"You do know that no matter how long you stare, she's not going to descend into the deep and dark recesses of the earth? Where she belongs, may I add." Nicole said, watching Alex watch her house. They'd been sitting in her Beetle, idling on the edge of the driveway, for a good ten minutes. Nic was running out of gas almost as fast as she was running out of patience.

Alex glanced over at her with those damn wide Bambi eyes and Nicole frowned. One of these days, she was going to kick this old bitch's ass. And then kidnap Alex. They were practically sisters anyway.

"I know," Alex said simply.

She didn't know, Nic knew. She didn't really know anything, and that was why she had Nic.

"Get out," Nic ordered, rolling her eyes at the surprise sprouting on Alex's face. She twisted her key out of the ignition. "C'mon."

"Nic, you don't have to escort me into my own house-"

Nicole reached over and unbuckled Alex, poking her in the ribs with a manicured (sharp) nail. "I'm not going to hold your hand, don't worry. Although I'm sure your mom would flip if she saw that."

Alex flinched, but if Nicole noticed she didn't comment.

They got out and slowly tramped up the driveway. There was no movement in the windows, though the lights were on. Alex half expected to be ambushed as they approached the side door, but they walked into the kitchen in silence.

"I'm home," Alex called, albeit not overly loudly. Footsteps immediately sounded on the stairs.

"So you've finally decided to grace this house with your presence?" Her mother's voice, cold and high, pierced the quiet. She rounded the corner, blue eyes narrowing when she saw Nicole next to Alex. "Nicole. What an absolutely...pleasant surprise."

Nicole scoffed. "I'm sure. I wish I could return the sentiment, Mrs. R."

Mrs. Raison's jaw muscles twitched, tightened. "I'm sorry to be blunt, but could you give us some privacy? Alex and I need to have a little mother-daughter chat."

"Why oh why do I have this nagging feeling it's going to be a one-way conversation?" Nicole asked in a mock-debonair fashion, tapping an index finger to her lip and winking at Alex. "Well, it's been a joy catching up, Mrs. R, but I gotta run. Ciao, Alex, see you later. Hopefully in one piece."

Alex shot Nic a half-hearted grin, a we'll see about that look.

The thud of the door closing echoed for a moment. Mrs. Raison tapped her nails on the granite look-alike counter, staring off into the distance, not looking at Alex. Alex stared at the opposite wall, at a framed photo of the sprite-green Irish countyside her mother and father had visited over ten years ago. It was the closest thing to a picture of Mr. Raison they had in the house.

"Come on," Alex's mother said suddenly, and as if a spell had been lifted she sprang into motion. It was then that Alex noticed the keys in her hand.

"We're going somewhere?" Alex asked, standing with her hands in her jean pockets while her mother grabbed her purse, lipstick, checked herself in the mirror over the sink.

"Yes." Her mother nodded at her reflection, satisfied with her dapper-as-always appearance.

Alex rolled her eyes at the crisp response, and her mother elaborated. "We're going to the Wests' house. So you can apologize for the...incident earlier this week."

Alex felt her stomach drop to her ankles. "W-what?"

Her mother smiled grimly. "I called earlier. They're expecting us." Her mother's tone was stern, unwavering. The girl just bit her tongue and sighed.

Alex followed her outside on jelly legs, climbing into the back of the Lexus reluctantly. They drove in silence, Alex staring at the cars in the other lane zooming by, her mother's knuckles white around the steering wheel as she zipped ten miles above the speed limit down suburban roads. The trip blazed by too fast for Alex's liking.


Lindsay's dad opened the door before the doorbell had a chance to even echo. He looked exactly as Alex remembered him - in a word, boyish, his sandy hair flopping over his forehead, green eyes glittering with mirth. He had more wrinkles now, Alex noticed, mostly laugh lines.

"Alex! It's been too long!" He enveloped her in a bear hug. His Old Spice nearly choked her along with his muscular arms.

"Hey, Mr. W," Alex said, grinning into his shoulder. "Good to see you again."

Mr. West tousled her hair. "It'd be better if your mother hadn't had to drag you here. But we Wests will take what we can get." He whispered conspiratorially to her, making sure to keep his voice low so Mrs. Raison wouldn't hear his comment.

Mrs. West hovered behind him. "Joe," she said with a glance at Alex's mother's face. "For heaven's sake, let the poor girl go."

Mr. West did so, patting Alex on the shoulder with a wink. Alex felt her lips quirk up on their own accord.

"Good afternoon, Joe, Connie," Mrs. Raison greeted breezily, offering a schmoozing smile.

"Patricia..." Mrs. West smiled back, and Mr. West simply nodded hello. "How have you been? Come in, come in," she ushered them out of the doorway and into a plush, warmly lit living room double the size of Alex's own. Leather couches formed an L-shape around a plasma TV, and mahogany bookcases lined the leftover walls. Stereos hung like hornets nests in each ceiling corner.

"Oh, you know what it's like..." Mrs. Raison replied, launching into conversation.

Alex's mother and Mrs. West chatted while Alex stood, hands in her pockets, regarding the leather couches with a wary eye. Had she ever sat on something so expensive before?

"Sit down, the cow's dead already," Mr. West joked, coming to stand next to her. "If you'll keep a secret, they're fake. Neither Connie or I could stand the thought of sitting on animal skin. But the appearance is classy, isn't it?"

"Hmm." Alex was about to respond when she heard footsteps on the stairs.

"I thought I heard - " Echoed out as a second later, Lindsay appeared in the doorway. Her gaze immediately focused on Alex and Mrs. Raison. " - people?" She tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "W-what are you doing here?" Her gaze focused on Alex.

Alex bit her lip. Jesus, she was wondering the same thing.

"Lindsay!" Connie reprimanded, gaze darting to Mrs. Raison. "Manners?"

In the corner of her eye, Alex saw Mr. West smirk. Lindsay shot him a look, cheeks coloring fuchsia.

"It's positively wonderful to see you too," Alex replied, breaking the ensuing pause with a chipper tone only Lindsay and Mrs. Raison knew was false. Lindsay hesitated, biting her lip, then seeming to swallow the words that were resting on the tip of her tongue, she smiled politely.

Mrs. Raison shot Alex a sharp look that bounced off the girl's cool exterior. Lindsay flicked her eyes between the pair. All three looked like they were about to engage in all-out verbal warfare.

Mrs. West entered the room with a tray balanced precariously in her hands. None of them had noticed her leave. "I almost forgot! Alex, Patricia, would either of you care for a crumpet? I've been tinkering with that old recipe..."

Alex's eyes widened. Food from Mrs. West? The woman was a culinary goddess, so her pride be damned, there was no way that offer was being turned down.

"I-"

"Actually, we came for more than idle chatter," Alex's mother cut her off, waving a hand. "I believe I mentioned it when I called."
Mrs. West offered a small, crooked smile, placing the crumpets on the coffee table. "Ah, yes, of course you did, in your third voicemail I believe... Something about the library incident?"

Lindsay, who had been munching on a crumpet, nearly choked. Her cheeks flared red as everyone's eyes slid to her.

"Yes..." Mrs. Raison paused, eyebrow arched, then continued. Alex noticed she'd gotten a crumpet as well. "Didn't we, Alex?"

Alex rolled her eyes. "Mmm." At the look her mother sent her, she elaborated. "Yeah, we did."

Alex smirked as her mother, through a mouthful of the undoubtedly delicious treat, frowned. They had a silent standoff, each waiting for the other to break and speak first.

"It's really not necessary - "

"About that - "

Mrs. West and Lindsay both broke into the silence at the same time.

"Alexis wanted to say something." Mrs. Raison's tone was cold, closed to any argument. "It was an immature and petty misunderstanding."

Alex felt the weight of all the room's occupants' eyes on her, heavy in the ensuing silence. It was crushingly mortifying, and it was all she could do to save face and keep her chin up.

Alex met Lindsay's other girl's eyes were wide, dark.

A misunderstanding, Alex thought. That's all this was. Of course.

"I'm sorry." Though she wasn't looking at her, Alex knew her mother was expecting more, so she continued. "I'm sorry for...what I did." Which is nothing, she added mentally. "I'm sorry not wanting to talk to you, for fighting with you, and I'm sorry that I got us into trouble so that we have to be together more than never, which frankly is too often. Or so I understand, anyway."

As Alex continued, Lindsay's expression grew almost pained. Alex rolled her eyes, and a tear escaped them, trailing hotly down her cheek. Shit, since when was she crying?

"Well then. I suppose I'll go. Wouldn't want to overstay my welcome." Or bawl in front of an audience. And she brushed past the others, out the door in a heartbeat.

"Alex!" Her mother called after her.

Then, a second later, "Lindsay!" Mrs. West sounded surprised.

"Let them go," Mr. West said, and then Alex was outside and out of earshot.


"Alex!" Lindsay called, trailing after the other girl. Jogging really, considering the blonde's pace. "Alex, goddamn it, wait."

She knew the other girl wouldn't wait. She knew it. So why she was following after her like a clueless little puppy was beyond even her own comprehension.
Well. It was beyond the comprehension she wanted to comprehend. If that made sense. It didn't, Lindsay knew, but it was the glue that was holding her life together, so she just pretended it did, day after day.

Alex turned at the end of the driveway, and it hit Lindsay suddenly that the other girl wasn't just storming off. She was leaving.

"Are you - are you going to walk all the way home?" Lindsay called after her. Alex shot her an incredulous Duh! look over her shoulder, a look that Lindsay remembered from so long ago. Lindsay almost smiled at it. Almost.

There was a beat of silence. Lindsay hadn't really expected a verbal response from the blonde anyway, so she continued. "Well, you're going the wrong way."

Alex kept walking.

Of course she kept walking, Lindsay thought. What else would she do?

"I'm telling you, you are going. The. Wrong. Way." Lindsay trailed after her. Alex wasn't walking as fast now, but she still hadn't turned around. Her shoulders were stiff, her hands in fists at her side. Lindsay watched her walk, the sway of her back, her hips... But that was creepy, Lindsay told herself. Focus on being mad.

They got to the end of the street before Alex turned around. Her eyes were flashing impressively, Lindsay noted, and she suddenly felt like a deer in the headlights of a very scary, unpredictable automaton.

"Stop." Alex looked down at her shoes. Converse. Much easier to look at than the expression in Lindsay's eyes, the sudden apprehension.

"This is my own damn street, I will walk down it if I want to!" Lindsay replied indignantly, flushing slightly. Alex felt her annoyance flare up - damn it, this would all be easier if the other girl would just listen to her.

"Stop...stalking me, then."

Lindsay's cheeks shaded brilliantly red. "I wouldn't have to stalk you if you'd just let me talk to you." They stared at each other for a second. "And I'm not stalking you. Don't flatter yourself."

Alex snorted, crossing her arms, while Lindsay attempted to look indignant. "Fine. Let's chat, shall we? If it's what Lindsay wants, then damn it's what Lindsay gets."

A car turned into the driveway next to them. The driver, a neighbor, waved to Lindsay, who put on a cut-and-paste smile and waved exasperatedly. Alex rolled her eyes and started walking again.

"Dammit, oh no you don't," Lindsay muttered, feeling her blood boil. She trotted down the sidewalk and caught Alex by the wrist.

"You want to talk. You don't want to talk. Jesus." Alex wouldn't meet her gaze, and Lindsay shook her wrist gently, noticing how much smaller it seemed, how much smaller Alex seemed, in Lindsay's touch.

She looked up and Lindsay's heart almost stopped. Her eyes were glistening - was she tearing up?

The blonde read the expression in her eyes and frowned. Pity was the last thing she wanted right now. "What do you want from me, Lindsay?"

Lindsay's throat constricted. She opened her mouth, but the right words, any words at all, refused to come out. Why was this so hard? Maybe because she didn't know the answer. "I want to talk," she replied weakly.

Alex rolled her eyes. "C'mon, Lindsay. We're talking now, so why don't you tell me: what do you really want?"

Lindsay's hand felt warm on her wrist. Hot. It was making Alex's arm feel tingly in a disturbingly pleasant way, and she decided she most definitely did not like it. But of course Lindsay kept holding on, despite her albeit half-hearted efforts to squirm her arm free.

"Let's start with what I don't want. I don't want your apology, okay?" Alex scoffed, but Lindsay took a step closer to the shorter girl. "No, really. It's shit anyway, I mean I guess I... I sort of had something to do with the whole library thing anyway."

"Oh, just about everything to do with it." Alex muttered. Lindsay's lips quirked at that. At least Alex was being her usual grumpy self again, that was something.

She chuckled. "Okay, maybe I had a large part - fine, damn, I had everything to do with it."

The corner of Alex's mouth tipped up despite her best efforts to control it. Lindsay watched her with a small smile.

"Your mom is still...awful, isn't she?" Lindsay asked, trailing her thumb along Alex's wrist absent-mindedly. She felt heavy all of a sudden, sad, thinking of Alex's home now that it was just her and her mother. Ms. Raison had always been one of the few people Lindsay disliked utterly; she still remembered the time she and Alex had a sleepover when they were still in grade school and she scolded them for playing make believe. All because they'd been swinging sticks around as swords, and it was "uncouth and ill-mannered."

It was one of the few times Lindsay had been better than Alex at anything, and Alex had even told her she'd made a good knight. While it lasted.

"I want... To go back."To be a kid, in your backyard, with you, beating up fake bad guys with a stick-sword... Lindsay sighed. Why did life have to get so complicated? Why did things have to change?

"Stupid," Alex said, pulling her hand away with an unreadably dark expression. She understood. She always did. "You shouldn't want what you can't have."

Lindsay watched her fidget with her newly-freed hand a moment, opening her mouth. But before words could come out (tumble out, knowing Lindsay's eloquence, Alex thought), an all-too-familiar silver Lexus screeched by. It stopped, reversed, and stopped on the road next to them.

"Alexis Jane Raison, so help me God!" It was an even more ear-splitting screech that wailed out of the car now. Mrs. Raison. There was a mechanical drone, anticlimactic to the drum roll the woman's entrance truly deserved, Alex thought, as the tinted driver's side window rolled down. Her mother's face, thin-lipped and nearly white in anger, appeared.

"Shit," Alex muttered. Though she was too far away to hear, her mother's eyes narrowed knowingly. Her flinty gaze darted between her daughter and Lindsay, and the taller girl had the sudden fleeting feeling she was being x-rayed. She hugged her arms around herself, dropping her eyes while keeping Alex's face in the corner of her vision.

Alex had steeled, her expression stony, eyes hard. It was almost scary, Lindsay thought. The two looked so much alike it was like looking into a warped mirror. Except Lindsay wanted to slap one of the reflections in the face.

"I think God gave up trying to help you some time ago, Mother," Alex said. This utterance Mrs. Raison didn't catch, her mental cogs to busy turning, churning some thought through her head. Alex could see it at work, her mother's eyes on Lindsay, calculating. Alex wanted to scream.

"Get in the car." It was an order, a threat conveyed in a neutral, socially appropriate though clipped tone.

Lindsay could almost hear the muscles in Alex's body tightening, snapping. Alex hesitated.

"That wasn't a suggestion, Alex. Get. In. The. Car. Now."

Alex's mouth flew open, but Lindsay hurriedly cut her off. "Actually, I'll drive her home, Mrs. Raison." She offered the brightest smile she could muster - the equivalent of a candle in a rainstorm.

"You." The older woman's head snapped around. Lindsay flinched, and Mrs. Raison struggled to regain her composure. She put on a falsetto chipper tone. "You have done quite enough, dear, thank you."

What was that supposed to mean, Lindsay wondered, shooting Alex a look. Confusion swirled in the other girl's eyes. Her mother practically worshipped at Lindsay West The Perfect's shrine. This was a complete 180. But probably not in her favor.

"Well, let me do one more, then. I'll take her," Lindsay said through a tight-lipped smile. Alex suddenly felt like a tennis ball in the middle of one intense match, but for once she wasn't sure what to do. Pick her poison - but which had the least side effects?

"I'm sure you would, dear. But - "

"I really won't take no for an answer." Lindsay cut her off, smile gone. She looked angry, a look Alex wasn't used to in this intensity. Lindsay glanced at her, a look that said unless that no comes from you.

"I'd hate to put a damper on her majesty's plans. I'll go with Lindsay." Alex said, sliding her gaze away from Lindsay so she wouldn't have to see the other girl's victorious expression. Mrs. Raison watched the brunette smirk smugly, watched her eyes light up, watched Alex look away.

The older woman wasn't happy. In fact, she was close to fuming. But what could she do? People were starting to peek curiously out their windows at the trio.

"We'll talk when you get home, Alex." And with that, Mrs. Raison rolled up her window and drove off with a screech of tires.

And left the two alone again.