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“I’m ready,” Lucy whispered, her voice so soft that it was nearly drowned out by the breeze kissing the grass in the great meadow where she (with her feet pointing west) and Alice (hers pointing east) lay cheek to cheek.

“Oh?” Alice asked, her eyes drawn to a cloud that closely resembled a sailing ship.

“You’re not paying attention, are you?” Lucy accused, turning her face away, gaze drifting towards the wood that surrounded the field of newly risen grass. “Lost in your stories and your day dreams and your books again.”

“Not my stories, never my stories. All this time it’s been your story I’ve been trapped in, Lucy. Waiting for you to tell it and finally free me.”

For the first time, Lucy heard the frustration in her friend’s voice. Years of bitter loneliness colored every syllable red.

“I didn’t know,” she blushed, heart pumping with fear, fluttering hands full of words that only they could decipher.

“Not like that, darling. Tell it.”

Rolling on her side, she trapped Lucy’s hands in hers, fingers laced together, until the birds and butterflies, as well as the sprites, nymphs, and demons, threatening to carry the dark haired girl away, were stilled.

“I don’t know how.”

“Silly girl. Just say the words with me. Once upon a time.”

“Once upon a time.”

“See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?” she smiled fondly, any hint of impatience hidden from view. “Just keep going, now, and I’ll sit quietly, with as few interruptions as I can muster, and listen.”

Taking a deep breath, deep enough to keep her from drowning no matter how deep she went, Lucy began again, dark eyes locked with bright blue ones, never once blinking, even when they filled up with tears.

“Once upon a time, Alice, there was a girl…”

Yeah, once upon a time, there was a girl. Not the smartest girl in the world, nor the dumbest. She was just a girl, who liked to laugh and loved the sound of her own voice, even at those moments when it didn’t quite work as int-t-tended, and sometimes forget to pay attention to where she was and wonder off into far off places such as Wonderland or Oz or…

“I must have noticed it a million times, Lucy. I should have said something, but I thought you’d noticed too!”

That street light haunts me. It’s an image I use often to signify the very real evil that lurks in the shadows of the city. To this day I can’t remember when it had gone from being a beacon casting its protective circle around me to a burnt out soul; perhaps that very night while I was inside, working, waiting tables, just like any other night. One difference, though. That night, we celebrated another year passing for one of my co-workers.

“Was it like the Mad Hatter’s party?” Alice interjected, clapping her hands together in feigned delight to lighten the mood. “Tea and cakes and lots and lots of silly songs?”

More or less. There was wine and cupcakes. I stayed longer than I’d realized, and drunk more, as well when I decided it was time to leave. It wasn’t a very long walk, but long enough for the shadows to take note. I never noticed when one of them slid from an alleyway and followed me out to the back parking lot.

“I don’t really remember it all that well, Alice.”

“Liar, liar, pants on fire.”

“Sometimes I hate you.”

It was her turn to turn away and stare off into the woods, her hands tracing the faint scars on her wrists that I, not she, had drawn over the past two years.

“I know,” she whispered, and I could hear the hurt in her voice so plainly. Reaching out, I let my fingers trail through the golden silk of her hair tenderly, hoping that she would sense my regret.

“Keep going,” she whispered, her voice strained, and so I, or rather Lucy, continued.

I forget how many time I was forced to recount it for the cops. Too many. Each time, I relived it, until I thought I would go mad. It keeps changing, they admonished me. What does? The facts, Ma’am.

The facts have no relevance here. None whatsoever. He had a beard, light brown in color. His breath smelled of peanuts. He wore a blue baseball cap with a team logo on it. No, Officer, I don’t really know which team. Red, maybe, or yellow? He had a patch on the sleeve of his jacket. Again, no idea. He had a knife.

I can’t describe how it felt as he pushed it into my ribs. Shock and disbelief, at first, and then, not pain, but fear. I couldn’t breathe, let alone fight back. He pushed me with some force…

“Some?” Alice admonishes from her perch on the book shelf as she watches me struggle with this.

The window shattered into a million little cubes and the imprint of my body was left in the door. He didn’t say much as he seduced me from behind. So romantic. The blossom of red roses spreading slowly against my top, his knife held to my throat as he yanked my panties down and…

“I don’t like hearing about this part, Lucy,” Alice cringes, hands over her ears, looking as if she’s about to flee again and suddenly, once more, we, or rather, they, are in the meadow under a bright blue sky.

“You’re almost there, Lucy,” Alice says with an encouraging smile. “So close and then, when you’re done, you can-“

“It’s never that easy,” Lucy sighs, plucking a blade of grass from the earth.

It really isn’t. Over, that is. It’s haunts you, stalking you day and night, jarring you as little moments remind you of that one moment when Lucy and I let our guard down. After a while, you learn to live with it, even move on, but it is always there, waiting for you to, once again, wander under that broken street light without pausing to turn and make sure that you’re alone.

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