Author's notes: Yes, yes, I know I said I wouldn't update unless I got feedback, but I lied. This story probably will never be continued (most of this had already been written when I posted part one), unless I suddenly gain motivation or insight as to how it should end. Read and review if you feel like it.
Disclaimer: There ARE no disclaimers needed. This is not a fanfic. These characters belong to me. Don't use them without my permission.
The next morning, their slumbering guest was still present. The members of the family were called away from their typical Saturday morning routines to discuss her. It was a very different scene from their normal weekend. Under ordinary circumstances, Zack would have been intently staring at whatever happened to be on the television. Elizabeth would be asleep or listening to music. Their mother would have been baking and their father would be either absent or buried in stocks while Karen flitted between people.
It was rare that the entire family actually came together at any time of the day, especially the morning. No one was ever in the most pleasant of moods in the early hours of the day and fights frequently broke out at such times. However, something different had happened, something outside of the ordinary. Such things were also extremely scarce, so the family managed to forsake their usual habits and gather in the living room.
"We really should wake her up soon. I mean, we can't just leave her here like this…we have to find out who she is and contact the authorities and notify her family," their mother said, sounding worried. She made no move to wake her though. "Her parent's must be terrified. I know I would be…"
"How do you think she got here?" Karen asked.
"Dunno…" Zack muttered vaguely. He was already beginning to get bored with the conversation. He had a CD he wanted to listen to and he was sure there was something decent on television.
He was curious about the girl, if only because of her odd nature. She seemed to have come straight from the pages of a fairy-tale. And that made her interesting, at least to some degree. She did not appear to be fully real, so he could not help but wonder about her.
Still, the closeness of his family drained the fantasy element from the scene. Listening to his mother carry on nervously, never actually saying anything useful with the occasional morbid comment from his younger sibling and caustic phrase from his older one was not how he would have preferred to spend the morning.
God, shut the f*ck up already, he thought. Their conversation was so…ordinary, so painfully, utterly routine that he wanted to scream. It was as if they were reading from a script; the wrong script. They were ruining the moment completely.
If it had been a movie, music would have been playing in the background, drowning out the annoying dialouge. If it were a movie, no one would be chattering inanely in the first place. Everyone would be properly silent, respecting the obviously crucial point in the plot and letting the audience know the signifigence of the scene.
Why the hell can't they be like that?
At long last, something happened. The girl's eyelids fluttered and opened slightly. Pale blue irises peered out from beneath her lashes at the family.
"She's awake," their mother stated unnessaccarily. The girl's eyes widened as she looked at her surroundings.
"Hello," their mother said, speaking slowly unnaturally cheerful voice as if she were talking to an infant. "You were out in the rain, so we brought you in. Can you tell us your name?" The girl paused, considering the question.
"Alice," she said finally.
"That's a lovely name. Can you tell us your phone number now? I'm sure your parent's will want to know that you're safe," she said. The girl gave no response. She looked as though she had not even heard.
"Your phone number, we need to know what it is," their mother repeated. "We need to call your parents to let them know that you're all right."
"Oh…that's all right. You needn't bother," the girl said absently. "They're dead, you see. So, you have nothing to worry about." The family was clearly aghast at her casual delivery of the news.
"I'm so sorry!" their mother blurted out. "I didn't mean to bring up any painful memories. Oh, you poor thing!"
"Please, you needn't be concerned. It was expected."
"Well…you must have some relatives. They probably want to know where you are at least." The girl waved her hand, dismissing the thought.
"I had very few family relations to begin with. There is no one who will take note of my absence."
"How did they die?" Karen asked abruptly, feeling ignored. Their mother gasped in horror but the girl did not seem offended by the intrusive question.
"There was a car accident. All of my relatives were involved. I am the only survivor." Silence followed her unemotional delivery of the news. She sounded distant, uninterested even, as though she were reciting a piece of history that had no connection to her.
"I'm sorry, but we have to find someone to return you to…we'll notify the authorities, all right?" their mother said, obviously shaken.
"I have no where to go…nothing to go back to…" she said. As she spoke these words her voice became choked with the first signs of emotion she had shown so far. "I-I'm not ready yet…to go back there. How can I? How could I stand where they stood, where they ate and slept and spoke and lived?
"I'll have to return soon, but until then…I can't do that. I can't see their bodies cold and still like that…when they used to be…" Impulsively, their mother embraced her as if she were a young child.
"There, there, it's all right. We won't make you go back just yet. You can stay here with us tonight, but only until tomorrow. We're a good Christian family and God always told us to love our neighbors." She turned to glare at her family, daring them to contradict her. No one said a word. "We do our duty to the Lord and we'll take care of you for now."
* * * * *
Their strange visitor did not leave the next day though, or the day after that even. No one had the heart to force her to go home or even mention the subject after that first night. So she simply remained with them, quietly existing as if she were one of them.
She was not a burden to the family and they did not resent her presence. She managed to practically dissapear even when in the same room as them, melting into the background and being generally inconspicuous. She rarely spoke and when she did it was in a muted, barely audible tone. She spent a great deal of time hidden away in the guest room reading or staring into space with a vacant expression.
When she did emerge from what had become her domain, she was always helpful and polite to a degree that put the rest of the family to shame. She did chores without complaint. Their mother remarked on occasion that it would be nice if her other children followed her example. They did not, naturally, but that was to be expected.
Despite all this though, she never made any effort to make herself a part of the family. She observed them from a distance as a stranger would. She was, for the most part, detached. This also suited the family well as the connections between them were strained enough without the addition of another person.
Approximately three weeks after Alice's appearance, the family was once again positioned around the dinner table engaged in awkward silence rather than conversation. Their mother was the first to attempt to innitiate conversation of course.
"Zach, how was school today?" she asked cheerfully.
"Did anything in particular happen? Anything you would like to share with us?"
"It was pretty boring, just an ordinary day, Mom."
"Did you get that math test back? I'm awfully worried about your grades in that subject. You haven't been doing well lately. Maybe before the next test we'll go over some problems together. It never hurts to study a little bit more."
"I probably did fine."
"Did you get it back?"
"No. Can I eat in front of the TV?" The very suggestion seemed to offend their mother.
"We are a family," she said. "We hardly get to spend any time together with your father's demanding schedule so we should cherish what time we do have. We are going to sit here and have dinner together and talk to each other because that's what families do."
"Sheesh, I was just asking. It's not like there's any point in this. We're just sitting around."
"We're going to have a conversation. That's not so difficult, is it?" Their was no response.
"Elizabeth, how was your day?"
"Fine. Can I go to my room? I have homework."
"No, you should have done it earlier." Alice observed the entire affair in her typical reserved manner. Conversations often seemed to follow similar patterns to this. The mother became almost desperate to rupture the heavy silence at times. Yet, no one seemed to have any intention of sharing their daily lives with the members of the household.
"I'm done, may I please be excused? Their something on I wanna watch," Zack asked.
"No, you may not," she said, her voice sounding increasingly strained. "George, how was your day?" The words had scarcely left her lips when her husband stood, neatly folding his newpaper. She looked at him with an air of injury. Was no one willing to take her side?
"Where are you going?"
"Oh, I left something at the office."
"You spend so much time there…couldn't it wait?"
"No, I really have to get it."
"Please…could you just stay for now? We hardly ever have any time together and…" His face darkened into a scowl.
"Shut up. I said I was going to the office. Is there a problem with that?"
"Oh…well, all right then. I'll see you later then, I suppose. Do remember to pack an umbrella, won't you? It's supposed to rain. I don't want you to catch a cold. You know, there's a nasty strain of flu going around. Some boy was in terrible shape at Karen's school the other day!"
"He's going to die soon. It's probably fatal," Karen remarked solemnly, adding her voice to the forced conversation for the first time that evening.
"Karen, that's unbecoming," their mother warned. Their father left without a 'goodbye' and the other members took this as their dismissal. The room was empty except for Alice and the mother within moments. Alice, seeing no point in remaining as she had finished earlier, departed leaving the mother alone.
Just as she was leaving, she witnessed something she was not supposed to have seen. Their mother buried her face in her hands, trembling violently. When she withdrew her fingers from her face, Alice saw her expression. It was one of firm resolution. It was certainly not something she had expected from this woman.
She wondered how often such an expression took residence on the woman's features.
* * * * *
George did not return to the house until the night had technically faded into morning. Alice was still fully awake though her room was shrouded in darkness. She listened to the sounds of the husband stomping upstairs, not bothering hide his noise for the benefit of his sleeping family.
He entered the room he shared with his wife, seemingly not caring that she should have been asleep. The sounds of their voices drifted through the walls. Alice could not understand what they were saying exactly, but she could tell that it was not a pleasant discussion. There was restrained fury within their words as well as injury.
Their conversation became increasingly more violent until both involved parties were shouting. Finally, silence descended. There was no sound for almost a full minute. Alice waited patiently, wondering whether or not the argument had truly ended or a truce had been declared because of the time.
The sound of a palm striking flesh broke the momentary stillness. There was a muffled cry and quiet once more. Alice did not so much as blink or show surprise for the entire event. She merely waited patiently, commiting everything to memory for future reference.
* * * * *
The next day, the family was even less inclined towards conversation than usual. No one commented on the faint bruise that had appeared on their mother's cheek without explanation and no one spoke of the argument they had all heard the previous night. Alice, who was never one to draw attention to herself, followed suit and said nothing. The level of distress in the family members did not escape her notice though.
Zack wore his headphones for the entire morning. Elizabeth's expression was as sullen as ever, but their was an element of fear to it now. Her face bore more makeup than usual and for once her mother only offered a few feeble objections to it. Karen was pale and occasionally muttered dark predictions under her breath. Their father was no where to be found. He seemed to be avoiding them.
The most disturbing reaction though was their mother Mary's. She acted as though nothing had occurred. She was cheerful and talkative despite her family's unresponsive demeanor. If anything, she seemed more upbeat than usual, as though she were trying a little too hard to keep her smile plastered to her lips.
As the younger members of the family prepared to leave, Alice came to a decision. She coughed softly.
"I would like to attend school today," she said. Her voice was barely audible but the family acknowledged that she had spoken instantly. It was so rare that she said anything, especially when she had not been placed in a situation where she was forced to respond, that even a few words from her were surprising.
"That might be difficult…" Mary said, frowning slightly.
"It is possible though," Alice said softly. Her expression was mild and as meek as ever, but also held a trace of assertiveness for the first time. Mary was taken aback by this. Perhaps this child—or was she a young woman?—was beginning to recover from the tragedy that had ruined her life. She knew all too well that returning to normal life could be difficult at a young age, and wanted to help the girl seated before her in any way that she could.
"Of course you may," she said quickly. "I'm so glad that your ready to return to your education. Don't worry about being behind in classes. You're such a smart girl, you'll catch up in no time! Do you want me to pack you a lunch? Those school lunches don't seem very nutritional to me."
"Yes, please," Alice responded politely. Mary hesitated before adding a suggestion.
"You know, it really is wonderful to see you showing enthusiasm for going somewhere. I mean, it's not like I don't enjoy you're company around the house, because I do. It's very nice to have you around so often, but, well…I was just thinking that you probably get rather bored just sitting around all day and it isn't very healthy. So, going to school is definitely a good idea.
"And I was just thinking that if you are going to start attending school and other such things…it might be a good idea for you to start going to church again soon. I'm sure the Lord is understands why you have been away for so long as you've been through such a great deal, but going back will help you a great deal, it really will. He will help you, trust me."
"No," Alice said. She shook her head slightly to emphasize her point, her pigtails swinging with the motion.
"Why not? The Lord forgives all and he will help you to move on. I know that your grief must be terrible but-"
"My family was never terribly religious." Mary frowned.
"I just assumed that you were Christian from that necklace of yours…" She gestured to the silver chain around the girl's neck. Resting on the chain was an ornate cross. Alice was never seen without it. She had allowed herself to wear jeans or fairly plain skirts several times, though she seemed to find the experience distastful, but had never parted from that piece of jewelry.
"I am. My family did not practice religion actively though and I have no interest in doing so in the near future. Perhaps another time."
"Now, now, you don't need to look at it as a burden. Just look at our family. We're a good Christian family and we go to church."
"Not volentarily though," Elizabeth hissed.
"Don't mind her, she's just going through a stage," Mary said, forcing a smile. "Oh! Look at me carrying on like this. I have lunches to pack, don't I? Can you go to classes with Elizabeth, dear? Are you old enough?" Alice nodded mutely. Elizabeth looked as though she might protest, but contained her outburst and contented herself with silent dispair and anger.
A part of her felt a strong sense of dread at the very concept of entering a school. It was such a large building; an immense trap. There she would be surrounded by hundreds of strangers in an alien enviroment. She did not mind spending time with people in small numbers, but being constantly surrounded by dozens of them made her feel uneasy. It had been some time since she had been enveloped in such an atmosphere and she was no longer accustomed to it…
* * * * *
Liz's sickening sense of dread rivaled Alice's as she left for the bus. Zack's face was impassive, his eyes distant and slightly glazed as usual, but she could tell from years of practice that he was no less worried. He was going to even more trouble not to be associated with her than he normally did. He sat at the opposite end of the bus and she knew instinctively that the volume on his portable CD player would be high. His ears would be deaf to the snide commentary floating around the bus about his sister and her friend.
School was never an enjoyable experience for her. At its best it was endurable, at its worst it was sheer agony. The idea of someone as peculiar as Alice shadowing her was her personal concept of hell.
Alice actually managed seemed more withdrawn than usual on the bustrip. She had not believed it possible for the girl who was already close to mute to make herself less noticable, but Alice achieved the feat. She seemed to shrink within herself, like a turtle hiding in its shell.
A part of Liz was grateful for the silence. She had no wish to talk to her new burden and was sure that if she did, she would hurt the girl. Empathy was not her strong point, but even she could feel sorry for the peculiar girl sitting next to her. She had no desire to feel guilt later on for swearing at her as she would surely do if she attempted to start a conversation.
This gave Liz more than sufficient time to brood over what awaited her upon entering the school. Her mind conjured surprisingly vivid images of her peers reactions to their new temporaray student. The muffled giggles various people near her were emitting were not helping.
The situation was worsened by Alice's choice of attire. Though the family had been able to coax her into wearing casual clothing such as jeans several times while her formal dress was dry cleaned, but she had shown obvious disdain for the very idea. She had gone clothes shopping once since and had abhored the experience. During the trip she had acquired several elaborate dresses at various antique and novelty stores which she clearly liked.
On this day, she had of course decided to wear one of her frilly garments. This one was every bit as elaborate as the one she had arrived in but was midnight colored velvet. This already unusual outfit was made even moreso by her hairstyle. As always, her hair was placed in two abnormall curled pigtails on either side of her head. On Alice, the combination looked uncanny, but in an elegant, even classy way. Unfortunately, that failed to lessen the fact that it was ludicrousily out of place in the squalor and din of the school bus.
"Why'd you wear that?" she whispered involentarily, unable to hold in her frustration any longer. Her question was more of an accusation than a query, but Alice did not appear to take offense.
"Should I have not?"
"Fuck, yes. Everyone's noticed." Alice shrugged dismissively.
"You've hardly made an effort to blend in." It was true. Though her mother had been severely distressed, Liz had managed to escape the house in a gothic ensemble as usual. A portion of her brown hair was died an unnatural blond and tied in a pony tail. Her clothing was entirely black with several stratigically placed pieces of transparent fabric. Black eyeliner and heavy mascara marked her eyes and her lips had been painted a similar shade. She could not get away with wearing such clothing in her home, but at school she was rarely seen without it.
"That's different," she insisted, refusing to let go of even a shred of her irritation. "I'm a goth, I'm expected to dress like this…but you? You're not. I guarentee that the moment you step in that building, every single person there is going to think you're a dumbass or a freak. They're going to treat you like shit if you go around like that." Once more Alice shrugged.
"I think I've got some gym clothes in my locker which are pretty normal. The teacher's spazz if you go around like this. Can't understand why…" She smiled thinly at her small effort at humor. "Um…if you wanna change you can borrow them…" Alice shook her head.
"I prefer to dress like this."
"Yeah, well, I'd rather you didn't," she snapped. "Everybody hates me enough as it is. I don't need any fucking help to piss people off, if you get my drift. And today will be miserable for you anyway. Sticking out on your first day is about the worst thing you can possibly do. If you're going to tag along, at least dress like a normal person."
"If you don't enjoy being disliked, why don't you try to fit in? Nonconformism is never a good way to make friends."
"What do you mean?"
"You mean why don't I act like some goddamned prep?"
"I suppose that's one way of phrasing it…"
"I'm above that fucking shit," she sneered. "I'm better than them. I'm a goth and I'm proud of it. That's just who I am. I don't want to fit in anyway. I don't need to fit. I'm above that. I'll dress however the fuck I want and say whatever I feel like saying."
"Then would you object if I did the same?" She looked at Alice strangely for a moment then laughed softly enough not to be heard.
"Damn, you're pretty smart, you know that?" she said, sounding both mildly exasperated and almost admiring. A tiny smile graced Alice's lips.
"Thank you." Liz sighed internally. It was going to be a very long day.
* * * * *
As the two girls struggled through the hallways congested with teenagers, Liz watched Alice out of the corner of her eye, hoping she did not notice that she was being observed. Alice seemed to be taking things well. She had to have been intimidated by the building and masses of people jostling around her, but she hid it well. Again, Liz felt what could almost be described as a twinge of admiration for the odd girl walking beside her.
In Alice's position and clothing, Liz knew beyond all doubt that she would have been visibly quivering. An entirely new school made up almost entirely of complete strangers, would be daunting for an ordinary adolescent and utterly terrifying for one that already stood out. Considering how long it had been since Alice had been in this kind of social enviroment, or any social enviroment for that matter, Liz wondered how she managed to appear so collected. Liz could not have said she was glad to be associated with the strange, new girl, but she was a little proud of her.
As she thought this, she was struck for what seemed like the millionth time by how different Alice was. Her clothing and hair undoubtably contributed to this, but there was something more to it. Alice genuinely did not seem to belong. No matter what costume she wore or what location she was placed in, it became instantly clear that she did not fit in. The school was no exception.
Ironically, as she thought these things, Alice was having similar reflections about her. Liz, with her garish makeup looked the part of the outcast she claimed to be. Upon stepping into a classroom, it was not her makeup that distiguished her from her peers. Actually, the people she spent the majority of her time with were dressed almost identically to her. Her efforts to stand out helped her blend in.
When surrounded by people, Liz's demeanor underwent an immidiate change. Alice had become accustomed to the resentful, ill-tempered, defiant girl called Elizabeth. At school, the person she observed was entirely different.
The word meek might have suited her better in this new situation. Liz was quiet, timid at times even. She did as she was told the majority of the time with minimal complaints. Around the group of adolescents she had dubbed "popular", she still displayed her unique brand of hostility openly.
It was only on the rare occasions when she was around these people that Alice saw traces of the Elizabeth she saw at home peeking through her façade. At times like these, Liz would hurl viscous insults and sarcastic comments relentlessly with her group of peers. The two groups would exchange banter for some time before returning to ignoring each other, each scornful and filled with contempt.
At times Alice wondered if the two parties enjoyed this continuous arguing. It was petty, of course, and niether group dealt with the situation with any noticable maturity. At other times they seemed merely annoyed.
Much to the surprise of the two girls, the day was fairly uneventful with the exception of these minor clashes. Liz's friends were intrigued by Alice's inadvertant nonconformity and let her be. They were all used to identifying themselves as social outcasts, so they were hardly irritated with her. After their initial interest died, they paid her little attention, which suited Alice perfectly.
Liz's reaction bordered on shock that the day had been so uneventful. She had never been one to believe in miracles—primarily because her mother so fervently did—but surviving a day under such circumstances was close to one. Oh, there had been a few rather harsh remarks and some scathing glances directed at Alice, but over all it had been managable.
It soon became infinitely worse.
More babbling from the psycho author: Aren't I evil, ending it on a cliffhanger like that?