“What if you could turn back the hours?”
The attorney gestured with his hands and looked on toward the members of the jury in a last ditch effort to appeal to their humanity. His defendant sat ramrod straight, his throat bobbing as he swallowed. Fingertips white in the way he clasped his hands in the form of a prayer.
“I think we have heard more than enough, Mr Bauer,” the judge held up his hand to signal for silence.
A choked wail breaks out. The defendant’s mother is ushered out.
“But your honour!” the attorney stepped forward, “my client is-”
An echo sounded as the gavel hit. “Overruled.”
Bauer loosened his collar. His hand reached automatically to the handkerchief in his coat pocket to dab at the pooling sweat around his neck.
His case was over the second Lexa presented CCTV footage. In just thirty seconds of film, Martin Kalb, upcoming indie director with a clean record, was etched into the minds of the jury as something worse than a murderer. If he would abuse a stray dog, he could kill two women.
Awfully ironic. Lexa thinks. To cry out against the abuse of a mutt, yet to eat their roast chicken without a thought.
“In light of all the evidence presented to us today,” the judge raised the gavel, “the court finds the defendant, Martin Kalb,”
These are the moments when Lexa thinks time suspends. When the entire courtroom inhales simultaneously and holds their breath. It’s almost electric, the drumming of her heart and the small chill down her spine, an intense rush of emotions coursing through her veins-
This is what it means to determine man’s fate.
Lexa mouths the words.
The gavel sounds once with finality and in one single breath, the courtroom exhales. The world returns to full speed. Wordless, the judge exits the courtroom followed closely by the court reporter and members of the jury. A burst of murmuring breaks out in the audience, journalists finalising the last details of the case, photographers changing film, others in formal attire rustling papers.
“Twenty years.” Indra says beside her, with a disbelieving shake of her head. “All over in four hours.”
Lexa only looked on into the slowly dispersing crowd. Amongst them, she narrowed in on the victim’s family. Mother, father, younger brother, all clothed in a mourning black. The father bows his head deeply and utters a hushed “thank you”.
Bauer, the attorney gripped onto the shoulders of Kalb in an apologetic manner, murmuring under their breaths. When they do pass by, Lexa feels the hatred. Her body still thrums with adrenaline.
“You should have taken my deal,” Lexa said, “ten years, up for parole in eight for good behaviour, had you plead guilty.”
“The last time I did a deal with you,” Bauer said, “my client was sentenced to life.”
Two officers take Kalb, and Bauer trails after them.
“You heartless bitch,” the father almost spits in her face.
Indra let out a growl. “Sir, I’ll have you know that any-”
“Don’t,” Lexa’s hand intercepts Indra’s before she touches the man. He only rolls his shoulders and turns sharply, making one hasty exit after Bauer.
“That does not give them the right to treat you this way.” Indra huffs.
Even when no one is speaking, Lexa can still hear the hushed whispers of Ruthless prosecutor.
At what point do truth and justice meet? Or do they rarely ever cross paths?
“Let’s go,” Lexa says, more to herself than to Indra, who had already packed their things within minutes of the hearing.
Photographers hovered around Bauer buzzing with questions. “Let’s go the other way,” Indra says.
Lexa spots the two new lawyers lingering by the vending machines. Ferris and his bright blonde hair is easily recognisable as he stands with his back against the wall, twirling a can of black coffee. Costia is seated on the wooden benches with her head hung low.
“Your first trial,” Lexa greeted the two of them, “now you are lawyers.”
Ferris did not look up. “I don’t know how you do this.”
“It gets easier,” Lexa said.
Indra made a noise from the back of her throat. “Looking at the two of you, I wouldn’t know who won.”
“I did.” Costia said with a long sigh.
She did not like looking at Costia. It reminded her too much of herself. Lexa’s hand reaches to brush away the pile of soft, fluffy hair covering Costia’s face.
“Come join us for lunch,” Lexa offered, “it will take your mind off the case.”
Ferris declines the offer, but Costia falls into step with Lexa.
“Disillusioned?” Lexa asked.
The girl’s brow furrowed at the question. “It wasn’t what I expected it to be.” she said after they were well on the way toward the usual cafe, tucked amongst countless others. Then Costia looked at Lexa, far too many emotions swirling in her features. “I wanted to… to find the truth.”
Lexa looked away. “We all do.”
Time, as we conceive of it, is nothing but an illusion.
This, Lexa knows from her eighteenth summer she spent huddled in the air-conditioned confines of a musty library, devouring anything related to time, space, and the universe.
Indra and Costia make conversation easily with one another, so that Lexa only has to speak to order her toasted ham, cheese, and tomato sandwich. Dew has formed on her tall iced tea glass.
What is real? What does exist? It is nothing but light and atoms, arranging, combining, and breaking.
She catches Costia looking fixedly at her more than one occasion. There’s been an effort on her part for Lexa, given the way she held the door open and pulled out her chair. Had Lexa been younger, twenty six, even, she would respond to the girl’s bold gestures by brushing their hands together under the table- or even by kissing the corner of her lip. She is young, in the way her cheeks flush when Lexa returns her stare. She is coy in a way Lexa was. But there is no interest in such relationships now.
Her finger traces the rim of her glass whilst Costia tells Indra about the disaster that is Riley’s case, how Mr Goldman’s allergies kicked in from stress, how Mr Goldman now camps out in his firm with sleeping bag- demanding they all stay until the mess is solved.
A feeling Lexa can only describe as sharp pang you feel when the one you love says she loves another. As if your heart will be constricted to the point of no repair, as the pounding roars in your ears and your entire body quivers to try prevent this vital organ from rupturing.
She steadies her breath.
The piercing increases with every passing second. Demanding attention, demanding to be heard.
The cafe is as it always is. Several occupied tables dining away in a quiet murmur. Rattle of cutlery, shifting chairs, some low music drowned out by the voices of patrons. There is nothing. Lexa thinks. Who could die? How will they die when there is nothing?
A scream shatters that thought as the cafe door crashes open. Glass sprays the flooring. One man had kicked the door down, sending the bell scattering.
“Put your hands up!” he points the gun to the nearest table. “Don’t move!” he shouts. The manager drops the phone in his hand.
“Please sir,” the manager tries, voice wavering, “anything you want.”
Lexa sees the time on her left wrist. 1:13pm.
She can feel Costia shivering. Lexa holds her breath. Soon.
It returns, the same feeling. Not the pain in the heart, but free fall. Like falling in a dream, waking the split second before you hit the ground. That’s the sensation of falling in time.
Snippets of the same conversation flow into her ears. 1:10pm. Three minutes. It will repeat until something happens. Lexa at most had sat through thirteen loops. Witnessing the same death thirteen times does something to numb the mind.
The inexperienced Lexa would have stopped the man directly. But after years of the same experience, she has learned of indirect ways to change the outcome. Butterfly effect. Lexa is the only one aware of the loop, and thus, the only one who can alter it by changing her actions.
A part of her insists that there has to be some kind of purpose for this. Why else will time repeat, for her to only witness the death of the same person, in the same way? Of course, it is her desire to rationalise and assign meaning to events that probably hold no significance.
“Costia,” Lexa withdraws a small folder from her bag. “Would you mind passing this along to Mr Goldman?”
She’s beaming at the mention of her name. “No problem,” the tips of Costia’s ears are bright red when their fingers graze in the lightest of touches.
“Hey watch it!”
A blasting of a truck horn followed by squealing tires draws the attention of the entire cafe. Lexa’s aware of the man outside now, crossing the road without a second glance. To collide head on with the truck.
A chorus of whispered fuck leaves the lips of the diners, before a murmuring begins. Call the police! Call an ambulance! One woman ordered the manager before darting out the door, toward the armed man who bled profusely. The truck driver cursed.
“Where are you going?” Indra is about to pack her things when Lexa holds out a hand to stop her.
“A walk,” she says, in the tone that Indra knows means I’ll be back, I need some time.
Costia rises from her seat also. “Would you like me to come with you?” There’s this dazzling hope flickering about Costia’s face, too willing, too sweet.
“Maybe another time,” Lexa says instead. Lexa grabs her coat.
She is young.
What if you could turn back the hours?
Bauer had said. All Lexa thought of was you can’t.
The walk to the precinct takes about fifteen minutes on foot. She thinks she has mastered walking on any surface in heels.
“Afternoon, miss Woods.” Lincoln greeted her from behind the reception, passing along the daily edition of the New York Times. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Lexa is fine, Lincoln, and no thanks.”
The dark monstrosity was what Lexa imagined crude oil must taste like. All over the headlines.
Lincoln pushes the sign-in sheet to Lexa before pouring himself a cup. “What case files are you looking for today?”
At Lexa’s frown, Lincoln sighs. “Horrible isn’t it?”
“Since when were these details given to the public?” Lexa scribbled her name down on the list. She sees Mr Goldman’s name too, for Riley’s case most likely.
“More like the media leaked some private emails.” Lincoln frowned, nodding to the TV. “You should’ve seen them the other day, a mob of journalists camping outside.”
“It’s everywhere.” Lexa said, dotting the ‘i’ in Alexandria Woods. “Mind if I take a look around the files?”
Lincoln raised a brow. “Be my guest.”
She eases her way into the main office and a few officers she’s worked with raise their hands in greeting. Thankfully, Lexa listened to Anya and did not pursue detective work. Crowded with mostly men, the precinct reeked of tobacco, coffee, and stale paper files. Besides a few scattered plants about, the creamy wallpaper combined with suspicious stains made her stomach churn.
As she slipped through the halls towards the Records Room, she unfolded the newspaper Lincoln handed her. Large text proclaimed on the front page:
JUSTICE FOR KIDNAPPINGS AND MURDERS OF ’98-’99
The first paragraph of writing gave context, with the name GUSTUS TERRAN (39) leaping forward. There are two mugshots, one taken the week of his arrest, and the second a few days prior to his court hearing. She tries to find the college boy who told her the way to solve all problems: “You gotta have guts kid, guts and kindness.”
In the latest mugshot, all Lexa sees is decaying husk in the form of a man. Even now she remembers jogging with him after school by the river, the model planes he cut with an X-ACTO knife, the chilly days she spent in his pizzeria sipping away at free iced coffee and overcooked pizza.
No one who traded their legendary Pokemon and mashed buttons on the Gameboy, all while purposely losing, could be a murderer.
Her eyes scan down to the names of the three victims of ’99.
Sasha Wayne (7), Nicole Bradley (12), Clarke Griffin (16).
Victims were all reported missing.
This is the point where Lexa should stop. Photos of Sasha and Nicole are candid shots from their families. Clarke’s photograph is from the school, the kinds with forced smiles. It’s not the way Lexa remembers her.
Missing for three days. Body discovered once the snow cleared. Evidence of being repeatedly raped and severe injuries from being beaten. Suffered two broken ribs and over 50 cuts. Autopsy deems time of death 3:13am by blunt trauma to the head.
She takes in one shuddering breath.
Death is the common denominator for all, rich or poor, weak or powerful, black or white, man or woman. Death is not bad, as long as it is quick and painless, then it is peace. But not when ripped to shreds by sharks, not when it is by a thousand cuts, not when the body is fighting for survival.
Lexa folded the paper and tossed it into the recycling.
At that point in time, sixteen year old Lexa was too caught up in herself. Everyone knew that to some extent, Clarke was ostracised. Even now Lexa does not know why. Teens are cruel, angry, hurt.
How could she not realise? Why didn’t she speak out? If only she had called out to Clarke that freezing night, offered to walk home together or to grab dinner or even just to speak, even if Lexa made an absolute fool of herself. If Clarke hadn’t been alone, she would be safe. Alive. If. If. If.
But life is not about re-dos.
The last time Lexa saw Clarke alive, she was standing alone in the park, under a pale streetlight just as snow began to fall from the sky. Lexa can still see the exact shade of blue of her coat and the knitted stitches on her scarf.
For the next three days, Clarke did not attend school. Authorities were notified and the city woken.
Clarke Griffin’s body was discovered on the first day of spring after the snow thawed.
The final time Lexa will see Clarke is at her funeral. An entire school weeps. Lexa fixes her gaze on the bullies shedding rivers of tears. Crocodile tears. She remembers thinking. It’s too late.
Within three days, the white flowers on Clarke’s desks wither. No one speaks of her again.
All it would’ve took was one word. One word between life and death.
“Can I help you?”
Lexa jumps to see a woman, a secretary of some sort holding the door open to the records room.
“I’m looking for the files for the murders of ’98.”
She smiles politely and ducks away into one of the many rows of records. “Been all over the news lately, hasn’t it?” she reappears with a thick manila folder. “Here you go.”
“And the evidence?” Lexa’s looking at the room, overrun with filing cabinets, shelves, and binders.
The woman seems a bit embarrassed as she says, “I know we’ve got a photocopy of the autopsies and some witness testimonies. Besides that, you’ll have to speak to Mr White.” a beat later, she adds, “we’re sorting out a lot of the files at the moment, so I’m afraid I can’t help you anymore.”
The woman smiles again but doesn’t hover, for which Lexa is infinitely grateful for.
Flipping through the folder, she instantly recognises her own statement given to the police when her mother accompanied her for questioning.
[‘What kind of person is Mr Terran?’]
[“A kind person. He looks a bit scary but he’s not the type of person who could do those things.”]
[‘And you have been into his room, correct?’]
[‘Was there anything out of the ordinary in his room?’]
[“I… don’t think so. It was normal. He had some heavy weights lying around because his hobby is bodybuilding.”]
[‘On the night of the kidnapping, did you see Mr Terran? Was he unusual at all?’]
[‘Please answer truthfully.’]
[“Yes I saw him. I didn’t notice anything weird.”]
[‘What time was it and where was he?’]
[“Around 8pm I think. We passed by each other. I was going home and he was going in the direction of our school- so we passed by the park.”]
[‘Did he say anything to you?’]
[“We just said hi. He told me not to stay out too late.”]
With a brief overview, Lexa thinks the files won’t be as useful as she had hoped. No decisive evidence.
The statue of limitations had long exceeded. In most states it was seven years at most. It’s already been fourteen years.
Since when did closure come above justice?
A crackle draws Lexa’s attention away from the manila folder. When she strained her ears, she could catch the static of a radio droning in the room next door- probably from officers on lunch break.
“Yes Jackie, today at 1:30pm Gustus Terran, the man charged with the kidnappings, rape, torture, and murders of an estimated eight girls aged between 6 and 18 has been sentenced to death. His execution date is set three days from now on the 5th. We here at TalkShak offer our sincere condolences to the families who have had their beautiful girls taken away by the hands of this sick man…”
There’s a thump followed by a groan. “Turn that shit off.”
The radio host is abruptly cut off. Lexa hears another man’s voice. “My pal who works at max says they hate guys like him. You can be one of them if you killed a man, but if you kill a child- that’s it, they're gonna give you hell.”
A rattling of some sort signals the dragging of a chair across the floor. “That’s what I told you, it’s a goddamn cycle. So many of ‘em came from broken homes. It’s like chucking a lamb to a den full’a starving lions.”
Shaped by the most important factor- environment, yet it is the one thing that cannot be controlled. You’re either lucky, or you’re not.
Her phone buzzes in her pocket. At first she considers Indra, but the number is Anya’s.
“When are you getting back? I’m outside your apartment.”
“I thought you were in California.”
“I just finished my match,” Anya’s teeth chattered. “Man, you New Yorkers are so dull, always schedule this, schedule that.”
“The password for the main door is 4-3-8.” Lexa’s eyes flickered to her watch. “I’ll be there in twenty.”
When she makes it to the reception, Lincoln takes down a note of the case file. At his hesitant look, Lexa asks him what is bothering him. He stiffens. “I was wondering if you’d be able to pass a message on to Octavia.”
“I think it’s quite obvious that she finds you attractive. I heard her talking about the new pizza joint on the fifth.”
Lincoln rubbed his neck, slightly sheepish. “Thanks,” he says with a smile. “I owe you one.”
Sure enough, when the elevator doors dinged open, she saw Anya leaning on a suitcase by her door. How she still dressed like a college student, Lexa did not know.
“Man, it’s so cold out here.” Anya shifted her weight from one foot to the other.
Lexa drew her keys from her bag. “I thought you were staying at a hotel?”
“What, I can’t visit my cute sister?”
She rolled her eyes and pushed the door open. Anya did a mock curtsy and dragged her plastic red suitcase in.
There’s a horrified groan. “What the hell Lex,” Anya flicked on the lights and kicked off her shoes. Lexa moves her suitcase to one side. Anya wandered about, peering into each room before looking at the contents of the fridge. “You’re living like a divorced man.”
Lexa tossed her bag aside. “I’m moving out in a month. Just order takeout.”
“You don’t have a washing machine.” Anya sounds accusatory. “Or a dryer.”
“I go to the laundromat.”
“Your bed- it’s hideous.”
Only the bare necessities. No TV, a laptop, a leather couch Anya gifted to her on her twenty first birthday, one beat up dining table with two mismatched chairs. An array of books decorated her lopsided bookshelf.
“And your fridge- you’ve only got alcohol and takeout.” Anya wrinkled her nose in a dramatic sign of disgust. “You are what you eat, and that shit is dripping in oil and-”
“Okay, okay, let’s go get some groceries.”
On the way out Lexa throws the bomber jacket Anya left from her last visit. It’s the same one Anya’s been wearing for almost ten years. They used to run in the snow together, and she’d always spot Anya wearing the black jacket, like a wolf in a snowstorm.
What would’ve been a ten minute walk was reduced to five once Anya started jogging to warm up.
“How did your match go?”
Automatic doors glide open.
“Won, of course,” Anya pointed to the basket, “you should come watch me sometime.”
Lexa pulled the first red basket she saw. “Watching you wrestle isn’t really on my list.”
“I don’t like carrots,” Lexa jerked the basket aside despite Anya’s effort to stick them in.
“That’s why you are destined to wear contacts all your life,” Anya said. “Jeez fine, what do you want, burgers or salmon?”
She stops by a stand of fruits and begins to prod at lemons.
“Have you visited mom recently?” Lexa asked.
“Also it’s kick boxing, and nope. I’ve been busy with the tour. Besides, she barely remembers who I am.” Lexa watches as Anya grabs three lemons and drops them into the basket, followed by oranges, bananas, and some apples.
“What about you, Lex?”
“The same. The last time I saw her she thought I was her old college friend.” Mary.
By the bread section, Anya picks out a baguette and one bag of rye bread. “You said you’re moving, why? Your apartment’s in a good spot.”
Lexa took a packet of almonds handed to her. “Remember the house I was talking to you about?”
At this, Anya spins around. “You bought it?”
“Potatoes? Spinach? Green beans?” Anya says, and Lexa only nods her assent.
“Wait, since when did you have a girlfriend?”
“I don’t.” Lexa sighed.
“So you’re going to live in a giant mansion by yourself?”
“I’m thinking of becoming a foster parent.”
They stop by the cereal aisle as Anya stretches to grab two boxes of her favourite. “Honest here, you don’t seem to be the single parent type to me, Lex.”
She caught the two boxes from Anya to stuff into the basket. “Yes, and you are because you locked me out that one time and I got hypothermia.”
“Technically Niylah is the parent and I’m just the cool godmother,” Anya corrected her. “It wasn’t that bad. You broke that bowl on my head and gave me a concussion.”
“You were out for three hours. It was because you stole the snacks I hid behind the canned foods. How did you even find it?” Rapidly diminishing supplies of popcorn and chocolate was always a problem that turned them against each other.
“Sister’s instinct,” Anya moved forward after a look at the price. “You told mom about Susie after you promised not to.”
“Okay but that was after you broke my arm.”
Then there was a bout of silence.
How did either of them survive to adulthood?
The worst was when Anya jokingly told Lexa to heat up the ice cream scooper in the microwave- which eight year old Lexa did, only to set their microwave on fire and set off the smoke alarm. All the residents from the apartments evacuated. Anya wearing no pants, opened the door to find firemen, police, and ambulance.
“God we’re awful,” Lexa shuddered.
Anya seemed to be recalling similar memories. Still, she flashed a grin at Lexa. “Still glad we didn’t kill each other cos’ I don’t know what I’ll do without ya.”
Lexa finds it funny how time passes so quickly with Anya. She doesn’t remember buying chocolate, milk, or salmon, or half the things in the basket.
“You walk so slow,” Anya groaned, three steps ahead and carrying two bags of groceries.
She forgets how to breathe as the stabbing pain returns. Twice in one day? Anya was still talking but Lexa couldn’t focus, could only hear the battered thud of her heart. 4:15pm. She spins on her heels, the supermarket? No, it’s the parking lot. A man is reversing his car but there’s no one within a dangerous distance. Similarly, two children wander into the store whilst two elderly ladies open the trunk of the car to load groceries.
Fuck. Lexa takes one gasp of air. There’s nothing. Where? Where is it?
She’s falling again back into her body.
“You walk so slow,”
“Hey Anya,” Lexa said, willing her voice to stay calm.
Anya slowed down. “Hmm?”
“Keep an eye out for anything unusual.”
“Huh, sure.” Anya said as she turned to face the other way. “What’s weird? Balloons?”
The two old ladies start loading groceries onto their car again. Two children enter the store, not lost given the way they’re laughing. Nobody else in the parking lot and the man starts his engine.
Just as quickly as the feeling comes, it subsides.
Was calling out to Anya all it took?
She scans the area. Nothing. No danger. False alarm?
“What’s weird?” Lexa says, if not a little out of breath, jogging to catch up.
Anya seems to consider something but she shrugs, grinning again. “I might’ve just been reading too much into it. Let’s go, I’ll make dinner.”
“I swear to god if you keep eating like this you’ll eat yourself to an early grave.”
Lexa closes the case file. It’s obvious why lawyers don’t take cases too close to them. Her judgement is clouded by emotions. Even murderers can lead ordinary lives, drown a child, and return home to their son.
“Anya, I told you, your green smoothies make me sick.”
In just an hour or so, Anya managed to clean up her kitchen and her bathroom, all the while listening to music from her iPod and lighting scented candles.
“I’m not saying to take on my diet, I’m saying you gotta look out for your health more. Don’t go dying before me.”
“You’re too stubborn to die first.” Lexa said.
There’s a clattering. Anya emptied the contents of her fridge into one large black garbage bag. How Anya managed to figure out the gas system to start a fire, Lexa would never know. She hears Anya padding to the table to set down dinner.
Lexa rolls off the couch to join her.
“Do you need help with moving? I’m crashing at your place for the next month.”
It’s odd, seeing someone else opposite her on the table. She’s been living alone since college, after Anya moved to California. She’s visited Anya’s home once or twice, and now looking around, she feels embarrassed about how bare her apartment is. The high rise building is nothing compared to Anya’s cosy place that oozes warmth and home. Maybe Lexa should buy some new furniture. She could ask Anya for help.
Anya smirked at Lexa’s expression when she tasted the salmon. Yeah, so Anya’s a surprisingly good wife. Lexa would drink the green juice before she admits that. It’ll blow her ego to outer-space. “You might as well help out. I only have a mattress so you’ll have to sleep on the floor.”
“That’s fine,” Anya says, digging into the salmon with her fork. “What about that new girl at Goldman’s firm? Costia?”
“Don’t even think about it. She’s too young,”
“I can live with you dying alone,” Anya continued, poking at an undercooked bean. “As long as you don’t die a virgin. Let me hook you up with one of my friends.”
“No, and this isn’t even dinner table talk.”
“Alright,” she says with a sigh. “I still reckon there’s two types of people in the world,”
“What, more of this coconut and peach business?”
A broad smile greets her, “You still remember,” Anya sounds a bit surprised at that. “Yeah, see, Lex, you’re the definition of a coconut.”
“I don’t think coconut people exist, Anya,” still, Lexa can’t resist the smile. It feels stiff at first- for all she’s done these past few years is frown- frown at court hearings, frown at witnesses, frown at people. Did her muscles even know how to move?
Anya notices this and waves her fork about. “Hear me out. You’ve got this tough exterior and you’re hard to know. But once you get past that, you’re just all sweet on the inside.”
“Right,” Lexa quirks a brow, “and, what about your peach people?”
“Well, peaches, they’re soft on the outside, so you can approach them easily, but they’ve got a hard stone on the inside that protects their…real self or soul or something. Basically, you think you’re on good terms with them, but you’ve never seen what’s inside the pit, unless you’re super close.”
“Are you a coconut or a peach?”
She considered this for a moment. “Peach, definitely.”
“Are you thinking about that case?”
Lexa shakes her head, tired. “It’s hard not to. Not when the media’s blowing it up like this.”
Anya’s finishing off the last of her salmon.
"Anya, what about the guy when we were leaving the store?"
“Ah, yeah,” she chewed on her lip. “It’s probably nothing.”
An alarm from her phone distracts Lexa from prodding for answers. 7:30pm. Lexa scraped up the last of her mashed potatoes with her fork. “I need to go out for a bit.”
Anya took her finished plate. “Right, want anything for dessert?”
“Gotcha,” Anya grinned and waved goodbye. “Stay safe.”
Her cheeks hurt, Lexa notes as she rides the elevator down. It’s been too long.
The guard brings Guts in stiffly, only acknowledging Lexa’s presence with a nod. Guts shuffles forward awkwardly with a bowed head, resting his weight on the fold-up chair which gives a slight squeak. Then the guard paces around the room once, the security camera follows the action. Without a word, the guard retreats, closing the door after him.
Lexa brings her eyes to Guts. Now that she has seen him for the first time in fourteen years, Lexa’s tongue feels thick in her mouth. In the quiet of the room, she could hear his heavy breathing. Asthma. His brown hair was matted to the shoulders, the lines around his mouth and eyes deeper than ever.
“You didn’t do it.” Lexa said. There is not right tone of voice to convey the way she feels.
“No,” Guts said with a weak upturn of the lip, reminiscent of a smile. His vacant gaze seems to look through Lexa. “They need to give justice somehow.”
At the tapping of the guard on the other side of the window, Guts brings his hands to the table. Metal chains grind against each other with a heavy clink as handcuffs meet the edge of wood. A looming stillness descends, in which Lexa can barely breathe, let alone, conjure sentences.
“It’s not my dad’s recipe,” Guts said.
“Your dad did make the best pizza.”
At that, he manages a grating laugh. “It’s better than nothing,” he said with a glance to the guard, “shows that they still got a heart to feel sorry for death row inmates like me.”
A rush of words threatened to leave Lexa’s lips.
It’s a mockery. We have condemned you to rot, to die as a murderer. We have chosen to play God. While you suffer for sins that are not your own, as one man with bloody hands walks free and continues to breathe fresh air, to eat his favourite meals, to live the life he robbed you of.
Are you giving up? Is this it? Lexa clenched her jaw. Where are your guts? Where is your spirit?
But Lexa finds herself staring at this man she used to know. There is no healthy glow to his dark skin, which radiates nothing but disease, further brought out by the sickly colour of khaki. A dead man walking. Even the bright lights of the room could not bring the faintest glimmer to the chasms of his eyes.
Lexa remembers hypothermia. How the cold chilled her to the bone, the way her body would not stop trembling in a weak effort to generate heat— before she could no longer feel anything, and the only thought that awaited her was sleep.
He was too tired to fight. Lexa would not make him.
“Thank you,” Lexa said instead, reaching for his large palm, “for giving me courage.”
Guts hands are rough in hers and the touch makes him jump. It’s a sight that digs deep into her heart. His brawny shoulders trembled.
“Thanks for coming,” he said softer this time. “I rejected your offers before. I wish I didn’t.”
From the corner of her eye she can see the guard approaching. The door flings open and he marches to Guts, “time’s up.” the guard said without a glance to Lexa. Guts stands slowly. The guard stands behind him.
Guts looks back over his shoulder with the faintest of smiles. “Seeya on the other side, kid.”
It is the soft click of the door that brings Lexa back. He is gone. But his presence still hangs around in the air, as does his voice, his shuffling feet, his small gestures. Lexa vows to burn them into her memory. Not as Gustus Terran, but as Guts. She stays seated for a while longer.
“Sorry, we need to ask you to leave soon.”
The voice jolts her out of her trance. Another guard. He gestures toward the door. Lexa stands up, gives the white room one last look over before allowing the guard to escort her out.
Rapists. Murderers. Child abusers. They are human garbage. She will not deny that. A vindictive voice inside her insists they feel the suffering brought onto their victims. To be locked up to rot behind bars. But never innocent men. Guts was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As she exits the prison, she finds at least five different TV stations reporting on the crowd of protestors who have gathered. Minivans parked with logos of stations plastered on them, some with a mini satellite dish positioned on the roof. One news reporter storms right up to Lexa with two cameras. The lights blind her temporarily and she’s aware of the dangling microphone above their heads.
“What are your thoughts on the sentence of Gustus Terran?” the man says in a strong accent, shoving the mic toward her. “Do you-”
He might as well be slobbering over her arm in the way his hungry eyes dart. Lexa sees the expression on Guts’ face. Her hand itches to meet the reporter’s thousand dollar teeth.
Lexa strides away despite the yells of the reporter.
Vultures. All of them.
Lexa took a longer route back to the apartment, dropping by a convenience store to grab a chapstick and some beer. Her dry lips were an indicator of changing seasons. The man at the register gave her a packet of mints for free too. It’s a tiny comfort for what she thinks is something that will never disappear.
Even if Anya didn’t say it, she did stare at the alcohol aisle for a little too long.
When the elevator doors open a man steps out. Their shoulders brush briefly as Lexa enters the elevator. She watches his retreating form until the door closes. As Lexa applies the chapstick, the elevator reaches her floor.
She finds the door unlocked. “Anya, you should really lock-”
The first thing she sees is red. She smells raw earth and tastes rust.
She can’t be.
She feels for a pulse.
Lexa’s been plunged under ice.
“What the fuck?” it leaves her lips harsh.
Her skin was no longer warm. “You better not be fucking around with me,” Lexa whispers, shaking her limp shoulder. Anya’s chest does not rise and fall, nor does she open her eyes and bubble with laughter. “You’re gonna laugh at me for being so stupid and actually believing this, aren’t you?”
“I’ll give it to you, you’re good,” she was laughing now. “You’re good.”
Like that time Anya pretended to be knocked unconscious, to the point where Lexa sobbed her eyes out. Then she got right up and flicked Lexa on the forehead for being so stupid. Like that time. Like all the other times Anya pranked her-
Lexa presses her ear to her chest, straining her ears for any sound.
“Aren’t you supposed to be a kickboxer? You just let some fuck stab you? Is that it?” Lexa can’t breathe. “You said you’d never die easily,” you said we’re a team.
She feels the hot tears run down her cheeks. “You’re the only family I got left.”
Anya had always lied. Like the time she told Lexa she could make clouds by holding a hose outside for two hours, or when she told Lexa they couldn’t roll off the roof- and Lexa did, but was saved by a pile of snow.
“You can’t go yet,” why are you so peaceful? “I-” haven’t told you. Haven’t told you I love you. Haven’t had enough time with you.
Fuck. Who did this? Who? The- the man? The man who got off the elevator? It could’ve been anybody- it- she’s dead. But she was fine just fucking thirty minutes ago. She was fine.
She shouldn’t have asked Anya. Shouldn’t have told her to look out for something-
A thump. The landlady stepped over the toppled beer. “I’m here to collect your rent-”
The scream shakes Lexa to her senses.
“She’s dead,” Lexa said. “She’s dead.”
dead. dead. dead. dead.
gone. gone. gone.
“Are you Lexa Woods?”
Lexa blinked up to the two officers. She cleared her throat. “Yes,” it’s not her voice.
Distant sirens blare.
She wasn’t sure how long she was in the halls, or how she even got there, or how long she was staring into her apartment. By now, her neighbours have all gathered, talking, shaking heads, clutching stomachs. A white outline traced around Anya, where photographers snap shots, and she sees two men lifting her away- into a black body bag.
They’ll perform an autopsy. She heard one say. The weapon’s the knife. Stabbed once through the stomach, died of blood loss. Nothing’s been caught on the security camera.
“We’re going to need you to come with us to the precinct to answer some questions.”
No. She wants to say. No, the person will get away. But who? Who?
“Please, ma’am,” the officer repeats, slightly harsher. “If you do not come with us we will have to do so by force.”
Her entire body is lead. She cannot will her legs to move. The officer grabs her by the arm to pull her up.
It hits her again. A pain so great it knocks the air out of her lungs. A sharp spasm in her chest, a fast-building pressure that explodes like a dam.
Is this it?
The horror on the faces of the officers seem further and further away. Noise ceases to exist.
The movie reel of her life flashes in seconds, and all the while she can hear the voices of her mother, Anya, Guts, Indra, Costia. On the other side.
Her numb mind comprehends the sensation- like dropping from fifty metres, where there is a split second of fear- fall, and silence.
What meets her eyes makes her heart stop.
[ANNUAL SNOW FESTIVAL, 1999]
Lexa reached for her chest. Throbbing with life. Each intake of breath was colder. She turns so quick she almost trips on nothing. An expanse of white covered the houses and skeleton trees. Her old high school building visible despite the thin layer of fog. Students slowly trudged into the gates of the school, bundled from head to toe in warm clothes- scarves, gloves, beanies.
Sixteen. She was sixteen. She looks down at her hands to see black gloves, and the green parka Anya bought her, black combat boots, ripped skinny jeans. Sixteen. Sixteen again.
It shouldn’t be possible. Ten minutes, yes. Never fourteen years.
“ ‘sup Woods,”
The sudden weight on her shoulder makes Lexa jump.
“H-hey,” she says, coming face to face with- who?- Jasper, she recalls. The boy tilts his head, tugging down his striped beanie with one hand.
“Dude, it’s like you saw a ghost. Are you okay?”
“What date is it?” Lexa’s voice sounds different. Lighter.
Jasper stretched his arms. “17th, why? Did’ya forget your homework or something?”
Lexa breaks into a run.
“Oi, where are you going?” Jasper shouts after her. “We’ve got a group presentation today!”
“I forgot something!”
She has to see for herself-
She collides headfirst into what her brain registers as another head. Fuck. Adrenaline eases the dull throb. Better not be a concussion. Lexa looks onto the other- a flash of blonde.
By the time she realises the name has slipped from her lips, Clarke’s blue eyes met Lexa’s in a fixed gaze. Lexa just knocked Clarke over.
“Sorry,” Lexa breathes out.
For a heartbeat Lexa’s outstretched hand met nothing but air. Then Clarke’s bare hand grasped hers and Lexa helped the girl up. The top of Clarke’s kneecaps were covered with snow, as were parts of her navy coat. Clarke brushed the cold from her knees revealing tender pink skin, matching that of her cheeks. Stubborn bits of snow clung to her bottom of her coat, but Clarke merely fixed her scarf that was loosened in the incident.
Now Lexa sees the purple bruise blooming on Clarke’s thigh, and another on the base of her neck. Now she understands why Clarke lingers by that park with her hands shoved deep in her coat pockets until dark.
Clarke walked away as if Lexa did not exist.
Lexa’s legs carry her home faster than the speed of light. The snow and bundles of clothes restricted her movement, made every step strain her lungs, and the mad gusts of wind tugging her in different directions. Never before did Lexa’s heart soar so high to see the drab apartment complex take shape. Anya would scold her for the lack of attention to her breath.
“What’s wrong Lexa?”
She whipped her head so fast she almost crashed right into the wall. Her mom had the car window rolled down and was looking at her concerned. “I thought you went to school already.”
“I forgot my textbook,” Lexa said breathlessly.
“Well, don’t be too long, we’re having burgers tonight.” With that, she started the engine and waved goodbye. I’m Lexa again. Not Mary. Lexa.
These are the moments. Moments Lexa wants to engrave into her very being.
She pushes the door open and trips on something soft that lets out a loud yelp. Lexa’s head meets the floorboard in a crunch. Shit. A groan tears through her throat. The throbbing of her head increased tenfold. The soft thing moved and whimpered. “Latte.” Lexa realises with a wince, the Japanese akita limped over Lexa’s leg.
“You skipping school or something?”
All pain forgotten, Lexa turns to the voice.
There Anya is, descending the stairs with a toothbrush dangling from her mouth and one hand tangled in her bed-hair.
Anya’s expression changes and she almost leaps to close the distance between them. Her arms come around Lexa to draw her close. Lexa realises she’s crying again. But Anya is here, and solid, strong in the way she squeezes her. “H-hey, I was kidding, why are you crying?” Anya smells like safety and home. “I’m sorry for eating your caramel popcorn, okay?”
Hearing Anya trying to speak through a mouthful of mint toothpaste made Lexa laugh. The tears wouldn’t stop.
Anya pulls back to scrutinise Lexa with fierce eyes. “Did some fucker do something? Gimme the name and address and I’ll beat the shit out of them.”
“I just forgot something,” Lexa says between gulps of air, fighting the smile on her face. “No, I’m fine, promise.”
“If you say so,” Anya ruffles Lexa’s hair. “Ain’t like you Lex.”
“Are you coming back tonight?”
Anya spits and rinses her mouth in the sink. “Of course. Training’s on break for the winter.”
“Yeah, I’ll go now,” Lexa manages to say. Rubbing Latte’s head apologetically, Lexa looked up again. “I love you.”
Anya gaped at her. “Did you hit your head?”
Lexa can only smile. But before Lexa could close the door, Anya stuck her foot out and says in her new college student voice, “Make sure you don’t hang outside too long after school, these days it gets dark too quickly.” She hesitates for a moment. “But you know I love you too, with all of my heart.”
Lexa is shoved outside. “Now go to school before I get in trouble.”
She takes a second just to let it set in.
She’s alive. She’s alive. Lexa has to repeat it to herself.
When does this end? She has no control- she could revert to the future within minutes.
The smart thing to do is nothing. But Lexa was never all that smart. She has to try or she’ll live the rest of her life regretting it- Anya’s dead, Clarke will kiss the snow— Lexa has to try.
She takes one steadying breath and turns in the direction of the school. She has fifteen minutes until roll call. Her lungs are about to cave-in from her sprint, icy wind pierces her throat, so much so that breathing was difficult. Cold nips at her skin.
But her heart thrummed with newfound strength and burned so hot that her entire body buzzed. When was the last time her heart beat like this?
One month from now Clarke Griffin will disappear.
Three days later, on the first day of spring, as the snow thaws her body will be found.
This time, Lexa will rewrite history.
First, by becoming Clarke’s friend.
Clarke and Lexa interact. Some fluff after the despair that was “Thirteen”.
Unbeta’d, all mistakes mine.
(The struggle of wanting to update quickly but not have the chapter be absolute shit.)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Each step sank ankle-deep, making the next one even more draining. The restriction of three layers of clothing made running difficult. Lexa’s lungs gasped with each stride. Thankfully, the school was now in sight. Arkadia was printed in metallic letters on the gates. In her memory it seemed to be more of a concrete slab than anything. It looms closer, made even more eerie by the thick fog.
A teacher hovered about the school gate, stopping Lexa at arm’s length. As she struggled to catch her breath he gestured to the sweater sliding off her shoulder. “Cover that up,” he nodded and pointed to Lexa’s ear. “Two earrings only. Don’t let me catch you again.”
It takes Lexa a moment to realise that he’s talking about the awful (illegal) tattoo drunk Ryder gave her for free, the one she would get re-done when she turned twenty one. Lexa struggles to take off two earrings, her hands unresponsive. The teacher opens his palm and Lexa gives them to him.
The bell rings just as Lexa climbs up the first flight of stairs. Gentili, a stout Italian teacher guarded the hallways, his sharp eyes glinting beneath thick frames. A boy who clambered up the stairs behind her groaned. He jerked his head over Lexa’s shoulder before stepping back again, his mop-like brown hair sticking to his forehead.
“Look at this luck,” he said, slinging his bag over his shoulder. Lexa did not recognise him but he appeared to be in the same year level. “Take one for the team?”
Lexa looked at him. “Why don’t you?”
The boy holds out his hand. Rock paper scissors. Lexa throws scissors.
“Shit, best out of three.”
Lexa pushes him out into the open and he yelps. Gentili marches right up to the boy, looking him up and down. “What do you think you’re doing out of class?”
“I just got here sir,” he said, “I was going to sign in.”
Lexa takes the chance when Gentili drags the boy into a spare classroom for a lecture— probably, to run down the hallways. She dashes past the history wing, into the English wing where her classroom was located.
“Alexandria Woods… Going three times…”
“Sorry, I overslept.” Lexa said, still out of breath. Her hand slipped from the sliding door.
The teacher— Pike, looked up from the roll and frowned. “Try not to do that again. Go take your seat.”
Lexa’s eyes flicker across the classroom to meet forty pairs of eyes. She barely remembered any of them, let alone, where she sat. She spotted two empty seats, one beside the window near the back row, the other located somewhere in the middle next to Eva? Emma? At the clearing of Pike’s throat, she slips into the nearest seat.
“Are you still asleep?” The boy, Wells, she recalls says. “This is Darcy’s spot.”
She slides off the chair to the middle row, next to Echo. The girl only looks her over once before taking out a nail file from her pencil case.
Pike clears his throat to start the lesson. Maths first, apparently. Halfway through Pike’s explanation Lexa feels a foot kick her chair. She looks over her shoulder— Raven. Raven’s hand knocked against the pen behind her ear as she tied her hair up into one tidy ponytail.
“You sure you’re feeling okay?” Raven said, so quiet that Lexa had to strain her ears to hear. The girl seemed concerned, or curious, rather, given the way she raised one brow and rested her chin on her hand.
Raven doesn’t look convinced but doesn’t pry any further.
Lexa takes in her surroundings. It’s nothing like how she remembered it to be. Neat rows of wooden desks separated from each other, leaving enough room for Pike to walk around the classroom, glancing over their shoulders to either point out mistakes or answer questions. A cold breeze entered in through the large open windows, ruffling the pinned posters on the wall. A boy who sat right beside the window sniffled loudly.
The classroom is silent apart from chalk against the blackboard, and the scribbling of pens and pencils on paper. The scenery outside is a mixture of white and grey. Lonely trees shiver in the wind. The teacher who was by the gate has left, leaving behind a trail of footprints.
Lexa manages to land one oily fingerprint on the lens of her glasses. Of course. She didn’t get contacts until halfway through college.
It probably isn’t a good thing that Lexa barely remembers basic mathematics. She hasn’t done a maths course since high school. So Lexa listened half-heartedly, catching specific phrases here and there, but her mind twisted. How do kids even make friends? She kept catching glances of Clarke from the corner of her eye. Clarke’s hand leisurely twirled a strand of blonde hair as the other jotted down notes.
She shifts in her seat slightly.
Lexa sees it now.
Bruises. Swelling. It has to hurt. Did Pike know? Did anybody else know?
The scarf hides the bruise the second after.
Lexa looked down at her graph paper. She drew one wobbly line. A timeline.
Today is the 17th of February 1999. Clarke goes missing three days before spring, therefore reported missing on the 18th of March. The reason why Guts was a prime suspect was because he happened to be the last person who spoke to Clarke. (Something about his boot prints matching the ones by the shed in the park). Theoretically Lexa just needs to ensure that Clarke is alive on the 18th, that in itself would propel this timeline to split.
She should’ve read through the case files more carefully. She should’ve persuaded the assistant to see Mr White to access the real, tangible evidence. How would she know what to look for? Who were the other suspects? Lexa wracks her brain for the names.
Gustus Terran. Brian Terran- Guts’ father. Dante Wallace. A nearby college professor? He’s had restraining orders before, Lexa remembers. Charles Pike. Jack Roth, the school counsellor— the sweetest and most eager man to please. Enova Woods. Marcus Kane— the journalist who was mum's friend.
How could she even determine the validity of the suspect list? It had her mother’s name on it. She didn’t do it. Neither did Guts. She can hear the voice of Indra in her mind. They probably did it to show that they’ve been doing work. Just as Pike makes it to their row Lexa flips the page and scribbles down the equation on the board.
The bell goes shortly after, signalling the end of lesson and recess. Pike stretches and dismisses the class, heading toward the teacher’s room. Before Lexa could even get out of her seat Clarke left the classroom. Harper just finished clearing off the whiteboard. A small section in the corner read weekly recycling and cleaning duty - Harper, Bree, Fox, Trina
“What’s up with you today?” Raven said, sitting down in the seat in front of Lexa. “You’re looking like a kicked puppy.”
Jasper followed Lexa’s gaze. “She’s always been like that.” he said. “Clarke’s Clarke.”
A sudden smile split Raven’s face. “No way.”
Jasper cocked his head. “No way what?”
“It’s not like that,” Lexa said. Raven just grinned.
“Leave it to me.”
Before Lexa could say anything else the girl had jumped up from the chair and sped after Clarke’s disappearing form. Raven always did make friends quickly. Maybe she could help.
Now that it is happening a second time, Lexa can see clearly.
It was nothing blatant. No scribbles on desks or graffiti on toilet walls, no shoves against the locker, no conspicuous staring. Perhaps it would be better if they did those things. The girls kept their distance and whispered amongst themselves, spitting venom, no doubt. The boys spoke loudly like Clarke could not hear them, and paraded about with puffed chests.
The crackling tension still existed.
Monty set a book down on Lexa’s desk and looked at her expectantly. “Did you read the book I lent you?” he asked, soft brown eyes searching.
Lexa took her attention away from her other classmates. The book Monty had put down was the book Lexa lent him. “Not yet, did you want it back?”
He smiled then and his eyes twinkled. “No, keep it. It’s interesting so I hoped we could talk about it once you finish.”
“What’s it about?”
Bellamy and Jasper joined the conversation, all plopping themselves down on the desks. The bottom of Bellamy’s shoe was almost falling out entirely (he did have a habit of dragging one foot). Jasper wiped at his red nose with a tissue.
“A time traveller.” Monty said.
“Do you believe in fate?”
Monty replies without hesitation. “I believe in luck and karma.”
“Says the man of science.” Bellamy said.
Monty only grins at that. “Cold hard facts don’t exist, Bell. It’s obvious the more you try to look for answers.”
Jasper coughs then, his striped beanie coming down to cover his eyes. He pulls the loose thing up and nudges Bellamy. “How far did you get in Pokemon?”
The two continued on and Lexa took a good look at Monty. His cream earmuffs brought out his sleek, dark hair that covered his expressive brows. He flashed Lexa the little half-smile as Jasper gestured his hands about, kicking his foot on the underside of the desk by accident. The sleeves of Monty’s knitted sweater rolled up carelessly to the elbows, one well-worn leather watch on his left wrist reflected bits of light.
Raven enters the classroom ten minutes before the bell with a smug expression. Her hands stuffed deep in the pockets of her jacket as she nodded at Lexa. “Clark’ll be seeing you after school, by the river, no need for thanks.”
“Woah, nice one.” Jasper said, he gives Raven a lopsided smile. “You gotta teach me how you do that.”
“Helps to be charming,” Raven sits herself down on Lexa’s desk.
Clarke slipped in after Pike when the bell rang, signalling the start of lessons. Pike asks for a group to bring the handouts from his office. Bree and Fox offer up immediately, volunteering Clarke as well as they drag her into their exclusive circle. “Let’s go princess,” Bree said with a sickeningly sweet smile. “Come on Clarks,” Fox pulled Clarke by the arm.
“As you know, sometime in May we will be going on a class trip.” Pike says. “Please make sure to return your consent forms and money to the finance office as soon as possible. More details will be given to you— we will be going with Class 3B-” a collective groan breaks out.
“Why are we always stuck with the math nerds?” Raven shouts. Her foot meets Lexa’s chair again. She has no concept of personal space.
Harper says back. “You’re the maths nerd!”
Just then, the group of three return with the forms. It takes no longer than a few seconds for them to be passed around. Lexa skims it. The bus ride was long and tedious. But the bus driver was interesting, turning on the radio much louder than needed as he passed along a microphone for people to take turns telling scary stories just as they entered the caves.
“Okay! Okay!” Pike raised his voice above the chattering. “Please open your textbook and we’ll start reading from Harper.”
Lexa could see the spark in the eyes of Bree, Trina, and Fox. The way Fox looked on back and forth between Clarke and her other two conspirators made Lexa’s fist itch. Harper reads in almost a monotone, so much that Lexa finds herself zoning out until Pike clears his throat.
“What’s wrong, Clarke?”
“I’m sorry sir, I forgot my textbook.”
“In that case,” Pike looked over to the slouching boy next to her. “Pat.”
Pat drops his head on the desk and groans in protest and quiet giggles break out. You are such a bother he seemed to be saying with his narrowed eyes, as if dragging his desk an inch or two was as tedious as rolling a boulder up a hill. “Sir, do I have to?”
Lexa could feel the way everybody’s eyes fixed on Clarke. Her chair scraped against the linoleum.
“I’ve got mine,” Lexa said. She strides up to Pat and jerks her head to her own desk.
Pat looks up at her with sleepy eyes. (Right, he was the one who was always high). He isn’t in the mood to start anything so he simply curls his lip, takes his stuff and retreats.
So Pat’s table is pushed next to Clarke’s and Lexa opens the textbook. When Clarke reads Lexa’s eyes seem to take in the shapes of words but doesn't register their meaning. All other noises— like the irritating sniffle of the boy by the window, and the relentless bobbing legs of boys cease to exist. She hears the highs and lows of Clarke’s voice, fascinated by how the girl’s mouth wraps around certain vowels— how smooth they roll off (sometimes breathy, sometimes not), how everything that leaves her lips are in a calm alto. It lulls her and fills her with a certain sense of peace.
Lexa spends a good minute trying to catch up when it is her turn. Despite her three years of propelling the school debating team to the finals, Lexa reads clumsily and stumbles over simple adjectives. It’s nothing like the distracted elegance of Clarke.
Pike nods when he is satisfied and directs their attention to the poem.
Lexa is reminded of how awful she is at commentary writing as she flips open the Course Companion. The class breaks off into pairs to discuss the poem. Whilst Clarke’s eyes flicker about the verses with the lively chatter of others in the background, Lexa reads the poem three times and still has not got the faintest clue what the moon is supposed to be. Instead, she takes her pencil and adds a moustache to the poet.
Clarke must see it because the corner of her lip quirks.
Feeling bold, Lexa writes. Draw something?
So Clarke does.
Clarke draws Saturn with its signature ring, draws a moon with an astronaut on it, draws the remnants of a star. Lexa tries to match Clarke’s skill by doodling a black hole. Clarke continues on, amused almost, in the way her gaze softens at the paper. There’s skylines, clouds, the streak of white— a technical name Lexa cannot recall for the life of her— that jets leave when they take off into the stratosphere.
Sometime in between the doodling Pike started the class discussion.
“Yes,” Lexa stood, knocking her knee on the desk, sending her eraser flying off.
“Can you please tell us the importance of the final two lines?”
“Yes,” Lexa said. She looked down at the pages to see Clarke’s fine writing. “The final two lines summarise what we already know about the poem— the moon is an extended metaphor for- uh the speaker’s dissatisfaction of her relationship with her presumably dead mother…”
Pike nods. “Good. Next time try taking your own notes instead of relying on your girlfriend.”
The class laughed and Lexa sat down with a sore, pounding knee. In a few hours it’ll turn blue. Her tiny eraser hit her on the head. Raven’s grinning at her. For the rest of the lesson Lexa makes an effort to be engaged as Pike continues to pick on sleepy students.
Despite her efforts, she is still very aware of the Clarke’s small smile.
When the final bell rings to signal the end of school, Pike tells her to stay behind.
Raven nudges her shoulder with a playful smirk. “Remember ‘bout Clarke, don't be late.”
The teacher who stopped her earlier at the gate today dropped by the classroom, telling Pike how Lexa had not followed their ‘no uniform- uniform code’. Or as Anya put it, “our school tries too hard to be a private school”. He returns to her the little skull earrings and Pike asks to see her hands to check for nail polish.
“You better be careful from now on,” Pike said, setting down his steaming mug of coffee. “The principal’s getting stricter with the dress code. Now, out with it.”
It’s strange how easy the words come to her. “No nail polish. No unnatural hair colours. No visible piercings. No tattoos. Knee length skirts only.”
Pike lets her go with a warning, trailing off to the teacher’s common room with a terrifying stack of papers to mark. Just as Lexa closes the door behind her she sees Jack Roth. The window was open and he smoked his cigarette. He notices Lexa then too and embarrassedly stubs it out.
“Sorry, I thought school was over.” He said with a smile. “Where are you in such a rush off to?”
“Meeting a friend.” Lexa said. Jack’s kind eyes were the colour of sherry Lexa’s mother nursed after a long day of work. His glasses were a bit crooked on his nose which he’d broke in a brawl in college, he had said. A funny white patch of hair formed on one side of his head, like an edgy fashion choice.
“Drop by to have some tea or coffee if you want. Bring your friends along too if you’re ever bored.” He says. “Please don’t tell Mr Gentili about this. I’ll never hear the end of it.”
Lexa says goodbye to him.
Lexa meets the boy again— the one in the morning and he scowls at her. “Thanks for the ditch back there,” he says, blowing his mop-like hair out from his eyes. “Gentili hates me even more now.”
“You shouldn’t have thrown rock then.”
“What’s your name?” he calls after her.
“Aren’t you going to ask for mine?”
Lexa brushes past him.
Clarke is easy to spot by the river. It hasn’t frozen over completely yet. Lexa jogs down the steps to meet her. On the last step she almost slips. A thin layer of ice had formed.
“What did you want to talk to me about?” Clarke said.
Lexa’s eyes flickered, trying to read Clarke’s expression. “I wanted to say sorry for running into you.”
“You already apologised.”
Not going well.To think Lexa thought they were close to becoming friends. How did one even make friends?
“I was thinking that maybe we could be friends,” Lexa said instead. “We go home in the same way too.”
Clarke blinked. She seemed bored, irritated almost. “Why would you say that to me of all people?”
Of course she needs to make this difficult. “Well, you’re fun to be around-”
Clarke lets out a sigh but steps into Lexa’s personal space. It’s an odd thing, how Clarke raises her head to meet Lexa’s eyes, yet does so in such a manner that exudes confidence. “What do you really want?”
Lexa didn't register what happened until she felt teeth bite down hard on her lip and copper explode on her tongue. Lexa took one blind step back but Clarke's hands gripped tight on the opening of her parka, holding her in place. Clarke's mouth moves against her slack one, demanding, pushing, urging. Lexa's mind races to catch up. Clarke’s wet tongue brushes against her bottom lip, far too raw, and she feels teeth again- grazing now—
Lexa shoves her away. Cold air is between them again. Biting. She tastes Clarke.
“Is that not what you wanted?” Clarke was still close, so much so that Lexa could almost feel the movement and vibration of her lips. “You don’t think everybody knows about you?”
Clarke's voice drops an octave or two, her eyes still hard, despite the rapid rise and fall of her chest. Clarke steps away then, wiping her hand across her mouth. “Well, if I think about it I can kind of understand. Birds of a feather flock together. Because we’re the same.”
“I can see through you.”
Like you are not meant to exist here. Lexa pushed forward, panicked.
“Wait, Clarke,” Lexa took after her. “I want to be friends, I mean it, nothing like-”
Like the kissing.
Clarke stopped half way up the step. Her dress rode up her thigh, revealing a fresh bruise, already turning yellow-green. Clarke’s breath formed wispy white clouds in the cold. Clarke's lips were soft but the kiss was unpleasant.
Clarke’s expression remained stoic. “Would you kill for me?”
“I thought so.” Clarke said.
Clarke was gone.
It left behind a bitter taste in Lexa’s mouth.
Lexa spotted the usual crowd hovering about the deli near the school. Despite the peeling paint of the exterior and dingy lighting, the pies and coffee were decent. Amongst them, Raven, Bellamy, and Jasper. A few other boys from the private school ten minutes away sat on the crates outside sipping some hot drink and splitting a piece of pastry. Their uniforms crisp and blazers with bits of snow. Jasper saw her first.
“How’d it go?” He yelled out, almost tripping over his own feet. “What did she say?”
Raven’s head snapped up and the group closed the distance. Lexa just shrugged. Could’ve gone better.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have done that, Ray,” Bellamy said, “now Lexa’s coming on too strong.”
Jasper nodded in agreement. “Yeah, maybe it freaked her out.”
“You guys totally were for it before,” Raven huffed. “Plus, it’s not my fault Lexa’s awful at this.”
“I should head back,” Lexa said. Raven stuffed her hands down the pockets of her jacket and dragged Jasper away by the arm.
“Where you going?” Bellamy said.
“I promised Anya I’d get a book for her.”
“We’re catching a movie at the Ark. Come over after.”
“I’ll see,” Lexa said.
“Murphy’s working,” Bellamy continued, “he can sneak us in for free.”
Lexa only nods and Bellamy looks toward Raven. “You’re not angry at her, are you?”
Bellamy does not push. “See you tomorrow.”
Lexa only nods and watches as the three of them trudge away. Perhaps she needs to talk to Raven tomorrow to explain some more. She begins the trek home, pass the school again. It seems even more desolate and lifeless without the students streaming in and out.
“Monty,” Lexa says as she sees him by the gate.“The gang just left.”
There's something unsettling about the way Monty’s gaze pierces through her.
“Hey, Al,” he says, “Listen, I might be overstepping here but I think it’s really important that you’re concerned about Clarke. Raven and Bellamy don’t mean anything bad by it. If you ever need to talk about anything, just know that we’re all here for you.”
“Thanks,” Lexa said. “I’m not angry at them. I mean, it’s because of Raven that I got to speak to Clarke, so they helped me out.”
“How did it really go?” his tone was lighter now. “With Clarke,” “did you get to talk to her?”
“Yeah, a little. I think she was being honest with me.”
“By the way, Al, recently have you…”
It comes again. A sudden pierce in her heart. Almost as if her lungs are collapsing. Her ears roar with the sound of a car engine and squealing wheels.
“read the published student creative writing?”
“No, not yet.” Lexa said, hoping to not sound as breathless as she did. The car passed by.
“Well, they’re quite interesting so you should check it out if you can. Oh, and also,” Monty digs into his pocket. “Here. Raven fixed yours. She said if you forget to take it out your pocket the next time your clothes are washed she’ll get really angry.”
The Grounders. The badge logo was designed by Jasper, but the real genius behind this little radio— Raven.
Monty tugged on his bag. “I’m late for tutoring. See you tomorrow.”
Lexa looked down at the metal badge. She turns the dial up, pulling out the little antenna. “Thanks for fixing this for me, Raven.”
There’s no response.
Lexa does not dwell on it. Instead, she makes it to the bookstore in record time. The inside is warm and makes her feel sleepy almost. A few people were scattered about, examining books or flipping through them. It takes Lexa no time to pick out two.
The man at the counter scans the two books. He opens his mouth as if to say something, such as why are you reading these kinds of books? But he doesn’t. He only hands her the paper bag.
A little while later, the badge crackled. “Raven’s still angry at you.”
Raven’s voice came into the background. “I’m not!”
“Sure you don’t want to come with us?” Bellamy’s voice was softer now. They were probably sneaking in this minute.
“I’ve got too much homework today.” Lexa said. “Next time.”
“I’m home, where’s mum?” Lexa places the brown bag of books on the ground.
Anya’s head emerged from beneath the layers of thick blankets. “Last minute rescue mission. Some dolphins got caught up in the nets.”
Lexa pulled off her boot one by one. “I’m going to get started on my homework.”
“Good idea,” Anya said, sitting up from the couch. “Never too late to become an A student.”
Lexa resists the urge to roll her eyes. Latte’s tail is thumping wildly from side to side as she follows Lexa upstairs. Lexa’s hand feel the wall as they climb, exactly twelve steps. To the left were their shared room and a tiny bathroom slightly further down.
Anya’s side of the room was littered with clothes, an old stereo settled on a teetering nightstand, peeling band posters hanging on by the last bits of dry blue-tack, and weights left about the room. Anya’s desk now served to be the home of mountains of CDs. Lexa saw one mixtape. Susie. The girl Anya crushed on for far too long.
Lexa closes the door.
She looks to her side of the room. Plain. A small pot plant on her desk, Anya’s old desk lamp, and a good number of books piled on top of one another— the wooden bookend she made in middle school keeping them from all toppling over. Beside her desk lay Latte’s large sleeping pillow. Latte crawled onto it and shut her eyes, snoring quietly.
Lexa tosses her bag onto her chair and looked for the publications Monty mentioned. She finds it after a good few minutes under a pile of old tests.
The theme was [room].
Her English teacher said the writing was mediocre. Melodramatic teenage angst were the exact words. She finds Clarke’s piece.
When I think of a town where I don’t exist, I feel a certain sense of peace.
Lexa lets out a sigh. She reads it. (She didn’t think anybody looked at these things). Obviously Monty was trying to give her some sort of pointer. Is this Clarke’s way of asking for help?
The room of Clarke’s heart is big enough for one person. She is satisfied by herself. Her room she can decorate how she wishes. And whilst she may look into those of others, and maybe feel envious, even if she opens the windows she cannot leave. They are too far apart. So she stays where she is.
It’s Clarke’s SOS message.
Did anyone even read this? Did we think Clarke was just seeking attention?
“Lex, you hungry yet?”
“Kinda,” Lexa called back. She hid the publications under the tests again. Latte’s head snaps up just as Lexa begins to descend the stairs. “Need help with anything?”
“You have creepy taste in books.”
“You don’t see me critiquing your reading choices.” Lexa saw Anya in the cooking apron, already washing the lettuce.
“If I’m going to consider criminology I should see what I’m signing up for, right?”
Anya laughed. “Nope, you just sit there and read about psychopaths.”
“Say, Anya, how do you make friends?”
Anya didn’t even bat an eye. “Free food. Or cute animals. Ideally, both.”
“I take what I said earlier back. Can you run to the store and get some mustard and hummus?”
“Mhm, I’ll pay you back after. Oh, and take Latte with you.”
Lexa narrowed her eyes. “This is your way of getting two chores done at once.”
“Thanks, you’re the best.”
Latte’s got a little limp in her step, from earlier this morning, when Lexa tripped over on her leg. Yet, she doesn't seem to hold any sort of grudge. Occasionally they stop by a post or fence for Latte to sniff at, besides that, the convenience store is rather close. When they pass by the park, Lexa does not see Clarke.
The street names don’t come to her but her feet seem to know where they are going.
Lexa ties Latte’s leash around the bike rack.
“Did’ja get ‘urt?” the man at the counter asks her when she puts the mustard, hummus, and the ‘specials’ chocolate pudding down.
“Just got a sweet tooth.” Lexa said. From outside the glass Latte was watching her, waiting patiently.
“I’ll throw in two spoons for ya anyway.” the man says. “It’s the best dessert in town. Will even heal a broken heart.”
Lexa thanks him. She takes the bag and he offers a piece of beef jerky. “For your dog.”
Clarke is there when Lexa passes the park. Under the same, fluorescent yellow glow of the streetlight. It’s cold and Lexa cannot stand still, not when her hands might freeze off. Clarke doesn’t sit on the abandoned slide or swings, but stares at the snow as if it would reveal a secret. A dead tree hangs over her.
Snow is falling again. How many times did Lexa pass Clarke and not speak out to her?
Perhaps Lexa shouldn’t call out to her. But she musters her courage.
She blinks up to see Lexa. “What are you doing here?”
“That’s my line,” Lexa said, closing the distance between them. “I was serious when I said I want to be friends with you.”
Latte pants, looking up at Clarke.
“Although I can’t kill anyone for you.” Lexa said.
Clarke rolls her eyes and looks away. “I was obviously joking.”
“I’d like to know you better.” Lexa presses forth.
“So I can satisfy your curiosity and ‘need’ to be a good person.” Clarke said, harsher now. Newfound emotion danced about in her eyes. “You feel sorry for me, is that it? Even when you’re just like me.”
“You’re right,” the words leave Lexa’s lips before she can register them. “When you said I was acting. I want teachers to like me. I want to have friends. It’s easier this way.”
It must be the right thing to say.
Clarke smiles now. It’s defeated. “Like if you try hard enough it will become your reality, right? I get that feeling too.”
“But you know,” Clarke looked up Lexa now. “Somewhere along the line I started to like everyone. Maybe it becomes more than acting.”
The mask you wear is indifference. Nothing hurts you. (Or so you let us think).
Lexa lets Latte off the leash to roam about.
“Aren’t you going to go home?” Clarke bites out.
“Latte still needs to run around for a bit.”
“Mum got her from one of her coworkers.”
It’s the first time Clarke sounds interested. “What does your mum do?”
It’s a start to something. Maybe.
“She’s a marine biologist.” Lexa says. “She works at the aqua- the conservation centre.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Yeah,” Lexa tilts her head to Clarke. “We should go together sometime. We can probably feed penguins too.”
Clarke doesn’t respond but her mouth twitches.
Lexa digs her hand into the plastic bag, pulling out the capped chocolate pudding. “Here.”
“What? Are you bribing me?” Clarke eyes the dessert. Standoffish.
“A symbol of our newfound friendship.”
“I wouldn’t call it that.”
Lexa pushed it toward her. “Take it.”
There’s a minute or so of Clarke’s internal debate before she does. “Thanks.” she says. Lexa tries not to stare too hard as she starts to eat. “It’s good.”
So Lexa watches Latte attempt to dig a hole in snow as Clarke finishes the pudding. Maybe it could ease her broken heart.
The sound of trudging in snow brings Lexa back. “Are you going?”
Clarke is already walking away. “Yeah.”
“Let me walk you back,” Lexa whistles for Latte and the dog comes bounding. She sees the way Clarke eyes the dog. “Want to hold the leash?”
Surprise colours her features at the offer, but Clarke nods slightly. “She’s…”
“A bit dumb, I know.” Lexa said. “Nobody wanted the runt of the litter.”
“You wanted her.”
As if realising those words left her own lips Clarke quickens her pace.
I want you to know that you’re wanted too.
Lexa said it out.
Clarke flushes. “Shut up.” The nudge to her arm is annoyed.
For the rest of the walk, Lexa is aware of how Clarke’s shoulder is pressed against hers. Their steps are timed and their breaths alternate in painting the air white. They don’t talk anymore but when Clarke notices how Lexa’s hand is turning purple (she lost her gloves somewhere), her gloved hand touches Lexa’s. Lexa’s hand held in Clarke’s gloved one, in Clarke’s coat pocket.
They walk closer together. Clarke’s cheeks are still warm. Lexa’s skin thrums.
Calm down. She scolds herself. You’re not sixteen anymore.
“It's here,” Clarke says, turning into a block of apartments. Lexa tries to not feel anything when Clarke lets go of her hand to return the leash. They stand facing each other for a moment and Clarke’s eyes flicker.
But the moment is shattered.
It doesn’t take long for a voice to sound behind the door. “Clarke?” a woman. Lexa does not miss the way Clarke’s expression dampens. “Where on earth have you been? Didn’t I tell you to come home right away?”
Clarke turns to Lexa with a weak smile. “Goodnight.”
The door shuts in Lexa’s face. As quickly as Clarke appears, she disappears, leaving behind the faint trace of her perfume in the air.
There’s a loud thump followed by incomprehensible shouting.
“Clarke,” Lexa tried to open the door- locked, of course. Her heart races. “Clarke!”
Lexa pounded on it. So she’ll scream until her voice dies or until the neighbours come or call the cops. Her ear is against the door but she can no longer hear anything. The chilly air pierces her throat and she rams against it with all the weight of her body.
It opens a second later.
“Who are you?” the woman on the other end does not look like Clarke at all. The redness in her eyes was unnatural, as was the tone of her voice. Insomnia? Drug addict?
Latte let out a growl.
Lexa said quickly, “A friend, I, is she okay?”
She placed her thin hands on her hips and looked down at Lexa with a scowl. “Yes, she bumped into something, that’s all. Always need to make such a big deal out of nothing.”
“Can I see her?” The woman immediately stepped aside to block Lexa’s view. She towered above Lexa in those dangerous-looking heels. Lexa takes a step forward but the woman’s hand pushes her back.
A clattering. The woman snarls. “For fucks sake Dante would you stop?”
There’s a long drawn-out moan as a male voice responds. “Fuckin’ hell, come back babe.”
“Now, it’s getting awful late don't you think?” she said with mock concern. There’s a small sound from one of the rooms and the woman shouts back. “Oh stop being dramatic and take your medicine!” She faces Lexa again, eyes cold and lip curling. “You will see her at school tomorrow, now, you should be heading home.”
The door slams then. She hears the clinking of at least three different locks.
Lexa waited. No more sounds.
There’s a limit to how much a sixteen year old can take. There’s a breaking point.
Did I just think she was weird before?
Anya was still waiting for her to come home. Lexa looks once more at the dingy apartment block, where the driveway had not been shovelled in days. The shared bins overfilled. The shed opposite the doorway where the footprints of Guts’ boots were found.
She turns the corner before Latte begins to bark and tug at the leash. She feels it. A stab of fear so strong it paralyses her. Lexa’s eyes dart about— a figure retreating. Lexa wants to call out or to follow it but her legs won’t move and Latte snaps her teeth and pulls harder.
Who? Lexa struggles to catch her breath. Who is it?
She’s not sure how long it takes. Latte stops barking but lets out a soft whimper.
Lexa’s legs are weak like jelly. Muscles soft. She focuses on the texture of the fence she’s leaning on, the metal and the scratches upon it. It takes her mind away from the feeling. Lexa stays until the pain subsides.
She can’t let her guard down.
They might already have their eye on Clarke.
The door flings open in her face and Anya frowned deeply. “Which planet did you go to?” she said, “mum was about to kill me."
As if on cue, Enova opens the door from her room and rushes up to Lexa. “Lexa! you shouldn't be walking outside so late.” She takes the plastic bag and turns to Anya. “Anya, what were you thinking?”
She only winces. “The kidnappings have all been younger girls, plus, she practices with me so I think she'll be able to at least land one punch.”
“I had Latte, so I’m okay. Woah, they’re done?”
Anya is glad to talk about something else. She gestures to the plate. “Here.”
The three of them sit down and begin to eat.
“How are the dolphins?" Lexa asked.
“Poor things got tangled in some old fishing nets, didn’t take long to free them. No injuries.”
There’s a beat of silence as they savour the bread— homemade, as are the patties and just about everything. It’s been too long since Lexa had a good burger.
“Thank you for cooking tonight, Anya,” Enova said with a smile. “It’s delicious.”
Anya shrugs, hiding the blush on her cheek by taking another mouthful. “It’s no big deal, it’s your recipe anyway.”
“And what are you going to be doing this winter? I don't want you lazing about all day.”
“I have been quite productive. I do the dishes, I vacuum, I rake the snow-”
“Did something happen at school?”
“No.” Lexa’s voice sounds hoarse.“It’s delicious.”
Her bobbing throat hurts. But more, the feeling spreads from her chest outwards. Overwhelming.
“She cried in the morning today too.” Anya said with a fond smile. “I think she might be ageing backwards.”
“Shut up.” Lexa’s legs aren’t long enough to reach Anya.
But the tears roll down her cheeks. Anya passes her a tissue.
“Is it okay if I have a party with some friends for my birthday?”
“So you do have friends.” Anya laughed. “What? I’ve only seen Kasper.”
“Of course,” Enova said, frowning at Anya. “how many were you thinking?”
“Might be a bit of a tight squeeze.”
“We’ve got tons of boardgames somewhere,” Anya chimes in. “oh, and Susie gave us lots of pizza bases- so we could make pizza too.”
Enova smiled. “That’s wonderful.”
Jasper. Bellamy. Raven. Murphy. Monty. Clarke.
Did I not notice this before?
Lexa eats slowly, listening to how easy conversations start and end. When they finish, Lexa helps stack the dishes and take out the trash.
The radio is on in the background, playing some song Lexa doesn't know. Anya hums along to it, elbow deep in soapy water. Enova sat by the dining table with her reading glasses, skimming through the bills, twisting the pen expertly between her fingers. Latte spread herself out on the kitchen tiles, raising her head every so often at odd noises.
Clarke wanted a room of her own. Lexa wants a room of close family.
Lexa takes this chance to soak it all in.
I just let this precious time slip.
Lexa did not focus on the words of her new book, but let her eyes travel. Anya dries her hand on a tea towel and gives Lexa the look to say it’s too late. So Lexa gets up and follows Anya to the bathroom, where they take turns using the single tap that lets out a howl whenever they turn the hot water on.
Now she finds herself watching Anya as she yawns and falls onto her bed.
Anya groaned. “Turn the damn light off. Reading about serial killers before bed is asking for a nightmare.”
Lexa dimmed the lights. “Did you know serial killers have a higher concentration of toxic metals in their body?"
Anya yawned again, reminding Lexa of the neighbourhood cat who often scratched at their backdoor to get scraps. “If it was that easy to get rid of them on a diet or removal program it would've been done already. Go to sleep.”
The time that had passed remained but a blur in her memory. How could she forget this? Lexa twists under the covers to face Anya. She’s not sure how long she stares, until Anya’s rise and fall of her chest becomes steady, fast asleep.
It fell through her hands, all these golden seconds, the precious moments. The minutes before sleep consumed her, the hushed talks to Anya— where Lexa felt as if she was peeling off layers of skin, the pleasure of waking up to a home-cooked meal. All the things she’s lived without.
Lexa thinks of her spacious apartment down in New York fourteen years from now. About the ugly, mismatched chairs with sewn patches of different fabric, the drawn blinds collecting dust and spiders, the deafening silence. She barely used the balcony at all. She strained her ears to listen to sirens and beeping car horns. Lexa spent her nights in her unmade bed, reading books in bad lighting.
But more, she thinks of Clarke. Of purple bruises that adorn her skin. The way she pressed up against Lexa. How strong her slender hands were. How easy the shapes form at the tip of her pen.
She traces her lip.
It tastes like Clarke.
It still stings.
Thank you all for your kind kudos and comments! I had a blast reading them.
Also: Episode 7 fucking broke my heart. It just proves that we (LGBTQ+ community) need to write for ourselves. Because clearly, as we’ve seen countless times with other shows and directors, they seem to do nothing but let us down time and time again.
*But also, I’m totally on board for Elyza Lex and Alicia Clark.
Sidenote: let me know what you think of future M-scenes. (I mean Lexa is technically 30 and Clarke is underage. (Why do I do this to myself).
Maybe, kinda, sort of a date.
Thank you to hemsberries for beta’ing this chapter!
That moment when I decide this chapter is going to be 3,000 words but ends up being 7,000. hahah.
(Irregular updates lol)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Lexa woke to the sound of loud noise thumping down the stairs. She blinks blearily at the blurred side of Anya’s room.
Latte’s no longer by the foot of her bed, probably downstairs, judging by the voice of Anya. Her hand fumbles for her glasses, which she knocks off the bedside table in the process.
Lexa sat up slowly and stretched her arm out, propping the glasses on the top of her head. 7:00AM. The digital numbers blinked back at her.
Lexa dragged herself out of bed, shivering as her feet met the chilly flooring. She ought to wear thicker pyjamas now, a mere cotton top and well-worn shorts horribly unsuited to winter. She opened her closet to pull out the first two clean things she saw.
There’s a clashing of something metal in the kitchen, followed by a curse.
“Why are you up so early?”
Anya called back. “It’s your alarm that woke me up.”
“Mum’s left already?”
It must be easy waking up and wearing the same thing everyday- like Enova’s blue uniform- sometimes followed by the white lab coat that swept the ground, completing her look as a scientist. Sometimes Enova left the lab coat draped over a chair or the couch and Lexa could almost see her father wearing the exact same one. How he’d forget about the pen tucked behind his ear, how he’d keep bits and pieces in those endless pockets.
Another cold wind urges Lexa to pull the oversized hoodie over her head. What made Anya think it was a good idea to open the window?
“Why’s the window open?” Lexa shouts this time, pulling up the legs of her jeans one by one.
“We need some fresh air up in there.”
Somehow Lexa manages to hobble to the window and close it. “You’re letting all the hot air out!”
“I’m heating up breakfast, want me to walk you to school?”
“I’ll be fine.” Lexa stared at the bathroom tap. As she turns it on, her suspicions are confirmed. No hot water. Taking a breath, she quickly washes her face and begins to brush her teeth. “Say, do we have any birthday invitation cards?”
Anya somehow understands this, even with a toothbrush in Lexa’s mouth.
“Check the drawer where we keep the sprinkles.”
Lexa counts to the second one and pulls it out. “Found it.”
In the next five minutes Lexa’s written on the invitation, packed her bag in record time and rushed downstairs to find Anya already at the table with breakfast ready. Eggs, toast, tea.
“Here you go.” Anya set down Latte’s breakfast.
“You better not start crying again.” Anya said with that little quirk of her lip.
“Shut up.” Lexa takes two bits of toast and spreads a generous amount of butter.
“Wanna tell me why you suddenly changed your mind?”
“The party. You’ve been saying no since January.”
Lexa blows on the tea. Wrapping her hands around the warmth of the mug. “Maybe it’s nice to spend time with people once in a while.” Lexa said.
She didn’t have the party fourteen years back. Instead, she spent the day playing video games. Even so, Anya and Enova bought home a giant cake— enough to last them two weeks worth of dessert.
Lexa sipped her tea. “Got any plans today?”
“Clean some stuff out. Sleep.” Anya looks at her in disbelief. “Woah, calm down, food’s not gonna disappear.”
“I’m meeting a friend,” Lexa said between mouthfuls of toast and egg. She poured the remainder of the tea into her thermos, grabbing her bag from the couch on the way out.
“See ya,” Lexa pulled on her boots— one of the laces untied, she balances the thermos under her arm, hopping about to loop the laces into something resembling a knot. All the while she can hear Anya laughing.
Anya waved to her from the table, still nibbling on her toast. “Have fun!”
The streets in the early hours of the morning, combined with the endless white and grey, appeared dismal at best. Lexa felt her body begin to warm up as she walked at a steady pace toward Clarke’s apartment. A few joggers greeted her as she passed by the small shopping district. One or two dog owners— who knew Latte no doubt, kept glancing at Lexa’s feet, expecting the Akita to greet them.
Lexa bumped into a man just as she turned the corner into the apartment complex. He stumbles backwards but regains his footing just as quickly.
“Mornin’,” the elderly gentleman said, his voice rough like sandpaper. He carried with him a black plastic bag and a cane that dug into the thick layer of snow. Leaving behind three footprints, Lexa mused.
Lexa apologised and tried to swerve around him. “Good morning.”
“Are you from around here? I haven't seen you about before.”
“No, I- I’m waiting for a friend.” Lexa sucked in a breath and tried not to show her impatience.
The gentleman seemed to have all the time in the world, given the way he studies her expression and places both of his hands on his walking cane. The garbage bag sways in front of him, knocking Lexa’s knee.
“The blonde girl? From unit three?”
“Yes- do you know her? Clarke, Clarke Griffin.”
“Oh, yes, the poor thing.” He licks his dry lips. The skin around his eyes and mouth remind Lexa of leather. “The Wallaces can be rather unpleasant- this is their, third child in eight months? Coming home at strange hours, shouting all night. Mailbox full of mail, forget to take their trash out.”
“Three children?” Lexa pushed forward at this. “Are they bad people, the Wallaces?”
He frowns, causing his hard set wrinkles to bunch together. “I’ve spoken too much.” He said. A beat after, he adds with careful consideration. “Not bad people, son, just strange.”
The pet-name sounds fond coming from his sparkling eyes.
“Do you need some help with that?” Lexa asked.
He smiles and shakes his head. “No need. Well, I need to get going now. You take care.”
“Thank you, yourself too.”
He hobbles down the path and disappears out of sight.
Lexa returns her attention to the apartment complex, which appears duller in daylight, almost prison-like in its design. Identical chalky units connected together with metal bars blocked the windows— security reasons obviously, yet, unappealing all the same. No garden or separate backyards, just a hastily constructed car port with one or two cars under it. Opposite each unit was their own tin storage shed, some dangerously close to overturning.
Lexa pressed the doorbell twice. No response. She tries to peer through the barred windows but the thin curtains obstructed her view. So she waits for a while longer. One woman exits from her own unit and greets Lexa on her way out.
Did she leave already?
She sat herself down on the step, staring at the worn-out welcome mat. She directs her attention to the Wallace’s shed. The door is slightly askew.
No harm in taking a look.
Lexa pushed herself up and opened the door.
“Don’t look.” Clarke said.
Lexa’s stomach dropped.
Clarke laid on the concrete of the shed with nothing but a long singlet, barely covering her raw thighs. The expanse of her skin littered with angry red— like lashings from a hard belt, darkened bruises kissed her ribs and quivering stomach.
It surges up from Lexa, so strong that she would call it instinct. She kneeled down and reached for Clarke. Her skin is cold- too cold that it burns Lexa’s hand. “We need to get you somewhere warmer it’s-”
“Don’t!” Clarke whips her head to face Lexa then, pushing her away by the shoulders. Her eyes are wet and she struggles against her grip. “Don’t.”
Lexa does not move. Clarke is limp. She refuses to make eye contact.
A breeze slipped in from the outside, causing Clarke to shiver furiously. Lexa strips off her parka in one practiced movement and wrapped it around Clarke, holding her by the arms. “Who did this to you?”
Clarke’s eyes flicker and she smiles. It tastes bitter. “No one.”
“You heard her.”
In the commotion Lexa did not hear the heavy metal door opening. She clenched her teeth and steered her gaze to the woman who rested nonchalantly against the wall with crossed arms. Mrs Wallace.
She looks at Lexa with hard eyes, a pursed red lip reeking of disdain. Manicured nails secure around her own elbows. “Our Clarke is just so clumsy sometimes, always tripping over herself, running into walls. Throwing tantrums, sleeping outside.”
Mrs Wallace spins on her heels, strutting away, slipping into her fur coat. “Well, you just look after yourself now. Don’t be troubling your friend Alexia. I need to go to work.”
“I’m fine.” Clarke said again, her voice sounding stronger this time. Lexa lets go. It rises within her again. Clarke reaches for the walls of the tin shed, slowly standing up. “Why are you here anyway?”
It’s more tired than anything.
“Newfound friendship, remember?” Lexa said, hands still hovering about in case Clarke falls.
“Friend duty? We live close by so it’s only friend-like to walk to school together.”
The steps are slow and Clarke winces when she steps on something sharp. “I told you, I don’t want to be friends.”
She stumbles then, but Lexa’s hands act quicker than her reflexes.
Clarke huffs out a breath but accepts Lexa’s arm this time. “Just stay out of my way.”
Lexa pushes open the metal door.
The inside is dim and a strong musty scent assaults her nostrils. She glances about— Clarke’s home.
“Keep quiet. Dante’s still sleeping.” Clarke said, limping forward.
“Let me help.”
Clarke nodded in the direction of the kitchen. “There’s ice in the freezer.”
So Lexa turns the corner and pries open the fridge. Eating like a divorced man Anya had said. It was mostly empty, except for two containers of takeout and mouldy Chinese food. The rest of the fridge was stocked full of beer.
“Do you have any disinfectant?” Lexa asked.
The freezer had two large packs of ice shoved into it, so much so that when Lexa opened the top compartment the bags almost fell out entirely. Lexa tripped over two garbage bags on her way to the sink. One of them spills open- revealing scrunched ramen cups, flimsy plastic knives and forks, Lexa wrinkles her nose in disgust— and used condoms.
She heard Clarke respond. “It’s fine. I won’t die of it anyway.”
Lexa opens a few drawers until she finds a clean-looking tea towel to wrap around the ice. She notes that the sink is crawling with tiny bugs who have made their home amongst the dishes piled almost one mountain high. Similarly, the stove remains unused- besides an oil stain on the ceiling, followed by stacked dirty pots and pans with dried bits of sauce stuck on the inside, crusty bits forming on rusted cutlery.
Lexa opens a few more cabinets— she finds a bottle of painkillers. No first aid kit anywhere. She tries to turn on the tap but it does not budge. The drop of water that does fall is slick like mud. She picks her way through toward Clarke’s voice carefully, aware of the greasy grime fixed on the tiles and boxes full of empty beer bottles.
She finds Clarke on a rickety wooden chair, part of what is meant to be the dining room. In the time it took for Lexa to find ice and painkillers, Clarke had changed into her school clothes. Lexa’s parka sat folded on her lap.
The dining table balanced on four wobbly legs, cluttered with papers and unwashed mugs. Two couches are in the further end of the room facing a TV.
Lexa presses the cold towel against the swelling on Clarke’s face.
“I can do it,” Clarke said, fingers brushing Lexa’s (her hands have warmed) to take the towel.
In her hurry Lexa dropped her bag by the doorway. She doubts there is any clean cup around. So she leaves Clarke again, and returns with her thermos. Lexa poured the warm tea and passed it to Clarke with an Advil.
Clarke swallowed the pill and drank the tea. Her stiff shoulders relaxed slightly. Lexa pushed the entire thermos to her. “Have more.”
Clarke doesn’t say anything else, only sips at the tea and lets Lexa press the towel behind her neck. From this angle Lexa notices a few brushes in an empty jam jar.
“You do art?”
“Not at school.” Clarke said. “It’s too expensive.”
“Right, poor public schools.”
She feels Clarke smile at that.
It compels her to talk more. “One of Anya’s friends— Susie, she used to go to Polis, the private school. When we pay separately for our own art and music lessons they’ve got an entire floor as an art studio. Over ten soundproof music rooms too.”
There’s a beat of silence before Clarke speaks.
“Jack’s nice. He talks to miss Singh to let me in.”
“What mediums do you like then?”
“Pastels. Charcoal. Oils. Clay is fun too. It sounds weird but I like how it warms to your hands. How you can make nothing into something. It’s… calming.”
Lexa sits down in front of Clarke, facing her.
A small smile broke loose. “That’s awful.”
Lexa frowns. Oversized hoodie all right. “Yeah, Ryder wasn’t exactly an artist.” She tugs her top up to cover it. “He was practicing on pig skin- stuff the butchers gave him. Let’s just say he has a long way to go.”
“He gave it to you for free?” Clarke’s eyes dance with unspoken mirth. The heat from the tea warms her cheeks. Her hands are still enclosed around the thermos.
“Yes. I can see why now.”
“Thanks.” Clarke said suddenly, looking at Lexa intently. “Why are you doing this?”
“I told you, I’m your friend.”
Clarke looks away. “We’re going to be late.”
Pike’s jaw twitched as Lexa and Clarke entered the class just before the bell rang. Lexa stepped over the wide-spread legs of the boys to clamber into her seat. Lexa stared at Clarke. She sat in her own desk and brought out her books.
Pike clapped his hands together. “Let’s start off with some general housekeeping.”
Lexa is aware of everything in that split second. Bree whispers something to Fox, who snickers.
“I hope you all will return your consent forms as soon as possible— this way we can notify the workers exactly how much food they will need to be preparing and get our itinerary sorted out.”
Pike flipped open a book. “Lastly, I’ve noticed some of you haven’t been volunteering as much as the rest of the class— Bree, Fox, Clarke, I’d like to see your names up there sometime today for recycling.”
She could hear someone say something to another.
“Skipping cleaning duty, huh.” “What did you expect from them?”
“Yes sir.” Fox said with a bright smile.
Pike only nodded. “Now, we’re at the time where we will change seats again.”
Fantastic. The class began to bicker.
“Aw man.” Miller groans.
“I was so close to a powerpoint too,” Lexa hears Jasper grumble.
Monty’s smiling with his eyes. “Guess that means you can’t charge your console anymore.”
“I got control the air-con monitor too, damn.” Bellamy slumped over dramatically on his desk, prodding Raven with his arm.
Pike raised his voice.
“This is preparation for the real world where you won’t always be with your friends. I’d like to see some changes in all of you working with different people.” He shakes the cardboard box full of seat numbers. “Please tidy up your things and we’ll draw out the numbers.”
Pike continued to talk over the noise. “This is a good opportunity for all of you to branch out from your usual friendship groups and make some new friends.”
“Come along now, row by row.”
So they do. It doesn’t go as well as Pike plans, probably, given the way he scowls at them. Lexa looks at her crumpled number.
Wells bumps against Darcy with a grin, “oh yeah, jackpot baby.”
“Hey, wanna switch?” Raven asks Lexa.
“Where’s yours?” Jasper chimes in, stealing a glance at Raven’s seat. “No way. I want a window seat.”
Bellamy cupped his hands and shouted. “I’ll switch a backseat for a front seat.”
In between all the noise Clarke had found her seat- right in the middle of the classroom. Other students wandered about, trying to switch numbers to stay with their friends.
“Do you want to swap seats with me?” Lexa asked.
Miller pushed himself up from the desk beside Clarke's.
“What did you get?”
“Corner. Back row.”
“Best seat huh. Why not.” They exchange seat numbers.
Clarke sighs as Lexa drops her bag on her new seat for the rest of the semester. “Aren’t you just clingy.”
Lexa sat down and imitated Clarke’s position— cheek resting on her hand. “This spot has a nice view.”
That didn’t come out how she wanted it to.
Clarke’s cheeks redden and she turns away.
“You better write your own notes.”
Halfway in a lesson Pike taps her head with his ruler.
“Woods, if I keep having to tell you off I will personally switch your seat.”
Pike tossed a piece of chalk at Fox. “You all better sort out your cleaning duty before you head out.”
When the bell rings Pike is the first to leave.
Harper strolled up to the group of girls crowded around the blackboard. “Yeah, we had a roster earlier.” Harper said. “This.” She waves about a piece of paper. “So apparently it’s one of your turns. Two to three people will be enough.”
Lexa cranes her neck to see through the four heads.
Clarke takes the chalk and writes her name down, just beneath Bree and Fox’s. Harper nods, satisfied, and brushes past them to find Monroe.
Lexa watched from her seat.
“Hey, we did it the week before last didn’t we? It’s not our turn to volunteer yet.” Bree said, winking at Fox.
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Oh, Clarke, sorry- could you pass us the duster?”
“Man, it must suck to do it on your own but,” Fox is dusting their names off. She hits it against the board harder than needed. Clouds of chalk dust stain Clarke’s coat. “That’s what you get for skipping.”
“Who said she’s doing it on her own?” Lexa said, picking up a piece of chalk.
“Hey, you were just on the roster.” Bree pushed forward, jutting out her chin in challenge.
“It’s no big deal. Harper never said any rule for volunteering.” Lexa writes her name under Clarke’s.
Fox flicked her hair and tossed the duster aside. “What’s your problem? Didn’t peg you for a teacher’s pet, Lexi. Gross.”
“Like you’re not all dying to get in Roth’s pants.”
It was one of those moments where there was a lull in everyone’s conversation, and where words leave Lexa’s mouth unfiltered. The class erupted with laughter.
Lexa tugged on Clarke’s sleeve. “Let’s go.”
Even as they made their way down the hallways she could still hear them laughing. An abrupt jerk- Clarke pulling away from Lexa, makes Lexa lose her footing.
“Stop, you’re walking too fast.” Clarke says, out of breath. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Sorry.” Lexa averted her gaze, withdrawing her hands into the pockets of her hoodie. “They piss me off.”
Most of the classes had their recycling bins out. The two of them emptied the small class recycling bins onto the ground. The grass was covered in a layer of snow. They sat by the large recycling bins instead, sorting out the papers from the bottles and cans.
“One time she made fun of my watch.” Clarke said.
Lexa blinked up from the plastic bottle, half way twisting the cap off. She sees Clarke’s watch now. Silver and very worn. Neither the minute nor the second hand moves. A visible crack grows down the face.
Clarke continued to sift through the recycling. “Invited me to her birthday party. I think it was really to show off the beautiful Christmas tree her mum got her. Everybody gave her their gifts. When she opened mine- I could tell she didn’t like it. I saw it in the trash before I left.”
Lexa unscrewed more bottle caps and listened.
“What’s more is her dad got her this watch from overseas. She wouldn’t stop flaunting it. I think maybe I got a bit jealous.”
Clarke breathed in deeply.
“So I threw her pencil case out the window.”
Lexa looked at her in disbelief. “You threw it out the window? Like what mister Tennant is rumoured to do?”
“Highest floor too.” Clarke smiled at that. “That’s probably why she’s hated me ever since.”
“I’d hold a grudge too.” Lexa tossed the plastic bottles in.
Clarke’s eyes flashes up that second. “Whose side are you on?”
“Yours, always, of course.”
She smiles. The long, languid kinds of smiles that causes warmth to spread from Lexa’s chest to the rest of her body. It leaves her breathless. Apparently her younger self was not adept at the concept of emotional numbing.
“Jasper figured out how to make it.” Lexa mumbled out, twirling a brand of generic soda in her hand. “Better than the store-bought ones.”
Clarke leans in to check the logo. When she does, Lexa breathes in— a mistake, because Clarke’s scent is a mixture of fresh paper and pine, along with something distinctly Clarke.
“Hey you two!”
She looked up to see the entire class practically grinning at them from the open windows. Pike leaned forward with one hand clutching a rolled up textbook. “Lesson’s already started! Hurry up!” He shouts at them from above and Raven bursts out laughing.
“Yes sir!” Lexa called back.
A paper plane cuts through the air, landing by Lexa’s feet. She unfolds it to see Stop flirting you nerd. Only one person could design an aerodynamic plane made from their poor-quality paper. Raven winks from the window before trailing after the class back into their room.
Lexa hurriedly scrunches it up. “Noth-”
“Shit,” Clarke breathes out, “are you okay?”
Beads of red formed at the tips of her finger. A sharp sting registers, followed by a pulse. “Yeah- it’s a small cut, let’s get back before Pike kills us.”
Clarke holds Lexa down by the sleeve. “Who was the one talking my ear off about infections this morning?”
“You can’t group these two injuries together.” Lexa said standing right up.
Clarke wouldn’t listen. They made way to the nearest fountain which oddly enough, hasn’t frozen over. Clarke squeezes her finger and runs it under the chilly water.
“My dad gave me his watch,” Clarke said. “Said it was a charm for tender skin. He always got cuts on his hands too.”
Clarke’s words take Lexa’s mind off her small injury. “What was he like?”
“You couldn’t not love him. Always won everyone’s hearts.”
“Oh that says something,” Lexa said with a smile, “little grumpy Clarke admiring someone- “
“I was not a grumpy child I’ll let you know.” Clarke fished out a bandaid from her pocket. “He made everything look easy, as easy as breathing- friends, his job, but I liked his stories the best.”
“There.” Clarke says.
“Shall we head back?”
“I’d much rather not.” Clarke said with a sigh. “But he’s already seen us.”
“Show me your artworks sometime.”
Clarke blinks up. There’s a moment of hesitation in her brow, but she nods. “One day.”
“I want to show you something after school. It’ll be fun.” Lexa says to Clarke at lunch.
She responds with a half-hearted sigh. “Fine. It’s not like you’ll listen to me if I say no.”
Lexa finds Monty looking out the window- to watch Bellamy, Raven, and Jasper do something stupid, probably.
“Are you guys going to the base today?”
Monty turns to Lexa and shakes his head. “Off limits in winter, remember? Leaves too many footprints.”
“Jasper wanted to go snowboarding. Will you come?”
“Today’s a bit…”
Monty laughs. “Making progress with Clarke?”
“It’s that obvious, is it?” Lexa feels shy at Monty’s scrutiny.
“A bit. I think.” Monty says thoughtfully.
“What about you?”
Monty smiled blandly. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Clarke waited for her by the school gate. Most students trickled out within the first few minutes, breaking off into smaller groups to head home or wander about the town.
“How far are we going?” Clarke asked.
They began their slow trek towards the bus stop.
“Not far from here.” Lexa said. “In spring we could take any bus but since it’s up in the hills and the weather’s been bad, the schedules have changed a bit.”
The bus comes a few minutes later, only one or two workers occupied the front seats. Lexa swiped both their tickets. Clarke took a seat by the window, resting her head against it.
“Want some music?” Lexa dug out Anya’s portable mp3 player and plugged in the earbuds.
Clarke takes one and frowns. “You have bad taste.”
“Well, why don't you make me a mixtape then?”
“A mixtape in return for what?”
“A free movie?” Lexa suggested.
Clarke didn’t respond but her lip quirked a little.
The ride is about twenty minutes long, the sky already darkening. Clarke’s fingers tapped a rhythm on the little space between them whilst she absorbed the changing scenery. Lexa watched the subtle changes in shadow within the bus. But also the subtle changes in Clarke’s expression. How she blinks owlishly at the grey sky and smiles into her hand.
They step off at the ski resort. The trudge toward the tree is longer than Lexa remembers it being. Last time being she brought a sled. She can sense Clarke’s unease. The sun’s already setting and the tree is still nowhere in sight.
“Foxes!” Clarke gasps as two moving balls of orange tumble down the hills.
The two creatures prance about in a circle around Clarke, tails waving in the air. She’s laughing as they step over one another and edge close before jumping back.
Lexa told Jasper about it fourteen years ago— but he didn’t believe her. Nobody did. Even Monty, looked amused and said nobody’s seen them in months.
They circle around them once or twice before running off.
“Almost there,” Lexa says.
They reach the clearing.
Lexa smiles. “Come on.”
She watches Clarke as she takes in the view before them.
It’s not a Christmas tree, exactly. But it’s the largest tree Lexa has ever seen, bare from winter, yet its slender limbs stretch to the cloudless sky, now illuminated with thousands of stars. A mixture of purple, green, and blue— nothing like the auroras Lexa longs to see, but perhaps the closest thing to it. Thin, opalescent icicles gilded its branches, dangling like gems.
“It’s beautiful.” she breathes.
“I don’t think it’s a Christmas tree. They light it up late December to early January. We can come again next year— when they actually have lights.” Lexa blinks to Clarke. Her eyes are wide and she doesn’t even try to dim her smile.
“I’d like that.” Clarke says, mesmerised.
On their way down Lexa stops by the ski resort supermarket. “What do you want?” Lexa asks.
“A coffee is fine.”
Lexa turned to the attendant.“One coffee and one hot chocolate.”
She could feel Clarke’s smile.
“Shut up.” Lexa grumbles.
Lexa watches as the attendant takes out two of their paper cups and asks Lexa whether she wants a pink or white marshmallow. (Pink, always). She turns and sees Clarke studying a jar of pickles.
“Here you go.” Two hot steaming cups heat up her hands.
“Could we get that jar of pickles as well?” Lexa reaches to pay and Clarke flushes.
“Would you like anything else with that?” the attendant asks.
Lexa looks to Clarke.
“Nope, that’s all.” Clarke says, nudging Lexa.
They find a seat outside and Lexa drinks her hot chocolate wordlessly. The fluorescent light from the supermarket casts their shadows across the snow.
“Don’t judge me.” Clarke says as she unscrews the lid to the pickles.
“You’re like a pregnant woman.”
“Do you want one?”
Lexa considers it for a moment and takes a bite. Nope. “How can you eat this by itself?”
Clarke looks offended. “It’s an acquired taste.”
They don’t speak for a while and Lexa feels comfortable in the stillness. Clarke finishes all the pickles— even downs the pickle juice, and her coffee while it’s still hot.
“Here.” Lexa offers Clarke a mint.
“Are you saying my breath stinks?”
“Of pickle juice and coffee— yes.”
“Well you don’t-” Clarke leaned in.
Oh. Lexa’s eyes fluttered closed for a moment.
Clarke does not kiss her. (Lexa has the urge to squeeze her heart until it stops this foolish acting).
Instead, her expression is mischievous. “So you smell like candy, each to one’s own.”
“Do you want it or not?” Lexa says, swallowing thickly.
Clarke smiles and puts it to her mouth. Lexa’s eyes fall to Clarke’s lip for a second— remembers how soft they were— it’s a blunder because Clarke’s tongue teases out between her teeth as she swallows her own laugh. She applies the chapstick to her lips— bringing about a little shimmer.
Lexa smells it.
Clarke catches the movement and Lexa averts her gaze.
Her heart drummed on.
The bus arrives earlier than usual and the two of them clamber on. Empty. Lexa pays the driver and they take the spacious backseat. Clarke doesn’t complain this time, but she does wrinkle her nose whenever a song comes on that she doesn’t like.
“Sorry for my poor music taste.” Lexa said with a huff.
The driver has to wake them up once they are at their stop. Clarke awakens groggily and rubs at her eye, almost tripping over nothing as Lexa takes her arm and thanks the driver.
Walking seems to wake her up a little. By the time they make it to Clarke’s house, it is almost eight. Just before Clarke opens the door Lexa hands her the invitation.
“I wanted to know if you could come to my party. It’s my birthday soon.”
Clarke looked up from the card. “Who else is coming?”
“I don’t know yet. I wanted to ask you first.”
She nodded with a small smile. “I’ll be there.”
“Goodnight.” Lexa says as the door closes softly.
Lexa turns to leave but stops in her tracks.
From the corner of her eye, she saw a figure in the shadows. He doesn’t seem to have noticed her yet. So she took one slow step forward. Broad shoulders. Even if she did jump him like Anya taught her to, he’d be stronger. But she was faster.
“Woah, kid!” the man yelps.
Lexa recognises the person now. “Guts?”
He stumbles to his feet and holds his hands up in surrender. “I saw a stray kitten wander here-” he looks about, sure enough, a tiny thing emerges from the snowstorm Lexa kicked up as a result of her throwing the punch. “There he is!”
“You throw a hell of a punch.” Guts bends down to pick up the kitten. “Where were you going Smokey?”
“Sorry,” Lexa says, tugging her bag up on her shoulder. “Did you just finish your shift?”
Guts laughs at that. A sound Lexa felt reverberate through her entire being. “Yeah, delivered it to the kind old gentleman in unit seven.”
The kitten is barely five or six weeks old, tiny in comparison to the large hands of Guts. Guts looks at Lexa then and Lexa returns his gaze. He looks younger, tan, nonetheless from the days spend under the sun. A wild beard covered half his face, leaving the thin line of his mouth visible. No longer are there the hard eyes, clinking metal, or grating laugh. Here, he is the Guts Lexa knows.
She observes his shoes. The same boot print as the ones they’ll find outside the shed.
The two of them see Jack Roth approaching.
“Mister Roth,” Lexa said. “What are you doing here?”
Jack glances up to Guts, who towers over him in comparison. “You must be?”
“Gustus Terran,” Guts said. The two exchanged a handshake. “Delivery boy.”
“Yes, I always go there.” Jack smiled, recognising the logo. “Jack Roth, I’m a counsellor at Lexa’s school.”
Guts looked at him. “Are you going on a walk?”
“Oh no,” Jack said swinging his shoulder bag around. “Because of the bad weather, Pike’s distributed some-” Jack pulled out about five manila envelopes. “These, usually we’ll mail them over but the postal service has been unreliable lately.”
“School records, right?” Lexa said.
“Yup.” Jack nodded and let out a sigh.“I better get going soon, I have about four more houses to visit.” He rings the doorbell to Clarke’s home and waves to them. “You two take care now, walking too late these days is dangerous.”
“I’ll make sure Lexa gets home okay,” Guts says. “See you around.”
Guts pushes his scooter along, setting the kitten down in the attached basket at the front, just slightly above the headlights. “You should come over sometime,” Guts said. “Dad’s been interested in looking into breakfast and dessert pizzas.”
“Since when did you start delivery?”
“A while back. Well, I take the scooter. Usually he goes by the van- the red one, with our logo on it.”
“Do you know Clarke?”
“Griffin?” Guts tilts his head. “She doesn’t have many friends, does she?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“I saw you talking to her the other day by the river.” Guts said as they passed by a faint streetlight. “I think it’s good that you’re reaching out to her. We’re social animals, even if we do like being alone. We all need one person to trust.”
“You always talk to people when they’re alone.” Lexa said.
Their steps are matched. Listening to the soft sound of snow beneath their feet was strangely serene. Guts shrugged, the action coming off awkward from his large frame, too childish (yet the boyish charm never did leave him).
“If I had to guess, I think it’s because I know how it feels.” Guts scratches the kitten’s chin with one finger. “I don’t have many friends. It’s easy when you stand back to separate yourself from everybody. I did that all throughout high school— even to good people, because I was— scared- of what?” He laughs. “I don’t know, at some point I became really good at it, to the point where I don’t know how to separate this from myself.”
He exhales. A breath of white follows. He turns his gaze to her.
“Now I’m taking little steps forward, all about the guts.” The same sparkle twirls about in his eyes. “I’m telling you all this because now you know I’ve said it, I’ve got to go do it.”
Nothing like the beaten down man who offered a weak grimace.
“All about guts.” Lexa repeats and he smiles. “Can I go over this weekend?”
“You’re always welcome, kiddo.”
The walk feels far too short. Next time Lexa ought to take the long way home.
“Night,” Lexa says and Guts waits until the door closes before he swings himself onto the scooter and drives away.
Anya blinked up from her book just as Lexa pried off a stubborn boot. Thankfully she didn’t bring home her history textbook, that in itself would’ve left her knock-kneed. Just across the room in the kitchen, Enova
“Welcome back,” Anya said, covering a yawn. “How’s school?”
“The same.” Lexa plopped herself down beside Anya. “Did any teacher stop by with my records?”
“Don’t think so. I was home the whole day so I would’ve heard if someone came to the door.”
“Yours came a lot earlier darling,” Enova said, setting down the plates for dinner. “A month ago or so. Was there something wrong?”
“No.” Lexa said.
“Did you want your friends to stay over too?” Enova asks over dinner, just as Anya begins to shovel food into her mouth.
“I’ll ask them,” Lexa said. “I think we could only fit three people at most.”
“Oh we could fit all of them,”
“Well, if it’s her birthday I guess they could take my bed.”
Anya turned on the TV and Enova finished the dishes whilst Lexa climbed upstairs to her room.
She fumbled out the Grounders badge from her pocket and extended the thin antenna. “Anybody alive?”
A few seconds later Raven’s voice crackles across the line. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Did someone come by to give you your school records?”
“Man, that was ages ago— like two weeks or something. Why?”
“Just curious. I heard some people only got theirs today.”
“That’s a poor public school for you. Too poor to get express delivery.”
It didn’t have to mean anything. Lexa finds herself chewing at her lip. Calm down. You can’t afford to drive yourself crazy just yet. Alert, not paranoid.
“Did any of you do physics homework?” Monty’s voice cuts in.
“You’re such a nerd. But I’m stuck on question five. What answer did you get?”
It’s oddly calming to hear the subdued sounds downstairs, as well as the voices of Monty and Raven bickering away at some physics problem. Lexa sat crosslegged on her chair working away at her Chemistry homework. Occasionally she looks up to the flickering flame of the scented candle. Anya said she kept too many of them. She’s zoned out entirely from their conversation— sometime in between Jasper joined in. When Lexa glances at the digital clock it’s already 11PM.
Raven’s voice sounded louder. “Oh shit! That’s why! What the hell-”
“See, Raven, this is why you’re not achieving the grades you could be getting.” Monty said.
“Yes, yes, I get too careless and-”
“I’m going off, see ya.” Lexa cut Raven off before she could start another long-winded conversation. In return, she hears a chorus of ‘goodnights’.
Anya strolled into their shared bedroom in nothing but boy shorts a short while after. Anya turned on her stereo, setting the volume on low.
“Still reading about serial killers?” She asked, wiping her mouth with the towel around her neck. “Bathroom’s all yours.”
“Mhmm, did you know they gravitate to being in positions of authority?” Lexa shrugged out of her hoodie. “You could be seeing your doctor who also stores chopped up bits of people in his freezer.”
“You’re ruining the song.”
“Or that they have cooling off periods? It’s like an addiction, almost. Plus their motives are often psychological gratification, so they could be-”
Anya groans, twisting under the covers and turning her back. “I’m sleeping nerd, night.”
The lamp on Anya’s side goes out. Lexa dims her own reading light.
She’s halfway through the second chapter when Latte decides to jump on her bed and settle her head against Lexa’s stomach. Serial killers, psychopaths, habits of murderers— what a bedtime story. Except it isn’t a story. Lexa slid a scrap piece of paper to mark the page and set the book aside.
There will be lots to do tomorrow as well, and the day after. Then perhaps she will return to the future to see Ind-
Panic stabs at her chest.
Latte’s head snaps up at the sudden movement of Lexa rolling out of bed.
What about the young one, her name-
She could not pace, not when the floorboards have weak areas that creak whenever dust falls onto them. She shakes her head and scrambles for their faces— but they don’t come. Then Lexa strains her mind to recall the address of her apartment in New York on the-
Lexa sucked in a breath.
A side effect?
Rewriting the past to create a future. That’s what she wanted, wasn’t it?
She descends the stairs to the kitchen. Latte follows after her quietly, two steps at a time. She boils water for some tea, it would calm her. Her mug set down on the counter with camomile prepared. She paces back and forth in the small area, listening to the boiling water. It does not ease her mind. Too many thoughts threatened to flare up. Cara? Cate? Claire? Cory? Cos-
Lexa sighed. She ran her hand on the cold sink. Focus on it. Her hand bumped against the ridges of the metal and she glanced outside.
Two black eyes stared back at her.
At times like these she should scream. Or move. But the message could not urge her muscles, urge her mouth open to shout.
“Who are you?” Lexa said.
She heard the water boiling. The heavy trudge of steps in snow. He ran.
At Latte’s snarling she returned to her body and shoved the door open. Latte sprinted out barking and snarling after the shadow. Lexa could not bring her feet to follow. She’s not sure how long it takes but Latte comes limping back, a low whimper breaking loose. “Easy girl,” Lexa said, bringing Latte into an embrace. One paw— raised, not broken, Lexa determines with a once-over. “You’ve been brave.”
The man had long gone.
She stays that way with Latte in her arms for a long moment. Until she regains her strength to stand. Anya. Enova.
She traced the design of the boot print on her palm.
It did not belong to Guts.
A man. Lexa gingerly stepped out to check the lock on the back door. A dozen scratches. Tampered with. The pot plant under the window shifted position.
The spare key gone.
Lexa’s heart threatens to give out.
If only it was a passerby. A drunk. A homeless man.
But it churns in her gut long after she closed the door and locked it tight. She checked that the windows could lock. A certain kind of unease, grew, rooted, and span like motion sickness. She glances outside, into their shared backyard to only see settling snow. One neighbour’s rusted bike toppled over and hidden under piles of moving boxes. Lexa rested her hip against the counter, running her hands down Latte’s back. Every while she looked up to expect the cold eyes to meet hers.
But they are not there.
“It’s going to be okay, we’re going to get him.”
Latte does not tilt her head back to meet Lexa but instead stared at the door with perked ears.
When Lexa does take a sip of her camomile tea, it’s no longer warm. She downs the tasteless liquid in one mouthful and calls for Latte. “Let’s go,” Lexa pats at the dog’s side. A whine broke from the dog but she followed, brushing against Lexa’s leg to gracelessly hop up the stairs.
Lexa rests her hand on the smooth wallpaper as she ascends.
She’s still shaking.
Thank you for all your warm support :)
Also happy late Easter! Hope you all got lots of chocolate ^^
(Lexa’s experience with the person was based on a real-life robbery experience- terrified my eight year old soul).