Steph felt like a needle was being punched through her heart, she hated seeing Ryan like this. He looked so lost, so broken.
“Ryan…” Steph walked over to him and held out her arms invitingly, she watched Ryan hesitate for a few moments before accepting her hug. “If anyone is allowed to call Haven Springs home, it’s you.
“And no, people won’t look at you the same way as before. But that goes for all of us. And that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.” When they both let go Steph looked at Ryan and could tell he still wasn’t entirely convinced. She took a deep breath and managed to form a small smile. “The entire town is still processing all that happened, it will take time. But we’ll get there.” Steph playfully punched him in the arm, lacking any strength. “This place wouldn’t be the same without you, it would honestly kind of suck.”
“Well, that goes both ways, Steph,” Ryan replied with a snort, which made Steph realize he was still under the impression she was planning to leave Haven Springs. Fuck.
“You’d miss me?” Steph teased, grinning smugly.
“You’re joking, right?” Ryan shook his head and Steph detected a small grin, which made her feel a bit better. “Of course I’d miss you.”
After some more lighthearted banter, Ryan took off with the promise to stop by the next day.
Steph picked the bag back up and headed inside, met with the same strange eerie silence as before. As well as the many reminders of Jed and Typhon, which didn’t really help. Before anxiety could kick in full-force, she rushed up the stairs, taking two steps at a time.
As soon as she opened the door she was welcomed with Alex calling out her name.
“Sorry—wait, am I late for something?” Steph asked, confusion written all over her face. She honestly couldn’t remember if she forgot about anything important.
“No, we were just waiting for you to come back,” Charlotte replied, offering a kind smile.
“Charlotte wanted to draw on my cast, but I figured you should have the honors of being the first one to put anything on it.” Steph looked from Alex to Charlotte and back again, her lips forming a mischievous grin. Without saying anything she took off her boots, set the bag down by the bed and rushed over to the couch where Charlotte and Alex were sitting.
With an even wider grin of pure excitement Steph took the permanent marker Charlotte held out to her and knelt down beside Alex’s leg, which rested onto the coffee table with a pillow underneath her foot. After thinking for a few moments, tapping the marker against her lip while doing so, Steph decided on what to put on Alex’s cast.
“No peeking!” she said as she set the tip of the marker to the cast.
Charlotte threw her hands up in surrender and turned the other way, Alex leaned back and stared at the ceiling. Steph went to work with a smirk and started to write, making sure the letters were bold enough to be read from a distance.
Once she finished, she put the cap back onto the marker and softly tapped Alex’s knee. Alex looked down, brows knit together in concentration as she tried to read what Steph had written. It took a few moments, due to the text being upside down from Alex’s perspective, but Steph could see the moment it clicked. Alex’s expression changed and her cheeks turned pink, her eyes twinkling with delight.
“Okay Char, your turn,” Steph said and handed the marker to Charlotte with a proud grin plastered on her face. Steph watched closely as Charlotte read the words and saw the realization kick in.
Touch and die…
“Wait…” Charlotte looked up at Steph, then Alex and back at Steph. “About damn time, you two!”
Alex chuckled while Steph rolled her eyes, sputtering in protest.
“Did she ask you?” Charlotte asked while looking at Alex, when Alex nodded Charlotte looked genuinely impressed. “Wow, Steph. Look at you, you didn’t need those pick-up lines after all.”
“Wait, pick-up lines?” Alex narrowed her eyes with suspicion and Steph started to whistle innocently. “Tell me!”
Charlotte snorted and shook her head, “All yours, Steph. I’ve got some drawing to do.” Without looking at her, Charlotte knelt down on the other side of Alex’s cast and started drawing.
Steph swallowed with effort as her cheeks took on a deep pink hue and it suddenly felt very warm. “Well, uh…” She glanced at Charlotte, who paid her no attention, pretending not to see her. “So we had an edible and we were high, so—”
“Not an excuse, Steph,” Charlotte interrupted, not looking up from her drawing on the cast.
Steph glared at Charlotte and crossed her arms before turning back to face Alex once more. “As I was saying, we were both high and got to the subject that Gabe had terrible pick-up lines and Charlotte basically educated him.”
“Char, you taught Gabe pick-up lines?” Alex asked with amazement. When Charlotte nodded Alex barked out a laugh. “You managed to convince him that his sucked, wow!” Steph raised an eyebrow in confusion, realizing there had to be a story there. “He never believed me when I told him that.”
“Oh, he didn’t believe me either, at first. He was fully convinced that his pick-up lines worked.” Charlotte shook her head with a small smile, likely thinking back to those memories.
“Sorry, go on,” Alex told Steph, still chuckling.
Steph let out a sigh of embarrassment as she recalled what she’d asked Charlotte back then. “So, I kind of asked Charlotte to teach me some…” Steph shrunk a little, feeling her cheeks burning as she avoided Alex’s gaze. When Alex started to laugh Steph grumbled, crossing her arms once again after pulling her beanie over her eyes.
When Alex winced in pain and put her hand on her ribs, Steph pushed her beanie back up to look at Alex with worry. Apparently she was laughing so hard that it hurt her ribs. “Karma,” Steph said and stuck out her tongue.
Regardless, Steph got up and grabbed Alex another painkiller and a glass of water. “Did you eat anything while I was gone?”
“She had a banana, so she should be good,” Charlotte said, as Alex was still recovering from her laughing fit.
“Perfect.” Steph waited for Alex to catch her breath before handing her both the glass of water and the painkiller.
They spent the rest of the day playing video games, watching some cartoons and talking. Charlotte warmed up food for all three of them when dinner time came around and did the dishes while Steph and Alex napped unintentionally.
Steph woke up when Charlotte gently jostled her shoulder, she rubbed her eyes while stifling a yawn. “Wait, you’re going home?” When Charlotte nodded to confirm this Steph sat up a bit more, stretching her back and arms. “Sorry for passing out on you, Char.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Steph. Recovery takes a lot of energy, both of you need as much sleep as you can get.” Charlotte carefully hugged Steph and smiled as she looked at Alex who remained asleep. “There’s leftovers in the fridge,” she said, pointing at said fridge. “How about you take Alex out of the house tomorrow and swing by the dispensary? I may have a little something for you.” Charlotte winked and made her way to the front door. She turned to wave at Steph before walking out and closing the door behind her.
The apartment was dimly lit, the sky outside completely dark already. When Steph checked her phone it announced it was just past ten, which explained why both her and Alex had passed out. As she looked at Alex, who had her head on Steph’s lap, she couldn’t help but smile. Despite everything they’d been through, at least they had each other. As well as some great friends, like Ryan and Charlotte.
With her right hand she gently brushed her fingers through Alex’s hair, while her left hand supported her head, her elbow leaning on the couch’s armrest. Steph let out a content sigh, smiling dreamily as she watched Alex sleep. She was incredibly grateful that Alex had come into her life, coincidentally on the day when she’d been checking for job openings in Seattle. She’d been so ready to leave once again, until Alex appeared in front of the window of the radio booth at the record store.
And now here she was, watching the woman she’d fallen for sleeping on her lap peacefully. Watching her girlfriend sleep on her lap. Steph couldn’t keep herself from grinning, feeling like her heart might burst from the intense happiness she felt. Aside from the injuries they were recovering from, Steph had enjoyed every single moment she’d spent with Alex in the apartment. It already felt like home and Steph could easily imagine herself staying in Haven Springs with Alex, perhaps move in and… Shit, Gingrich… You’re already thinking of moving in with her? You got it really bad, huh? Steph shook her head, unable to wipe the infatuated smirk off her face. But it definitely confirmed the dream she’d had a few nights ago; no more running. She decided that she would stay in Haven Springs with Alex. They would still have the opportunity to travel later on if they wanted to.
When Steph was at her own place earlier, picking up some stuff, she had found her wallet with the bus ticket partially sticking out of it. She had bought it early and it was valid through the end of May, but now it seemed very unlikely she’d end up using it. Too bad it was non-refundable.
When her phone buzzed in her pocket, Steph froze, looking at Alex’s face with worry. But Alex remained asleep. She took her phone out and unlocked the screen, a notification announced she had several unread messages. There were two from Charlotte, one from Duckie and a few from Ryan. As well as one from Riley, which was somewhat surprising.
Steph opened the one from Duckie first, which made her chuckle. As always he was very elaborate, sharing a memory of his. She felt a knot in her stomach when she read how Duckie felt guilty for never realizing what Jed had been hiding, as he’d considered Jed one of his closest friends for decades. Duckie also made it extremely clear he supported her and Alex and offered his help however needed, which caused the corners of Steph’s lips to curl up into a smile.
Riley’s message was touching, too. She’d heard about everything that had happened and considered coming back, which Steph would definitely talk her out of. Riley wished both her and Alex a speedy and full recovery, ending with the offer of support in any way.
Steph quickly typed a reply to Riley, assuring there was no need for Riley to return to Haven Springs, and to focus on her studies instead.
Charlotte’s message was just reminding her to swing by the dispensary the next day and that their check-up appointment would be in little over a week from now. Which Charlotte would drive them to and back. You’re a real one, Char.
Only Ryan’s messages were left, Steph took a deep breath and tapped his name, opening their conversation.
Steph, thank you for earlier. I feel a lot better, you definitely convinced me to just stay in Haven.
Have you been staying with Alex this whole time?
You’re probably asleep, hope I don’t wake you up… Just wanted to thank you again and let you know that I’m really glad to have you as a friend.
I’ll miss you, but I totally get that you’d want to leave even more now. Just promise to send updates every now and then?
Hope you and Alex sleep well, let me know what time is good for me to stop by tomorrow?
The smile didn’t fade, it grew bigger as she read Ryan’s messages. He was such a good guy, despite his obsession with bird calls that would sometimes drive her nuts. Even though Steph had never known Ryan’s mother personally , she was convinced he took more after her than his dad.
She decided she’d reply to Ryan in the morning and put her phone back in her pocket after locking the screen again. Regardless of how soundly Alex was sleeping and Steph didn’t really want to wake her up, she knew she had to. They both had to at least brush their teeth, put on their sleeping clothes and get into bed. Sleeping on the couch would be acceptable under normal circumstances, but especially considering Alex was still recovering it wouldn’t be a good idea.
“Alex, wake up,” Steph whispered while leaning down, face hovering above Alex’s. “We gotta get ready for bed.” The flutters in her chest woke up once again when Alex’s nose scrunched up, which was simply adorable. “I know, I know.” Steph chuckled while gently nudging Alex’s arm.
“You’re mean,” Alex muttered in protest, letting out a yawn before stretching and lifting herself off of Steph.
“Oh, really?” Steph played along, holding back a chuckle when Alex nodded very matter-of-factly. “So would it make me even more mean when I’d tell you that you also need to take another painkiller?”
“No, that just makes you sweeter.”
“Ah, okay.” Steph helped Alex get to the bathroom, since Alex was unsteady due to the sleepiness. “Watch your step,” Steph warned when they got to the ledge by the stairs.
Both of them safely got to the bathroom and brushed their teeth, Steph’s free hand holding onto Alex’s waist to keep her steady. Alex was literally swaying, which made it even more impressive that she managed to actually brush her teeth.
Once they got to the bed, Steph helped Alex undress and change into her sleep shirt. It was a little more tricky than usual due to the fact Steph had to keep Alex from falling over. She couldn’t even try to deny that it affected her, as her heart was humming in her chest with affection. Alex was super cute when sleepy and it made her cheeks ache from how much she was smiling.
When Alex was underneath the covers, Steph carefully took off the glasses and put them on the nightstand. She remained in a kneeling position as she admired Alex’s face, who she was pretty convinced was already asleep again. The light freckles on the bridge of Alex’s nose and her cheekbones were subtle but so gorgeous. Steph let out a blissful sigh before softly pressing her lips against Alex’s forehead, kissing it tenderly.
“Sleep well, Alex.”
Steph quickly took off her clothes, carelessly throwing them on the chair by the desk and put on the shirt she’d been sleeping in since the first night. She set a few alarms on her phone, turned off the lights and finally got into bed.
Pressing her body against Alex’s back, she felt Alex try to get even closer. But what really took her by surprise was when Alex’s hand blindly searched until it found her hand, grabbed it and pulled it over Alex’s waist; holding it there. Steph bit her lip, suppressing a squeal as it felt like her heart burst inside her chest of sheer happiness. It was ridiculous how much Alex affected her with the smallest things, but Steph didn’t mind in the slightest.
Steph nuzzled the back of Alex’s neck and closed her eyes, ready to fall asleep. Tomorrow would be the day she’d tell Alex, she decided. And with that weight off her shoulders Steph let herself drift off to sleep.
The first thing Steph noticed when she woke up in the morning was that the spot beside her was empty, alarming her. Her morning alarm hadn’t even gone off yet, she checked her phone and saw it was just about to be nine, which was when her alarm was set to go off. Steph unlocked her screen and turned off the alarm, then sat up and threw the covers back.
“Alex?” she called out, looking around but not seeing Alex anywhere. Steph got out of the bed and walked over to the bathroom door, tapping her knuckles against it before calling for Alex again. She was met with silence, to which Steph cautiously opened the door. The bathroom was empty, there was no Alex to be found.
Before continuing her search she quickly brushed her teeth and ran the hairbrush through her hair. She put on a pair of socks, her sweatpants and put her phone in her pocket, no messages from Alex. Her wallet was still on the desk where she had left it, the bus ticket sticking out a little bit. As she looked up at the stairs she wondered if Alex had gone up to the rooftop. Steph took the bus ticket out of her wallet, stuffed it into her other pocket and made her way over to the stairs.
Taking two steps at a time, Steph went up the stairs, pausing in front of the door leading to the rooftop. As she looked through the window in the door, she saw Alex sitting on one of the garden chairs. Her back was facing the door, the crutches leaning on the table beside her. Just the view of Alex’s back caused flutters to roam through Steph’s body, causing her heart to beat a little faster.
Before opening the door, Steph worried that she’d disturb Alex. That was the last thing she wanted. Fuck, she probably went up here to get some time away from me… The anxiety crept up on her and before she knew it she was in the process of turning around, with the intention to head back down.
“Steph?” she heard Alex ask, causing her to turn back to the door again. Alex had turned around and was facing the door now, a surprised expression on her face. Steph bit her lip as she was caught and realized there was no turning back now.
Steph opened the door and walked onto the rooftop, giving herself some more time by focusing on closing the door properly. Her hands were trembling a little, her heart at the base of her throat as the nerves got more intense. “T-there you are,” Steph said, failing to sound casual.
“Sorry,” Alex said, sounding genuinely apologetic. “I didn’t mean to worry you, but I woke up pretty early and didn’t want to wake you up.” She reached out a hand to Steph and smiled as Steph made her way over to Alex.
“It’s alright, I’m just glad you’re alright.” When Alex stayed quiet Steph lifted a brow, “You are alright… Right?” When Alex looked away Steph felt the anxiety flare up again, worrying she’d done something wrong.
“Yeah…” It wasn’t very convincing and the worry grew stronger. “I just—” Alex let out a deep sigh, still not looking at Steph. Instead she looked at the lake ahead of them, into the distance. “I just had another night terror… But I’ll be okay.”
Steph let go of Alex’s hand briefly as she sat down on the other chair, after moving it a little closer to Alex. She took Alex’s hand into her own again and squeezed it, hoping it would offer some comfort. “Do you… Do you wanna talk about it?” Steph asked, “no pressure, just offering the option.”
“It’s… A lot,” Alex answered hesitantly, to which Steph shrugged.
“That’s fine by me. I’m a lot too sometimes,” she replied with a lighthearted chuckle. “I’ve got time.”
As Alex started to talk, Steph listened, giving Alex all of her undivided attention. While Alex talked, Steph rubbed soothing circles on the back of Alex’s hand with her thumb, nodding here and there when appropriate. She did her best to keep her emotions in check, for Alex’s sake. Although she had to admit it was quite a struggle, hearing how Alex had ended up in foster care and in a group home where Alex’s stuff hadn’t been safe. The things Alex had to deal with, things she witnessed. How she had been assaulted by some jackass named Isaac, the way Dr. Lynn seemed to have done more harm than good. The amount of medication she’d been prescribed and tried.
It really was a lot, but Steph kept listening. Her heart broke for Alex, for realizing how much she’d really been through before this whole Typhon ordeal even started. The fact that Alex had to grow up so quickly, taking over the things her mother used to do at home while still being in school, while still being a child even. And then the fact that Alex thought she’d been adopted into a family, only for them to end up rejecting her again. It tore Steph’s heart apart, and made it even more apparent how much it must’ve meant for Alex to have found a home here in Haven Springs.
But what really got to Steph was that Alex had dreamt people in Haven Springs hating her, rejecting her like she had been for nearly a decade. That she’d never find a place where she belonged, it hurt Steph more than she could even fathom.
“I’m sorry,” Alex breathed as she closed her eyes, pushing her glasses up to wipe the tears from her face. “I shouldn’t be dumping this all on you.”
“Alex,” Steph said quietly, getting up without letting go of Alex’s hand. She pulled her chair over so she could sit in front of Alex, making sure to not have the chair or herself hit Alex’s injured leg. “You don’t need to apologize, I offered to listen, remember?” Alex turned to face Steph, yet didn’t quite meet her eyes while nodding. “Here’s another offer,” Steph repositioned a little bit, leaning forward to be closer to Alex. “If you wake up from a night terror again, regardless of what time it is, wake me up.” Alex looked like she was about to protest, but Steph didn’t let her. “I mean it, Alex. I’ve had them myself, and still do sometimes… I know how much they suck, how fucking soul wrenching they can be. So I mean it, Alex.”
“I’ll… I’ll try,” Alex replied, looking at Steph. “Thanks.”
“Telling me all that was really brave, Alex.” Steph bit her lip somewhat nervously, left leg bouncing rapidly. “And it makes me want to be brave too.” Her heart was pounding, causing her blood to rush through her veins with such an intensity that she could hear it in her ears. She desperately tried to keep her breathing even, as much as possible. “So here it goes: I want to be with you. I don’t give a shit about playing music. Or seeing the world.” She let out a nervous chuckle, then cleared her throat. “I mean, I do. But only if it’s with you. And if you’d rather stay here instead, then—” Steph took the bus ticket out of her pocket, let go of Alex’s hand and ripped the ticket in two. Alex let out a gasp, eyes widening. “Fuck it, I want to stay here too.”
Alex just stared at her, eyes still wide, but with an amused glimmer in them. “You ripped your bus ticket!”
“I can get another one, or not! It doesn’t matter.” Steph took both of Alex’s hands into her own with a soft expression, her heart swelling inside of her chest with warmth. “Point is, I’m in. For whatever you want, Alex. And if that is to stay here in Haven Springs, I am more than okay with that.”
Alex looked at her with glassy eyes, although she was smiling. Which calmed Steph’s nerves enough to continue. “I actually have been thinking lately… Even more since the day I went to find you in the mine.” Steph took a deep breath, her leg still bouncing on the ball of her foot. “The other night… I told you about the weird dream I had?” Alex nodded to confirm this. “So… It made it very clear to me that I should stay, instead of running.” When Alex gave Steph a confused look, Steph let out a sigh. “I’ll explain it sometime… Just, not right now…”
“Yeah, of course. Whenever you’re ready, Steph.”
“I promise I’ll tell you, eventually. But yeah, it showed me that I’d be happy here in Haven, as long as I’m with you. And after what you just told me, all you’ve been through, I couldn’t bear to take you away from a place you’ve come to call home. Besides, you’re injured and you’re still recovering. You went through so much, Alex. If you’d really want to, we could still hit the road at some point.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Alex asked, to which Steph nodded. “You’re really willing to give up your dream of getting on the road to perform, to stay here in Haven Springs… With me?” Again, Steph nodded. “Wow, Steph… Nobody’s ever done something like that for me before.”
“Oh yeah? Well, how does it feel?” Steph asked with a small grin.
Alex let out a shaky breath, chuckling a little as she repositioned herself to sit a bit more upright. “Pretty fucking amazing, I’m honestly kind of speechless…”
“Luckily you don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to decide right now, just know that I’m serious.” Steph leaned closer and looked down at Alex’s lips before looking back into her eyes. Before she could even ask Alex, Alex nodded while cupping her face and pulling her closer. Steph smiled as she rested her hands on Alex’s sides, brushing her lips against Alex’s, internally melting as their lips touched. A shuddery breath involuntarily worked its way through Steph’s lips, which were slightly parted in anticipation. Alex pulled her even closer so their lips fully touched, lips parting invitingly. Steph answered by letting her tongue tentatively brush against Alex’s bottom lip, her cheeks flushing and tingles spreading throughout her entire body. Making out with Alex was still so very exhilarating, Steph couldn’t imagine ever getting enough of it.
When Alex’s hands moved to the back of her head and wove her fingers into Steph’s hair, she thought she’d be unable to take it much longer. She felt an extremely familiar warmth develop in her lower abdomen, no matter how hard she tried to suppress it, it was useless. Especially when Steph’s hands moved on their own and reached the hem of Alex’s sleep shirt, coming into contact with the skin of Alex’s thighs. Steph noticed how soft the skin was, then realized what she was doing. Her eyes widened with alarm, which Alex clearly noticed as she leaned back and looked at Steph with worry.
“Steph… I’m so sorry—”
“No, no.” Steph shook her head, holding her hands up. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Alex. I did—”
“Wait, what?” Alex gently cupped Steph’s face and held it there, her eyes searching Steph’s. “Steph, you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m confused…”
“My hands—I let them wander and—”
“Sorry…” Steph shrunk, not meeting Alex’s eyes. Her leg was bouncing more intensely than before and her teeth threatened to break the skin of her bottom lip.
“Steph, please look at me? Like, you don’t have to make eye contact, but please just look my way, at least?” Reluctantly Steph honored Alex’s request and looked at Alex, fighting the urge to look away. “You didn’t do anything wrong, okay? I promise, you really didn’t.” Steph let out a sigh and nodded. “Just so you know, I am a hundred percent okay with you touching me anywhere.” This made Steph look at Alex with surprise, jaw slacking a little bit. Alex smirked and put a finger beneath Steph’s chin, pushing up in order to close Steph’s mouth. “I mean it, you have my consent to touch me practically anywhere. If you go too fast or whatever, I’ll let you know.”
“Promise?” Steph asked, her leg still bouncing somewhat anxiously.
“Promise.” Alex held out her arms and nudged with her head, “Come here,” she said with a comforting smile.
“Sit,” Alex answered and patted her lap, “just sit on my lap facing me, if you’re okay with a hug, that is.” Steph followed Alex’s instructions and sat on Alex’s lap, holding onto the back of the chair with her hands and feet around the legs of the chair. “You are really amazing, you know that?” Alex whispered close to Steph’s ear, sending a shiver through her body.
“Says the amazing one,” Steph replied while wrapping her arms around Alex’s shoulders, making sure not to hold her too tightly. “But… I’m glad you think so.”
“I really do, Steph.” Alex held Steph close and pressed a soft kiss to the side of her neck. “You mean a lot to me.”
“Alex, it’s too early for crying. Do you mind?” Steph muttered, lips curling up into a grin when Alex barked out a laugh. “Much better.”
“All right, I guess enough feelsy stuff for now, huh?” Alex chuckled and leaned back, her hands remaining on Steph’s lower back. “You up for helping me shower?” she asked and Steph nodded.
“Good idea, because I’m gonna take you out today.”
“Like a date?”
Steph thought for a moment, considering the idea. “Sure, why not?” she said with a casual shrug. “Might as well. Although… Ryan will be coming over later.”
“Oh…” Alex worried her lip as she looked down, brows furrowing and body tensing. “Is he… Is he mad at me?”
“No, he’s quite the opposite, actually. He… I mean, he’ll tell you himself, but. I saw him yesterday, before I got back.” Steph offered a small smile when Alex lifted her head up again. “He’s been pretty rough, but he’s got our back.”
“I’m glad, I was afraid I’d lose him as a friend,” Alex replied, drawing little circles on Steph’s lower back. When she felt Steph’s fingertips softly brush against the nape of her neck, Alex’s eyes looked into Steph’s.
“I know, but Ryan isn’t that easy to get rid of either.” Steph chuckled as she remembered she’d told Alex she wasn’t that easy to get rid of on the night of the Spring festival. “Ryan and I are pretty similar in that regard.”
“That’s not the only thing, but I digress. How about that shower?”
“Yes, ma’am!” Steph chuckled while saluting and got off Alex’s lap, offering a hand to help Alex onto her uninjured foot. She handed Alex the crutches and went to hold the door open for her. “Ladies first.”
This time Steph didn’t look away while helping Alex undress for her shower. The entire process was quite intimate, and despite her nerves, Steph was relatively calm about it. She hadn’t imagined seeing Alex naked for the first time under these circumstances, but it didn’t feel wrong.
“Are you alright?” Alex asked when Steph let out a shaky breath.
“Yeah, just—” Steph shook her head with a soft chuckle, “nerves.”
“Wanna know a secret?” Alex asked in a hushed voice, grinning when Steph nodded with a curious expression. “You’re not the only one.” Alex laughed when she saw Steph’s eyes widen with feigned shock.
“I mean, if you need me to take off this shirt—”
“You don’t have to,” Alex interrupted between laughter, her entire face radiating with joy. It warmed Steph’s heart to see her genuinely laugh like that again.
“Oh, okay. I see how it is,” Steph continued, pretending to be offended and causing Alex to laugh even more. “Sorry, I should stop. Don’t want to hurt your ribs again.”
Alex gasped for air while wiping a tear from her face, “Worth it.”
“So, what’s it gonna be, Chen?” Steph challenged, raising one of her brows as she waited for an answer. Alex’s laughter quieted down, a smile remaining. Steph bit her lip as she noticed Alex’s eyes slowly move down and back up again, taking her in.
“If you’re okay with that, then I have no objections.”
Once both of them were clean again, hair included, Steph reached through the gap between the shower curtain and the wall for towels. They both towel dried themselves off as much as they could before getting out of the tub, Alex with the help of Steph.
They brushed their teeth and hair, got dressed and made sure to eat some breakfast. There was music quietly playing in the background, only interrupted by when they’d talk.
Steph grabbed her phone, stuffed it in the front pocket of her jeans and looked around to check if she had everything she needed. “Wallet, phone… I mean, that’s all I really need?”
“Maybe the keys to the record store?” Alex offered with a small shrug.
“You’re so smart,” Steph said and quickly kissed Alex on the cheek before jogging to the desk to retrieve her keys for the record store. “Valkyrie will be grateful, I’m sure.”
Alex chuckled while waving one of her crutches threateningly at Steph, “Surely. Come on, Steph, let’s go.”
Steph stuffed the keys in her pocket and rushed back to the door, opening it for Alex. “After you, m’lady.”
“Please don’t ever call me that again.”
“Sure thing, m’theydy”
“Steph, I swear—”
Alex replied with nothing but a heavy sigh, causing Steph to snicker while closing the door behind them.
As soon as they stepped inside The Silver Dragon, they were greeted by Charlotte who seemed to be in the back.
“I’ll be right with you!”
Steph plopped onto the couch, joined by Alex, although she sat down more calmly. Steph looked around and noticed the shirts in the opposite corner, grinning from ear to ear. “Hey Char, are those the new shirts?” She asked, raising her voice a little to make sure Charlotte would be able to hear her.
“Oh, Steph!” It didn’t take more than five seconds for Charlotte to get to the front of the store. “Why didn’t you just say it was you?”
Alex and Steph looked at each other and shrugged. “I wasn’t aware we were supposed to announce our presence, Char,” Steph replied with a snort, receiving an eye roll from Charlotte in response.
“Smartass.” Charlotte let out an exasperated sigh, “Anyway. Yeah, those are the new shirts. They came in this morning, what do you think?”
“I think… I’m going to need one,” Steph said with an enthusiastic grin. “I’ll take it to go.”
“Sure thing,” Charlotte said and grabbed a shirt, not even asking for Steph’s size and put it into the paper bag that was on the counter already for her. “You owe me thirty.”
Steph got up, took out her wallet and handed Charlotte the money. “Keep the change.”
“You gave me forty.” Charlotte gave Steph a doubtful look, not particularly impressed.
“Char.” Steph kept a straight face, showing Charlotte she was serious.
It took a few seconds, but eventually Charlotte relented and put the money in the register.
“So, what did you have for us?” she asked, returning her wallet to her pocket.
“There’s some gummies in the bag for you two, just make sure to not eat them all at once.” Charlotte winked at Alex, whose cheeks flustered in response.
“Yeah, I won’t make that mistake again. Thanks Char,” Alex said, still not quite meeting either Steph’s or Charlotte’s gaze.
Then Charlotte’s face turned serious, which slightly worried Steph.
“Char? What is it?”
“There was another council meeting and naturally The Black Lantern came up.” Steph looked back at Alex who seemed to share her worries. “Since Jed—Well, you know.” Charlotte let out a sigh, causing Steph to look at her again. “Ryan made it clear he won’t be able to run the place, despite it probably ending up in his name. So the idea came up to make the bar community run. And since you’re part of the council, we want to know your thoughts on it.”
Steph blinked several times as she tried to process what Charlotte had just told them. “Wait, what exactly do you mean by ‘community run’?” she asked.
Charlotte chuckled, seeming somewhat relieved. “The idea is that there’s not one person running the bar, but everyone contributes their part. It’s not entirely worked out yet, it’s still an idea, but we want you to weigh in on it.”
“Shit…” Steph muttered and went back to sit on the couch again, resting her head in her hands. “I mean, that sounds pretty cool?” She turned to look at Alex, “What do you think?”
“Me?” Alex asked with surprise, pointing at herself. Steph nodded, patiently waiting for Alex’s input. “I mean, it fits? We could change the interior a little, too. Maybe…” she paused for a moment, fidgeting with her rings. “Maybe we could remove the Typhon stuff and replace it with things from the community?”
“I love that idea, Alex,” Charlotte said with a smile. “If you have any suggestions for the decor, I’m sure everyone will be more than happy to hear them.”
As soon as Steph and Alex walked in, Valkyrie came walking up to them, which was very unlike her.
“Looks like she missed you,” Alex said with a chuckle.
“Dude,” Steph said, turning her head to look at Alex, “she’s never done this before.” Alex just shrugged with a slight head shake. “Sorry Val, didn’t mean to stay away for so long.” When Steph tried to walk Valkyrie jumped onto the counter and followed. “Valkyrie, are you feeling alright?” Steph asked, genuinely worried, exchanging a confused look with Alex. When she reached her hand out to Valkyrie, the cat swatted at her cast with a hiss.
“Guess she’s still not a fan of being petted.” Alex snickered, receiving a playful bump from Steph’s elbow. “Or she’s just not impressed by the cast.”
“Probably both.” Steph looked around and closed her eyes for a few moments, it was funny how much she’d missed this place. Letting her fingers glide over the records as she walked towards the booth, feeling home.
When she turned to face Alex, she saw an expression she couldn’t quite place at first. She cocked her head and gave Alex a puzzled look.
“It’s just…” Alex smiled as she allowed herself to lean against the display case that held the records. “Your aura lights up this entire place, you know?”
Steph felt her cheeks flush and nearly dropped her keys to the booth’s door. “I don’t, but uh… Wow…” She wasn’t quite sure what to say and scuffed the toe of her boot against the wooden floor.
“It looks great on you,” Alex assured. “This is where it all started, huh?” she mused with a mischievous grin. Steph looked up with surprise, realizing what Alex was referring to and started blushing even more intensely.
“Where we started?” Steph looked around and remembered it like it had been yesterday, when Alex appeared on this side of the window while Steph had been inside the booth.
Just like any other day, Steph had been working in the radio booth and just finished a call with a listener. It had been quite a while already since she stopped doing the whole ‘radio psychic’ stuff, but apparently this one hadn’t gotten the memo. Or rather; they misunderstood the memo, as they asked her to make an exception for them. She tried to explain to them why she stopped doing it and thought that would be it, but they went ahead and asked anyway.
“It’s such a tiny question. All I want to know is which friend should I—”
Steph rolled her eyes, “The taller one! Thanks for calling.” And right after, she hit the button, ending the call. With a soft sigh she checked the computer and smiled as she saw an email from a listener. “Question from Richelle in Colorado Springs: How is Valkyrie doing?”
She looked through the window with a smile, finding the cat in question lounging on top of a bunch of records. “Val let me pet her the other day. And then, she bit me more gently than usual. We’re definitely getting somewhere.” She looked over at Valkyrie again with a hopeful smile, she had grown pretty attached to the rascal.
“All right, here’s a new release from The Wednesday. Let me know what you think.”
Jamming to the music that started playing, dancing and kicking in the air as she looked for records to play next. It took a few moments, but finally she found two that fit the program. Now she just had to figure out which one she’d play first. As she carried the two records to the turntables and tried to decide, something in the corner of her eye caught her attention.
A young feminine looking person Steph had never seen before stood on the other side of the window. This she knew for a fact because if she had, she would’ve certainly remembered. Black asymmetrical haircut, round glasses, eyes a rich brown and a smile that dazed Steph. She noticed a nose piercing, several rings, a hand tattoo and headphones around the neck. They wore jeans and a hooded sweater, with a denim jacket over it, adorned with several patches.
Steph stopped dead in her tracks, absolutely captivated by this person. The music that was playing faded until there was no sound, besides that of her own breathing and heartbeat. Whoa…
They looked at each other for several seconds before Steph remembered that she was working and had a radio show to host. As an idea popped into her head, Steph smiled widely and walked up to the window, then pressed the sleeves of the two records against the glass. The person on the other side stepped closer and looked at the record Steph held against the glass with her right hand, then the one she held with her left.
When they pointed at the record Steph held up with her right hand, she removed them from the window, looked at the record of choice and smiled approvingly. Unicorn Sandwich it is! She wondered if it was wrong of her to think it might mean something that they went for this one rather than ‘Zombie Parade’.
There was a whirlwind of excited tingles in her stomach as they smiled at each other, she put away the ‘Zombie Parade’ record to be queued up later and placed the ‘Unicorn Sandwich’ record on the turntable. Steph walked back towards the microphone and hit the button for her to go on air.
“Citizens of Haven Springs, that was The Wednesday with ‘Bomb Squad’. Up next, a very special request from…” Steph looked to the side, meeting the stranger’s gaze with a smug smile, “some chick.” As the nerves struck, Steph turned to look away again, not daring to look at the stranger to see their reaction.
As the song started playing, Steph started to jam, still not daring to look at the window again. The giddiness she felt was almost overwhelming, but in the best way possible.
When she finally turned around to queue up the next record, Steph saw the stranger was gone and a pang of sadness crept into her chest. As she put the other record on the second turntable, she came to the realization that the stranger might be Gabe’s sister. Steph thought for a few moments, going over the stranger’s features again, there was definitely a resemblance between the two.
The record for ‘Zombie Parade’ was queued up on the free turntable now and Steph smiled when she looked up and saw the stranger again. This time their back was facing her and Steph frowned as she saw they approached Valkyrie, who was lounging on top of the display shelves that held the discounted records.
“This is gonna be interesting,” she whispered to herself as she watched with a grin as the stranger, assumed to be Gabe’s sister, held something in front of Valkyrie. “Is that…?” Steph looked closer and chuckled, “that’s Valkyrie’s toy.” She couldn’t hold back a chuckle when she watched the toy being thrown and Valkyrie pouncing on it, she just wondered why the stranger had grabbed the toy. But before she had the chance to linger on it, her question was answered as the hold list was now in clear view where Valkyrie had been lounging earlier.
Steph wanted to get to know this person, especially if it really was Gabe’s sister, but the fact that they had risked their hands by approaching Valkyrie did something to Steph she couldn’t quite put her finger on.
“Yeah, I remember it quite clearly.” Steph walked back to Alex, tucked the keys into one of her back pockets and took Alex’s hands into her own. “You quite literally took my breath away.” Steph looked at Alex while biting down the right side of her lower lip. “You still do.”
“But I need you to breathe, Steph.” Alex smirked playfully while tugging at Steph’s hands, instructing her to come closer. “Although I must confess… You have quite a similar effect on me.”
“Hmhm. You really piqued my interest, especially when you referred to me as ‘some chick’.” When Steph snorted she let out a soft chuckle as she shrugged. “It… did something I couldn’t quite put into words at the time, but I caught myself thinking of you rather frequently.”
Steph swallowed in an attempt to keep herself from letting out any sounds, not wanting Alex to stop talking. The way Alex looked at her caused the butterflies in her abdomen to go into a frenzy, nearly making her lightheaded even.
“And I found myself wanting to spend time with you more and more, getting excited when I got a text from you…” Alex let go of Steph’s hands, placing her hands on Steph’s hips instead and pulling her even closer. “Looking forward to seeing you walk in when I was working at the bar…”
As Alex pulled her closer by the hips, she felt her breath hitching and her heartbeat accelerate in response. Unable to look away from Alex even if she’d wanted to, which wasn’t the case in the slightest. The fact that Alex had felt the same way about her without her realizing was quite literally blowing her mind right now. How did I not see it? Am I really that blind?
“Does it matter?” Alex asked, receiving a puzzled look from Steph. “We’re together now, aren’t we?”
Steph didn’t miss the way Alex looked at her lips while speaking, or the way Alex leaned closer. She could feel Alex’s breath against her lips, warm and somewhat shaky. As much as she wanted to kiss Alex, there was something about the tension that felt so good, Steph didn’t want it to stop. It was addicting, intoxicating. The way Alex managed to make her mind go blank with such little effort was astonishing. She let her hands rest on Alex’s shoulders, slowly moving closer to her neck. She wetted her lips and saw Alex mimic her, which sent another flurry of butterflies through her stomach and chest.
“Fuck…” Steph bit her lip and fought the urge to kiss Alex hard, she wanted this moment to last for as long as it could. It was like a high, which made her realize it would undoubtedly be even more intense once they’d be taking things a step further. Holy shit…
“Yeah…” Alex’s voice was barely audible, the only reason Steph hadn’t missed it was because she’d been looking at Alex’s lips. The way they glistened after Alex wetted them once again was nearly torture, Steph could just lean in and end said torture, but she kept herself from doing it. Alex was so close and yet she made herself yearn, for the mere fact of not wanting this addictive tension to end.
“Hey Steph?” Alex asked, her voice somewhat raspy.
“Huh?” Steph replied, not really processing any of it as her brain felt like it was covered in a hazy fog.
“Fucking kiss me already.” Despite the haziness, that processed without much issue. Steph let out an airy giggle, cheeks rosy and heart buzzing in her chest like a hummingbird’s wings. She leaned closer, her hands now on either side of Alex’s neck, fingers against the nape. Her lips barely touched Alex’s, light as a feather, it lasted approximately a second, intensifying the longing even more. It was somewhat impressive that Steph’s legs hadn’t given out at this point, because they felt like jelly.
The tip of her nose brushed against Alex’s when she turned her head ever so slightly, her breath brushing against Alex’s lips. Steph took notice of Alex’s eyes closing in response, sending a shiver through her spine. She felt Alex’s fingertips and nails digging into her sides, eliciting a soft chuckle from her.
When Steph looked down at Alex’s lips again, she saw they’d parted already. That was when Steph felt something in her break, unable to hold back any longer. Once more she licked her lips, wetting Alex’s as well in the process. And when Alex let out a soft whimper, Steph finally pressed her lips against Alex’s, feeling warmth flood throughout her, tingles reaching the very tips of her fingers and toes. It felt like her heart was glowing, singing even. Kissing Alex felt so good, no word could properly describe the way it made her feel. But it felt right, so very right.
Steph had no idea how much time had passed, but it simultaneously felt like an eternity and mere seconds. What she did know was that Alex made her incredibly happy, to the very core. Regardless of all the tragedy, she felt truly happy. Happier than she could remember being in, she realized, years.
“Your aura is so bright, I swear it could be seen from space,” Alex said, breaking the silence.
“You know what? That’s fine by me.”
Steph left a note for her co-worker, recorded a message for the listeners and made up two new playlists to automatically play. Valkyrie’s food bowl was filled up, her water bowl cleaned and refilled with fresh, cold water.
Alex found two records she wanted to buy, but Steph wouldn’t let her pay. “Nope, they’re on me.” Ignoring Alex’s protests, Steph simply silenced her by pressing her lips on Alex’s. Which worked like a charm. “Ready to go?”
Alex rolled her eyes with a sigh but nodded.
“Let’s go then!” Steph held the door open and waited for Alex to be on the sidewalk again before closing and locking the record store’s door.
They got their free scoops of ice cream at the ice cream shop, which were packed to go and made their way to the pier on the other end of Main Street.
The sun was high in the, mostly cloudless, sky. The water of the lake reflected its light, making it seem even brighter than it was. There was a little breeze, which was a welcomed one. It was warm, although nothing Steph wasn’t used to from this place. Last year it had been a lot warmer already.
Steph helped Alex sit down, as the crutches were left at the dock where the pier started. Alex sat down leaning her back against one of the wooden beams, while Steph sat down at the very end of the pier facing Alex, her back leaning against a wooden beam as well.
Surprisingly their ice cream hadn’t melted as much as Steph had feared, so she handed Alex her cup and one of the two small plastic spoons. She took out her own cup and put a spoonful of ice cream in her mouth.
“Wow, this ice cream is good,” Alex noted, to which Steph nodded in agreement. “I think it’s cool they’re rebranding, seems like your LARP really was quite the success.”
“Did you have any doubts?” Steph taunted, bumping her shoulder playfully into Alex’s. “I’ve been doing it for quite some time, with a break in between, but still.”
“I wouldn’t dare doubt the grand Game Master Steph,” Alex replied before putting another spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, humming approvingly. “So good…”
“That’s what she said,” Steph muttered under her breath, this time being on the receiving end of a shoulder bump.
“We’ll see about that.” Alex licked the ice cream off her spoon slowly, teasing Steph knowingly. Steph could do nothing but simply stare, not realizing ice cream was dripping off her spoon before it was too late.
“Here,” Alex said, leaning closer, “let me help you with that.” Only looking down for a second, Alex slowly ran her finger over Steph’s thigh, removing the spilled ice cream while looking straight into Steph’s eyes.
Steph just watched as Alex brought the finger to her mouth and sucked on it, topping it off with a playful wink. This time it wasn’t just her cheeks, her entire face felt hot. The urge to take off some of her clothing was pretty strong, if it weren’t for them being outside she would have.
“Hey Steph, Alex.” At the sound of Ryan’s voice, Steph turned around, followed by Alex. Ryan had his hands in his back pockets, just like he had yesterday.
“Hey Ryan,” Steph said, “wanna join us?” She patted the wooden boards beside Alex’s legs invitingly while looking up at Ryan.
“If that’s alright with you?” he asked while looking at Alex, clearly nervous.
Alex nodded while smiling, “Of course it’s alright with me, Ryan. Sit.” Alex patted the space beside her much like Steph had just a moment ago. Ryan sat down, facing the lake so he could look at both of them with ease. He let out a deep sigh, clearly looking for a way to start.
“Need a hand?” Steph offered, to which Ryan let out a nervous chuckle.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Yup,” Steph and Alex said simultaneously. “Jinx!” The last bit of tension was broken when they all laughed, just like old times.
“So first of all, I want to apologize for the radio silence…”
“Ryan, there’s no need to apologize for that. I’ve been pretty much radio silent, too,” Alex said before putting the last bit of ice cream into her mouth and putting down the empty cup. “It’s a lot to take in, for all of us.” She put a hand on his knee and gave it a little squeeze. “There’s only two people and a company to blame, really. Which none of us are a part of.”
“Thanks, Alex.” Ryan looked genuinely relieved, “But I completely support you, just so you know.”
“Thanks, Ryan. That means a lot,” Alex replied, “I’m just glad to still have you as a friend.”
“Proud of you, Ryan.” Steph leaned sideways to playfully punch him in the shoulder, nearly falling into the water as she dodged Ryan’s.
“It’s gonna be rough, with the trial and everything…” There was a silence as all of them realized what Ryan said was true. None of them were looking forward to it. “But I’ve got your back. Yes, he’s still my dad, but what he did… I can’t defend any of that.”
Steph looked down when she felt Alex grab her hand and their fingers intertwined, Steph squeezed gently, receiving a soft squeeze in return.
“I’m so sorry you went through all that, Alex. You didn’t deserve any of it.”
“Neither do you, Ryan,” Alex argued. “I’m sorry—” she stopped when Ryan held up his hand while shaking his head. “Thank you, for being my friend.”
“Thank you, Alex. I’m grateful to have you in my life.”
Hours had passed and they had ended up on the rooftop with a couple of beers, some snacks and a lot of laughter. Tears were streaming down their faces and stomachs hurt from the amount of laughing. But it felt great, because it was like how it had been before the whole Typhon ordeal. Like it had never happened at all, almost.
“I needed that,” Ryan said, wiping away the tears from his face, still shaking with laughter. “Haven’t laughed like that in a while.”
“Feels good though, right?” Steph took another sip of her beer and slouched a little more in her chair.
“It really does,” Ryan replied, his eye falling on the little golf putt to the left. “Hey, mind if I…?” he asked while pointing at it with his thumb.
“Go ahead, you’re the only one who uses it anyway,” Alex answered, “it’s practically yours at this point.” She watched as Ryan got up and made his way over to the little golf putt. “The golf stick, club thing is against the side of—”
“Got it!” Ryan said, showing the golf club to prove it by holding it in the air triumphantly.
“Show ‘em what you’ve got, Bird Boy!” Steph called out and gave Ryan two thumbs up. She couldn’t help but chuckle when he grinned from ear to ear in response. “He’s such a himbo, he’s great.”
Alex turned to look at Steph, both eyebrows raised in amazement. “Did you… Did you just call Ryan a himbo?”
Steph shrugged while using both hands, palms up, to point at Ryan while saying: “Well yeah, he clearly is.” When she looked over at Alex again she couldn’t help but laugh at Alex’s expression. But after a few moments Alex joined in.
“I can’t believe it, one of my best friends is a himbo.” Alex snorted while putting a hand over her ribs as she laughed. “Love him, though.”
“Oh, absolutely. He’s the best himbo.”
“Does he have an award?”
“Holy shit, that’s a great idea!” Steph bounced up, sitting up straight in her seat again. Her eyes wide with excitement and fists pumping in the air for emphasis.
Ryan looked up with a somewhat confused, but intrigued expression. “What is a great idea?” He looked from Steph to Alex and back at Steph again. “You two are up to something, aren’t you?”
“Maybe,” Steph replied with a smug grin, “you’ll just have to wait to find out.” Ryan just shook his head with a smile and returned his attention to his golf putt.
The sky had gotten darker, both the moon and stars coming into view. Ryan had left a little while ago with the promise they’d hang out more frequently again, as well as the guarantee that Alex would get to stay in the apartment no matter what would happen.
Steph had her arms wrapped around Alex, who was snuggled against her chest. They sat in silence as they admired the changing colors of the sky as twilight set in. Steph’s fingers drew small circles and figure eights on Alex’s chest while Alex’s hands rested on Steph’s thighs.
“I thought about it,” Alex said quietly, causing the movement of Steph’s fingers to pause. “I’d really like to stay in Haven Springs.”
Steph resumed doodling on Alex’s skin with a small smile, “Then that’s what we do, babe.” Once more, her fingers stopped as she realized what she’d called Alex.
“Did you…? Did you just call me ‘babe’? Alex asked, causing Steph to bite her lip nervously.
“I—I think I did…” Steph felt her heart hammering in her chest and was convinced Alex could feel it against her back. Her foot started to bounce nervously, until Alex’s hand moved to her knee to hold it still.
“I’m not mad, Steph,” she whispered, “it just took me by surprise.” Alex turned her head a little and looked up at Steph. “I kind of like it.”
Steph’s eyes widened, but the corners of her lips curled up into an excited grin. “Really?” Her grin only grew bigger when she felt Alex nod against her shoulder. She felt Alex’s hands move from her legs to her hands, take her hands and kiss them affectionately.
“Really,” Alex assured, “now come here and kiss me.” And of course Steph obeyed, repositioning herself before capturing Alex’s lips with her own for a deep kiss. She’d never been so happy to simply stay and have it feel so good.