In typical Ryan fashion, he comes at the issues sideways rather than just sitting down and telling Spencer what he's thinking. "You never make it out here," he says one night on the phone. Spencer's doing the dishes with his cell tucked between his ear and shoulder, humming along to Ryan's monolog and making affirmative noises whenever Ryan pauses. It takes him a second to catch up and parse Ryan's meaning. Which, of course, is different than what he says.
The translation spits out. I miss you, please come see me.
Because he's alone and there's no one to see him and read into it, Spencer allows himself a broad smile that might or might not be tinged with just a hint of relief. Rumors of their friendship crashing and burning have been greatly exaggerated, but. Change is change and it inevitably…changes things. Spencer can't run from the fact that Ryan went one way and he went another.
"I don't think I have anything this weekend," Spencer says lightly, shaking water out of a mug and setting it on the drying rack next to the sink. "I could come up, if you've got room for me."
"Brendon won't care?" Ryan asks after a pause.
That Spencer isn't even going to touch. He's perfectly aware that an ocean of unresolved shit exists between Ryan and Brendon, but he made peace a long time ago with the fact that it's not his job to set it right. If Spencer'd had his way, they'd have spent six months making out and giving each other tortured handjobs in the bunks to dissolve the tension. It didn't happen, so they're both stuck with the musical masturbation of writing songs about each other and opening each rendition of them with oblique references about who they were written for.
Spencer turns off the tap and dries his hands on the thighs of his jeans. "Brendon's not my keeper, first of all, but no. I think he and Sarah are going to go do couple shit."
"Right." Ryan sounds like he's chewing on his bottom lip. It's funny and relieving to Spencer that he can still hear those quirks. "Anyway, yeah. I've always got room if you want to come."
"Good," Spencer says.
For a long second, they're both not speaking. Spencer can hear Ryan's breath and the distant murmur of whoever else is in the house. Probably the girl he spends so much time with, Z, and maybe Jon and Greenwald. Spencer flicks off the kitchen light and pads toward the stairs. He wonders if the disconnect between their lives is ever going to stop feeling weird after fifteen years of walking completely in sync.
"It'll be good to see you," Ryan says eventually. The words rush out, tripping over each other and landing in an awkward pile at Spencer's feet. He bites back a laugh, because he knows Ryan won't get that Spencer's not laughing at him, he's laughing at the oddly warm comfort of knowing that some things are constant as the sun and the tides.
"It'll be good to see you too."
They have a planned jam session on Thursday at Brendon's house. Zack's there, because he gets bored when they're not on tour and he doesn't have to scan cookies for suspicious hairs and defend Brendon's virtue. He sits out by the pool with dogs and Shane, who still spends seventy-five percent of his life filming Brendon playing video games and throwing squeaky mice for the dogs to joyfully chase after.
They sequester themselves in the second bedroom Brendon converted into a studio space. Long windows line the far wall and yellow sunlight pours in through the panes. Hazy rectangles of gold move slowly across the hardwood floors; everything sounds just a little bit mellower than usual.
Between finishing one song and starting in on another, Spencer says, "Hey, I just wanted you to know I'm not going to be around this weekend."
Brendon doesn't even look up from the pages of lyrics piled around his knees, neatly transcribed into notebooks from the napkins he first wrote them on. The music has never fucked Brendon up, but the weight of the words rests heavy between his shoulder blades. Spencer thinks he probably holds Ryan's comments about Folkin' Around being a ditty closer to his chest than he'd ever admit.
"That's cool," Brendon says distractedly. "Sarah and I are doing our thing anyway. Going to Vegas to see your family?"
Spencer twirls his sticks. "No," he says calmly. "I'm spending it with Ryan."
To Brendon's credit, he barely flinches. There's a moment where he's utterly, totally still; then he takes a deep, slightly too controlled breath, and lets it go. His hand starts moving again, rearranging his lyrics on a fresh sheet of paper. "That's cool. Have fun."
They finish two more songs that afternoon. Sarah showed up while they were working and bullies Zack into helping her grill burgers and make corn on the cob and a salad with a bunch of veggies Spencer can't identify. It tastes good anyways and they spend the evening sitting on the porch with Sarah and Zack and Shane, eating and drinking beer while they sun sets in orange and yellow and purple.
The drive to Ryan's place takes just a little bit longer than Mapquest predicted. He drives with all the windows down and the wind rushing in his ears and through his air. His sunglasses block out the brightest of the sun's light and his left hand dangles out the window, slipping through the breeze like he's trailing his fingers through cool water. Brendon's road trip jams playlist provides both a soundtrack and a reminder of how things stand.
Spencer's okay with that, now. His chest doesn't get tighter as he gets closer, his gut twisting up with an awful sense of loss.
He stops for gas and buys a bottle of water, flirting a little bit with the girl behind the counter. She has braids and freckles spattered across her nose a few shades darker brown than her skin. "You think you're really cute," she says around a smile when she hands back his change.
"I try," Spencer says and they both laugh and she rolls her eyes. Spencer feels an ease spreading down from the base of his spine that he hasn't felt in a long time, since back before the cabin and the failed wolf musical. He feels like someone heading to see his best friend with nothing else attached. No expectation, no regrets, no failed attempts at anything.
At the midway point, Spencer punches in Brendon's number and tucks his phone between his ear and shoulder. Tellingly, Brendon picks up halfway through the first ring and answers with a carefully nonchalant, "Hey."
"Hey," Spencer returns. "So, I just wanted to call and remind you that I'm doing what I want to be doing with you and I'm not sitting and wallowing in loneliness and misery every time we get together and work on music or get drunk or whatever."
Brendon is silent for a long moment. The highway rushes past and Spencer's stomach tightens up just a little bit.
"I know," Brendon huffs out. "I know that."
"Good. Because you should."
Brendon has the grace to laugh and Spencer smiles to himself. Best friends sounds so very middle school, but if the word fits.
Ryan lives a little bit off in the middle of nowhere. His house actually backs up to a canyon, which Spencer still thinks ranks as one of the worst ideas Ryan's ever had. Spencer has personally seen Ryan trip up the stairs on a dozen different occasions and he once got his feet tangled in one of Jackie's hair barrettes and almost crashed over the second floor railing of his house. One of these days he's going to go plummeting into the canyon and they'll never find the body, Spencer knows.
That being said, it's beautiful. The house looks like it grew up out of the scrub and flowers and rocks, like its foundation is an extension of the bones of the earth itself. The panes from the stained glass windows scattered throughout glint in bright jewel tones of purple and red and green and blue. They wink as Spencer rolls up the drive and cuts the engine.
There are a couple of other cars scattered in front of the house. Spencer recognized Ryan's and Jon's and one that might be Greenwald's, but he's not sure.
Spencer takes his time, disconnecting his iPod from the stereo adaptor, turning it off and stowing it in the front zip pocket of his backpack. When he climbs out of the car, the sun is warmer on his skin than it was through his windshield. The air smells clean, sharp and dusty at the same time. Ruefully, Spencer thinks the place reminds him of a hippie ranch and that's rather fitting.
Smiling, Spencer shoulders his backpack and walks toward the front door with his sneakers crunching on the dirt.
The door swings open before Spencer hits the bottom porch step and Ryan steps out; he's barefoot in pants that aren't quite long enough and a v neck shirt. He's wearing a tangle of leather and wooden bracelets wrapped around both wrists and his hair is grown out, curling around his ears. He's still skinny as fuck, but it looks like a decently healthy skinny as fuck rather than the skeleton thin stressed out version Spencer got too used to.
"Hey," Spencer says.
"Hey," Ryan replies.
Spencer climbs two steps, and Ryan comes down two; they throw their arms around each other and hug tight, standing under the California sun. They are who they are and have always been, which means neither of them is going to say anything. The beauty is that there's no need for words. It's an apology and an offer of forgiveness in the same gesture, Ryan's skinny fingers curled in the fabric of Spencer's tee shirt, and even a little bit of that long lost best friend affection.
Ryan pulls back and offers Spencer that crooked, tamped down smile he saves for the moments when he's truly pleased. "It's good to see you," he says, keeping one hand on Spencer's elbow.
"Fuck yeah," Spencer chuckles. "Show me where I'm sleeping."
Ryan's house is a center of calm chaos, with piles of everything everywhere. It should look like a force of nature tore through and gleefully threw everything together, but instead it looks like a fair approximation of the inside of Ryan's mind. No one could find anything except him and Ryan can find everything.
"This is the spare," Ryan says, swinging open a solid door. Spencer pokes his head in and finds a decently sized room with a big four poster pushed against the wall. There's not much in it, just a couple framed records and shit piled neatly in the corner. Coming from someone else, it might read like a gesture too pointed to be anything but an accusation. Coming from Ryan, Spencer takes it as an acknowledgement that Ryan understands how things stand, too. "I changed the sheets," he continues after a beat.
"Fuck, dude," Spencer says. "I'm touched."
Snorting, Ryan flips him off and Spencer returns with a sweet smile. He drops his backpack onto the floor and arches his back. The hours in the car slid by easy enough, but his back still likes to remind him that sitting in one position for multiple hours is a shitty thing to go.
In the doorway, Ryan shifts back and forth on the balls of his feet. "You can, like, crash and shit if you want. I know Jon wants to see you, but he can wait. There are some others, too."
Ryan is Ryan, Spencer thinks and he grins. "No, fuck sleep. Introduce me to your harem."
Jon and Greenwald are playing Halo, both of them coming up off the couch in their intensity. Ryan keeps his arm slung companionably over Spencer's shoulders, like he's afraid Spencer will disappear if he lets him go for too long. "Look what I found," Ryan says in his casual monotone, which is only slightly different from his excited monotone.
"Spencer Smith!" Jon crows, eyes crinkling at the corner in a smile. "Just let me grind Greenwald's ass into oblivion and I'll give you a proper hello."
"Fat fucking chance," Greenwald says, trying to elbow Jon in the ribs and destroy three aliens in the process.
Spencer snorts, "Take your time, dude," and follows Ryan through the living room and into the kitchen. There's a small forest of beer and liquor bottles on the kitchen counter, which will never not inspire a small, automatic kick in his chest. He pushes it away. Ryan isn't Mr. Ross and he's made damn sure he never will be.
There's an actual bowl of fruit on the small table making up for what Spencer assumes is the dining room having been converted into music space. There's bread in the bread box and probably even milk in the fridge. It's almost like Ryan went and grew up when no one was looking. Through the glass sliding door that leads to the back porch, Spencer can see an honestly beautiful view of the canyon. He inhales softly.
"Pretty great, yeah," Ryan says around a smile.
Spencer nods. "Yeah, Ry."
He's watching a bird wheel and dip through the sky and doesn't hear the girl come up until Ryan taps his shoulder.
She's standing there in leggings that go just to the bottom of her knees and a loose tee shirt that digs across her collarbone in loose folds. She's wearing a vest, which makes Spencer flash momentarily back to Ryan's aborted cowboy phase, and her feet are bare against the multicolored tiles on the kitchen floor. Her hair is shoulder length, dirty blonde, and wavy and she's looking at Spencer with openly speculative eyes. Spencer knows who she has to be.
"Spence," Ryan says, holding out a hand to her. "This is Z-berg."
"Z to my friends," she says, easily lacing her fingers with Ryan's.
They stare at each other.
Spencer's heard about this girl. He's heard about her band and her lyrics and her music, the obscure way she and Ryan click when it comes to a dozen different things. One night, in a fit of morbid curiosity and loneliness, he went out and downloaded all the The Like's music he could find, then sat on his bed in the dark and listened to it all straight through twice. He wanted it to be worse than it is, however petty that makes him.
Ryan called her one of his best friends and a part of Spencer that's still six years old and wondering whether he should go talk to the dark haired kid down the street still has a deep tendency toward possessiveness.
Truthfully, he wonders what Z sees when she looks at him. It's hard to quantify so many years of wrapped up in each other friendship, harder still to explain how another person can become your coping mechanism in the turbulent teen years when everyone and their gang is against you. Spencer suspects he's at least partially that asshole who helped to rip Ryan's teen dream into two distinct pieces.
Spencer extends his hand. "It's nice to meet you, Z" he says sincerely.
Z surveys him for a moment longer, then lets her polite smile melt into something more genuine and takes his hand. "It's nice to meet you, too, Spence."
Ryan flicks his eyes between them, probably trying to read the underground currents passing between two strangers. Failing that, he curls a hand around each of their shoulders, smiles, and says, "Who wants weed?"
Spencer's biggest, grandest, and most earth shattering observation after six hours can be summed up as thus. Ryan and Jon have drastically changed and, yet, not changed at all. Beneath the new ease to their shoulders and the different vocabulary of inside jokes and experiences, they're still basically the same guys Spencer has always known. That is a glorious thing to realize, Spencer thinks, and he lets out a small, lingering breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
The five of them, Spencer, Ryan, Jon, Greenwald, Z, sprawl out around Ryan's living room with tall bottles of beer and music playing low on the stereo. Z keeps her legs draped over Ryan's; it's not overtly sexual, but there's something there that hums with promise. Spencer circles his thumb around the rim of his bottle and wonders how he feels about that potential development.
Jon picks up a guitar and laboriously makes his way through the melody of their newest song for Spencer's benefit and distraction. "Not bad," Spencer says loosely, raising his bottle in toast. Jon pulls a face, but something genuinely and deeply pleased gleams in his eyes.
At its bones, the truth is that Ryan and Jon want to make a certain kind of music in a certain kind of way. Spencer appreciates that and understands it, but their melodies always remind him of other bands and their lyrics come together in a way that doesn't click for him. The honest truth is that he thinks they're probably never going to hit the musical jackpot with what they're doing, but that they're a whole hell of a lot happier doing their own thing than they would be with him and Brendon.
Maybe that's an unfortunate truth, but that doesn't make it less true.
Ryan knocks his bare foot into Spencer's sneaker and their eyes meet. Spencer looks at Ryan, at the mild laugh lines spraying out from the corners and the slight smile written unconsciously on his mouth. "Glad you're here," Ryan says and Spencer nods.
Spencer wakes up with a warm patch of sunlight cast on his shoulder and neck through the window beside his bed. His memories of stumbling from the living room to the spare are fuzzy at best, which probably explains the mild headache pulsing behind his forehead and the reason he's sprawled in his boxers and a button down on top of the blankets. His eyes stick a little when he pries them open, only reluctantly allowing the world to sharpen into focus.
Groaning, he swings his legs over the side of the bed and lurches to his feet. He needs to pee and probably shower, but he can't exactly remember where the bathroom is.
The door squeaks softly on the hinges when Spencer pushes it open and sticks his head into the hallway. He's pretty sure that no one headed back their places and he can hear the soft mumble of voices coming from the kitchen along with the higher sound of someone laughing. Spencer pauses to shuck of his button down and shrug on a hoodie, then shuffles out and starts wandering toward the sound of people and the growing scent of coffee.
He yawns as he steps into the living room and, thus, misses the girl heading out of the kitchen with a plate until he walks into her.
"Shit," an unfamiliar voice says as Spencer stumbles and nearly trips over the damned couch. She drops whatever she was carrying; the plate doesn't break, it just lands with a resounding thunk, and the contents spill all over the wooden floors. It turns out to be waffles, frozen by the look of them, and covered in syrup.
Spencer straightens. "I'm sorry," he blurts out, hitting his knees to start scraping up the mess.
"Hey, fuck it," the girl says. "It's okay."
She goes down to her knees to. Spencer levels a messy handful of syrup soaked waffle mess onto the plate, then looks up and gets his first good look.
"I," Spencer says.
The girl smiles. "Nah, it's okay. I'll make Ruh-zyan put more on the toaster." She's got long, light brown hair that falls around her hair in slightly messy tangles and a red sundress with thin straps at the shoulders.
"Yup," she says. "It's the name smush I made up for Z and Ryan. Like Bennifer or Brangelina, but better."
Whoever she is, she smells like citrus and tropical flowers and something undefinably girl that Brendon thinks some pheromone cosmetics companies put in makeup to drive dudes and lesbians nuts. Spencer doesn't think it's anything quite so diabolical as that, but. He has the entirely inappropriate and creepy urge to press his nose into her hair and inhale.
"I'm Tennessee," she continues, offering him a smile that seems punctuated by a question mark. "Z's drummer?"
"Oh, right." Spencer almost smacks himself on the forehead, just managing to remember his hands are covered in syrup in the nick of time. Along with his midnight musical meanderings, he moseyed over the Like's website and clicked around the gallery before. He recognizes the face before him, her wide nose and eyes. "I'm Spencer."
Her eyes turn up at the corners when she smiles, Spencer notes. "Yeah, yeah, the bestie. I know who you are. It's nice to meet you."
She holds out her sticky hand expectantly and Spencer takes it without a second thought.
They're still shaking and smiling dumbly at each other two minutes later, when Ryan comes out, nearly trips over them both and says, "Shit, I don't even think I own a mop."
Tennessee reminds Spencer a little bit of a baby horse or a giraffe as she lopes down the hallway toward the bathroom. Her dress swishes around her hips and thighs and her hair swings back and forth in an arc at the middle of her back. She pushes the door open with her hip, flicks the light switch with her elbow, and catches the tap with her wrist. Spencer follows behind; when the water starts running, they jam in together at they sink.
"Fucking syrup," Tennessee says conversationally. "It gets everywhere, man."
"Yeah, I know," Spencer nods. He notes Tennessee's long fingers and the ridges of her knuckles. She has a pale brown freckle on the inside of her wrist, right above the pulse point, and one of her fingers has a lighter band of skin from a missing ring.
Clean of syrup, she reaches for a towel looped over the bar above the toilet. Spencer takes a moment to be impressed that Ryan remembered to stock a second bathroom with toilet paper and soap, much less an actual towel to dry your hands with. He watches Tennessee dry off her hands; she offers him the towel when she's done. Spencer turns off the tap and takes the little square of blue terrycloth. "Thanks."
Tennessee smiles bright and big and says, "No problem."
Walking down the hallway back toward the kitchen, they fall in step. Tennessee's tall for a girl and she matches Spencer's stride with ease. Ryan's house is beautiful and makes for a sprawling whole, but the individual parts are small. Their knuckles brush against each other. Spencer can smell citrus again, now overlaid with the heavier smell of maple.
"Ryan talks about you all the time," Tennessee says suddenly. "I mean, like, he seriously sometimes won't shut up about Spencer and I did this and Spencer and I did that and Spencer is the illegitimate child of Superman, he's that awesome."
Spencer casts her a sidelong glance. "Seriously?"
In all the years they've been friends, Spencer has never honestly doubted Ryan's end of it. They've had their moments, of course; when Ryan went to middle school a year before Spencer and had a six week period of not really feeling having a best friend who was still in elementary school, when Spencer started dating Eliza Watson in ninth grade and accidentally forgot about Ryan for most of fall in the rush of having an actual girlfriend. When Haley moved in and Spencer tried to be a husband at eighteen, when they sat in the diner and decided maybe the band needed to go in different ways.
But Ryan's never really been effusive about their undying brotherly love.
"Is he high?" Spencer asks quizzically and Tennessee laughs.
"No, dude, I'm pretty sure he just misses you."
Spencer realizes then that they're standing in the archway that leads to the kitchen. Ryan's wrestling a last waffle out of the toaster while Z laughs at him and pours maple syrup over the ones already on the plate. Spencer's struck, suddenly, that Ryan looks genuinely and un-complicatedly happy for the first time in a long time.
"Yes," Ryan crows, spearing the waffle between a fork and a knife and wrenching it out of the toaster. "I win. Who wants breakfast?"
Over breakfast, Spencer learns a couple of things.
One, Ryan is at bad as subtly playing footsie as he was in high school. In an effort to nudge his hairy toes against Z's ankle, he ends up first kicking Spencer on the heel, then getting his foot tangled in Tennessee's dress. Spencer has to give Z credit for laughing with sparks of genuine affection in her eyes.
Two, Tennessee is a year older than Z and they've known each other since high school. Which, yes, isn't nearly as long as Spencer and Ryan have known each other, but it's still a significant chunk of time. There was another girl in the band, Charlotte, but Z's face goes thunderclap dark at the mention of the name and Spencer picks up on the defense that bleeds into Tennessee's posture. He can recognize a sore spot.
Mostly, though, mostly he learns that Tennessee has a dumbass donkey laugh that comes out in a series of alternating snorts and guffaws; she claps her hand over her mouth when she can't stop laughing. When she accidentally sets her elbow on an ill placed tray of butter, she waves her hand and wipes the mess off on Z's arm.
Spencer is charmed.
If Spencer is being one hundred percent, perfectly, totally, completely honest, he would have to admit that, in the deep and dark depths of his soul, he was expecting to dislike Ryan's new crowd. Really, he was expecting to hate them, to need at least an hour on the phone with Brendon to be able to paste on a smile for talking to anyone other than Ryan and Jon.
The hipster set that Ryan was always so enamored of never really appealed to Spencer. They required so much effort in everything you did and said and liked; the reward was not equal to the effort expended.
Plus a lot of them had stupid hair and wore sunglasses inside.
But he's pleasantly surprised by Tennessee and Z. They're undeniably hipsters, but they seem to be of a breed that recognizes their ridiculousness to some degree and offsets that with a swathe of earnestness that poignantly reminds Spencer of Ryan on his most passionate days.
Z wears leggings and weird shirts and slouchy boots, but she also keeps a pen in her pocket so she can scribble down lyrics on her arms when they come to her and has a battered composition book filled with funny shit she's overhead people saying in coffee shops. She doodles in the margins and smiles wide when Ryan starts on his tangents. Her soul, Spencer judiciously decides, is old and wise and warm.
And Tennessee. Man, Spencer can't figure out why Ryan wouldn't latch onto Tennessee as that one girl, because she's pretty damn awesome. At least from where Spencer's sitting, which is beside Tennessee while Ryan and Z merge on the astral lyricist plane.
"You're way different than what I was expecting," Tennessee says in the afternoon, while they're sitting on the deck. Ryan's asleep on his stomach with Z's vest tossed over his back to keep the California sun from baking him a deep red. Z herself has her phone out and texts one handed with her legs dangling between the slats of the protective railing.
Spencer raises an eyebrow. "What were you expecting?"
"Tall and skinny," she laughs, shading her eyes with one hand. "Lots of words and metaphors and big ideas. Which, not that I think you've got a tiny mind or some shit. You're just really grounded."
"Well," Spencer says, looking out the canyon and the sky. "Ryan and I were always more of a yin yang thing."
Brendon's phone rings one, twice, three times before he answers. Twilight is just beginning to fall in shades of purple and orange and Spencer's alone in the house, waiting for Jon et al to show up while Ryan and the girls go on a liquor run. Ryan made some vague promises about a party to celebrate Spencer's coming, but Spencer's not entirely sure if that means them, Z, Tennessee, and Jon drinking or the whole LA scene turning out for a kegger.
"How's la la land?" Brendon asks by way of a greeting. Spencer can hear keyboard keys clicking in the background and the scraping sound of one of the dogs chewing on a bone.
"Not bad at all," Spencer says, rolling onto his back. The covers are slightly mussed from the night before, but he never managed to actually crawl into bed and untuck them. "Good, actually. Ryan knows some interesting people."
Brendon makes a noise somewhere between assent and incredulity. "Cool."
Spencer made a conscious choice when he decided to come up that he wasn't going to force anything down Brendon's throat. Alternately, he wasn't going to let Brendon piss on his best friend parade. Facilitating the healing or whatever Spencer will do; he'll pass on the passive aggression.
"We can talk about other shit if it bugs you," Spencer offers bluntly.
Brendon sighs and the clicking stops. Spencer hears the squeak of his office chair, followed by the faint groan of the hallway floorboards and the dog's nails clicking on the wood. "C'mon up," Brendon says, probably settling into the giant chair in the living room he bought with the proclaimed intention to live in it forever. "It doesn't bug, exactly. It just. Whatever. It's weird. Tell me about Ryan's posse."
"Z's nice." Spencer frowns to himself at the inadequacy of the words. "Which, she makes him happy. She makes him really happy and she seems to deal with his crap really well. So, snaps for her."
"Snaps for her," Brendon chuckles. "Anyone else?"
Irrationally, Spencer blushes in the privacy of the spare room. "The drummer for Z's band, her name is Tennessee-"
"Yes, shut up. She's cool."
There's a pause where Spencer's cheeks flame red and his stomach does that stupid fucking swoopy, loopy thing it did the first time he talked to Hayley. He pushes himself up and folds his legs indian style. He can hear the dull crunch of a car pulling into the driveway and the metallic slam of doors opening and closing.
"Is she cool?" Brendon asks. "Or cool cool?"
"Oh shit, they're back, I gotta go," Spencer blurts.
He very faintly hears Brendon yell, "You suck," before he punches the off button and scrambles off the bed to go see what Ryan, Z, and Tennessee bought.
Upon surveying the kitchen counters, Spencer decides they probably just cleaned out the local liquor store of everything they had in stock. There are couple cases of beer, and bottle of everything from Schmirnoff and Jack Daniel's to Grey Goose and Wild Turkey.
"Partying is good for the soul," Z says, batting her eyelashes when she sees Spencer's face. "It's a proven fact of the universe."
"I won't argue with that," Spencer says slowly, "But I don't think there's any way four people can drink all this without having their livers throw in the towel and die."
Tennessee laughs and passes him a grape vodka something or the other. "Truth. Fortunately, the three of us know more people than you do, so we'll have plenty of help."
Spencer twists off the cap and takes a drink. "I think you'd have to know a fucking army."
Three hours later, Tennessee finds Spencer on the balcony taking a breather and asks, "This close enough to an army?"
Spencer has no choice but to laugh at that. What started as Jon showing up with Greenwald turned into a steady flow of people coming in twos and threes turned into Ryan's house being quite literally full to the brim of dozens and dozens of people. Ryan made a valiant effort to introduce Spencer to as many people as he could before Z and another girl with bright orange hair tugged him to a poker game on the coffee table in the living room and he got distracted.
Not the most naturally gregarious person, Spencer did a little circulating, drank some shots, a cup or two of beer, and decided he needed some clean California air before he passed out from close quarters and the noise.
Tennessee comes up next to him, leaning against the railing with a pair of bottles in her hands. She offers one to Spencer and he takes it, tossing the cap into the backyard and taking a long, cold drink. It slips down his throat just how he wanted. Tennessee takes a smaller sip and tips her head up to the night sky.
"Pretty good party, yeah?" she says, sloshing the beer in her bottle.
Spencer nods. "Yeah, good."
She laughs for a reason known only to herself and turns his face to Spencer. Her eyes have the bright, just slightly glassy look of someone drunk enough to feel loose, but not so smashed they won't remember any bad choices in the morning. Tennessee makes Spencer want to make a lot of bad choices; with that thought, Spencer realizes he's probably not as steady on his feet as his brain insists.
"So, answer me this," Tennessee says. "How the fuck did you and Ryan end up best friends?"
"Proximity," Spencer says promptly. "At first. We were the only kids the same age who lived on our block. It made sense. Then shit happened with Ryan and my family kind of stepped in and adopted him. Then we knew more about each other than most friends could ever hope to and we needed to stick together. We were, like, missing pieces or something. It just worked. What about you and Z?"
Tennessee's face clouds a little. "I had this bestie, Charlotte, and we wanted a band. Some people told us about Z and my dad put out feelers and tracked her dad down and we met. The rest is history or something like that. She keeps me from doing dumb stuff and I make sure she remembers to let everyone else into her head. It's a win/win."
Even drunk, Spencer can see blurry parallels between him and Ryan versus Tennessee and Z. Oedipal isn't the right word, but it's something sort of like that. Except for the part where Spencer has never seen the appeal of any dick other than his own and Tennessee is looser and lighter than Ryan ever was.
"You're really beautiful," Spencer says contemplatively.
Tennessee bursts out laughing and leans in, resting her head on his shoulder. "Well that's just about the damned nicest thing anyone has ever said to me." Twisting, she turns to face him with the light from the porch reflecting in her eyes and casting a special sort of beauty on the curves of her face. "You're not so bad yourself."
Spencer bends down and kisses her, awkward and messy. She tastes like beer and whiskey and their noses mash together. It's not much in the way of an auspicious first kiss, but it's damn nice anyway.
"C'mon," Tennessee says, grabbing his wrist and pulling him toward the house.
Tennessee likes being on top, hips pressed together with her legs bracketed by Spencer's. She plants her elbows on either side of his neck, arms tucked against his shoulders, and kisses him with her hair forming a curtain against the rest of the world. She has familiar drummer's muscles in her arms and smells good, kissing with dogged determination until Spencer's lips are pleasantly numb.
He rests his hands in the small of her back and plays with the folds of fabric of her skirt. It's soft cotton, wash thin and silky beneath his fingers.
Spencer catches his teeth on Tennessee's bottom lip and she makes a surprised, pleased giggle in the back of her throat. Their noses bump together again and they both laugh and wince at the same time. Tennessee feels solid against his chest, warm and real.
They didn't quite manage to get the spare bedroom's door closed on their way in. He can hear the continued ebb of the party going on, but nothing outside the four walls of his temporary room matters. He's got Tennessee with him, on top of him, and she is just about everything he wants in this moment.
"You kiss pretty great," Tennessee says breathlessly, pressing her thumbs to the corners of his mouth. "I mean, it's been awhile. But you've got pretty excellent technique."
"Thanks," Spencer says, inordinately proud. "Do you, like, want to stop?"
They make out for two hours and fall asleep with Tennessee's head on his chest and her fingers curled in the collar of his shirt.
Spencer's mouth tastes like week old Chinese food, sandpaper, and ass. He's also got a battle axe planted between his eyes and bass drum pounding in each temple.
Groaning, he grinds the heel of his hand into his forehead and wishes for the floor to open up and swallow him. Like with every other time he's woken up with a hangover, the floor does not oblige. Slowly, very slowly, Spencer cracks open his eyes and tries to roll away from the blast of sunlight pouring in through the window.
Unfortunately, he's pinned beneath a very solid, very human weight.
"The fuck?" Spencer mumbles, rolling his eyes down. Tennessee, looking obnoxiously bright and perky for as much as Spencer knows she drank, looks up at him with clear eyes and a slight smile. It takes another five seconds for his brain to chime in with the helpful reminder that he probably shouldn't have Tennessee chilling in his bed. Another ten after that, he realizes why his mouth feels like it got caught in a vacuum cleaner. "Fuck."
"Well," Tennessee says. Mercifully, her voice is a little rusty. "That's not the best compliment I've ever gotten morning after."
A slew of emotions slam through Spencer, ranging from a giddy lightness that he actually got an awesome girl to make out with him to mortification that he has to be shitfaced when it happened to embarrassment as having spent most of the night drooling a nice, big wet spot on his pillow an inch from her nose. Blushing, he looks away from her eyes and, unfortunately, lands on the curve of skin where her thigh swells out into her ass and her dress hiked up in the night.
"I-" Spencer begins. No words helpfully rise up to follow.
"You?" Tennessee prompts.
"I'm sorry," Spencer rushes out. "I was pretty drunk last night. I shouldn't have." He waves his hand illustratively. Unfortunately, it's the hand connected to the shoulder Tennessee's laying on so it's both slightly numb and out of her field of vision.
Tennessee shifts onto the bed beside him and arches an eyebrow. "You shouldn't have what? Kissed me? Fuck that, dude, I'm pretty sure I was the one kissing you. And I was into it, it's cool."
In a more perfect world, Spencer would be able to come back with something witty and suave. He's left staring at her, ignoring the throbbing shit going on in his head, and wondering what he did right in a past life to get a girl like Tennessee to like him. "Oh."
"Yeah," she says, reaching up and kissing the tip of his nose. "Anyway. We should go get pancakes."
"Really?" Spencer asks quizzically.
"Yup." Tennessee rolls of the bed with a grimace. She takes moment to straighten her dress, scrub the crust from her eyes, and shove her hair out of her face. Then she thrusts a fist toward the door and strikes a pose. "To the diner, Batman!" she crows. "After we shower. Because, dude, we are rank. Meet me on the porch in fifteen."
Spencer showers in five, pops two Advil, and dresses in sweats and a tee shirt. As a prudent afterthought, he grabs his sunglasses from their perch on top of his backpack and shoves his phone into his pocket. It only has a bar of battery, but if he keeps texting to a minimum it should be enough to last through breakfast. Breakfast with Tennessee. Shaking his head to dislodge the unfathomable nature of that thought, he jams his feet into flip flops and shuffles out of his room.
He runs into Ryan on the bottom of the stairs, wearing giant boxers and a tank top and quizzical expression. "Where did you go last night?"
"Um." Spencer shifts back and forth on the balls of his feet and smiles crookedly. "I was in bed."
Ryan frowns. "Lame. Where are you going?"
The blessing that is Ryan Ross means he has a tendency to miss the things right in front of his face. Which Spencer usually feels bad for taking advantage of. This, however, ranks as special circumstances and Spencer is willing to milk that shit for all it's worth. "A diner? With Tennessee."
"Oh." Ryan's face relaxes into a smile. "I probably know where. Have fun. I'm just going to go get some more. Sleep."
Which, Spencer knows, is obviously code for morning sex with Z. He's more okay with that than he would have expected two days before. "Have fun," Spencer calls as Ryan retreats back up the stairs.
The diner is called Crazy Lu's and it has an unlit neon sign in the shape jousting knife and fork along the facade. It's a little bit faded, covered in a permanent layer of dust that lends a soft haze to the whole building. A motley array of cars are parked outside; a couple little sporty things, a couple SUVs, and even one or two big, half busted trucks parked crooked to everything else. Tennessee parks her car (it's tiny and blue), pushes down her sunglasses and lopes inside.
Inside, it's sun warmed and lazy. Old rock plays softly on a genuine radio sat on the shelf between the cook and the counter, piping quietly through the room. A couple guys who strike Spencer as truckers sit on the vinyl stools, nursing cups of coffee and giant plates loaded with more breakfast foods than Spencer has ever seen in one place at one time. Families and couples group in the booths, chattering and laughing softly.
"Sit anywhere," the guy behind the counter tells them with an affable smile. "I'll be right with you."
With an ease Spencer's quickly getting used to, Tennessee loops their hands together and pulls him to a booth in the back corner. The vinyl cover's been neatly repaired with duct tape a couple times and there's at least five or six layers of pen scribbled messages on the formica tabletop. Tennessee shimmies in with her back to the wall and kicks her feet up on the opposite bench, grinning at him all the time. "This place has the best food, I swear."
Spencer eases in across from her, hip pressed against the jut of her ankle and the length of her foot. When he got out to the porch, he found her standing there in cut off shorts with a sweat top thing that let pieces of her bra peek out when she moved in the just the right way. She shoves her sleeves up and rests her elbows on the table, pushing her sunglasses back up into her hair. "You still freaking out?"
Blushing, Spencer leans back and smoothes a hand over his face. "No, I'm not freaking out."
"Good." She grabs one of the menus from the little file tucked underneath the window and flips it open. "Since you're new and I drove, so you can't storm away in righteous indignation, I'm going to order for you."
"Go for it."
Five minutes later, the waiter makes it around to their table. He's wearing loose khakis and a button down with Merle stitched over the pocket. Spencer's not sure whether he'd put down money on Merle not being his real name or not. "What can I getcha?"
"I'll have the big stack with strawberries and bananas, some orange juice, and a glass of chocolate milk. With hash browns on the side. He'll have the french toast with extra powdered sugar and orange juice, too." She grins at him as Maybe-Merle jots down their order.
"Be right out."
Spencer watches Maybe-Merle yell out the order to the cook, a tall lady with dozens of braids twisted into a serviceable knot at the nape of her neck.
"So," Tennessee says, reaching out and laying her long fingers on his wrist. "I pretty much liked making out with you."
"I." Spencer swallows. "Yeah. I was feeling it."
Tennessee laughs and her hair shakes free from where she tucked it behind her ear and falls down onto the table in light brown loops. "You're so stupidly precious, you know that? For a big guy, man. I was expecting the whole grr rawr mountain man routine."
Spencer blinks at her. "Is that a compliment?"
"Yes. Of course."
"Oh, well then. Thanks."
"That's such bullshit," Tennessee says, gesticulating with her fork and speaking around a mouthful of pancake, strawberry, banana, and syrup. "Batman doesn't even have superpowers. That just makes him vigilante with some severe mommy and daddy issues. Spiderman, on the other hand, is where it's at."
Spencer scoffs, chugging the last of his orange juice. "All Peter Parker does is whine that his life is so hard. I can climb buildings, my life is so hard. I can make webs, my life is so hard, Mary Jane doesn't really love me, my life is so hard."
"Mary Jane and Peter are soul mates and I will stab you with this fork if you say otherwise."
Tennessee looks slightly barbaric as she menaces across the table, mostly because of the smear of syrup on her lip that does a poor, but passable imitation of blood and guts. Spencer can't help it, he bursts out laughing with one arm wrapped around his stomach.
"Do you yield?" Tennessee asks, but giggles escape between the words and she lets her fork drop.
"I yield," Spencer agrees, smiling.
Somehow they accidentally end up spending three hours in Crazy Lu's, drinking their way through three pitchers of restorative orange juice and sharing an entire second stack of waffles drenches in syrup and sprinkled liberally with pineapple slices, of all things. "So," Tennessee says, checking her phone. "It's actually now two thirty in the afternoon. Which, I pretty much thought it was noon. We're awesome."
Spencer juggles his phone out of his pocket, ignores the three text messages he has and looks at his clock. "Oh, look at that."
Tennessee laughs and rolls her shoulders in a shrug. "Eh, who cares? We were having fun."
"True." Spencer quickly scans through his messages. One is from the History Channel, telling him that this day in history a famous name he doesn't recognize died, one is from Brendon saying the dogs miss him, and the third is from Ryan, asking if he and Tennessee don't mind staying out for a couple hours and if Spencer wants to get dinner or something later.
"Ryan and Z are doing the horizontal tango," Spencer translates. "And I think he realizes that I came to see him and we haven't spent too much time together."
Tennessee raises her glass. "May their coupling be epic and mutually satisfying."
"I don't know how I feel about toasting to my best friend getting well laid."
"Do it. Do iiiit."
Spencer clinks the rim of his empty glass with Tennessee's. "So, that was from forty-five minutes ago. I'm figuring on an hour and a half, just to make Ryan's self esteem feel better about itself. You know this area way the hell better than me. What can we do for an hour and a half looking like we just rolled out of bed?"
"Well," Tennessee mulls. "There's a park pretty close?"
Maybe-Merle choose that moment to walk over with their bill and plop it on the table. It's actually handwritten, with the forty-two sixty-one dollar total circled in red pen and a note telling them thanks and to have a good day. Spencer automatically reaches for his wallet, pulling out two twenties and rifling through the rest for ones.
"Put one of those away," Tennessee says, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a battered leather wallet. "We're splitting it."
"But," Spencer sputters. "It's okay, I've got it."
"No, seriously." Tennessee lifts her eyes and looks at him square on. "You want to pay because you're the guy and this is maybe, sort of, kind of a date. And that's very old school gentlemanly and I appreciate the sentiment. But I was the one who asked you out, drove, and picked the place. I've got money, Spencer, I can pay for myself and I feel better paying for myself. So gimme twenty-five and I'll put in twenty-five and we'll be golden."
Spencer hands her a twenty and finds five ones. "I didn't mean anything."
"I know." Tennessee folds the cash into the bill stands, arching her back. "Come on."
The park is a little over a mile away. Tennessee drives with all the windows rolled down and her hair whipping around her face while she bobs her head along to unfamiliar music piping through the stereo from her iPod. Spencer watches her from the corner of his eye, the way she taps her thumb against the steering wheel in time to the beat and how the sun makes her skin look warm and gold tinged.
It's bright and just shy of hot as they walk across the parking lot. Tennessee kicks her shoes off as soon as they hit thick, lusciously green grass. She leads him into the park, past a playground full of kids climbing and jumping and shrieking and laughing while parents and baby sitters chat on scattered picnic tables. "Sometimes we come at night and I make Z push me on the swings," Tennessee says over her shoulder.
They walk past a shallow little pond with ducks contentedly floating on the calm surface. Spencer can make out the watery shadows of their webbed feet slowing propelling them back and forth. Tennessee pauses, dipping her toes into the clear water and making her best imitation duck honk. When one of the ducks honks back, they both break into snorts of laughter and spend ten minutes trying to communicate.
"Watch, in ten years we'll figure out how to translate animal into human languages and we'll find out we just told that duck his dad was syphilitic bastard who smelled like cheese or something." The wind blows through Tennessee's hair and lifts it momentarily off her shoulders. Spencer's eyes trace the line of her neck and his stomach dips and turns.
"Well, if we can communicate, then we can come back and apologize and assure him that his dad is surely a fine specimen of duck," Spencer says, shading his eyes from the sun.
"Dude, he'll probably be the ass end of a turducken by then."
Fifteen minutes later, they reach a grassy slope that leads down to a couple of baseball fields where PeeWee teams are warming up. Tennessee drops down onto the ground beneath a sprawling tree, knees crooked with her feet digging into the grass. Spencer sits beside her, weight supported on his elbows. He's a little heated from the walk and the grassy cool of the shade settles blessedly over his skin.
They watch the baseball teams finish their warm ups, then take the field and line up to bat. In the black uniform versus the purple uniforms, it's obvious that the black uniform team has an almost laughably unfair advantage. Spencer hazards a guess that it's probably an 8-12 age range, with team black having mostly twelve year olds and team purple having mostly eight year olds. Yellow uniform versus green uniform, however, looks pretty evenly matched.
"Five bucks says green scores first," Spencer says.
Tennessee lifts her head and studies the game for a few minutes. "You're on."
Two innings slide easily past. Spencer and Tennessee sit in a silence that's both deep and comfortable. There's no overwhelming need to fill the quiet murmur of the day with talk, so they don't. The black uniforms move ahead by seven runs, but the purple's keep playing doggedly. Yellow and green so scoreless, until tall, willowy kid with bright hair sticking out from under his helmet belts the ball way the hell out.
His yellow shirt gleams in the sun as he circles the bases and when he slides ostentatiously into home, every parents sitting on the metal bleachers lets out an indulgent round of applause.
"Pay up, Buttercup," Tennessee says sweetly, holding out her palm.
Spencer slaps her hand in a low five; she laughs and tucks her arms underneath her head.
"You know," Tennessee says, eyes closed. "I was expecting to not like you. So was Z, actually."
Broken from lazily drifting thoughts, Spencer rolls into his stomach and looks at her. "I wasn't expecting to like you either."
Tennessee opens her eyes and meets his with a kind of rueful ease written in her slight smile. "I know it's dumb, but. Z really cares about Ryan and when they met, he wasn't in a great place. I mean, not in a horrifyingly bad one either, because he's got Jon and shit. But he missed you like hell. You and the other guy in your band. I think he still misses you both, even though it's better. I was expecting someone sort of heartless, I guess."
There's a thousand pages of history and explanation given grace in Tennessee's loose words. Spencer doesn't honestly think he could explain everything that happened, even if he really wanted to. There's too much in the past there and too much that was never said aloud.
"Ryan and Jon wanted to go one way," he says instead. "Brendon, that's our -- my singer, we wanted to go another. And it sucked."
"I get that." She pushes herself up. "What were you expecting from us?"
"Hipster pretension," Spencer says promptly. "I was expecting assholes so full of themselves they couldn't see straight, drinking shitty beer and talking bullshit about wanting to make something meaningful while, I don't know, judging anyone who tried."
Tennessee's smiles widens at that. "It's not an unfair assessment of what our crowd can be like."
"Still." Spencer shrugs. "You're a little bit more than that."
"You're not heartless," Tennessee counters.
The wind ripples through their little patch of shade, along with the sounds of a metal bat cracking off a baseball and young voices cheering on a teammate. Spencer's skin feels like it's too tight and needs to be touched, even as his palms itch to tuck a stray piece of hair behind Tennessee's ear.
"I'm going to kiss you," Tennessee says, "So neither of us feel like we have to apologize."
In the car, with both their mouths just a little bit swollen and both of them smiling like cats who got at the canary, Tennessee asks, "Are you planning on making your way back here or was this, like, a one off thing?"
Spencer's caught off guard by the question and his mouth falls open without a ready answer. He honestly hadn't thought of it in terms of him being the one who stayed away so much as him being the friend with enough courtesy to give Ryan the space he needed to do his thing and lick his wounds.
It's a small revelation that he never asked Ryan to his place, either.
"I'm coming back," Spencer says decisively.
Tennessee smiles. "That's good, because I want to see you again."
Spencer spends the entire rest of the drive, singing along the music as loud as he can, heart doing flips in his chest at the overwhelming, glorious promise of it all.
Ryan and Z are in the living room when Spencer and Tennessee get back, both a little rumpled around the edges and smiling fondly at each other. "Have a fun day?" Spencer asks wryly, leaning against the wall and looking at them with a raised eyebrow.
Z tosses her hair over her shoulder and gives him a very sweet and innocent look. "Oh, just wonderful. We worked on a puzzle."
"A sexy puzzle," Tennessee says, flopping down on the couch. Z punches her lightly on the shoulder and the pair exchange a knowing, best friend smile. Spencer looks past them to Ryan, who has a light in his eyes that Spencer hasn't seen in years.
"It was good," Ryan says, for Spencer alone.
"Me too," Spencer says, smiling.
They end up at a high class burger joint with discreet waiters in black slacks and button downs and thick, heavy plates and cutlery. Ryan requests a booth in the corner and they both slide in, trying not to laugh at a joke that they couldn't say out loud. The lighting is appropriately moody and dim, casting deeper mellow shadows on Ryan's face than he usually has.
"How're things?" Ryan asks, looking at a point about four inches to the left of Spencer's ear. He unrolls the cloth napkin from around his silverware
"Brendon's good," Spencer replies directly. "He says it's weird writing all the lyrics on his own, because I am no good at words, so I can't tell him what's good and what's crap." A brief, satisfied expression flits across Ryan's face. "But he says that the music is easier when he's not trying to live up to so many standards."
Ryan's face doesn't fall, but he visibly checks himself. "You like what you're doing?"
The question is very, very carefully worded and Spencer takes equal care in crafting his response.
"I like it," Spencer says. "It's solid stuff, I think. It's fun, for me and Brendon. It's weird without you and Jon there, yeah, and a little bit lonely sometimes. But it feels right for Brendon and I and I think that's all you can ever really hope for when it comes to music."
It takes Ryan a moment that Spencer waits though, counting the inhale and exhale of his breath. "I'm glad," Ryan says, offering a half smile. "That's good."
"So, Z," Spencer says, smiling over the rim of a bottle of beer.
Ryan's cheeks instantly flame a particularly bright and telling shade of red. "What about her?"
"Ry." Spencer sets down his bottle and leans earnestly across the table. "She's sort of living in your house. You two had at least four hours worth of sex today that, for the record, I don't really want to think about. She makes you smile and that hasn't happened in a long damn time. So."
Grinning despite himself, Ryan leans back in the booth and plays with a thick silver ring around his thumb. "I don't know, Spence. She gets me, which. It's nice, okay? Jon does, too, but Jon has Chicago and Cassie and he's never all the way here, which is fine. We're doing it and it's good. But Z. She lets me go and keeps up when she needs to and holds me back when I need her to."
"Sounds good," Spencer says quietly.
They both have the remains of cheeseburgers and fries on their plates. He pushes a leftover fry through a little gob of ketchup, drawing and artless whorl on the white ceramic of the plate. Ryan traces the pad of his finger around the rim of an empty wine glass.
"I love her, a little." Ryan draws out the words.
He's said the before, to Spencer, but always with a drawn, pensive look. Always like the emotion confused him and turned him off in an obscure way. Fairy tales offer a great model for when love is pretty generally on the easy side, but they're not so good at giving a guide for the day to day minutia of constantly dealing with the same person again and again.
But now he's smiling and that's new. New and promising.
"I hope it works," Spencer says honestly.
Ryan shakes his head and looks at Spencer head on. "So, how about Tennessee?"
It's a blatant topic changing tactic that Ryan's been employing since there were seven and eight. Most of the time Spencer can brush past it, but the mention of Tennessee's name has color rushing into his own cheeks and his damn stomach turning crazy loops again. Ryan has an incredible ability to not notice things, but he's not a moron and he has some ability to perceive what's dangling right in front of his face.
"Seriously?" Ryan cackles. "Oh man, that's great."
Spencer flips him the bird and hides behind chugging the last of his beer. "She's great, okay?" Spencer says breathlessly. "I mean, screw you. She's. I don't know."
Still laughing, but kindly, Ryan raises his glass in salute. "I know exactly what you mean."
When they get back to Ryan's house, Z and Tennessee are curled up on the couch beneath a blanket, watching some low budget sci-fi horror thing. They have a bowl of popcorn tucked between them and a couple half empty cans of soda scattered on the table.
"What are you watching?" Ryan asks, kicking off his shoes and plopping down on Z's other side. He grabs a handful of popcorn and starts nibbling at it, one piece at a time. Z bats his hand away and shimmies closer to Tennessee.
"Hands off, make your own. We're watching The Ravenous Blood Beast From Planet Thirteen."
"It's awesome," Tennessee chirps with a wide grin. She turns her head to Spencer and pats the empty couch beside her. "Sit your ass down, Spencer Smith. Come revel in these special effects."
Rolling his eyes, but still grinning, Spencer tucks himself into the space beside Tennessee. They fit together easily, her head rolling back to rest on his chest. She offers him the popcorn bowl and, ignoring Ryan's sound of wounded outrage, Spencer pops a couple pieces into his mouth. It's extra butter, just the way he likes, and sprinkled with a hint of extra salt.
"So unfair," Ryan mutters and Z kisses him consolingly on the cheek.
"Anyway," Tennessee says, settling into Spencer. "Are you going to hold me tight, Spencer? Keep me safe from the ravenous blood beast?"
"I'll do my best," Spencer promises.
After Z and Ryan fall asleep, Tennessee looks at Spencer with the TV casting blue shadows on her face. "So, I think when you come back, you should let me take you out."
Spencer stares at her, heart thumping hard in his chest and blood rushing softly in his ears. "As in, like. A date?"
Tennessee smiles. "That's the idea."
"Yes," Spencer says with rare certainty. "I would like that.