From Now to You — 28b
NaNo Day 28–44175/50000
It was only her second glass and Stephanie was drunk. She blamed it on drinking only a handful of times in her life, but Alice and Beverly laughed at her all the same. They were in Alice and Beverly’s apartment. Alice brought her straight there from the office and the two of them sat on the couch awkwardly, watching a romcom on TV. They were both relieved when Beverly got home. They cooked whatever was in the kitchen. They played music and made polite conversation. After dinner, when another awkward lull in activity was imminent, Beverly suggested that they have some drinks. Two vodka sodas (with extra lime) later, and Stephanie was outside of her own head. She wasn’t sloppy, but she was definitely intoxicated. The three of them were sitting on the large couch in the living room, talking over the dialog on the screen to ridicule the terrible acting or writing. Beverly was between Stephanie and Alice and that helped to damped any tense energy between them. But at barely 9 o’clock, Beverly excused herself to bed, citing an early meeting the next day.
Instantly the palpable denseness between them reappeared, it seemed to rise up off the seat of the couch as Beverly got up from it. Stephanie tipped her glass over onto her lips until she was sure she had the last drop. The ice cubes fell forward and smacked against her lips, giving her a cold water mustache. In her tipsy state she thought the best way to wipe it off would be with her tongue, which she stretched and wiggled over her top lip. She only stopped when she realized that Alice was practically doubled over from laughter.
“What on earth are you doing?” she asked around her giggling.
“I… my mouth was wet!” the blonde replied indignantly.
“So you decided to lick it dry?”
She joined in on the laughter then. “Oh god, I’m an idiot.”
“Nah, you’re just drunk.”
“Mm,” Stephanie hummed in agreement as she tried to drink from her glass again, already forgetting that it was indeed quite empty.
Alice chuckled. “Do you want another drink?”
“Yes,” she said thrusting the glass out toward Alice. “With extra -”
“-Extra lime, yes, I know.”
It barely seemed like five seconds to her before there was a full glass in her face. She looked up at Alice who was suddenly so close to where she was sitting that she felt like she was standing over her. Stephanie had to blink a few times to clear the cloud from her eyes and see Alice clearly. She gave a bright smile and took the glass. “Why, thank you!” She took a hefty sip, if it could still be called a sip if half the glass was gone already.
“Whoa, slow down there, champ.”
Alice was now sitting at her spot at the other end of the couch. She leaned against the armrest and stretched her legs out toward Stephanie. The blonde let her gaze rake over her. She started at her bare feet peeking out from the ends of her dark blue slacks. Then, she trailed up her legs, to her hips, and then to the buckle of her thin brown belt. It was catching the light and glaring almost painfully into her eyes. She ripped her gaze away and looked up higher to the curve of her breasts under the light blue blouse. She took another sip absently as her honey eyes moved from her breast and trailed up from the ends of her hair. It was dark as always, naturally wavy. She remembered that it smelled like vanilla in the winter and rosemary with mint in the summer, but always had the underlying scent that was just Alice. When she finally reached those electric blue eyes, they were watching her. She might have blushed, but she knew that Alice understood that she wasn’t leering. She was simply looking and remembering, something she hadn’t allowed herself to do for any meaningful length of time since she first saw Alice again. The thought of why she hadn’t allowed herself to look and remember brought out a heavy air of melancholy that escaped through a heavy sigh. Stephanie finished her drink and put it down on the end table before mirroring Alice’s position on the couch. Shifting her legs onto the couch involved a bit of shimmying because of her knee length skirt, but she managed with minimal grunting. Her left calf was pressed against Alice’s right. Vaguely, she had a thought that she should move, that there should always be a space between them, but she couldn’t get her muscles to listen. Her eyes were trained on the spot where they touched.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Alice said gently, nudging her foot against Stephanie’s thigh to get her attention.
Stephanie looked up into Alice’s face. Her expression was open, welcoming, and she found herself being drawn out. Alice’s tiny smile was inviting her, coaxing her out like a skittish kitten from under the couch. Maybe it was the alcohol pumping potently through her veins that had her wanting to be open to Alice. There was a fleeting thought that maybe she had always wanted to be open to Alice, but just never had the courage for it until now. “It’s tiring.”
“I have to try so hard, ever day, and it’s exhausting. It takes constant effort to push certain feelings and memories down just so I don’t think about that night.”
“The guilt — it’s so… I think it could kill me, if I let it. I feel like I could die. My heart literally hurts when I think about it, so I decided to stop. Now every day I do everything I could to not remember.”
“Steph, what are you talking about? Guilt over what?” Alice spoke up a bit louder this time, but Stephanie continued on as if she didn’t hear her.
“It worked for a while, you know, until you and your stupid good writing fell into my lap. I was content living in black and white and grey. I found Vanessa who didn’t ask questions about my past that I didn’t want to answer. I fell into a career that allowed me to escape my own head and dive into stories every day. I was content with my subdued emotions. I was OK with going through the motions of what was expected of me — it saved me from having to ask myself what I want to be doing. I liked having a script and playing a role. Even if I have to put so much energy into being this way, it was still easier than the alternative.”
“That’s not living. It’s not living if your not living the life you’re meant to live.”
“It’s so hard keeping myself from thinking of her. So hard to never have an idle moment to avoid having to think. I’m so tired.”
“Steph — “
“But with you… with you it’s different. I feel things when I’m with you and it’s easy. Reminiscing with you doesn’t hurt. When I’m with you, I don’t have to constantly be battling against my own thoughts to keep them from wandering too far. When I’m around you, my thoughts are on you. At first they were painful thoughts, unwanted memories, but now, I look at you, and all I feel is… peace.”
“You’re not making sense. What are you talking about? What happened that was so bad that you can’t face it. What are you so guilty about that you think it could kill you?” Alice asked, hoping the desperation in her voice would finally get the blonde’s attention.
It seemed to work. Stephanie’s blue eyes cleared from the haze. “My mom died because of me.”
Alice’s eyes widened. “Why would you say that?”
“We were right there, Alice!” Stephanie’s blue eyes were in sharp focus now. “We were right outside, barely fifty feet away from Mom while she was choking on her own vomit!” A sob ripped out from her throat unbidden. “If I had just gotten out of your car earlier — if I had stuck to my curfew that night, she would still be alive. I would have been there to help her when she had the seizure. But I was distracted by you. I didn’t get out of the car because I felt so much for you. My mother died because I loved and wanted you so much. Doesn’t it makes sense that I don’t want to feel that strongly about anything ever again? Do you understand now why it’s easier for me to be someone else because I could barely live with myself?”
“You can’t blame yourself for what happened -’
“I blamed you at first, you know. You wanted to know why I treated you like I did? For your closure? It was because I was convinced that it was your fault that my mom was dead. I blamed you for keeping me out of the house.”
Alice felt like Stephanie had reached right into her chest and squeezed on her lungs with both hands. “You blame me…?”
“No, not anymore. Eventually I realized it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t force me to stay outside with you. It was just easier to put the blame on you. It gave me something concrete to direct my anger towards.”
“I’m sorry. It was unfair and I hurt you and I’m sorry. But I was glad you were out of my life. Thinking of you always brought me back to that night.”
“That’s why you were such a bitch when I first showed up.”
“Why did you change your mind? You were going to tell Arthur to give my book to someone else… why didn’t you?”
“Ugh,” Stephanie rolled her eyes. “Paul. I couldn’t give him the satisfaction.”
They were silent for a moment. Stephanie’s eyes were down at her lap and her head lolled to the side to rest against the back of the couch. Her energy was sapped. “I’ve never told anybody any of this. I was afraid that talking about it would be too much. But I feel… OK right now. Talking explicitly about that night should make be so upset, but I’m not. Maybe it’s because I’m drunk or maybe it’s because it’s you.”
“OK, Stephanie. Listen to me now, OK? First of all, you have got to stop saying things like that. At least for now. You’re making it very hard to resist coming over there and kissing you senseless. Secondly, thank you for opening up to me. I wish you had done it sooner.. say, eight years ago, but I’m glad you’re doing it now. Finally, you can’t blame yourself for what happened with your mom. It wasn’t your fault.” When Alice saw that Stephanie had her face buried in her hands and that her body was being wracked by sobs, she did cross the length of the couch in a flash. She kneeled in front of her, astride Stephanie’s legs, and pulled the blonde head into her chest. “Oh, baby,” she muttered into Stephanie’s hair. “It’s not your fault — you have to believe that,” she said between comforting coos tender reassurances.
When she felt Stephanie’s grip on the front of her shirt loosen and the sobs give way to hiccuping breaths, Alice pressed her mouth against the blonde’s temple in a gentle kiss. “You need to talk to your dad.”
“I can’t… what if he blames -”
“He does not blame you, but you will end up ruining your relationship with him if you don’t talk to him. He misses you, Steph. Talk to him. You need him.”
When Beverly emerged from her room in the early hours of the morning, she found the two women asleep in the living room. Stephanie was on the couch, sprawled along the entire length of it with two blankets tucked up under her chin and all of the throw pillows surrounding her. Alice was on the love seat facing Stephanie’s direction, curled up into a ball without a blanket or pillow to be seen. Beverly figured that after the bawling she heard last night, Alice probably stayed up to watch over Stephanie as she slept. It was that thought that finally extinguished the hope she had been clinging to about being with Alice.