’re upset right now and I’m trying really hard to remember that, but hello? We’ve been together for almost a year now.” Spencer took a few steps toward Ashley and tried and failed to get the brunette to look at her. She was also fighting to keep her temper under control. Spencer knew that the older girl was reacting out of fear, but that didn’t make it any easier to take. “You know me better than that, Ash. The whole Aiden situation is in the past. Do I miss him? Yes, and what happened to him and Kyla was so screwed up, but what went on between the three of us doesn’t bother me anymore. I love you. Not to be mean or whatever, but he’s gone and I’m right here with you. I know you’re with me too. You know I would never hold the past against a little girl. I would be happy to help you with her, and you should know me well enough to know that I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. My home is with you; wherever you are. It doesn’t matter to me where I go to college as long as it’s near you. I don’t need to go somewhere far away. I’m fine staying here, whatever you want. We can stay here and get our own place if we want. We can work it out. Any parent with kids gets babysitters sometimes and you know we can still travel. Take her with us or Dad will be glad to watch her once she’s settled in and comfortable with us. Talk to me, Ash. What’s behind this?”
Ashley stood there not saying a word. Spencer decided to just wait a minute and give her some time to process things. She knew that Ashley would have to open up to her in order for things to get better between them, for them to get through this and make the relationship stronger. She loved the brunette very much and was willing to give her the time she needed, to a point, but she was also starting to get tired of her girlfriend’s tendency to run away or push her away at the first sign of any trouble or conflict. Ashley had issues, Spencer wasn’t even going to try to deny that; but she thought that after all this time, and having herself as a constant, that things would be better than they were.
“Dinner’s ready, girls!” Arthur’s voice startled both girls and Ashley walked back over to the bed, praying Spencer wouldn’t follow.
“I’m really not hungry. Tell your dad I’m sorry but I just need a little time alone to process this, ok? I’ll get something later.”
“I’ll bring dinner up to you if you want. You need to eat.” Spencer didn’t know what she should do. She wanted to stay and help Ashley, but she also knew that her mercurial girlfriend sometimes just needed some time to think things through alone. She didn’t want the girl to think she was abandoning her, but she also didn’t want to drag her dad into whatever was going on with them unless she had to.
“You don’t have to. Thanks, though. I’m really not hungry right now.” Ashley was still trying as hard as she could to hold back the tears. She didn’t want to cry in front of Spencer again but if her girlfriend didn’t leave soon, she knew she would. Her thoughts were swirling and she had no idea what to do or how to feel. She was sure that her life was about to become more fucked up yet again.
“If you change your mind, please come down? I’ll come check on you later, k?”
“Ok, I’ll be here.” Ashley was uncharacteristically short with Spencer, causing the blonde to worry even more. She wanted to hug the upset brunette before heading down to dinner, but Ashley had shut herself down as effectively as if she’d pulled shades down over her eyelids and placed a closed sign around her neck. Spencer knew she’d get nowhere. She just hoped she could fix things later before it was too late. She had no clue how to get through to her girlfriend and work this out but she knew she had to figure something out fast.