AN: This story is in second person. I know it's an unusual point of view, but give it a chance. Thanks for reading :)
You wake up to the sound of arguing from the next room and you thought you left that years ago. You yawn a little and wander out of your room.
Britt's here, of course. That's why there's arguing. There's always arguing when Britt's here. You don't understand what Thor see's in her, really. When you move in here, little under a month ago, he told you that he needed a roommate because his long-time ex-girlfriend was moving out and he couldn't afford the rent on his own. You're pretty sure that was a lie though. Britt, the long-time ex-girlfriend, has been here almost every day since she moved out. And there hasn't been a single day when they haven't argued.
"You never appreciate me," screams Britt. Her pony tail bounces as she stomps her pretty little princess boot. You've always been fascinated by pony-tails. You don't know why. Marcy said it was because you're like a cat, you like things that are moving. You told her that cats like things that are moving because they're curious. She laughed and told you that you were the most curious person she'd ever met. It's probably true.
"Appreciate you?" he screams back, his hair shaking in his face. "What the hell is there to appreciate? You're a fucking bitch."
Britt makes a noise that you can't quite describe, a huff maybe, but whatever it is it sounds angry.
"A bitch? A BITCH?" she screams. You want to laugh because it's not like it's the first time they've had this argument. Hell, it's probably not the first time today.
"You know," you say and they both turn to you stare at you in surprise. "I can't figure out why 'bitch' is considered an insult? I mean, it's a dog, right? A female dog? You like dogs, you've got Coco. Female dogs are pretty darn cute, so if you think about it, he's really calling you cute. "
It takes a moment before either one of them says anything.
"I..." says Britt, but she doesn't seem able to form a sentence. You smile because you like to stop people in their tracks.
"Did we wake you up?" asks Thor softly. He doesn't look as stunned as she does. He's heard this one before, you think. You say so many things that you often lose track of who you've said what not.
"Little bit," you say. "Why are you fighting?"
"Don't worry about it," he says. "We'll be quieter."
"Sorry," mutters Britt. "I should- I should go."
"Don't go," says Thor.
Marcy would tell you that it's not really your place to stay in the room, this is private. But you don't really like this idea of privacy, it keeps you from knowing things and that's not something you like.
Britt shakes her head and you watch the pony tail bounce.
"I...I need a break," she says, grabbing her jacket from the hook by the door as if it will do something to keep her warm outside, despite her shorts. "I'll talk to you later. Bye Lucy."
You wave and smile. The door slams behind her and for a moment the apartment vibrates.
"So she seems like she's in a good mood," you say as you wander over to the kitchenette.
"I don't know why I bother," says Thor, plopping himself down in one of the high stools and putting his head on the counter that separates the kitchen from the living room.
"Because you love her?" you suggest as you grab a glass from the cabinet and fill it with water.
"I don't know," he says. "We fight all the time."
"I hadn't noticed," you say.
He looks up just long enough to glare.
"Right, sorry," you say. "That's just how you are, though. You fight all the time."
"There are reasons we broke up," he says.
"You broke up just long enough for her to move out," you tell him. "And for me to move in. That was what, a week?"
"Not even," he says. "She came over when she was moving out her stuff. And when she was getting the stuff she forgot."
"Which is back already. She left her panties in the bathroom today."
"Yeah, right, sorry about that."
"I don't care, it's just underwear."
"Yeah," he says.
"Well, you know what, you don't have to make any decisions about her or anything. You just...need to find another way of expressing yourselves besides yelling."
"We tried that. Toph told me the same thing when I first started dating her, back in high school."
"Well, what did you try?"
You almost spit out your water.
"Well, no duh that doesn't work. I mean, it does at first. But you guys have sex like twice a day, it's not really an outlet anymore. It's a routine."
"How do you know how often I have sex?" he asks, picking up his head again.
"Well, my room is about five feet away from yours and she's not much quieter during sex than she is during a fight."
"Yeah, sorry about that," he says, sighing again.
"I don't care. I told you when I moved in, a year and a half in jail, means I've seen and heard it all when I was trying to sleep."
"Right, jail," he says and you can hear the doubt in his voice. It's not nearly as strong as the doubt that seeps off of Britt every time you mention jail, but it's still there. It doesn't bother you, you find it more amusing than anything else. They see you as innocent and the idea almost always makes you double over in laughter.
"Maybe you should try couple's counseling."
"Yeah, can you imagine all the things that Britt would tell the shrink about me?"
"You have just as much to say about her," you remind him. "You could tell her all about the time that she trained Coco to poop on command and then got him to poop in your bed."
"How do you know about that?"
"The week after I moved in, Pip came to the cafe every day and told me every embarrassing story he could think of about you. His idea of a welcoming gift."
Thor groans. You laugh.
"He's got a crush on you, you know," he says. "He was trying to impress you."
"By knowing an odd amount of embarrassing stories about you?"
To be fair, you did greatly enjoy knowing them. You like knowing things and you didn't quite feel right about moving into the apartment of a guy that you didn't know all that much about. Sure you know his name, Thor Winston, and that he attends the local college and he works at what he says is a game shop, but you're pretty sure is really a magic shop in disguise. You know that he's been dating Britt since their freshman year of high school, which was six years ago. You know his best friends, Toph and Pip Casensa and this girl named Ursula who you can never quite figure out. And his top ten most embarrassing moments as told by Pip.
"I have no idea. He's got a weird idea of what's impressive. In elementary school, he thought it was impressive to have a big worm collection and he showed this one girl he liked, Judy, his collection. She ran screaming."
You laugh. It's odd, this staying up and talking thing. You've been here a month and it's not something you've gotten used to yet. Neither is the group of friends that surround Thor. You've never really had a group of friends before and it's not something you even thought about it. You've had a few friends over the years, but they didn't really stick around too long. Sometimes you grew apart, other times they moved away. Marcy was around the longest, but you haven't talked to her since you've been out of jail. You haven't been home and she wouldn't know how to find you otherwise.
"I can just imagine what Pip was like as a kid."
"Oh god. It was like...have you ever watched the Rugrats?"
You shake your head. You didn't watch much TV as a child. It was interesting, but not as interesting as your books.
He sighs. He's getting used to the fact that you're never going to get his references. When you first moved in, he would launch into a speech about some TV show or movie and you would sit there and listen and have no idea what he was talking about. Britt keeps saying she needs to educate you on those sort of things and you always agree, but it hasn't happened yet.
"Never mind. It was a weird dynamic between Toph and Pip because Toph was three grades above him and he was the cool older brother, paving the way and then there was Pip with his ant farm and his collection of bugs and a jar of pickles in his lockers. I think if he hadn't been Toph's younger brother, he would have gotten shoved into his locker far more often."
"He's a bit of a dork," you agree. "Did he wear that hoodie back then?"
Thor shakes his head.
"Nah, he just got that last year. We're not entirely sure it's been washed since."
You laugh. Pip has been wearing the same sweatshirt, well, it's kind of more of a sweater, every single time you've seen him. It's not made of cotton, it's made of some other kind of material and you can't figure out exactly what. You think it looks like a basket and it's woven together in a sort of odd pattern that you can't really figure out. There are stripes, but they are all sorts of colours and widths. It has a hood that makes Pip's head look even smaller and a kangaroo pocket that he keeps an odd assortment of objects in.
You yawn again.
"Sorry we woke you," says Thor.
"Don't worry about it. It's not like I have to be well rested for work. I can make lattes with very little concentration."
"Sorry," he says again and you push off from the counter. "Night."
"Goodnight," you say and you head back to your room, tripping over a pile of books as you crash onto your bed.
"You okay in there?" he calls out.
"All good," you call and smile. The books have fallen over, but you don't really care. There's books all over the floor anyway. You don't have a big enough bookshelf for them all. They were one of the few things you insisted on getting from home. Your books, your clothes and MooMoo, your blue stuffed Teddy Bear. You think the thing you disliked about jail the most was that you couldn't sleep with Moo Moo every night. Marcy told you often enough that you were old enough to sleep without your stupid little teddy bear, but you don't really care. You love MooMoo. Your grandma gave him to you for your second birthday and you've slept with him every night, barring the year and a half you were in jail, since then.
You had to sneak in when your parents were at work because you didn't think you could face them. They visited for the first two months you were in jail, but you never had much to say and neither did they. They came to visit on your birthday too. But the visits were few and far between for months before you were released. And you haven't talked to them since. You aren't sure that they even know that you were released. Technically, no one had to tell them. But they must know. They would know that. They aren't the kind of parents that would forget about their daughter. They aren't like Marcy's parents at all. Marcy's parents the kind of parents that really should be divorced, but are staying together for Marcy and her little brothers. All they do is scream and Marcy bought her brothers fancy headphones that make everything quiet for their birthdays.
Your parents aren't like them though. Your parents are the kind of parents that everyone wants. The kind of parents who are still very much in love and will probably be in love until their dying day. The kind of parents who leave notes in your homemade life until the end of middle school saying cheesy little things like, "We love you sweetie" and "Have a nice day." The kind of parents that would have posted your bail if you'd bothered to contest the charges.
Which you did not. That would have been lying and your parents, being the good parents they are, taught you that you shouldn't lie.
Even if they hadn't, you've never liked lying. You do when you have to, of course. You've never had a problem with pulling it off. You don't like doing it, though. You like to gather information and know as much as you can about whatever you can and liars aren't very productive to that at all. They give false information, which is a poisonous seed as they call it in law enforcement. It's like when the police find something while searching somewhere they weren't supposed to, they can't use anything that find based on that discovery. It's like the poison spreads up through the seed to the roots and the stem and the flower it produces. If your seed of knowledge isn't true, then nothing you figure out from there is true. It just makes it that much more difficult to gather information.
You're not good at telling when people are lying either. Well, no, you can sometimes. Like when Marcy's little brother lied about the fact that he ate the last cupcake. There was frosting on his sleeve. But most of the time, you aren't very good at it. Marcy was though. She was good at lots of things like that.
You aren't sure if you miss her or not. It's been almost two years since you last saw her and you aren't sure if it's okay for you to contact her not. You aren't even sure if you want to. It's odd. You and Marcy are so different, in almost every way. You come from a completely different kind of family in a completely different social class. Your parents had money, not enough for you to be rich, but enough that you had good Christmas presents every year and never had to worry about money. Marcy lived in a run down little trailer on the poor side of town, her parents both working more than one minimum wage job to support her and her brothers. She'd had to get a job when she turned sixteen too. You always liked school because it was an opportunity to learn and you love to learn. Marcy was always the girl who never did her homework, failed all the tests and was only kept in her grade because teachers didn't want to deal with her for a second time. She always says that school is a waste of her time because she's not learning things that are going to help her get through life. She skipped quite often and when she was there, she was always talking and was loud and disruptive. Teachers never liked her much. You were always the favorite student. You like watching your teacher's faces when they realized you were friends with Marcy. You always lost a bit of respect in their eyes and it never mattered to you.
That's another difference between you and Marcy. She cares what people think. You don't. She made sure she put up make-up every morning and never came to school in anything less than the latest trend, even though she could almost never afford it. She stole clothes a few times and most of the time, you knew not to ask no matter how much you wanted to. You never cared what people thought. You wore the right clothes because your parents told you to. You think that the only person who's opinion of you means a damn is you. Other people's opinion shouldn't effect that. The idea that it could didn't even occur to you until you met Alana, who was your friend in fifth grade until she moved away. She was the new girl, she moved around a lot, and she was worried about what people in the school thought of her. You couldn't figure out why. It just doesn't make sense to you.
You're curious to know what people think of you, just to know. You don't want to do anything with that information and you would certainly never change yourself for anyway. That's an absurd idea.
The thing about you and Marcy was that you were the good girl and she wasn't. Everyone always said that she was going to get arrested someday, and you believed it too. You could name several crimes she's committed just off the top of your head. You wonder what people said when they realized that it wasn't Marcy that ended up in jail, it was you.
You yawn and roll over on the bed. You have to work the opening shift in the morning, at seven am. You're the new girl and no one else wants to be up then. You don't mind though, you're lucky to have the job at the cafe. Almost no one wants to hire a convicted felon, and that makes sense to you. It makes things more difficult, yes, but it's your own fault and you'll have to live with it the rest of your life.
You don't mind mornings anyway, they're kind of nice. It's quiet in the morning, not in the cafe, but in the rest of the world. There's time to think. You can do whatever you want in the apartment too, because Thor almost never gets up before noon. His earliest class is at one and the campus is only a few minutes away.
You like mornings in the cafe too because you get the chance to observe people day after day. There are a few regulars that come in every day on their way to work for their morning coffee. There's an Asian man who's always wearing a suit and a green tie. He's always got his eyes glued to his phone and he always orders coffee, black. There's a brunette girl that you think is about your age that's always wearing just enough clothes to be considered decent, but not in the way that the girls at school did. Her clothes always seemed a bit ratty and you think you've seen bruises on her once or twice. She doesn't always order the same thing, but it's always something warm and she always looks cold. There is a group of teenage boys that Pip says go to the local college, and they're almost always joking around and they almost always have a soccer ball with them. You haven't memorized their orders yet. You can barely tell them apart from each other and you aren't always sure it's the same boys that make up the group each day. You try to watch carefully each day, but you always manage to lose track of them. Mornings in the cafe can get a bit hectic.
You make a mental to watch them closer in the morning and you drift back to sleep.
It's an odd feeling, walking into the dark cafe. You have to do this almost every morning, but you haven't quite gotten use to the feeling yet. It's...you can't think of the right word for it. It's like when you go into a store late at night and it's half closed already and everything just feels different. You wonder if there's a word for that feeling. You don't think there is, at least not in the English language. The English language is one of those things that you don't think you're going to understand anytime soon. It's strangely complex and not really like any other language, but at the same time it's exactly like bits and pieces of other languages. It has a lot of words that mean almost exactly the same thing, but there are feelings it's lacking completely. Feelings that you have to look to other languages, French, in particular, to find a way to describe. It's hard to find a word in another language that has no direct translation because buying one of those French-to-English dictionaries doesn't help. You have several of them, of course, for various different languages. They fail you more often than not so you bought an actual French dictionary, not like the translations ones, but one with French words and French definitions of those words. You like to sit there and see how much of it you can make sense of sometimes. Because some words get translated and they don't mean exactly the same thing, but it's close enough so we use it anyway. But it's not quite the same, like the difference between huge and big. You can only really tell by looking at what you're going to describe which word is the right word to use, and sometimes either one will do, but they both convey the same meaning.
You flip on the lights and go about turning the machines on and making sure that everything is all set to open. It's cold and you shiver a bit in the October air. The heat goes off at night and it's always cold in the morning. You twist the dial ever so slightly and the heater, you can never figure out where it is, roars to life somewhere in the small coffee shop.
You check in the kitchen area and make sure that everything is clean. The trash can still has things in it from yesterday and you sigh because Nate always forgets to take it out. He must have been working last night. You sigh and take the bag out. Naomi, that's the other girl that opens sometimes, bitches whenever he forgets to take the trash out. She always throws a hissy fit and you think it's kind of pointless because it takes less than a minute to just solve the problem. People overreact far too often.
You haul it over your shoulder and open the back door. There's a big dumpster there and it almost always smells awful. You don't really care awful. When you first started working here, a few weeks ago, you were convinced there was a body in there. You almost went in looking for it, but Naomi told you to get your ass back to work because no one is hiding bodies in Witting.
You smile at that even now because of course people are hiding bodies in Witting. Well, you assume they are in Witting. Technically, you're from Bells, the next town over. Maybe things are different here, but they don't seem that way to you.
You toss the bag in the dumpster and head back towards the door. You stop in your tracks because there's a girl lying on the ground next to the door and you can't figure out how you didn't notice her when you walked out.
Maybe there are people hiding bodies in Witting.
You take a few steps forward cautiously.
"Excuse me?" you say and the body moves a bit. Not dead. Good. You think. "Are you okay?"
You walk forward and crouch down next to her. It's a moment before you realize who she is, she's the regular with the not quite enough clothes that never looks quite good enough.
She's got a blanket wrapped around her, but when you reach out your hand she's cold as ice.
"Are you okay?" you ask again and this time her eyes flick open. She sits up with a start and you're glad she's not hurt.
"Sorry," she says. "Sorry, I know I'm not supposed to be here. I thought I would wake up before anyone got here and- sorry, I'll just go."
"It's okay," you say, holding out your hand to stop her from getting up. "I wouldn't make you leave. You're cold. I can make you a coffee or something before we open to warm you up."
You're not supposed to offer people free things like that, but whatever. Her eyes light up and you smile.
"Really?" she asks, trying not to sound too hopeful. You can hear the hope in her voice though.
"Yeah, come on."
So she gets up and she wraps herself better in the worn out blanket as she follows you in.
"What do you want?" you ask.
"Do you still have pumpkin spice stuff?" she asks, letting the hope shine through in her voice this time.
"You want a latte?"
She nods and you set to work making it as she shivers in the kitchen.
"Are you sure this is okay?" she asks.
"Yeah, don't worry about it. You look like you're cold. Did you sleep out there?"
"Yeah," she says with a small nod. Her hair is more messed up than usual. It's brown and wavy and it's all over the place, but not in a frizzy way. It's what Chloe, your cellmate, would call sex hair. But you're pretty sure that this girl got it from sleeping in an alley, not sex. Although, you never know.
"It's awfully cold out there," you say and you know you're repeating yourself, but you aren't really sure what you're supposed to say.
"Yeah," she says. "Just...didn't want to go home last night."
The blanket slips a little and she darts her hand out to catch it. The bruises that you though you saw before are visible now.
You smile and nod, like you know what that feels like.
"I'm Lucy," you say because you can't think of anything else to say. The latte is almost ready.
"Melanie," she says.
"That's a pretty name," you tell her. "I like it. Does anyone call you Mel?"
"Yeah, they do. Most people, actually."
"Has anyone ever tried to call you Annie? That could be a nickname for Melanie, you know. It's the second part of the name. I've never seen it actually happen though."
"I don't think so," she says. "If they did, they didn't do it to my face."
"Do you want whipped cream?" you ask and she nods, so you put some on the top and drizzle a little caramel for the hell of it. You like doing that.
She smiles as you hand her the drink. You lean back against the counter and just watch her for a moment. She doesn't drink it right away, just holds it and feels the warmth radiating off the cup.
"So uh...," you say because you feel like you should be saying something and you aren't sure what that something is. You have questions, of course. But they're the kind of questions that your mom always told you were rude to ask.
"Thank you," she says softly, shaking a piece of hair off her face.
"For what?" you ask.
She holds up the coffee.
"Right," you say.
"And for not, uh, yelling at me for being out there. I know I'm not really supposed to be there and all, but..."
"It's okay. I mean, there is obviously a reason you'd rather sleep in an alley than go home and I respect that. You've already subjected yourself to sleeping on the concrete next to a dumpster, I'm not going to add to that. It just wouldn't feel right."
"Thank you," she says again.
You want to know. You want to know why she was sleeping out there. Why she calls some place she doesn't want to be home. Why there are bruises on wrists.
She takes a sip and shivers again.
"Uh, I have to open up. You can stay here, if you want. It's just me working this morning. There's a bathroom in the back, if you want to clean up a bit."
She nods and looks around, making note of where it is.
You move to the front of the door and flip the sign to say, "yes, we're open!"
Then you move behind the counter and you wait. You glance to the back, she's not back there anymore and the door to the bathroom is closed.
You never really gave her much thought before. She was just one of the regulars and she was none of your business. She wasn't something you were allowed to ask questions about. But now, you're curious and you feel that familiar overwhelming desire to know more. You want to know who she is, why she is, how she is, what she is. She's got a pretty name, Melanie, and a pretty face to go with it.
The Asian man with the green tie is your first customer of the day. He orders his usual and barely looks up from his phone as he does so.
You smile and start making it. The door to the bathroom opens as you hand him the cup and hope he doesn't spill it.
She's not wrapped in a blanket anymore and the amount of clothing she's wearing is as small as ever. You can't imagine how cold she must have been out there. Her shirt is barely more than a sports bra, except that it doesn't really look like a sports bra at all. It shows off most of her stomach and a good portion of her boobs too. She's got on a pair of short shorts today, and they barely even cover her butt.
"How did you not freeze to death out there?" you ask.
"I'm used to it."
She picks up her latte and takes another sip as the door opens again and in come the college boys. There's a blond one who's carrying the soccer ball. You're pretty sure he's the leader of the group, because you remember seeing him with them almost all the time. He's got on a green Witting College sweatshirt and a pair of jeans. There's a boy with longer brown hair behind him and another blond boy with ear buds in one ear. As they enter you can feel their eyes fall on Melanie and her lack of clothing. You don't turn around to look at her and you can hear the sound of her sipping her coffee.
The boy in the green steps up to the counter.
"Coffee with cream," he says, not taking his eyes off Melanie. You glance over at her as go to get his coffee. She doesn't seem to be paying any attention to them at all. She looks focused, but you're not really sure what she could be focused on. You hand the drink to the boy and he shakes his blond hair as he hands over his money. The other two boys order together. The boy in green is leaning against the counter, almost leering at her. You want to roll your eyes.
"Hey, baby," he says, and there's a tone to his voice that you heard a lot in prison.
She doesn't say anything, just raises her eyebrow at him and takes another sip of her latte.
"I said, hey, baby, you gonna answer me?" he asks and you've definitely heard this tone in prison. It's the kind of tone that Tink used when something wasn't going her way. She was that leader who everyone said you were supposed to be afraid of when you went to jail. The first night, Chloe told you that Tink liked to mess with the newcomers and at breakfast the next morning everyone told you that you should try to avoid her for as long as you could. She wasn't someone to mess with. You weren't afraid of her though and you're not afraid of this boy either.
You hand the brunette boy his drink and set to work making the other boy his pumpkin spice latte and getting his doughnut.
Melanie slowly lowers her drink and laughs. You look at her for a moment, startled. That wasn't the reaction you were expecting. She looks him up and down slowly. The boy doesn't retreat.
"Why would I talk to the likes of you?" she asks.
The boy looks offended and honestly, you think it's hilarious how much he looks like an angry chicken right now.
You quickly hand the other boy his drink. The two other boys are hanging back a little, trying to see what their friend is going to do.
"How dare you talk to me like that," he says and he reminds you of one of those stupid little rich boys that Marcy used to alternately mock and drool over.
"How dare you talk to me like that," counters Melanie. "You've got your drink, go"
"Come on, Derek," says the blond boy.
The boy in the green sweatshirt hesitates for a moment, but then he turns to follow his friends out. You breathe a sigh of relief.
"Sorry about that," you say to Melanie.
"Don't worry about it," she says. "It's not a big deal. Happens all the time."
"Still, that was very rude of him."
She laughs. There's something far more alive about her now that she's warmed up a bit.
"Seriously, I'm used to it. It's just part of the job."
You cock your head to the side in place of the obvious question.
"Prostitute," she says. "I know you wanted to ask about the outfit."
"Oh," you say. You haven't really spent much time with prostitutes ever. You met a few in jail, but that's about it.
"Yeah," she says. "Uh, thanks for the latte. I should probably go."
She nods back and deposits the cup in the big trash can. She glances at you for a moment. The bell over the door chimes.
"Right, see you around then," she says and she's gone before you can say anything else.
You wonder about her as you make lattes and serve donuts. There's something familiar about her and you can't really put your finger on what it is. Maybe you've just seen her around too much. But there's something...You can't tell what it is though.
You want to talk to her again and you wish you knew what you were allowed to ask because you just have so many questions for her. You want to know what she's hiding from and who she's hiding from. You want to know who left those bruises on her arm and whether or not she likes it when someone runs their fingers across them. You wonder if she likes what she does for a living or how she got there because there are very few kids who plan to be a hooker when they grow up. You want to know what brought her to this moment in time. You want to know how many nights she's slept in that alley when you weren't the one opening. You want to know if she really has a home or if she was just saying she does. You want to know what makes her call it home. Is it the building itself? Or the people inside? Who does she live with? Where does she live?
You shake your head. The flood of questions needs to stop because this is always what gets you in trouble and you promised yourself you were gonna quit.
You need to stick to it this time because you don't want to get yourself in trouble again. You were lucky last time that no one dug in a little further. You were lucky that you aren't still in jail with no prospect of ever getting out.
So you set yourself to asking questions about things that can't get you in trouble, like how many tiles are on the ceiling and why did they pick that particular kind of tile for this ceiling.
You enter the room softly. There are a few people sitting already, but you don't recognize any of them. You came last week too, but you didn't say anything. You don't really know what to say. This is the closest thing you can find to what you need, but really it's not anywhere close.
You sit down in the back and observe. The room starts to fill up more and more and you silently watch all the people that come in.
There's a skinny woman with black hair who looks like she's been crying. There's a big man with a lot of hair and a beard that reminds you of a bear. There's a couple, hands clasped together. You don't know which one of them this meeting is for, maybe both. You think you're the youngest one here and even if you're not, you look younger than everyone else.
You look young for your age, you know. Thor didn't believe you were even seventeen when you first met him, much less nineteen. You aren't quite sure what it is about you. Your mom thinks it's the red velvet cupcake coloured hair. Marcy says it's just this aura you give off, the way you just kind of radiate this innocence.
You had to hold off your laugh at that.
A bald man who was here when you got here walks up to the front of the room. There's a podium up there.
"Hello," he says and you can't decide if he sounds confident or nervous. There's a tremor in his voice, you think. But you only think it and it's gone before you can go back and take a second look. "Quiet down please, we're ready to begin."
You watch as the crowd quiets. You've always been impressed by crowds, the movement of a whole group as an individual.
"Thank you," says the bald man. He's got a bit of a goatee, which you think contrasts oddly with his bald head. "Most of you know me, my name is Greg and I'm an alcoholic."
"Hi Greg," echoes the group. You keep your mouth shut.
"I see we have a lot of new faces today, would anyone like to introduce themselves?"
The skinny woman you saw come in raises her hand.
He brings her the microphone.
"Hi, I'm Valerie," she says.
"Hi Valerie," everyone echos.
A few other people introduce themselves. You keep silent. You're not an alcoholic. There isn't a support group for your addiction and you know that. But that doesn't mean you don't need the support. What you need is to quit. It's been almost a month since you got out and you've managed so far, but you've got longer than this before.
There's a lady up there talking now, you saw her here last time. She's one of the regulars. You remember that her name is Ruby and you can't imagine that it's her real name. Her hair is bright red, obviously dyed. It's not the same colour as yours though. Yours is the colour of blood and red velvet cupcakes. Hers is the colour of Dorothy's ruby slippers. She's got on far too much red lipstick and her clothes are red too. You're going to take a wild guess and say that her favorite colour is red.
Last time she talked about her child, her daughter. She said that she was trying to quit for her daughter because she knew it was becoming a problem. She said that she couldn't get a real job because of her alcoholism. She worked the streets, as a prostitute. You wonder if she knows Melanie. You're not sure if hookers know each other or not. You really don't know much about them all and you just want to. Maybe you should ask Ruby, but then she'd ask you about your alcoholism, because you're here and that's something that she would assume you have in common.
And you wouldn't be able to lie. You wouldn't be able to tell her that you're an alcoholic, and you would to tell her why you're here and she would ask questions that you don't think you can answer quite yet.
So you keep your mouth shut and you listen to her voice wash over you. It's raspy, like she smokes.
You don't like people who smoke. Well, no, that's not true. You like the people, you just don't like that they smoke. Marcy smokes, both cigarettes and pot. You always told her she was going to get in trouble for the pot, but she didn't care. You tried it once, out of curiosity, but you didn't like it much. It gave you a weird feeling, like you weren't supposed to care anymore, and you didn't like that. You need to care. If you don't care, you don't question. And you want to question everything.
Maybe you should try that though, maybe it would help you quit. You dismiss the idea almost as soon as it enters your mind because that's illegal and you can't risk that again. Jail wasn't as bad as everyone said it was, but you don't want them to investigate. more because there's so much that they could find out. You just can't risk it.
You'll find something else. You've got to find something else.
Ruby's done talking now and she goes back to her seat and Greg is talking again. You aren't really listening, because really, you don't think this is the place for you. You thought you'd give it a try, but it's not really working. You wish you were already back at your apartment, reading.
It feels like forever before the meeting is over and you're walking out the door without stopping for a cookie. They only have the long skinny kind that are dipped in chocolate on one end and covered in sprinkles. You don't like those kind.
Thor is there when you walk into the apartment and so is everyone else. Pip and Ursula are playing a racing video game. Thor loves video games. They're both yelling at the TV. Thor's in the kitchen and you smell food. Toph is standing behind the couch, a bottle of beer in hand. You don't see Brittany and you don't hear the familiar stamp of her boots either.
"Hey, Luce," greets Toph and you wave at him.
"Where've you been?" asks Pip, glancing away from the screen for a minute.
"AA meeting," you tell him because you don't keep secrets unless you have to and there's only one that you have to keep.
"You don't drink," says Toph. "Right? I've never seen her drink, have you?"
"Nope," agrees Pip.
"She doesn't," says Thor, coming into the room with a plate full of nachos.
"I don't drink," you agree. "I just wanted to see what it was like."
"Weirdo," says Pip.
Ursula broke out laughing as she beat him at the race.
"Like you're one to talk."
You find the dynamic between them interesting. Pip is the youngest of the group, at 19. He's your age, but he didn't go to the same school as you. He went to Witting High School, and you went to Bells High School. They all went to Witting, you think. Ursula is twenty-one, a year older than Thor and a year younger than Toph. She's graduated from Witting Community College already and she's working at a local restaurant as a waitress. She's a smart girl and you think she could probably get a better job than that, but she seems to like waitressing. Thor's known her since they were kids, just like with Toph and Pip. It's a group that's been together for a long time, and you can never really be sure how you fit into the equation. They seem to like you. They're, of course, more Thor's friends than yours, but you know they like spending time with you regardless.
Toph's the oldest in the group at twenty-two. He's doing a nursing problem at Bells College and he's interning at the local hospital, which you think is really cool. He's working in the ER right now and you like to ask him about all the odd injuries he's seen. He told you once about a little girl who had a tic-tac stuffed up her nose and she couldn't get it out. A real doctor wasn't really needed for that so it was one of those things that got delegated to a nursing intern.
You head into your room and change out of your work uniform. Naomi always complains about the uniforms, but you think they're a lot comfier than the prison jumpsuits. They don't clash with your hair as much.
You grab a book and settle yourself in the arm chair next to the couch in the living room. Your mom always said she could never understand how you could read through any type of noise. As a kid, you could read on the school bus when everyone else was letting off their end of the day steam. It came in handy when you were in prison too, because when you house a bunch of criminals together, they tend to get loud. You liked the prison library, but it didn't have as many books as you did at home and you read through them all far too fast. That's one of the things you're enjoying most about being out, all the new books that you're finding.
Pip and Ursula are yelling at the screen again and Thor and Toph are fighting over who gets the last nacho and you settle into reading all about the Hmong people. You've always loved learning about different cultures and the Hmong are particularly interesting, because they don't have a country to hold them together. They aren't unique in this, but the other groups of people, such as the Jewish, tend to be linked by religion. The Hmong are not. You think it's because of this that they tend to cling to their culture, no matter where they are. This particular books is about a group of Hmong in America and the clash of cultures.
You hear a door open and slam and you look up because everyone is already here. Britt. Right.
"Hey," says Thor, looking awkward for a bit. He always does this after one of their fights, like he isn't sure where their relationship stands and she isn't either.
"Hey," she says. She's got on real pants today and that's probably a good thing because it's cold out again. Her hair is back in a ponytail because it always is. "Can we talk?"
He nods and they disappear into his room. Somehow, you doubt there's going to be all that much talking going on. Toph slides into Thor's seat with ease and watches his brother lose at video games.
"Did they have another fight?" asks Ursula.
"Yeah," you say. "In the middle of the night last night. She stormed out of here."
"Ouch," says Pip. "That's no fun."
"She always runs out during a fight," says Toph with a roll of his eyes. He's not Britt's biggest fan. He likes her to the degree that you're supposed to like the girl your best friend's been dating for six years.
"Where did she run to when she as living here?" you ask.
"Who knows?" says Toph with a shrug. "She probably found some other guy to shack up with for awhile."
"That's not nice," you say.
"She wasn't cheating," says Ursula. "She wouldn't."
Ursula is nothing like the sea monster in the Disney movie. She's cold and sarcastic and times, but she has a good heart and she tends to believe the best of people who deserve it.
"Of course she would," argues Toph. "I mean, it's not like they have a healthy relationship anyway."
"She didn't need to cheat with anyone though," you say. "I mean, they have sex often enough."
Pip chokes on his soda. Ursula hits him on the back as he coughs. You watch carefully.
"You okay?" you ask when the coughing slows.
He nods and takes another sip of soda.
"I need a smoke," he says and gets up, pulling his pipe out of his pocket as he goes. Pip is the only person you know who smokes a pipe. Ursula spreads out on the couch and puts her controller down.
"He's gonna get cancer some day with that thing," she says. You smile.
"He's an odd boy," you say. "I like it."
Before you moved here, you had never met someone like Pip before. In Bells, there are two groups of people. There are the people from the trailers, like Marcy, and there are the semi-rich, like you. The semi-rich, which was mostly full of upper middle class, tended to be rather snobby.
There wasn't room for a boy like Pip, with his pipe full of tobacco and his ant farm.
"He's always been out there," says Toph. "Even when he was a baby."
"He keeps life interesting," says Ursula. "I mean, what the hell would we do all day if we didn't have Pip to entertain us?"
The door to Thor's room opens and Britt slips out quietly. Ursula gives her a little wave, which Britt doesn't return. She just keeps her head down and slips out of the apartment.
"Uh-oh," says Toph. "They must have broken up again."
"How many times have they broken up?" you ask.
"I dunno. Dozens."
"Why do they keep getting back together?"
"I have no idea. I think it's because the sex is good."
"But they were doing this even before they started having sex," says Ursula. "Back when they were 14. They started dating October of their freshman year and broke up the first time in January. And I know they didn't start fucking until Sophomore year."
"Did they ever date anyone else?"
"I dunno about her," says Toph. "But he dated a chick named Katie in middle school. It didn't last long because they were like twelve though."
"Middle school relationship don't count for anything," says Ursula.
"I think they do," he argues. "I mean, I dated Marissa from sixth grade to eighth. That's a two year chunk. I think that counts."
"Well, yeah, but that's two years. He dated Katie for, what, two weeks? That doesn't count."
"It does because she's the only other girl he ever dated."
"Do you think he loves Britt?" you ask. "I mean, he has to, right? It's been six years."
"It's probably more like three if you subtract the times they've been broken up," says Toph.
"Not really," says Ursula. "Because they still fuck and go out when they're broken up. Breaking up just means a change of facebook relationship status for them."
"But does he love her?" you repeat.
"I think so," says Toph. "I mean, yeah, they argue a lot. But you should see the way they are when they're not. It's really sweet and he gets this look like a love sick puppy."
"But that only happens like twice a year," says Ursula.
The door to Thor's room opened again and he walked out.
"You okay man?" asks Toph.
"Where'd Pip go?"
"Outside for a smoke," says Ursula. "He should be back up in a few minutes."
Thor nods and goes into the kitchen. Toph makes a face and follows him.
"So, Lucy, how are you liking Witting so far?" asks Ursula, trying to turn her head back to look at you and failing.
"It's nice," you say."It's different from Bells, but I like it."
"How's working at the cafe? See any weirdo customers?"
"Kind of," you say and you tell her about Melanie and the boys you met this morning.
"Prostitution is kind of a big thing here. I mean, yeah, it's illegal, but in that part of town you can make good money doing it. There's a shitload of rich families in town where the husband and wife hate each other, which results in them both going elsewhere for sex. Hookers and affairs are common as fuck."
"Those boys were assholes though."
"They're college boys, what do you expect?" says Ursula with a face.
"Pip isn't like that."
"Pip is weird."
"Why am I weird?" asks Pip, as the door shuts again.
"Because you don't hit on hookers," says Ursula.
"In offensive ways," you add.
He gives you a look and plops down in the chair that Toph had been sitting in.
"Why are you talking about whether or not I hit on hookers?"
"Because those boys that hang around the cafe were hitting on a hooker today," you tell him.
"Hookers come into the cafe?" he asks.
"You saw her when you were there," you say. "That girl with the wild brown hair?"
"Oh, she's a hooker?"
"Yeah, her name is Melanie," you tell him. "She seems nice."
"You're gonna make friends with a hooker, aren't you?"
"Is that weird or something?" you ask because really, she's interesting and you like interesting people. A lot of the people in Bells are boring, and hookers most certainly are not boring. You wonder if there are hookers in Bells. You should ask Marcy, if you ever talk to her again. You figure she would know that.
"How should I know?" asks Pip. "She's cute though."
"She is," you agree.
He gives you a curious look.
"What?" you say.
"I dunno. Not used to hearing girls say other girls are cute," he says with a shrug.
"Well, she is. I mean, her face doesn't change it's features based on who's looking at it," you say.
He stares at you for a moment and Ursula giggles.
You roll your eyes and go back to your book.
You go into bed around midnight because you're working the night shift tomorrow and not the morning one. That means you have to close instead of open, but that's alright with you. You think Naomi is working with you, but you aren't sure. It doesn't really matter.
Pip and Toph only left an hour ago and Ursula is still here. She sleeps over on the couch a lot, something about not liking her roommate. She's out in living room talking with Thor in hushed voices and you aren't really sure what they're talking about. You think it might be Britt.
It turns out they did break up again and they're actually going to try to make it stick this time, although you're not sure how long that is going to last. Toph said they've done this a few times before. Thor seems more upset than the other two times they broke up since you moved in.
You think it might be good for him to have a break from her for awhile. It's not a healthy relationship, although you're not really sure you can say anything about that. You've only had one boyfriend before and it didn't really last long. It was more that you were curious about what relationships were like than you actually liked the guy. His name was Nick and he was one of Marcy's friends. He was one of those guys that didn't give a fuck about school and got high a lot. You thought he was a bit dirty. But he was a good kisser and he didn't mind that you didn't have much experience.
It was awkward, that whole relationship. A lot of your life was awkward before, but honestly, you don't think it is anymore.
You like living here with Thor, more than you thought you would. It's nice here. You're happy, which is something you've felt before, but generally not in response to real life. You spent most of your time with your head in a book before, even when you had Marcy.
You like that you have people around you who want to talk to you and you like that you have a job that you have fun with.
You wish you could go to school, but you don't have the money for it yet and you don't want to ask your parents. You're saving up though. Maybe next year, if you make it until then.
You didn't graduate high school and you think that's one of the things that upset you most about being in jail. You got a GED while you were in there though and you spent a lot of time looking up things on the computers. You debated an online class, but settled on just reading encyclopedias instead.
Logically, you know you're going to have to see your parents eventually. You can't avoid them forever, because it's a small area and you're going to need their help with money eventually. It's not like they don't want to see you, you think. You know they still love you because you are their daughter and they're the kind of parents who are going to love their child no matter what.
But they know. They know more than anyone else because how could they not make the connection. How could they not know. They know what you've done and they know you don't deserve their love. And they know it too. You can't bear to see it on their faces.
So you can't go home, not yet. Not until you've dealt with this. Not until you've fixed yourself so that you're something to be proud of again.
The daughter they always wanted.
Because you must be a disappointment.
No one wants a daughter like you. No one wants a person like you to exist. You're the lowest of the low and you know it.
And nothing can be done about it, so you'll just have to live with it.