Quick Disclaimer: I do not own these characters or the world they inhabit. They were created by the fabulous people at Zombie Orpheus for their equally fabulous RPG, Masters of the Metaverse! Be sure to tune in to Twitch.TV/zombieorpheus every Monday at 6PM PST to see more!
“Hey, Alex! Did you hear what Keller Dixon is making Stephen Austin do?”
Alex turned from sink, where she was straightening her hair, to look at a small group of girls who all stared back at her. The one who had spoken, Jen, had an almost smug look on her face. Alex was well liked by pretty much everyone in school, jocks and nerds alike, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t have a few people silently rooting for her downfall. Jen was one such person, and she knew that Stephen Austin was a sensitive topic.
Alex did her best to keep her face neutral as she replied, “No, what?”
Jen smirked, “He’s making him steal a pack of cigarettes for him. He said if Stephen does it then he’ll quit messing with him.”
Alex made no reply. Jen was the fifth person today, the fifth person in the girls bathroom for that matter, who had told her this. Clearly it must be true. She turned back to the mirror and feigned indifference.
“Really? Huh. Well, I hope he doesn’t get caught or anything.”
“I thought he was like, your boyfriend or something.” Jen said, almost accusingly.
“He’s not my boyfriend. He’s just my friend. That’s it.”
Of course that wasn’t it. Stephen was more than just her friend, he was her best friend. They had known each other since kindergarten. He had shared his snack with her one day when she’d left hers in the car, and that was it. From that moment forward they were inseparable. They spent hours exploring their small town, hanging out in the booths of Frank’s Club House, renting movies and watching them until way past their bedtime. In Stephen, Alex found someone who made her feel like herself, like more than just the good girl everyone expected her to be. And then puberty hit and ruined everything. Overnight he had more hair, she had more angles, and they both had a lot more confusion, uncertainty, and good old fashioned awkwardness. Suddenly watching movies together was strange, sitting in the booths was weird, and walking through the hidden passages of town was way more pressure than either of them was ready for.
So, they drifted apart. She made friends with the entire school and he made friends with Keller Dixon. They still talked sometimes, walked home from school together once in a while, but it wasn’t the same. Not just because of Stephen’s younger sister, Liz, as they both claimed but because neither one of them could relax around the other any more. Not like they used to.
Alex finished at the mirror and, brushing past Jen and her posse, exited the bathroom. The dismissal bell rang and she made her way out the doors toward the street. She kept up the cool facade, walking nonchalantly until she was certain she was out of sight of anyone at the school before breaking into a slightly frantic run. She sprinted up the block until she caught up with the person she had been looking for.
“Hey Liz.” Alex panted.
Liz continued walking, head down reading a book and said, “Hi Alex. Why are you running?”
“Oh, I’m not running.”
“Really? You’re hyperventilating.”
“I’m – I’m not hyperventilating. I’m just breathing. You breathe faster when you’re a teenager. It’s the hormones.” Alex replied, finally catching her breath.
Liz didn’t look convinced but she said nothing, just a raised eyebrow over the top of her book. Alex waited a few moments before speaking again.
“What’re you reading?” she asked casually.
“The Count of Monte Cristo.”
“Isn’t that a little advanced for a twelve year old?”
Liz looked at her, “No.”
More silence followed and Alex was beginning to rethink her plan when Liz asked, “So what’s up?”
“What do you mean?” Alex asked, “I can’t just come and walk with you on the way home?”
“You can.” said Liz, “You just don’t. Not unless Stephen is around, which he isn’t right now by the way.”
“Speaking of Stephen’, Alex said quickly, “Do you know where he is? Have you seen him lately?”
“He was talking to Keller Dixon this morning. I don’t think I’ve seen him since lunch. Why?”
“Oh nothing, just something I wanted to run by him. What do you think he and Keller were talking about?”
Liz shrugged, “Who knows. Keller’s an idiot…and a jerk.”
“Well he is”, Liz waved her book at Alex, “The guy’s friends in this book are jerks too.”
“What did he do about them?”
“Dunno. I haven’t finished it yet, but I hope he punches them. Or kicks them. Something.”
Alex shook her head, “That sounds sort of barbaric.”
“Well yeah!” Liz exclaimed, “This is a very long book, there had better be some barbaric stuff. If I get to the end and no one gets even a little stabbed with a sword, I’m going to be really ticked off.”
“Liz, I…I think Keller might be asking Stephen to do something for him.” said Alex.
Liz narrowed her eyes briefly and then turned back to her book, “He should punch Keller, get him to stop picking on him.”
She stopped walking then and looked up at Alex, “Why is he so mean to Stephen? Why does he do that stuff to him? It isn’t fair. It isn’t his fault that my Dad left. It isn’t Stephen’s fault that our mom is the only one left to take care of us, that our stuff isn’t new, that our house isn’t cool. What makes Keller think its OK to be like that? Why is he so mean to my brother?”
Alex froze and slowly regarded the twelve year old standing before her, “I…I don’t know Liz. I really don’t. I guess some people don’t have anyone who makes them feel happy so they have to take it out on other people who are. It sucks.”
“Yeah.” Liz agreed, “He really should punch Keller.”
The two started walking again, in silence this time. Alex wanted to tell Liz what she had heard in the girl’s bathroom. She knew that something had to be done, that Stephen had to be prevented from doing what Keller wanted him to do. She knew what she needed to do, a plan was already taking shape in her mind. She just didn’t know if she could do it.
She wanted to ask Liz for her advice, ask for her help, ask her to tell Stephen not to listen to that idiot, Keller. But she knew she couldn’t, and not just because Liz was twelve and therefore a minor and should probably not be involved with literally anything that included Keller Dixon. Alex couldn’t ask for help because she was the one who had to be brave now.
She was Stephen’s best friend no matter what. No matter how weird things were between them, no matter how many rumors started, no matter how many people had opinions and comments. She was his best friend, even if sometimes he forgot that he was her’s.