Once the hoodie successfully made its way onto Alex’s torso, Steph helped Alex to reposition so that her legs were over the edge of the makeshift bed. She grabbed the sweatpants and carefully put the left pant leg over Alex’s foot and ankle, then did the same to the other one. Once the waistband was above Alex’s knees, Steph let Alex put the sweatpants on entirely, herself.
“At least you only need one shoe,” Steph said with a grin as she grabbed said shoe.
“Downside though, everyone gets to see my ugly toes.”
Steph looked up at Alex with narrowed eyes in disapproval, giving Alex a light smack on her right knee. “Your toes aren’t ugly, Alex. They’re toes, and if anyone says anything about them, I’ll fight them.”
“What if I want to see you fight anyone about my toes?” Alex chuckled as Steph shot her a challenging look.
“Are you doubting me, Chen?” Steph paused her movements as she looked up at Alex. “Think I won’t do it?”
“Hmm,” Alex mused, looking Steph up and down as if she was inspecting her. “Not sure. I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Steph responded with feigned offense, placing her hand against her chest for dramatic effect. “Oh, I see how it is!” But when Alex snorted Steph was unable to remain in-character and resumed putting Alex’s shoe on her socked foot with a chuckle. Once she tied the shoelaces, she gave Alex’s shoe a gentle tap before letting go of it. “There, all done.”
“Thanks, Steph,” Alex whispered. Steph looked up at Alex with a semi-confused expression. “For everything,” Alex clarified, “especially today. It really means a lot.”
“I mean, I just…” Steph let out a sigh as she sat on the chair again and thought back. “Fuck, Alex… I was so damn worried… And when I woke up this morning and still hadn’t heard from you I just felt something was off. Even though Ryan disapproved at first, I knew I just had to, I couldn’t just sit around and wait.” Steph worried her lip while fidgeting with some of the frays of the tear in her jeans. “I had to do something, because I don’t think I would’ve forgiven myself if—” Her nails dug into the skin on her knee that was exposed because of the tear, biting her lip as she desperately tried to keep herself from crying yet again. Steph felt like she was too exhausted to cry any more.
“Steph.” Alex spoke in a soft and comforting voice as she gently grabbed a hold of Steph’s chin, tilting it up to make Steph look at her. “Please try not to think about that? I’m here, because of you I’m still here.”
Despite knowing Alex was right, it was hard for Steph to shake off the thoughts of ‘what if’. With a sad sigh she nodded in response, unable to speak.
“Hey, can you help me get off the bed?” Alex asked her, without replying, Steph got onto her feet and carefully helped Alex stand. But before she got the chance to let go, Alex held onto her. Arms wrapped around her and pulled her into a comforting embrace.
Suddenly the dam broke and the tears that had been threatening to fall spilled over, rolling down her cheeks. Steph cried and cried and cried, gasping for air every now and then, soothed by Alex’s hand rubbing in circles on her back. She held onto Alex tightly, while still being careful not to hurt Alex’s injured ribs. She was too tired to fight the tears and thus they kept on coming, until her nose became runny and snotty. Alex didn’t seem to care about getting snot on her clean hoodie, she simply held Steph, rubbed her back and caressed her hair.
“I’m sorry, Steph,” Alex whispered softly, “I never meant to scare you like that.”
With her eyes red and puffy from crying, Steph grabbed the crutches that stood by the door and handed them to Alex. While Alex got her arms situated on the crutches, Steph closed the bag, slung it onto her back and opened the door for them. They walked through the hallway in silence, both exhausted and ready to get home, desperate for some proper sleep.
The moment they came into view, Charlotte got up and met them with a sad smile. “Let’s go home,” she said, “I already picked up the prescription painkillers and got the check-up appointments scheduled. You two don’t have to worry about anything, I wrote everything down.”
Alex and Steph looked at each other before looking at Charlotte again with a grateful smile. “Thanks Char,” Steph said hoarsely.
“You can thank me by resting.” Charlotte winked at them before turning to head to the exit, Alex and Steph followed close behind.
Once they were all settled in the car, Charlotte turned on the radio. After pressing a button, the channel changed to one which played lo-fi music. Alex’s head leaned against Steph’s chest, while Steph’s cheek rested on top of Alex’s hair. Before either of them realized it, they fell asleep to the sound of soothing music softly playing.
Charlotte looked into the rearview mirror to see the two women in the backseat had fallen asleep. “Good,” she whispered, “you two need it.” She took a moment to collect herself before turning the inserted key in the ignition and starting the car. It came to life with a low rumble, humming softly as Charlotte put the car in reverse and backed out of the parking spot. She closed her eyes after putting the car in first gear, lips twitching into a sad smile. “I promise I’ll try my best to look after her, Gabe.” Charlotte gritted her teeth before exhaling through her mouth slowly and started driving, leaving the parking lot and got onto the main road.
The room was dimly lit, the scent of incense unmistakable and the music was quiet. Everyone sat down on their yoga mat cross legged, forming a large circle. When Steph and Charlotte followed the instructions closely, they closed their eyes and focused on their breathing.
Regardless of how hard Steph tried, the massive amount of thoughts kept swirling around in her mind. She shifted a little bit in an attempt to get more comfortable, to no avail. She felt the tag of her underwear itching against her lower back, driving her up the wall. As quietly as Steph could manage, she reached her hand to her back to put the tag in place and scratch the skin of her lower back. The sound of her nails on her skin was nearly deafening and Steph swallowed hard as she opened one eye to look at the instructor, who was looking directly at her. With a nervous, soundless chuckle Steph retracted her arm again and rested the palm of her hand on her knee once more.
She yelped when Charlotte sneezed next to her, causing her heartbeat to accelerate in response. “Geez, Char, you scared the shit out of me.” Steph made sure to keep her voice low, whispering as quietly as she could.
“Sorry, it’s the incense, I think.”
“Please refrain from speaking, so as to not disturb each other.” Both Steph and Charlotte bit down their lower lip as the instructor was looking at them with a stern look.
After taking another deep breath, Steph closed her eyes again and straightened her back. The music changed into an even more mellow rhythm, but all Steph could focus on was the way her legs and feet started to feel like pins and needles were pricked into them continuously. Shifting didn’t help, rubbing and gently squeezing them didn’t do much either. For fuck’s sake, how much longer? Steph let out a frustrated sigh, her brows knit and teeth gritted. The top of her head started to itch intensely, as well as the tip of her nose.
“I think my ass is asleep,” Charlotte whispered softly into Steph’s ear, causing Steph to snort.
“Same, it’s like it’s being eaten by termites,” Steph complained. She gave in to the temptation and scratched the tip of her nose, then her head through the beanie she was wearing.
“I don’t think this is working…” Charlotte let out a deep sigh and Steph could hear her shifting. “Sorry, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
“You know we could just scram, right?”
“Tempting…” Charlotte hummed in thought for a few moments, then tapped Steph’s knee three times. “Fuck it, let’s get out of here.”
Barely able to hold back chuckles, Charlotte and Steph got up as quietly as they were able to and made their way out of the room. Once the door was closed behind them, they burst into laughter.
“Shh, what if that instructor comes after us?” Steph said, desperately trying to keep a straight face.
“What are they gonna do? Kick us out for not being quiet enough?” Steph looked up at Charlotte while continuing to tie her boots’ laces and snorted again, laughing even harder. “Want to actually chill?” Charlotte offered.
“Are you saying—?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. So, are you in or not?”
Steph smirked and nodded excitedly. “Oh, hell yeah!” She finished tying her shoelaces and grabbed her jacket.
Charlotte grabbed her coat, put it on, grabbed her bag and held the door open. “Well, let’s get out of here then.”
Steph didn’t need to be told twice, she quickly put on her jacket and walked out, Charlotte following closely behind.
“He did not!” Steph snorted with laughter, shaking her head from side to side in disbelief.
“Yeah, he did. Gabe’s pick-up lines have improved though.”
“So you educated him?”
Charlotte grinned smugly as she shrugged, “I guess you can put it that way.” She looked up when Steph suddenly sat up a little, leaning on her elbows. “Oh no, I know that look…”
“But it’s a good idea!”
“Uh huh, sure.” Charlotte didn’t sound convinced in the slightest, but that didn’t do anything to stop Steph from sharing it. “Alright, spill it,” Charlotte said with a sigh. “Prove me wrong.”
“Teach me some!” Charlotte stared at Steph with an extremely unimpressed expression. “I can use them—”
The excited look on Steph’s face vanished like snow in the sun, being replaced by a pout. “But Char…”
“One Gabe is more than enough, Steph.” There was a bit of a silence, save for the music in the background. It was disturbed by Steph as she burst into laughter, receiving a puzzled look from Charlotte. “What’s so funny?” Charlotte asked with an amused grin. “Don’t be shy, share!”
“Imagine… Two Gabes! They’d be so confused,” Steph said, still laughing.
“Makes me wonder… If his sister is a lot like him.” Almost instantly Steph stopped laughing and looked at Charlotte with an indescribable expression. “Didn’t he tell you?” Charlotte asked when she saw Steph’s expression. When Steph shrugged Charlotte sat up and pulled a knee up, wrapping her arms around it. “He doesn’t talk about her too often, but lately it’s been a bit more than usual. I can tell he cares a lot about her, but he seems worried.”
“I wonder if his sister’s my type…” Steph mused with a smirk.
“Steph!” Charlotte chastised with an amused grin, “you are unbelievable!”
Steph dodged Charlotte’s playful slap with a smug expression, “I’ve heard that one before, although in a different context.”
“Bet it was said quite differently too,” Charlotte chuckled. “Ah! Steph! Yes!”
Her eyes grew wide and her jaw slacked as she stared at Charlotte in shock, “Sheesh, Char! Keep it down! I don’t want Gabe to come after me because he thinks I’m banging his girl!”
“You’re unbelievable Steph!” The moaning sounds Charlotte added really finished it off.
Steph was howling with laughter, tears ran down her face as Charlotte continued to produce moaning sounds. “Char, stop it!” Steph waved her arm for emphasis, as her stomach started to ache.
“No, don’t stop!” Charlotte couldn’t keep it in anymore either, bursting into laughter and joining Steph. “Well, it definitely kicked in,” she gasped in between laughter.
“Man, that was great…” Steph smiled as she stared at the ceiling, her hands below her head. “I needed this, thanks Char.”
“Yeah, agreed. And any time, Steph. You know I’m always up for hanging out with you.”
Both of them bobbed their heads in sync to the rhythm of the music, relaxed and somewhat mellow. Steph felt the familiar sensation in her body and fully gave into it, feeling like she was floating. No thoughts, head empty.
“Got the music in you, baby, tell me why
Got the music in you, baby, tell me why
You’ve been locked in here forever and you just can’t say goodbye
Your lips, my lips
“Who is the artist?” Charlotte asked, to which Steph blinked a few times. “Of this song,” Charlotte clarified.
“Oh,” Steph replied, trying to get her brain to work. She turned her head to face Charlotte and thought hard. She knew the answer, but thinking wasn’t particularly easy at this moment. Her brain was feeling like it had a thick, fuzzy fog around it. “What was the question again?”
Charlotte let out a hearty laugh as she threw her head back, looking at Steph’s somewhat confused expression. “I asked who the artist of the song is.”
“Oh, of this song?” Steph asked, to which Charlotte nodded in confirmation. “Cigarettes after Sex.”
Charlotte blinked several times before asking: “You’re serious?”
“Yeah, it’s not the weirdest artist name out there. There’s a band called ‘Don’t Shit On My Yard’, their guitarist only has one arm.”
“And that’s why you’re Haven Springs’ favorite DJ and radio host.”
“Pretty sure I’m the only one…” Steph remarked with a snort. “By the way, you still up for drinks on Thursday?”
“If you got the wine, absolutely,” Charlotte replied, “you know the one I like, right?”
“Cheap, but not too cheap. I got you covered.”
“Steph, Alex. We’re nearly back, you gotta wake up. I’m not as strong as Steph, I can’t carry you both.”
“You are strong, Char. You’re not fooling anyone.”
“Morning, Steph,” Charlotte said with a sly grin. “Thanks, but I don’t think I’m as strong as you are.”
Steph yawned and stretched out her arms and legs, as much as she was able to with a still sleeping Alex on her. When she looked down her lips automatically curled up into a smile, she softly brushed some hair out of Alex’s face and grabbed the case that held Alex’s glasses.
“Alex, we’re nearly home. Time to wake up,” Steph whispered softly while gently squeezing Alex’s shoulder. There was some mumbling, but not much movement. Steph stifled a giggle, it was just so damn cute. “Alex,” Steph tried again, drawing out Alex’s name. What would wake her up? Steph wondered. “Aren’t you hungry? How about some food?” It took a few seconds, but Alex’s eyes fluttered open, slowly but surely.
“Huh?” Alex yawned and rubbed her eyes to wipe away the remnants of sleep. “What?”
“We’re nearly back in Haven Springs,” Charlotte said, taking a right turn. “You two just make sure to get ready for bed and I’ll get you some food in the meantime.”
“That’s quite a trek though,” Steph said.
“No, it’s not.” Steph looked at Alex and opened her mouth to say something, but Alex didn’t give her the opportunity. “Pretty sure we established that you’ll be staying over at my place.”
Steph looked from Alex into the rearview mirror, Charlotte’s eyes indicated she was grinning. “Uh, yeah, sure, of course!” Steph stumbled over her words and felt the temperature in her cheeks rising.
“If you want, at least…” Alex smiled at Steph while putting her glasses back on, enjoying the way Steph’s cheeks took on an even darker pink hue.
“Yes!” Steph shrunk as it came out quite a bit louder than she had intended. “I mean, yeah, definitely.” She cleared her throat and attempted to hide her face with her hair without much success.
“Well, then that’s settled.” Charlotte looked back at them when she stopped the car, waiting at a traffic light. “I’ll get you two some food and bring it over. You think you two can make it up the stairs alright?”
“I’ll make sure of it, Char.” Steph smiled before looking back at Alex, her heart humming in her chest.
Charlotte parked the car but left the engine running while she got out, she grabbed the bag and Alex’s crutches out of the trunk and opened the door for Steph and Alex to get out of the car. “Any preferences?” she asked.
“Honestly, anything will do, Charlotte. Thank you so much.” Alex got her arms into the crutches and offered Charlotte a grateful smile.
“Yeah, I agree with Alex. Anything’s fine with me, as long as it’s edible.” Steph’s stomach grumbled loudly as if to emphasize the statement.
Charlotte chuckled softly and nodded, “I’ll see what I can do,” she said and closed the door after both Steph and Alex were out of the car. “I’ll be back within, hopefully, half an hour at most with some food.”
“Thank you so much again, Char. For everything.” Steph held out her arms for a hug.
“No, you don’t need to thank me. I wish I could do more.” When Charlotte let go of Steph and took a step back she wore an expression which was a mix of sadness and guilt.
“Hey, you have other stuff to focus on. It’s all good.”
“Thank you, Charlotte. You’re doing more than enough,” Alex affirmed and offered a hug as well. Despite being hesitant at first, Charlotte did take up on the offer and hugged Alex, albeit with caution as to not hurt Alex’s ribs. “Thank you for driving us, it means a lot.”
Charlotte gave them a soft smile and waved before getting back into the car, then waved once more before driving away.
“Okay, let’s see if you can keep up with me on those,” Steph said with a smirk and started walking towards the entrance of The Black Lantern. The sun was already lowering, shining brightly as it got closer to the mountains’ summits. Steph could see the park was almost completely cleared, save for the lights and the tree stumps around the bonfire.
“If I can’t, I bet they could hurt shins,” Alex threatened playfully, a mischievous grin spread on her face. When Steph shot her a terrified look, Alex laughed. “Just saying.”
“Point taken, Miss Chen!” Steph got to the door and held it open for Alex the way she had earlier that day. “After you,” she said and bowed dramatically.
“Why, thank you,” Alex replied and made her way inside, still getting used to the crutches.
The bar was empty and the jukebox wasn’t playing any music, it was odd. Steph couldn’t remember a time she’d been in The Black Lantern without any music playing in the background. There were always a few people at least, some days more than others, but she’d never seen it this empty. It made her wonder what all this meant for The Black Lantern’s future, as its previous owner wouldn’t be returning. Instead of being sad about it, Steph tried to envision the possibilities this whole ordeal had created for the bar’s future.
With a glimmer of hope Steph walked beside Alex until they got to the stairs. Alex went up the stairs first, so Steph would be able to catch her in case she’d lose balance.
“Take your time, okay?” Steph received a confirming hum in response as Alex maneuvered herself up one step at a time. Steph could tell it took quite a bit of focus and effort and so she waited until Alex got up to the platform before joining her there. “You’re doing great, you’ve got this!” She smiled proudly when Alex looked at her and nodded gratefully.
The progress was a little slow, but very steady. As Alex climbed the stairs, Steph made sure to be two steps behind at all times. When there were just a few more steps to go, she informed Alex of the amount there was left.
“Proud of you, champ.” Steph set down the bag for a bit to fish out the key from her pocket and unlock the door. Once the door was open and Alex got inside, Steph carried the bag inside and set it against the wall beside the door. The only items she took out of the bag were Shu-Shu and the prescribed painkillers for Alex, the rest could be dealt with at a later time.
“If I’m a champ, does that mean I receive a prize?” Alex flashed Steph a playful grin and winked at her. She sat down on the couch and put the crutches down on the floor beside the couch, leaning on the chest that was there.
Steph nearly dropped the painkillers and Shu-Shu as she saw Alex’s expression, swallowing with effort. Her heartbeat accelerated and suddenly Steph got really warm, and felt the urge to take off her jacket. Steph’s mind was racing, a dozen thoughts swirling through her head simultaneously. What does she mean by that? Is she asking me to kiss her? What should I do? No, Alex probably doesn’t mean anything by that. Come on, Gingrich, you’re getting ahead of yourself! Or… Am I? Fuck!
“Steph,” Alex said, interrupting the storm of thoughts in Steph’s mind. “Your aura is even more purple than before we made out on the rooftop.”
Steph’s eyes widened and she desperately tried to calm herself down, which had the opposite effect.
“I hope this helps,” Alex said as she put her leg up onto the coffee table, still facing Steph. “Yes, that’s exactly what I was asking, but only if you want to. You should do what makes you most comfortable, yes I do, and no; you’re not getting ahead of yourself.”
“Sorry,” Steph said with an apologetic expression while rubbing her neck nervously. Before going over to Alex, she set Shu-Shu down on the bedside table along with the painkillers. When she made it to the couch and sat down beside Alex, her hands were clammy from the nerves.
“No need to apologize, Steph,” Alex assured, “though I have to admit, seeing you so flustered is pretty cute.”
The fact that her cheeks could get any warmer was a surprise to Steph, she figured they were red by now. Despite her nerves she leaned closer, eyeing Alex’s lips while wetting her own with her tongue. When Alex put a hand on her cheek her heart started beating even faster, she could feel it high in her chest. As Alex’s hand moved down to the side of her neck and fingers trailed into her hair, Steph melted internally. Alex had such an incredible effect on her, reducing her to a pile of goo. And Steph was absolutely okay with that.
“Please,” Alex breathed, “kiss me, Steph.”
Steph couldn’t resist such a request even if she’d wanted to. She closed the distance between them and softly pressed her lips against Alex’s. Her body instantly relaxed, all the anxiety left and was replaced by an intense feeling of happiness. Despite this only being the third time they kissed, it felt familiar and yet so new. With her uninjured hand Steph cupped Alex’s cheek, while the other one rested on Alex’s waist.
Her lips formed a smile when she felt Alex’s hand move further into her hair, settling down at the nape of her neck. The other hand was on her back, arm draped over her shoulder and pulling her closer. Steph happily obliged and without breaking the kiss she scooted closer, their legs touching.
Their tongues touched and Steph felt a little shock go through her, but it was a pleasant one. It had been so long since she’d felt this way, which made her realize how infatuating it felt. Steph was so very captivated by Alex in a multitude of ways, the fact that Alex was a great kisser was one of them. Steph felt like she could kiss Alex for hours on end, day in, day out.
Regardless of how badly Steph wanted to keep going, her lungs were making it clear they were in need of a break. And so Steph, albeit reluctantly, pulled back. She rested her forehead against Alex’s and let out a breathy chuckle.
“Wow, Steph,” Alex whispered, “that was one hell of a prize.”
Instead of replying verbally, Steph just nodded in agreement, still catching her breath.
“I mean, you’re one hell of a prize.”
Steph opened her eyes and looked at Alex, who did the same. “Alex.” Steph’s voice was a little shaky, which made her take a deep breath. “I hope you realize that I feel the exact same way about you and…” As the nerves increased, Steph paused to take a few deep breaths and took Alex’s hands into her own. She looked at their hands while biting down her lip, gathering all the courage she had. “If you’re down with that, I’d love for you to be my girlfriend.” Her heart was pounding in her chest and she didn’t quite dare to look up. The only sound that broke the silence was the music from the arcade game, faintly audible in the background.
Steph moved her head so fast that it caused temporary black spots to dance in her vision, her grasp on Alex’s hands unintentionally increasing. Her eyes met Alex’s and searched them, although she wasn’t entirely sure what for.
“Yes, I’d love to be your girlfriend, Steph.”
“Wait, legit?” Alex nodded with a smile to confirm. “Like, for real? You’re serious?” Steph asked, convinced she was dreaming.
“Very serious, Steph. I really want to be your girlfriend.” Alex brought Steph’s hands to her face and kissed her knuckles. Once she got to the fingers that were in a cast, Alex pressed a kiss on the cast instead. “With all of its associated benefits.”
Just when Steph was about to reply, there was a knock on the door. Steph gestured for Alex to stay put, “I’ll go get it, you just keep your leg up.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Steph turned around and stuck out her tongue, nearly tripping as she forgot about the little step past the stairs. “Just please be careful!”
“I’ll try my best!” Steph called back as she got to the door. When she opened the door Charlotte was standing there with a handful of bags, rather than just one. “Oh, uh… Come in.”
“Thanks,” Charlotte said and made her way into the apartment, “I got some basics like milk, eggs, cereal, apple juice, rice, some veggies and some fruit. If you need anything else, just let me know, okay?” She set the bags down by the kitchenette and put most of the items in the fridge, the rest into the cabinets under the sink. “As for dinner, I got you both some pasta. It was what they could make the fastest, so I hope you guys like it.”
“Thank you so much, Charlotte.” Alex turned her body as much as she was able to in order to face Charlotte without hurting her ribs too much. “I believe my wallet is—”
“Don’t you start too, Alex.” Charlotte shot Alex a warning look, but her expression was soft. “None of that, this is on me. However, if you need more; I’ll get it for you but then I’ll bring the receipt.”
“Damn Char, you’re such a mom,” Steph said with a chuckle, bumping her shoulder playfully into Charlotte’s.
Charlotte simply grinned, “I know.” Once she put everything away, she turned to Alex. “Please promise me that after you eat you get some more sleep?”
“Well, I was kinda hoping to take a shower first…” Alex replied, pursing her lips.
“Okay, I can understand that. But promise me you will get into bed after that?” Charlotte stood with her hands on her hips, still wearing a soft expression on her face. It showed that she really cared.
“No worries, Char, I will. Promise.”
Charlotte nodded, seemingly satisfied with the answer and made her way back to the front door. “Just text me if you need any—”
“Shit, hold on!” Steph interrupted and fished her phone out of her pocket. “I’m not sure if my phone still works,” she said while turning to look at Alex, “can I borrow your charger?”
“Of course, it’s on the desk.”
With her phone in hand, Steph made her way to the desk and looked around for the charger cable. She was just about to ask Alex where it was exactly when she found it. Steph plugged the cable into her phone and squeezed her eyes shut, hoping it would still work. She waited anxiously for a few seconds, letting out a sigh of relief when her phone indicated it was charging.
“All good?” Charlotte asked, her hand on the door handle.
“Yeah, all good. Thanks again, Char.”
“Stop thanking me already,” she said with a snort, “oh and if you want I can get you some stuff from your place? Like a phone charger?”
While Steph put down her phone, she considered the offer. It meant she wouldn’t have to go out again, which was definitely very alluring. Finally she decided that she could always pay Charlotte back by giving her a discount the next time she would swing by the record store. “Alright, deal. If you could grab me my phone charger, my laptop, toothbrush and some clean clothes—”
“And a beanie?” Charlotte asked with a grin.
“You know me too well,” Steph chuckled, “yes please. And one more favor; if you could go to the record store and fill Valkyrie’s food and water bowl? The food is in the back, under the sink.”
“I’ll go do that first, then.” Charlotte opened the door and readied herself to walk out, turning around to face Steph. “Keys?” Steph dug into the pocket of her jacket and took out her keys, then tossed them. Charlotte caught them and held them up to show Steph. “I’ll be back in about two hour, give or take. I gotta eat something too.”
“Take your time, no rush. If you want, you can just put it in a bag and hang it on the doorknob or something,” Steph replied with a smile.
“Gotcha. Alright, enjoy the food and have a nice shower, Alex! Sleep well.” And with that, Charlotte left them alone again, closing the door behind her.
Steph grabbed bowls and cutlery while Alex took the food out of the bag, when she opened the plastic box that held the pasta the scent filled the apartment.
“Smells good,” Alex said approvingly, to which Steph nodded in agreement. “Damn, I’m really starving.” Alex’s stomach growled to emphasize.
“Well, then let’s eat!” Steph put down the bowls and handed Alex a serving spoon. Once both bowls were filled, the box was closed again and returned into the bag. “Bon appétit!” she said and pricked her fork into some pasta, then shoved it into her mouth, only to almost immediately spit it out. “Fuck, that’s hot!”
“Yeah, no kidding,” Alex said with a chuckle, blowing on her own food before putting it into her mouth. “Careful, I doubt Charlotte’s up for another trip to the hospital.”
Steph grumbled but didn’t say anything otherwise, she followed Alex’s example and blew on her food before stuffing it into her mouth. This time it went much better and her tongue was spared from being burnt a second time.
They ate in silence, but neither of them really seemed to mind it. The sun was just about to disappear behind the mountains, its bright rays casting long shadows on the floor of the apartment through the slats in front of the windows.
While Steph put another fork full of pasta into her mouth, her eyes fell onto Alex’s cast. Would she let me draw on it? Steph wondered with a smile. She wasn’t exactly an artist like Charlotte or Ethan, but she could draw pretty decently if she put effort into it. Then she tried to think of what she should draw, if Alex let her.
“What’s up?” she asked after swallowing a mouthful of pasta, then put the last bit of food into her mouth and set the bowl onto the coffee table. It was then that she noticed Alex was playing with her food rather than eating it. Is she… Nervous?
“Could you help me with my clothes? For my shower, I mean.” Alex looked so very vulnerable, shoulders hunched, face pointed down as she played with her food. “I know it’s a lot to ask and I understand if—”
“Yes, of course I will.” Steph put a hand on Alex’s shoulder, smiling when Alex lifted her head to look at her with a surprised expression. “Whatever it is you need, Alex. I will do my best to do it. Helping you with your clothes is a small effort, honestly.”
The corners of Alex’s lips curled up into a small smile, her cheeks rosy. “Thanks, Steph.”
“No need to thank me, Alex. Just let me know whenever you’re ready. I’ll quickly grab a shower too, so you can finish your food.”
“You can borrow sweatpants and a shirt from me if you want,” Alex offered, then put another fork full of pasta into her mouth. She pointed at the dresser beside the bed and Steph nodded.
“Thanks, I’ll happily accept that offer.” Steph stood up, only to turn towards Alex and lean over to press a kiss on top of Alex’s hair. “I’ll be quick,” she promised. She grabbed her bowl off the coffee table, placed it in the sink and filled it with some water to soak.
After grabbing a pair of sweatpants and a shirt that seemed big enough to fit her like a sleep shirt, she made her way to the bathroom. Once the door was closed behind her, she leaned against it and closed her eyes while letting out a deep breath. Steph was now made aware of how tense her body was, and sore too. Her muscles ached and everything felt heavy, once she’d finished helping Alex and laid down, she’d undoubtedly pass out instantly.
With relative ease Steph got out of her clothes and tossed them into the laundry hamper, convinced Alex wouldn’t mind her using the washing machine later on. She got the water running and was reminded of her two fingers being in a cast. “Shit,” she cursed, realizing she’d have to keep it dry. With a sigh Steph decided she’d simply hold that hand away from the water instead of trying to look for a plastic bag of some sort.
Steph stepped into the tub and let out a sigh of satisfaction as the warm water hit her. Little by little the tension decreased and the ache in her muscles started to ease little by little. She looked over at the bottles on her right and inspected them, everything she could possibly need was there; body wash, shampoo and conditioner. Hmm, interesting . Steph thought as she took notice of the body wash being coconut scented. She grabbed the bottle with her right hand, brought it over to her left hand that she held out of the water’s reach and squeezed some of it into the palm of her right hand. It took some creative maneuvering, but she managed to wash most of her body without too much effort.
Washing her hair turned out to be a little more tricky however, as she nearly used her left hand several times. The amount of sand dust that had been in her hair was quite a bit, as the water that came off was grimy. Instead of letting the conditioner sit for a minute like she usually did, she rinsed it out almost right after putting it into her hair. Steph didn’t want to keep Alex waiting for too long.
Drying herself off was a lot easier, due to the fact that she could use her injured hand without having to worry about the cast getting wet. While her hair was wrapped into the towel, resting on her head, Steph reluctantly put on her undies. Once Charlotte dropped off her stuff she’d change into clean ones.
As quickly as she could she put on the sweatpants, a pair of socks and removed the towel from her head and hair before putting the shirt on. When she looked in the mirror her eyes widened and bit her lip as she noticed the print on the shirt and realized it was one of Gabe’s shirts.
“You asshole,” Steph hissed through her teeth, “you never even told me you got a ‘Don’t Shit On My Yard’ band shirt.” Steph put her hands on the edge of the sink and hung her head as she took a few deep breaths. Either she’d just go with it and keep this shirt on, or go through the hassle of finding a different shirt to wear.
In the end Steph decided she’d keep the shirt on, it was practically her right to anyway, as she was the one who introduced Gabe to the band. “I miss you, Gabe…” she whispered and let out a sigh before pushing herself off the sink.
As Steph looked at her reflection in the mirror, she looked at her ears which were currently not covered by her hair. Sometimes when she was at home she’d put it up, but she was still very self-conscious about them. As much as she liked Alex and convinced she was that Alex wouldn’t judge her or her ears, she didn’t feel like she was ready for that just yet. And so she quickly took out her tunnels to clean them before putting them back in and grabbed the hairbrush that was next to the sink. She hoped Alex wouldn’t be grossed out by her using Alex’s hairbrush, as she didn’t really have any other choice right now. If needed, she’d clean it out later. Steph quickly pulled the hairbrush through her damp hair and checked her reflection before exiting the bathroom.
“Had a nice shower?” Alex asked as Steph reached the couch, smiling when Steph nodded. “I’m glad. I finished my food and put my bowl in the sink, the leftovers are on the counter, still cooling off.”
“So you’re saying you’re ready for your own shower?”
“If you’re ready, then yes.”
“At your service!” Steph said and curtsied dramatically, causing Alex to chuckle. “But uh, do you have any large plastic bags lying around by any chance?” When Alex gave her a puzzled look, Steph snorted. “For your cast? I forgot and couldn’t use my left hand, which, like… I managed, but… Yeah, your leg would be a lot trickier.”
“Fuck, I didn’t even think of that. Uh, I think there’s some in the drawer of the desk?”
Steph walked over to the desk and pulled open a drawer, closing it again when it was clear there weren’t any plastic bags in there. Eventually she found some and one that might be big enough, she held it up to inspect it closer. When she looked into the open drawer again she saw a roll of packing tape and took it out before closing the drawer with her foot.
“Alright, let’s do this!” Steph said as she held up the bag and the roll of tape for Alex to see. She thought for a moment, then grabbed the wooden chair that was by the desk and carried it to the bathroom, receiving a puzzled look from Alex. “You didn’t think I was going to let you sit on the edge of the tub, did you?”
“You want me to be honest?” Alex replied while grabbing her crutches.
“So you did.” Steph playfully rolled her eyes at Alex while she shook her head, “Well, you thought wrong. Now get your ass in there, ma’am.” Steph said as she pointed at the bathroom. “And the rest of you as well, preferably.”