AA-meetings – Chapter 3: At Sixteen

At sixteen


It are the same old lockers in the girl’s dressing room where they are recovering from an intense workout. Alex finds herself staring at her best friend. They have been there a million times before. The lockers still sound the same when they shut them with an attitude, the room still smells like a weird mixture of perfume and sweat. It has always been the same, they have always been the same. The friends discuss routines in here or math or even boys. They cry over teenage dramas or laugh about stupid jokes. Nothing about their interaction has changed over the years, not even the slightest. That’s why this is weird. That’s why Alex can’t shake off this weird feeling taking control of her.

About ten minutes ago, the two girls came out of the showers completely naked, like always, and Alex has never peeked at Amy’s gorgeous body before. But now she did and her eyes inspected every little shape of her. While Alex is busy packing her bag to head home, she can’t shake off the memory of it. By now, Amy is fully dressed again. Her shirt hangs loosely down her body and a light jeans accentuates her perfectly toned ass, like it is the most natural thing in the world. She doesn’t notice, at least not at first, and carelessly keeps applying her usual thin layer of makeup in the small, heart-shaped mirror hanging on the outside of her locker door. The girl pouts her lips so she can check her lipgloss art and a faint, confident smile of hers approves. She’s ready. Ready and happy.

But Alex isn’t. She’s still half naked, her hair’s still wet and there’s not a spot of makeup covering her skin yet. The only thing she’s ready for is to run over to her best friend and lay that perfectly shaped hand on top of her own ragingly beating heart, because it’s about to burst out of her chest. It hit her, the minute that had her entertained by shamelessly staring at Amy’s beauty – it has made her realize that she is drop dead gorgeous.

Her entire body suddenly feels warm and fuzzy, a certain feeling she has never experienced before. Amy is pretty – no, correction: hot. Halfway through getting dress, that realization has keeps her occupied until Amy finally looks over to her. Those three steps seem far away, yet Alex can smell her delicious fragrance. Blue eyes cross hers when she innocently starts smiling. Unaware of what she was doing, Alex automatically replies with the same expression. It’s soft, it’s heartwarming and uncontrollable.

“What?” Amy hesitantly asks once she learns that the uninterrupted staring won’t end anytime soon.

In an attempt to cope with the awkward situation, she flattens her blond hair once more. Her usually tough friend shrugs, smiles again in a dumb way, and finally finds a second to blink. Amy fails to make sense out of any of this, though, and closes the gab between the two of them to pull one of the laces of Alex’s bra, as if she is pointing out she’s getting dressed extremely slow today. In response, there’s nervous chuckling and a shirt gets strategically pulled in front of the red piece of lingerie.

“Come one, turtle. Normally, you jump in and out of your clothes in seconds.”

A dirty thought about jumping her surprises Alex. Her face turns red in a second.

“What?” Amy asks innocently.

The girl notices how weird her best friend is acting, but fails to put the pieces together. At the same time, she can’t help but acknowledging what a fine woman Alex is becoming. They were so little when they met. Turning six was the big priority back then, because that meant becoming ‘big girls’. Now they are in high school. They are inseparable, joined to the hip, soulmates at their best. The big six has changed into goals and dreams. Going to university, studying to score a scholarship, succeed in life. The normal stuff, but there’s one condition that hasn’t been discussed once, but that involves each other by default. The are never to leave the other alone. They wouldn’t survive, you see. Alex without Amy, that’s unimaginable. Always has been.

“You and me, promise it’ll be you and me tomorrow. Ignore all the other assholes and sluts.”

Alex’s heart started pounding rapidly the second her best friend asks her to promise her exclusiveness for the night. She smiles entertained when the second part came out, though.

“You mean our friends?”

Amy nods casually: “You are mine. My best friend.”

The dark haired beauty discovers the aching desire to grab her other half by the shirt and kiss her intensely. Of course, she refrains.

The two of them were separated for exactly two hours before they gather at Alex’s place for a dressing up party preceding the actual party itself. Two hours, still, it was too much. They called the second they arrived at home and texted throughout the following remaining time. Now they are reunited and the nervous feeling that crawls underneath their skin every time they are apart, like they’re missing a limb or something, disappears immediately. It takes them an hour to get matching outfits perfected and their makeup mastered accordingly. They decide over the important things rather quickly, but laughing kicks and gossiping interrupts the getting ready process multiple times. Whenever Amy’s around, a lot of girly, joyful noise comes out of Alex’s bedroom. Now they are at the point where the familiar sounds get replaced by concentrated silence. Both girls are staring at each other, doing the final checkup before the evening will kick itself off. Amy’s eyes roll over Alex’s gorgeous body. She’s so muscled, so ripped that, sometimes, the sight stirs up jealous feelings inside of her. And that face, that hair, those eyes – everything about her is beautiful. Alex secretly suspects her best friend to be blushing after a minute or two. Maybe it’s just a reflection of her own feelings, because she can’t even blink while inspecting that hot girl in front of her. Amy has her blond hair up in a dot, so tight that she only needs some glasses to make her look like a strict secretary from the neck up. Her outfit would blow her cover, though. She has put on a tiny, blue dress, playfully swirling over her body. Her long, small legs are meant to be stared at, and Alex does. She suddenly feels uncertain about her black cocktail dress. It could be too short, or too casual, but her bestie picks up on the insecurity right away and puts those warm, soothing hands on her bare shoulders. Alex’s heartbeat hits the roof, but the rest of her body relaxes.

“You look gorgeous,” Amy conforms. “I could kiss you.”

For a hot second, Alex wishes she would. Her breathing even stops. Then, their names reverberate downstairs.

David is waiting for them when they arrive at the living room. It smells like cinnamon in there, like it always does. The room’s poorly lit, but only to make it cosy. All around, on shelfs and cabinets, there are pictures of the family – Amy included. They apologize for the wait. There were selfies to be made.

It’s a coming and going of men at the house, though. There’s Alex’s father, George, the overly smart, bald sweetheart who has taken care of his daughter ever since her mother died while giving birth. He’d do anything for her and it’s a proven fact that he’s an exceptional dad. His warm voice welcomes Amy, casually known as his second daughter. They peck each other on the cheek and embrace.

“Daddy O, you look so fit today,” she compliments him.

For a second, he seems to blush, but the well-respected professor gathers his strictness. Next, Eli passes through. He’s David’s younger brother and couldn’t be any different. All the seriousness and dedication supporting David’s kind and compassionate personality obviously isn’t a genetic thing. The unrestrained Eli has no life goals. He’s a dedicated gamer, in love with war games, and barely drags himself to school every morning. While David has cute, brown curls and deep, green eyes, his brother slowly grows grey spots in between the thick black combover hairstyle. His eyes are brown and mysterious, just like his personality. David is passionate about food and blogging, therefore blogs about food every single day, while Eli wastes time smoking pot and hiding in his room all day. But, surprisingly, he is very socially progressed once he sits down with a few people. He gets that from his father. Uncle Aaron – even Amy calls him that – raised his two sons the best he could. The pediatrician has a busy life – doctors usually do. He works at the hospital, curing sick kids. Alex always says that no man curing sick kids can ever be called an asshole. Uncle Aaron is a bit of a weirdo, though. His long hair is tucked together in a biker-ish ponytail, which makes him look a lot cooler than he actually is. The guy’s a sore loser for a girly smile and a nice ‘please’. All her life, Alex can’t remember anything else than getting the best presents ever from this guy. One time, he promised her a pony, but she doesn’t enjoy riding a horse, so she politely declined.

His wife died as well, when David was five and Eli just turned three. Nobody in the family ever really had a mother figure. Amy jokes about it a lot, but her theory about a curse, killing off the wives at the Ochoa’s sometimes makes sense. Even grandpa, Nicolas, became a single father of two at the age of forty two. The oldest member of the family is in his late seventies and retired from his teaching career a couple of years ago. He’s not at home, for the moment. The grey sweetheart has a very active social life to maintain and barely makes it on time for dinner. Few grandparents could pull his schedule off.

“Yo, Mouse, are you joining us tonight?” Amy chant through the room, waiting for a reaction coming from the nearby kitchen.

Eli’s head appears through the doorway to blow off the offer: “I can’t. Got an online gaming contest later tonight.”

He winks and announces his departure for the rest of the night. To the rest of them, a gaming contest doesn’t seem like a worthy competition to a party, but clearly, Eli’s mind and theirs don’t think alike.

Amy’s unconsciously playing around with Alex’s fingers for the fifth minute in a row when David announces departure. They have agreed to meet some friends before they head to a party at a football player’s house.

“Amy, get your hands off my daughter and get ready,” George teases her. “The boy is waiting.”

It doesn’t stop her for a second, she’s still holding on to her best friend when she gets on her feet. David pokes his uncle in the ribs and stretches out his arms to engage in a hug: “I’ll get them home in time.”

The response is genuinely trusting: “You always do.”

The girls have fought their bodies into some jackets and wait at the front door to hit the cold of the night. Alex’s fingers corrects a little black stripe of mascara and she gets rewarded with a gratitude kiss. They both start blushing.

“How do you do it, kid, keeping it up with those girls all night?” George asks his nephew.

A lovely smile reverberates before answering: “I don’t know. I’m hoping that maybe one day, I’ll get a medal for it.”

George chuckles and scratches his bald scalp. Then he offers to pay for one if he sticks with it for another five years.

Amazing music fills the room with dancing youngsters. Everywhere around, there are sweating bodies, hypnotized by the sound waves and rhythmic moves. Every single person is smiling, if it’s not at someone, then it’s for themselves. Amy and Alex participate in the glee, never allowing their dance moves to drive them away from each other too far. They entwine hands, mouth the lyrics along, wiggle their hips at the same pace and keep that going until their feet hurt. Amy secretly films her best friend’s dancing, only to be discovered a second later. Alex cups the lens with her hand and sticks out her tongue. When it’s time to get a drink, they spy David at the kitchen of local football legend Jamie Henderson, tapping his foot to the rhythm, completely relaxed and silently happy.

“David’s got the hots for you,” Alex informs her best friend, who just looks up at her in a confused way.

“David? No way. He’s like my little brother. I’ve known him since forever,” she smirks in denial.

It’s the way he secretly looks at Amy when she’s facing someone else, or how he talks about her when she’s not around. He holds the door open for her and pays for drinks. He cooks for both girls too, but Alex knows it’s really just to impress Amy. She doesn’t appreciate her cousin showing genuine interest in her best friend, but a primeval instinct doesn’t want him to get hurt either.

“Don’t tell him that, the brother thing. He’ll be scarred for life,” is all she suggests.

Amy drags her along to an L shaped couch in the corner of the place and sits down to enjoy a quiet moment with her drink. Quickly, a crowd of friends follow their example. The boys and girls go to their school. The entire group has known each other for years. They start talking, laughing and joking around. David remains at the bar, talking to an old classmate. But Amy’s feeling tired already from all the dancing and she yawns before poking her Siamese twin with her shoulder. It makes her look at her and for a second, Alex gets lost in her own dazzled mind. She looks pretty again. Not in the pretty pretty way, but in the hot pretty way. She sees the tiredness hiding behind those fragile eyes and her heart starts pounding uncontrollably. There’s a familiarity to the feeling, the same familiarity that reminds her of every single year since she’s started remembering things. There has been no life without Amy to her. It’s always been the two of them, like tigers fighting the jungle outside. When Alex cried, Amy offered her sleeve. When a boy was rude to Alex, Amy kicked him in the guts. When Alex missed a mom, Amy took her home to make her mother be all parental over her. She was the most precious thing Alex ever had. She’d kill someone to protect her. And now she obviously looks tired and pretty at the same time. Hot, pretty, eyes stare into hers for an awkwardly long time. Then those green diamonds travel down to her lips, like they are analyzing the shape of it, the way they must taste juicy and soft at the same time. They switch back and forth a couple more times before the blonde puts her hand reassuringly on Alex’s right leg. Like it’s a necessity to touch her, to feel her right now. Amy is always the affectionate one, handing out hugs and compliments uncontrollably or putting her fingers at the lower back of her best friend to let her know she’s around.

Alex loses herself for a split second when an unexplainable feeling comes over her and her head slowly bends toward Amy’s. She kisses the blonde lovingly on the lips, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. The alcohol buzz might be to blame, but nothing about it feels weird or confusing. It doesn’t get any further, or translate into something heavier. Amy doesn’t object or reacts startled. They just sit their, in the midst of all their friends, softly and tenderly kissing each other. Five seconds later their mouths part and with eyes closed, they heave a nervous sigh. Once they find the courage to open them up again, heartwarming smiles color their faces. Their entire body feels warm. Nice warm. Coming home warm. There’s no embarrassment, no confusion. It felt right. It felt like they would like to do it again sometimes. But the loud laughter and crazy noises around them have stopped for a second. When the girls turn their heads, they notice curious eyes pointed at them. The group of friends doesn’t know what’s happening. Neither do they. Alex just shrugs and frowns in an offended way to set the record straight: “What? Don’t you have anything better to do than stare at people?”

It’s magical how seven heads simultaneously turn to the other side of the room in no time. Alex is known to be pretty relentless. She can pick a fight with anyone and win without making an effort.

It’s around two a.m. when they end up dancing on an improvised stage somewhere in the middle of a bar. The girls are joined by Katy and Jules, two of Amy’s drama class fellow classmates. Nobody wanted to go home after the party at Henderson’s ended.

Unlike Alex, Amy’s determined to achieve big things in life. She’d like to take over her family’s movie studio one day, since she’s passionate about the magical world of films and television shows. For a while, photography seemed like an interesting career choice, but that was until she started working on the movie sets last summer. She enrolled herself in drama class the first thing when school started again. To earn some money, she also offered to film weddings and birthday parties for a small price.

Alex isn’t a fan of those extracurricular activities – it means less time with her best friend – but at the same time, she feels proud about the blonde’s interest in the future. Alex doesn’t really share the same life goals – which is surprising for a change. They talk a lot about what they want in life and only Amy seems very specific about the outcome. Alex simply doesn’t have a clue. She wants freedom, a life that won’t tie her down. The thing is: she had no idea what exactly. A normal job scares her out of her mind.

Kate and Jules, the two brunettes that aren’t half as nerdy as the rest of the drama class, take out their cellphones and give the sacred time-passing of selfies a try. Alex is always eager to pose in front of a camera. It’s the thing she loves most, apart from Amy. Being incredibly beautiful and photogenic helps. As a child, her father allowed her to take part in children’s fashion shoots. And as she grew older, her desks and drawers started exploding from all the magazines and fashion articles she collected. If only there were realistic careers to aspire in that direction. But it’s nearly impossible to become a big shot in the fashion industry. Even Amy admitted that when they talked about that once. That doesn’t stop her from acting like a model, though.

“Okay. One, two, three, …” Alex orchestrates the friendly photo sharing.

She pulls the bunch of them together for a group shot, while they make weird faces and stick out their tongues. Alex then moves over to Amy and looks straight into the lens with a strict and intense look. Her shoulders lean into Amy’s body, who looks genuinely happy to be standing next to her. She looks up to her and finds herself hypnotized by the way her friend transform into a goddess when there’s a camera around. Her pale thin arms sneakily find their way around the toned waist of her soulmate. Alex doesn’t mind at all. In fact, she likes it.

In an unguarded moment, Jules turns her pretty face to the left and she coincidentally finds a man staring at her friends. More specifically, he’s highly interested in Alex’s presence. It takes a minute or three, and a couple confirming second looks before she taps her best friend Kate on the shoulder and points in his direction. The man, dressed up nicely in a suit, is surrounded by what seem to be colleagues. The group appears to be heavily discussing the foursome and the more they pay attention to it, the more uncomfortable Kate and Jules are starting to feel.

“Some creeps are checking you out,” one of them finally informs Alex, who looks up feeling charmed.

The flashing lights blind her for a second, but it doesn’t take long before she spots the five men staring her way. Maybe her dress is too short. Maybe her makeup blurred from the dancing. One certainty is that these guys are way too old to be staring at young girls like this. She turns around to block the view from them and takes Amy’s hand to soak themselves in the dancing rhythm again. Her smile is the prettiest when it’s meant for her best friend. It’s because there’s this small possibility that she’d like her having smiled at, this uncertain chance that it warms her heart the way it does when Amy smiles at her. Their fingers entwine and they forget about the rest of the world for a while, until Alex feels the unexplainable desire to turn around. She’s being watched, again, she feels it in her bones. When her body has made an impressive perfect swirl to test the theory, one of the men from before is suddenly situated right in front of her. Her eyes frown in an offended way. Normally, the girl’s all about a nice looking guy showing interest, but he must be thirty already, he should know better.

“You are gorgeous,” he tells her, loud enough for her to hear over the pounding music. “What’s your name?”

Amy quickly freezes attentively next to her friend, equally confused.

“I’m sorry. I’m not interested. You are, like, old,” Alex smirks with the intentional disrespect.

The man holds his hands up as an apology and starts laughing: “Don’t worry. I am a married man. Believe it or not, I’m even happy. I’m looking for you, but not like that.”

His left hand goes searching for a business card in the pocket of his grey vest. He presents it to her and bends over to whisper in her ear.

“I have an eye for talent. I’d like to see you in front of the camera in one of my studios soon. I brought in this major advertisement campaign, but we couldn’t seem to find the girl for the job. After watching you for a while, I think I just did.”

It doesn’t happen very often, but Alex is too startled to respond. Her brown eyes check the little card in her hands. Spencer & Riddick. Marketing and modeling agency. Interesting combination.

“But I’m not a model,” she grins, never really counting the work she once did as more than a fun activity.

The man steps back to turn away from her. Just as he’s about to confidently leave the girls behind, he looks at her again and an assuring, mature and determined expression takes over his entire being: “Not yet.”

It takes her a whole week before she finds the courage to step into the office of the strange man. It’s a massive building located in the middle of town. She wanted to put on her best dress for this occasion, but it’s so cold outside that she had to change into a fashionable jeans and a woolen, oversized sweater to fight the chills running up and down her spine. She did make an effort by putting on a fitting scarf and some gorgeous high heeled boots. When she enters the building, one of the receptionists at a white, modern desk directly addresses her.

“Can I help you, sweetheart?”

She’s a sweet woman, so it seems, busy scheduling what seems like an agenda on her computer. Alex is not sure what to say, really. It’s not like she has an appointment. All there is, is that business card. The walls are decorated by massive posters and photographs of gorgeous men and women. Models, no doubt about that. Most of them look familiar to her, from magazines and campaigns.

“I, um – I was told to come here by someone who gave me this in a bar last week.”

The shorthaired woman accepts the card and quickly looks up to her again. She asks Alex to wait for a second and picks up the telephone in front of her. It rings for a couple of times before a man echoes through the line.

“Yes. Mister Spencer, I have a young girl here at the desk. Dark hair, model-ish feature. Very pretty. Confused about why she’s here. Is it the one you’ve been talking about? For the local L’Oréal campaign?”

Alex’s jaw drops as she hears the famous name reverberate.

“Fuck,” she utters the amount of astonishment flashing through her mind.

This can’t be right. The phone gets put back in its place and a warm smile appears on the secretary’s face.

“If you are who I think you are, the boss is going to be freaking out seeing you.”

Suddenly, Alex is all sorts of confused. Why is she here? And why is she this underdressed? Her makeup probably looks like crap too. There was only time to apply some mascara and eyeliner. This is not a thought-through plan. Amy is so much better at things like this. Some nervous fingers run through her hair, in a desperate attempt to undo what the wind did to it. She prays for her heart to stop racing.

In the corner of her eye, she notices a familiar guy storming through the hallway, like death is chasing him. He accidentally passes the glass door that will lead him to the reception area, but grabs the door hold and pulls himself back to correct his route. When he sees the seriously confused Alex standing in the middle of the room, holding on to her purse innocently, he heaves a relieved sigh and bends over to catch his breath by supporting on his knees.

“What took you so long?” he gasps, smirking reproachful in an amused way.

Alex quickly takes a look behind her to make sure he’s talking to her. Sure, it is the same guy from the bar. He’s a bit more handsome in broad daylight, though. Disappointed by his lack of endurance, he stretches his back before holding out his hand to her.

“Now please tell me: what’s your name, young lady?”

Alex hesitantly shakes his hand and frowns: “Alex Ochoa.”

“Hi Alex. I’m Rick Spencer,” he replies. “Welcome. Thank you so much for coming. I have been impatiently waiting for you to show up for days now.”

The secretary silently scoffs and seems to be talking to herself when she picks up on that: “Every hour, every minute, every second. The mysterious girl from the bar.”

Rick, or mister Spencer, smiles over her comment and invites Alex to his office.

“I have big plans for you, Alex. Big plans.”

She nervously smiles and orders herself not to get her hopes up.

“You look amazing,” he states. “Doesn’t she look amazing?”

The secretary assures him she does. Alex starts blushing.

“Well, I’ve been working out.”

Then, he shakes his head in disbelief: “I can’t believe you’re only sixteen. You look way older. Way mature.”

She’s be sixteen this month.

Alex frowns, not sure to feel offended or honored: “Is that supposed to be a compliment.”

The kind smile thrown her way easily gives away the answer. The man, Rick, can’t stop staring at her beauty. His eyes sparkle. Amy’s sometimes sparkle too, when she looks at her.

When Alex was a little girl, her dad enjoyed nothing more than taking her out to the playground. A lot of times, he’d be forced to drag along best friend Amy, but there were occasions when the two of them would be alone, sharing a family moment. He’d help her get up on the slide, catch her by the time she went through the tunnel, but the favorite thing for both of them to do was sit on the swing. Sometimes he’d swing along, next to her, but usually, he’d stand behind her and push her back until she was sure she’d fall off. It always started the same: she’d be insecure and angsty about getting on it. The thing is: she never remembered the fun part of it, only the last bit where she got scared about the height and she ordered him to stop the swinging in a second. But George was a patient man, a teacher that fought his way past difficult students and long years of dull assignments. With her little, tiny hand in his, he’d bend over and smile in a way to console her.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of, kiddo,” he’d say in a soft voice.

His natural flair made it all the more assuring.

“It’s just a swing and I’m going to be very careful. And when you don’t want to play anymore, I’ll get you off immediately. It’s all going to be okay.”

It was the height that snook up on her like a scary realization of fear. Even at sixteen, Alex still backs away from standing on the edge of things. But her father holds the power to believe in anything. Each and every time she’s doubtful or reserved to do something new or challenging, she hears his words in her mind. The same voice that sung her to sleep when she was sick or scared in the dark.

“It’s going to be okay.”

When she goes looking for him in the big house they call a home, she finds the bald guy in the modern, white kitchen. He’s making himself some tea and immediately offers her a cup as well. Alex accepts the offer and kisses him on the cheek.

“How was your day, sweetheart?” he wants to know.

Her fingers nervously tap the counter repeatedly, which tells him something’s on her mind. Seconds pass, and instead of opening up, she just resumes with the annoying habit until he slaps her hand.

“Stop that. Tell me,” he orders.

She playfully pouts her lips, faking she’s hurt and kisses her own hand. It makes him laugh.

“How did you know what you wanted to do when you grew up?” she asks.

He sighs, digging decades back in his memories and grins self-confidently: “I’ve always known I wanted to teach. I loved art, photography, painting and architecture. And I loved explaining things to others. It was an obvious choice.”

It makes sense, when Alex thinks about it. But not everybody knows exactly what they want in life. She doesn’t. One goal in life seems a bit dull to her and one-sided. Amy aspires to be an editor. It has been that way for a long time and she’s determined about it. When she’s not spending time with Alex, she’s at the family company, silently observing the editors and camera people working there. She analyzes the techniques and decisions those experienced professionals make and memorizes every single one of them. Alex thinks it’s boring. She went along one time and begged to go home once her phone died. She doesn’t see the magic in it like her best friend does, and that’s okay. It’s enough for her to know that Amy loves it.

“So, kiddo, tell me. You are not that far from graduating yourself. What are you going to do with your life?”

They’ve never talked about it before, simply because Alex has no concrete response to it. She thought about becoming a teacher, like her dad. But she’d smack a kid with a big mouth, or throw away exams instead of grading them. Following the steps of her pediatric uncle isn’t an option either. There’s something about poking the insides of a person or cutting them open that doesn’t speak to her. Besides, that’ll mean another ten years in school. Who wants that? The only thing that always amused her, though, was standing in front of a camera. Guess she has two more years to come up with a perfect plan.

“It’s a surprise, dad,” she ultimately smirks.

He heaves that familiar sigh and squeezes his soft eyes as bit. One of his hands cups hers while taking another sip of his tea.

“Seriously, Alex. You can do whatever you want. Be a lawyer, be an accountant, be an artist. Be anything you want. As long as you fight really hard for it and, you know, knock all the competition out of the park, it’ll be okay.”

She nods and thinks about it for a while.

“I’ll do that.”

They sit in silence for a minute and time passes without being used properly. The kitchen smells like freshly baked cookies and Alex has no idea why. She doesn’t think the oven’s ever being used before. Sometimes she wishes she had a mom, someone who would transform the kitchen into a restaurant, where fresh pastries and delicious dishes would lure everyone to the table. But that would mean that her entire life would’ve been different. Uncle Aaron is like a second father to her. Her cousins are brothers. They all went through the same thing. They experienced loss and stuck with each other to get through it. Alex might not have a living mother anymore, but she has so many other things. She just misses the idea. Due to having a second dad and such a close and loving family, she’d never really trade it for an uncertainty – a fantasy.

“I want to be a model, dad,” she suddenly admits.

Her dad mistakes it for a silly joke.

“Are you freaking kidding me? That’s a hard world out there, Alex,” he reacts.

After throwing a look at her, his expression changes.

“Oh,” he utters, finally understanding the level of seriousness. “But you’re only fifteen?”

Nearly sixteen, actually. Just a few more weeks.

Alex thinks about his words and understand the truth behind them: “I know it’s not easy, but you just said I could be anything I wanted, right? I mean, I think I really want this.”

Her father nods hesitantly, almost regretting his own statement. The only thing he ever wanted to do is protect his daughter. Modeling is a world where predators and hunters have no mercy. It’s so far out of his comfort zone, he’ll never be able to offer her the right amount of protection. It scares him. Alex knows that.

“So, to tell you the truth, apart from modeling, I was dying to become an international drug dealer down in New York. I hear there’s a big market. But I guess this is the better choice.”

Her witty joke makes him soften up all of a sudden. She can be so inappropriately funny at times, just like her mother.

“All right, smart-ass. I get your point. You can be a model if you want to.”

She squeals an excited ‘yes’ and jumps up and down. Then she wraps her arms around his shoulders to thank him with a kiss. It’s not like he has anything to say about which direction she truly wants to go in life. But his approval means so much to her. She’d die if she’d disappoint him with her choices.

“I love how you always keep your promises, daddy,” she playfully adds before letting go of him again.

The aged man feels scarily at ease about it. If anyone can make it, it’s his flesh and blood. Look at that girl, the spitting image of her mother. Same color of skin, same dark hair, same shape of eyes and face. She’s drop-dead gorgeous. She’s a walking miracle.

“You inherited the persuasive skills from your mother, Alex. I don’t know how my life would look like with the two of you in the same house.”

The man pities himself in an alternative universe, but Alex is confident about that vision of the family they never had.

“Well, let’s be honest: those curtains would’ve never been here.”

She points to the ones hanging above the kitchen sink and grabs the beeping phone that’s stuck in her back pocket. A new text message. George turns his head offended and has a closer look at the fabric hanging aside the window. They have a beautiful grey pattern. What’s wrong with that?

“What are you talking about?”

Alex’s face lights up, but it’s not because of him. It’s the person on the other side of their texting conversation.

“Fuck. Amy’s waiting. I have to go. Bye, daddy.”

A quick peck proceeds the hasty departure before George finally recovers from the curtain comment. He handpicked them himself!

Suddenly, the door bursts open again. It’s Alex again, who returned for some reason. Patiently waiting for an explanation, George remains frozen to his spot. She squeezes one eye shut, like she forgot to tell him something and suddenly starts giggling.

“By the way, daddy. I need you to come with me tomorrow to sign a modeling contract. Okay? Bye!”

The door slams shut again. The man drops his head, fearing the phase that’ll come next, and grabs an empty glass from the cabinet, along with a bottle of half-emptied whisky.

“Oh, dear.”

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