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Wonderland: Lucy's Tale - Chapter Five

Lucy's friends pay a visit.

And so, I had finally discovered the truth about Alice’s dreams. Neither of us wished to talk about what had happened, and yet how could we not? Eventually, haltingly, she told me that sometimes they weren’t as bad, that sometimes just the man in the hat was present and that often times he was sweet and others he was cruel and that as she got older, they’d gotten worse. Sometimes she found ways not to go to sleep, hoping that would foil the madness that invaded her dreams, but eventually she would drift off and be at the mercy of her nightmares. Not that they came every night. Sometimes weeks or months would pass by leaving her in peace. But always, they would return.

I could do nothing but hold her, doing my best to comfort her. We fell asleep again that way, in each other’s arms this time undisturbed by dreams. In the morning, we both did our best to brush off the visions of the night. It filled my head and heart like dark tendrils and even once pushed aside I could still feel their touch. Even then I knew that I would never be fully free of their touch. I would always live with the memories of that night. And yet, we went about as normally as possible.

Being close to the same size, Alice borrowed a pair of my trousers and a tee shirt from the closet and we went down stairs for cereal. My dad had gone to work already, so we were free to hold hands under the table and try to be normal 16 year old girls, shedding the night from our thoughts with quiet chuckles and meaningless chatter. It was reassuring in its way and while it couldn’t erase the horror of the tea party, it did serve to diminish it somewhat. The rest of the day was much the same. We caught the bus and went downtown for some window shopping, had a burgers, fries and shakes at the diner, caught a movie adding popcorn to our diet and then headed out to the park to watch everyone else indulge in kite flying and barbecues.

Walking about, we found a small secluded place near the lake and yet far enough off the path that circled it to be somewhat private. It felt natural enough to lean up against a beech tree, side by side, my hand in hers. We even kissed once or twice, enjoying the silence that settled in between us as she leaned her head comfortably against my shoulder. I could have stayed like that forever, I think. Dusk came and with it, the end of our idyll. We arose, brushing the leaves from our clothes, and she kissed me once again. Smiling shyly, I turned away, still uncomfortable with such displays of affection. I have to point out that these were not simple kisses of affection. I wasn’t very experienced, admittedly, but I could tell the difference between a kiss between friends and one between lovers. I wondered what was going to become of us, voicing the thought out loud.

Alice shrugged, somehow managing to make her smile both sad and hopeful. "I don’t know, Lucy. I love you, though. I can’t help it and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. I… I’m sorry, but I can’t help it."

We left it at that. After all, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know my own feelings. This was my best friend, my sister in some ways, and a girl. It was wrong, or so I had been led to believe. And yet, how could love be wrong? I wished with all my heart that there was someone I could talk to, but the only person I trusted enough was Alice.

"I love you too. I mean, you know I do, just not… I don’t know." This time, the shame I felt wasn’t for what we had done in the privacy of our beds, but that I couldn’t give her the one thing that meant the most to her. My heart. She seemed to sense my conundrum, giving me a quick hug.

"It’s getting late. We should be getting back." Suddenly, we were just friends again and everything was forgotten. We caught the bus home and said our farewells and I went into my home as she did hers, digging through the fridge for leftovers. I asked my dad if he’d eaten. His attention was being taken up by the television and he grunted what I took to be a ‘yes’ so I reheated some pasta and took it up to my bedroom and ate in solitude, sitting up in bed propped up against my pillow.

That night there were no dreams, good or bad. I admit, I had feared that there might be and it was with relief that I awoke the next morning, slumber slowly fading in tandem with the sun as its rays poured through my bedroom curtain to signal the beginning of a perfectly normal day in my average life.

And so it went for seven days and seven nights. Rather biblical, something I hadn’t thought of at the time. Life went on as normal as ever. Days with Alice, sometimes at her house or in town. Rarely, if ever, at our home. Not since that night. Although we chose not to talk about it, still it was on our mind and between us. Much better to do our best to forget it and hope that it would never happen again. And so we let a week of blissful summer slip by, our young minds healing quickly until the nightmares were nothing but faded memories replaced by easier ones.

I saw less and less of my dad. As I said, I spent most of my time with Alice and away from the house. The few times when I did, like right before bedtime or occasionally sitting in the front room watching television in silence, I felt like there was a wall going up between us. Whether it was his doing or mine, I wasn’t sure, but it was there as solid as if it had been made of mortar and brick. In all honesty, I didn’t mind so much. The only thing we really had in common anymore was my mom’s absence from our life and that wasn’t something I was ready to deal with yet. Nor was he, or so I thought. Sometimes things ferment in our souls, dark things. Not necessarily evil, but born of hopelessness and pain and, left to corrupt our hearts for too long, they grow lives of their own. This was another of the summer’s great lessons, one I’d yet to learn.

And so it was that I spent yet another night at Alice’s, just the two of us. Her parents had decided to go on an overnight trip and left us to our own devices, trusting us to react responsibly. After all, Alice had proven time and time again, that she was perfectly capable of staying out of trouble and I had become like a daughter to them in some ways. We decided to make the best of it with popcorn and chocolate and a scary movie, moving our headquarters into the living room. Decadently, we set out pillows and blankets and lay on our stomachs in our underwear, giggling and covering our mouths or eyes at the ghoulish-ness on screen.

Then, the movie ended and we were left with our own company, the shadow of frightful danger still fresh in our minds. It was still early, at least by summer standards. Not quite midnight and we had no reason to wake up at a reasonable time the next morning. So, we did what we always did. We talked. At least, that’s how it started. Nothing of consequence, and yet to us, each shared thought was of great importance. If I tried really hard to recall exactly where the conversation meandered, I might, but it’s of little importance. What is, is that Alice brought up what had been a mutually forbidden subject, or at least one I was always hesitant to discuss. My insanity.

"When did it start, Lucy?" she asked.

I knew what she was asking. Still, I decided to play dumb mostly because I was uncomfortable talking about my sickness even with her, the person I shared everything with. As sometimes happened when our talk became serious, she took my wrist and stretched my arm out, tracking the letters that marked my skin, some fresh, some faded from scrubbing. As with most everything in my life, the need to tattoo myself with the written word came and went.

"What?" I asked with a shrug, turning my back to her as an answer to her query.

"You know. When did you start seeing people who…" she paused, as if she was searching for the right words and unable to find them. I gave her nothing but silence. Finally she gave up, and just came out with it.

"People who aren’t really there." As if to take the sting out of her words, she settled in behind me and gently began massaging my shoulders. Strangely enough, it worked in a fashion. I became nervous that her hands on my shoulders and back would become more intimate. I answered her, not because I wanted to, but because at that moment, it seemed the safer choice.

"I don’t know. I mean, I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t hear their voices whispering to me, keeping me company. Thing is, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t normal until I was 7. Up until then mom thought I was playing make believe."

I went silent again. How do you explain to someone that it wasn’t some sort of pretend thing, that it was as real to me as talking to her was. Just because no one else could hear our conversations, didn’t mean we didn’t have them. Once I’d discovered that mom and dad disapproved, I stopped having them out loud, at least when I was around other people. When I was alone, of course, I didn’t bother. Nor did they.

"I started having nightmares when I was 6." I wasn’t sure if she was trying to change the subject or not so I kept my mouth shut, snuggling back against her, smiling to myself as her hands worked their magic. It felt good. Too good. I wanted to tell her to stop. Instead I merely let out a soft sigh and closed my eyes.

"Not as bad as the one the other night." Her hands stopped then, as if just thinking about it was painful. I imagine that it must have been. After all, I had experienced it too. "At first, it wasn’t so bad. I’d just go to Wonderland and strange things would happen. Unsettling things. I’d get lost in the woods, in the darkness, and strange hands would grab at me, pulling me this way and that until I didn’t know north from south. Later…"

It was her turn to go quiet, her hands stopping as she wrapped her arms around my waist. I lay mine over the top of them, nodding for her to go on, if she could. I must have fed her the courage, for a moment later she did just that.

"Then when I was nine, just before I met you…"

She left the words unspoken. After all, wasn’t I her twin? Didn’t I understand her better then anyone? They’d gone from strange to frightening, growing worse and worse as the years went by. Each time, she’d forget that she was dreaming and that she’d been through the woods before. Each time, she took the left path. Each time she’d come to the clearing and the tea party. Only in the past, only the Hatter had been there. He’d hypnotize her and then have his way with her, not gently. No, never gently. But afterwards, he’d sometimes tell her stories or sing her songs and hold her and tell her he was sorry. He’d promise that it was the last time.

"Never again, he’d tell me, over and over, and each time I believed him. And then…" with a shiver, she pulled me close, so close that I could feel her breath at the nape of my neck, spooning me like we were one being.

"The others…" I said, hesitating. She’d said that it was only him. I wondered if I’d changed that, somehow. If I was responsible for the monsters that had raped her while I watched, helpless to do anything.

"I don’t know." She sounded so fragile, and I knew in my heart that she was wondering the same thing. Wondering if next time she dreamed, she’d take the same fork again and come to the same scene. I heard a pitiful noise, a sob. Soon she began to shake quietly, and I felt her tears upon my shoulder as she buried her head against me. How long we lay like that, I can’t tell you. Had she only asked to be held, I would have held her. Instead, she chose to hold onto me as if I was her only anchor to sanity. She cried, and then she stopped and fell into a light slumber for a short while. Upon awaking again, once more she shed tears.

There were to be no more questions or answers that night. We stayed that way the whole night through, one of us drifting off to sleep while the other held guard. We were alone in the house, peace settling over us like a blanket until the early hours of morning. That’s when they came to visit.

"Lucy?" It was the librarian, of course. She always heralded the coming madness. "Lucy, are you awake?"

With a sigh, I nodded, careful not to wake my sleeping beauty. "Wide awake."

"Good. We need to have a talk. About Alice. All of us."

This was new. Of course there were times when one would visit upon the coattails of another, but never was there more then one of them at a time. I found myself suddenly wide-awake as I had claimed to be, alert and aware. Beside me, Alice slept the sleep of the innocent for which I was thankful.

This is the crazy part, as if hearing their voices wasn’t crazy enough. I’d told Alice that it wasn’t just voices that haunted me, and I hadn’t lied about that. They filled the room, all nine of them, some pacing about the crowded space, others standing over us, staring down at the two of us menacingly. The Queen stood at their head, dressed impeccably, her plump face scowling from beneath a jewel encrusted crown, hair the color of the sun pinned atop her head. She had her arms crossed beneath her ample bosom and her royal wardrobe was adorned with hearts, as was the head of her scepter. It suddenly struck me how alike she was to Carroll’s Queen of Hearts, a thought that struck dread into my heart, recalling Alice’s Nightmare.

"What about Alice?" I asked out loud, pitching my trembling voice low.

"She’s dangerous, Lucy. We’d hate to see you get hurt. You know we love you, don’t you?" That was the Queen. Used to having her own way, her voice held the ring of command, brooking no argument, not from the likes of me.

"She’s my friend." That, as far as I was concerned, was the only response she deserved.

"We’re your friends too, Lucy." This from the Priest. He, too, wouldn’t have looked out of place in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I was particularly drawn to the large cross of gold that lay against his blood red velvet vestments. "What she wants from you, child. It’s wrong. You know that in your heart. She’s seducing you with her wickedness."

"Temptress!" Hissed the Queen. "The little minx’s heart is full of sin."

"I… she’s…"

"Cast her aside!" Menaced the Prince with a sneer.

"She’ll ruin you!" The Knight joined in, his emerald eyes glittering beneath bushy white brows, a snarl beneath a his drooping mustache.

"Ask her about the right fork!" The Queen, once more.

"No!" The word exploded from me, so angry was I that they could even ask such a thing. I loved her. Not as she loved me, but still I loved her. Nothing they could say would convince me to abandon her like that. She needed me and I… I needed her as well. "You’re just jealous!"

I had hit the nail on the head, of course. My words, like an arrow, struck true and painfully so. Wounded, they fled back to the recesses of where ever it was they came from. Neither forever, nor even for long. They weren’t used to being thwarted. The Queen especially. I wasn’t sure what she had against Alice, but it felt personal. Some grudge that went far beyond envy. I’d have to tread carefully in the future. Perhaps even apologize, in order to make amends, woo her with words if I could to be more reasonable.

I tried to dismiss their words and, for the most part, I did. The Queen’s parting comment, however, haunted me. The right fork. Alice had said that she’d always taken the left fork, that it had always led to the lawn and the Mad Hatter. Had she never taken the right? Not once?

Curiosity is a terrible thing. It drills its way into your head and settles there like an itch that you can’t scratch, growing stronger and stronger until it drives you mad and you’d do anything to make it go away, including peeling the flesh and bone from your skull and digging it out with a dull knife. Using a bullet would be simpler, like my mom had. Why that suddenly came to me, I don’t know. But once there, it too took hold, its cruel grip chasing the last possibility of sleep far, far away.

Thankfully, I didn’t ask. Pushing the thought to the back of my head, as far away as I could without banishing it altogether, I managed to lay there, breathing as softly as I could manage and watched her in the light of the muted television. Oh, she was beautiful in her sleep. Her lips parted slightly in the imitation of a kiss, her breasts rising and falling in slow motion with each breath like the ocean. I thought about kissing her. I didn’t, of course. It was bad enough what we’d done together already, what she felt for me, without complicating things. But still, I thought about it. Instead, I reached out and pushed her hair from her face tenderly and planted a butterfly kiss upon her cheek.

Her eyes fluttered open for a moment and her perfect mouth curved upwards into a sleepy smile. I’m not even sure if she knew I was there, for she fell almost immediately asleep again. Perhaps it was best that she remembered my kiss as a dream. In a way, it almost was. That was the last thing I recall thinking, slipping deeply into slumber myself once more. Falling down, down, down the long dark tunnel into darkness devoid of dreams.

We slept past the dawn, well into late morning, tangled in the blankets with no incentive to arise. After all, we had the house to ourselves and no real reason to leave it. I think that Alice woke first, choosing to just lay there with one arm and one leg thrown over me, her nose so close to mine that you couldn’t have fit a pencil between them. That was the sight that greeted me when I finally forced my eyes open, blinking the glue of sleep from them. Her eyes, staring at me, full of an emotion I wasn’t ready to see. Certainly not that early in the morning. Perhaps not ever.

"Good morning, beautiful. How do you feel about pancakes?"

Suddenly I was beautiful, and not teasingly, but in earnest. It was all too much, really. Or it should have been. Instead it was kind of sweet. After all, I was the plain girl, eclipsed by her close to perfect looks. She was the one that tied the tongues of boys whenever she spoke to them or had them pining beside their lockers, wishing for the courage to ask her to the dance or a movie.

I guess I got lost in my thoughts, for her smile grew brighter, turning into a grin as she bumped my nose with hers.

"Is that a ‘yes, Alice, I like pancakes very much and would love it if you’d make some for me’ silence or an ‘I’m not really very fond of pancakes. Can you just make me some toast.’ silence?"

I giggled a little at that. She had a habit of doing that. Pulling me out of my thoughts and making me laugh, even when I didn’t want to.

"Yes, Alice," I mimicked. "I do like pancakes very much and would love it if you’d make some for me." I tried to remember the last time I’d had pancakes. Dad used to make them for mom and me every Sunday. That was before she blew her brains out, of course. Now it was either cereal or toast eaten alone in silence. Pancakes would be a treat beyond description.

"Good. Because I’m starving and even if you said no, I was going to make them anyway."

In the end, I kept her company, seated at the counter on a bar stool, while she heated up the griddle and mixed up a batch of ‘cakes from scratch, both of us still in our underwear, talking about whatever came to mind. Nothing too serious. It wasn’t a serious morning. Outside the world went on oblivious to us, just as we were oblivious to it. Her parents were a hundred miles away and my dad was at work and we were busy eating pancakes with slabs of real butter and thick maple syrup. Not the runny kind that we had at home, but the real thing from Vermont that poured like molasses from the bottle and made your lips smack together while you were eating.

"Penny for your thoughts." She told me. I guess I must been wearing a thoughtful expression. We’d moved our little breakfast party to the dining room table, sitting across from each other as we made pigs of ourselves.

"I was just thinking of my mom." I admitted with a shrug. "I miss her."

Nodding, Alice said nothing, reaching out with her hand across the table. Mine met her half way, our fingers interlacing. Putting my fork down, I leaned my elbow on the table, propping my chin up in my palm.

"I do love you, you know. Just not… like that."

It was Alice’s turn to shrug, her eyes boring into mine for a moment before shifting towards the window, staring at the world beyond through the raised blinds. "I know. It… it hurts, sometimes, Luce. But I can’t help how I feel. Even if I could I wouldn’t want to. You’re special to me."

And that’s how it stood between us. Both of us wishing we could feel differently and neither of us able to. Leaving it at that, we finished eating, our fingers twined the whole time. I was the fortunate one there, having lost the use of my left hand while she gamely attempted to shovel food into her mouth with her off hand. By the time we were done, there was a smear of syrup all over her chin as well as drippings upon her chest and, presumably her thighs. Certainly, I saw several thick raindrops disappear past the plane of the table.

It was simple, really. And yet, like I had once told her, it was anything but simple. Life was like that, something I now realize. When you’re growing up, you don’t have that perspective, at least not when you’re 16. Or, should I say, that at 16 you finally begin to gain it. That summer she would turn 17. I was fated to catch up to her 4 months later and yet, in some ways I was ahead of the curve. Almost over night, a rather painful transition emotionally, I went from girl to young woman. Oh, it had happened earlier, but that was something only I was privy to. This was the noticeable change, the one where others began to take notice. Not my dad, certainly. He rarely noticed if I was even home anymore, but I did notice it in the way boys began to treat me.

Alice said it best, telling me that the years had fulfilled their promise in me and for the first time in my life, I believed her when she called me pretty. It happened for the first time that morning, taking us both by surprise.

"Why do you love me?" I asked, my mud brown eyes locking with her clear baby blues. "I’m just so plain. There’s nothing special at all about me, Allie." I’d taken to calling her that as of late. It just seemed to fit better, now that we were older.

She replied with laughter, shaking her head, her blonde waves a moment behind the motion of her face. "Have you looked at yourself lately, Luce? You’re one of the prettiest girls at school. I heard Tom Copeland and Brian Caldwell the other day, talking about you. Besides, even if you weren’t, it wouldn’t matter. You’re special. And not because you’re crazy or you hear voices, but because you just…"

It was rare that she was lost for words. This was to be one of those mornings, however, when the right words needed to be hunted down, grasped for, cajoled from their hiding places. Finally, she shrugged, looking exasperated. "You shine, Luce. You always have. That first day when you came over for my party? I could see it in you then. I mean, I’d just met you and I just knew that we were going to be the best of friends."

I didn’t know what to say. In truth, she’d just described herself rather them me, or so I thought. She was the one whom was sun touched. She was the one who’d drawn me from my shell and if I shined, as she claimed, it was because of her. Somehow she had made me worthy of her. At that moment, something changed in me, something I couldn’t put a finger on it. No, I didn’t fall head over heels in love with her. But I did come to understand how she might have fallen for me. It was sobering.

She must have seen the little light bulb go off above my head as well, for her smile became hopeful rather then wistful as it often was in regards to this one sided love affair that we seemed to be embroiled in. Her fingers tightened on mine, and she leaned forward as if she would have shared a kiss across the expanse of the table. And then, the moment had passed and she let me off the hook, or that’s how I saw it, letting go of my hand so that she could wipe her face clean with a napkin and take a sip of her orange juice.

We left the subject alone for the rest of that day, instead staying on safer ground and riding our bikes down town to catch a movie. A romantic comedy. It seemed appropriate to both of us. Ninety minutes, two jumbo sized popcorns and two extra large cokes later, we exited the theatre holding hands. She was humming to herself, what sounded like something from the film, and I was content to listen to her as we detoured past our bikes and down to the mall for some window shopping therapy. Not that we needed any that day. Still, it was something to do to kill time and it was one of those too hot days in which you really didn’t want to be out and about any more then you had to.
 
Optimism was in our hearts as we wandered through the mall, just two giggling teenaged girls on an outing, neither of us suspecting that by the end of the day a crack would appear in our friendship for the first time since we’d met, one that would be later exploited in the war for my heart and soul. I should have expected it, knowing how vengeful some of them could be. Once again, the fault lay squarly upon my shoulders.

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