You couldn’t spell ‘Monday’ without ‘terrible.’ Or, you could. In fact that was the only way you could spell it. As Alice dwelled on this failed joke, Michael spoke from the kitchen table. “Morning.”
“It’s a Monday.”
“I could feel it in my bones.”
“Yeah I’m not thrilled either. To work with the both of us.”
“Be strong, father.”
“You too, kiddo.”
She snuck a sip of his coffee. He took a strip of her bacon. Then he was off to work, and she was off to school, neither of them having looking into G.E.D.’s, or how one set about chasing one. But it wasn’t all that bad. School could be fun. Alice was convinced that School could be made fun, somehow. There just remained the matter of how. She thought on this during the bus ride over, and as she walked through the gate, heading through familiar halls and doors.
“Hey Kate,” Alice said, passing by her.
Kate made a particular face at her, and said something not very kind. She didn’t look good. Frazzled and unkempt. Relatively speaking of course – she still looked good. Kate wouldn’t leave the house otherwise. But Alice knew her well enough to see how off balance she was. It was a little concerning.
Alice continued on to class. Kate and whoever she’d been standing with went about their own day.
Sessions passed until brunch. Alice happened across Kate in the halls on the way to the cafeteria. She was alone, presumably waiting for her, going by the way her head snapped up at the sound of her footsteps. Kate approached, making Alice stop by standing in front of her.
“Hey,” Alice said.
Kate’s nostrils flared. She grabbed Alice’s arm. “Come with me.”
Alice let herself be led along. Kate took them to one of the safer girl’s bathrooms. She checked the stall doors, still holding to Alice’s arm. When she found them empty, she turned to Alice and shoved her back against the sinks.
“I don’t need you,” Kate said.
“I don’t need you,” Kate said again. “Damn it, what is wrong with you?”
“I still don’t really-“
Kate reached out and shoved Alice’s shoulder, the motion looking horribly forced. Alice stumbled back into the line of sinks again, catching herself on the counter.
“Don’t say hi to me! Don’t ever talk to me!”
“But I like talking to you.”
“What the hell is wrong with you!” Kate stepped into her, pushing her again. But Alice was already resting against the counter, so only her upper body moved, twisting with the motion. “I’m not your friend, you retard!”
“I think you’re my friend.”
“I’m not! I hate you!” Kate sounded petulant more than anything. She could hear it too, but it only seemed to make her angrier. “God, I hate you!”
“I don’t think you do.” Alice remained where she was, resting her weight on her elbows, propped up against the sinks.
“I trapped you in that closet, Alice! Do you remember that? Do you remember how you screamed? That was me! That was my idea, I put it together, and if there was any justice in this world you’d have died in that fire, and no one would ever have to look at you again!”
Alice had no response. Not right away. Kate seemed to gloat in that silence, swelling up, some of her composure returning at the achievement.
Alice stepped away from the sinks. Kate shoved her back before Alice could hug her, that hint of composure gone in a flash.
“Stay the hell away from me!” Kate sounded more desperate than angry. She could hear it on herself, too, going by the look on her face. “I don’t need you!”
Still Alice said nothing. She saw the anger, and the frustration. But more than that, she saw something like fear spread across Kate’s face; widening her eyes and forcing her back. “I think you do.”
“I am strong!”
“It’s not weakness to need someone.”
“S – screw you!” Kate’s eyes were watering. She was stuttering. “Don’t you remember, I put you in that closet! Cry again! Cry like you did when your mom died!” Alice stepped closer. “ I don’t need you, Alice!”
Alice hugged her.
Kate cried out. The sound was awful; this sharp, keening wail, furious and terrified, and as she cried out she slammed her balled-up hand onto Alice’s chest, and shoved her back.
Time seemed to freeze for a moment; Kate standing there, still hunched from her shove, breathless and red from exertion. Alice looked down at herself, her eyes settling on the steak-knife, its wooden handle jutting out just below her collarbone. Kate paled.
“Ow.” Alice said it more out of habit. It didn’t hurt. Just a sharp coldness, like an ice cube pressed to her skin. She grabbed the handle and tugged. What was left of the blade slid out; wrapped in an oozing sheath of glowing orange. She touched the blade and made it solid, so it couldn’t burn anyone, and put it on the counter behind her. Then she prodded at the wound below her collarbone, poking a finger through the hole in her clothes. Her arm moved without complaints. The hole was smoothing over. She was fine. “Kate… What…”
Kate watched this whole event take place, and stepped back again, her eyes comically wide as she stumbled over herself. When her back met the bathroom stalls she slid down against them.
Kate pulled her knees to her chest.
Alice took a step forward. Kate shook. “Kate… Hey, hey…”
Kate clapped her hands to her ears. She hid her face in her knees.
. . . . .
It was a quiet affair. Alice left the bathroom just long enough to make a call with a front office phone, after that she hurried back, staying with Kate until her mother came. Alice and Zoe led her out to the car; Kate clutching at herself, her head bowed. They helped her into the passenger seat, and buckled her in when didn’t herself. Zoe gently shut the door.
“What happened?” Zoe asked.
Alice gave a small, helpless shrug. “I really don’t know. Will she be alright?”
Zoe looked through the car window, at Kate’s form in her passenger seat. “I hope so.” Zoe walked around the hood and got in, and then they were driving off, Alice watching them go from the sidewalk. She went back to class.
Alice would call her later. She made the plans in her head. When she got home she’d stick around, wait for the best time, for the dust to settle. She’d make the call just before Michael got home she’d make the call. She entertained these thoughts throughout her classes, tracing wood-grains across her desks and tapping out worried beats with her nails.
Lunch came. Spaghetti again, in name only. Alice packed a tray and took a seat at an empty table. A few minutes later Daphne clacked her tray down and took a seat.
“Hey Daphne,” Alice said, her heart not in it.
Alice prodded her spaghetti with a plastic fork. It made wet noises.
“So… Kate’s gone,” Daphne said.
Alice looked at Daphne properly, not just the glancing acknowledgement of before. There was a strange look on her face; sly, knowing. “We had an… argument.”
“You finally hit her?”
“Did you hit her? She hit you, didn’t she? So? Little baby Kos finally do something?”
Alice put down her plastic fork and collected her thoughts. “No… No, I didn’t hit her.”
Daphne snorted and started to eat. “Figures.”
Alice watched her in silence for a moment. “Did you have something to do with that?”
“What if I did?”
Alice didn’t reply immediately, and Daphne took that moment, her voice mocking. “Oh yeah? What if I did? Well, really, honestly, I didn’t do much. You drove her plenty crazy by yourself, you know? Her own skinny little White Whale… So? You gonna hug me? You gonna talk to me, sweetly? Are we gonna make out? Ho-boy, spooky shit.”
Alice waited until she was done. “I would ask you why.”
“And that’s the thing, isn’t it? All you can do is ask, and hope that people answer… Poor little doormat.”
Alice breathed a long, drawn-out sigh. “Daphne… I never really understood you, before. But I think I do now.”
“Oh yeah? Is this the part where you talk at me?” Daphne grinned at her, then resumed her lunch. “Go ahead, I’ll wait.”
Alice let the patronizing tone settle. Then she spoke, softly; low and mild. “Okay… Okay, so… You seem like the type to respond to every insult with insult… You never let anyone get the best of you. You never let anyone take an inch, because that way they can’t take a mile.”
“Oh hey, I agree with that,” Daphne said.
“And so you’re safe. Your heart is safe. But in doing that, you never bare yourself to anyone. So no one ever gets in. So the only person you actually care about is yourself. And so every day, no matter where you are, at home, at the dinner table, at school… Even when you’re surrounded by people you know, you’re still alone.
“And that’s a way to live. Certainly it’s a way to live. It works for you. Maybe you like it. Maybe you take pride in it. The isolation. The independence. But please don’t force that on someone else. Please don’t force that on me, or on Kate, when it does that to her. You’re supposed to be her friend. That’s cruel. That’s so cruel. And I want you to know that it’s never too late to change, if you’re willing to give people a chance.”
Daphne ate her lunch, throughout, and once Alice was done she seemed to mull something over. “Hm? Oh, are you done now? Is it my turn?” She was aiming for casual, careful to seem just as animated as before, but she wasn’t, and she couldn’t, and they both knew it.
“Yes, I’m done.”
“Okay. Counterpoint.” Daphne made a show of thinking; furrowing her brow and gesticulating with her fork. “Piss off? I’m gonna go with piss off.”
Alice didn’t piss off right away. “Do you want the hug, first?”
Daphne looked at her, a hint of her true feelings bleeding through in the flatness of her voice. “Try it.”
Alice collected her tray and left.
The rest of the schoolday passed without incident. At least it probably did. Alice’s mind was on other things. Picking the proper course of action, the one that would help the most. Should she tell Zoe and Richard what happened, or should she keep it to herself. Alice had no idea.
When she got home she went straight to the kitchen. She picked up the phone, clicked in a number she hadn’t dialed in a year and a half. It rang so long Alice thought she’d be booted to voicemail, but at the last moment someone answered.
“Hello?” Zoe didn’t sound great. Together, sure, but in that way an adult could pretend to be when something was truly weighing on their mind.
“Hey Zoe, It’s Alice. How is she?”
There was a pause as Zoe searched for the most diplomatic phrasing. “She’s… in her room.”
“It’s been a long time since we talked, hasn’t it?”
“Yeah. A long time.”
“Are you… We haven’t had you over, either. Do you still talk with her?”
“Sometimes. We had a little… a little falling out, a while back.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You were great together.”
“Yeah, I know. It… It wasn’t my idea. Can I talk to her?”
“I don’t think she’s in any mood, Alice.”
“Can you just ask her? Please?”
Zoe sighed. “Alright. Hold on.”
Alice heard her walking down the hall, up the stairs, knocking on Kate’s door, opening it when there was no reply. Then Zoe pressed her hand to bottom of the phone, muffling whatever came next. A few moments passed in silence.
“Okay,” Zoe said, her voice in mom-quiet mode now, for Kate’s sake. “She’ll talk to you. Here.”
Alice heard plastic shuffling as the phone changed hands, then Kate’s door shutting as Zoe gave her privacy.
Kate didn’t reply. Alice rested her weight against the wall.
“How are you?”
“That’s okay. You don’t have to talk. I didn’t tell anyone. About earlier. I’m not going to. So you don’t need to worry about that, okay? If you don’t want to. I promise. Or – or I can tell them, if you want me to. Or you can. It’s…” Alice wasn’t doing a very good job. She paused to gather her thoughts. “I’m fine… We’re fine. And I don’t think that would help, so. So this is enough for me. I forgive you. I forgive you a million times over. Just tell me what I can do. Tell your Zoe or Richard. Tell someone.”
No reply, still.
“Kate? We… You know, we’re all here for you. I’ll be here for you. If you want to talk to me, just call me. If it’s late. And you… I’ll be home every night. I’ll hear the phone, I promise.”
A sound… A sharp inhale. Shifting bedsheets. Kate hung up.
Alice sucked in a big full breath, and let it out. She clacked the phone back onto the receiver, debating whether or not she should pick it up again, dial her, kick down her door. But her world was bigger than Kate now, and Alice imagined that if there existed some maximum quota of allowable daily interference in someone’s life, she had well and truly exceeded it. This is what she wanted to believe, at least, but found she was unable to completely put it to the back of her mind.
Alice sat at the kitchen table, ragdolling into her chair, mulling things over. Ten or so minutes passed. A call came while she ruminated.
Alice picked up the phone. “Hello?”
She recognized the voice. “Hannah. Hey. What’s up?”
There was a brief pause as Hannah digested the subtle lack of vibrance in her voice. “I’m calling you as a follow up to your visit to the Rig yesterday.”
“The Guild is extending an offer to hire you part-time, but you would need to register at the local office as a rogue, first. To that end, we’d be willing to help you along at any step of the process, if you want.”
“That sounds… Good, I think? What do you mean by ‘help along’?”
“Well, registering as a rogue is pretty much a non-issue, so all it really means is transportation and legal-council, if you ask for it.”
Alice heard and latched on to a particular word. “Transportation?”
Twenty minutes later a rumbling motorcycle pulled up in front of their driveway. Alice was out the door, greeting Hannah as she pulled off her helmet.
“Ready to go?” Hannah asked.
Hannah passed her the spare helmet. As Alice wrestled it on, Hannah said, “We expected you to take a few days to consider it, you know? You don’t have to rush into anything.”
Alice got the helmet settled, and clacked her fingernails on the visor, feeling like an astronaut headed for the moon. “It’s okay. I’ve been meaning to do something, with my power. And – well I think I could use some air, right now. Go somewhere, do something. ”
They hopped aboard. Hannah pulled the bike off the curb and onto the road.
“Is everything alright?” Hannah asked at a stop.
At the next stop Alice replied, “I don’t know. I hope so.”
Hannah’s helmet turned so she could look over her shoulder at her passenger. Then she flicked on her turn signal, taking a right instead of heading straight.
Alice noticed the detour. “Um, where are we going?”
“I think I’d like some coffee first. There’s a pretty good coffee shop up north, and they do pastries too. It’s getting a little late in the day, but I think they’ll have something still. Would you mind?”
“Ah. No. Not at all.”
“Of course, we will have to hop on the freeway.”
Alice wrestled the cheer up from her gut and gave her best gasp. The anticipation toyed with her. She saw on-ramps in every parking garage, every expressway, mocking her. But then they were taking a right, down a strip, accelerating, trees and shrubs and big concrete dividers whooshing past. Air whistled in the ears of her helmet, and she turned her head left and right, watching the scenery run behind her, watching those ignorant fools in their pleasant, safe sedans in the other lanes. They knew nothing of exhilaration.
Hannah took an exit. They pulled in front of a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Hannah kicked down the stand and they hopped off, Alice’s legs a little weak.
Hannah got a cup and a chocolate chip cookie. Alice got a cup and the last bear claw. There was one little two-chair table outside the shop, empty now, and they took a seat there. Hannah sipped and nibbled. Alice did the same.
“I got in an argument today,” Alice said, broaching the questioning silence. “With a friend.”
“That is never fun.”
“Mm.” Alice replayed the event over in her head. “She was… Very upset with me. And… In a very bad place, afterwards.”
Hannah gave her a flat look. “I honestly cannot imagine anyone being upset with you.”
Alice sighed. Their conversation occupied her mind, both Kate’s and Hannah’s. The rest of the world shrunk around them, until there was only them, and their food, and Hannah’s bike some feet away. The coffee cup was warm in her hand. Alice took a sip, reminded of its presence. “I don’t really understand it myself.”
“Is she your age?”
“Mm. We’re just a few months apart, is all.”
“Okay… Well. I was never quite a teenager myself, in the proper sense of the word. But, present company excluded, I don’t think you can look to the fourteen-to-sixteen age bracket for rationality.” Alice snorted. Hannah gave a soft smile at that hint of cheer. “When you’re young things like that seem much bigger than they actually are. I think she just needs some space, and some time.”
Alice didn’t reply. She mulled over what Hannah had said.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to preach at you.”
“No, no. Thank you, really. It’s… I’ve been thinking like that, too, but I’m not sure of it, so it’s good to hear it from someone older than me. Thank you. And thank you for the food, and the ride. All this stuff.”
“Mm. You about ready to head back?”
They crumpled up the little wax-paper sheets and tossed them in the trash, then they hopped back on Hannah’s bike and were off. Onto the on-ramp, onto the freeway again. It felt more free this time, with less weight on Alice’s shoulders. It felt like an old rock anthem; the bike rumbling to some unheard beat, yearning to go faster and faster. But Hannah remained a safe driver, unfortunately, and they drove well within the limit. Alice should get a bike.
Then they were at the Guild building downtown. Alice filled out a few forms, signed a few lines, and then she was done, Baytown’s newest registered rogue. Hannah took her the final stretch of her trip, on one last bike-ride home. Then she was there, hopping off the back of Hannah’s bike, tugging the helmet off her head, revealing the broad smile beneath it. They strapped the helmet to the back of the bike. Hannah pulled away back into traffic. Alice was headed for her door; her rough morning a little less pressing.
Michael’s car was in the driveway. He was in the kitchen, home a little early from work.
He seemed to be doing some manner of paperwork. It involved files and pens, and an old calculator. He also could have been doing taxes, or perhaps investigating paranormal phenomenon.
“No, I wish.” He clickety-clacked the calculator and scribbled something down. “Just brought my work home with me.”
“Ha? Well where’s yours, then?”
Last time Alice checked her backpack had five pounds of sand, a wire of gold and her bandana. “I honestly couldn’t tell you.”
He chuckled and then groaned. “Oh jeez, I’m doing a bad job.”
Alice waved him off. “Nah.”
He ruffled some paper.
She opened and closed the fridge.
“Everything alright?” he asked.
“Hm? Well, yeah. I think. Why?”
He made a pursed-lip face at her. She returned it instinctively.
“Did you have any plans later?” he asked.
“Do you want to… Cook a fancy dinner, together, tonight?”
Alice’s brain took a moment to parse what he’d said. “Like with a cookbook?”
“I. Yeah. Yeah, that sounds nice. Let’s do it.”
He finished up his homework while Alice searched the house for their cookbook hoard’s resting place. In truth it wasn’t really a hoard, there were three of them. But they were phonebook-big, and very old. Alice plopped the one she remembered best onto the table, and they flicked through the pages, looking for something appealing.
They settled on Cheesecake. It wouldn’t be ready to eat until much later, and also in no way constituted a ‘dinner,’ but he’d stopped flicking through pages there for a reason. Annette wrote in her cookbooks, and that page had gone through substantial revision. For a few words she’d actually dotted her ‘I’s with hearts, even though such an act likely brought great pain upon her English-teacher heart.
Michael brushed a finger down the instructions. Alice said nothing. She watched the quiet nostalgia play across his face.
“Three bricks of cream cheese and a tin of Mascarpone?” Michael chuckled. “You know your mom could be a real lunatic sometimes.”
All told, their epic cheesecake adventure took the next three hours.
The trip to the grocery store and back, the fumbling around for the mixer and cutting boards and a rolling pin, so many odds and ends they hadn’t touched in a long time. The sink filled with dirtied utensils, the counter was lightly dusted with flour. It was past seven when the cheesecake came out of the oven. Alice fished it out with her bare hands, nearly giving Michael a heart attack. When he’d calmed down they looked down upon their creation, shoulder-to-shoulder by the stove.
“I think it’ll be good,” Michael said. “Yeah?”
“Yeaaah.” Alice nodded. “Well, I mean, maybe.”
“Right, maybe. But hopefully.”
“I’m not very confident.”
“Is it the right color?”
“I don’t know. How did she do this?”
“I don’t know. I think she might have been magic.”
“It would explain a lot.”
The cheesecake went into the fridge.
“Oh right,” Michael said, “Dinner.”
Michael cooked himself dinner. Alice brought down a sheet of metal and ate it at the table.
“A lot of things just made more sense,” he said. “Uh. How is… That?”
Alice smacked her lips, adopted a thoughtful expression, and shrugged.
It got late, by people who had work the next day’s terms. Michael stayed up a bit longer, lounging in the living room watching late-night television. Alice was there with him, boneless, occupying the other side of the couch.
Something funny happened on screen. They could tell from the laugh track. Michael said, “Hah… I’m – bed.”
He was off, and Alice was left there, that earlier rough patch of her day almost completely in the back of her mind. She hung around the couch, sinking down a little more, claiming the portion that had freed up by stretching out her legs to maximum, really getting the toes involved for ultimate-stretch. A quiet impulse hit her. There was one more thing she wanted to do before calling it a night. Alice went to the phone and dialed.
Lara picked up on the third ring. “Alice, hey…” She sounded wide awake, thankfully. She sounded pleased to hear from her too, even more thankfully. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Alice said, murmur-quiet for Michael’s sake, even though she probably could have gone with her normal voice. “Just wanted to talk to you.”
There was a pause, during which Alice imagined she could hear Lara’s eyes slowly narrowing, and then Lara made a long, suspicious noise. “What happened?”
Why is everyone psychic today, Alice wondered. “Well, nothing? I mean, something. But that’s really not what-“
“I’m coming over.”
“See you in twenty.” Lara hung up.
Alice put the phone back on the receiver. It started to ring immediately. She answered.
It was Lara. “I forgot about your dad. Also, that was rude of me. Can I come over?”
Alice collected her thoughts. “Yeah, I – I want to have you over. It’d be fine. It’s pretty late, though?”
“I’m always up late, don’t worry. See you in a bit.”
Alice smiled a quiet, late-night smile. “Cool.”
“And I’m not gonna pry. I’m not gonna – wooo. Not gonna-“ Lara made other psychic noises. Alice could picture her gesturing with her free hand. “Promise.”
“I’m serious, I won’t.”
“I believe you.”
Alice leaned against the wall.
“Hang up the phone, Alice.”
“No you hang up.”
Lara hung up. Alice put the phone back, pouting.
True to her word, there came a soft knock at their front door twenty minutes later. Alice undid the amazingly loud locks and opened the door. Lara stood on the doormat in comfortable clothes, a backpack slung over one shoulder. She’d already had her shower for the night. She smelled nice. Her hair was just a bit damp, back in a loose tail. When Alice hugged her a lock came loose and tickled her nose.
“Hey,” Alice whispered. The air of her voice blew the lock of hair away, but it came right back.
Lara poked her shoulder with her chin. “Hey,” she whispered back. “Why are we whispering?”
“Are you not supposed to have people over?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, you offered.”
“So turn me down.”
“But I wanted to see you.”
They pitter-pattered inside, Alice inching the door shut behind them. Lara took off her shoes and put her backpack by the the couch. At Lara’s direction they went to the kitchen and concocted the quietest batch of hot chocolate Alice had ever taken part in. They set up camp in the living room. Lara pulled a laptop out of her backpack, and used her phone to somehow give it internet.
“It’s the future,” Alice hissed into her hot chocolate, the mug cupped in her hands.
“Do you just not have any technology?”
“Noooo…” Alice said, mysteriously.
The movie started. They were side by side on the couch, the laptop on the coffee table. It wasn’t quite as cozy as it could be, and this bothered Alice. She looked over at Lara, keeping one eye on the film. “We need to make a fort.”
Lara looked at her, pausing the movie as she did. “My god…”
Alice assembled all the available cushions and pillows and sheets in the house. There were nine; six thick squares from the couch, two from the sofa chair, and Alice’s pillow. They made their grand fort on the living room carpet. It had to be assembled around them, such was the size of its entrance, and once it was done any movement would no doubt bring it down atop them, potentially spilling their hot chocolate and closing the laptop. Basically, it was the best thing ever.
Alice didn’t know what movie they were watching. She was only half paying attention. The sound from the speakers was small and tinny, turned just loud enough to hear. The screen brightness was down too, and the living room lights were off for ambience. All these things meant that she could feel and hear Lara next to her, as they sat shoulder to shoulder.
“So… Long day?” Lara asked, her voice that rumbling sort of quiet.
Alice leaned into her, just a little. “Just the morning. But… I had a really great day. And a great night, too.”
The movie played. Alice started getting sleepy. Just the first bits of sleepy, the way the fort became warmer and quieter, and their cushion-chair setup became softer. Lara leaned into her, just a little.
“Is it still bothering you?” Lara asked.
Alice took stock of herself. “No… Not right now.”
Lara rested against her head on Alice’s shoulder. “Good.”
Alice rested her head against Lara’s. Her hair was soft. She was soft. They stayed like that until the movie ended. The screen went black, faintly lit. They didn’t move right away, or even speak.
Alice broke the silence first.
“I should go to bed.”
“Mm,” Lara hummed. “Should get home, too.”
Alice rubbed the top of her head with her cheek. “You awake enough to drive?”
“Oh yeah… No problem.”
“You sound tired.”
“You made me sleepy.”
“We should move.”
Neither of them moved. Alice breathed in through her nose, letting out a contented sigh. “I like your shampoo.”
“Why is that funny?”
“I don’t know.” Alice couldn’t stop smiling.
“We should get up,” Lara said. She didn’t, though.
“Don’t worry,” Alice said. “I’ve got this.”
Alice fell over onto her. Lara squawked. The fort collapsed.
Lara collected her things while Alice reassembled the living room. Alice saw her out, gently closing the front door behind them. They gave their goodbyes on the porch.
Alice squeezed her, not feeling the need to say anything. Lara squeezed her back, saying nothing, too. They pulled apart, looking at each other. For a moment neither moved. Then Lara pulled away, a shade reluctant. Alice leaned against one of the porch pillars, staying there until Lara’s car turned a corner and vanished.
. . . . .
The following morning Alice had a slice of cheesecake for breakfast. Michael had a sliver with his usual odds and ends. They left the house around the same time, her off to school, him off to work.
Kate wasn’t at school. Alice didn’t see her in the halls. Or in class. Or at lunch. That was understandable. She would need some time.
After school cut for the day Alice headed back home. She went to the kitchen, to the phone, dialing up Kate’s number to check on her. No one answered. Alice glanced at the receiver, suspicious of it, then hung up and dialed again. No one answered.
Alice muddled about in the living room, turning on the television and flicking through channels, not giving any of them enough screen time to tell if it they were a show or a commercial. Enough time passed. She shut of the television and called again. Someone answered on the second ring.
“Hello?” It was Zoe. She’d been crying. She sounded sick. Nauseous. Alice could hear that warbling guitar-string phlegm in her voice. Alice frowned, her stance shifting as she focused more intently on the phone.
“Hey, Zoe, it’s Alice. I uh. You don’t sound great. Is everything alright?”
There was a brief pause. Then Zoe said, “What did you say to her, yesterday?”
“What did you say to Kate yesterday?”
“Um… I told her… If she wanted to talk to me, she could call me.”
“That’s all? That’s all you told her?”
Alice sucked her teeth. “Yes, yes that’s all. Please, what’s going on? Is she alright?”
“No.” Her voice broke. “She’s in the hospital.”
Alice felt the weight of those words settle in her chest. She seemed to float for a moment, weightless from the neck down. “Can I see her?”
“I don’t think-“
“Please. I know how it looks. But I promise you, I – I think I can help. I want to try.”
Zoe gave the same pause that she had the day before, deciding whether or not Alice’s word held up after a year and a half of silence. “Okay… Okay, is your dad home? Do you need a ride?”
“No, I can get there on my own. Don’t drive worried, alright?”
“Alright… I’ll let Richard know you’re coming.”
Alice caught a bus to the hospital. She spoke with a nurse at the front desk, and another nurse came and led her to Kate’s room.
It was white. The tile. The overhead lights. Kate’s gown. She looked terrible. There were dark rings around her eyes, her hair was tangled; her frame painfully small and fragile-looking on that too-big gurney. She sat up against the head of the gurney, her legs in the sheets, her arms resting atop them. There were thick bandages around her wrists. An IV drip fed clear liquid to the crook of her arm. Still, as bad as she looked, Richard looked worse. He took one of the chairs near her bedside, halfheartedly messing with his phone in the oppressive silence.
Kate didn’t react at her entry. Richard did. He glanced at her.
He didn’t have a follow up. The nurse shut the door behind her. The thrum of low conversations and footsteps present in the hospital cut off, muted even further. Alice could hear the occupants of the room breathing.
Alice walked to the chair beside him and took a seat, each footstep clapping against the tile, oppressively loud. “Have you been up all night?”
She heard his stomach complain. “Have you eaten anything?”
“A nurse… Brought me a donut. Some coffee.”
“You don’t smell great.”
“I think… I think you should call a cab.”
He turned his phone end-over-end in his hands.
“I think you should go home. Take a shower. Eat something. Maybe even sleep for a few minutes… And when you come back… I think you should bring Kate’s favorite hairbrush. And her favorite face wash, and hand towel. I think it’s still… That ratty one, with the bleach stains, and the flower. And you should sneak her some fries. Fast food fries. If you ask for a newer batch really nicely, they usually throw one in for you.”
He didn’t reply.
“I’ll stay with her until you’re back. I promise. But you need to take care of yourself, too.”
He looked at Kate. She didn’t look at either of them.
“You’re right,” Richard said. “I haven’t seen you in a long time, Alice… You’re all grown up.”
“I’m not. Not really.”
He stuck around a few minutes longer, saying goodbye to Kate and telling her that he would be back soon, and he’d bring a splash of home with him. Then he was out the door, dialing a cab.
The room was even quieter with him gone. Alice gingerly picked up her chair, moving it closer to her bedside, careful not to let the legs raise a racket on the tile. Kate was looking down at her lap, her expression vacant. Alice scooted to the edge of her chair, getting her face just into Kate’s field of view.
“Hey, Kate.” It could almost be called whispering. “I’m sorry we just… talked around you, there. You probably don’t feel much like talking. Don’t worry. That’s fine. I understand.”
Kate turned her head away, looked down at the side of her bed opposite Alice.
Alice put her hand on Kate’s wrist, moving very slowly, her fingers gently curling around the bandages. Not applying any pressure, just resting a fraction of her weight, letting her presence be known. Kate’s hand curled, her fingers twitching.
“You… You did it horizontally, didn’t you? You know… You need to go vertically. The tendons… get in the way. And then it clots too fast. I felt lied to, when I found out. But… That’s Hollywood for you, huh? Destroying little girls’ self-esteem, and then hamstringing them when they’re overwhelmed.”
Kate didn’t respond.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, that probably isn’t funny. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t…” It could be called an exhale, only the barest hint of shape to the word. Alice waited for Kate to continue, but she didn’t.
“Richard will be back in a while,” Alice said. “I don’t know if you were listening. I told him to bring some fries. That probably… Doesn’t sound good, right now. But once you’re a little cleaned up… I’ll brush your hair for you. And it’ll smell better.”
Kate made a sound. Alice waited.
Kate whispered, “Please go.”
“I’m sorry. But no, not this time. I have to wait for your dad, at the very least. I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologizing to me.” Kate’s voice was a little louder, a little firmer.
“I will. I’m sorry, I’ll stop.”
“This isn’t funny!” Kate looked at her, her eyes red.
“I know. I’m sorry, I know.”
“You win!” Kate said. “You’re stronger than me! You always were! And that never changed! I’m just some pathetic, minging little shit, and you were almost rid of me, but I couldn’t even do that right! You win, Alice!”
“I’m sorry, Kate.”
“Stop apologizing to me!”
“No. No, I won’t. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.”
“Get out! Just get the hell out!”
“Did anyone else call you? When I called you, after school, from then until now, did anyone else call you? Did anyone visit you?”
Kate looked very much like she wanted to shout at her again.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Kate. I didn’t know it had to be me.”
“Get-” It started as a yell, but her breath failed her mid-word. “-get out. Please, just get out.”
Alice stood and took a seat on the bed, Kate telling her no, no, stop, please stop, and even as Alice pulled her into a hug, she resisted. She was feeble, though. Her arms shook. Tears welled in her eyes. Once her head settled over Alice’s shoulder, she stopped pushing her away. Instead her fingers balled up in the fabric of Alice’s sweater, clutching at her back helplessly.
“Why won’t you just leave me alone?” Kate’s voice cracked as she spoke, her voice hot. That was the trap of trying not to cry. “You have power. You don’t need me. Stop… stop doing this with me. Please. Please, you win… You win. Please, please just…”
“You keep saying that. I don’t feel like I won.”
Kate took a shuddering breath. Alice rubbed her back.
“It’s okay… We’re okay. Just listen for a bit, alright?” Kate held her tongue. Alice continued, after a moment.
“I do have powers. You’re right, I do. And they did change me. They made it easier to think. They got rid of this… this noise. That I’d had. This constant noise. All these worries and doubts, and… and they came from nowhere. There was no reason for them. So they were gone. But that’s not why I’m here. I’m not here to lord them over you. I never wanted to hurt you, or mock you. I’m sorry if it seemed that way.”
Kate pressed her face into Alice’s shoulder. Alice collected her thoughts.
“I almost died, a little while back. Because of them, I think. I don’t really know what happened. But I was so afraid. And I realized, after, you know… Kate, from the moment we were born we were going to die. Us. And our parents. And our friends. Everyone. And we’re never going to know how much time we have left. We don’t get to know that.
“And I realized that I could spend the rest of my time hating you, for what you did. Or I could forgive you, and have you with me. And I would rather have you with me. It was you, you know? You took care of me when mom died, because dad couldn’t. You were the person who stuck around, even when I told you to stop, even when I yelled at you to go.
“I don’t care. I don’t care about any of it, any of the things you said or did. I’m alive. We’re alive. We’re alright. I forgive you. I forgive you a million times over, and I’ll keep saying it until you believe me. I remember how we used to be. How we could be. And there are so many things we could still do, so much fun we could still have together. So please don’t go.”
Kate shook and sobbed into her shoulder. Alice held her, not complaining when Kate’s head turned, and her tear-stricken face brushed her neck. Not complaining when Kate clutched at her, so tightly Alice lost her breath. Alice held her until she calmed down, and stayed with her until Richard got back.
He’d brought the things she told him to. She hung around still, sitting with him as Kate cleaned her face in the bathroom.
“She’s going to be alright,” Alice said.
Richard’s eyes were focused on something in the distance. But he’d heard her, she could tell.
“She needs to see someone. She needs help. And I think she’ll accept it now. I think she’ll go, now.”
“I know,” Richard said.
“She’s going to be okay. I believe in her.”
Richard didn’t respond.
Richard looked at her.
“You’re going to be okay, too. It just takes time.”
He looked to the pile of things he’d brought. The change of clothes, the hairbrush, the bag of take-out fries. “Thank you, Alice.”
Kate emerged from the bathroom. She’d cleaned up her face, but she still looked very small. Alice and Richard rose as one. Alice stopped, though. She hung back. Richard wrapped Kate up in a hug and walked her to her bed. They were talking now. She was crying. He was crying.
Alice left the room, and eased the door shut behind her.
. . . . .
Alice felt lighter now.
Her haunt was lighter, too. Alice visited it that late afternoon. She took the bus, her usual seat, with the windows cracked. The sun was already heading down, the light dimming, the horizon turning gold. Her chimes were going when she arrived. Her decorations were gleaming, sparkling shades of red and blue and green, and everything in between. She walked up her stairs to the veranda and took a seat, reveling in the air on her face.
She invited Lara there the next day. They met up in front of a pizza place, early that Wednesday morning.
The first thing Alice did was sweep her up in a hug. “Hey.”
Lara got her chin comfortably wedged on Alice’s shoulder. “Hey.”
They ordered some food and walked to her crate, each of them holding a bag, occasionally bumping shoulders. Then it was up the steps, through the interior, and out to the veranda. Lara plopped the take-out containers on the table. Alice popped two soda caps. They sat on the table this time. It wasn’t super wide, so they had to sit close, and they regularly bumped elbows as they ate. But Alice didn’t mind.
Alice finished her food first. She put her plate and plastic fork aside, then leaned back on her hands and watched the water. Lara did the same when she was done, leaning into her, just a little. Alice shifted her weight, returned the sentiment.
“How did it go?” Lara asked. “Your thing?”
“I think… I think it could have gone a lot worse. But everyone’s alright… And. We’ll get better.”
Lara looked at her. Her eyes were dazzlingly green. “I’m glad.”
There was something raw in her voice. Alice didn’t question it. She grinned. “Me too.”
Lara’s eyes flickered down, and then back up.
“And thank you, for coming out here with me,” Alice said. “And coming over Monday night. I really like spending time with you.”
Lara bit her lip. “Me too.”
Alice smiled goofily. The wind blew. The windchimes rang.
And for the next two minutes and twenty-seven seconds, everything in the world was all right.
Alice walked Lara to her cab. They hugged goodbye, like they had been. But it felt warmer, now.
Alice hopped-skipped to the bus stop, catching the cloud-bus to cloud-ville, her lips tingling the whole ride home.
. . . . .
Kate wasn’t in school until Monday. Alice saw her in the cafeteria, walking alone, looking unsure. She waved her over. Kate approached after a moment of hesitation. She didn’t take a seat right away, just hovered by the bench.
“H – hey,” Kate said, a bit hoarse.
“I… Can I sit down?”
Kate sat. She stared down at her lunch, poking it with her fork.
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m alright,” Kate said. “I’m…” She seemed to struggle with the word. “Better.”
Kate’s lip quivered. Her mouth flapped uselessly for a moment, as she struggled to say something. What eventually came out was, “I’m sorry, Alice. I’m so sorry. I…”
Alice stood without a word, walking around the table to sit beside her. She put an arm around Kate’s shoulder. “It’s okay… Me and dad are going to try to make lasagna later. Or – ‘lah-sahg-nuh,’ excuse me. We’re having some people over, too. Not a lot. Two or three. They’re really nice, you’d like them. Do you want to come over?”
Kate was too choked up to trust her voice. She nodded.
Julian of Norwich was a 14th century saint, and these are her words.
“But Jesu, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’”
“These words were said most tenderly, showing no manner of blame to me nor to any who shall be saved.”