The beginning was always hopeful. Alicia learned early that the beginning, the moment the clock starts ticking, is always the best part. Very rarely do endings make you feel elated. Exhilarated.
And here it was. Midnight of some day of the week. New Year’s Eve of some year in her life.
Alicia, tipsy and daring to lean just a little too far over the counter, reached for another glass of sherry. Snobby parties and sexual excitement tired her out. There were only so many ways she could tell old men with thick-rimmed glasses to fuck off. Fortunately for her, her presence at the party wasn’t exactly welcomed. A sadness poured off of her in waves, creeping slowly into anyone daring enough to stare at her, ultimately spoiling their evening. They steered clear after a while. This wasn’t the person she wanted to be when she’d inherited such a fantastic body.
Absently caressing the glass, Alicia wondered if she could even go by her real name anymore. Wasn’t she Mae now? And if she was Mae, who was Alicia? Often, she’d remind herself of who and what she was at any given moment, trying hard not to sink too deep into her sister.
Lonely, somber Alicia. Orphaned Alicia. Worried Alicia.
It’d been a couple of years since the incident, and she still couldn’t shake the sight of her father—her gentle and loving father—in chunks. The feel of being covered in blood, of being bathed in it. Her mother…the girls…
Head leaned back, she poured more sherry down her throat. She didn’t look old enough to drink. She wasn’t.
Mae would’ve been if she’d survived.
Alicia felt guilt rising in her throat the more beautiful she felt. She felt stunning, unique, like a beacon streaming through the partygoers. Her sister’s shoulders were so high. Her mouth, seductive and full, seemed to curve people inward when she smiled. And that was all she wanted when she pretended to celebrate with the rest of society, to look beautiful, to be enjoyed and engulfed by the world. She didn’t really understand how to exist in it.
She only understood how to overshadow it.
Mae’s body was easy to adapt to, really. Alicia felt regal when she tilted her head back and surveyed the crowd. It felt right to see above so many heads, to have to be looked up to, to dominate conversations with her mere presence. The grace of Mae was undeniable. Even with a different person running the ship, the body was too unbelievable to steer wrong. It was almost absurd the things people would do to get even a small peek at her long legs swaying below the expensive fabric she enjoyed so much. In honor of her sister and in recognition of her mother, Alicia made sure that her suitors draped her in dresses that kept her long legs visible but her back and thighs covered.
Demure with a hint of hostility.
The scars disappeared slowly, but they eventually disappeared. The healed skin of the body felt like every imaginable heaven piled softly together, bound with love and care. Alicia, with her somber personality and Mae’s vibrant appearance, was impossible to ignore.
Except, of course, when someone better came around.
A gigantic red bun attached to a thin, lanky body sauntered over to her. While Alicia had to grow into her regality and poise, this woman was born into it. Every head turned to meet her. There was no way to notice anything around her, behind her, or before her. Anything that existed around the woman was rendered colorless when she walked by, taller than the tallest man in the room and slimmer than the slimmest woman.
This bun and this body drew all the attention—including Alicia’s—away from the hybrid of somberness and regality drinking at the bar. Her gaze was sucked straight from emotionless eyes, planting all her thoughts on the woman’s long lashes.
Slowly, with the patience of a lion tamer, the woman approached Alicia. Wild Alicia. Young Alicia.
“I’ve been watching you all night. You’re a stunning little thing. I’m Yenna. You are?” Alicia, little only to the giant, sharply turned back to the bar and reached for another full glass. The nails of Yenna’s hands were like claws, motioning with confidence and a sort of lazy dominance for the bartender to make more drinks.
“Annoyed,” Alicia responded. Yenna smirked, just barely, grabbing the next glass for the sulky patron. The length of her arm trumped Alicia’s by almost a whole hand.
Alicia absolutely seethed.
“Tell me, Annoyed, what’s a pretty young woman doing drunk by herself on New Year’s Eve?”
“Avoiding lesbians.” Yenna laughed out loud this time, rubbing her neck in embarrassment. Yenna. It felt familiar. The name sunk into her chest a bit. Sober thoughts tried desperately to fight through her drunken jealousy. Yenna, whoever she was, seemed to falter at Alicia’s voice. That deep abyss of her words always had an odd effect on people. It was some sort of combination of Mae’s happy lilt and her old near-baritone. Alicia snatched the wine with force, spilling some in the process.
Yenna. Yenna? Yenna, Yenna, Yenna…
“How old are you, Annoyed?”
A sigh sauntered around Alicia’s plum lipstick. What was the point of coming out on New Year’s Eve if she couldn’t drink sherry and look pretty? A couple was kissing deeply in the corner; the man ran his hand up the woman’s leg to reveal a pair of lace garters. Alicia sighed again.
If a man ran a hand up under her skirt, would he be feeling Mae or Alicia?
“Oh, you answered! I expected you to be a bitch for a little longer. I’m 28. Now maybe you’ll tell me your name? I know it, but I want to hear it from you. I was told that you were a stubborn one.” Instantly, without much movement at all, Alicia seemed to sober up. She turned back to the woman, the stunning woman with the giant red bun, and stared.
“Of course. Alicia Free. I was told you would be short and stout, so I’m guessing you aren’t who you would’ve been if you’d made it on time. And I’m guessing you’ve seen some horrible things. Oh, Harold.” She grabbed a glass for herself and drank, a look of irritation hidden behind the gulp. Now, Alicia waited.
“Your father was quite the man. Quite the stubborn idiot, but quite the man. I told him not to marry the normal girl, and he did, as pretty as your mother was. I told him not to have kids, and he had four. And here you are, so young and so destroyed. Just the most aggressive little devil with the prettiest little Latch.”
The party was dying down around them. Outside, the weather ached against the tall windows of the hotel. This would’ve been a horrible time to run out and escape into the rainy night, to find another unlocked door and sleep on another man’s couch with one eye open. But she really wanted to get away from this big red bun.
Yenna. The one her mother didn’t want her to stay with, the one her father had been so adamant that she seek out. Alicia had expected someone much more formidable. The woman seemed so…agreeable.
“Alicia…I knew your father, and he was a hard man to kill. I’m sorry about the…well, I’m sorry about what happened to them. We all risk it at one point or another. If it’s not scared idiots hunting us down or the Shadows looking for food or bodies, it’s something else. Your father was a personal loss for me. I’m glad you were able to escape. If you allow me, I’ll keep my promise to him and teach you how to survive what he couldn’t.”
As usual, tears choked Alicia senseless. She hid her face in the glass of sherry.
“Your dress is a little big. Did you steal it?”
“Yes,” Alicia answered. And she continued to answer because she didn’t have the energy to snap back. She didn’t have the gall. This woman knew.
She knew what Alicia was, what her father was, even what her mother was so afraid of; it leaked off of this woman in waves. They were the same. Alicia realized that she could tell that this woman was the same as her father. She could even tell that Yenna was in her natural body, that she wasn’t someone else like Alicia was. She was just Yenna.
And that felt like a warm bed, better than a warm bed.
It felt like an answer.
Somehow, Alicia felt okay. She felt some weight roll off of her that night, splashing against the rain-soaked ground, sinking into the cobblestone, and disappearing forever. The things that kept her heavy in alcohol just couldn’t exist in her when Yenna was around.
Yenna was to be impressed.
They arrived at the apartment and both seemed to fear it. What could be worth ending this night? Yenna turned, dainty somehow in her long body, and gave Alicia a peck on the cheek.
“You don’t live far from here. I’ve seen you before. With that man. The one you make walk behind you.”
“That could be anyone.” They both smirked. Yenna took out a small card, too small to be a business card but too big to be a random scrap of paper, and handed it to her new friend.
“I took her body. She wasn’t dead; I was. I…I took my sister’s body.” Yenna listened but didn’t react.
“A Latch offers you a new body if yours is destroyed. You didn’t take a thing. Your father told me she agreed to it. I’m sure he explained the cost.”
“I should have died instead,” Alicia tried not to sob, but her words caught sharp in her throat. They stood for a long time before Yenna gave her a big, brilliant smile.
“It’s up to you whether or not I’ll see you again, Alicia. There’s room upstairs for you, but I won’t make you live with me. When you’re ready to come back, understand that I am not your guardian. I won’t be kind to you. I will teach you what you need to know, what Harold couldn’t show you. And make it quick, please. There’s too much danger in this world for a little devil to survive. You don’t have any bodies left to count on.”
“…yes. I’ll—I’m sure I’ll be back.”