Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and mature content.
This story is dedicated to Abigail and Stephenie, who helped me edit.
The night was calm and cold and silent outside; the snow made John think of Christmas Days he’d spent looking out his through the fogged glass. He turned away from the snow curtained street and looked up at the community center. The icy steps were barely visible in the soft glow of the street lamps that towered up from either side of the middle landing. His breath steamed in front of him when he sighed, trailing behind him like smoke as he moved over the bannister. As he leaned against the concrete railing with his hands in his coat pockets, he looked up at the community center. The bright harsh lights were softened by the sheets of snow. He watched as the left of the two faux wood doors opened, filling the empty air with the sounds of two dozen people shouting over speakers blaring out music turned up too loud. A single figure stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the slim tower of lights. A girl about his age, her hood down despite the cold and the snow. Struck by a thought, John looked at his watch. Seems an awful lot like last year, he thought. When he looked up again the girl had her hood up and had begun a careful walk towards the steps. After a minute she made it to the first set of steps. John waited for her to complete her cautious descent.
“How're ya not freezing your ass off?” John was surprised to hear Alex’s voice. He shrugged.
“I don’t pay attention to it.” he answered, his voice muffled by the collar of his coat.
“Bullshit.” Alex chuckled as she took something out of her pocket, She took one out and held it up to him. “Want one?” she asked.
He shook his head. Alex only answered by closing the box with her other hand and putting it back in her pocket. “You drunk?” He asked.
“I hope not, I’ll be pretty fucked up in the morning either way,” she answered as the cigarette switched hands, he watched her reach into her other pocket and pull out the slim outline of a lighter.
“You gonna walk home?” he asked. She nodded as she brought the cigarette up to her mouth, holding it in place with her teeth as she tried to ignite her lighter. She got a flame on her second attempt. It wavered pitifully in the slight wind. “It’s funny, ya know how they’re always telling us ‘don’t do drugs!’, and here you are, smoking outside’a the community center.”
“Guess red ribbon week never caught on for me,” she said, breathing out smoke that swirled with her steaming breath. “Things just’ve a funny way‘ve happening,” she said before bringing the cigarette up to her mouth and breathing in.
“When’re we going?” he asked. Alex let out a long streamer of smoke before answering.
“Now, if you’re not too busy, I don’t really wanna stand out here freezing my ass off any longer than I have to,” she said, taking a final hit from the cigarette before stamping it out. “And besides,” she added, “I’ve heard stories about what happens in town after dark; they’re probably exaggerated as hell, but I’m not goin’ta go in alone, I can promise that.” She pulled out the carton for a moment and stared at it before putting it back in her pocket.
“Why not jus’tay in the community center,” John suggested. Alex barked a laugh.
“I’m not that stupid,” she said, cutting off his pursuit of the conversation. “Anyway,” she began, “if you’re not too busy I wanna leave now.” John shrugged and they began walking.
“So,” John began when they stopped at a quite, snow streaked road, “what’re they doin’ back there?” he asked, nodding back towards the community center, a barely visible silhouette behind the thickening veil of snow.
“Getting stoned off their asses probably,” she said “Or doing whatever crazy shit drunk people do,” she finished as she looked from one side of the street to the other. They followed the white crosswalk lines to the park, where John noticed a couple lying on the bench, their coats draped around them in a formless shadowy mass. “Couldn’t they’ve just boned somewhere else?” John heard Alex mutter. “What’f there’re kids who come over here’n the morning? And they find these two dumbasses,” she continued as they walked. “Jesus fucking Christ!” she growled, “have some goddamn decency!”
“Why’re you so crazy over this?” he asked, giving her a startled look. Alex didn’t look at him.
“I’m not crazy about it,” she said. “I just don’t want my little sister’ta see those two dumbasses fucking on a bench. She doesn’t need to see that bullshit,” she answered. “Couldn’t they just’ve fucked in their house?” he heard her mutter.
“So,” John began, “what’d ya do at the party?”
“The usual,” Alex answered, still sounding annoyed as they reached the street at the other end of the park. “Had a few beers, tried to hear the movie they put on over those fucking loudspeakers. I think one dude was trying to get me’ta fuck him or something, I’m not sure.” she answered before crossing with John.
“Where’s Grace?” he asked.
“She should be sleeping, sure she isn’t though — probably playing a video game or some shit like that,” she said. “One of mine,” she added, “not one of hers.” The snowfall had lessened enough for her to take her hood down. Her black hair gleamed as they walked into the light of a street lamp; her highlights were almost gone and and the snow speckled her hair with fast fading spots of white.
“Where’re your parents?” he asked as they passed an alleyway.
“Getting drunk off their asses at a friend’s house, how else d’ya think I was able’ta go’da the party tonight?” she answered with a laugh. “Where’re yours?” she asked.
John shrugged. “They’re out of town, be back tomorrow.” he answered. “Any plans?” he asked, bringing his own hood down as a crisp wind blew.
“Get some sleep,” Alex answered. “I’m fuckin’ tired.” She yawned. Her breath steamed. “You?” she asked, looking over at him. He shrugged.
“Same,” he answered, holding down a yawn. “It’s not like I have anything better’ta do.” Alex nodded. They stayed quiet for a few minutes. The city seemed to close and darken around them. The silence grew uncomfortable as their footsteps rang out dully on the sidewalk. “You think ‘bout Grace a lot?” he asked.
“Not much,” she answered. “Sometimes I worry about what she migh’be doin’ but it’s not like she’s gonna tell me.” She sighed. “And’ta think I‘s young once.” She chuckled under her breath.
They came to an empty, snow speckled intersection. After a moment they crossed. When they reached the other side a strange thought gripped John.
“So…” he began. “Any thoughts for tomorrow? I know we’re going to the park but other’an that?” He asked.
“I migh’not go’ta the park,” she said. “When my parents find out I drank I’ll be fucked.”
“Unless they’re too hungover’ta notice.” John suggested. Alex shrugged.
“I should probably get rid of these,” Alex said. John saw she had the cigarette carton in her hand. She threw it down the next alley like a baseball.
“Whatabout the lighter?” John asked.
“The stuff in the cannister’s flammable, I don’t want to start a fire,” she answered seriously.
“Think I coul’stay over at your place a little while?” he asked.
“If you’re askin’ta fuck me…” Alex’s tone was dangerous.
“No! Sorry!” John exclaimed, embarrassed. “I jus’ thought we could watch T.V. or something. It’s not like I have anywhere else to be.” Alex shrugged as they stopped at another empty road.
“I don’ mind,” she said as they crossed. “My parents will though, you’ll nee’ta leave before then, don’t know when that’ll be though,” she said. pause was punctuated by the quiet thumping of her feet on the pavement. “I’ll see if Grace’s got a better idea of when they’ll be back.”
They walked in silence until they stopped at a lit house. The snow had begun again and John was relieved when Alex went up the concrete steps and opened the door. John followed her in. The interior was surprisingly cool, unlit and empty. There were muffled sounds coming from the open door to the basement down the hall. “Youc’n stay up here,” she said, gesturing vaguely at the dark living room before taking her jacket off in the same motion. “I jus’ nee’ta check on Grace,” she said.
“Nah,” John answered as he took his own jacket off. “It's been a while since I’ve seen Grace anyway.” He paused a moment and flicked the light switch to the left of the door, bathing the living room in a goldish-orange light. “How’s she doing?” he asked, following Alex down the hallway.
“Think she’s doing good, she doesn’t tell me anything though,” she said as she quietly walked down the stairs, her shoes still making a soft thump. John realized they both still had their shoes on. When they reached the bottom of the stairs Alex slipped her shoes off and turned to John with a finger to her smiling lips. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and watched as Alex crept to the back of the couch. “Hi.” she said.
“Holy shit!” John could see the top of Grace’s head as she jolted and gasped; her breath was labored for a moment before it trembled into laughter.
“C’n I come over?” John asked, smiling.
“Sure!” Grace answered carelessly. John walked over and sat on the armrest. Grace was blonde, her hair was frizzy and she was wearing sky blue pajamas. There was a game controller resting in her lap.
“Do you know whe-” Alex cut herself off. John saw she was looking at something. He followed her gaze and found himself looking at an empty beer glass. “How many have you had?” Alex asked. John was startled by the sternness and urgency in her voice.
“Just one!” Grace answered, startled. “I jus’ thought since no’un was around I’d just try it.” She said, looking like a toddler who knew she was staying up past her bedtime.
“It’s fine.” Alex sighed, “jus’... don’ ‘ave another one, okay?” Grace nodded. “Did mom’n dad say when they’d be back?”
“I think she said sometime ‘round three,” she answered as she picked the controller up.
“Text me’f there’s a change of plans.” Alex said before turning and walking to the foot of the stairs and picking up her shoes. John did the same and followed her up the stairs into the living room where he sat on the two person recliner. It was more of a bench, with nothing separating the two halves.
“So,” she began, sitting on the squat, worn looking coffee table, “we’ot like an hour, whaddya wanna do?”
John dropped his shoes on the floor with a jarringly loud clap. “Have a beer, watch some movies or somethin’?”
Alex nodded. “I’ll get the beers.” she said as she stood up and went to the kitchen, flicking on lightswitches and dropping her shoes next to John’s as she went.
John lept up from the couch and began rummaging around for the remote. After a few minutes he found it and sat back down. As he was entering Netflix he heard Alex shout from the kitchen, “Good news! My parents won't be back until like six or seven tomorrow, you can stay the night if you want!”
“Thanks!” John shouted. There were a few minutes of silence as he went through the movies, finally picking a sappy looking Christmas movie as Alex came back. She set the foggy amber beer glasses on the coffee table with a dull clink before sitting next to him.
“So what’d ya choose?” she asked looked over at him as the movie started to play. She was wearing black sweatpants that matched her hair, though he could see hints of blonde at the roots. Her navy blue shirt hung on her like a sheet, barely following her frame, somehow still flattering.
John shrugged. “Some shit movie, wasn’t really in the mood for somethin’ interesting.” Alex shrugged before leaning forward to grab her beer bottle.
“We all like shit sometimes don’we?” she responded, popping off the beer cap with a hollow thunk and letting it fall to the floor. She took a long draft. “Fuck.” She sighed, letting herself slip down the couch to where only her head rested on the back of the couch. “Am I the only one who feels like things happen too fast?” she asked, voice strained slightly as she sat up and picked up her beer bottle.
“Nope,” John answered as Alex downed the rest of the bottle. “I think that sometimes, m’sure a lot ‘a other people do too,” he added as she set her bottle back down on the table. Alex yawned and propped her legs up on the table. John did the same.
There was a comfortable silence as John stared at the screen, entranced by it, not really processing the actions or the words. He jumped slightly when Alex’s head fell on his shoulder. Her breathing, deep and regular, smelled of cigarettes and beer. John found something oddly comforting about it, even though it made his stomach turn. Smiling, he propped his legs up on the coffee table, and fell asleep with Alex.