Author’s note: I’m sorry that I haven’t posted in a while, but I took some time off for my birthday, and then life got a little crazy. This part is a little longer than usual to make up for it, and I’ll be making a couple of non-fiction blog posts soon, as well. For now, enjoy part VI!
The Lonely Hearts Club
Alice stood a little ways from her school locker, afraid to approach.
On one side of the locker stood Brendan Monroe, and on the other side stood Lucy Perez. The two were staring at each other, and the intensity of their glares seemed to create a force field across Alice’s locker.
Alice took another step toward the locker, and a chill ran through her. Alarm bells went off in her head.
Bad. No. Wrong. Turn back. Danger.
In that moment, Alice realized that she was doomed. She didn’t know what was about to happen, but it would be bad.
Just then, Brendan broke eye contact with Lucy and turned to see Alice.
“Alice, would you like to go on a date with me?”
“A- date? You want to go on a date with me?”
“I-” Brendan seemed to falter, and then he rallied. “I thought we could go to dinner at La Dix Croix. I know someone who works there, and they said that they can get me a reservation.”
Lucy opened her mouth to speak, but Brendan cut her off.
“Let Alice decide for herself,” he said curtly.
Alice stared at Brendan, and for a long time she couldn’t speak. Her heart began to race.
Alice had been avoiding any thoughts about Brendan’s feelings for her ever since the chocolate incident. He’d made his feelings clear for Alice on that day, but ever since, he’d given her space. Now Alice had to decide what to do.
He’s just a friend, said Alice’s heart.
He’s nice, he’s sane, and he likes you. You should give this a shot, said Alice’s head.
But what about…?
Alice gritted her teeth. Why was she thinking about Eddy of all people? She’d never even met Eddy. She’d talked to him all night, several times, but she’d never met him.
“Ok,” Alice finally said. “When did you want to go?”
Both Brendan and Lucy blinked at Alice, as though they’d expected a different answer.
Brendan rallied first. “Friday- I’ll pick you up at 7:00.”
“Okay. I’ll be ready,” Alice said, and then her courage seemed to fail her all at once. She turned to flee, leaving her laptop in the locker.
The golden evening light filtered through muslin curtains and fell on a smudged, full-length mirror, hitting Alice in the eyes. She turned the mirror slightly, and her own reflection popped into view.
She tried to view herself with a critical eye, but she found it was impossible. She was wearing a cream-colored lace dress- which she had worn to her cousin’s garden wedding, and which was her best dress. Paired with the dress was a pair of gloves made of the same, soft lace as her dress. She would remove them at dinner, of course, but the outfit just didn’t seem complete without them. She’d curled her hair and piled it on top of her head, and even put on actual makeup.
Was she overdressed, she wondered? La Dix Croix was a very fancy restaurant, but perhaps her dress was still a little too formal. Maybe her hairdo was a little bit pretentious. Maybe the gloves looked stupid.
She tilted the mirror back to its original position, and the sun’s fire caught in her curls, creating a dazzling halo around her.
Yes- she’d definitely overdone it.
There was a timid knock on the door, and Alice’s dad said, “Are you decent?”
“I don’t think so, but you can come in, anyway,” Alice said.
Alice’s dad opened the door, and handed her a velvet pouch with a sheepish grin.
“These belonged to your mother,” he said. “I wanted to give them to you for your first date.”
Alice opened the pouch, and a string of freshwater pearls slid out of the pouch, into her palm.
“They’re beautiful,” Alice breathed.
Alice’s dad smiled, and took the pearls, draping them around Alice’s bare neck and clasping them in the back.
“Of course,” Alice said, blinking back tears, “this isn’t my first date.”
“I went on three dates last year. I even went to the junior prom.”
“But you said that was a group thing,” Alice’s dad protested.
Alice cut her dad off with a hug. “Thank you, Daddy. I love them.”
Brendan came to the door at 7:00 sharp, wearing a black t-shirt and a blazer.
“You look-” he stopped, swallowed, and seemed to remember the flowers he was holding in his right hand. He thrust a bunch of peonies into Alice’s hand.
“You look amazing,” he said.
“You don’t think I’m overdressed?” Alice said, staring down at her dress.
Brendan shook his head.
“Be back by 10:00,” Alice’s dad said to Alice. “Do you need any money?”
“I’m fine, Dad. I’ll see you later.”
She ducked out of the door before her dad could get emotional again.
Alice had been expecting a trendy restaurant, with mismatched furniture and modern art on the walls. What she found, instead, was something out of a history book.
Alice and Brendan walked in through a pointed arch, like something from a gothic cathedral ,and were led into a room with plush red carpets and tables decorated with intricate candelabras. The room was lit with a series of massive chandeliers, which hung from a frescoed ceiling.
Alice no longer felt overdressed.
As soon as they were seated, a waitress in a black tie came over with a pitcher of ice water.
Brendan stood, indignant. “Lucy?”
“A girl must make a living,” Lucy replied, pouring water into his glass. “Welcome to La Dix Croix. My name is Lucy, and I’ll be serving you this evening.”
“I didn’t know you worked here,” Alice said. She turned to Brendan. “Is she the friend who got us the reservations?”
“I had no idea about this; I swear.”
“Tonight, the chef recommends the coq au vin, though the steak au poivre is also quite good,” Lucy continued as though Brendan hadn’t spoken.
“Could we have a few moments alone” Brendan said icily. “To look at the menu, I mean.”
“Of course,” Lucy turned to go, knocking Brendan’s glass of ice water into his lap as she went. “Oh, I’m so sorry. How clumsy of me.”
She tossed a napkin into his lap, turned, and left.
“How did she become a waitress in a place like this?” Brendan wondered.
“Never mind her, let’s try to enjoy ourselves,” Alice said.
“Yeah- you’re right.” Brendan wiped his trousers with the napkin and sighed. “This looks bad. I’m going to see if the men’s room has a hand dryer I can use. Excuse me.”
Brendan tossed the wet napkin onto the table and got up. Soon after he left, Lucy returned, bearing a tray.
“Here you go- escargot, on the house. I wanted to apologize to Brendan for spilling the drink. Where is he?”
“He went to the restroom to clean up,” Alice said.
“By the way,” Lucy said, bending down and whispering conspiratorially, “you look amazing tonight. You must really like Brendan.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Alice said, looking down at the table. “I just thought I’d give this a chance.”
Lucy laughed. “Well, it’s be a shame for that outfit to go to waste. Mind if I take a picture? I mean, you’ve taken plenty of pictures of me.”
“I- guess not,” Alice started to say, but before she finished the sentence, Lucy had already taken her phone from her pocket and snapped the picture.
“Thank you. I’ll be back to take your order,” Lucy said before dashing away.
Brendan returned shortly. His pants were dry.
“What’s that? Did you order already?” Brendan asked, indicating the tray Lucy had left.
“No. Lucy felt bad about spilling the water, so she brought a free appetizer.”
Alice reached out to take one of the escargot forks.
“Wait, you’re not going to eat that, are you?”
“They’re snails,” Brendan said. “Lucy just brought them to be annoying. It’s another prank.”
“How is this a prank?” Alice said. “She can’t put anything bad in it- she’d get in trouble.”
“But they’re snails.”
Alice removed the meat from the shell and took a bite. It was soft and chewy, but it tasted like butter and garlic.
“You eat shellfish, don’t you?” Alice said. “What’s the difference?”
Brendan shook his head. “Fine, if you like them, you can have them. Just remember what kind of person Lucy is.”
Alice paused, her fork stopped halfway to the platter.
“How can I remember, when I’ve never been able to figure out what sort of person Lucy is in the first place?”
Brendan sighed. “She’s a drug dealer, remember? She even admitted it. Plus, she blew up the science lab, last year.”
“Brendan, you said that she was giving people ‘performance enhancers,’ but what does that mean? Is she giving out adderall, or steroids, or…”
“Something else,” Brendan said.
Lucy returned to the table, cutting Brendan off. “So, what will it be?”
Brendan looked at Alice. “You go first. I’m still looking.”
“I guess I’ll have the Coq au Vin,” Alice said.
“Yeah- I’ll have the same,” Brendan said. He thrust his menu to Lucy.
Lucy smiled and took the menu.
“Look,” Brendan lowered his voice and leaned toward Alice as Lucy left. “It’s dangerous stuff, and the less you know about it, the better. You’ve noticed Lucy’s weird growth spurt, I’m sure. That can’t be healthy, can it?”
Of course, Alice knew the real reason for Lucy’s growth, but she said nothing.
Brendan leaned back again, regarding Alice with a narrowed gaze. “You’re changing, Alice. I don’t get it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. You used to be so sensible. You didn’t let people draw you into drama. You could see through all of the bs that goes on at school. Now you eat snails, and befriend drug dealers.”
Alice closed her eyes for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts. “Brendan, there’s so much bs at school, and so much drama, that I can’t ignore it any more. I have to do something about it. I have to find out what is really happening, and show people the truth. This is why I want to become a journalist.”
Alice’s phone buzzed, then. She stood. “I’d better go answer this- it could be my Dad.”
Alice slipped away toward the front of the restaurant, where she’d seen the restrooms, and stopped in a quiet area away from the tinkling of crystal dishes and laughter. She unlocked her phone, and saw a message from Eddy.
Lucy sent me a picture of you. Is that alright?
I didn’t tell her she could, but I guess I don’t mind. You know Lucy?
Yes, she’s my friend. She sent me your picture because I’ve been looking at pictures of people lately. I’ve been trying to figure out which ones are more aesthetically pleasing.
That’s kind of creepy, Alice replied.
Is it? I’m sorry for looking at your picture, then.
Alice laughed out loud. No- it’s fine.
Ok- as long as you don’t mind, I’ll share my conclusion. You seem to be significantly more attractive than the average human.
Alice’s cheeks grew warm. Thank you.
You’re welcome. I really mean it, though. You’re pretty.
Alice stood for a moment, smiling like an idiot at the Women’s Restroom sign. Then she
You’re sweet. Listen, I’m a bit busy, now. Can we talk later tonight- around 10:00?
It’s a date.
Alice slipped her phone back into her handbag, and walked back into the main restaurant.
When she got back to her table, Brendan was gone.