Walking out of the noise and lights of the bar is a bit disorienting, but Alexis can’t help but smile as she leaves the bright room behind. Her business card is still in her hand inside her purse, and she rubs the surface of it with her thumb, feeling the letters of her name -- she can’t really identify them by feel, but it’s enough to know they’re there. It’s enough to know she’ll still be running her own life tomorrow.
She moves toward the stairs without really thinking about it, her mind focused on how proud she is of turning Klair down. Shows growth, she thinks, still smiling to herself, before she nearly trips over someone sitting on the edge of the steps.
“Oh, sorry!” She holds her hands out in front of her, fingers gripped loosely. “I didn’t see you there! Didn’t really, um, expect anyone to be…” The girl looks up at her from under the brim of a gray stetson and Alexis trails off, taking in the teary face and slightly smudged eyeliner. “Oh, babe, you really should’ve invested in a decent waterproof.”
“You know what’s wild? I did,” says the stranger, her laugh sounding a bit forced. “But Klair -- she said I should use this one, because it looks more birthday-y, or something.”
“Oh my God, you’re Albany.” She must be, sitting there with her peasant-sleeve floral wrap dress that would’ve been on trend a couple years ago, blond hair spilling out of the stetson and down to her shoulders -- which Alexis has to admit, does give her an arguably adorable off-hours ranch hand look. Albany raises her eyebrows and nods. Alexis can hardly control her hands, trying to make six different apologetic gestures at once. “I’m so sorry, Klair never actually um, clarified. Which one you were.”
“Yeah, she never really does.” The dress ripples around her shoulders when she shrugs, which only seems to emphasize the absurdity of that statement. It’s a cute dress -- a look that would fit in here, Alexis realizes, and the thought is strangely comforting.
“Why aren’t you in there with them? Isn’t it your birthday?” Alexis reaches around the back of her hair, smoothing out a nonexistent bump.
“Oh, yeah, but Klair won’t notice for a bit, and I needed a little quiet, you know?” Her voice is entirely matter-of-fact, but Alexis can’t help but register that her nose is red from crying, and can only guess the tears ended moments before.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she says slowly, though the rest comes out in a rush as she sits down on the step next to Albany. “But Klair is a terrible best friend, and you should really consider getting a new one.” She’s not sure why she says it -- why she thinks any friend of Klair’s would trust her, but there’s something about Albany that seems warm, inviting the kind of sincerity Alexis has been getting more used to living here than she ever was pre-financial catastrophe.
“Weren’t you guys best friends for, like, years?” Albany looks at her sidelong from under the brim of her hat, and Alexis frowns.
“Mhm,” She nods a couple times, looking over Albany’s shoulder at the treeline. “Yeah, yeah we were, and um, we’re not. Anymore.” She brings her eyes back to Albany’s face, smiles at her, all charm. “That’s the important part.”
“What changed? I mean I can’t -- I can’t really imagine not having her in my life.” Albany’s smiling too now, though there’s a layer of sadness to it that Alexis doesn’t think is matched in her own.
“Oh, we fell out of touch,” Alexis says breezily. “After my family, well.” She stops and raises her eyebrows.
“I heard,” Albany confirms, nodding. “Klair talks about it, like, all the time.”
“Does she?” Alexis asks lightly. She reaches into her purse and pulls out an emery board to start filing her nails -- it’s an old trick, makes it easier to avoid having to make eye contact, relaxes people.
“Yeah, she says you dropped off the face of the planet and ended up living in some shitty little town --” Albany cuts off with a snort. “Oh, no, I didn’t realize it’s, like, literally --”
“-- mhm, yeah, I know,” says Alexis quickly. “It’s not so bad, though.”
“Yeah?” Albany sounds skeptical, and when she looks up again Alexis sees her eyebrows are raised. But she can’t see anything in Albany’s face that isn’t sincere curiosity.
“Yeah,” says Alexis decisively, tucking the emery board back into her purse so she can focus on getting this point across as clearly as possible. “It’s actually kind of cool to be somewhere you can, like, try new things, and people are less judgy.” She purses her lips and puts her hands out in front of her to emphasize. “Well, not so much less judgy as differently judgy? Like, they still judge, but it’s in a nice way, like their hearts are in the right place.” Albany laughs at that, and Alexis smiles. It feels nice to make someone laugh like that.
“I thought you’d be more like her,” says Albany quietly when she stops laughing, and there’s something in her eyes that wasn’t there before, something that makes Alexis suddenly aware of her own heartbeat.
“I was,” she says, looking away. She’s pretty sure she’s blushing based on the heat in her cheeks, embarrassed at remembering just how alike she and Klair used to be. “And, um -- I still am, in some ways.”
“Oh? Name some,” Albany says, tilting her head, which causes a lock of her hair to fall across her face. She blows it away impatiently, and it’s Alexis’s turn to laugh.
“Um, that, for one -- laughing at you just now is totally mean.” She can’t help but keep grinning, though, and Albany grins back.
“That was my own stupidity doing that,” Albany says, still smiling. “You get to laugh at that and not be considered mean.” Her eyes are soft, the smile reaching them easily. They’re a shade of brown Alexis is used to considering boring, but they’re nice when combined with that smile, she thinks.
“Fair,” Alexis says. “But I’m a little bit like her in the selfishness department, for sure, since I have, like, a lot of work to do since I turned down that job and all, and I’m gonna leave you on these steps and head home without really making your night that much better.”
“You made it better,” says Albany seriously, and she’s not smiling now. Alexis’s breath catches a bit at the intensity in her eyes, and she lets it out deliberately.
“Oh,” she says, with a bit of a shaky laugh, hands dancing over her purse again, trying to decide if she needs to take her emery board back out or something. She gathers herself enough to shoot a grin, a bit crooked, at Albany. “Well, I’m glad I could help, then.”
“Yeah, thanks.” There’s that quiet voice again, and before she knows it Albany is leaning in to brush her lips softly over Alexis’s own. She freezes, even her hands stilling, and she’s pretty sure she stops breathing entirely for a moment as Albany draws back. She has no idea what expression is on her face -- and no idea what’s on Albany’s either, because she can’t bring herself to look. She’s hot all over, her lips tingling where Albany’s aren’t touching them anymore.
“Um, no problem,” Alexis says quickly, standing up, her heart hammering. “I’ll, um -- I’ll see you.” She tries to sound casual, adjusting her purse strap with both hands to keep from giving away that they seem to be shaking a bit. What was that? What was that? As she starts to walk away, she brings a hand to her mouth, as if she could maybe feel something there that would make this less...something.
“Okay, see you around, Alexis.” If she were capable of more thought, she might have registered the question in Albany’s voice, but she can’t register much of anything right now but her own bewilderment and the need to get back to the motel and lie down, right now, immediately.
It’s not that she hasn’t kissed girls before -- she has. But maybe she hasn’t, not really -- not if really means actually feeling anything when their lips touch hers, the way Albany’s...God, what is she, twelve? It was barely a peck. It shouldn’t have made her go all weird and flustered. Of course, maybe that didn’t have anything to do with Albany at all. Maybe it was just because she was so tense -- after dealing with Klair, and all the planning for singles week with Twyla -- besides, she’s never fallen for someone that quickly! People fall for her immediately, sure, but that’s different. Besides, she’s only ever been into men, at least before...maybe that’s what it was. Maybe Albany being so sweet just reminded her of someone else --
She cuts that thought off as she walks up to the motel door, shoes swinging in one hand. Barefoot is better than heels for most of the road on the way back from the bar, and she’d needed the walk to think -- or rather, to clear her head and try to not think. She takes a deep breath now and steels herself to open the door. David will be able to smell a weird mood a mile away, and she can’t deal with him right now. Alexis reaches out to open the door, talking quickly in what she hopes is a normal tone of voice for her as she does.
“You would not believe the audacity Klair had, to ask me to --” She cuts off, suddenly realizing she’s speaking to an empty room. Right. Jocelyn’s baby shower -- sprinkle, whatever -- that was tonight. Maybe he’ll even go to Patrick’s afterward and she won’t have to deal with anyone until the morning. Alexis breathes a sigh of relief and sits down heavily on her bed, reaching down to drop her shoes and examine the damage to her feet. Oh, it’s bad. She’s kind of amazed she managed to walk home without noticing -- is that growth also? She’s tougher, now? Rugged, even, she thinks proudly, getting up to walk to the bathroom to wash her feet. They really are terribly ragged.
David comes in as she’s finishing putting on some foot cream she helped herself to from the store’s inventory last week. He shoves into the room not-very-gracefully, holding a bundle of balloons he probably doesn’t want but was made to take home anyway, and has to try three times before he manages to get them all inside and shut the door. So much for not dealing with anyone until the morning, Alexis thinks, glad for the extra moments to compose herself.
“Having an interesting night, are we?” David asks finally, as he drops the weight the balloons are attached to in the corner of the room nearest the window, slapping them back a bit with his hands when a few float toward him.
“That’s one way of putting it,” Alexis says primly. She pulls on her thinnest pair of socks and steps over to the bathroom to wash the extra foot cream off her hands.
“What’s wrong with your feet?” David asks more directly when she comes out of the bathroom again. “Is it something I need to worry about? If you have athlete’s foot and you haven’t told me --”
“Ew, David, no,” she says, grimacing.
“I am just saying -- we share a shower. You’re legally obligated to tell me if you have something contagious.” Alexis rolls her eyes and groans, picking up the tub of foot cream and holding it up, her eyebrows raised.
“I hope you paid for that,” David says, and Alexis groans again, putting it down on the nightstand so she can flop onto her bed and throw an arm over her eyes -- which are weirdly tearing up, she notices. Cool. Life is stressful enough without brothers interrogating you about gross foot fungus, without girls randomly kissing you on the steps of bars and making you wonder if you even know yourself. Maybe she’ll just stay like this forever. Let the arm of her dress soak up her tears even if she’s not totally sure why she’s crying. It’s almost a minute later when David speaks again.
“Hey, are you...okay?” She takes her arm off her face slowly and turns to see he’s standing between their beds, looking down at her, probably taking in that she’s still fully dressed and hasn’t even taken off her makeup, let alone gotten her sleep mask or actually, you know, gotten under the covers of her bed.
“Yep.” Really, what else can she say? ‘A girl kissed me and I reacted like I’d never felt the touch of a human and maybe I’m not as straight as I always thought I was after all’? ‘She’s leaving in the morning and somehow I’m super sad about it even though I just met her an hour ago’? ‘I’m planning a singles week for other people to find love and I’m pretty sure I never will again, given how weird tonight has been’?
“Okay, I doubt that,” David says, gesturing at, well, presumably everything about her right now. “What is this -- is this about Ted?”
“No.” Maybe by some weird association gymnastics her brain feels like doing. Maybe if she spirals about it too hard. “I’m fine.” He shoots her a look that’s more skeptical than usual, then throws his hands up dramatically.
“Fine, never mind, I don’t want to know. I am. Exhausted.” He’s still standing, though, and crosses his arms over his chest, looking at her.
“Are you trying to reverse psychology me?” she asks, propping herself up on her elbows. “Because it’s not going to work. We read about it in the negotiations unit of my sales class.” David shrugs, doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t move a muscle. “Ugh, okay,” she says, letting her breath out all at once in a huff. “Klair’s friend Albany...she kissed me, and I kind of freaked out.” David blinks at that and shakes his head slightly, like he has to reshuffle his thoughts or something.
“Okay, several questions,” he says after a moment. He holds up a finger. “One, Klair as in Klair-with-the-German-au-pair who spent our whole childhood teaching you to be the worst version of yourself?” Alexis rolls her eyes at that description, but it’s not like she can refute it.
“That’s the one.”
“What is a friend of hers doing here?”
“They’re on a trip,” she says. “Because they felt like being random.” She forces a laugh -- she’s going for sarcastic, but it comes out sounding more bitter than she means it to.
“Also, Albany? Really?”
“David, you once dated a guy named Yorkshire,” she says with a snort. “I don’t see how you’re in a position to talk.”
“Anyway,” he says, pressing his lips together, which means she won that one, Alexis notes with some small bit of satisfaction. “Why would a girl kissing you freak you out? You did your whole party girl kiss-anybody phase for, like, years.”
“I mean, you’re not wrong,” says Alexis, sitting up entirely so it’s easier to look at him. “But for some reason this was...different.” She hasn’t figured it out herself yet -- how does he expect her to have a clear explanation for him? Her eyes well up again, and she grabs a tissue from the box on the nightstand irritably, dabbing at them.
“She meant it,” she says, and as the words come out, she realizes they’re true. That is how it’s different. When she’s kissed girls before it’s been a stunt or a game -- or the result of some very not sober situations. It’s never been...genuine. It’s never been nice.
“Ah,” says David, finally sitting down on his bed. There’s a lot in that ah, and Alexis isn’t sure how much of it she wants to hear right now.
“Anyway, so, it’s just. It’s a lot to handle, and I’d rather not talk about it, for, you know, for a bit,” she says, looking at him sidelong instead of turning to face him.
“Really,” she says, then hesitates. “Maybe. Maybe I should talk about it?”
“I would hope you could talk about it with me, at least,” David says, standing up from his bed again to pace the carpet at the foot of hers. “Considering I am -- to my knowledge -- the only queer person you interact with on a regular basis. But then, I would also hope I wouldn’t be having to drag it out of you after a very, very long day.”
“Well, maybe I didn’t really consider that, David.”
“So you don’t consider me queer or you don’t consider me a person?”
“You know that’s not what I mean,” she says, reaching for another tissue. “I just mean I hadn’t considered that talking about it would, like, help. Can we focus for a minute on the person actually going through an identity crisis?”
“That’s funny, because when I was going through my identity crisis, I’ll note, you were -- what -- in Bahrain?” He still hasn’t sat back down, and Alexis is getting tired of craning her neck to look at him, especially if all he’s going to be is indignant.
“No, I was ten, David. Please.” She dabs tears from the corners of her eyes and adds primly: “I was on a girls’ trip to Bali that Annika organized. Anyway, we’re different people now.” She looks down at the tissue twisting in her hands and takes a deep breath before adding quietly. “And I’m not even sure I’m...well, anything.”
“Oh?” She doesn’t have to look to know he’s got a hand on his hip and is more than likely about to merge his eyebrows into his hairline. “Because in case you haven’t noticed, you’re crying over how much you like a girl.”
“Yeah, but that’s like...people do that, David,” she says. And now that she thinks about it, she’s done it before -- on that same trip to Bali, actually.
“Sure they do,” says David pointedly. “Usually when they need to figure out if they’re, y’know, anything.” Alexis considers that for a second, then nods, glad her nose has stopped running, at least.
“So, what should I do?”