Alex stood in front of the sink, wiping the rim of the plate in her hand with a dry towel.
It had been 10 minutes since the dinner ended and 5 minutes since Logan left. The house now immersed in silence with only the sound of the water pouring out of the faucet and the clatter of tableware.
The dinner actually went well. Alex had deduced that she and Logan had about 5% chances of arguing when an adult was present. Something she couldn’t tell quite yet if it was a good thing or a bad thing… because Logan had ways of subtly targeting her.
“So, how is the project going you two?” Lilly asked, taking a bite of her pizza, cheese and sauce merging together in her mouth. The delivery came fast and the pizza arrived hot. She had pulled the two away from their work to eat it right away. They sat on the living room floor. The usual place she and Alex ate pizza. She turned a bit of music on to set an ambiance.
Before they dug in, she also picked out a slice for their new cat, Maylin, sleeping on the window stool. The smell of food woke her up and she happily ate her piece.
“Ugh” Alex groaned, “Terrible. Logan thinks I’m not manly enough to be Romeo.”
Logan almost choked on his pizza, “I said no such thing.”
“You had me repeat the same line over and over again.”
“It was for your own good. I had to be extra critical if we want to get a high score.”
“Then, shouldn’t you focus on how exactly you’ll pass as a woman?”
“Okay” Lilly interrupted them, “No school talk for both of you. Not for now, at least. Logan, have you lived here long?”
Logan nodded, wiping the corner of his mouth, “Yeah, born and raised here. Dad moved here though. He used to live in the town nearby and mom didn’t want to travel that long to come to work so dad decided to move.”
“I see. What does your mom do?”
“She used to be the principal at Woodlands” Logan answered, taking another slice of pizza.
Alex and Lilly immediately caught it. ‘Used to,’ Logan said. A weight grew in Alex’ heart.She forgot about her pizza and stared at Logan who stayed oblivious to their silence. She could not imagine that lost but the thought of it alone already ached. How young was Logan when it happened? Was it appropriate to ask that?
“I’m sorry for your loss” Alex whispered, startling Logan and her aunt.
Logan opened his mouth to say something but when he turned to look at her, nothing came out. The stormy gray eyes he became used to were gone. Instead, they were like semi-opaque and semi-translucent glass, so smooth and clear… so raw.
He choked out, “Tha-thank you.”
Alex gave him a small awkward smile and Logan felt like he was floating on a cloud. Alex had given him an actual smile. No sneer, no glare, no insults… he burned this moment in his mind. Maybe things would turn out to be okay after all.
“You know Alex once peed in class when he was young” Lilly broke through the staring contest. A familiar tingle surfaced at the back of her neck. A sensation she remembered well from the time she saw Ethan and Angeline together. A feeling she kept to herself or Alex would build her walls higher.
“Really?!” Logan wheezed, a piece of crust hitting his uvula. He covered his mouth with his hand and coughed.
“Hmph!” Alex huffed at him, “That’s what you get for laughing at me!”
Logan regained his composure and joked, “How old were you? 4?”
“Aunt Lilly!” Alex whined. Her aunt had a slice of pizza in her mouth. She still looked as her niece called her name. Despite the pizza, Alex saw the smirk on her lips. Alex widened her eyes accusingly and flared her nostrils but her aunt only bit into her pizza, the corner of her lip turned up.
“How cute” Logan cooed, busy laughing at her embarrassing memory.
Oh, I see how it is… Alex clicked her tongue, “At least I didn’t vomit after a ride on the carousel!”
Logan’s face ashened in horror, “How did you even know about that?!”
Alex stuck out a tongue at him and ate her pizza. Just when Logan thought it was over, she added, “Too bad the girl found that as a turn off.”
“Oi! Who else knows this?”
Alex hummed to herself, “This pizza is so delicious. Can we have it for dinner tomorrow again?”
“Don’t you dare ignore me!”
Back at the sink, Alex shook the memory away and waited, watching her aunt’s face. Except Aunt Lilly seemed to be concentrating on everything her hand touched. She washed the dishes thoroughly, not a single sign of grease anywhere.
“So…” Aunt Lilly finally said, her eyes fixated on the gleaming plate she held, “Logan seems nice.”
Alex scoffed, “No!”
Her aunt jumped and almost dropped the plate. She turned her head towards Alex and raised an eyebrow, “No what?”
A thought passed over Alex’s head. Her hands stopped wiping the empty glass she held, realizing her outburst. She placed the glass on the drying rack—before she could break it—and groaned, “You’re not suggesting that I should consider him as the friend mom talked about, are you?”
“I haven’t even said anything…” Her aunt denied, putting down the plate and grabbing another.
It didn’t fool Alex. She stared at her aunt and waited for her to confess.
Aunt Lilly peeked at her and handed over a plate for Alex to dry. Eyes rolling, she said, “Oh, Alex dear, keep working, will you? I haven’t seen you bring anyone over from school. How else was I to ask about the person?”
Still, Alex remained unconvinced. She took the plate and wiped it, biting her inner cheek.
“I knew it!”
“… but I haven’t said anything?”
Alex groaned again, discovering how tense she felt.
Aunt Lilly laughed at her dropped shoulders and finally asked, “Fine, since you are so eager to tell me… why not choose him for your mom’s request?”
“Because! He stole my phone,” Alex explained without hesitation, straightening her posture and appearing cold.
“I see…” Her aunt contemplated for a moment, “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”
“Oh… he told you about it, didn’t he? He completely brainwashed you!” Alex said accusingly.
“What’s so bad about him?”
Word vomit flew out of her lips and as she talked, her aunt paused to watch her, “The guy has no boundaries. He puts his annoying nose at other people’s business. He walked in here yesterday like he owned the place. When I heard the door open, I thought it was you! Now, he wants Xandra to come before—”
Alex’s lips turned cold. The feeling flowed up to her head. She bowed her head and dried everything her hand touched in concentration.
“Fine, fine. I’ll tell you,” she sighed. Then, a bulb lit up in her frozen brain. She pointed a finger at her aunt, “Wait a minute, if he told you about the phone then, you already know!”
Aunt Lilly chuckled, “You really are clever. It took a while though. You’re getting rusty.”
“Oh my gods…” Alex hid her face in her hands. She took a deep breath and wiped her hands down her face. This week wasn’t going well. How could she lose her composure? How many slip ups did she have? This was really unlike her.
“It’s not that bad” her aunt assured her, “But I am curious as to when were you going to tell us about it.”
The distress build up in Alex had her raising her voice, “I was planning to never have to tell about it. How would I know Logan would demand such a request?”
Then, the kitchen became quiet. Lilly looked at her niece who unconsciously had a wrinkle of her forehead. Alex hadn’t always been this unsociable. Only now did she realize how much Alex would go through to keep her distance from people. No wonder her mother really wanted Alex to make a friend. At this rate, Alex wouldn’t do a thing about it at all.
She wondered what else could be done?
“When he asked about Xandra, I had no idea what to say. So I asked him his reason for it then, he told the whole story” she bumped Alex’ side and added, “I knew it had something to do with you. It doesn’t take a genius to know Xandra was you, Alexandra.”
Alex sighed in relief, “Thank you. I’m so glad you picked it up”
Lilly chuckled, “You owe me big time, kid.”
“I know, I know,” she sighed again, “I’ll make it up to you”
“Be careful. If you don’t play this right, it will be a huge mess. This is bigger than merely hiding your identity. You’re pretending to be two people.” Lilly squeezed her niece’s shoulder assuringly, “If I were you, take the chance your mother gave and tell him. That way your mother would be happy and Logan wouldn’t feel betrayed.”
Alex didn’t answer her right away. She was in a slump and Logan was a big boulder that wouldn’t budge in her favor. If everything really went downhill, could she really trust Logan with her secret?
“I’ll think about it.”
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