Being back on Floor Eight was a trip, Alex realized. How long had it been? Did that even matter, at this point?
He didn’t remember the floor being so… linear. Nor the living areas leading directly into the morgue.
He didn’t remember the way that sometimes the floor curved up, so that they were walking uphill, and just as soon and just as invisibly the path would sink back down, sending him nearly tripping every time. He felt like he was on a hiking path. The others didn’t seem as bothered by it. Were they used to it?
Alex’s eyes drifted to Josie, who was brushing their fingers against the back of their arm – some sort of self-soothing motion, he guessed. What were they looking at? He tried again to follow their gaze, but it just lead to the lockers, and there were so many of them he couldn’t possibly guess if there was one in specific they were looking at.
‘Just ask them, dumbass,’ Xander chimed in.
Alex felt weirdly relieved to hear his voice so distinct and crisp after so long. He knew that Xander’s presence was a sign of something that had gone wrong inside himself, but at this point in his life, the absence felt even worse. Long after the incident, his other half’s voice had remained, but it had taken on a muddy affect, like he was screaming from the bottom of a well.
Alex had often fantasized about filling the well with water. More than once, he thought about urinating in the very same well, which Xander was keen to call things like ‘psychosexual’ and ‘fascinatingly autophilic’.
‘Are you thinking about piss again?’ Xander inquired. ‘Talk about a warm welcome!’
‘Shut the hell up,’ Alex countered, and then folded his arms and pouted.
Xander stroked his chin contemplatively, or at least Alex could easily imagine him doing so in the pause. ‘Look, you can just talk to them. Literally anything! They’re clearly nervous. Put your arm on their shoulder!’
‘I don’t want to.’ But he put his arms down and looked back at Josie, who finally noticed him and looked over. Their posture instantly relaxed, and they gave him a big smile – a real-looking one, he could tell, not one of their deer-in-headlights grimaces. He tried to match their expression, but he felt like it probably looked horrible on him, like a slasher smile or a fast food worker. Or both?
Xander started to speak, and Alex immediately winced: ‘That’s great! They like it!’ He was surprised that it was any kind of praise, and not just mocking him for being awkward. ‘Now… talk to them!’