I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
“Do we have to go to this?” Alex asked as she and Steph walked hand in hand down Main Street, the street lights illuminating the cobblestone in the cool Colorado air. After a long day at Rocky Mountain Record Traders, all Alex wanted to do was relax in front of a good movie, provided she didn’t let Steph pick this time.
“It’s the first house party Charlotte’s hosted in years. Besides, we promised we’d go,” Steph pointed out, excited about the party. Since Gabe’s passing five years ago, Charlotte couldn’t bring herself to host them anymore.
“Minor clarification: you promised we’d go,” Alex accused, playfully shoving her. Alex wasn’t fond of being in a house full of people she didn’t know, but if it brought Steph happiness, she was willing to endure it.
“Well, you didn’t exactly say no,” Steph reminded her, shoving her back.
As they neared Charlotte’s modest two bedroom house, Alex released a long sigh. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but something about tonight wasn’t sitting right with her. She struggled to shake the sense of foreboding telling her that this party just was not going to be a fun time, which increased her desire to beg Steph to just go home.
Sensing her anxiety, Steph squeezed her hand reassuringly and asked: “Are you good? You seem nervous.”
“House full of strangers with a handful of friends? What’s there to be nervous about?” Alex’s responding chuckle noticeably forced.
“You’ll be fine, I promise. Charlotte always throws a great party.”
Steph noticed with surprise the amount of vehicles parked in the front yard. She regretted not leaving sooner, knowing that having less people at this party initially would put Alex more at ease. They reached the front door and Steph rang the doorbell with her hand, her right still intertwined with her girlfriend’s.
Ryan answered the door, excited to see that his two best friends made it.
“Quite the turnout, wouldn’t you say?” Steph said, noting the interior of the home, which was packed with mingling people.
“Yeah, Charlotte didn’t anticipate this many people and is panicking. I’ve left for additional snacks twice now.” Ryan stepped aside to allow the couple to enter. Alex huddled close to Steph, the sheer volume of bodies overwhelming. She scanned the crowd of people as she made her way to the kitchen, where Charlotte was dumping a bag of Lays potato chips into a large plastic bowl.
“Char!” Steph shouted, releasing Alex’s hand to hug her.
“I’m so glad you came!” Charlotte returned the hug briefly before glancing toward the noticeably anxious Alex. “Sorry about the people. I didn’t expect this much interest.”
“It’s okay, I just need to adjust.” Alex fidgeted with the hem of her jacket, her eyes lowered.
“Want to help me refill these bowls?” she asked, receiving just a nod in reply. Alex looked up to see that Steph had disappeared, but she thought nothing of it. She had Charlotte to keep her company while Steph enjoyed the party. It was an even balance.
“So how are things with you and Steph?” Charlotte asked, making conversation.
“Great,” Alex replied, opening a bag of Doritos before dumping its contents into a large red bowl. A party goer she didn’t recognize immediately grabbed the bowl and pushed through the crowd. “How are you?”
“I’m managing, honestly. It’s tough handling something like this without Gabe, but I know he would have wanted me to keep hosting them. Ethan’s with his dad for the weekend, so I’ll let Liam handle those sixteen year old hormones for a change.”
“There’s a fire starting in my heart. Reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark.”
“Adele, really?” Charlotte asked, listening to the sudden song change.
“I’ll go find Steph, she’s probably looking for the speakers to switch it to something obscure that no one will understand,” Alex said, setting the bowl down to embark on her search for her girlfriend.
Steph spotted the extravagant sound system and the girl who had connected the auxiliary cord to her phone to take over the playlist.
“Fuck that,” Steph muttered, pushing through the crowd of people, her mission clear.
“The scars of your love, they leave me breathless. I can’t help feeling we could have had it all…”
“Come on, dude, I’m a trained DJ. Hand it over.”
“No can do.” The girl had to be in her mid-twenties, with long, thick blonde hair that she twirled in her fingers while scrolling through her phone. “You’ll have to kiss me for it.”
Steph paused, cocking her head to the right and raised an eyebrow at the sheer audacity of this girl.
The fuck? she thought.
“Dude, no. I’m spoken for,” Steph told her, reaching for the cord anyway. The girl’s shameless requirements motivated her with the challenge. People who deserve the aux cord don’t proposition girls in relationships. She knew if she could get her hands around it, she could just yank the cord from the phone jack and bask in her success.
With a single successful tug, the music effectively stopped, but Steph’s victory was short lived when the girl grabbed her by the hem of her open button down and pulled her close. The girl’s lips pressed against Steph’s for no more than a fraction of a second before Steph pushed her away.
The party fell silent, the attendees pausing to watch the scene unfurl. Everyone’s eyes fell on the woman with the asymmetric hairstyle standing in the doorway leading to the kitchen, her eyes welling up with tears after having witnessed the love of her life’s lips on someone else. Steph noticed everyone looking in the same direction, and she followed their gaze to Alex. Her jaw dropped in horror at the pain in her eyes and the tears that fell down her face.
Alex wiped the tears from her eyes and turned, heading for the front door.
“Looks like you’re not spoken for anymore,” the girl said, a devious grin on her face. “You should call me.”
“Fuck off,” Steph replied through gritted teeth before following Alex to the door.
Steph stopped at the porch of the front door, the music resuming as the door shut behind her. She looked around to see where Alex had walked off to and spotted her heading toward Main Street.
“Alex!” Steph called, trotting after her. “Alex, wait!”
“Go back to the party, Steph, where all the attractive women are waiting to shoot their shot with you!” Alex continued down the street with Steph quickly closing the gap.
“It wasn’t even like that! She kissed me, I told her I was taken!”
Why is this happening to me right now?
“I’m sure you were. You disappear for ten minutes and I find you with your lips on someone else? Is that why you wanted to go to this party so bad? You wanted to try on all the lesbians?”
“We’ve been together five years, Alex. Why after all this time do you not trust me to do the right thing?” Steph asked, catching up to Alex. Her calves were on fire, but she didn’t have time to think of that in the present situation.
“Because in five years, you’ve never done this. I can’t even look at you.” Alex threw her hands up in frustration as she continued to power walk.
They reached the front door of the Black Lantern. Alex shaking in her rage to pull the key out of her pocket to unlock the door, but managed nonetheless. Steph reached out to grab her arm, but Alex snapped at her.
“Don’t fucking touch me, Steph. You’re just. Like. Everyone. Else,” Alex spat, her tone scathing.
Her words cut through Steph like a knife straight through her heart. Not even a week ago Alex was reflecting on her time in the group homes, where people had hurt her and taken advantage of her, and how Steph was the only person who helped her see there were good people left on this planet. How everyone she has ever loved has left her and Steph was the welcome break in the cycle.
“You know what? Fuck this. I don’t have to take this, I didn’t do anything wrong. Let me know when you’re done being a bitch.” Steph turned to walk toward the record store, resigning to spending the night on the couch in the DJ booth.
She had hoped Alex would tell her to stop and to come up to the apartment to talk about it, but when she heard the slam of the door behind her, the answer was clear. As she continued the short walk to the record store, Steph’s boiling anger gave way to sadness, the tears stinging her eyes as they fell without warning.
I didn’t even do anything, she thought, her head swimming with the accusations Alex had thrown at her. Why can’t she see that?
Her phone buzzed in her pocket and she stopped walking to check it, hoping it was Alex coming to her senses. If she’d just hear her out, she’d know that it was a mistake and they’d laugh about it. Surely she’d come to her senses, right?
Charlotte: What in the hell just happened?
Steph locked her phone and shoved it back into her pocket, shaking her head. She resolved to text her later, but right now she just needed to clear her head. She unlocked the door to the record store and entered, locking it again behind her. Valkyrie hopped down from one of the vinyl displays and rubbed against her leg, meowing.
“You wouldn’t fly off the handle for no reason, would you, Val?” Steph asked, bending down to scratch her ears. Val meowed in a matter-of-fact response. Steph chuckled, wiping the tears in her eyes as she stood up straight and walked to the DJ booth.
“Yeah, of course you would. That’s just who you are.”
Steph unlocked the booth door and turned on the lamp beside the couch before laying down across it. She unlaced her boots and kicked them off in an effort to get more comfortable. She pulled out her phone to look for a playlist to help her process the events of the party, but instead was side tracked by the notification from MyBlock.
One of your neighbors has changed the relationship status: Alex Chen is now Single!
“Excuse me?” Steph stared at the words on her phone screen as if it were in a foreign language she needed to translate. She watched the flood of comments on the post, their closest friends just as baffled as she was by the sudden overreaction.
Ryan: What? No way!
Charlotte: I’m here if you want to talk about it. I love you both!
Riley: Omg what happened?
“Fuck...you...Alex…” Steph muttered between sobs, tossing her phone to the floor. She rolled over on the couch, the tears falling until she drifted to sleep.
Alex lounged on her bed, scrolling through MyBlock after changing her relationship status. She started to wonder where Steph ended up going tonight, but put it out of her mind immediately. Thoughts of her were like pouring salt in an open wound, and it was best if she just...didn’t.
As she scrolled, a notification popped up at the top of her screen.
Ryan: That looked intense. Wanna talk?
She briefly debated a response, and knew that as she tapped her reply to him, she should have just told him she was going to sleep.
Alex: Sure. I’m in the apartment. Door’s unlocked. Bring something strong.
She locked her screen and set it on the nightstand before hopping out of bed to change into something more comfortable: a pair of fleece pajama bottoms and a sweater. She grabbed two of the whiskey glasses from the shelf on the wall in the kitchen and set them on the coffee table before resting on the couch. Ryan knocked three times on the door before entering, a bottle of top shelf whiskey he swiped from the bar in his hand.
“Rough day?” he asked as he approached the couch, sitting beside Alex. Ryan pulled the top of the bottle off and poured two fingers in each glass, offering one to Alex.
“You could say that,” she muttered, taking a drink. “I don’t understand how she could do that. Did you see it happen?”
“No, I didn’t. I was in the bathroom when everything went quiet.”
They finished their drinks in silence, and Ryan poured another for each of them. The more Alex drank, the more loose her lips became. Soon, she was reflecting on their friendship, the various birds that reminded her of him, and just how pissed off at Steph she currently was. Ryan was patient, smiling when he needed to and agreeing when the conversation called for it.
“So let me get this straight,” he said, handing Alex her fifth round. He swayed as the effects of the alcohol compromised his motor functions. “You were hiking with Steph and she threatened a bear and won? ”
“Believe it,” Alex confirmed. “Saw it with my own eyes.”
“That’s...that’s insane.” Alex finished her drink and Ryan downed the rest of his. He poured the sixth round.
“What, Colorado State Park Ranger can’t handle a bear?” Alex teased playfully.
“I can handle a bear!” Seventh round.
“I have to pee,” Alex announced, setting the glass down and standing up. She managed to make it to the bathroom without incident, and heard Ryan put on a soft record while she washed her hands. In a normal situation that little voice in the back of her mind would tell her that what she’s doing is wrong and that she should ask him to leave, but with her inhibitions down, that voice just isn’t loud enough.
Motivated by her pain and a little liquid courage, Alex dried her hands to pour gasoline on her emotional fire. When she emerged from the bathroom, Ryan was standing by the turntable. She couldn’t tell if he was swaying to the music or the whiskey, but settled on it being a combination of the two.
“Dance with me?” he asked, offering his hand. Alex weighed her options briefly, but smiled and took his hand, placing the other at the small of his back. They swayed to the slow pace of the song, their eyes on each other.
“You have no idea how long I’ve waited to be able to dance with you,” Ryan said, smiling.
“Is that right?”
As Alex gazed into his eyes, she felt everything else slip away into nothingness. Steph was nothing more than a distant memory, the pain from the party nonexistent. She was here, right now, with someone she cared for deeply. Thoughts of repairing the severed connection with the love of her life were absent, even as Ryan eased his face forward to close the gap. That voice in the back of her head that screamed at her to turn from this mistake fell on deaf ears, even as Alex closed her eyes and pressed her lips to his.
The kiss was slow and tender. Ryan cupped the side of Alex’s face as they parted their lips to allow exploration, the taste of whiskey and regret on the tip of her tongue. As they kissed, Alex began leading Ryan toward her bed, committing to her sins. She parted from the kiss to catch her breath, pushing the nature boy onto the bed before straddling him.
“Alex?” Ryan asked, his face flushed with the sudden passion. “Are you sure about this?”
“I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life,” Alex replied with a grin.
She began unbuttoning his flannel shirt, exposing the little tuft of blonde hair in the center of his chest. After she unbuttoned the final button, she ran her hands up his chest slowly, spreading the open shirt apart. Ryan rested his hands on her hips as she began unbuckling his belt.
Alex started fumbling with the clasp of his jeans, but paused, hesitant. She thought of Steph, and how what she was doing would affect her. Everything about this was all wrong, and she couldn’t go through with it.
“Is everything okay?” Ryan asked, his hands still on her hips. Alex shook her head before standing up from the bed.
“I...I can’t do this,” she whispered, turning from Ryan. “I can’t do this to her.”
“Oh.” Ryan buckled his belt and worked to button his shirt back up.
“Can you...can you please just go? I’m sorry.”
“No worries. I’ll see you later?” Ryan waited for an acknowledgement that he never received before he left the apartment.
She flopped onto her bed, not bothering to turn off any of the lights in the apartment. As she reflected on the events of the night with her head still swimming from the whiskey, her eyes began to water with the tears that threatened to fall.
Alex woke up hours later, the apartment eerily quiet, save the soft whirring of the refrigerator. She threw the comforter off of her and sat up, putting her glasses on.
Did last night really happen? she asked herself as she grabbed her phone from the nightstand where her glasses laid just moments ago.
She caught a glimpse of her face on the screen of her smartphone, the puffiness of her eyes indicating that yes, last night really did happen. She really did find Steph with her lips on someone else, the random girl’s aura illuminating the entire room in gold while she considered all the things she would do with Steph. She really did invite Ryan over, and she really did come close to a colossal mistake.
Alex closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, trying to fight the memory of the girl’s thoughts from her head and her responding makeout session with Ryan. The wounds were still fresh and deep, her mind working to put the shattered pieces of her heart back together. She tapped her phone screen to a low battery indicator and a large handful of notifications on her MyBlock relationship status change. She was disappointed to see that Steph said nothing to her, she had anticipated getting frustrated by her incessant messages in an attempt to justify her shitty behavior. She scrolled through the notifications absent-mindedly, glossing over “Omg what happened” and “I’m here if you need me to talk” and “What the hell you two were supposed to last forever!”
With a sigh, she returned her phone to the nightstand and walked to the dresser to select an outfit for the day. After nothing in her dresser looked good, she settled on her black sweater and a pair of jeans and took the clothes to the shower, where she intended to wash away any remnants of last night. As she entered the bathroom, she noticed with a sigh Steph’s wad of clothes laying everywhere but the laundry hamper. Her hairbrush on the sink behind the faucet.
Alex shook her head, pushing Steph out of her mind. She turned the faucet and started the shower, removing thoughts of Steph with the clothes she shed.
The shower was refreshing, but Alex still felt unclean. She dressed quickly and brushed her teeth before returning to the rest of her apartment. Her stomach rumbled with the desire to eat, but she couldn’t bring herself to peruse the contents of the refrigerator. She looked around the apartment, noting how much of Steph was here. Various campaign notebooks, a stray drumstick, a beanie here, a hoodie there. The mantle of the fireplace housed a picture they had taken shortly after they started dating.
She was everywhere and after last night, Alex wanted her out .
“I need a box,” she whispered. She knew there were boxes in the kitchen behind the bar and it was early enough in the morning that no one would be in yet.
As she walked down the stairs from her apartment to the bar, she noted with sorrow how many memories she had made with Steph here. The Jukebox Game, the plot to distract Diane. The countless nights scheming in one of the booths. Playing D&D with Steph and Ethan. Her energy was everywhere in here, and it was suffocating. Could she replace those memories? Would the essence of Steph live in this bar forever?
She grabbed one of the boxes from the kitchen and tried desperately to push Steph out of her mind, annoyed at how difficult it seemed to be. Five years together and a split second decision unhinged their entire dynamic.
Steph... how could you…
Alex brought the box up to her apartment where she put everything that belonged to Steph inside. Her clothes, her notebooks, her beanies. Everything. On a couple of occasions she had to stop, the memories behind the item in question like pouring salt in an open wound.
Once she was finished, she folded the flaps and picked up her phone to text Charlotte.
Alex: Hey Char, is it cool if I bring Steph’s stuff to the dispensary? It can’t stay here.
The response from Charlotte was suspiciously instant, and she wondered briefly if her friends were waiting by their phones for insight into the dissolution of her relationship.
Charlotte: Of course! I’m here now, whenever you’re ready.
Alex pocketed her phone and grabbed her keys from the nightstand, noting the record store key attached on one of the key rings. She removed the key and shoved it in the box before picking it up and heading for the door.
By this point, Ryan had arrived to open the bar and Duckie was in one of the booths. Alex paused by the bar, knowing they needed to discuss last night.
“So…” Ryan started, searching for the words.
“Yeah, about last night. We just got caught up in the moment, right?” Alex asked, trying to justify her poor decision.
“Sure,” Ryan agreed, before lying to her. “It meant nothing.”
“Can you do me a favor, though?”
“Anything,” Ryan said as Alex set the box on one of the bar stools, Steph’s stuff getting heavy in her hands.
“Let me tell her. She should hear it from me. She’ll be mad either way, but it’ll be worse if it comes from anyone but me.”
“Of course, I can respect that. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” Ryan shrugged.
“Oh, trust me. It’s all on me.” Alex paused for a moment, sighing. “I should get this to Charlotte’s. I’ll see you later?”
Ryan nodded, watching as Alex grabbed the box and left the Black Lantern.
She crossed the street immediately, not wanting to be anywhere near the vicinity of the record store where she was certain Steph currently was. As she walked, she was struck by the various memories they made. Skipping down Main Street to the diner like lovestruck teenagers, hand in hand. Walking through Haven Springs with Ethan, admiring the handiwork of a friend desperate to cheer him up. Their first Spring Festival in the park, when Alex worked up the courage to hand her a rose. It wasn’t just her apartment, or the bar.
Steph was everywhere in Haven Springs, and Alex caught herself wondering if she’d even be able to stay here without Steph.
“Take me back to the night we met,” she whispered, wanting more than anything to return to simple times, when it was just her and Steph against the world. How could she resume a life here where they are strangers?
She entered the Silver Dragon where Charlotte was waiting behind the counter, having just set the register for the day. Alex set the box down on the counter without a word.
“Is that all of it?” Charlotte asked, surprised that five years with Steph could amount to a single box.
“I think so. It was all I could find. I’m sure there’ll be something else hiding and I’ll be back.”
Alex noticed with a frown the music playing over the radio, recognizing it immediately.
Now the day bleeds into night fall
And you’re not here to get me through it all
I let my guard down and then you pulled the rug
I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved
“It’s been all morning with this,” Charlotte mentioned. “She started with Adele.”
“She certainly does express herself through music.” Alex sighed. She knew Charlotte wanted to discuss the breakup, and she wasn’t sure she was in a position to talk about it. They stood in uncomfortable silence for a moment.
“Can I be candid, Alex?” Charlotte asked, breaking the silence.
“If you must.” Alex shifted her weight, her heart still heavy in her chest. Charlotte walked around the counter and motioned to the couch, offering a seat. Alex followed suit.
“What even happened? You two seemed so happy when you showed up at my party.” Charlotte folded her hands in her lap while she listened to Alex speak.
“She left me in the kitchen with you and kissed someone else. Seems pretty cut and dry, Charlotte.” Alex couldn’t bear to make eye contact with Charlotte, and chose to instead admire the display of bongs behind the register, her eyes processing every piece. A lump formed in her throat as she recalled the events of last night.
“That’s what’s so confusing, Alex. I’ve known Steph for years and loyalty is important to her. There has to be more to it than what you saw. Your mind can play tricks on you, you know.”
Alex felt her pocket buzz, and she pulled her dying phone out to see a notification from Steph. Her heart leapt into her throat, but frowned at the message.
You have been blocked. You can no longer send messages to this number.
“Dammit, Steph,” she whispered to herself, returning her phone to her pocket.
“You didn’t expect her to keep an open line of communication, did you?” Charlotte asked with a shrug.
“I’m not sure what I was expecting.” Alex sighed and thought for a moment before continuing. “Do you think I’m overreacting?”
“It seems that way,” Charlotte said, nodding to the box of Steph’s things. “I’ve got an idea.”
“What is it?”
“Steph’s coming by in about an hour to pick up some gummies. I’ll give her the box and get her side of the story. You go home and think about things. Last night, your relationship with Steph. Everything. I’ll text you when she leaves and we’ll talk about it.”
Alex’s relief over planning to repair things was quickly shut down by the memory of her evening with Ryan. She lowered her head in an effort to mask the guilt she wore on her face.
“What’s wrong?” Charlotte questioned, noticing the change in her demeanor.
“I...I think I fucked up,” Alex whispered, not daring to meet Charlotte’s eyes.
“I mean, you just overreacted. I’m sure if you and Steph just talked it through every--”
“No,” she interrupted. “Last night, Ryan asked to come over and talk. There was whiskey and music.”
Charlotte buried her face in her hands in frustration as she prepared herself for the words Alex would say.
“Tell me you didn’t…” Charlotte started, but Alex quickly shook her head.
“We didn’t go all the way, but we came close. We just...I don’t know...made out, I guess?”
Charlotte sighed in exasperation, throwing up her hands.
“Have you lost your fucking mind, Alex? Do you even understand what this is going to do to her?” Charlotte shook her head, knowing that this would complicate their relationship. Steph would definitely not take this news well.
“Of all the people to kiss, Alex, you chose her best friend. She’s going to lose it.”
“Just…” Charlotte sighed again before continuing, “Go back to your apartment and really think this over. It’s going to get real messy before it can ever begin to get better, but I still think we can save it. You just have to be absolutely certain you want to.”
The two rose from the couch, and Alex hugged her tightly. Having some version of an idea was better than her original plan: sitting in front of the tv with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and her emotions.
“Thanks, Char,” she said. Before exiting the Silver Dragon Dispensary to make her way back to the apartment, she paused to ask: “Can you refrain from telling Steph about my mistake? I really think it’s best if it comes from me.”
“I think that’s the mature thing to do, honestly. Take care, Alex.”
Steph looked at the time on the computer and set the playlist to loop before pocketing her phone. With Jesse on his honeymoon with his husband and Alex busy fucking everything up, Steph didn’t have anyone to watch over the record store while she went to the dispensary, so she had no choice but to tape a “Back in 1 hour!” sign to the front door.
She paused for a moment to take in the scenery around her. Residents were strolling up and down the cobblestone. Birds sang to each other in the small trees that lined the street. Without a single puffy cloud in the sky, the sun illuminated the entirety of Haven Springs. Steph swore that any other day, she would have appreciated the scenery, but today wasn’t that day.
Everything felt dull and cold and blue. If she had her way, she’d lock herself in the DJ booth and hide for the rest of the eternity, but Charlotte had specifically asked for the presence of her company and she had begrudgingly agreed. She walked across the street to the dispensary and sighed before opening the door.
The door chimed with her entrance, and Steph noticed the large cardboard box on the counter. A new shipment perhaps? Charlotte emerged from her art studio in the back, offering a weak smile as she hugged Steph, trying to offer comfort.
“Oh, Steph…” Charlotte said, her voice somber “You look--”
“Like hell, I know,” Steph interrupted, shrugging. Her eyes were still puffy and her clothes wrinkled from sleeping on the couch last night. She knew she looked rough.
Steph nodded to the cardboard box and asked: “New shipment?”
Charlotte’s silence as she avoided eye contact briefly told Steph everything she needed to know about the contents of that box.
“No...it’s…” Charlotte searched for the best way to tell her.
“Oh, it’s my stuff.” Steph sighed. She was having such a great day yesterday until the party, and now her whole life has been turned on its head.
“So what happened? Last I saw you at the party you two were so happy. You and Alex were always so happy.”
“She’s lost her fucking mind, is what happened,” Steph replied, taking a deep breath. Charlotte raised an eyebrow at her statement in question.
“Dude, I just wanted the aux cord. Some blonde girl I’ve never seen before told me I couldn’t have it unless I kissed her. I told her I was taken and grabbed the cord anyway, and she grabbed me by the shirt and kissed me,” Steph explained. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Did you try explaining that to her?”
“Yeah, I did. She wouldn’t listen.” Steph pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed in exasperation. “Told me I was just like everyone else. Shit hurt, Char.”
“Imagine the situation from her eyes, Steph. You walk out of the kitchen and the first thing you see is her lips on someone else’s. The one person you trusted to never betray you.”
“I would talk to her about it to understand what happened so we could move past it,” Steph said, folding her arms to her chest.
“No, Steph, you wouldn’t.” Charlotte’s responding chuckle was weak, but there. “You’re the patron saint of overreactions. You and I both know you’d do the same, but probably also try to set the bar on fire. Or you’d buy a bus ticket and bolt. I know you, Steph. How many applications to radio stations far away from here do you have in currently?”
“Char…” Steph lowered her eyes, watching as she tapped the floor with her toe.
“Answer the question.” Charlotte placed her hands on her hip in what Steph had previously called the Mom stance. She only did it when she meant business or had to mother someone.
“Three…” Steph replied weakly. “One in Seattle, two in Denver.” She didn’t want to tell anyone she had planned on trying to leave, and at this moment, she hated that Charlotte knew her so well.
“Steph, running will never get you anywhere. You’ll never resolve anything if you flee every time things get tough. I would have thought you’d have figured that out by now.”
“Are you accusing me of being in the wrong here?” Steph’s tone of voice raised in volume, and she didn’t appreciate the accusation. Alex fucked up, not her. Alex ended their relationship. Alex didn’t listen.
“No, I’m not, but you’re doing the same exact thing Alex is doing right now: overreacting. She just happens to do it with rash decisions and you hide your tail and flee.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” Steph asked, throwing up her hands. “I tried explaining the situation to her. She ended the relationship without saying a word to me. What could I have done differently?”
“Well for starters, you stop playing Bonnie Tyler on the radio. If I have to hear ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ one more time today, I’m going to yell at you.” Steph laughed, especially since the song was playing currently over the speakers in the corner.
“But give it time. Alex will realize she fucked up and you two will kiss and make up. Quit applying to jobs away from Haven.”
“I can’t wait forever, Char,” Steph sighed deeply before continuing, “but I do need time. She broke my heart.”
“I know, Steph. I know she did.” Charlotte reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out her keys. She pulled one of the keys off of the key ring and handed it to Steph. “Here.”
“What’s this for?” Steph asked, taking them.
“You stink. Take your box to my house and wash all that misery away.”
“Fuck you, Char,” Steph said, chuckling as she raised her middle finger. Charlotte simply waved, dismissing the statement.
“In the meantime, I’ll talk to Alex. Let me know when you’re ready to listen.”
“I will. Like I said, I’ll need some time. It’s a lot to process in a short amount of time, and you’ve given me a lot to think about.” Steph grabbed the box and headed to the door, but before exiting said: “Thanks, Char.”
And armed with a box full of her stuff and Charlotte’s house key, Steph walked to her friend’s house for a much needed shower with a sense of hope she didn’t know she needed. Blissfully unaware that the fragile strings of her relationship with Alex were more frayed than she ever anticipated, the looming threat of an unrealized mistake not yet present to cloud her judgement.
Alex sat at her desk and twirled her pen in her fingers, the yellow legal pad in front of her. She had titled the page “Steph” with a line down the center. The left column she labeled “Pros,” while the right is “Cons.”
Nothing solves a relationship crisis quite like a pros and cons list, Alex thought, chuckling.
She started writing under the pros section, feeling every bullet point flowing with ease as they seemed to come easily to her mind.
She makes me feel loved when I can’t love myself
She was there for me when no one else was
She supports my ideas, no matter how stupid
She’s great with her hands
She gives the best backrubs
She’s fucking hot
She lights up every room she walks into
Her taste in music is perfection
She knows how to cheer me up even on my worst days
Alex admired her progress, smiling as she thought back to the memories surrounding these bullet points. Her heart fluttered at the thought of Steph in her apartment, perusing her vinyl collection to select the one record she thought fit how she felt about Alex in that moment. How they’d dance together like no one else was watching. How she wished she could stop time just to cherish every moment she spent with her.
And she frowned, realizing that there’s a very real possibility she’d never experience any of this again as she eyed the cons list. She stared at the written word for several minutes, struggling to come up with just one. Anything that would motivate her to rethink her relationship with the woman everyone thought she was destined to be with.
May or may not have intentionally kissed someone else.
“Okay, that’s a pretty big con,” Alex said, before continuing her list.
Fucking. Snores. Omg.
Is impulsive and erratic, never thinking before acting.
Has never heard of a laundry hamper before.
Alex reviewed the list, annoyed that the other three seemed petty and minute in comparison to the first. As she looked over the lists, it became clear just how much she needed Steph in her life. She couldn’t imagine a world where Steph wasn’t by her side, and realized that she needed to fix this. As she put her pen down, her charging phone beside her buzzed with a text message from Charlotte.
Charlotte: Steph’s on her way to my house for a shower. Are you up for some company?
Alex: Sure, come on by.
It took about twenty minutes for Charlotte to knock on the door. Alex let her in, happy to see her.
“How did the conversation with Steph go?” she asked, stepping aside.
“She’s hurt, Alex, and I honestly don’t blame her. She said she didn’t kiss her and that it was forced and I believe her,” Charlotte replied, walking to the couch. Alex offered her a drink as she sat, but Charlotte politely declined.
“Have you put some thought into what we talked about?” Charlotte asked.
“Yeah, and I think I have something for you.” Alex grabbed the legal pad from her desk and handed it to Charlotte.
“A pros and cons list? Seriously?” Charlotte asked, rolling her eyes.
“Hey, pros and cons lists solve every crisis,” Alex defended, sitting beside her.
Charlotte reviewed the list, reading the pros first and then the cons. They sat in silence while she read, and Alex felt like an eternity had passed before she finally spoke.
“Your pros are insightful and heartwarming, and your cons are trivial at best,” Charlotte noted. “You know what this means, right?”
“I play a super meaningful song at the open mic night in the park tonight so she knows I love her?” Charlotte sighed and shook her head.
“No, but we may need that later. You two are going to sit down for lunch today at the diner and talk through it. I’ll set it up with Steph, just be there.” Charlotte stood up and handed Alex the legal pad. “I have to get back to the dispensary, Steph will be back soon with my house key.”
“Thanks again, Char. I really appreciate this.”
“I just hope it works out. You two are perfect for each other.” And with that, Charlotte left the apartment.
“You want me to do what? ” Steph asked, shocked.
“I want you to have lunch with Alex. I already told her you’d be there,” Charlotte replied with a shrug.
“Do I have to?” Charlotte raised an eyebrow at her question, as if the answer were obvious.
“Yes, you have to. I think both of you could benefit from a conversation if either of you are ever going to move past this. Do you want her back?”
Steph considered the loaded question for a moment. After their fight, did she want her back? Could she imagine spending her life without her? Never kissing her again, loving her, holding her hand?
“Yeah, I do,” Steph responded, sighing. “Even after last night.”
“Okay then,” Charlotte said, checking her phone that had just buzzed in her pocket. “I’ll be at the diner for moral support. She’s waiting for you already, so we should probably go.”
Steph followed Charlotte through the door and waited as she locked it behind her. She walked behind her the entire way to the diner in silence, imagining the several different ways this conversation could go. Steph was optimistic things would go well, the possibility of a catastrophic confession not even remotely on her radar.
“Hey, Steph,” Alex greeted from the booth near the back of the diner.
Steph was thankful the diner wasn’t busy as she sat down in front of Alex, her heart fluttering.
Charlotte sat a couple booths down facing them as the waiter took her order first.
“You look…” Alex started.
“Like hell, I know,” Steph finished. The waiter approached the booth and asked if he could start them off with something to drink.
“I’ll just have water,” Steph ordered, while Alex ordered a Coke.
Despite the flutters in Steph’s heart, her mind replayed their argument last night on repeat, as if reminding her of the sheer gravity of the situation.
“Steph, I’m sorry. I overreacted and I should have listened to you. It was wrong to question your loyalty, and I know you wouldn’t do anything intentionally to hurt me.”
Steph closed her eyes, processing Alex’s words a moment. Her accusations still felt like daggers through her heart.
“What you said last night...it hurt, Alex. It still hurts. It’s probably going to continue to hurt, at least for a while.” Steph breathed deeply, searching for the right words. “I’m willing to try and move past this because I need you.”
“I need you too, Steph. More now than I ever realized.” Alex lowered her eyes and began picking at the cuticles on her hands. Steph felt the impression that there was something she wasn’t telling her, and debating on pressing for it.
“Steph…” Alex sighed, looking up. “There’s something you should know, and I don’t know how to tell you.”
“Spit it out, you’re making me nervous.” Her stomach twisted in knots and her heart crept into her throat as she prepared to hear the words she never wanted to hear.
“Last night after I got into the apartment, Ryan asked if I wanted to talk, and I told him to bring something strong.”
“No…” Steph whispered, her mind racing. Alex caught the flicker of a blue aura briefly before it disappeared.
“We drank the entire bottle and he put a record on. We danced before we...we…” Alex searched for the easiest way to break the news, knowing Steph had a right to know.
“You what , Alex? What did you do ?” Steph’s aura stopped flickering blue, trading it for a bright red.
“We...made out. It almost went too far, but I stopped it. I couldn’t go through with it. I couldn’t do that to you.”
The red aura engulfed Steph, illuminating the entire diner. Charlotte watched the events unfold with increasing concern as Steph tensed in her seat. The waiter started to deliver the drinks to their table, but she motioned for him to wait.
“Are...you... fucking ...kidding me, Alex?” Steph questioned, her face hot with rage. She clenched her fists hard enough that her nails began to break the skin.
“Steph…it was a mistake…”
“Forty-seven seconds after you changed your relationship status on MyBlock you get handsy with my best friend? Not even an HOUR after accusing me of something I didn’t do, you go and do it ? What the fuck, Alex?!” Steph stood quickly, wanting to be literally anywhere but...here.
“No, don’t say another word. I can’t even fucking believe this. My best friend, Alex. My fucking BEST. FRIEND.” She stormed for the door with a vengeance, her eyes red with rage.
“Steph!” Alex called, her tears begging to fall. “Can we just talk about this, please ?”
“Fuck you, Alex. You really fucked up this time,” Steph called back before leaving the diner, headed for the Black Lantern.
“Alex?” Charlotte asked calmly, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“Fuck,” Alex realized. “She’s heading for the bar. We have to stop her.”
The door to the Black Lantern opened with a slam, Steph’s rage almost tangible throughout the bar.
“Oh, fuck,” Ryan mumbled, knowing Alex must have told her.
Steph’s searching eyes found him behind the bar, her eyes wide and nostrils flared.
“Hey!” she shouted. “Dickhead!”
She stomped behind the bar, her hands balled into fists, her mind racing in a thousand different directions. She didn’t care about Alex, about Haven Springs, about anything at that moment. She wanted Ryan to feel the pain she felt.
“Couldn’t wait a day to get your hands on her, huh? Had to shoot your shot with my girl?”
“Steph, let’s just calm down for a moment and just ta--”
“I’m. Done. Fucking. Talking,” Steph said through gritted teeth.
Duckie rose from the booth, desperate to diffuse the situation that was quickly boiling out of control.
“Now, Stephanie, let’s stop and think before you do something that you’ll--”
Alex and Charlotte entered the bar in time to witness Steph’s right fist collide with Ryan’s left eye.
“STEPH!” Alex shouted and started toward her, but Charlotte held her back. Steph shoved Ryan back and he stumbled as her left fist made contact with Ryan’s jaw.
“That’s fair, Steph, I deserve this,” Ryan said, consenting to her violence. Steph prepared for another strike, but hesitated, and Ryan took the opportunity to explain himself. “I took advantage of a volatile situation, and I shouldn’t have. If you have to be mad at anyone, be mad at me. You and Alex are made for--”
“Don’t you dare speak her name, Ryan,” Steph said, struggling to catch her breath. “You’re dead to me.”
Steph pushed past Charlotte and Alex without so much as a glance. Alex watched her through the window as her red aura faded into blue.
The entire bar fell silent, the tension so palpable someone could reach out and touch it.
“Alex,” Ryan said, breaking the silence. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Alex said, holding up her hand. Charlotte walked into the kitchen to prepare ice in a towel for Ryan’s swelling eye. “I have to somehow fix this.”
Charlotte returned with the ice cubes wrapped in a bar towel and handed it to Ryan. “It’ll help with the swelling.”
“Thanks. She’s got one hell of a right hook,” Ryan chuckled.
“Char,” Alex said, sighing, “how do I fix this now?”
Charlotte considered the question for a moment before an idea struck her. “Still down for open mic night in the park?”
“That’s actually not a bad idea,” Ryan said. “At least, it works in the movies.”
“Exactly,” Charlotte said. “I’m going to go find Steph and calm her down. I’ll see you two tonight in the park.”
“I fucking hate them, Char. I. Fucking. Hate them,” Steph said through sobs, her head in her hands. Charlotte sat beside her on the couch in the DJ booth, rubbing her back in an effort to console her.
“You don’t hate them, Steph. You’re just hurt and you’re trying to process things.”
“How could she do this to me? I didn’t do anything, and she does that. ”
“Again, try to see it from her perspective. She’s hurt from her perception of what happened and needed someone to talk to. With the involvement of alcohol, her inhibitions were down, but she stopped herself from letting it go too far because even in that moment, she still cared very deeply for you.”
Steph wiped the tears from her eyes before looking up at Charlotte.
“How am I ever going to get past this? How can I trust them again?”
“Well, for starters, you maintain open communication and maybe try to avoid reacting with your fists.” Charlotte nodded to Steph’s hands, the knuckles red and swollen.
“And,” Charlotte said, continuing, “you come to the open mic night in the park.”
“Yeah, fuck that. I’m staying right here. I don’t really want to see either of them.” Steph leaned back on the couch and Valkyrie hopped into her lap. She stroked her fur softly, listening as she purred.
“I’m serious, Charlotte.”
“I wasn’t asking you. The show starts in twenty minutes, and you’re going. Please don’t make me drag you.” Steph exhaled in exasperation. She knew she wanted to go, especially if it meant seeing Alex perform, but she wasn’t sure she could move past Alex’s betrayal.
“Fine. I’ll go,” Steph conceded. “But I can’t promise I’ll enjoy it.”
“Have you seen her yet?” Alex asked Ryan, who was manning the mixer beside the stage. Ryan surveyed the small crowd that had started to gather, spotting her with Charlotte toward the back.
“Yeah, she’s here. You ready for this?”
Alex adjusted the guitar strap on her shoulders and said with a sigh, “As ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose.”
“So not in the slightest. Got it. Stage is yours,” Ryan said, smiling.
Alex walked onto the stage, scanning the back of the crowd for Steph. She frowned when she noticed her arms folded against her chest and her puffy eyes.
“Hi...um...I’m Alex Chen, as most of you already know,” she said into the microphone. She noticed Steph try to turn and leave, but Charlotte grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
“Anyway...last night I misinterpreted a situation and reacted poorly, then immediately made it exponentially worse when I acted without thinking and hurt the one person I never imagined hurting. Steph Gingrich, you are the love of my life. I’m sorry for what I did to you, and I will do everything in my power to earn your trust again. This one’s for you.”
Alex began strumming a riff on her guitar as the conversing crowd grew quiet to listen.
“I am not the only traveler
Who has not repaid his debt
I’ve been searching for a trail to follow again
Take me back to the night we met
“And then I can tell myself
What the hell I’m supposed to do
And then I can tell myself
Not to ride along with you”
As she sang, Steph watched, her words failing her. She felt the pain of her confession boil to the surface of her soul, but she couldn’t help but admire the passion in the lyrics she sang. She thought about the times Alex would come to the record store after closing. How she’d watch her small, intimate performances, feeling every word she sang and every note she plucked.
“I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
Haunted by the ghost of you
Oh, take me back to the night we met
“When the night was full of terrors
And your eyes were filled with tears
When you had not touched me yet
Oh, take me back to the night we met”
Steph realized in this moment while watching Alex sing this song to her, that despite the confession and the misunderstanding, she still wanted her. All of her. For five amazing years, it was them against the world, and she felt like they were capable of accomplishing anything. She’d give anything to go back in time to the night they met, when everything was simpler. She’d endure Gabe’s death a thousand times if it meant she still could have Alex in her life.
“I had all and then most of you
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
I don’t know what I’m supposed to do
Haunted by the ghost of you
Take me back to the night we met.”
Wiping the tears from her eyes as Alex finished the song, Steph made her way to the stage.
“Steph…” Alex started before Steph threw her arms around her, weeping into her shoulder, their bodies separated only by the acoustic guitar. Alex returned the hug, holding her tight as if it were the last time she ever would.
Steph pulled away from Alex after a moment, wiping away her tears and then said: “Meet me in your apartment?”
“Right behind you,” Alex replied. She handed Ryan her guitar and followed Steph across the park, through the Black Lantern door, and upstairs to the apartment.
With the exception of her things that were still in a box at Charlotte’s house, the apartment looked the same as it did when she left it yesterday morning for work. The bed was unmade, there were dishes that needed to be done, but nothing else had moved.
“It’s like I never left,” Steph said with a chuckle. “Minus all of my stuff, of course.”
Alex motioned for her to sit on the bed, and she obliged.
“Steph…” Alex started, but Steph shook her head.
“Look, let’s just call the whole thing one big misunderstanding and move past this. I don’t want to dwell on it any longer than I have to. Just…” Steph considered her response for a moment. “...can you fix your MyBlock? It’s bothering me.”
“Can you unblock me from your contacts first?” Alex shoved her playfully.
“Can you not make out with my friends then?” Steph said with a chuckle, shoving her back.
“Touché, Gingrich.” Alex pulled her phone out of her pocket to update her MyBlock while Steph unblocked her.
Two of your neighbors have changed their relationship status: Steph Gingrich and Alex Chen are now in a relationship!
“And he kisses like a boy, so I assure you, that will not happen ever again,” Alex noted.
Steph chuckled at Alex’s remark before spotting the legal pad on the desk. She rose from the bed to grab it, her curiosity piqued.
“What’s this?” she asked, picking it up and looking it over.
Alex shielded her face in embarrassment. “No, don’t look at that!”
“You summed our relationship up in a pros and cons list?”
“Stop, it’s embarrassing!”
Steph paused when reviewing the cons, her eyebrow raised. “I do not fucking snore, Chen. Take it back.”
“Steph. You sound like a lumberjack sawing logs when you sleep. If I don’t fall asleep first, I don’t sleep.”
Steph tossed the legal pad back on the desk. “You’re lying. Take it back.”
“Not this time,” Alex said, grinning deviously. She grabbed Steph’s forearms and pulled her close. Steph bridged the space between them, cupping Alex’s face with her hands, their lips inches apart.
“This feels right,” Alex whispered, pressing her forehead against Steph’s.
“Y’know, I hear makeup sex is the best kind of sex,” Steph pointed out, receiving a hearty laugh from Alex in response.
“You’re the worst,” Alex said, closing the space between their lips. She pulled off Steph’s red beanie, tossing it aside as she laced her fingers through her hair. Steph kissed her back, parting her lips to invite the dance of their tongues as she eased her back on the bed.
Nothing else existed for them at this moment. No misunderstanding, no mistakes. No sadness. No anger. Just Steph Gingrich and Alex Chen against the world, as it was always meant to be.