There was no official wake, following the demolition of the mine. But everyone wound up back at the Black Lantern anyway.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bar this full,” Steph noted as she sat beside Alex, looking around. “Lot of miners here today.”
“We made it a half-day so that they could all be there,” Jessie explained from her chair. “I think everyone just figured that a drink was in order when we were all done.”
“Fair enough.” Alex looked at her. “Thanks, by the way. For letting me lay down flowers.”
Jessie was already shaking her head. “That was Ted, not me. You should thank him.”
“I would, if he was here.”
“He had to help the demo team with the after-action report. He’ll be working until late tonight.” Jessie shrugged. “I’ll pass the message, though.”
Ryan appeared at that moment, placing a glass in front of Alex. “Everyone’s asking if they can buy you a drink,” he informed her. “I figured you’d probably want to keep your liver from pickling, so I’d just bring you this one, and let you know that there are eight more free beers on your tab.”
Alex gave him a half-smirk. “Thanks.”
“Sure. You doing okay?”
“I guess.” She picked up the beer and took a sip. “The finality of it hit me at the mine earlier. Even though I haven’t been back in months.”
“You want something to eat? I know you missed lunch.”
She shook her head. “Not hungry.”
“Not even for duck fries?”
“As much as it pains me to admit it, no.” Alex glanced at Steph. “Unless you want some?”
Steph shook her head too. “I’m not really hungry either.”
Everyone arched their eyebrows. “Since when do you turn down duck fries?” Jessie asked pointedly.
“I’m just not feeling them right now.” Steph itched the back of her neck before standing up. “I’m gonna go use the restroom really quick.”
“There’s a line,” Ryan reported.
“Of course there is.” Steph sighed, then looked at Alex. “Can I-”
“Go for it.”
“Thanks.” Steph made her way towards the apartment, vanishing up the stairs.
Jessie smirked as she leaned back. “Your apartment location is pretty convenient.”
“It has it’s perks.” Alex nodded. “What happens now? With the mine, I mean.”
“They’ll verify that it’s sealed, and all the explosives went off. Then the environmental guys will work out a plan with the forest service to restore the site.”
“How’s that work?”
“I’m not sure, it’s not my area. Probably bring in some backhoes and fill the pits left over by the ventilation shafts.” Jessie crossed her legs. “The buildings at the mine entrance will be demolished later.”
“With another demo team?”
Jessie smirked. “No. They’re so dilapidated that we can probably just push them over with a couple of bulldozers. There’s a few pieces of equipment we can make a little money off of, but a lot of it is old, so most of it will probably be scrapped.”
“And your guys’ second site?”
“We’re still doing the final survey. The demo charge to break ground is next week.” Jessie blinked, then reached into her back pocket. “Speaking of which, I meant to give this to you earlier.”
Alex watched her produce a folded sheet of paper from her back pocket and slide it across the table. “What’s that?”
“The timeline for our next few explosions. We’ve been working with Sheriff Pike to get these scheduled. He told Ted and I a couple of the residents, including you, would appreciate a heads-up.”
“Ah ha.” Alex accepted the paper. “You should probably get one to Charlotte, too.”
“She’s on my list.” Jessie looked at her beer. “I think I’m going to get one of those. I’ll be back in a bit.”
Alex watched her go, then unfolded the paper to check the schedule. It went all the way into the new year, though the detonations scheduled after the holidays were all marked as subject to change. Good to know, she figured. Nice of them to do this, too.
A buzzing caught her attention, and she glanced at the source with a frown; it was a phone on the table next to her. She recognized Steph’s case. She must have left it here by accident.
Texts began flashing across the screen. Alex’s curiosity got the better of her, and she turned the phone to see.
Mikey: Hey. Just wanted to check in, make sure you’re doing okay.
Mikey: I know it’s a rough day to remember.
Mikey: Let me know if you want to talk. I’ll be awake for a while.
Alex tilted her head. She knew who Mikey was, Steph had mentioned him a couple of times. But she was confused about the context of the messages.
Why is it a rough day to remember for her?
She pulled out her phone, opened the Facebook app to her girlfriend’s page, and started scrolling.
It is not the time for this.
Steph took slow breaths as she wiped the water from her face, using a towel to dry herself off with. While trying not to let the emotions she’d been bottling up all day boil over.
It was hard. Aside from having gotten little sleep the night before, memories kept flooding her brain as she was trying to focus on Alex.
The blast warnings that sounded like the storm sirens from Arcadia Bay had not helped.
It’s been six years. You can’t keep doing this every October. She exhaled sharply through her nose as she looked into the mirror. Especially not the day your girlfriend watched them implode the mine where her father is buried. Now is not a good time.
It took her a few moments realize that she was picking at the skin of her thumb again. She willed herself to stop before she stood back upright, letting out a shaky breath.
Okay. Back downstairs. Make sure Alex is okay.
And whatever happens, don’t think about Mom.
She shook her head as she slipped out of the bathroom, closing the door behind her-
The apartment door opening made her jump in surprise, as Alex walked in. “Jesus,” she breathed, a hand to her chest. “I’m gonna put a bell around your neck.”
Alex didn’t respond as she shut the door behind her. Steph tilted her head in confusion as her girlfriend stepped closer. “What are you-”
Two arms were around her before she realized what was happening, Alex wrapping her in a tight hug.
“I’m so sorry about your mother,” she whispered in Steph’s ear.
The brunette opened her mouth to reply, but no words came out. Just a quiet sob as her emotions bubbled over. She buried her face in Alex’s shoulder, grabbing the back of her girlfriend’s shirt as she started crying.
“When were you going to tell me?”
Steph tilted her head. They had somehow wound up on the floor, her head on Alex’s chest as she clutched her arm tightly. Her girlfriend’s fingers were still running soothingly through her brown hair as Steph sniffled, curled up against her. “Huh?”
“About your mom.”
“I, uh…” She snorted, rubbing her nose. “… how did you find out that it was today?”
Alex produced Steph’s phone from her pocket. The brunette hadn’t even realized that she’d left it downstairs. She took it and saw the texts appear on the screen.
“… dammit, Mikey.”
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to snoop.”
“It’s okay.” Steph sighed as she slowly pushed herself upright. Alex pulled her in close as she stared at her lap. “I… was going to mention it eventually. But it’s your dad’s memorial service. I didn’t want to make it about me, I wanted to be there for you.”
“It’s possible for two people to be upset on the same day, Steph.” Alex squeezed her shoulder. “What happened to your mom? I just realized that you’ve never told me.”
Steph rubbed her nose on her sleeve before answering. “… my hometown, back in Oregon. Arcadia Bay. I told you about it, right?”
“No.” Alex frowned. “I thought you moved here from Seattle?”
“I did. But I grew up in Arcadia Bay.”
“Oh. I…” Alex paused as memories hit her. “… that town on the coast? The one that got hit with a huge tornado a few years ago?”
“You heard about that?”
“My high school was taking donations after it happened.” She looked at Steph. “Is that when…”
The brunette nodded, her eyes not leaving the floor. “The storm came on really sudden,” she explained quietly. “My dad was out of the state for work. I was doing community college the next town over, but I was visiting Mikey when the storm hit. We both got to a rec center with a bunch of other people seeking shelter, and I spent most of the time distracting him with a Dungeons and Dragons game.”
Alex grimaced. “And your mom?”
“Got stuck at home. Right in the path of the tornado.”
Steph shrugged morosely, sniffling again. “The town was completely trashed; they didn’t find her for almost a week. I spent most of it praying that she was still alive… all the cell towers were destroyed, so people didn’t hear from some relatives for days, and I was hoping my mom would be one of them.”
Alex bit her lip. “… I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.” Steph swallowed. “… she was the first person I told I was gay.”
“Yea. I… Jesus, I didn’t even plan it or anything. We were in the car by ourselves when I was thirteen, having one of those mother-daughter talks. She was telling me that she would always love me no matter what. And I had been stressing over it for so long, I didn’t even think about it when I asked, you know, what if I liked girls instead of boys?”
She sighed. “It was really stupid of me. I had, like, no plan or anything. I started having a panic attack as soon as I said it.”
“Did you really?”
“Yea. I had no idea how she was going to react.” Steph finally looked at Alex, cracking a half smirk. “But my Irish mother, the patron saint of snappy comebacks, didn’t even skip a beat when she looked at me and said ‘did I fucking stutter?’”
Alex couldn’t help but laugh. Steph was right behind her, snickering as she looked down and shook her head in amusement.
“She sounds like she was awesome,” Alex noted after a few minutes.
“The coolest mom ever.” The smirk faded from Steph’s face. “I miss her so fucking much.”
Alex nodded as she held her girlfriend tightly, listening to Steph sniffle and wipe her eyes. “Do you want to do something for her?”
Steph glanced at her. “Like what?”
“Light a candle, leave a rose in the lake… I don’t know, anything.”
She was already shaking her head. “I didn’t do anything last year.”
“Doesn’t mean you can’t do something this year.”
“I don’t even know what I would do.” Steph shrugged. “She was religious. But I’m pretty sure I would burst into flames if I entered the town church.”
“You know that’s not true.”
“I really don’t feel like risking it.” Steph sighed, patting Alex’s leg. “We should get back downstairs. People are probably wondering where you are.”
“There’s only a few people down there that I actually care about.” Alex took her hand. “And I don’t care about any of them more than you.”
Steph slowly smirked. “You’re so fucking sappy, you know that?”
“And you love it.”
“I really, really do.” A hesitant look came over Steph’s face. “… can I ask you a question?”
“Would you be okay if I introduced you to my Dad?”
Alex blinked. “… wow. Talk about out of left field.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t-”
“No, of course I’ll meet him,” Alex said quickly. “I’m just… you almost never mention him. I wasn’t sure if you were mad at him or something.”
“I’m not mad at him.” Steph sighed, dropping her gaze again. “I just suck at talking to him. We email every so often, but I don’t think I’ve actually called him in months. And I haven’t told him about you.”
Alex frowned. “Why? Is everything okay between you two?”
“… I don’t know. We were just never as close as I was to my mom.” Steph shrugged. “I mean, I love him too. He was a great parent, and basically carried me through everything after the storm. So I guess he’s just one more person I ghosted because I was an asshole.”
“Hey.” Alex squeezed Steph’s hand. “It happens, babe.”
“Only to my friends.”
She inhaled through her nose slowly. “Why don’t you shoot him an email later, and we can set up a time to do a video call,” she offered. “I’m sure he’d love to hear from you again. And meet his kid’s amazing girlfriend.”
Steph snorted in amusement. “… you are pretty amazing, I’ll admit that.”