by:

 

Disclaimers: Uhm. No.. I don't think so. This is a work of fiction, borne of my psychotic imagination. The characters are based on themselves, and they (along with their neuroses and psychoses) belong to Bertha (my faithful Muse) and myself. You may borrow them for your own personal use, but make sure they shower before returning them to me. 

Sex/Violence: Yeah, this one shall have sex at some point or another, so get the vibrators ready. And it will be that fun lesbian sex we're all so fond of, so if you're not 18... OFF WITH YOUR HEAD! Well no... you know the drill.  Violence? No.. none of that. I bring you loooove...

Dedication: To Cindy, for listening to me talk ENDLESSLY about this story and its characters, and for reading, and re-reading, and supporting my madness through all its twists and turns. Thank you for teaching me about love... I was clueless before you came along...and I still have much to learn. I dedicate this also to all my fellow hopeless romantics.. we're a dying breed, I know... 

Feedback: Send comments, questions, and cans of Dr Pepper (preferably full) to amazonkiwi@aol.com 


Prologue  

This is the story of my life. My love life, to be more specific. A fascinating topic which I'm sure now has you at the edge of your chair, but I'm writing this for me, not you. Consider this a form of therapy, because I'm far too stubborn to go to a psychologist and spill out my guts to a person who is most likely doing a crossword puzzle instead of listening to me.

Twenty years in the life of Alix Morris have found her in love with two very different people. The first, was of course Steven Tyler, and I could go on about him, but I won't. I'll refrain myself for your sanity. I'll stick to the person whom I actually interacted with on a daily basis.

Her name is Jessica Heart. The love of my life. I would have chosen her even over Steven Tyler had the opportunity arose. Five feet, eight inches, one hundred and twenty-three pounds of complete perfection. Long, silky black hair and the darkest blue eyes I have ever seen on a person. Jessica could be a model or an actress. She belongs on the cover of magazines so that millions of people can look upon her with jealous admiration. Orphan ... billionaire ... and the kindest, gentlest soul I have ever met. That is Jessica Heart in a nutshell. 

My best friend. And 100% unattainable.

Isn't that always the case, though? I never stood a chance with her, I knew this, but there was always that spark of hope that emanates from somewhere in your soul, whispering "there's a chance" in your mind, and you come to repeat it like a mantra. After a while you start to believe it, going against your better judgment. After all, that's what love does to you: rids you of all common sense.

Next Saturday is her wedding day. The fateful day when Jessica Lexi Heart becomes Mrs. Mathew Collins. And I, in all the irony that is my chaotic existence, get to be the maid of honor.  

 

Chapter One

 I told her not to choose pink. No, I begged her. I got down on my hands and knees and pleaded with my best friend to have mercy on my soul.

"But this dress is so nice," Jessica argued, holding it up and smiling mischievously at the torture she was putting me through. "You'll look adorable."

The lady who was helping us at the bridal shop nodded in agreement, and I resigned myself to the inevitable fate that was the dreaded dress. I grabbed it and went into the dressing room to change out of the torn black jeans and black Aerosmith tee shirt I sported that day, an ensemble which matched my gloomy mood quite perfectly. The mirror before me reflected a shattered heart trying desperately to hide its true state. I felt like crying, but didn't. I didn't want Jessica to see how much this was hurting me. She didn't deserve my pain being thrown in her face. It wasn't her fault ...

I dumped my outfit on the floor, and threw the dress over my head. The material felt cool against my skin, a contrast to the cotton and denim I was so used to wearing. I had no idea what material the dress was made of, but already I hated the object. I loathed what it represented: the bitter taste of hope's dying embers. And here I was... putting it on, like a second place winner settling for her loss.

The reflection in the mirror changed, and I was startled momentarily to see myself in a puffy pink dress. It clashed severely with the blue hue of my hair, and I felt utterly ridiculous.  

I stepped out into the shop, where Jessica and the woman, who's name I think was Crystal were talking intently. They stopped when they heard me walk in, and stared at me. I bit my lip, a habit I'd developed my senior year of high school unbeknownst to myself until Jessica had pointed it out. "I feel like a walking advertisement for Pepto Bismol," I muttered, glancing down at myself.

Jessica smiled and walked all around me, taking in my ridiculous attire with an amused expression. "Really, Alix, like I could pass up the opportunity to stick you in a dress?"

I narrowed my eyes at her. "You shall pay, Mrs. Collins," I told her, my tone masking the pain behind the words.

At that moment, the door to the bridal shop burst open, announcing an anxious costumer. Roxanne Perez in all of her Latina glory stopped in mid-stride and stared straight at me, her mouth hanging open in surprise. Then she started laughing hysterically, pointing at me as she did so.

I would have beaten her up, but I decided to be mature and ladylike. After all, I was in a pink dress. You can't get more ladylike than that. So, instead I looked at Jessica for help, and received a pat on the head for my efforts.

When Roxanne finally calmed down enough to speak, the first words out of her mouth were, "Alix, you look like an Easter egg!"

I didn't find this amusing, but I felt vulnerable in my pink-clad state and had no intention of encouraging any further comments on my dress. Instead, I smiled and replied, "Wait until you see your dress."

Roxanne glanced worriedly at Jessica, who smiled broadly. "What are you making me wear?"

I crossed my arms against my chest, waiting for the shoe to drop.

As if on cue, Crystal brought out Roxanne's bridesmaid dress. It was orange. It was hideous. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever laid eyes on, and Roxanne stared at it in horror for over a minute.

"I'm not wearing that!"

Jessica waved away the comment with her hand. "If I got Alix to wear a pink dress, I can get you to wear an orange one." She took the dress from Crystal, and handed it to a stunned Roxanne. "Into the dressing room you go." She pushed Roxanne inside and closed the door. She turned around and smiled at me. "I love weddings. They're the perfect excuse to torture my friends."

Torture. Funny that she should choose that word.

Roxanne walked out of the dressing room a few minutes later and I started laughing. Now we both looked ridiculous. "Orange is not my color!" she stated, holding the dress up for emphasis.

"Oh cause pink is mine?" I retorted.

She looked at me impatiently. "No, you look completely ridiculous, but that's normal for you."

Jessica was enjoying this, I could tell. Her blue eyes were sparkling with held back laughter, and a smile played on her lips. It was almost enough to make me forget the hideous thing I was wearing.

Almost.

For once in my life, I had to side with Roxanne. "Jess, you know I love you, but if you don't pick a different dress for me, I shall be attending your wedding in the nude."

"Oh God no," Roxanne muttered. "You know she'll do it!"

I smiled to myself. They both knew I wouldn't.

Jessica started laughing. A hearty sound which will forever be music to my ears. "You guys really think I'd make you wear those things to my wedding?" She shook her head and motioned to Crystal who appeared with two identical dresses, one black the other violet. Jessica smiled. "These are the real ones."

Black. I looked at Jessica at that moment, and she caught my gaze and winked. I would've worn the dreadful pink dress for her. And she knew it.

 

A couple of hours later, I walked into my dorm room to find my roommate sprawled on the floor, staring intently down at a book whose cover I could not see. I dropped my keys on my desk. "Hey," I greeted.

"Men are evil," my roommate informed me, not looking up.

Nicole Fischer is a twenty-two year-old Women's Studies major, and an avid Feminist. She speaks constantly of Bell Hooks, Adrienne Rich and a zillion other names I can never remember. At first I thought these were friends of hers, but later I learned the truth. "So are women," I told her, collapsing on my bed with a groan. I was emotionally drained. This wedding was wreaking havoc on my heart.

"Jessica?" she guessed, finally looking up. Her light brown eyes showed concern, and she pushed the loose strands of brown hair behind her ears.

I simply nodded. "Two days until the wedding."

"I'm sorry, babe." Nicole lifted herself up from the floor, and sat down on her bed so she could see me better. "Did you get a dress?"

"It's black."

Nicole laughed. "That figures. You don't wear any other color."

"I'm in a constant state of mourning," I replied dryly. "'Black is all I see when I close my eyes, Black is in the night when the windows close, Black is all, yet nothing at all...'"

"Is that one yours?" Nicole asked.

"Nah. Jade's." 

"Speaking of Jade, she called twice. And  your sister called once." Nicole returned to the floor to continue her reading.

I reached for the phone, and dialed my twin sister's phone number. Rachel picked up on the second ring. "What's up?" I asked.

"Who's this?" Rachel asked, confusion in her voice.

 I rolled my eyes. "It's not a matter of who am I, it's a matter of where am I."

"That's better. Hi Alix. You sounded far too normal to be yourself for a moment."

"Forgive me, Satan, if I'm not up to par. It hasn't been what you would call a good day."

"Please stop calling me Satan. It was funny when we were seven, but now it's just annoying."

"Sorry, Lucifer. To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?"

"Stripper," Rachel responded. "And before you reply with some smartass comment about incest, let me clarify. I meant the stripper for Jessica's bacholerette party."

"What about him?" I asked, annoyed at the entire concept.

"Well did you call him? I mean, the whole thing's arranged right?"

The joys of being maid of honor. "Yeah, he's coming. Everything's set. We're meeting at Jessica's at 7 tomorrow."

"Cool. See you there."

"Adios." I hung up, and dialed Jade Cooper's number. An English-accented voice picked up a few rings later. "Hey Jay. You rang?" I said.

"It was about bloody time. Listen, do you want to go out tonight? I thought we could go clubbing. We can pick up some guys."

"Guys?"

"Or girls, whatever," Jade replied. "So pick me up around 8 and we'll have some fun. We'll see about getting your mind off of Jessica getting married."

I laughed sadly. "I don't think anything could get my mind off of that." I thought about Jade's proposition for a moment, then shrugged. I had no plans. "Okay. Be ready by 8."

 

At 7:50, my VW beetle put-put-putted its way to Jade's house. She lives with her crazy Aunt Fifi, and I do mean crazy, in a two story house the size of a shoebox. I'm not sure what it is that Aunt Fifi does for a living, seeing as she should have been committed by now, but I've never thought to ask. It's one of those mysteries of life better left uncovered.

I pulled into Jade's drive way, and honked the horn a couple of times. I turned up Aerosmith's "Angel" as I waited. This had become my theme song over the years and for the past few weeks I couldn't bring myself to listen to anything else.

A fuzzy head peered out of the window, and I waved. A second later, Jade Cooper stepped out into the porch, and joined me inside the vehicle shortly thereafter. The night of her graduation from high school, she'd gone through with what she'd threatened to do for a year: she buzzed off her hair. When I first met Jade, her hair had been long and blue, it had then evolved to purple, then to red, then to orange, then to yellow, then to black, back to blue, and before I knew it, it was all gone. Two years later, it was still quite nonexistent, and I had grown accustomed to having a bald-headed friend. Perhaps when I dyed my own hair blue, it was in loving tribute to Jade's.

On this occasion she was clad in a tight black tee with the Sliders castˇshe'd had a crush on Jerry O'Connell for as long as I'd known herˇacross the front, and a long black skirt. Doc Martins, as usual, and her trademark fishnet stockings, which were concealed beneath the skirt.

As for myself, I'd opted for the please-don't-try-to-pick-me-up look, which consisted of black Jnco jeans, and a black Care Bears tee shirt, with a picture of Grumpy Bear in the center. In this outfit, they'd never buy my fake ID.

"Not that bloody song again." Jade reached over and ejected my tape, replacing it with her own. Pretty soon Metallica filled the small confinements of the car, and I pulled out of the driveway, already used to the ritual of music exchange.

"So where are we going?" I asked her, turning down the music so I wouldn't have to scream over James Hetfield.  

Jade shrugged, lighting a cigarette and rolling down the window. "My friend Beth said there was this cool club in Ft Lauderdale. Whispers I think it's called."

She handed me the directions, and I glanced down at them quickly. Near Las Olas Boulevard. I could find it.

"So I'm thinking of letting my hair grow out," Jade commented.

I took my eyes off the road for a moment to glance at her. "Yeah? Tired of getting hit on by girls instead of guys?"

"Actually yes! My sex life is suffering." She laughed. "Actually, I'm getting bored. You can't do much with peach fuzz hair, and I miss the colors."

I nodded. "Well I'm getting rid of the blue tomorrow."

"Going back to your original brown?" Jade inquired, flicking the cigarette outside. "I like the blue, Al, it gives color to your otherwise morbid personality."

I looked at her. "Yeah, you're one to talk." Then I shrugged. "Actually, I haven't decided on a color yet. I just didn't want to have blue hair for Jessica's wedding. She didn't say anything, but still. I was thinking of dyeing it black."

"And what color's the dress?"

"Black."

Jade started laughing. "You're going to be just like this pair of green eyes against this sea of darkness. Trying to turn yourself into a cat?"

"The transformation is almost complete," I assured her. "I just decided to shave for the occasion."

Jade shook her head, and turned up Metallica." 'Nothing Else Matters'," she told me. "You love this song." 

And I do. We sat in companionable silence the rest of the way to the club.

 

Chapter Two 

The smell of smoke and liquor assaulted my lungs upon entering the night club. My fake ID passed inspection with flying colors, and I wondered if my real ID would ever fair as well as my fake one when I turned twenty-one the following month.  

Jade abandoned me after ten minutes to mingle in the dance floor, and I resigned myself to a table near the bar.  

Whispers seemed like a nice-enough establishment, and would have been graded less harshly had my mood been better. After seven years of unrequited love, one tends to grow slightly bitter at the world. 

"Anything to drink?" 

I looked up at the waitress standing before me. "Dr Pepper if you have it," I replied. There was no sense in getting drunk and diving into a tree, or a lake for that matter.  

"Designated driver?" the waitress guessed.  

I shrugged, and she walked away, leaving me alone with my myriad of thoughts. I looked around. It was a straight club, much to my dismay, although with its location in downtown Ft Lauderdale I couldn't attest for the straightness of the people inside. Either way, it wasn't like I'd planned on hooking up with anyone, although it was nice to have options.  

Jade joined me at the table, slightly sweaty and out of breath from jumping around in the dance floor. She held up a napkin proudly and grinned. "Only been here like half an hour and already I got digits." 

I grabbed the napkin and looked at it, then handed it back. "And does Katrina know you donÝt swing that way?" 

"Actually, this is for you," Jade explained, handing it back. "She was hitting on me, and I told her that you were probably more her type. So she told me to give you her number cause she had to run." 

"So she took one look at me and ran?" 

"Yep. Quite literally actually." Jade shrugged. "Don't know how you do it, Al." 

"It's a gift," I replied dryly. 

"It's not like you're ugly or anything," Jade continued. 

The waitress appeared with my Dr Pepper on the rocks, and I was grateful for the interruption. I took a sip from the cold liquid, a contrast to the heat permeating through the club.  

Jade regarded the waitress, and said, "Help me out here. Would you say my friend is ugly?" 

I nearly spit out the gulp of soda in my mouth. 

"I wouldn't say that," the waitress replied. 

I looked up into light blue eyes, and felt myself blush, an oddity in itself. 

"So, given that you were of that orientation," Jade continued, much to my annoyance, "would you even go as far as saying that she's attractive?" 

"Quite," the waitress answered, and winked in my direction before moving on to another table.  

I shook my head and Jade shrugged. 

"So there you have it," she said, "it's not your looks." She stared at me, hazel eyes narrowing in deep concentration as she studied my face. 

I frowned. "Don't look at me like that, Jade. It freaks me out." 

"Hey she didn't ask if I wanted anything to drink," Jade complained, looking around.  

I placed my cup in front of her. "Here. Drink. Give your vocal cords a rest." 

"You know I can't stand this crap." She made a face to illustrate her point. "It tastes like medicine." 

I took back my soda, and held it protectively. "Don't listen to her," I whispered to the cup. "She knows not what she says." 

"I'm gonna stop by the bar and go back to the dance floor," Jade announced. "Wanna join?" 

I shook my head no and Jade left in search of alcohol.  

I was bored. I had anticipated that I would be so I'd brought a book, Jennifer Fulton's Greener Than Grass, but it was far too dark to read where I was sitting. I finished my drink, and dropped some money on the table to pay for it, along with an overly friendly tip. I tended to over tip as it was, but the waitress humoring Jade went far and beyond the call of duty.  

I made my way through the crowd of people at the dance floor until I ran into Jade. She grabbed my arms and started dancing, if you could call it that. I wouldn't. I cupped my hand around her ear and told her I was leaving, and to beep me so I could come back and pick her up. She nodded her assent, and I left the nightclub, happy be doing so at last. 

Outside, the night was warm, as most nights in South Florida tend to be. I was glad that hurricane season was ending soon, rain rendered the summer months pointless.  

Whispers was located on the second floor of a two-story building, and I walked down the stairs to the sidewalk below. The first floor was occupied by a tourist shop fully stocked with billions of items bearing the Florida name. They provided alternatives by substituting "Florida" with "Ft. Lauderdale" here and there. It's amazing what they won't do for money.  

I made my way down the busy street. Ft. Lauderdale nightlife, alive and booming all around me. Groups of people paraded back and forth in small groups, big groups and pairs. I could almost smell the ocean from where I was; could've heard it, too, had it not been for the noise.

I'd parked the buggie near Las Olas Boulevard, right across the street from the beach, and I was grateful to find it still there when I returned. I got in and sat there for a few minutes, trying to decide where to go. Peace and quiet in downtown Ft Lauderdale? Only one place came to mind. Destination decided, I pulled out of the parking lot, and made a left up to North Federal Highway.

I'd been to Pride Factory a few times in my life, so I knew where to find it. I parked at the nearest available spot by the entrance, and walked inside. Rainbow Caf╚ to the right, pride store to the left. I opted for the caf╚, and ordered myself a latte before seating myself at one of the tables. It wasn't particularly crowded, and for that I was grateful. I pulled the book out of my back pocket, and started to read, taking occasional sips from my coffee.

People entered, people left. I'm not sure how long I'd been readingˇnot more than an hour, I'm sureˇwhen a shadow fell over the pages of my book, forcing me to look up. 

"Thanks for the tip."

Familiar blue eyes smiled down at me, and I was at a loss for a moment until I recognized the voice. "Did you follow me out here just to tell me that?" I asked the waitress from the club.

She laughed, and took my comment as an invitation to join me. "Actually, I sometimes come here for a cup of coffee after work," she explained, holding up the cup for emphasis.

I took that moment to study her. She was beautiful in a no-nonsense sort of way. Her face was framed by long, dark blonde hair which I think had been pinned up back at the club. She was wearing her uniform still, a white cotton shirt with the Whispers logo on the left breast pocket, and tight black jeans which were currently hidden from my view. She didn't seem much older than me, maybe twenty-two or twenty-three at the most. "I see," I replied, not sure what else to say. "You're welcome about the tip," I added as an afterthought.

She extended her hand. "Valerie Skye. Call me Val."

"Alix Morris," I told her, shaking her hand. "Alix with an 'i'." I restrained myself from covering my right eye as I usually did when explaining the spelling of my name. I'd been trying to get out of the habit of doing that upon arrival at college, but much to my dismay it was like second nature. I barely caught myself that time.

"What are you reading?" she asked, taking a sip from her coffee.

I turned the book over so she could see the cover.

She nodded. "Good author."

Any doubt she must've had about my sexuality probably vanished at that moment, and I suddenly felt self-conscious. Beautiful women didn't usually start talking to me for no reason. In fact, women in general didn't usually start talking to me for no reason. "Yeah, she is," I agreed.  

"I don't mean to be nosy, but I'm a bartender, so it comes naturally to me," she began, "but did you and your girlfriend have a fight?"

Confusion must have shown on my face because she quickly added, "The girl you were with at the club."

"Oh, Jade. No." I shook my head. "She's not my girlfriend. Just a friend." I looked at her and found her staring, so I looked away. I felt like fleeing. I had the unnerving suspicion that I was being picked up. It was then I remembered her original question. "We didn't have a fight. I just had to get out of there."

She nodded. "I know the feeling." She was silent for a second. "Do you mind that I joined you? All the other seats were taken."

I didn't bother to point out that there were available tables outside. "No it's okay." And it was.  "I'm really just wasting time until Jade finishes having fun."

"So why aren't you having fun?" she asked.

"I'm not in the mood for people," I replied, more sharply than I'd intended. If I'd offended her, however, she didn't show it. So I continued. "I don't find the idea of strangers picking me up at a club fun. And I bet Jade will be wasted by the end of the night, so there was no point in my drinking. So really, Jennifer Fulton and a cup of coffee are all the excitement I can allow myself for tonight."

She watched me for a long moment, and her face broke out into a smile. "I hate to ruin your party, but this place is about to close in about fifteen minutes." She paused as though arriving at a decision. "Would you like to take a walk with me... down to the beach? I'll walk you back later so you can get your car."

 I opened my mouth to refuse, but then I realized I had no where else to go. I bit my lip, trying to decide on a course of action. I didn't know this woman. She could've been a mass murderer for all I knew. All rationality and common sense in my brain told me that this was a bad idea. So to this day I have no idea why I agreed to go.  

We walked outside. She led, and I followed, until we reached the side walk, then I fell in step beside her, wondering why I was walking to Fort Lauderdale beach when I had a perfectly good vehicle more than able to take me there.

I placed the book in my back pocket. Jncos are good for that kind of thing. With such big pockets, who needed a purse? Not that I would've been caught carrying one anyway. I was nervous. I didn't realize how much until I caught myself thinking about the joys of jeans versus purses. I stuck my hands in my pockets as I usually did when I didn't know what to do with them, and focused on not tripping.

Val pulled out a pack of cigarettes and waved it at me. 

I shook my head no, and replied, "I find that not smoking is more rebellious these days."

She smiled, and took out a cigarette for herself. "Mind if I succumb to the powers of nicotine?"

I shrugged. "Your lungs." 

She lit the cigarette and took a long drag, putting the pack and lighter away in one swift motion. "Do you go to school," she asked after a moment.

"Baldwin U."

"I go to Miami."

I was surprised. She didn't strike me as the college type. "What are you studying?"

"Visual Arts. I'm on an art scholarship, otherwise I'd never be able to afford it."

"Yeah, I couldn't afford M.U." I relaxed a bit now that there appeared to be a general topic of conversation. 

"So what are you studying?" she asked.

"Theater and Film Studies."

"Do you want to be an actress?"

I looked up at her. "I am an actress. I just need to find a way to be acknowledged as such."

She laughed. "I understand completely."

I searched my head for something to say. I couldn't stand silence. "Thanks for not calling me ugly back at the club," I found myself saying. 

"Why was your friend asking?"

I shrugged. "I don't know. She's weird."

"Were you having self-esteem issues?"

I had to laugh. "Nah, she was just trying to figure out why it is that I scare people away."

Val looked down at me, and I could tell she was trying to make sense of my statement. "I can't imagine you scaring anyone away."

"Stick around, you'd be amazed."

That put a lull in the conversation, and I mentally kicked myself for bringing up the subject. This had been a bad idea to begin with. I barely knew this woman. Why was I walking down Federal Highway with a total stranger who'd picked me up at a gay pride store-slash-coffee house? "Why did you ask me to take a walk with you?" I asked her.

"You're cute," was her reply.

I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out. 

She laughed out loud, and looked at me. "Actually, I wanted some company."

I'm still not sure if that meant that I wasn't cute, or that I was cute and that she also wanted some company. Either way, I decided to change the subject. "Do you live around here?"

"Yeah. About a five minute walk from the club."

"But you commute to Miami every day?"

"I only go there part time," she answered. "I work too much."

I nodded, then frowned remembering something she had said. "Did you say you were a bartender?"

"Yeah, one of the waitresses quit today so I had to double as both." She glanced at me. "Where do you live?"

"I dorm at Baldwin."

"First year?" 

I smiled. "Third. How old are you?"

"I'm twenty-one. You?"

"Twenty. I'll be twenty-one next month."

Val laughed. "I smelled fake ID all over you."

"Well not for long," I countered, a little defensively.

A car started honking, and Val paused until the noise subsided. "When's your birthday," she asked after a minute.

"October 31."

She seemed surprised. "Halloween? That must suck."

I snapped my head to look at her, caught off guard by her response. "It does suck," I agreed. "Thank you. Most people think it's the coolest thing on earth."

She shrugged. "Well I would imagine that you'd like your birthday to be your own. It kind of takes away from its importance when you have to share it with a big holiday."

"Exactly. I usually celebrate it the weekend before, otherwise my friends would never remember."

Val just nodded.

"When's your birthday?" I asked, trying to keep the conversation going. 

"June first."

I smiled. "I was expecting you to say Christmas day, or Easter."

Val laughed, and shook her head. "Nah. Nothing special about my birthday."

"Sure there is. You were born then. It gives an otherwise mundane date meaning. I think that's what birthdays are all about actually."

Val caught my gaze for a few seconds. Then looked away. 

We arrived at the end of South Federal Highway and before we had a chance to cross Las Olas Boulevard my beeper went off. I almost missed its subtle beeping, drowned out by the zooming of cars back and forth. 

"It's Jade," I announced.

"I'll walk you back."

We turned around, heading back in the direction we'd come. "Did you walk all the way to Pride Factory?" I asked her.

"Yeah. I like walking."

"Apparently." I smiled up at her.

She smiled back.

The walk back to the car was far quieter than I would have liked, but I didn't feel as uncomfortable in the silence. When we reached the car, I felt a sudden hesitation in saying goodbye. "Would you like a ride home?"

She seemed torn by the offer, and I could sense a war going on in her head. "Are you going back to Whispers?" she asked, instead of answering.

"Yeah. Jade's meeting me outside."

"You can drop me off there, then."

I unlocked the passenger side door. "Hop in." Then I walked to the other side. When I put the key in the ignition, I prayed the car would start, and I was relieved to hear the engine turn. Cars were unexpected things, very likely to embarrass you in front of people you'd just recently met. I pulled out of the parking lot, and headed toward the club.

Beside me, Val appeared to be searching for something in her pocket. A second later, she turned toward me and said, "Can I see your hand?"

My eyebrows narrowed in confusion, and I stole a glance at her. Hesitantly, I reached my right hand out in her direction. I felt her own hand cup itself beneath mine, holding it in place. Her palm was soft and warm against my skin, and I found myself wondering if the rest of her was as soft and warm. I mentally shook myself, and looked down to see her writing something on my palm. When she finished, she gently released my hand, and I pulled my eyes away from the road to read what she'd written. It was her name and phone number. Well this is a first, I thought to myself, not knowing what to make of the gesture.

"You don't have to call me," Val quickly explained. "I just thought..."

"Thanks." I smiled, but didn't add that I would call her. I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was because at the time I didn't think that I would, and I didn't want to lie. I stopped the car across the street from Whispers, and Val went to get out, so I searched my mind for something to say. "It was nice meeting you, Val."

She smiled. "Nice meeting you, Alix with an 'i'." 

And then she was gone. I sat back against the seat, shaking my head. My mind was a whirlpool of thoughts. What had just happened? 

"Did a chick just get out of your car?" Jade asked, taking her place beside me. 

I pulled out into the street without responding. I felt depressed, and I wasn't even sure why. "Yeah." 

"Are you okay?"

I glanced at her and nodded. "Yeah. I'm okay. Did you have fun?"

"I met a guy."

"Really? Details please."

For the rest of the drive home, Jade told me all about this guy she'd met while smoking a 'fag' outside. The first time she'd used that expression I thought she meant she'd been killing a gay guy outside, but after nearly five years of friendship I'd gotten used to her British jargon. 

After a while I zoned her out. I didn't do it intentionally, but my mind was unable to focus on the outside world. I kept thinking about Mathew and Jessica, and how happy there were. I knew their marriage would last forever; there was no doubt about it in my mind. Mathew was a great guy, and I loved him dearly. It would have been easier had I hated him, but I didn't. 

Then my mind jumped to thoughts of Valerie, and the phone number on my hand. Would I have the guts to call her? Did she want me to call her? Maybe it wasn't even the correct phone number. I should have given her my number. Then I wouldn't have to worry about it. Did I want to see her again? Did I like her? 

I pulled the car into Jade's driveway, and turned to find her staring at me. "What?" 

"You haven't heard a bloody thing I said, have you?"

I shook my head. "Not a damn thing."

"Alright, I'll call you tomorrow and repeat myself. What time's the party?"

"Seven," I responded.

Jade nodded, and grinned mischievously. "Can't wait for the stripper." She winked. "Pick me up, okay?"

"Be ready by 6," I told her. "I have to get there early and make sure everything's good to go.

"Yep." Jade jumped out of the car, and I stayed in the driveway until she disappeared into the house. 

I looked down at the number on my hand, the black ink a sharp contrast to the white of my skin; seven digits, two options, and a million possibilities. I sighed as I started toward home. 

I should have given her my number.

 

Chapter Three 

Much of Friday passed by in a blur of theater classes and acting workshops. At six, I stopped at Jade's to pick her up, and headed off to Jessica's to get the party set up.

Jessica's mansion rested more or less at the center of Baldwin. It was fifteen minutes from any place in city, and its allotted title, The Heart Mansion, had a double meaning in that sense. Heart was, of course, Jessica's last name, but it was also a metaphor for the location of the mansion, at the heart of Baldwin City. 

We arrived around 6:10 and set up the food in the rec room. By seven guests started to arrive. By seven-thirty I'd escaped to Jessica's bedroom, where I collapsed on her king sized waterbed and willed myself to sleep. My night had been restless, having tossed and turned for hours. I had a class at 7am, for which I managed to drag myself out of bed. I'd been exhausted the rest of the day, weaving through my myriad of classes like a zombie on automatic pilot. 

I fell asleep at some point, and awoke at the sound of the door opening. I looked up to find Jessica walking towards me, holding a bottle of Dr Pepper and two plastic cups filled with ice. She was dressed casually in blue jeans and a tight white tee shirt. By looking at her you would never guess that her bank account exceeds four billion dollars and that she owns one of the biggest mansions in the United States. You would never guess it either by talking to her. And you would never, ever imagine all the pain she has gone through in her twenty-three years on this planet. Far too much misery for such an amazing person. 

"Having fun?" she asked me, joining me on the bed, which protested the addition of her weight by forming a series of waves across the water mattress. She sat down, Indian style, looking down at me. 

"A blast," I responded, feeling more or less rested. "Are you?"

She considered the question. "Well the stripper was certainly a surprise."

I grinned. "It wasn't my idea. Besides, it's supposed to be some kind of tradition."

"Of course."

"Why'd you leave the party?" I asked her, curious as to why she was there. 

She handed me one of the cups, forcing me to sit up. "Can't have a party without my maid of honor." She poured the soda into both cups. 

"Jess, you hate Dr Pepper."

"And you hate parties. Consider it a compromise." She smiled and lifted the cup. "To my best friend."

I smiled. "To mine."

I watched her take a sip, loving the expression of disgust that crossed her face. "I can't believe you like this stuff."

I drank the whole thing in one gulp. "It's wonderful. Did I ever tell you the story of how Dr Pepper got its name?"

Jessica looked thoughtful for a moment, as though going through her file of memories and examining each one for the required information. "Nope. Do tell."

I cleared my throat, taking on a mocking storyteller voice. "Once upon a time, there lived a young man who loved a young woman, and she loved him just as much. But the girl's evil father, a man by the name of Dr. Pepper, refused the young man's request to marry his daughter, insisting that he would never amount to anything. The broken-hearted fellow, insistent on proving his worth to Dr. Pepper, created the formula for a deliciously refreshing soft drink that does not taste like medicine no matter what you people say, and named it Dr Pepper, after the girl's father."

"Did they ever get together?" Jessica asked.

"The guy and the father? I don't think so, but you never know."

Jessica laughed, and smacked my arm playfully. "You know what I meant."

I smiled, my flesh tingling where she'd touch me. "I don't know, actually."

"Well, I'm disappointed in you, Alix. You're supposed to know these things. How can I come to respect the story if I don't know the entire thing?"

I suppressed my desire to tackle her and tickle her to death for being such a pain in my ass. "I guess you'll just going to have to try and move on with your life somehow," I said instead. 

"I'll do my best." Jessica stared down at the cup in her hand, uncertainly.

"I'll drink it if you don't want it," I offered.

"No, no. I will get this. It'll be like a milestone my life."

"'The Night Jessica Heart Drank Dr Pepper,'" I teased. "They'll make a Broadway musical about it."

"It'll be a hit."

I smiled and watched her drink the remainder of the liquid. "You know, you're missing your party."

"They're having a bit too much fun with the stripper," Jessica said, shrugging slightly. "I didn't feel like being there."

"Know the feeling," I said. I hadn't meant to say that out loud, but it was too late to rein in the words. 

Jessica stared at me for a long moment, as though searching for the answers to the questions in her mind. "This is killing you, isn't it?" she asked finally, softly, perhaps even sadly.

My heart started beating faster. I didn't want to get into this now. Not ever for that matter. "Is what killing me?"

Jessica sighed, wearing an expression which let me know we were in for a serious discussion. "My getting married."

I felt like running, running right through the balcony doors, down to the pool deck, then straight down the steps to the beach. I didn't want to think about it, or talk about it, or face it. But I didn't move. I also didn't say anything.

"Can I tell you something?" she asked. "And I can't believe I'm about to tell you this."

I nodded, suddenly fearful. 

She paused, and I could almost see the wheels turning in her mind. I could feel her hesitation. Was she scared? "When I found out ... about you. The day that Lynn posted your diary, and you ran out of the school and I ran after you and you were crying and everything felt like it was falling apart. I almost told you that ... I've been with a woman."

The plastic cup slipped from my fingers, spilling ice cubes across the comforter. "Shit," I muttered, and started scooping them up, unable to meet Jessica's gaze. I felt her hands on mine before I saw them. She stopped me, and I dared, somehow, to look up into her eyes. She was waiting for me to say something. I couldn't even remember my own name let alone form a coherent sentence expressing my feelings. I tried to flash back to that day, out in the canal by Baldwin High, where sixteen year old me had sat across from eighteen year old Jessica, praying to a God I wasn't sure I believed it not to let her hate me. Had she told me then what she'd just told me, my reaction would have been much different; I would've felt hope. As it happened, five years later, sitting on her bed, the night before her wedding, I felt my heart shatter to a million pieces and scatter over my soul.

"Please say something," Jessica whispered.

"Who?" was all I managed to say.

Jessica hesitated, drawing in a long breath, and I could tell she hadn't wanted me to ask that question. She looked around, unable to answer for a minute. Finally, she said, "Lynn."

I felt the world stop. Everything around me went mute, and I thought I was about to pass out. "Wow. If I thought my heart was broken before..." I shouldn't have said that. I could tell my words caused her pain, and I couldn't bear the thought of hurting her. "I'm sorry, Jess. That wasn't fair of me."

"Don't apologize, Alix. It was stupid of me to tell you this now."

She was lost, I realized. Torn between not wanting to hurt me, and not knowing how to keep from doing so. There wasn't much she could do to make everything better, short of professing her undying love for me. How could I have been so selfish? All these years, blaming her unconsciously for not feeling the same way. Pretending I understood, while secretly hoping to get what I wanted in the end. She hadn't told me five years ago because she'd known it would give me a false sense of hope. She hadn't wanted to lead me on.

I looked at her, right into her dark blue eyes, rimmed with tears, and did the only thing I could think of doing to put some closure between us: I kissed her. I leaned forward, over a sea of melting ice cubes, and pressed my lips to hers. It lasted all of three seconds, if that, but in that short span of time seven years of silent longing came to a screeching halt. My heart felt complete again; wounded but not broken. 

When I pulled away, I waited for her reaction, worried suddenly that I'd made a huge mistake.

"I thought you promised never to do that?"

I smiled, cause I could tell she was teasing. "If you weren't getting married tomorrow, Ms. Jessica, a lot of my promises would be flying out the window."

Jessica laughed, and grabbed my hands, pulling me in for a hug. "I love you. I hope you know that."

I hugged her tightly, letting her words coat my spirit. "I love you too." Then I pulled away and looked at her. "Alright. Now you're going to have to backtrack on this. You said you slept with Lynn Hauffman?"

"Well.. we were young. We were ... curious."

"Ugh. That's so disgusting, Jess." I stuck out my tongue to illustrate my disgust. "I'm offended too. You couldn't get curious with me?"

Jessica smiled. "We weren't friends then. And we didn't really do much. Just-"

I held up my hands to stop her. "No no. Too much information."

"You asked."

"But...with Lynn? How old were you?"

Jessica thought about if for a moment. "Fifteen."

"So, you cheated on Julian with her?" I had to laugh. Then I stopped. "That's what did it. He found out, didn't he?"

Jessica lied down, staring up at the ceiling. "She told him."

"So that's why he..." I didn't want to say the word rape, even if that's what had transpired. It made me too angry. 

Jessica took a deep breath and nodded. "Yep. I guess he felt threatened, that he wasn't satisfying me or something." She shook her head as though to clear it from the memories.

"So then why did he and Lynn get together?" The soap opera of her life never seemed to end. When I thought I had Jessica Heart all figured out, she revealed something new that threw everything out of whack. So many questions were suddenly answered, and yet so many new ones appeared in their place. 

Jessica sighed. "They didn't. It was a cover up. They were blackmailing each other. Julian threatened to tell about what Lynn and I had done, and Lynn threatened to tell about what Julian had done to me."

"And you?"

She shrugged. "My parents died. I was too fucked up to care what Julian and Lynn were doing."

I let it all sink in. It made sense finally. "Thanks for telling me. I finally understand."

She smiled at me, taking my hand. "I told you it was a complicated story, remember?"

I remembered. "So is that how you got Lynn to stop harassing me? You blackmailed her. You threatened to tell about you guys."

"You got it."

I nodded. It made sense. After Lynn posted my diary all over school, announcing to the world that I was bisexual and in love with Jessica, Lynn had mysteriously backed off. In fact, she kind of disappeared all together for a while. When she'd returned, she was like a brand new person. Not nice-Lynn Hauffman could never be nice-but not really mean either. "You would have done that for me? Told people what had happened? It would've been equally bad for you too."

Jessica smiled. "I didn't care. I didn't have anything to lose, and Lynn knew that. So she backed down."

I patted Jessica's arm. "Well, Jess, I'm glad that it's taken five years for all of this to make sense."

"Patience is a virtue."

"I wouldn't know about patience." I stuck my tongue out at her, to keep the mood light. "So, last night of single hood."

"I know," Jessica said thoughtfully. "It seems so unreal."

I nodded. "I'm going to miss you while you're off honeymooning in Europe."

"I'll send a postcard." She laughed, when she saw my raised eyebrow. "I'll send a few."

"A little better." I bit my lip absently. 

Jessica watched me silently. "What's up?"

It was unnerving that she could read me so easily. I had to stop biting my lip. "I met someone last night," I told her. 

That caught Jessica's attention. "Oh? Like a someone, someone?" 

"Like a girl someone." I watched to see her reaction. She was waiting for me to go on, so I did. "Her name is Valerie. She's a bartender at this club in Ft. Lauderdale."

"Cute?"

I sighed. "Beautiful," I admitted.

Jessica nodded. "So..."

"So should I call her?"

Jessica started laughing. "Well you should if you want to." She reached for the phone, and pointed it at me. "Call her now. Invite her to the wedding."

I stared at her. "Are you crazy?" 

"Some may think so. Here." She handed me the phone. 

I stared down at the receiver in my hand, actually considering the idea. I'd memorized Valerie's phone number. I still don't know why. I hit the "talk" button, and dialed the number. After three rings, the machine picked up and I quickly hung up. "She's not home." I was both relieved and disappointed. 

Jessica shrugged. "Try again later."

I knew I wouldn't. 

 

I must have fallen asleep at some point, because the next thing I knew I was waking up to the sound of the ringing phone, and Jessica's groggy voice muttering a tired, "Hello?"

 

I kept my eyes closed, curious to know who was calling, but too tired to get up. So I just listened instead.

 

"Alix?" I heard Jessica say. "She's sleeping. Who's this?" Pause. "Valerie?"

 

I jolted awake at the sound of her name.

 

"Oh wait, she just woke up," Jessica said, handing over the receiver. She gave me a funny look, and lied back down, watching intently.

 

I took a deep breath, and said, "Hello?"

 

"Hey, you called?"

 

I was confused. Had I left a message without realizing it? "Yes I did. How did you know?"

 

Valerie laughed. "Caller ID. I knew it would come in handy some day."

 

"But I don't live here. How did you know it was me?"

 

"Well the address read Baldwin, and I only know one person from Baldwin. I put two and two together, and that's what I got."

 

"Most people get four," I joked.

 

She laughed. "Well I never was good at math. I'm glad you called."

 

"You are?"

 

"Yeah, I didn't think you would. So... uh, why did you?"

 

I glanced at Jessica. "Why did I call?" I asked, prolonging the answer. Jessica nudged me with her knee. "Well, my best friend is getting married tomorrow and she thought-I mean, I thought that maybe you'd like to come to the wedding." This was such a stupid idea. Why would she want to come to Jessica's wedding? She didn't know her. She barely knew me.

 

"Damnit. I have to work at two."

 

I felt my heart sink. "That's alright. Another time then."

 

"I get off work at nine, do you think you'll be free by ten?"

 

I tried to think logically for a moment, but my mind failed me. "What time do you think the reception will be over?" I whispered to Jessica.

 

She shrugged. "Our flight is at ten."

 

"I should be," I told Valerie. "But I will be at my friend's house."

 

"Hmm." Valerie paused before continuing. "Alright, how about I pick you up there?"

 

"Here?" I glanced at Jessica and she arched an eyebrow. "Alright. Sounds good." I gave Valerie instructions on how to get to Jessica's, and hung up. I sat there silently for a moment trying to digest the occurrences of the past few minutes. Finally, I looked at my best friend, the woman I loved more than breathing, and said, "I guess I have a date."

 

She sighed dramatically. "At last. Some competition."

 

I laughed, placing the receiver back on its base. I wondered briefly if Jessica could ever have competition, and if so, if Valerie could be it. I lied down, glancing at the time. It was only eleven. Jessica had basically missed her entire party, and I was touched that she'd done so to spend time with me. "Do you think everyone went home by now?" I asked.

 

"I doubt it, but I'll bet you twenty dollars that someone goes home with the stripper."

 

I smiled at the thought. "Probably my sister. She needs to get some badly."

 

Jessica turned over to look at me, and poked me in the ribs. "You're one to talk."

 

"Hey! How dare you compare my lack of a sex life to my sister's? There's a difference you see."

 

Jessica laughed. "Enlighten me, please."

 

I looked at her, quite defiantly in fact, and said, "I could get laid. I just choose not to. She wants to get laid, she just can't."

 

"Doesn't she have a boyfriend?"

 

"Yes, that's the problem. Saint Jonathan must wait for the marriage vows before he can examine anyone's no-no special place."

 

Jessica burst out laughing. "Oh, you're kidding? I didn't think there were people like that left in the world. Guys anyway."

 

"Leave it to my sister."

 

"Well I think it's sweet."

 

It was my turn to laugh. "And you and Mathew waited how long?" I held up my hands. "Wait. Forget I asked that. I really don't want to know." I turned on my side so I was facing her. "Speaking of sleeping together, can I sleep with you tonight? I'm too exhausted to drive back to school."

 

"Yeah, just don't kick me like you usually do."

 

"Just for that I'll kick you twice as hard."

 

Jessica arched an eyebrow. "Do you want to sleep on the couch?"

 

"Ouch. Fine. I'll be good." I rolled out of bed to use the bathroom. I was suddenly feeling better than I had in a long time. I had a date. A date. Me. I was nervous and I was scared, but most of all, I realized, I was really excited.

 

Chapter Four

 

 

My eyes opened slowly and my gaze finally focused on Jessica's form silhouetted in the balcony. I glanced at the alarm clock next to me, and read 5:56 on the display screen, before easing myself out of bed.

 

Jessica had her back turned to me. She was staring at the ocean in a way I'd seen her do so many times before. I wondered if that would be the last time I'd see her standing there without Mathew by her side, and my heart flooded with conflicting emotions.

 

I leaned against the frame of the sliding glass doors, not wanting to disturb her. Before us, the ocean roared, its surface reflecting the sky's golden colors of dawn, and I wondered what she was thinking.

 

"I love how you do that," she said without turning.

 

Her voice startled me. "Do what?"

 

She turned to face me, and I took that as an invitation to join her on the balcony. I walked outside, feeling the salty morning breeze on my face. I leaned up against the railing, waiting for her to answer my question.

 

"I love how you always wait for me to say something first," Jessica told me. "Like you're scared you'd be interrupting something important otherwise."

 

I sighed to myself. She had no idea how well I knew her. "You're up early," I said, changing the subject.

 

Jessica shrugged, turning her attention back to the view before us. "I couldn't sleep. Alix do you think I'm too young to get married?"

 

I stared at her. "What?"

 

"You know. Should Mathew and I wait a few more years?"

 

I shrugged. "What's the point? You could wait ten more years and you know you'll still be with him." I touched her arm. "Look, Jess, I couldn't think of a better couple than you and Mathew. You're perfect for each other."

 

Jessica let out a long breath, and smiled. "Yeah. It's just, I feel like I'm about to grow up, you know?"

 

"At least you get to grow up with the one you love."

 

She ran a hand through my hair, and smiled. "That's true."

 

"Okay, enough emotional talk," Roxanne muttered, walking out into the balcony. "That's all you two do. Blah blah blah, I love you Jessica. Blah blah blah, I love you too Alix but not in that way. Give me a break." She straightened out her bouncing brown curls, and put her arms around both of us. "Girls, today is the end of a era."

 

The end of an era, I thought to myself. I looked from Jessica to Roxanne to the rising sun on the horizon. It occurred to me at that moment that the end of an era marked the beginning of something new.

 

I put my arm around Roxanne's waist and leaned my head on her shoulder. Jessica did the same. And the three of us looked on over the balcony railing to the place where the ocean met the sky, each of us lost in thoughts of our uncertain futures.

 

 

 

 

I've had this repeating dream for years now, where I'm standing at the altar, and Jessica is walking towards me, wearing a beautiful wedding gown, and looking happier than she's ever looked in her entire life.

 

My dream came true.

 

Only, I was wearing a black maid of honor's dress and when Jessica stopped walking she was standing beside Mathew and not me.

 

But that was close enough, I think. Perhaps the dream had been a premonition of sorts. Or maybe it had just been my overactive imagination. Maybe a little bit of both.

 

I looked around the church where people were gathered on both sides. The groom's side was occupied in the front by Mathew's parents and his two sisters, Nina and Sarah. Then there were other people I didn't really recognize. Jessica's side consisted of the mansion's staff. Maurice, the butler, gave Jessica away and took his place beside Rosa, the housekeeper. Jessica's grandparents had phoned in that morning to announce they couldn't make it. Jessica's parents ... well... that's a whole different story. So as far as family, only Jessica's cousin, Amber, had made it. And she stood beside me as a bridesmaid.

 

"Dearly beloved..." The priest's voice rose over the silent crowd, echoing across the large expanses of the church, and I suddenly felt like I was trapped in my worst nightmare. Although, had it been my worst nightmare Jessica would've been marrying Steven Tyler instead of Mathew, so I knew this had to be real. "... If anyone knows of any reason why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace..."

 

That would've been my big chance to make an ass of myself, so thankfully I stayed quiet. I really didn't know of any unselfish reason why Jessica and Mathew shouldn't be together. Still, I looked around, waiting for someone to say something though I knew nobody would.

 

Then, before I knew it, I heard Jessica say, "I do", and as those words filtered through my hazy consciousness, I realized that nothing in my life would ever be the same.

 

 

 

 

A few hours later I was working on my fourth piece of wedding cake, looking around as the wedding reception went on around me.

 

The happy couple had decided to have it at the mansion, and I couldn't think of a more beautiful place for it. Especially seeing it decorated as it was. Jessica and Mathew had hired a decorator named Dominique who'd been hitting on Mathew since day one. Jessica found it amusing; Mathew not so much.

 

"Good cake?"

 

I looked up to find the groom smiling down at me. "I hate cake," I muttered, stuffing a big piece into my mouth. Well, I generally hate cake. But this one was good.

 

Mathew pulled up a chair, and joined me at the table. "I'm hiding from Dominique."

 

I shook my head. "You should be hiding from his assistant. I think he's not too happy Dominique's got the hots for you, if you know what I mean."

 

Mathew shrugged, and batted his eyes. "Why do I have to be so gorgeous?"

 

I choked on my mouthful of cake, and managed to swallow before bursting into laughter. I smiled at him. "I don't know, Matt. I think you just got lucky. I mean, I'm having trouble containing my own lust for you."

 

"I guess that's why you're drowning your sorrows in cake." Mathew nodded, playing along. "I'm sorry that I have broken your heart, Alix dear."

 

I patted his hand. "That's alright. I'll get over you some day."

 

He chuckled, and looked around. "I can't believe we're married."

 

"Yeah." I nodded, feeling melancholic all of a sudden. Mathew and I had never really talked about my feelings for Jessica. We joked around about it, but it was understood between us that there wasn't anything either of us could discuss that would change anything, so we kept the topic off-limits. "It was about damn time you took her off the market." I winked at him.

 

"Well if you ever change your mind about that threesome..."

 

I kicked him under the table. "Jerk. What kind of girl do you think I am?"

 

"Well all bisexual chicks are into that kind of thing, right?"

 

This time I threatened him with the remains of my cake. "Say one more thing, and this will be all over your beautiful tux."

 

Mathew held up his hands. "Alright. I give up." He smiled. "Want to dance?"

 

"Yeah. Let's go make Jessica and Dominique jealous." He stood, and took my hand, leading me to the dance floor. I don't remember what song was playing. It was definitely not Aerosmith. "So where's your wife?" I asked him, as we joined the rest of the couples.

 

"I'm not sure. Maybe she ran off with someone else."

 

I nodded solemnly. "That's a definite possibility. You know how she is, always running off with the mailman, or the milkman, or the boogieman."

 

Mathew started laughing. "The boogieman?"

 

"Yeah, sure. You'll like the wedding gift I gave you."

 

"Oh yeah?"

 

"Yep. It's a leash, so you can keep your eye on her at all times. It's blue, too. Very manly color."

 

"I'm glad you're around to keep my masculinity intact."

 

I nodded. "My pleasure, Matty boy."

 

"So what did you get Jessica?"

 

"I got her an apron. Gotta keep those socially constructed gender roles in place."

 

"Definitely. Wouldn't want her getting any ideas."

 

The song, whatever it was, ended, so I pulled away from him, and then gave him a big hug. "Treat her well, okay? I know you will, but it's just one of those things you have to say anyway."

 

Mathew hugged me back. "If I ever treat her badly, I give you full permission to kick my ass."

 

We started walking back to the table. "Oh I'll be most happy to."

 

Maurice appeared suddenly at my side. "I'm sorry, Miss Alix, but there is a young woman at the front door inquiring about you."

 

I frowned. "What young woman?" Then it hit me. "Valerie?"

 

"I believe that's her name, Miss."

 

I excused myself from Mathew and walked as fast as I could (in the shoes I was wearing) into the house.

 

I found Valerie looking around the foyer. She glanced over when she heard me approach.

 

"Hi," I said lamely, not knowing what else to say. She was clad in tight black jeans again, and a navy blue baby tee with the words "Save Ferris" printed in orange across her chest. Black boots completed the outfit. I suddenly realized what I was wearing and how stupid I must have looked. "You're early," I found myself adding.

 

"I know, I'm sorry. I'll go."

 

The tone of her voice made me flinch slightly, and I wondered if I'd done something wrong. "Please don't." I had the unexplainable feeling that if I let her walk out of the door I'd never see her again, and for some reason I couldn't bare the thought of that. "The reception is almost over. Just hang around a little longer and we can leave."

 

Valerie looked uncertain. "I'm not exactly dressed for the occasion," she said, her tone softer this time. "I didn't realize you'd invited me to Jessica Heart's wedding."

 

I shrugged. Being best friends with someone famous sometimes made you forget that they were famous at all. "She's my best friend."

 

Valerie nodded at the dress. "Bridesmaid?"

 

"Maid of honor." I waited for her response, afraid that the news would frighten her off. Most people would have been thrilled, but Valerie looked ready to bolt. "I didn't know it would bother you."

 

Valerie was silent for a moment, and I readied myself to chase after her if she did take off.

 

Before she had a chance to say or do anything however, Jessica appeared at the top of the stairs. Her wedding dress was gone, now revealing a pair of faded jeans and a black Tweety tee shirt. Her long black hair hung loose as usual, and I was momentarily afraid that after seeing Jessica, Valerie would forget all about me. The irony of the thought caused me to frown.

 

Jessica reached the bottom of the stairs a moment later, and approached Valerie with a smile on her face. She extended her hand. "I guess you must be Valerie."

 

Valerie shook her hand hesitantly, glancing at me as though wondering how Jessica Heart knew her name. "Call me Val. Interesting wedding dress."

 

Jessica laughed. "I was going for the modern look." She turned her attention to me. "I guess you're out of here?"

 

"When are you guys leaving?" I asked, torn between wanting to leave with Valerie and wanting to cling to Jessica and never let go.

 

"As soon as I find Mathew. Have you seen him?"

 

I nodded, and pointed outside. "I was just dancing with him, but Dominique cut in so you might wanna go out there."

 

"I'm sure he's enjoying it." Jessica turned back to Valerie. "Well Val, you're welcome to anything at the reception. There might be cake left if someone over here didn't eat it all." She glanced pointedly at me, and I glared at her.

 

Valerie grinned slightly. "Thanks."

 

"I'm going to find Mathew and sneak out of here," Jessica announced. "Think anyone will notice?"

 

"Not a chance," I told her. "Have a great honeymoon."

 

Jessica winked. "I will." She gave me a hug, which felt so final in spite of the fact that I'd be seeing her again in a couple of weeks. "Have fun girls. Nice meeting you Val."

 

I watched her walk away, then turned to find Valerie gazing at me with an unreadable expression on her face. Could she tell how I felt? Was it that obvious? I managed a smile. "Let me get out of this thing and then we can go." I headed for the stairs, and motioned for her to follow me. I'd stopped by my dorm earlier that day to get a change of clothes. There was no way I was going out on a date wearing a dress. Was this a date?

 

"I like your hair," Valerie commented.

 

"I figured I'd look a little more sophisticated for the occasion." To be honest, I'd simply asked the hairdresser to get rid of the blue and make it black, but Roxanne and Jessica had insisted on her giving me a trim. The trim turned into a completely new do. Instead of black, it was now light brown with reddish highlights. Instead of shoulder-length, it was now cut short around my ears, falling forward into my eyes in a way that was becoming annoying. Jessica and Roxanne agreed that it brought out the green of my eyes, and made me look older and more mature. It makes me wonder what I'd looked like before.

 

"It looks nice."

 

"Thanks." We reached the top of the stairs where the staircase split in two. I turned to the left, and headed up a new flight of stairs. Valerie followed closely, looking around in amazement. At the top, I turned to the right, down a long corridor to the very last door at the end of the hallway. I threw open the double doors to Jessica's bedroom, allowing Valerie to pass through first.

 

"Holy..." Valerie's jaw fell open.

 

I couldn't say I blamed her. The room had nearly given me a heart attack the first time I'd walked inside. I guess after all these years one took these things for granted, so I attempted to look around again, trying to see it as Valerie must have seen it.

 

The area to the left had once been a basketball court, complete with a hoop and everything, but had been recently turned into a small gym. The wall, which had once sported paintings of an outside basketball court, had been covered with a large mirror. The hardwood floors were now carpeted in a dark blue color, as was the rest of the room.

 

Jessica's bed was directly in front, and the wall behind it had been painted to look like the bottom of the ocean. Jessica has a thing with the ocean. I don't think she could ever live anywhere that wasn't on the beach.

 

Her king-size waterbed rested on top of a wooden platform with a couple of wooden steps leading up to it. Two nightstands on either side of it, along with a matching wall unit, completed the set. On either side of those, were two doors. One led to the bathroom, and the other to the walk-in closet, which was big enough to house an entire family of four comfortably.

 

To the right were French double doors leading out to the balcony, and a living room-type area was to the side of that. A black-leather couch faced a Phillips flat screen TV (a recent addition at that point), and beanbag chairs of different colors were strewn about the carpeted floor. There were a couple of wall units at either side of the TV, both housing movies and stereo equipment. Jessica had invested in a DVD player a few months prior, and it had become her baby.

 

At the other side of the double doors, was Jessica's desk. Her desktop computer and its many components rested on its surface. Next to that was another wall unit filled top to bottom with books. That particular wall was painted to simulate the ocean at sunset.

 

The wall behind me was painted a very dark blue, with a gorgeous, full moon glowing over the horizon, casting its reflection over the water.

 

"Makes your room at home feel like a shoebox, huh?" I said, after a moment.

 

Valerie laughed. "My entire apartment could fit inside this room about five times."

 

I smiled, and walked over to the bed, where I'd thrown my change of clothes. I'd been in a hurry that morning, so I wasn't entirely sure what I'd selected, but I figured one couldn't go wrong with jeans. I'd chosen a different pair of black Jncos this time. The ones I'd been wearing Thursday night had a picture of a kid on a skateboard above the left back pocket. These had a mad scientist with green hair embroidered on the right back pocket. I liked these better anyway because they were baggier. As far as a shirt, I'd opted for a black Garbage tee shirt, with Shirley Manson on the front in black and white.

 

Grabbing the clothes, I turned to Valerie. "If I can find my way out of this dress, I'll be back in five minutes." She smiled, but I wasn't entirely sure I was kidding. I walked into Jessica's closet, and shut the door.

 

Once upon a time, it had been filled with clothes as far as the eye could see. A couple of years ago, Jessica had decided that one person did not need so many outfits in one lifetime, and gave them all away to the Salvation Army. I did manage to steal a few of her black tee shirts, though.

 

Catching my reflection in the mirror, I flinched. I had to get out of that dress and pronto. For a second I actually thought I looked good.

 

That's when dilemma number one presented itself: the zipper. "Shit," I muttered, trying to get my arms around the back, and failing miserably in the process. Dilemma number two was deciding what to do about it. I bit my lip, running a list of possibilities through my mind. Granted, it was a very short list. I looked around, as though expecting Jessica's clothes to take life and help me out of the predicament.

 

In the end, I did the only thing I could. I took a pair of scissors and cut right through the dress. Okay, just kidding. I thought about it, but I had no scissors available, so I took a deep breath and walked out of the closet (in a completely non-gay related way).

 

Valerie was standing at the same spot I'd left her. She arched an eyebrow when she saw me, then she grinned. "There are too many smartass comments running through my mind to pick just one."

 

"Darn. Maybe you can tell me all of them later." I pointed to the back of the dress. "Can you help me?"

 

Valerie coughed, to keep from laughing, I imagine, then walked over to me. "Isn't it a little early on in the date for me to be undressing you?"

 

Flirting: definitely not one of my strong points. It occurred to me then that I was going out with this woman, whom I barely knew. What was she expecting from me? I'd never really done this before. Did she think we'd have sex that night?

 

Valerie reached for my dress, and I jerked back. She frowned. "I'm sorry, I was just teasing."

 

I made a mental note to kick myself when she wasn't looking. "My fault. You surprised me, and I've been known to be rather jumpy." We were off to a good start. I turned around so she could unzip me, which she proceeded to do quite hesitantly. I was sure that she was having second thoughts about this entire thing, and I had to admit that I wasn't feeling entirely confident about the situation. But I was willing to give it a shot. "Okay, this time, I will come back out wearing something different. I hope."

 

I escaped into the closet, and leaned my back against the door. There I was, twenty years old, and I'd never even kissed a girl. Unless you counted the two second act of desperation the night before with Jessica. So yes, I was freaking out. A lot. Especially since my safety blanket was on her way to Europe with her husband, and the girl at the other side of that door was really gorgeous and I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

 

Deep breaths, Morris.

 

I said that to myself a few times, then kicked off the dreaded shoes. Three minutes later, I was back in my normal attire. And I had to admit that the haircut did look kind of cool. I stood before the mirror, trying to imagine what Valerie saw when she looked at me. To this day I can honestly say that I have no idea what the hell she saw in me.

 

Valerie was sitting on the last step leading up to the bed, and she rose as I walked in the room. "Feel better?" she asked.

 

"Yes, dresses aren't my thing. Now, if I manage to find my shoes we can be on our way." I started looking around the floor. "Where are we going, anyway?"

 

"I was kind of hoping you'd have some ideas."

 

My Airwalks peered out at me from behind the black leather couch, and I sat down on it to put them on. "Wait a second, didn't you ask me out?"

 

Valerie came around the couch, and stared down at me. "Well, I tried to think of someplace but I don't know you well enough to know where you'd want to go, so I figured I'd let you choose."

 

I finished with the shoes, and my feet cried out in glee that they weren't clad in fancy footwear. I wasn't sure what to make of Valerie's inability to make a decision as to where we should go. So I tried to put myself in her position for a moment, and decided that she was right. How was I supposed to know what she would like to do on a Saturday night? I had enough trouble figuring out what I wanted to do on any given day.

 

"The whole dinner and a movie clich╚ seemed a bit overdone," Valerie continued. "I thought we could be more creative than that."

 

I smiled, and stood up. "At this rate I don't see us doing anything at all." I looked around the room for a second, gathering my thoughts. "Would you like to take a walk down the beach? We never did make it that far the other night."

 

Valerie nodded. "Lead the way."

 

We took a shortcut through the balcony. There were stairs leading down to the pool deck and then down to the beach. It was a private sector, but it connected with the public area about a mile down.

 

I took off my shoes and socks when we reached the last step. I wasn't in the mood to for sand in my shoes. Valerie hesitated a moment, but then took off her boots, and placed them beside my Airwalks.

 

We started off down the shoreline. I didn't get too close to the water's edge because I didn't want the bottom of my jeans to get wet, but Valerie didn't seem to care. I was sure she'd jump right in the ocean with her clothes on if I dared her. And maybe I would have had it had been daylight, but it was dark and I wasn't sure how cold the water was.

 

I was being quiet, which was generally unusual for me, especially when nervous. It's amazing how much babbling a person can do in the right frame of mind. Astounding how quiet the same person can become when feeling out of sorts. This was a bad day for a first impression, or second impression or whatever it was. I needed to snap out of it and quickly before I blew something I still wasn't sure was mine to blow.

 

"I'm usually more talkative than this," I said suddenly, my voice rising over the crashing waves, which were relatively calm that night. There wasn't much wind blowing to cause anything above a gentle roar as the water rolled in and out of the shore in a way that had become symbolic of my life.

 

"I have mixed feelings about this part," Valerie responded, looking down at the water flooding her feet, and the sand giving under her weight.

 

Until that moment I had never truly listened to the sound of her voice. I'd heard the words she'd spoken, but the actual tone of her voice had fallen on deaf ears. It was soft and strong at the same time, feminine and powerful and sweet. The kind of voice you could listen to forever without growing sick of it. "What part is that?" I inquired, remembering her previous comment, and mentally shaking myself from my thoughts.

 

Sky blue eyes focused on me for a moment. "The part where we know absolutely nothing about each other and don't know where to start."

 

I shrugged. "We could play truth or dare."

 

Valerie's eyebrows shot upward at my suggestion. "Seriously?"

 

Truthfully, I'd meant it as a joke, but I didn't see why we couldn't. "Sure."

 

"Okay."

 

"Okay." Perhaps this had been a bad idea.

 

Valerie stopped walking suddenly, and took my hand, pulling me down on the sand so that we were both sitting side by side.

 

I liked that she was bold enough to touch me after I'd made a fool of myself earlier. I was also grateful that she wasn't as shy as I was when it came to that sort of thing. "So, who starts?"

 

"Well since it was your idea, I think you should go for it."

 

"Alright. Truth or dare?"

 

"Truth."

 

A question popped into my head immediately after, and I was happy that this didn't seem as difficult as I had originally expected. "What made you give me your number?"

 

Blue eyes narrowed slightly at the question, and she grinned at me. "That should be pretty obvious."

 

I shook my head. "I suck at obvious things."

 

"Well, I gave you my number because I wanted you to call me."

 

Score one for the smartass. "Touch╚. That's not exactly what I was going for, though."

 

She took a deep breath, and then said, "I didn't want you disappearing out of my life without getting a chance to know you better."

 

"There. Now that wasn't so hard was it?"

 

"Truth or dare?"

 

Frankly, I would've preferred a third choice, but then I figured that I could always fib my way out of the truth option. So, "Truth."

 

"Okay..." Valerie leaned back on her elbows, stretching out beside me, and I did everything within my power to keep my gaze from wandering. "Why did you call me?"

 

It was a fair enough question, one that I nearly missed having been too busy not-noticing her bellybutton ring. I wondered if she had a tattoo. "I called you for the same reason you gave me your number."

 

So with that it was established that we were generally interested in each other on some mysterious level. I couldn't help but think of fate, which I didn't usually believe in. Sometimes, though, fate really did seem like the perfect explanation for the more outlandish events of my life.

 

After a while, we dropped the game, and I lied down beside her on the sand as we continued to ask each other random questions. At some point I asked her about tattoos, and she smiled and said she had two; a small rose on her right shoulder blade and a broken heart on her left breast. I didn't ask to see them, but it made me wonder about the broken heart. Had she been hurt at some point in her life? I couldn't imagine why else anyone would choose to permanently brand her skin with such an icon. Unless there was some farfetched explanation that would never occur to me in a million years.

 

While she was looking up at the sky, I took the opportunity to look at her. Beautiful was all I could think of to describe her. I found myself comparing her to Jessica, though I knew it was wrong of me to do that. Still, I couldn't stop myself. Valerie didn't have Jessica's exotic looks, but there was something else that attracted me to her. And I wasn't sure what it was. Not yet, anyway.

 

Her skin glowed under the soft touch of moonlight spilling through the palm trees. Her blue eyes were fixed on some faraway spot, blinded by whatever thoughts danced in her mind. For one strange, irrational moment, I wished to crawl inside her mind and get lost in the maze of her dreams. Was I so desperate for love?

 

Her eyebrow ring shone momentarily as the metal reflected the light. She turned to look at me, an eyebrow arched in question. "You were staring at me."

 

"No I wasn't," I said, lamely, embarrassed I'd been caught.

 

Valerie rolled over on her side, propping her head up with her hand. She proceeded to gaze at me curiously without saying anything.

 

I grew slightly uncomfortable under her scrutiny. "What are you doing?"

 

"I'm staring at you."

 

"I see that. Why?"

 

"Why were you staring at me?" she asked, her mouth creasing into a smile.

 

Trapped. How did one go about answering that question without embarrassing oneself? "I was looking at your piercings. Did they hurt?" I congratulated myself for my wonderful bullshitting abilities, as I waited for Valerie to respond.

 

She looked skeptical for a moment, and I wondered if she was disappointed or impressed by the skillful way I'd dodged that bullet. "They didn't really hurt, but they were sore for a while, my tongue ring especially. Plus it sucked that I couldn't do much with it for three months."

 

"That must have hindered your sex life," I said, and wondered if I was flirting.

 

Valerie grinned. "If I had one maybe."

 

Interesting that she should say that. Why would she, I wondered? I admit I was being paranoid, but I couldn't help but question her intentions. Trusting total strangers wasn't something I was keen on doing. I had enough trouble trusting my best friends. Luckily, I could pretend not to be paranoid. "I can relate."

 

"Would you like to get something to eat?"

 

Food! I hadn't realized how hungry I was until she said something. "I would love to. I'm starving."

 

Valerie stood up, and offered her hand to help me. "All that wedding cake is long gone, huh?"

 

I let her pull me up, but glared up at her. "That mouth of yours is going to get you in trouble one of these days."

 

Valerie grinned brightly. "I hope so."

 

 

 

~Continued in Part 2 ~             ~Return to the main Page ~