Don't ask me how or why this happened. I made a fanmix for LJ and then I wanted to write a fic to go with every song and then… these happened. Hmph. I honestly never expected to have written more than one fic for this movie, but now I'm not sure that I'll be sticking with just two. :I HMMM.
I didn't put in the lyrics for the songs, but if you want a link to the mix or the list of songs that inspired this all, just ask.
I have this crazy fanon that Alice has an eating disorder in high school. She seems like the type. All that angst has to go somewhere. There's a brief mention of that, so if you're squicky about that stuff or it offends you, I'd recommend you go elsewhere.
None of the characters mentioned in this story are my property. This is a fanwork.
He never asked Alice why she spent her hours with him and Martin and Preston and Cary and Charles. When autumn came around and the trees turned orange and red with exhaustion, Joe found himself constantly surprised that Alice still existed, that she was able to survive in any world that didn't contain the summer. She was like something entirely separate from the real world, like a thought that only came up once a year. He had expected her to wilt and wither, to redden with the trees, but she didn't. Her nose would get pink and shiny in the wind and she would always wear a ratty old knitted brown scarf, but that was the only change. He would have to reassure himself that she was still with him – that she hadn't taken off like a glowing ship into the balmy pit of the nighttime.
He sometimes wondered if it made him selfish, thinking only of saving Alice from the creature and not the sheriff, or Breen, or the lady with the curlers. But then he remembered that no matter how many of them were or weren't still alive, Alice was safe.
He had never felt that he'd done enough for her until she was watching him silently in the dank pit that the creature was hiding in. But when she looked at him, and when he began to feel already more breathless than before, he realized he'd done the right thing, that if he had waited just another moment, that if Cary had needed to click the lighter just one more time, he would never have seen the galaxies in her eyes again.
It didn't exactly fit with the times – Joe had seen his mother do it, maybe, but never someone his age – but Alice would weave headdresses of flowers and drape them through her hair and lie on the grass and spin around the trees. She preferred begonias and daisies and pansies.
People would call her nuts when she'd go out and dance among the maples.
Joe called her beautiful. He called her springtime.
Joe was seventeen. Alice was eighteen, older than him by three months, bully for her. They had ceased talking about That Summer as soon as high school started, and this silence had always put a distance between them, a distance they were unable to cross by just a toe or an inch. He had lost a part of himself to Alice when It Happened, a part he always thought she would keep and cherish. But she had wanted to forget about holding his hand. She had wanted to wait, to think, to figure things out. He hadn't minded. She wasn't mean. She was just inscrutable.
But she came to his house that night when they were seventeen and eighteen, and she had knocked on his window just as she had once, four years ago. He had helped her in just as he once had, and she wasn't wearing little blue sneakers but black Chuck Taylors that went up to the ankle, and ripped, tight jeans and a white t-shirt and a leather jacket that had once been her father's.
"Is everything—?" he started to say, but she landed on the carpet like a cat before drawing herself up to his height (well, three inches below his height), putting her arms around his neck, and saying, "Please don't talk; just listen, okay, numbskull?"
He had nodded, perplexed, dizzied by the feel of her pinkies on the nape of his neck. Her hands were freezing.
"I'd like to apologize."
She scowled at him, deadpan, as though he was missing something incredibly obvious, before saying, "For not doing this sooner."
And then she kissed him.
He always thought Alice had the power to end all worlds, to glow and pulsate until they were all obliterated in a magnificent cascade of gingham and sapphire, to shout at the top of her lungs and cause skies to cave in.
She had certainly ended his.
In the urgency of all the running, of all the burning and heartbeating and rib-cracking and exploring and understanding of That Summer, That Night, he had wanted to tell Alice so many things he could never comprehend how to say. He wanted to grab her by the shoulders and tell her that he had once sat in English class and counted every single one of her eyelashes and that they had gone up to a whopping 178, more than the average human's, and that they were all incredible; he wanted to tell her that he had found a bottle of blue paint that was the exact colour of her eyes and that maybe he'd make a model of her one day, because he... what was the word his dad used, when he talked to his mom?
An inane thought persisted in his mind even as he stared down the creature, somewhere in one derelict corner of his consciousness:
Did he actually love Alice Dainerd?
Was that what this was called?
She lost a little bit of her verve when they were freshmen in high school. She thought nobody noticed that her bones were starting to stick out like rigor mortis fingers. She thought nobody noticed her pallor, the dark circles that always hung under her eyes like nooses.
For a while after That Summer, Alice got into the habit of avoiding eye contact with Joe. She would always look at some point directly above his head, or to the left of his clavicle, or right on the bit of his neck that a line of her glossy lipstick had once rested on. Every day he would beg her, silently, to just look up, to look at him. He hadn't seen outer space in such a long time, and she wasn't making it any easier by hiding his quickest way there whenever she looked away.
He didn't cry about his mother until seven months after she died.
Alice was there.
She had always been a bit taller than he was, so he found himself sitting beside her on his bedroom floor with his face buried in the side of her neck, his features twisted and screwed by the sobs, by the agony, and her hand was on his shoulder, and she thought he didn't notice, but she was crying, too, silently and resolutely, as though she'd been holding off until now.
It was a standard achievement to sneak out of one's own house, especially for a girl. Everyone thought Alice was a lesbian because she spent so much stupid time with all those stupid boys – Charles and Cary and Martin and Preston and Joe and the like – and because she never talked to anybody and because her clothes always looked a little loose on her. But the truth was, she spent nearly every night in the summer creeping out through the front door while her father snored blissfully upstairs, and she'd ride her bicycle over to Joe Lamb's house, and he'd be waiting for her, always, longingly sitting at the window, forearms resting on the sill. Sometimes he'd fall asleep, and she'd sit there and watch him for a while. His mouth sort of hung open and his eyelids fluttered and twitched.
She'd then whack him, hard, on the head, and he'd wake up with a grunt of protest.
"Dumbass," she'd say, and then she'd come in. She never stopped requiring his assistance.
Joe had known Alice since the second grade, when she moved to Lillian after That Thing With Her Mother. All the boys had thrown mud at her, but she'd squelched all resistance immediately by getting into fist fight after fist fight and winning all of them.
"She's not tough or anything!" Cary would complain. "She's just so bony that it hurts getting hit by her!"
Joe had managed to avoid any altercation with Alice, and he considered this to mean that she had a soft spot for him. He soon found that this wasn't the case.
It didn't matter that she gave him a black eye for talking to her, though, because it was then that Joe Lamb realized that, one way or another, he would be Alice Dainerd's first kiss, and that she'd be his.
Alice went to the New York Film Academy with Charles and Martin. Joe went to Marietta College to study art, though he was still in Ohio, too frightened to leave any of it behind for fear that That Summer would cease to exist and escape him.
When they came home for Christmas for the first time, Joe drove to Alice's house before he even went home and waited outside in the snow for her to arrive. The world was dark and navy by the time she and her father finally pulled up.
Ironically, her father seemed far happier to see him than she was.
"Joe Lamb, my God," he said, shaking Joe's hand so hard that it was the closest he'd ever come to knowing what having an epileptic fit felt like. "Look at you, man; Jesus Christ. I remember when you were about yay high."
He put his arm out and down, about level with his waist, and Joe had to tilt his head to see. He had shot up nearly eight inches during the summer after That Summer, but he was all gangliness and skinniness, which would always make his aunts fret at Thanksgiving dinners.
He chuckled and nodded, and Mr. Dainerd clapped him on the shoulder with a grin before going inside.
"You 'n Alice can chat as long as you like. Swear to God she wouldn't shut up about you the whole drive over. If I have to hear 'Joe Lamb' one more time I'll blow up City Hall."
Joe's cheeks flushed, and it wasn't from cold. His earmuffs were starting to gather flakes of snow in them, as was his scarf and his zip-up jacket.
Alice had been lingering on the steps while Joe and Mr. Dainerd had conversed, holding a battered suitcase while a bigger one sat beside her, and Joe had to keep reminding himself that she was staying, not leaving. She was wearing black tights and brown Oxfords and some sort of dress; he couldn't tell what was under the thick wool gray peacoat and calico scarf. Her hair was still long, down to her waist, but she had tied it up and put on a beret.
"Hi," he said. It seemed like such a stupid word.
She blinked, slowly and cautiously. There were snowflakes trapped in her eyelashes, all 178 of them.
"Hi," she replied. A group of carolers walked slowly by, chanting "The Holly and the Ivy."
"You look," he said. "Um."
"Thanks," she said.
"So how was it?" he asked.
"Good," she answered. "You?"
"Oh. Fine." He shrugged passively. "First year and all. Not much to report."
"Yeah." Her lips twitched upwards slightly.
"Do you, um." He gestured to her suitcase. "D'you want help with that?"
"Oh. Um, sure. Yeah, sure. Thanks."
He loosened with relief at her acceptance and picked his way down the stairs, taking the large suitcase on the ground. He straightened back up after bending down to retrieve it, and suddenly Alice was close to him, closer than she'd been a moment ago. He glanced down at her feet. Snow was caked around them. She hadn't moved.
He saw her start to close her eyes and remembered the first time he'd kissed her, how she had taken initiative, and he was determined to prevent that from happening again. He dropped the suitcase and leaned forward, snatching her lips up before she could reach him, and he put one hand against hers, clasping it tightly.
The carolers were in the distance now, having moved on to "Beautiful Star of Bethlehem."
He moved away from her, and she followed his head for a centimeter even after they had detached.
"Alice Dainerd?" he said.
"What?" she retorted, sounding almost impatient.
"I want to apologize."
"For what?" She stared up at him, bemused, her chin pointing toward the center of his collarbone.
"For not having done this sooner," he whispered. He stroked her face with the back of one mittened hand and kissed her again.
"What?" she exclaimed, but against his lips it sounded like "Whumf?"
"And for not having said this sooner," he breathed. "And that's that I love you. I think. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you now."
"Dumbass," she murmured.
From inside, Mr. Dainered rolled his eyes and went to fix himself a drink.
Alice Dainerd lay awake at night.
She lay awake and monitored the tempest brewing inside of her, measuring the intensity of the turmoil that tossed itself at the sides of her chest.
When she sprouted a pair of breasts, Joe was the only one who never looked at her any differently.
When she had been in the bathroom one day with a finger down her throat, heaving into the toilet, it had been Joe who had walked in by accident because he'd been meaning to ask her what the math homework was. It had been Joe who had refused to leave until she'd downed every spoonful of soup that he had made.
When she was a girl trapped in the caverns of a terrifying creature from another world, it had been Joe's face she had awoken to.
When no other boy had asked her to the prom, it was Joe who was standing outside her window one night, holding a sign upside down.
When she had grown back all of the muscle and flesh that she had so violently rid herself of all those years, it was Joe that she showed herself to for the first time.
When the first snow of every winter came to Lillian, it was Joe who woke her up at five in the morning just to see it, for years and years and years.
And when she lay awake, as it has just been said, and monitored the aforementioned storms, she knew it was Joe who caused them, and Joe who would forever hold the power to quell them, even if he didn't notice.