Alice got home around seven, the sun was almost down. She stuck around this time, passing the hours in her room making curling glass ribbons and hanging them on strings by her window. The wind through her window spun them like corkscrews, and Alice made more and more of the ribbons until they started to tangle in the breeze.
Michael got home from work. She heard his keys clatter on the table. Alice hopped downstairs to greet him. They had a quiet dinner, it felt like he wanted to say something; that sense of anticipation in the air.
“How was work?” Alice asked.
“Oh it was good,” he said.
A far stretch from her mother who would kick down doors to broach uncomfortable topics, Michael took the other path of clutching them to himself, only releasing them when prodded incessantly.
Alice poked him. “How are things?”
He glanced at her. “Hm? Oh, they’re – fine, kiddo.”
Alice pursed her lips at him.
“What’s that face for?”
Alice screwed her face up into a ridiculous scowl.
He laughed. “Kiddo – do you want… Do you want more potatoes?”
Alice let the face go. She wasn’t her mother, and she didn’t want to be. Maybe tomorrow. She could wait.
. . . . .
The following morning’s breakfast was a repeat performance. She said goodbye when he left for work. Then she made a call.
Alice hadn’t used the house phone in upwards of ten months. It felt like garbage in her hand, hollow and clunky. She’d been spoiled by electronic displays. With every press of its fat plastic buttons she became more and more convinced she’d made a mistake. She wasn’t even sure if all the buttons worked, and more than that, the non-existent heft of it brought to mind two cups tethered with string, the phones of her youth.
Basically, Alice loved their phone.
She finished the eleven digits and pressed the clamshell to her ear.
A ring tone! Nice. They answered on the second ring.
Alice inhaled to speak-
“Oh, Alice! Hey. How you doing? You just got home? Settle in first, there’s no rush.” Lara’s voice was tinny and choppy, courtesy of the ancient speaker. Still the sly slant in her tone carried over. Alice momentarily pulled the phone away from her head to smile at it.
“I think I’m settled in. Comfy enough.” Alice put the receiver on the kitchen table and took a seat. “Wish I could take it to the couch, though.
“Oh you have one of those curly-que tangle-phones.”
Alice twiddled the cord. “It has character.”
Lara made a skeptical noise. “Well. You’re calling about yesterday, aren’t you? I wanted to talk to you about your business. Stuff I couldn’t really get into there. Do you have time?”
“I do, yeah.” Alice did. “But – well. That’s kind of what I’m calling about? Really I just wanted to talk to you again. I liked talking with you before. It was a lot of fun, even if it didn’t last for long. I was kind of hoping we could be friends?”
There came a long pause from the other end of the line, and then Lara laughed. It was the first time she’d seemed caught off balance. It didn’t suit her, and so Alice wasn’t sure if she considered it a victory or a loss. “I uh. Wow. I – yeah. Sure. I. Do you. Um. Do you want to chat in person, then?”
“I’d like that.”
Another laugh. “Okay. Um. Do you have a place in mind?”
Alice did. “Yeah. I’ve been walking around the docks the last few nights, a little on the late side. Do you want to join me?”
“The docks – as in the docks up north? You know that area’s not very…. Of course you do. You’ve been – no, you haven’t been. Nobody? Really?”
Alice said, “Um…?”
“No one’s bothered you? Boat Graveyard?”
“Oh. No, I don’t think I’ve ever even seen anyone. It’s really weird.”
“Well I was just going to say that an area with known gang-activity would be a bad place to meet – but admittedly that’s most of the bay. Why there? In particular?”
“Well, because it’s fun. It’s… Cool? I like it.” Lara didn’t respond right away and Alice followed with, “We can go somewhere else.”
“I… No. No, it’s fine.” She sounded sure of herself again. It suited her better. “I’ll see you there.”
Then Lara hung up
Alice pursed her lips at the clamshell phone, then clacked it down in the receiver. She hadn’t told Lara when or where to meet her, but suspected that she didn’t need to.
. . . . .
And she was right.
The day fled past, and suddenly Alice was hopping off a bus up north, making a b-line for the boat graveyard. It was earlier than she usually got there, there was still some pretty good light. The time was probably six thirty – dirty yellow heading toward gold. Alice walked the usual path to her secret clubhouse, enjoying the light at her back.
She happened across a person crouching in an alleyway. They were dressed in dark, concealing clothing; jeans and a hoodie, the hood pulled over her head, her face swimming in the shadow it cast. The hood turned her way, and Alice saw a bandana was covering the lower half of her face. The only identifying feature left showing on her person were a pair of bottle green eyes.
“Hey,” Alice said.
“Hey,” Lara said. She stood and pulled the bandana down around her neck. A grin lurked beneath it. “You… should be wearing a mask.”
Alice’s eyebrows quirked. “I should?”
“Mm. Here, I brought you one.” Lara handed Alice a bandana of her own. Alice accepted it, feeling honored somehow.
It was plain, thin black fabric, leaning toward scratchy – still the feeling of brilliant novelty swelled in her chest. Alice tied it back above her nape, biting her lip, resisting the urge to hop up and down. Lara pulled hers back up, and now they were bandits.
Alice had to ask, “Why do I need this?”
Lara started walking down the alley, gesturing for Alice to join her. Alice did, with an extra bounce in her step. They headed toward the bay.
“You’re up on the super scene,” Lara said, just ahead of her, “You know why, don’t you?”
“Oh well, sure. I mean – secret identity and whatnot, but –“
“But you’re not doing ‘super things?’ Half-true.” Lara cast a look over her shoulder. “The reason I was comfortable coming out here is because you’ve claimed this part of the docks as your territory. And amazingly enough, no one seems to mind.”
Alice blinked. “I claimed – territory?”
“When did I do that?”
“Over the last week or so.”
Alice wondered if that was fast or slow; the scale these things went by. “How did I do that?”
Intimidation, Alice mouthed. She didn’t remember doing anything intimidating. As she searched her mind for answers Lara started to laugh.
“How your power appears to an outside observer aside, you just – you haven’t made any moves, have you? Haven’t attacked anyone? Haven’t stolen anything? No one knows where you stand. Don’t worry about it. Just… the mask helps. It’s what people expect: supers and masks, they go together, see? Giving people what they expect keeps them from looking too close, keeps them relaxed. It helps, trust me.”
Lara hadn’t needed to defend her position to thoroughly. Alice wouldn’t sell her bandana for all of King Tut’s gold.
“So – hang on.” Lara stopped. “We never really had a proper introduction did we?”
Hadn’t they, Alice wondered.
“Business greetings don’t count, there’s always ulterior motives at play. Well – almost always. So.” Lara offered her hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Alice.”
Alice took her hand, her eyes crinkling as she smiled beneath the bandana.
After a long moment of silent handholding, Lara said, “This is usually the part where you reciprocate.”
“Oh – uh, right. Nice to meet you too, Lara. Thanks for coming out here with me.”
Lara grinned crookedly. “My pleasure.”
They walked and talked while the sky turned dark. Casual in pace. Aimless in direction.
“I’m sorry for hanging up on you, earlier,” Lara said. “And the tenth-degree. I like to keep a low profile. And most of my work is online. I’ve gotten used to signing off when I have what I need. But I’m a little out of practice dealing with people outside work.”
“It’s fine,” Alice said. “I was just a little worried you’d show up at the wrong place. And I’m pretty sure I’m more out of practice. I think I might be saying weird things sometimes?”
The walk pointed northeast toward the bay.
“I started out like you,” Lara said. Alice walked along a raised lip of concrete like a balance beam. Lara kept pace beside her. “Well, not started. But –I arrived there, at this…. Strange limbo. Not making a whole lot of money. Some. Enough to get by. Business was by word of mouth, then. I felt like a street performer. Selling a gimmick on the side of the road. But then I happened upon a client. An important person, friends in high places.”
Alice could imagine the type – some fat-cat with a cigar, stern-faced, sitting in a big office chair. And then when the doors to his office closed he danced like the world couldn’t see.
“You’re… Not far off?” Lara said. Alice wondered if she’d spoken that out loud. Lara huffed a laugh. “I’m a super too, Alice. That’s my power. Cold reading. Like Sherlock Holmes, you know?”
Alice thought and also said, “That’s so cool.”
Lara shrugged. “It has its ups and downs. But – well, anyway. That’s what it comes down to, most times. To move forward, make more money. Just knowing the right person, meeting the right people. That’s what I was going to offer you; phone numbers, contacts. But you’ve gotten a few already, haven’t you?”
“A few,” Alice said.
“A few, huh? Hm. Oh – Guild, that’s a given. Me. Some – woman? Older… Oh? A jeweler, then, or knows one. Those are decent options.”
Alice resisted the urge to clap, having gotten the impression that Lara wouldn’t appreciate being applauded. She was so cool though – Alice felt like she was walking with a detective movie.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Alice said. “I mean, yeah. I wouldn’t mind working with heroes. Or the jeweler, I suppose. But I like what I have right now. I like meeting people. I don’t think I’d be able to keep my little stand if I went with either of them.”
“You need to make more money if you want to support yourself and your family, Alice. That’s all there is to it. And you don’t strike me as the type to lean for scholastic pursuits now that this avenue is open to you.”
She wasn’t wrong. Alice had been skipping class more often than not, and only tangentially paying attention during. Still she was hesitant to admit it. “You’re probably right.”
“I’m right about most things,” Lara said. A shade smug, but it worked for her, felt warm instead of sour. “It’s nothing you have to decide right now. You’re in a good place. Take your time.”
Alice weighed what Lara had said and then made a noise in the affirmative.
“Although… If I can get in one last piece of advice – you might want to tell your parents – your father. Sooner rather than later. He’s the good type, isn’t he?”
“The best,” Alice said. Something flashed in Lara’s eyes.
“That’s good. You’ll be better off.”
“Yeah. Yeah I know. I just…” Alice sighed. “I don’t want it to be just a surprise. I want it to be a good surprise. ‘Heya pops, I’m a bajillionaire I bought us matching yachts let’s goooooo.’” Lara indulgently cracked a smile, and Alice considered the previous almost-dour mood well and truly shanghaied. “Well not really that. We don’t need that sort of thing. But I’d like to help with the bills. With the house. He could use a break.”
Lara shook her head in disbelief. “You are…” That sentence trailed off into a breathy sigh, and then she clapped her hands, declaring, “Enough of this – heavy talk. What do you do for fun out here?”
Alice thought about it. “Well I’ve been trying to pet this cat but he’s just not having it.”
. . . . .
They skulked around looking suspicious for upwards of half an hour, only tangentially looking for Alice’s elusive stray, talking about nothing in particular.
Alice finally caught sight of a familiar tail. It was dark now, the sun well and truly down, only a thin sheet of light making it around the bend of the horizon. Still it was light enough to recognize that spotted white fur. Alice flagged Lara down against a wall nearby, pointing as she hissed, “There he is.”
Lara’s eyes narrowed and she crouched down next to Alice, speaking under her breath. “Him? A Calico… He’s neutered. Essuperd housepet – no, bad disposition. Bad house. You don’t want to pet him, he’s a scratcher. And he has fleas.”
Alice shot her a glance, “Fleas? That’s not good. Is he alright?”
“Well he’s itchy. Other than that he’s alright.”
“Okay. I’ll have to buy some flea medicine later.”
“You… He’s not your…” Lara gave up on that line of dialogue. “He’s not going to let you put it on him without a fight.”
“That’s alright.” Alice stood away from the wall. The cat heard her, turning to cat at her with its glowing-in-the-night cat eyes, and then pattering off into the gloom. Alice pursed her lips at where it had stood, making plans for tomorrow.
Lara pulled down her bandana, and Alice could see her visibly biting her tongue to keep from saying something. Then she said, “You will get scratched.”
“That’s okay. I’d scratch me too I think.”
“It will not endear you to him.”
“That’s okay too.”
“You… You are ridiculous.”
Alice looked at her. “I am?”
Lara tried not to smile and failed. She pulled the bandana back up. “It’s pretty late. Getting past my bedtime. But I think I’ve got one more stop left in me. I believe you have a lair?”
Alice led Lara to her lair, delighted that it had been called such. When they got there the moon was over the bay, a slice instead of a sliver this time. By that light Alice helped Lara up the sides of the crates. They walked into the crate at the top of the pile, through a hole in the side.
It was darker within. The skylight helped, and the window helped, but the corners were black. Lara’s shoes crunched on loose sand and particulate as she stepped in, her eyes locked on the window to the bay. “Oh wow… Did you make this? What am I saying of course you did…” Now her eyes went to the giant skylight, tracing over the lip where glass transitioned to metal. “Pretty.”
Alice went further inside, idly grabbing a handful out of the side of the crate for some light. The metal flowed over her hand like a glove, and that light softened the shadows in the corners, not quite chasing them out. Lara inhaled, stepping closer into the ambient warmth.
“Thank you,” Alice said to Lara’s compliment, looking over her crate fondly. “I know it’s not much right now. A work in progress. I really need some chairs?”
Lara walked to the window, looking out at the bay. “What will you use it for?”
“Use it for?”
“Mm. Why are you making this?”
“Oh – just for fun.”
Lara chuckled quietly. “You would.”
“What? Is that bad?” Lara didn’t answer. “I don’t know. I’d like to eat lunch here? When it’s – more. More done. I would…” Alice walked to the end of the crate, undoing the seam on the doors and shoving them open.
The crate wasn’t quite pointed directly out, and so the view wasn’t everything it could have been. A stretch of warehouse cluttered up the right, but as her eyes roved left it was a sliver of the bay, then ocean, ocean, more ocean; deep blue in the night. That end of the crate jutted out from the pile, hanging over empty air.
Alice carefully took a seat on the edge, swinging her legs back and forth. “I would sit here. And if someone was with me, they would sit – here, next to me. And we’d have lemonade. Or maybe… Hm. Maybe I’ll make a patio.”
Lara walked over and took the seat next to her, giving a little extra berth to Alice’s molten metal hand. “Warm,” she commented under her breath.
Lara looked out over the bay. “It’s a good view… You know… except for the boats.”
“I like them.”
Lara glanced at her. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah. They feel like… like adventure.” Alice stared out at them in silent contemplation. Moonlight spilled down her bandana. Her hand lit her side gold and orange. A goofy grin slowly worked over her face, one that Lara could feel without looking. “Do you ever get that feeling? This… yearning for exploration. I love it.”
Lara hummed. “You know why they’re there, don’t you?”
“Of course,” Alice said. “I didn’t like them once. Because of that. And my dad’s job, and people’s jobs… But… But I don’t see it like that anymore.”
A silence stretched between them. It was just the hissing bay and crickets, and they passed a few minutes in silence, appreciating the moment.
“It’s late,” Lara said. She looked over at Alice. “This was nice.”
Alice pulled her bandana down and smiled at her. “I’m glad.”
Lara pulled her own bandana down and returned the gesture. “Let’s do this again, sometime.”
Alice thought her face might actually split in half. “Yeah.”
She helped Lara down the crates and walked her to a better part of town. They pocketed their bandanas. Lara called herself a cab. Alice waved at its rear-lights until it those beams of red vanished around a corner.
The walk home seemed to pass in an instant, and suddenly she was locking her front door behind her. Michael was in bed. Alice snuck upstairs and into bed herself. She pressed her cheek into her pillow, luxuriating in the laundry-soap smell.
. . . . .
When Alice made it downstairs Michael was at the stove. The french press was steeping, a pan was hissing. He was all dressed up for a day at work, only his tie left to complete the ensemble.
“Morning,” Alice said. She sat at the table.
“Morning,” he said. “Sleep well?”
Things hissed. He pressed the french press and compiled his morning concoction.
“You going to school?” he asked.
Alice wondered if it was a school day. Or what day of the week it was. “Sure. Or – yeah.”
Things stopped hissing. He put a plate in front her, and a plate in front of him, taking a seat.
“Alice… I… Is everything alright, with you?”
“It’s great,” Alice said. And it was.
He tried to smile.
Alice ate her scrambled eggs. He at his scrambled eggs.
“How’s work?” Alice asked.
“It’s…” He sipped his coffee. “It’s work.”
Alice remembered something. “Dad!”
He startled, choking on his eggs. “Ghhn. W – what? What is it?”
“I have something to tell you.”
“Y – you do?”
“I do. I… Um.” Alice trailed off into thought, wondering how she should phrase it. “I don’t know how to tell you this… I… I’m…”
He snuck a sip of coffee.
“Dad… I’m a superroonie.”
Coffee shot out his nose.
“I’m sorry,” Alice said as he wiped his face on his sleeve. “I was always going to tell you. I just – I wanted it to be a surprise. A good surprise. I can make things, really pretty things. I’ve been selling them at the boardwalk. I make good – well, I make okay money. I want to help with the bills. Can I?”
Michael seemed dazed. “I um. Alice – you don’t.” He caught his bearings fast. Alice could see it in the slant of his shoulders; more sure, more grounded. “Don’t worry about money, okay? That’s my job. I’m just… I worry about you, kiddo. I – I knew.”
“What – you did? How?”
“Alice, I know I can be inattentive but I’m not blind. And… A few days ago someone with the Guild got in contact with me and we had a – a long talk.” He trailed off for a moment. Alice snuck a sip of his coffee. There was absolutely no chance he noticed. “Alice, have you… They told me… People get powers when they’re in – in bad places. Please, is everything alright?”
So this was what had been bothering him. He sounded upset. Alice didn’t like him upset. “I’m happy now. I was unhappy, before. I was having a bad time at school, and – I missed mom, sometimes. I still do, sometimes. And I know it hit you harder than me. But I’m okay now. I’m great now. Things are better. And I still have you. So you don’t get to worry either, okay?”
He hid his mouth in his coffee cup. Once he’d taken a long draw, the cup clacked down, and he looked like there were very many things he wanted to say and ask, and what he settled for was:
Alice looked at him.
“You’re my daughter.”
Alice smiled. “You’re my dad.”
Breakfast ended with the promise that they would speak more later. He said nothing of her nighttime roaming, and Alice took that as implicit permission. She hugged him goodbye and caught the bus to school. Her backpack was loaded down with about ten pounds of sand and nothing else, something she only realized when she stepped off the bus. She wasn’t worried about it. She wasn’t worried about anything.
Ring sit talk bell ring sit talk
Suddenly it was lunch. Alice loaded her tray with chicken nuggets and broccoli, taking a seat at an empty table. The broccoli could have also been cauliflower, and she spent the next few minutes trying to remember the distinguishing characteristics of each, only to come to the realization that there were simply some things in the world that she may never know. As she dwelled on this fact of life, familiar people sat at her table.
Daphne sat across from her, looking incredibly blasé. Brittany sat beside Daphne. Kate sat next to Alice, close enough for their elbows to bump.
“Alice,” Kate said, charming, and then she said more. Alice heard the words, and they weren’t very nice, but at the same time they didn’t really mean anything. Not of them were true. Kate’s lips gleamed as she talked, and hair glowed in the fluorescent light; the barest hint frazzled.
“We haven’t had lunch together in a long time,” Alice said. “Feels like forever.”
Kate sneered. “Why would I ever eat lunch with you?”
“I don’t know, if you were hungry? And – you are right now.”
Kate had no follow up. Neither did Brittany. Daphne appeared to be genuinely just eating her lunch.
“Do you remember that Thanksgiving a few years back?” Alice asked. “We had dinner at your house and our dads got really drunk and obnoxious, and then your mom just walks in the room and-“
“Shut up!” Kate snapped, too sharp and too loud. “Just shut up, no one wants to hear you talk.”
Alice was trying not to laugh. “It wasn’t that long ago, you have to remember. And then my dad kept trying to sneak us sips of scotch. I had so much fun. I’m glad that we can eat together again like this. I’m glad you’re still here.”
Kate had no response. She seemed to be reaching for one very hard, but no words were coming. Her eyes were glassy. Alice put aside her lunch, turning ask Kate, “Hey… Hey are you okay? What’s wrong?”
Kate said nothing.
“D – don’t.“ Kate jerkily scooted away. Then she lurched to her feet, putting still more distance between them. Her eyes went to Daphne, but Daphne was eating her lunch. And her eyes went to Brittany, but Brittany had nothing for her. “You…”
Alice stood. Kate hurried out of the cafeteria. Alice took a step after her, but decided to let her go. Sometimes people just needed space.
“Is she going to be okay?” Alice asked Daphne and Brittany.
Brittany stood and left after Kate without a word. Daphne watched her go, and then watched Alice as she took her seat again. Their eyes locked over the table, Daphne idly chewing a mouthful of broccoli.
“Really, will she be okay?”
“Do you care?” Daphne asked.
“Of course I care. She’s my friend.”
Daphne chewed in silence for a long moment. “What is going on with you, Kos.”
“I’m asking what’s wrong with you. Are you taking drugs? Happy pills? Are you high, Kos?”
“You can just call me Alice, you know?”
Daphne’s eyebrows narrowed. “Are we friends, Kos?”
“We could be.”
Daphne swallowed down that mouthful, mulling over what Alice had said. Then she hooked her fingers under her lunch tray and flipped it. Broccoli and a helping of cheese sauce spattered across Alice’s face and chest. Around them the other lunch-goers laughed, but Daphne didn’t.
“How about now?”
Alice pursed her lips. “I don’t get it. Do you want me to dislike you?”
Daphne didn’t answer her, looking a mix of frustration and annoyance. She left without a word.
Alice cleaned up in the bathroom. School went on until it ended. Alice caught a bus back home. Michael was at work still. She stayed long enough to grab some money from her money-sock, taking off immediately after. She dropped by a pet store downtown and bought some flea medicine – ran her fifty bucks for a little carton of six tubes.
Then she was puttering around the docks, keeping an eye out for a little white tail. Ever the multi-tasker at heart, Alice worked on her lair as she scoped the elusive fluffball out, ferrying packs of sand from the beach up to her crate. With that sand she spread out her skylight, replacing more and more of that dingy dark roof with crystal clear glass. Occasionally she would nudge open the doors on either end, peering out, looking for that tricky customer, but she never saw him.
It got dark. Alice wandered around the shoreline. She assembled a mass of glass the size of a giant beach ball and tried to ride it up the raised concrete foundation of the docks, coaxing it along like a massive saddled slug.
It worked surprisingly well. Alice tied her bandana around her face and suddenly she was at a rodeo – on the world’s least bucking bronco. The slug comparison was perhaps too apt, going so far as to include the slimy-looking trail it left behind. Still Alice hooted like an idiot once or twice, or maybe more than twice, as she slowly crested vertical bumps and took wide corners at a snail’s pace.
Before calling it a night Alice used the slug to create a slide down from her clubhouse, the end raised into a jump. She tried it once and ended up flying crazily through the air, only barely avoiding destroying herself on the landing. It was maybe the best thing ever.
Then she called it a night and went home. Michael was up waiting for her. Down waiting for her, technically, sprawled across the couch as he was. The television was on, turned to a three-in-the-morning stream of infomercials.
Alice grabbed the remote from beneath his hand and shut it off. He startled awake with a snort, rising from the couch with a sort of hesitant creakiness. It was tough getting old.
She hugged him once he was fully upright and mostly cognizant. He returned the gesture.
“Go to bed,” Alice said.
“You go to bed.” He grouched. “Was worried about you…. What’re you – keep goin’ out so late for, huh?”
“I’m safe, I promise. Now go to bed, okay? You have work tomorrow.”
He went off to bed, remarking in a rumbly sleep-voice, “You are every bit your mother.”
Not long after that Alice went to bed herself, sneaking in an after-midnight snack in the form of a handful of sand from her backpack. Her nose scrunched up at the sweetness of it, and that sensation lasted long after she pulled her bedsheets over her shoulder and nuzzled down to sleep.
. . . . .
It was a quiet morning. Michael didn’t inquire into what Alice had been out late for. Instead he made bacon. Alice considered this a fair trade off.
He went off to work and she went off to school – only she didn’t. Instead she exaggeratedly marched out the door, declaring something about the thrill of science, and hid in their backyard until he left. She went back inside and called someone on the tangle-phone.
Lara answered on the second ring. “Alice, hey. What’s up?”
“Oh nothing. I wanted to hang out with you. Are you free today?”
“I can be. What did you have in mind?”
“Well you know the park up near–“
“Sounds good. I’m in.”
They met up at a park near City Hall. Alice wore her usual school clothes. But not her bandana, even though she really wanted to. Lara wore jeans and a tee. It was during school hours still so the pickings were good. They requisitioned the swings without challenge, hogging them as more and more kids arrived with parents in tow.
“Swings are amazing,” Alice said.
Lara took a moment to comment, her eyes trained on the rest of the park. The season leaned towards fall; the grass and the trees were vibrant green, and the air was pleasantly cool. There was a little jungle gym not far from them, all hollow plastic and mish-mashed colors. A kid face-planted off the tiny slide and Lara bit her lip to keep from smiling. “Mm…. Haven’t been here in a long time. Four or five years, I think.”
“That’s a shame,” Alice said. “Same for me, though.”
“Did your dad take you?”
“Mm. Him and mom. They still had the big-“
“That big metal slide?”
“That thing was the best.”
“Mm. Mom would bring along a square of cardboard. You could get going so fast, it was crazy.”
The swung silently in mutual remembrance.
“Shame about that kid’s face,” Lara said. “He flew too close to the sun.”
Alice laughed and immediately felt bad. “Who took you?”
“Oh, I did the taking,” Lara said. “Dragged my brother here a few times.” She didn’t elaborate further. Alice didn’t pry.
They talked about nothing amazing for a while. Then a kid wandered over and asked to use the swings.
“Get lost kid,” Alice ground out, comically roughening her voice. “These’re our swings now.”
The kid ran away.
Lara looked over at Alice. Alice said, “Oops.”
The kid and his mom came back; him pulling her hand, the woman getting off her cell phone. She appeared justifiably upset, but what started as an angry tirade on her child’s behalf was quickly derailed. Alice ended up pushing the kid on the swing. “How high you wanna go?” She used the same gruff accent. “You wanna go to the moon, kid? I can do that for you.”
The kid said, “You’re weird.”
The mom told him not to call people names and pushed Alice to reconcile.
“And why aren’t you in school?” The mom asked, judgmentally ominous in the way only other people’s moms can be.
“She’s homeschooled,” Lara said from the other swing, having refused to give it up. “And I have my G.E.D.”
Alice switched places with the mom, somehow convincing her to give it a try.
“You wanna go to space? I can do that for you.”
The mom laughed. “You are the weirdest kid.”
The actual kid started getting belligerent. Lara ceded her swing to him, and suddenly Alice and Lara were pushing complete strangers on the swingset. A minute later the mom went for the flying dismount. She nailed the landing. Her kid didn’t – or he did, but in an entirely too literal fashion.
“History repeats itself,” Lara commented knowingly. Then the kid stood, no worse for wear. “Nevermind.”
The kid refused to leave without pushing them first. Lara took the swing. Alice took Lara’s lap. The kid didn’t quite have assisted swinging down, and on his first shove he pushed them out of the saddle. Alice caught herself, but Lara didn’t, and this resulted in a cascading failure that left them in a giggling pile on the tanbark.
Before they kid and mom called it a day the mom gave Alice her phone number, saying, “If you ever feel like babysitting, or need a good word.” Alice put the folded paper in her pocket, slightly dazed at the turn of events.
Not long after that Lara got a message on her phone and had to call it a day herself.
“I had fun,” Lara said.
“I had more,” Alice said.
They puttered about along the sidewalk until Lara’s cab arrived. She wrapped Alice up in a hug before piling in, remarking under her breath, “You are a special kind of person.”
She could have said almost anything and the hug would have felt just as warm. Alice waved at the cab until it vanished around a corner.
Her whole day was ahead of her still. Alice’s shoulders squared with resolve.
She had a cat to capture.