The loneliness settles in during Alexis' first evening back in the city, once she's shoved all her boxes into the rooms they belonged in and called it a night.
It's far from the only time that she's sat alone in a New York apartment, watching time tick by and wondering how to fill it. She flattens her hands on her thighs, stretching them across a pair of Ted's running shorts that she'd casually forgotten to return. They're itching to pick up her phone, to turn back time and become the Alexis she thought she'd escaped.
She still remembers Klair's number. It would be so easy –
"Alexis! Oh, my god. I wasn't expecting to hear from you already."
"I know." Alexis bites her lip. It's too soon; she should've known it would be. "Is it... I mean, it's okay that I called, Twy. Right?"
"Of course it is. Did you already finish unpacking?"
She can hear Twyla's bright smile in her voice, Alexis thinks, tightening her hold on her phone. "Um, sort of."
Twyla's tone turns a little more teasing. "How many boxes do you have?"
"I don't, like, really need to count them right now?"
Twyla's laugh is infectious; Alexis has no choice but to join in.
She's not good at missing people.
After she learned that she wasn't ever missed, she told herself that she didn't miss people, either. Once upon a time, she'd thought she was happier on her own, with people she could hold at arm's reach. She used to spend night after night with them in this city, drunk and high and bored, until the skyscrapers and sidewalks felt like they were closing in on her. Once the city wore off on her, she'd run away to somewhere else, bringing whoever was paying attention to her that weekend, looking for something she couldn't even define.
She feels her bad habits just within reach, can hear their siren song calling out to her. She doesn't have money to burn anymore, but she could call in a few favours.
She could be on a plane to nowhere in fifteen, if she wanted to. She could be well on her way to blitzed out, if she wanted to. She could decide that she's already done with missing people, with the way her chest aches, with how scary it is to have something worth losing, if she wanted to.
She picks up her phone. There's a sweetgreen nearby, and she's hungry.
Slowly but surely, Alexis unpacks her apartment. She talks to David every Sunday, and marvels at how her parents keep their promises and make it to nearly all of the FaceTime dates they set. She picks out her new favourite PR-ingenue outfits, and starts to make friends at Interflix.
Kent, who works in web dev, invites her out for drinks. When she gets to the Wayland and realizes that he'd changed out of his work clothes and into something nicer, she realizes that it's a date.
He's cute. He's sweet. He reminds her of people she tries not to think about.
He's talking with his hands, his blue eyes bright as he waxes poetic about the new puppy he got a few weekends ago, and it's almost painful, how much she misses Ted. But she leans in when he does, and he kisses her, and she's trying to badly to make it work – she needs a fresh start, a blank slate –
His stubble scrapes her face as both of them trying to adapt to kissing someone new. His tongue is pushy.
She pulls away, shaking her head. "I'm sorry," she says, pressing her fingertips to her mouth. She hopes it isn't too obvious that she's trying to wipe the feeling of him away. "I can't."
"Why?" he asks. He's not pressing the issue, and he's keeping his lips and hands to himself, but –
"I'm training for the marathon," she says quickly. It's the first thing that comes to mind. "And, um, I know it's, like, next year, sometime. But I... you know. It's getting late, and I should probably go home..."
"Oh," he says with a smile. "It's okay, Alexis. I completely understand."
She doesn't go out with him again.
But she does look at her running shoes the next morning, lying next to her door, and remembers racing Ted down empty roads. She puts them on, and remembers Twyla waiting with a yogurt parfait, like clockwork, whenever Alexis would come in after a run.
She grabs her keys, and heads out onto the New York City streets.
"I'm gonna run the New York City Marathon," she tells David.
"Um," he says. "You have to qualify for that."
"I know." She thinks of escaping from underground caverns in Mindanao and jumping out of broken windows in St. Petersburg. "I can run pretty fast."
"Alexis." His tone is parental. "Are you sure?"
"Of course." She isn't sure at all. "Just watch me."
Alexis registers for a half marathon in Toronto, and Twyla books a hotel for the weekend.
It's not the first time they'll be seeing each other since she left – the holidays come first – but she's giddy at the prospect of uninterrupted time with her best friend.
"We could go on the cutest lil' shopping spree in Yorkville, or go to the art gallery. Or both! And we could get dinner and drinks at Planta, maybe?" she says one night, smiling at Twyla on FaceTime. It's late, and Twyla looks super cozy in her pyjamas.
"That sounds great," Twyla says easily. "Whatever you think would be fun."
Alexis touches her index finger to her phone screen, booping Twyla on the nose. It doesn't have the exact same effect, but Twyla's smile broadens into a grin anyway. "Ooh, and there's a castle, basically! Do you want to go to a castle?!"
Twyla laughs. "I'd go anywhere with you, Alexis."
Alexis had forgotten what it was like to have a reason to get out of bed. She'd spent twenty-seven years floating aimlessly, running headlong into danger, unconcerned with where she'd end up. She used to hurt other people; she used to hurt herself. Her family hadn't cared about what happened to her, so she didn't, either.
Things are different now. She looks after herself, takes care of herself, and readily answers her family's questions: yes, I'm doing well; yes, I'm safe; yes, I'm all in one piece. They keep a close eye on each other now, and it no longer feels claustrophobic – like it had when David would check up on her, or when they first closed the door to their cramped motel room and had to deal with each other night and day.
Alexis starts going to bed early, waking up early, running in the mornings. She skirts the edge of passing out during one long training run, and manages to haul herself into a Starbucks to refuel on sugar and carbs. The difference is immediately palpable: she can run faster and go harder, even when she's had something to eat.
She stops skipping meals and starts planning them instead. She looks up make-ahead breakfasts and tries to pack lunches. She attempts to follow along with Twyla, patient as ever on video chat, as she demonstrates how to cook so-called "easy" dinners.
She starts looking forward to the crispness of the city air in the mornings, and the comfortable ache in her muscles at the end of the day. She starts loving the desperation that sets in when she thinks there's no way she'll make it to the end, and the triumph she feels when she does.
"I'm going to run the marathon," she tells Ted one night.
The connection's shaky, but it's stronger at his new site than when he'd first arrived in Ecuador. He looks good; she likes the way he's started shaping his beard. She remembers him burying his face in her neck, how safe she felt in his arms, and smiles when he does, too.
"That's great!" Ted says. He's so enthused; his face is almost comically-animated. "I gua-run-tee you're going to have the time of your life. I can send you some stuff that really helped me when I ran mine, if you want?"
"Totally." She remembers how fast he was, how she loved keeping up with him, how she loved how they always made each other better. "I really... I'd love that."
He smiles, meeting her eyes as best as he can. "Me, too."
True to his word as ever, Ted sends her training plans and drills. She wrinkles her nose as she reads about fartleks, but dutifully works the intervals into her schedule anyway.
She buys protein powder and a blender, and asks Twyla to send her meadow harvest smoothie recipes. She buys the ingredients, looking dubiously at some of them, and blends them up.
They taste... like butt.
But she adds more blueberries to them, just like Twyla suggests, and then they aren't so bad. She takes a sip, closing her eyes, and she thinks she can almost see Twyla's green eyes. She takes another sip, and imagines herself turning around to see Ted's smile for the very first time.
There's a Jamba down the block from her, but she keeps making the smoothies anyway. It's nice, having a little bit of home with her.
When Alexis emerges from customs, her running shoes tucked neatly into the bottom of her suitcase, Twyla's there at baggage claim with a sign that reads: I'm looking for a little bit Alexis. She walk-runs toward her, zig-zagging around slower travelers, then wraps her arms tight around Twyla's shoulders and breathes a sigh of relief into her hair.
"I missed you so much," she says as they let go of one another and Twyla squeezes her hands. They hadn't had a lot of time to themselves over the holidays, and she's more than ready to make up for lost time. "I have, like, the best weekend planned for us."
"I can't wait." Twyla sways her shoulders back and forth a little, wearing that irrepressible smile that Alexis remembers from café counters and Jazzagal performances, from Cabaret rehearsals and drinks at the Wobbly Elm. The sight of it steadies Alexis: that smile is for her, no matter where they are. "We're going to have the best time!"
The spectre of Sunday's half marathon looms bigger in Alexis' imagination as the weekend goes on, even during the shopping and the art-gazing and the castle touring. But she makes a decision at dinner, prioritizing her goals instead of her anxieties: she dips bread in olive oil, savouring its richness, and orders the cacio e pepe.
Alexis studies the plate when it arrives in front of her, eyeing it like she used to stare down drug cartels and possessive princes, searching for weaknesses. And then she starts to eat, twirling the pasta around her fork. Across from her, Twyla's doing the same thing. There's a tiny little smile on Twyla's face, and she raises her eyebrows at Alexis as though to say: it's good, right?
And it is, so indulgent and creamy that she has to catch her breath after every single bite. She's been wined-and-dined at Michelin Stars around the world, but she can't remember the last time she ate food for the sheer pleasure of it. There are alarm bells ringing in her mind – too rich, too carb-y, too cheese-y, too fatty – but she manages to ignore the twinge of guilt as she shoves them aside.
"Oh my god," she says, unable to help herself. "Twy. It's so good."
Their eyes meet, and Twyla's smile broadens. "You did pick the restaurant," she says, gently teasing. She always knows exactly what Alexis needs to hear, and suddenly, embarrassingly, Alexis has to blink back tears.
Later that evening, Alexis takes two melatonin gummies and tucks herself into bed, trying to calm herself down enough to get a full night's sleep. Twyla turns onto her side, her breathing steady and even in the darkness, and her hand brushes against Alexis'.
"You're a wonder." The sound of Twyla's voice, soft and quiet like this, makes something twist in Alexis' heart. "I'm so proud of you."
Alexis crosses the finish line well within time for qualification. She's out of breath, panting as a race volunteer drapes her medal around her neck, and practically doubles over once she's collected the post-race refuel kit.
She feels fucking amazing.
It's so much better than accidentally robbing a jewellery store in Madrid, or rappelling down mountains in the Alps. She can count on one hand the number of times she's set a goal for herself and actually achieved it – graduating from high school and getting her college certificate at the very top of the list – and now she can add earning her qualification time for the New York City Marathon to the list.
"Ew, babe, I'm a mess," she protests, only half-joking, but it doesn't stop Twyla from pulling her into a tight hug.
(Alexis' legs go weak, but it must just be because of the race.)
"You're perfect," Twyla says, with that casual kind of conviction she always seems to apply to every occasion. Her green eyes are shining as she taps on her phone screen. "Ted wanted me to call him when I found you!"
Alexis drapes her arm around Twyla, steadying herself on her best friend, and grins blearily when Ted's face appears on Twyla's phone screen. "I did it!"
"I knew you could!" Ted's nearly giddy with joy.
He and Twyla are wearing near-identical smiles, both of them big and bright enough to blind, and Alexis is high on those post-race endorphins, high on what she's been able to accomplish, high on watching her two favourite people talk to each other. She leans her head against Twyla's, looking at the video feed of Ted on Twyla's phone, and smiles.
And now it's on to the marathon: 26.2 miles. What the fuck is she thinking?
Then again: she's never backed down from a challenge before. She can't start now.
Alexis makes a spreadsheet, outlining her running and cross-training plan, and follows it to the letter. She makes breakfast burritos and brings chopped salads to work, then buys a rice cooker and a steamer in Chinatown on Ruth's recommendation. She steams sticky rice and broccoli and sausage together, anxious for it to turn out, and almost drops her fork when she tastes it.
It's delicious, so much better than she thought she could have ever produced on her own. She loves the way it tastes. She kind of thinks she's starting to love who she's becoming, too.
She's running sprints one afternoon when she rolls her ankle. It's a sharp burst of pain, enough for her to nearly trip and come to a stop.
"Shit," she says under her breath, sitting down heavily on a park bench. She forces sharp inhales and exhales while the pain starts to slowly abate, her leg and ankle extended out into the air. The marathon is only a few months away; she doesn't have time for this.
For one brief, bleak moment, she pictures an outcome in which she can't run the race after investing all of that time and work and effort, and the sting of disappointment almost hurts more than her ankle. She used to not care about missing things, – that, or she'd done a good enough job of convincing herself she didn't miss them. The marathon, though, is different. Alexis is different now.
She traces a circle with her toes, testing her range of motion, wincing as the pain lessens into a dull ache. She can put weight on it once she stands up, but she cuts her run short and heads towards the subway instead.
It's not like she's going to change her whole way of life for this marathon, she thinks to herself once she's back home and looking at her shoe closet. But at least for now, while the marathon's looming up ahead, she thinks she'll stick to flats and sandals. And maybe, like, the teensiest little heel, every now and then.
"Hey," Ted says a few weeks later, his voice tinny through the phone. "I went on a run, and I thought about you."
She pictures his shy little smile, the way he scratches at his temple when he's thinking, and smiles, too, as he adds, "I wanted to hear your voice."
Alexis wants to tell him that she misses him. She wants to tell him to come home. She wants to tell him that she loves him.
"It's always nice to hear from you," she says instead, gripping her phone tightly in her hand. When they hang up, its side buttons are imprinted into her skin.
One day, she wakes up to find her picture in Page Six.
It's a shot of her running. Her mouth is open, her face flushed and red. Her hair's up in a haphazard bun, she's not wearing any makeup, and she'd given up on matching workout sets when she became the only person responsible for her own laundry.
She looks awful – and, she realizes with a start, she doesn't care.
Klair texts her about it seventeen times. Alexis hadn't let her know she was back in the city, and it's apparently the first time that she's finding out.
She picks up her phone.
"Hi," she says, tucking her phone under her chin, smiling at the sound of Twyla's voice. "No, nothing's wrong. I just wanted to say hi."
She's gained weight.
Her numbers are the highest they've ever been, and she stares down at her scale until she's certain that if she closed her eyes, she'd still see them.
Her hands flex at her sides, aching for a solution to a problem that she can't even explain. Suddenly, she can't reconcile the strength in her limbs and the self-satisfaction she feels against that old urge to minimize, to chase after sample size, to let the scale control every choice she makes.
When she was younger, before she'd landed in Schitt's Creek, she'd turned to running as a means to burn calories, to slim down, to punish herself for daring to want pizza, popcorn, dessert. Running's still a means to an end, but this time she's chasing something entirely different.
She thinks of her last training run, when she'd covered eighteen miles throughout Manhattan. She thinks of the sun warming her shoulders as the seasons change, how much she loves the percussive reliability of her shoes hitting the pavement, how she's learned to become happy with just herself and her thoughts.
The new Alexis is pretty great, no matter how much she weighs.
"You said you had some news?" Alexis says one spring day on video chat, smiling at the eagerness she can see on Ted's face.
"Yeah!" He brings a hand up to rub at the back of his neck, just like he always used to. "We're presenting our preliminary findings in a few weeks." He pauses for dramatic effect, then adds, "The conference is in New York. I'm coming to New York!"
"Oh, my god." She's shocked, overjoyed, already anxious to see him. She claps a hand to the side of her face, eyes wide as she watches Ted's grin get even bigger. "Ted. Are you serious?"
"Turtle-y. It'll just be for 24 hours at best, but I was wondering..." His voice trails off, his eyes growing softer as he looks back at her. "I didn't want to presume anything, but I was thinking that maybe if you wanted to say shell-o..."
"Ted," she says again. "Of course I want to see you." She bites her lip, thinking, before she adds, "We'll have to shell-ebrate your big news."
He grins, his eyes crinkling in the corners, and touches his hand to the screen, just like they used to before. "I can't wait."
Ted's big presentation's at the same time as a meeting that she absolutely can't get out of, but he's right on time to meet her outside of Osteria Morini once they're both done. He's still in his conference button-up and tie, the sleeves rolled up, his hands in his pockets, and when he turns to face her, she can't waste any more time.
Alexis throws herself into his arms and he lifts her off the ground, his lips brushing her forehead, then her nose. It's like coming home, like no time has passed since that evening a year ago in Café Tropical, and her lips are on his before she even realizes what she's done. She runs a hand through his hair, bracing the other against his shoulder blades, flat against his back, and eagerly deepens the kiss when he bites gently on her bottom lip.
It's wonderful. It's perfect. It's Ted, her Ted –
But he still lives on a completely different continent.
Why does everyone she loves live so far away?
She breaks the kiss, eyes wide. From the look on his face, she guesses that panic's written all over hers.
"I'm sorry," he says quickly, setting her back down on the sidewalk. "I'm really sorry, Alexis, I –"
"I'm sorry." She presses her thumb into her temple, and forces herself to breathe in and out, just like when she's running. And god, there's a part of her – a big part of her – that wants to turn and leave.
But Ted's here. Ted's here, in New York, and he still looks at her like he loves her. She can't run away from this.
She takes his hand, marveling at the fact that he still lets her, and takes a deep breath.
"Ted, I'm so sorry. I know you've been doing all that science-y stuff at your conference and you had that long flight and you and I just became, like, really good friends again. And I'm sure you just wanted to have dinner, and you probably didn't come here for, like, a surprise adult kiss, but we did, and I'm so sorry –"
"Hey." He squeezes her hand, stepping closer. "Alexis, it's okay." He smiles, and it's one of her top five favourite Ted smiles: that little fond one of his that never fails to make her melt. "I wasn't, um, expecting that we would? But I'd be lion if I said I didn't still want all of this. With you."
"But I'm here," she says desperately, just in case he'd forgotten. Because it was a big deal last year, wasn't it, even if it seems like the most insignificant of details now. "And you're there."
"I know." He shrugs a shoulder, tilting his head to one side, and smiles when she does, too. "But I think we can figure it out."
He has a hotel room in Midtown, paid for by the excursion, but he ends up in her bed anyway.
She straddles his hips after he's slipped a condom on, guiding him inside her, and he wraps his arms around her waist. He splays his hand across her back, his fingers tracing the ridge of her spine. She rolls her hips, pressing open-mouthed kisses against the underside of his jaw as he wedges a hand between their bodies, and when her orgasm hits her, it feels like coming apart, coming back together, coming home.
"I can't believe you're here," she whispers afterward, her arm draped over his chest, his hand in her hair. She'd forgotten how easily Ted looks at her, without wonder or awe, so unlike when they first met. "I can't believe we're here."
"I know." He strokes his fingertips over her face and along her cheek. There's so much history reflected in the clear blue of his eyes. She remembers loving him, losing him, never forgetting him.
We can figure it out, he'd said, before he kissed her again. But there are still two more years to go, and the heaviness of it fills the air between them. She wants to shimmy away from the hard stuff, plaster on a smile and pretend it's okay – but she owes it to that version of Ted and Alexis, who'd said goodbye in a quiet café, to run toward her fears.
So she clears her throat quietly, breaking the silence, and asks, "What does this mean, Ted? For us?"
He smiles, soft and sweet. "I don't want to hold you back, Lex. But I'm never going to stop loving you."
She savours the sound of her nickname in his voice, the one she'd never learned to truly love until she'd heard Ted, then Twyla say it. He says it like he knows her, like he'll never forget her. How could she risk letting him go again?
"Let's just get through these two years," she says, reaching for his hand and holding it close, taking a deep breath. "And we can be honest to each other, if someone else comes along."
"There isn't anyone else for me," he says simply, immediately. His eyes search hers as he adds, his voice a little quieter, "But maybe you should talk to Twyla."
"Twyla?" Alexis asks, surprised, her eyebrows raised. "What do you mean?"
He hesitates, biting briefly at his lip, before he says, "She's the one who told me to call you," he says. "She said you needed me. And the way she said it... it felt like she loves you, too."
Twyla loves her?
Alexis lies awake after Ted falls asleep, eyes open and fixated on the ceiling.
Twyla loves her, too?
She thinks of Twyla anticipating what she wanted every time that she came into the café, knowing exactly when to set a tea or a smoothie or a yogurt on the counter. She thinks of Twyla winking at her during her Jazzagal performances and running choreography with her at Cabaret rehearsals. She thinks of Twyla adjusting her garter backstage before opening night, how she'd caught sight of the freckles on Twyla's inner thighs. She thinks of Twyla's hug after things with Ted had ended, Twyla's flirty shoulder-shake while she'd been wearing her dresses, Twyla telling Alexis that she was what made Twyla happy, Twyla clinking their drinks together at the Wobbly Elm and toasting to their futures.
She looks at Ted – her love, her home, her future – and thinks of Twyla, Twyla, Twyla – and suddenly, she realizes that maybe home doesn't have to just be a single person. Maybe her future can include them both.
Ted loves her. Maybe Twyla loves her. And maybe Ted wants her to love Twyla, too.
Okay, she says to herself. Okay, okay. We can figure this out.
She decides to divide her love life into portions, just like she's been thinking about the marathon.
First up is Ted: her half marathon, thirteen miles. Familiar, easy, and comfortable.
He kisses her good morning, makes her coffee as they get dressed, and wipes her tears away with the pad of his thumb while time ticks down to his flight's departure time as they wait for his cab.
"I love you," he whispers into her ear, pressing kisses to the top of her head as she clings to him.
"I love you, too," she promises.
It should feel like it had before, maybe. It should feel scary, and it does. But there's something different about this time around, now that they both know what it's like to love someone so much, you have to let them go. There's still that quiet terror to manage, so palpable that Alexis can nearly feel it between her ribs, but she breathes through it like she'd work through a stitch in her side. She knows now that she can work through anything if she just keeps breathing and just keeps moving forward.
Next is herself: the next seven miles. It's the breaking point, the wall she has to work through.
She used to not care about who she kissed, who she fucked, whose heart she broke. But something changed after she'd said yes to Ted's ring and then slept with Mutt. Maybe it hadn't happened right away – maybe it'd taken her a while, longer than she'd like to admit. But she can't be that person anymore, the kind of person who acts without thinking and says yes to what she thinks she wants and acts out to hurt other people and boils over with guilt.
Can they make this work? Can she make this work? Can she risk hurting the two greatest people she's ever known, the two people who'd move mountains for her if they thought she wanted it?
She can't risk not taking a chance.
Finally, there's Twyla: the rest of the race, the last six miles. It's the smallest distance, but the greatest challenge of them all.
Should Alexis go to Schitt's Creek? Should she ask Twyla to come visit her again? She's pacing back and forth in her apartment as the seasons shift and spring gives way to summer, but then her phone rings and Twyla's name is on her screen.
"I'm coming to New York this weekend," Twyla says after Alexis has picked up.
"I – you are?" Alexis wonders distantly, not for the first time, if Twyla can read minds. "We didn't – I'm not forgetting plans we'd made, right?"
Twyla laughs; the sound of it is a melody that Alexis had forgotten she loves, a song she can't wait to hear again in person. "No. Ted said you seemed a little lonely, and I could get away, so..."
"Really?" Alexis thinks of Ted, quietly scheming in the Galapagos, and just barely smothers a laugh. "He said that?"
"Yeah." Twyla says it so matter-of-factly, guilelessly, that she can't possibly know. "So I'll see you soon?"
"I'll be here," Alexis says, smiling. She thinks of Twyla encouraging Ted to see her, and then she thinks of Ted reaching out to Twyla to make this surprise happen. Her heart is so full, it aches. "Twy, I can't wait."
It's not like Alexis doesn't have friends in the city. She likes her co-workers, and likes having brunch with them on the weekends and going out for happy hour after work. Their connections don't feel fake. But it's nothing like what she had back home, in a tiny backwater town, where she'd learned how to fall in love.
Is she holding back? Is she holding on too tightly to Ted, to Twyla, to Stevie and David and Patrick, and not making room for new people in her life?
She doesn't know – but as she writes down the details of Twyla's flight in her planner, she doesn't care. She has the rest of her life to figure out, and a girl to kiss.
Of course, Twyla ends up working a morning shift before she leaves for Toronto and New York. She gets in late, just in time for the reservations Alexis made at Kashkaval Garden.
Twyla changes into one of Alexis' blouses, a cream-coloured silk number that drapes over her shoulders and clings to the curves of her breasts, and a pair of black shorts that shouldn't be as obscene as they are. They catch up over fondue and the greatest tomato salad that Alexis has ever had, toasting with glasses of malbec, and then they go to a rooftop bar a few blocks away from Columbus Circle. It's a little more tourist-y than her usual scene, but it's worth it when she sees Twyla go starry-eyed at the sight of Times Square in the distance when they look downtown.
The air is humid and hot, even as high up as they are. There's a drop of sweat on Twyla's collarbone; Alexis suddenly, intensely wants to catch it with her fingertips, or her tongue. She reaches out instead, curling her index finger around Twyla's. Her pulse quickens when Twyla tilts her head up, her green eyes lighting up the night sky, and smiles.
"I really missed you," Twyla says. Her voice is quiet and sure, like she's telling secrets for only Alexis to hear.
"I missed you, too." Alexis swallows, gathering her nerve, her eyes darting down to Twyla's mouth. "Did Ted –" Her voice catches, and she wets her lips. "I mean – what, exactly, did Ted say about me?"
"He said that you were lonely." Once again, Twyla says it so easily, without judgment. Alexis' heart is in her throat.
"Oh." Slowly, Alexis starts to twine their fingers together, watching Twyla's face and reveling in how natural it feels, how easily Twyla lets her do it. "That's all he had to say, and you were getting on a plane just like that?"
A blush spreads across Twyla's face, visible even under the night sky. "Lex," she says, biting her lip. "You're my best friend. You needed me."
"I do." Alexis runs her other hand up Twyla's arm, grazing her fingers over the mile-markers of her freckles and following them up to Twyla's shoulders, Twyla's neck, Twyla's face. "I need you, Twy. I didn't know, but I do, and Ted knows I do, and – God, Twy, tell me we're not reading into things. Tell me you need me, too."
She can feel Twyla draw in a breath, her eyes wide. They're so close; it would be so easy for them to close the distance, to give in to what Alexis hopes is inevitable.
"Ted knows?" Twyla finally says. "And it's okay?"
"Yeah." Alexis gives her a hopeful smile. "I swear. We can call him, if you want."
Twyla laughs, shaking her head, and tightens her hold on Alexis' hand. "No, it's okay."
"You believe me?"
"Yes." And Alexis must look so desperate, because Twyla laughs again and says, "Kiss me, Lex."
Alexis kisses Twyla at the bar, in the cab, in the elevator of her building. She kisses Twyla against her door, fumbling for her keys, then kisses her on her couch, eager for more, leaning up to make space for Twyla as she works her clothing off her body. She kisses Twyla on her lips and her neck, between her breasts and between her legs. She kisses Twyla like her life depends on it, like Twyla is the air she breathes and she can't get enough.
When her one year New York-versary rolls around, Alexis barely recognizes herself in her mirror.
It's been an eventful twelve months: she's been promoted at Interflix, started dating the two loves of her life, and still has a marathon to run.
Sometimes, all of it feels too overwhelming, almost insurmountable. She used to balk at the thought of focusing on more than just herself. She used to run away from the hard stuff, from that aching feeling she gets when her heart is on the line. She used to quit when things got tough.
But she isn't that person anymore – and this time, she has her two most favourite people in the entire world on her side.
Twyla flies down for the marathon. Ted can't get away from Ecuador, but he's already on FaceTime when Alexis staggers over to Twyla, wiped and wrecked, ready to collapse.
"You did it!" Ted says through the phone, beaming at both of them. Twyla's arm is around Alexis' waist, the only thing keeping her upright. "Good thing you weren't running late this morning, and you didn't let your training lap-se."
It hurts when Alexis laughs, but she can't help it. She feels dangerously close to tears, too caught up in the exhaustion and the euphoria of what she's done.
Twyla tightens her hold on Alexis, then kisses her cheek. "You did it," she echoes.
Alexis looks at Ted's proud eyes and wide smile, then at Twyla's gentle steadiness – and suddenly, she is crying. "I did it," she agrees through her tears, her chest tight. She wants Ted there, too, overwhelmed by waiting two more years for him. But Twyla wraps her arms around her, kissing her, and Ted's saying soothing things she can't fully make out, and Alexis decides: if she can make it through a whole marathon, they can make it through this.
Alexis has the Monday and Tuesday off after the marathon, and spends most of it lying down. Twyla makes her coffee and spoons granola over yogurt and berries. They order delivery and eat it on Alexis' sofa bed, their legs stretched out in front of them, while movies play on her television. Twyla's strong, deft hands work up and down Alexis' thighs and calves, pressing everywhere she needs them.
Later, during Twyla's last night in the city, she stretches out next to Alexis as her fingers roam across Alexis' skin, ghosting over her sore muscles and scars. She traces a path across Alexis' body, worshipping where she's become fuller, finding all of the landmarks of the life that Alexis has lived, and kisses every single one.
"Twy," Alexis gasps, the sound of it both a plea for more and a promise to never stop saying her name. Twyla's hand is between her thighs, working her slowly, taking its time. "Twy, please."
Twyla gives a tiny little smirk, her eyes shining with mischief, and shakes her head. "I have an idea," she says, and before Alexis can clock her movements, Twyla's reaching for her phone with her other hand and calling Ted.
"Oh, my god," Alexis says to no one and everyone. She tilts her hips against Twyla's hand, and makes a frustrated little noise when Twyla stills her movements.
"Hi, Ted," Twyla says, chipper as ever, as though Ted's come in for a morning coffee. "Is this a good time?"
"Sure," Ted says over the speakerphone. "What's up?"
"Well." Twyla's smirk widens into a beaming, radiant smile when their eyes meet. God, Alexis loves them both so much. "I could use some help making Alexis come. What do you think?"
Ted groans his assent right as Twyla twists her fingers, pulling a moan out of Alexis' mouth. "Yeah," he says over the sound of Twyla's laughter, "yeah."
"I used to run away," Alexis says afterward, curled up next to Twyla and wrapped up in her arms. "It was easier if I kept moving. Nothing could touch me that way, you know?"
She takes a deep breath as Twyla strokes a hand over her shoulders and down her back. There's so much in her head, so much she can't fully say. How can she tell Twyla about the emptiness, the self-destruction, the heartbreak?
"I know," Twyla says. Her heartbeat is steady under Alexis' ear. "I know."
Alexis closes her eyes, pulling Twyla tighter against her. She pictures herself running to the time of Twyla's heartbeat, or Ted's, and tries to imagine what the next two years will bring. One day, they'll all be in the same place. One day, she'll get her happily-ever-after. But right now, she thinks she can make herself happy here in the city, dreaming and wishing and moving forward.
"But now I think I spent all that time running towards both of you."