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Chapter Ten: Alice

After dinner was over, Alice excused herself, claiming she had a book club meeting. She showed me the book she was reading, a giant tome by some Russian whose name was more symbols than letters. I felt no need to find out more.

She left the house with a giant purple purse in hand, telling us not to wait up. As soon as the door closed, I made an excuse to leave Ryan and his advances and go upstairs to Alice’s room, to gain a better understanding of Kay’s enigma of a sister. The door was locked, but it was flimsy, and one quick shove was all it took to break it open. The room looked exactly as I expected it to, pink frilly comforters and duvet covers, dozens of little porcelain knick-knacks on curvy elegant furniture. But the room looked oddly smaller than it should have and I noticed that the far wall was actually a set of doors, made to look inconspicuous.

The doors were locked, but after a few quick swipes with my hair pin, they flung open. I gasped in shock. It was a huge walk in closet, with rows and rows of different lingerie, and other role playing costumes. There were drawers of different color and sized dildos, vibrators and every possible toy you could think of. The far back wall was covered in leather whips, masks and outfits. I could not believe my eyes. I tried in vain to close my mouth.

I heard a chuckle from outside the closet and poked my head out to see Ryan sitting on Alice’s bed, watching me with amusement.

I gawked at him. “Did you know this was here?”

He nodded. “Her book club is actually some big orgy meet up. Well, she actually is in a book club but the one she just went to isn’t real. I followed her once. I wish I hadn’t, who wants to see their fucking mother in a leather strap on?” He put a hand over his eyes and shook his head. “It’s so fucked up. That’s why my parents divorced, I think. Alice just couldn’t stop. My dad could only take so much I guess.”

I giggled and he smiled uncomfortably. I looked back at the closet and breathed out in amazement. I wanted to know what happened in Alice and Kay’s childhood to fuck them both up so badly. I picked a leather whip off the wall and lightly swatted Ryan with it.

He screamed. “Aw, fuck! That’s nasty man! Who knows where the fuck that’s been!” He jumped off the bed and ran out of the room.

I laughed and pretended to follow him with it, sending him running into his room and locking the door behind himself. For a boy so openly sexual, he was easy to put off.

I looked around the closet one last time and locked it up again, not feeling the need to go through the rest of Alice’s room. There couldn’t be anything more revealing of her as a person, or as incriminating.

I yelled at Ryan that I was going to bed and went to my room. A few minutes later I heard his door lock click open and felt a body climbing into my bed. “Hey,” he whispered in my ear.

I sighed and sat up, turning on the bedside lamp. “Ryan, seriously, I’m not interested, and you’re my cousin.”

“Yeah, right. And adopted cousin.”

I got out of bed and pointed to the door. “Go to bed, Ryan.”

He got up and stood close to me, his breath on my face. “You’ll regret this,” he whispered and went out the door, the same way he’d come in.

I woke up the next morning to the most amazing smell—homemade breakfast. It had been a long time. I wasn’t even sure if that time had existed at all. Kay didn’t cook much and she was never up before me in the mornings.

I followed my nose down the stairs into the kitchen. Alice was flipping and frying and baking, all the while humming a tune that must’ve been taught to all housewives at one point or another. She smiled at me and motioned for me to sit at the table, where orange juice and coffee were waiting. I couldn’t believe that this person was the same one who liked to peg strangers and wrap herself in tight leather on an average week night.

I sat and she put a plate heaped with all kinds of breakfast foods in front of me. I breathed in deep and smiled gratefully. She yelled at Ryan to come down for breakfast.

A huge pile of pretty, colored boxes and bags sat next to the table and I asked her what they were.

“Oh, cosmetics. I’m a sales woman for a charming little cosmetics company. And they always give me free samples!” She grinned, showing off her perfectly painted red lips.

I nodded. Of course, she was. What other job could she possibly have? Although I wondered how she could afford such luxuries as twenty vibrating dildos on that salary, but decided it was best not to ask.

Ryan stumbled down the stairs and glared at Alice. “Mom, it’s summer, I told you, you don’t have to wake me up for breakfast.”

She pushed him down into a chair and smiled through gritted teeth. “Can’t let you start your day without a good breakfast, son.”

I tried not to stare as they glared at each other. I couldn’t imagine what awkward interactions must occur in a house with only a teenage son and a mother who is secretly a rough sex fanatic. I played out the possible scenarios in my head while I ate my breakfast, suppressing my giggles. Alice didn’t seem to notice, but Ryan kicked me several times under the table throughout the meal to shut me up.

Alice began getting ready for work and asked what my plans were for the day.

“I’m not really in the business of making plans,” I told her.

She raised her eyebrows, completely missing the sarcasm. No wonder her and Kay had distanced themselves from each other.

“She’s hanging out with me and my friends,” Ryan said, saving me before I had to explain the concept of humor to his mother.

Alice smiled tightly and nodded. “Good. Don’t let those boys corrupt you, Isabelle. You’re very impressionable at this age.”

Ryan snorted and I laughed under my breath. If only she knew how corrupt I already was at “this age”. But I didn’t have anything else to do, and it would be a good idea to have a few other acquaintances in Albuquerque, in case Alice and Ryan turned out to be complete psychopaths.

After Alice left for the day, toting a wagon full of cosmetics and wearing enough perfume to bring sharp memories of the Flower Garden to mind, Ryan told me to get dressed so we could go out.

Ryan clucked disapprovingly at my choice of outfit, a simple jeans and t-shirt, suggesting I change into a pair of tight shorts, because he wanted to “show me off”.

“Fuck off, Ryan. By the way, I’m your cousin.”

He waved me away. “Adopted,” he corrected.

I rolled my eyes and he pulled me out the door and into his bright blue sports car. If his good looks weren’t so distracting, I may have considered him a douche. I asked him if he knew where we could score some pot, or anything else, really, and he smirked.

“I knew you weren’t a good girl.”

I shrugged and he drove us to a mall parking lot. I looked around, confused. “We goin’ shopping?”

He laughed and drove around the back of the mall, parking beside a dumpster. We got out and I followed him down a half-hidden trail into the trees beside the mall, into a clearing where an old, run down gazebo was hidden by a blanket of low hanging branches. Ryan pushed the trees aside for me to walk through. There were two other young guys sitting on bean bag chairs on the floor of the gazebo. The one wearing glasses was smoking a joint.

They both looked up at me, and I said hi. Ryan introduced me and them in turn. Lance was skinny and awkward looking, wearing glasses, his hair obviously-dyed black. I imagined if he wasn’t trying to look cool he would be mildly attractive. He handed me the joint and nodded. I smiled in thanks. The other boy was named Jake, a very plain looking guy. He wore loud, colorful clothes to compensate.

I sat down on the third bean bag and handed the joint to Ryan. “I used to date a guy named Jake.”

“Yeah, what about him?” Other Jake asked, looking away in disinterest.

I smiled. “He went rogue and shot my pimp ’cause he thought I was in danger.” I shrugged, noncommittal, playing it cool.

They all stopped and stared at me in shock. I realized that was a little too dark and honest for these plain suburban boys. I laughed it off. “Just fucking with you, guys.”

The others laughed awkwardly. “Your cousin is fucked, Ryan,” Lance said, eyeing me up and down with a smile.

Ryan chuckled and squeezed in beside me on the bean bag chair. “Runs in the family, boys.”

Other Jake scoffed, “Yeah right.”

I looked down at the ground and smiled.

We spent most of the day in that dirty little gazebo, exchanging stories (which none of mine they found believable), and smoking until I couldn’t see straight. I knew that I was way too honest when I was high, but I couldn’t stop myself. I naively thought I could trust those three boys who I had just met with all my worldly secrets. I felt safe, in that little gazebo behind the mall, hidden from the world.

I quite liked Lance. He was smart and geeky, and always had interesting tidbits to add to the conversation. The other boys didn’t appreciate it as much, and scolded him every time he derailed the conversation with a factual tangent. That made me sad. Surely Lance could have found friends that suited him better, and that weren’t trying so hard to be “cool”. Other Jake was nothing exceptional. I disliked him right away. That could have been bias, as he didn’t hold a candle to My Jake. Ryan seemed to be the leader of the group, the other two trying hard to get his attention. His attention was mostly focused on me, however, trying to challenge my stories with his own mediocre attempts. I sensed an inferiority complex in him.

It was time to head back, and Ryan and Other Jake took off down the trail, calling shot gun, Ryan too high to realize that he was the driver. I hung back, walking slowly with Lance, the sun shining through the trees.

I shielded my eyes from the light and he smiled. “Isabelle, did you, uh, know that over one million Earth’s could fit inside the sun?” He shook his head at himself. “Oh, uh, sorry.”

I smiled. “Don’t apologize. I think you’re interesting, Lance.”

He looked at me in shock. “You do?”

I nodded. “Yeah. You’re cool. Your friends are assholes, though.”

He put his hands in his pockets and sighed. “They’re my only friends, though. And they put up with me. Most people don’t.” I punched him lightly on the arm and he acted like I’d stabbed him, crying out dramatically.

“Dude! You can’t let them do that to you. You’re so great. I wish I had a friend like you.”

He rubbed his arm and pushed his glasses up the brim of his nose. He smiled shyly. “Thanks, Isabelle. I like you a lot, too. I mean, your stories are really fucked but, I like that. Are they true?”

I nodded. “Probably shouldn’t have spilled them all out like that, but yeah. That’s my life.”

It was quiet for a minute. “Let’s be friends, Isabelle?” he asked.

We stopped walking and I smiled. “Okay, Lance.” He kissed my cheek and took my hand and we walked out of the woods to the car. Ryan looked down at our fingers interlocked and Lance dropped my hand, stuttering and jumping into the back sear of Ryan’s douche-mobile. I was about to follow when Ryan stopped me with a hand on my chest.

“You know Lance is gay, right?” he whispered angrily.

I blinked. “So? We’re friends, Ryan.”

He smirked and discretely ran his hand down my boobs to my belly button. “Good, ’cause you’re mine.” He winked and I groaned in annoyance, climbing into the backseat with Lance as we sped away from the gazebo in the woods behind the mall.

We dropped off Lance and Other Jake at their boxy suburban homes, Ryan spraying them down with a can of pungent men’s deodorant before they left the car. I choked on the fumes. I hugged Lance goodbye and nodded at Other Jake as they left the car, waiting for Ryan to take us home next.

But he didn’t take us home, instead pulling into the parking lot of a park, as it started to get dark. He climbed into the back seat with me and started kissing me frantically.

I sputtered and pushed him off. “What the fuck are you doing, Ryan?!”

He smiled and moved towards me again. “I know you want to!”

He started kissing me again and I let him, until suddenly, in the back seat of Ryan’s shitty car, I realized that what I really wanted was to never do anything I didn’t want to do ever again. I was done with the Ryan’s of the world.

“Ugh!” I spat, pushing him off again. “Obviously, you haven’t been paying attention. Are you so blinded by yourself?” As if on cue he looked into his rear-view mirror and coiffed his hair. “Just take me home, Ryan,” I sighed.

He tore his eyes away from himself to look at me with disgust. “You’re a fucking buzzkill,” he spat, crawling back into the driver’s seat. He started the car and pulled away from the park. “No one fucking rejects me,” he muttered under his breath.

I stared out the window, shaking my head as we drove away.

Realizing that Ryan only had one reason to want to be around me, I started spending my time with Lance. Ryan seemed jealous of my desire to spend time with Lance instead of him, after that night in the back seat of his ridiculous sports car. Although he tried to hide it, I could tell his ego was hurt. I struggled to find it in myself to care.

I came back one night from hanging out with Lance to find my room destroyed and my things all over the floor. I stood in the doorway, stunned. My thoughts immediately went to the cash that Kay had given me, which I had hidden both in my bag and inside a book on the bookshelf. I hadn’t told anyone about it, except…Except when I was smoking with Ryan and his friends and had told them everything I possibly could about myself. I ran over to the bookshelf, the book still there and the money inside. Next, I checked my bag, to find nothing. The second stack of bills was gone.

I screamed and shoved the remaining money into my pants, running into Ryan’s room. He was sitting at his computer, like nothing was out of the ordinary. I pulled him off the chair and pushed him into the wall.

“Where the fuck is it, Ryan?!”

He smiled and grabbed my ass. “You know where it is, Isa.”

I snorted in disgust and slapped his face, pushing him off me. “You fucking asshole, I know you have it.”

He held his face and spat at me. “Fuck you, whore, it’s fucking gone.”

“You piece of shit,” I whispered and ran down the stairs. Alice was sitting at the kitchen table, counting my money.

I approached her cautiously. “Alice, that’s my money. What are you doing?”

She stood up, holding a wooden spoon in her hand. “Oh sweetheart,” she sing-songed, “you’ve been living here, rent-free? You made me think that you were without? How could you lie to me like that, my sweet little Isabelle?”

I stared at her, stunned. She smiled a fake tight smile and swung her arm out, landing the spoon hard on my leg, meaning to hit my ass, but missing. I jumped in surprise.

“What the fuck, Alice!? Get the fuck away from me!”

She continued to swat at me with the spoon, leaving red welts where it landed on my arms, neck and face. “Family should be honest with each other, Isabelle.”

I backed away, trying to shove her off me, but she was strong and had a weapon. “Alice, stop!” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ryan leaning against the wall, smirking.

I screamed at him. “Ryan, is this ’cause I didn’t wanna fuck you! You sick fuck!”

Alice stopped swatting at me and turned her attention to Ryan, whose smirk immediately turned to terror. “Ma…”

Alice began swatting at him, lecturing him about sex before marriage and family values. “That’s your cousin!” she screamed.

“Adopted,” he murmured, and Alice swatted at him again.

I took my opportunity and dove for the money on the table, grabbing a handful before Alice could catch me. I managed to side step her, punching Ryan in the face as I passed and running out the door. If this was what family was I wanted no part in it. They were fucking crazy.

I ran down the street, screaming into the wind. It was nice out that night, during the heat of the summer, so I decided I would spend the night at the park. I laid down on the grass and stared at the sky until my breathing slowed. I pulled out my phone and dialed Lance’s number. He picked up on the second ring.

“Isa? Miss me already?”

I smiled. “Baby boy, I’m spending the night in the park if you wanna join me? Tell you everything when you get here.”

He didn’t hesitate. “Be there soon. I’ll bring cake.”

He arrived a few minutes later with a bottle of wine and cupcakes. We lay in the grass, eating and drinking and discussing what had happened with Ryan and Alice.

He clucked disapprovingly. “I always knew those two were fucked up,” he mused.

I put my head on his chest as we lay there, looking up at the few stars that we could see among the street lights. We promised we would always be there for each other, and no matter where our lives took us, we’d always have Albuquerque.

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