So it was almost definitely great that she was on this cruise alone. It was a post-Steven opportunity for affirming her identity — or, at least, that’s what she hoped it would be. More likely, it would be a post-Steven opportunity for glaring at all these goddamn happy couples and wanting to shove their small intestines down their esophagi.
Alice was furious that she even knew to say ‘esophagi’ rather than ‘esophaguses.’ Steven had been pre-med.
To hell with Steven. Steven had enveloped her and compressed her and squashed her into a ridiculous mold — a metaphor excruciatingly similar to the constricting dresses she’d bought while dating him. But now she had to time-warp herself into the person she was pre-Steven.
And that meant chucking the dresses.
Standing next to the cabin’s rickety bed, she glared at the clothes in her suitcase. She slid into her slacks and suit jacket, closing her eyes as the fabric touched her skin. It had been too long since she’d worn these. Snatching the one dress she’d brought — the worst one of the bunch; the skirt was made of goddamn spandex — she clomped up the stairs to the deck, relishing the heaviness of her footsteps.
And… couples. Alice had known they were there, of course — they weren’t too subtle about it — but the spitty, suction-cup-getting-yanked-from-a-tabletop sounds of open-mouthed kisses pelted her shield of confidence. But she wouldn’t let the shield crumble so quickly. She had an objective.
Alice strode across the deck, shoving through bodies that were too tightly intertwined to step out of her way themselves, until she’d reached the railing. She watched the ocean rumble for a moment. It had been polluted by gas and tossed-in bottles and plastic bags that’d drifted through air until they gotten too exhausted to fly and collapsed into the waves — polluted enough that Alice only felt-semi guilty about what she was going to do. She dangled the dress over the rail. This was symbolic and cathartic and, fine, vaguely pretentious and terrible for the environment, but it would be (at the very least) a good story.
Forcing her fingers not to tremble, Alice let go of the dress. It was heavy enough that it plummeted straight down and smacked against the ocean’s surface, but not dense enough to sink. It rocked back and forth beneath the first layer of water, the redness of the skirt diluted by the cloudiness of the ocean. They were both ugly as all hell.
Alice felt someone come up to stand next to her. Instinctively, Alice cringed. This wasn’t how her symbolic and cathartic ritual was supposed to go. She should still have been alone. But then the person spoke. “What kind of a ridiculous straight-person dress is that?”
Alice snorted abruptly. “I’ll have you know that it’s a bisexual-person dress.”
The person shifted. Alice looked up. The person was a woman about Alice’s age, and she was leaning casually against the railing, her own presumably-not-straight-person dress fluttering against her ankles. “A bisexual-person dress for when you’re dating a man who wants you to be straight, maybe.”
Alice cringed. “Am I that obvious?”
“You’re more obvious than a drag queen at a business meeting.” Alice snorted again, and the woman smiled with one side of her mouth. “Nice to meet you. I’m Ray.”
“Alice.” Alice stuck out her hand, and Ray shook it for maybe a second longer than average.
“So are you still dating the guy?” Ray asked.
Alice stared at the dress for a moment. It was completely submerged now, bobbing a few feet under the ocean’s surface, but it hadn’t disappeared yet. “We broke up a few weeks ago.”
Ray peered over the railing again. “That’d make sense. I don’t know why you dated someone like that to begin with, though. You don’t seem the type.”
“I didn’t think I was the type, either,” Alice muttered. “But he seemed pretty damn great at first, always—”
“Nope. Never mind. I don’t want to hear that, and you don’t want to say it,” Ray said. “I’m just glad you’re not with him anymore.”
Alice looked right at Ray’s face for the first time. Her eyelashes were like finely-pointed swords. Alice nodded. “Yeah. So am I.”
Ray smiled again, this time with both sides of her mouth. “You want to sit down? See if we can get a table alone?”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Alice agreed.
Ray offered her arm in mock-1920’s-gentleman fashion, and Alice raised her eyebrows but looped her own arm through Ray’s. They turned and began to elbow a path through the couples. But before they reached the door at the edge of the deck, Alice turned one more time to glance at the ocean.
No more red fabric glinted beneath the surface.