On Tuesdays when her father had to work late, Alive was driven home from school by Paul. He would pick her up and drive her to an ice cream place, where they got ice cream. They would sit in his car, eating ice cream and listening to audio books.
Alice always found Paul’s car comforting. Ever since her parents had started arguing, everything had changed. Nowhere felt safe anymore. She found herself dreading coming home to the tense aura that had taken root in her house. Paul’s car was a constant, a quiet place to escape. The one thing that had remained exactly the same throughout it all. It was an older car, with faded grey seats. It always smelled of coffee and cologne, and the backseat was always piled with CDs and papers. Over the many years Paul had babysat her, it never changed.
It was one particular Tuesday afternoon that Alice decided to tell Paul about Deb.
It had started normally. Alice in the shotgun, feet propped up on the dashboard, stabbing her spoon repeatedly into her ice cream cup, Paul scrolling through his phone, his ice cream beginning to melt. The speakers softly playing the audio book The Secret Life Of Bees .
“Can I ask you something?” Alice asked, placing her ice cream down. Paul looked up from his phone. He studied her for a moment before nodding, pressing pause on the radio and putting down his ice cream as well.
She took a deep breath.
“How do you think Mom and Dad would react if I told them I had a date this Friday?”
Paul blinked in surprise. He leaned back in his seat, apparently mulling it over.
“With whom, may I ask?”
“Her name is Deb.”
Paul raised his eyebrows, but didn’t say anything.
“I’m worried about telling my parents. They haven’t really been having… they have a lot on their minds.”
Paul nodded, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t think they would mind too much. They would still accept you as… as… a lesbian?”
Alice nodded, and Paul audibly sighed with relief.
“But it is your choice, you know? There’s no rush to come out. Take the time to figure yourself out, all that. But I’m glad you told me.”
He gave her a crooked smile, and she relaxed. He unpaused the book and picked his ice cream back up.
For the first time in weeks, Alice felt at peace.
For their date, Deb took Alice to an old 50’s diner, where they ordered milkshakes. Deb was easy to talk to. She was funny, and put Alice at ease.
At one point, Deb out her hand over Alice’s, gentle but firm. She hadn’t had physical affection in weeks, and she realized just how much she had missed it. In a moment of boldness, she intertwined her fingers with Deb’s, blushing and smiling shyly.
They ended up hanging out in the parking lot, sitting on the hood of Deb’s car, just talking. After a while, Deb glanced down at her watch.
“It’s getting late. Do you want me to drive you back?”
Alice quickly shook her head, reaching out and grabbing Deb’s hand.
“Can we stay out for just a little longer? I don’t want to go home.”
Deb raised an eyebrow. “Won’t your parents be worried?”
“No. I’m basically the last thing on their minds these days,” Alice said with a shrug. Her attempt at being nonchalant about it failed, as her voice had cracked slightly. She looked down.
Deb reached out, tucking a lock of hair behind Alice’s ear. Her hand lingered near her jaw, gently cupping it and lifting Alice’s face up.
The moment that Deb’s lips met hers, all her fears seemed to just disappear. Her lips were soft, slightly chapped. Alice let her hands rest on Deb’s waist, closing her eyes and reveling in the moment.
By the time they broke apart, Alice was giddy. Deb chuckled at the sight of the large grin on her face.
They kissed a few more times, and on the ride home, Alice felt happy. Happier than she had felt in a long time. She cherished it while she could, before it would slip away.
That night, the fighting was worse than normal.
Lying in bed, knees pressed to her chest, Alice could hear the yelling of her mother, the frantic shouting of her father trying to calm her down.
She curled her pillow around her ears, screwing her eyes shut and trying to block out the noise. She tried to return to that happy place she had found earlier with Deb. But the screaming, while muffled, was still heard.
Alice gave up, allowing the tears to squeeze past her eyes and down her nose.
Needless to say, even when the fighting stopped, Alice wasn’t able to sleep.
“Alice? Is everything okay?”
Alice snapped out of her daze. She had been waiting outside of the school for her dad to come pick her up when Deb approached her.
“I’m feeling a little… sick is all.” She wasn’t lying. Her stomach felt queasy, and her head was pounding.
Deb sat down next to her, a sad, but knowing smile on her face.
“I’m guessing a problematic home?”
Alice looked up in surprise. Deb shrugged.
“I used to have a mom. She left when I was very young. I used to have to listen to them argue all the time. The very thought of going home made me sick. Needless to say, I haven’t exactly recovered. I turned to very unhealthy ways of coping.”
“What do you mean?”
Deb tensed, and Alice quickly backed off.
“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be nosy-“
“Don’t apologize. You didn’t mean any harm.”
Deb gave her a small smile. Alice relaxed a little.
“They didn’t always argue. Only a few years ago, they were happy,” Alice said sadly. Deb nodded in understanding.
“I love them both but… I can’t sleep at night. I feel like I’m not safe anywhere. I know that this will all end in either them divorcing, making up, or just staying this way forever. And every day, despite what I keep telling myself, I know that they’ll never make up.”
Deb wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a sort of strange sideways hug. She then reached into her backpack and pulled out a sticky note and pencil. She scribbled something on it and handed it to Alice with a small smile.
“If you ever feel overwhelmed or sad or whatever, call me, okay? I’ll answer you whenever I can. You’re not alone.”
Alice nodded, tucking the note into her pocket.
“And if you’re interested… call me and ask me out.”
Alice looked up in surprise. Deb smirked.
“It’s no secret that I’m totally into you. So, if you are too, call me. It’s your turn to ask me out.”
Alice giggled. Deb gave her one last pat on the back before leaving.
Nearly an hour late, her mother pulled into the parking lot.
She had a sort of manic smile on her face. Her windows were rolled down, a cigarette clutched in her fingers.
“Girl’s night! How about the mall, huh sweetie? Just you and me!”
Alice felt small as she climbed into the car. Her mother giggled, high-pitched and unnatural, before driving off. Alice didn’t speak throughout the whole ride, clutching her backpack to her chest and trying not to inhale the smoke.
At the mall, her mother practically threw her wallet at Alice. She bought her clothes, jewelry, makeup, just about anything Alice laid her eyes on.
It wasn’t until they pulled up in their driveway that her mother stopped smiling, ceased her manic energy. She rolled up the windows in the car and turned down the music.
“Do you love me, Alice?”
Alice looked up in shock.
“I love you so much, Alice. You deserve so much better.”
Alice blinked, confused.
“You deserve a father who’ll fight for what you need. One who’s not a coward.”
She reached out and touched Alice’s hair, gently stroking it. Her eyes were misty, and Alice could’nt help but notice the dark circles under her eyes.
She gave Alice a kiss on her forehead before climbing out.
The next time Deb and Alice spent time along together was at Deb’s house for a movie.
Her mother was gone for the day, so they watched The Secret Life of Bees . When thee movie started, they were on opposite ends of the couch, but by the end, Alice had her head on Deb’s lap, with Deb twirling Alice’s curls between her fingers.
“That wasn’t nearly as good as the book,” Alice remarked with a smile, sitting up slowly. Deb put her arm around Alice’s shoulder and pulled her close, planting a small kiss on her lips.
Alice couldn’t help but notice the strange scent laced in Deb’s coat, but she chose to ignore it.
For nearly two months, Alice lived in two worlds.
One was with Deb. It was happy, almost peaceful. They held hands, hung out after school some days. Tuesday’s remained the same, with Paul picking her up and driving her to get ice cream, where they sat and listened to audio books.
The other was much darker. It consisted of sleepless nights, of trying to block out the screaming. Dinners were tense, where Alice felt less like their daughter and more like their therapist, trying to get them to talk, to have a normal conversation, but failing.
Alice did everything in her power to keep them separate. She didn’t want them to mix, to be ruined.
But nothing can ever be like that, now can it?