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couldn't wash the echoes out

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Alicia's spontaneity isn't to everyone's taste. She knows that. But when the cute girl she's been seeing for three weeks texts back saying she's not interested, and that Alicia's "too crazy" for her, she can't control the burst of rage. Her hands are shaky, her breath is quick: she punches out one final insult and throws the phone across the room.

They say you don't need to change who you are when it comes to love. As she curls up in an empty bed once again, like a vibrant moss rose closing its petals at night, she's not so sure about that. No matter how many times she's been called a babe, or hot, or gorgeous, when the girls slide even a single layer under her skin, they turn away with one feeble excuse after another.

Alicia quits dating. She promises herself no more heartbreak, no more feeling like she's too much for anyone to ever love. And for a while, it works. Gorgeous girls come and go, but none of them want anything more than friendship. And really, she's fine with that.

But like the rise of a red sun in an empty sky, Eva Marie glides into her life. In that languid way she does everything, she asks Alicia to dinner at her favourite place, clarifying that her intentions are romantic. She asks so tenderly that Alicia's afraid to turn her down.

"Marvellous," she says. "I'll see you tomorrow night."

Alicia smiles softly, but it doesn't feel genuine. No matter how much she wants to try, how much she wants to let the wilting hope be nourished back into her heart, she knows that this -- whatever this is -- just won't go anywhere.

Eva has good taste. In restaurants, in her astoundingly sequined scarlet gown, in the way she graciously compliments Alicia's new Louboutins and asks if she would like to hold hands as they enter.

"You're sure about that invitation?"

"I wouldn't ask if I wasn't."

Alicia obliges. When her hand brushes Eva's skin, commercial-soft and pleasantly warm, she feels like a bud tasting sunshine for the first time. Their high heels click in synchronised fashion as they enter the palace of light.

Chandeliers pour their radiance onto every living being, from stiffly-dressed waiters to the suits, ties and cocktail dresses boxed into VIP corners. Eva's lipstick is only a shade lighter than her vibrant hair, and its enticing sheen pulls Alicia's attention and she can't help but stare.

The maître d' guides them to their table.

"What is it?" says Eva, leaning into Alicia's side.

"You look so..."

Eva smiles coyly.

Alicia's gaze falls at a treacherous time, landing on the leer of some nobody, all red-veins and bloodshot eyes, who's checking out her girl, and with a whiskey-induced bravery, he reaches out to touch. Alicia slaps his hand. She digs her nails into his leathery skin for good measure.

When Eva glances over her shoulder, Alicia manages a sweet smile. But her mood suffers from a poisonous jealousy: she snaps at the waiter, she can't concentrate on anything Eva says, and all she wants to do it get into a ring and fight out her frustration.

"What's wrong?" asks Eva, suddenly, in a voice so much like she actually cares, that it takes everything in Alicia to bite her lip, shake her curls, and stand up. Eva calls for the bill. They leave without exchanging another word.

Under her breath, Alicia mutters an apology. She doesn't mean for Eva to hear her, and maybe she doesn't: maybe it's just her empathy that draws her hand around Alicia's waist and guides that sweet kiss onto her cheek.

Alicia looks at her in disbelief.

"So, would you like to try again next week? If you're up to it, of course."

She's taken aback. As she looks into Eva's doe-brown eyes, she sees no fear, no apprehension, no doubt. It's either bravery or ignorance, or maybe a sense of self stronger than anything Alicia's ever felt.

"I'll be good for next week," says Alicia, in a promise to herself as much her companion; she smiles a wobbly smile and tries to feel okay as she walks into the young, bottomless evening.