She doesn’t like it.
Maggie shifts from one foot to another. Alex’s clenched hands waiting for the dismissal, Eliza’s twisting frown; all anticipating the inevitable.
She doesn’t like their choice.
The listings are spread out on the counter— glossy, coloured printouts detailing three properties. Three possibilities for their future boiled down to a few pages.
Eliza flicks through each option, the whisper of paper the loudest sound in the kitchen. Her brow furrows as she studies the photos, compares square footage, bathrooms, furnishes, decking.
“This is the one you’re thinking about?” she eventually asks, drawing herself up to look at Maggie, the safer option.
“It’s not decided yet,” Maggie replies, sensing her wife fuming to her right, “This one just really spoke to us.”
The listing in question is for a Mid-Century Modern home close to the city. They’d been captured by the earth tones and the organic materials, the open floor plan and endless glass windows looking out onto a vibrant backyard. There were delicately crafted built-in bookshelves for bonsais and knickknacks, and all of their furniture would match perfectly. For Maggie, it was love at first sight.
“Why don’t you think about this one?”
Eliza pulls the second listing forward. The Victorian, with its rounded tower and covered porch. The painted balustrades gave it a certain old-world charm, but the decor was too dated and the bathrooms were in desperate need of an update. The price may have been right, but too much work would have been needed inside to make the space feel like home.
The amount of time it would take to strip all of the wallpaper in the Victorian was enough to make Maggie balk.
“We thought it was too old-fashioned.” Alex motions to Maggie with her chin for backup.
“There was too much work to be done on the inside.” Maggie shuffles the Mid-Century back to the middle of the island, deliberately pointing at its interior photographs. “Not so much with this one.”
“It’s in a nice neighbourhood,” Eliza insists, moving from suggestive to stern, “A school district.”
Alex’s eyebrows hit her hairline and Maggie clears her throat. The topic of children had cropped up before they had gotten married, and while they had decided that one day they wanted to have a kid, they hadn’t discussed the specifics. School districts hadn’t even been on their checklist for their future home.
“Again, it’s between this one and...” Maggie reaches for the third listing, a Cape Cod further into the suburbs, but Alex pushes-
“But we’re leaning towards this.” She points at the Mid-Century Modern again.
Eliza clucks in her throat. Not a good sign. “So you want to live in your apartment, more or less?”
“This isn’t my apartment.”
Unphased by the hard tone, her mother flips through the photographs of the listing with a critical eye. “The colour, the layout of these rooms, you could easily fool me…”
Alex flinches, faltering at her mother’s tone. That kind of criticism cuts deep, particularly from Eliza Danvers. Maggie can already sense that Alex will withdraw, will feel silly, will feel her mother is right and this is an immature choice. She squares her jaw, ready to play the daughter-in-law card. Eliza won’t speak against her.
“Actually, Eliza, I really like this property, too.” Maggie meets her gaze cooly. “It was my choice to view it. Just so happens it’s great inside, too.”
Alex squeezes her hand in gratitude. This line of questioning was odd. Alex and her mother have made great strides with their relationship over the years, particularly after the wedding. It wasn’t unusual for Maggie to come back to their apartment after a long shift to find Alex happily chattering to Eliza on the phone about a new scientific study.
A thump and rustle from the bushes outside calls an end to the standoff. Kara blusters through the back door, grumbling about overtime at work and impossible deadlines. Eliza turns from the listings to greet her younger daughter, affording Alex and Maggie breathing room.
Kara grabs a carton of milk from the refrigerator door, shaking it before gulping the last of it down. Alex rolls her eyes in disgust.
“So, made a decision yet?” Kara asks, wiping milk from her lip and peering at the counter, “Oh, that’s the one I like!”
It’s the Cape Cod that Kara points to— with its painted shutters and gabled roof. When they had viewed it a few days ago, Alex had been charmed by the neighborhood and the fireplace with its original brickwork. It was after that that they’d toured the Mid-Century Modern that they had both loved, but Maggie worries that Kara’s influence might sway Alex’s favour back in the opposite direction.
With the four of them are split across the properties, she gathers the listings in a pile, eager to move on from the conversation.
“Hey we need more milk,” Kara interrupts Alex’s description of the hardwood floors, smacking the empty milk carton still in her hands onto the counter.
“I can go to the store.” Alex turns to her mother. “Keys?”
“Please,” Eliza says, “I put them on the hook.”
The hook in the kitchen where they always hang their keys is conspicuously empty.
“Um, I’m not quite sure where I put them.” Eliza frowns. “My bag?”
Kara leans up against the counter, scrolling through her Twitter feed on her phone as Alex rifles through their mother’s purse. The stretch of silence only seems to make Maggie uncomfortable.
“Nope.” Alex shrugs, popping the p.
Maggie’s experience with Alex has taught her that things can get forgotten in the rush of getting ready to go to work. She’s well aware of the scatterbrained scientist stereotype— the genius whose head cannot contain any knowledge beyond their work— but something about this seems wrong. Eliza has never been that stereotype, always precious and carefully put together. On previous Midvale visits, Eliza’s keys have never been out of place.
Kara pops off her glasses, squinting and scanning the room. “They’re in Eliza’s coat.”
Alex nods and turns to the coat draped over the back of one of the kitchen chairs, rooting through the pocket.
“Found them!” The keys dangle from her finger, along with another object. “Also one of your lab pens for the cryovials.”
Eliza blinks. “Oh, I must have left it in...my pocket.”
Alex returns it to the coat, jingling the car keys. “I accidentally leave those in the pockets of my DEO lab coat all the time.”
She and Eliza share a laugh, but Maggie doesn’t join in. Her mental evidence board fills with pins, demanding her attention. Her mind struggles to connect the threads, but it feels like she’s the only one picking up that something isn’t quite right.
She picks up Kara’s abandoned milk carton, giving it a squeeze. Empty, hollow. The cryovial, the coolness, the keys.
Finding no conclusion, she throws the carton in the trash.
The rain comes, scattered at first. It dots the single windowpane of the sparse laundry room, sporadic and uneven. Clouds drift, blocking the sun, casting the world in gentle greys. It darkens shade by shade until the sky opens up.
As the rain streaks along the glass outside, two women dressed in sweatpants and faded band shirts fall into a familiar dance inside.
"She doesn't like it," Alex’s voice breaks through the distant pattering of rain on the roof.
It’s growing darker, atmospheric as the storm rages on, both outside and within Alex.
"She's pushing for the Victorian."
"You like the Mid-Century. We like the Mid-Century. That's what's important," Maggie insists.
Alex pauses, the pillowcase half folded in her hands. "Kara likes the Cape Cod."
Maggie grits her teeth. The Mid-Century Modern ticks more of their boxes than the other two properties— she and Alex both agreed on that. She doesn’t want Alex to doubt herself or her desires, or to allow her opinion to be swayed.
Alex sets the pillowcase onto the growing pile of folded sheets. "You want the Modern, right?"
Maggie focuses on her task, fabric taut in her grip. “Look, I loved it. But we should make the choice together. If you love it, we get it."
It comes out sharper than she expects, and when Alex recoils, she steps forward and kisses her cheek. "Now, the sheets."
They circle each other in the laundry room like they’re following steps to a routine, tossing pillowcases back and forth in a rhythm. The sheets have long cooled from their cycle in the dryer, but they still smell of detergent that tugs at memories long forgotten.
Alex’s eyes peer over the edge of the blue cotton top sheet.
Maggie is glad her mood has picked up. “I’m beginning to think this is foreplay for you,” she says, grinning at the devilish expression that is revealed as they step together with a corner in each hand.
“Foreplay?” Alex challenges.
“Yeah, your repressed need to be a teenager and fool around in your parent’s house comes back stronger every time we’re here.”
Alex doesn’t deny it. Instead, she ducks down to steal both a kiss and the corners of the sheet from Maggie’s hands.
Outside, the rain continues to fall. The wind batters at the chimes on the deck, sending their tinny noises of distress to reach through the walls. Maggie moves to the window that faces the backyard, and looks out at the deck, feeling amniotic, safe from the storm.
Two years ago, they had stood beyond that same deck on the sloped lawn, exchanging their vows in the Danvers’ back garden in front of their closest friends and family. Two years of marriage, yet they’re still in their honeymoon phase, with no sign of it ending.
When they've cleared the dryer, Maggie spies clothes still left in the washing machine. She lifts the lid and is taken aback by the sour, musty smell. They must have been left overnight, possibly even a few days. She glances over to where Alex is humming and placing their folded sheets into piles.
Not wanting to embarrass her or her mother, she grabs the detergent nearby and clicks on a quick hot wash.
Alex sidles up to her, threading their fingers together and squeezing. She hums a lilting tune Maggie recognizes as their first dance, and kisses the back of her head.
“You put on a wash?” she says, eyes twinkling as she pulls her closer. She twirls Maggie once until she’s pressed back behind her, mouth warm on Maggie’s neck.
“Looked like it needed to be done,” Maggie lies. Her eyes slip closed and she allows herself to be led in an impromptu slow dance.
It’s not out of the ordinary for her wife to be so generous with her touch, but being in her childhood home has made Alex even more affectionate.
Still, even safe in her wife’s arms, her mind is buzzing. She thinks of the washing left alone to grow mold and mildew. Eliza must have been distracted. Something weighing on her from work perhaps.
“What’s wrong?” Alex sways them from side to side, tucking her chin into Maggie’s shoulder.
“I don’t know I feel…” Maggie trails off, unable to vocalize her reservations. There’s nothing sinister about this— being here with her wife, helping her mother-in-law with the laundry. It’s mundane. Ordinary. They’ve been here so many times before. “Maybe I just need to switch off.”
Maggie turns and as they kiss, she grips Alex’s upper thighs and hoists her up onto the washing machine on an impulse.
It isn’t like they haven’t before. In fact, on their last visit, Maggie had taken advantage of Eliza’s presence in the study upstairs, enjoying the way Alex’s hand pressed tight over her mouth to stifle the whimpers lost in the rumble of the machines as Maggie brought her to the edge.
“Later, I-" Alex’s plea is lost in a moan as Maggie kisses her neck.
For a moment they’re lost in each other, giggles joining the gentle swishing of the washing machine as they kiss, soft and unhurried. Maggie nips her lower lip and Alex pushes back on her shoulders. Her eyes are reproachful, but she’s grinning and Maggie longs for the lazy weekends that they’ll have in their future home.
"Later, I promise.”
Alex hops down from the washing machine, kissing Maggie once more before she moves away, lifting the stack of neatly folded sheets and walking out.
Maggie misses the heat of her instantly, left with nothing but that tight fist of dread around her stomach.
They file back into the kitchen, where Eliza potters about. When they arrived at noon, she had been in good spirits. It had been a few months since they’d been able to find the time to make the drive to Midvale, and she had greeted them with hugs, offerings of dessert, and a list of chores.
Now, her brow is furrowed as she stands by the toaster, hands on her hips. Maggie hadn’t noticed before, so happy to be out of the car after such a long drive, but she seems thinner than the last time they met for brunch in National City. A little more frail.
Has she been eating?
She wonders if this is just part of growing older— noticing the greying hair and crows feet on her elders. This is her first brush with it. Her aunt is only ten years older than she is and she hasn’t seen her parents since she was fourteen.
“I’m trying to find the sheets for you to fold,” Eliza says, opening the door to the pantry.
“You already did.” Alex skips past her mother into the kitchen where she plucks a short vine of grapes from the fruit bowl. “They’re done and in the closet.”
Alex pops a grape from into her mouth and waltzes off, but Maggie sees the twist in Eliza’s face. It’s subtle— but Maggie is trained to watch people, to notice the things that people try to hide. She sees the quick flash of panic in Eliza’s eyes.
The rain beats harder, thundering outside.
Eliza asks her to set the table before dinner and Maggie readily agrees, accepting the stack of dishes with a smile. Alex has retreated into the kitchen to check on dinner, so she’s happy to have another chore to distract her from what is quickly becoming her strangest visit to Midvale.
She sets each plate down and frames it with the silverware, but when she reaches the head of the table she stops. There’s four chairs at the table. Four plates at each place.
There’s one plate still in her hands.
She chalks it up to a simple case of miscounting, but during dinner, she grows even more concerned.
Eliza serves herself a helping of brisket and mashed potatoes, but it remains untouched, even after her daughters start eating. It’s as if she’s waiting for something. Or someone. She’s shaken out of her trance when Kara prompts, but Maggie catches her glancing down at her watch in between bites.
Maggie has an inkling, but it’s a lead she doesn’t want to follow. Going down that rabbit hole would mean acknowledging that Eliza isn’t just tired or distracted or overworked from long hours at the lab.
It would be something else.
Something that could upend their entire lives.
After dinner, Maggie leaves Alex and Kara to tidy up, going upstairs to look for Eliza.
She finds her mother-in-law in Jeremiah’s old office, shuffling around with a pile of papers on the mahogany desk.
She knocks on the doorframe. “Eliza?”
“Hello.” Eliza turns to the door with a smile, but pauses, her smile falling when she catches sight of her. There’s a second where Maggie wonders if Eliza has not just forgotten her name, but her.
“Are you okay?” She approaches, unsure if her presence is truly welcome. “You were quiet at dinner?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” Eliza waves off the concern with her hand. “Cleaning up this clutter, however…”
Maggie watches as she clucks her tongue, taking a stack of paper and tapping it on the desk to align the edges. This clutter could have only been made by Eliza, yet she’s bustling about and-
“I tell him all the time, clean up after yourself.”
“You tell who?” Maggie prompts gently.
Eliza looks around, seemingly having drifted off again into her own world. She settles the papers all down together as if realising what she’s doing for the first time, gaze falling to a framed photo on the desk— herself, Jeremiah, and a young Alex smile back at her.
The youngest member of the photo comes in at that moment. “Please tell me you aren’t showing Maggie the embarrassing high school photographs again.”
Maggie watches Eliza mouthing her name, as if she’s hearing it for the first time and is trying to commit it to memory.
Maggie, Eliza mouths
Memory, Maggie thinks .
The next morning, Maggie gets up early.
Despite Maggie’s insistence that they keep the volume of their fooling around to a minimum, Alex had been in a mood and Maggie quickly abandoned any pretense of propriety in the guest room. But even as Alex’s fingers slipped beneath the waistband of her underwear, she couldn’t seem to switch her brain off enough to get into it.
Grabbing Alex’s wrist, she had flipped her wife over, pressing her down into the mattress. She had then spent the rest of the night focusing on Alex’s pleasure, scuffing out an excuse for no return touch.
Now in the blue light of morning, she’s clear headed and undistracted, letting her wife sleep while she goes looking for answers.
When she pads into the kitchen, Eliza is awake and rummaging through various drawers.
“I don’t know where I put them,” she sighs, motioning towards the key hook on the wall.
“Alex took them yesterday, remember?” Maggie steps closer. The threads connecting. Each piece of evidence previously collected coming together. “I think they’re still...in the bowl.”
The where Alex always puts them is unspoken.
She can’t put this off any longer.
Maggie takes a seat at the island. “Is there a reason you asked Alex and Kara to visit?”
For a moment, Maggie thinks she’ll protest. Another excuse. Another attempt to hide the truth. But instead she deflates.
“Of course you would notice.” She joins Maggie at the island, shoulders slumping. It’s almost as if she’s relieved not to have had to bring it up herself. “I’d hoped it wouldn’t be...visible, yet.”
She lays her palms flat on the granite countertop.
“I’ve known it was coming, of course.” Her voice is oddly calm. “It’s genetic. I had to watch my mother’s slow decline, but this…I’m in my early fifties. My girls are still so young.”
“When did you first suspect?”
“Six months ago.” She sighs. “Work has been difficult. Having to reread protocols, repeating reagent additions.”
“And your keys.”
“My keys. It was the same for my mother. Small things at first— the remote, her reading glasses, her house keys. But then she couldn’t remember where she was. Who we were. Where her home was. Jeremiah and I tried to shield Alex from it as much as possible but…”
She trails off, closing her eyes. On the counter her fingers have started to tremble.
When she finally speaks again, her voice cracks. “I thought I had more time.”
Maggie places a hand on her arm.
“Last night in the study…” Eliza’s eyes are pained. “For a moment I wondered if you were a friend of Alex’s from school. Then I realised that couldn’t be right, you’re an adult woman. It came back to me, all at once, that you married my daughter. You’re her wife, but your name still escaped me.”
It’s more advanced than Maggie had suspected then. Eliza must have been showing signs for a long time, but none of them had seen it.
Or they hadn’t wanted to see it.
She wonders grimly if the changes would seem less drastic if they had visited more often.
Though Eliza had been widowed at a young age and grief had driven a wedge between her and her eldest, her daughters were still present. But as her children aged, she was left alone in this house with only memories. So many empty rooms. So many ghosts.
Maggie thinks back to the laundry, half-washed and festering in the machine. How long had she been struggling to do the washing? There were groceries in the fridge— no takeout containers— so clearly she was able to cook. But how long would it be before she forgot to turn off the oven after making a meal? How long until she could no longer drive to the grocery store?
“Please, don’t say anything,” Eliza pleads, “I want to be the one to tell them.”
“I can’t lie to Alex.” It goes against every instinct she has, but this is something her wife needs to hear from her mother. “So, I’ll shower and go out.”
“Til noon.” Eliza’s jaw is tense.
She retreats and climbs the stairs, burdened with Eliza’s confession. Each step has her grappling with the revelation, with what it will mean for their lives going forward. As she enters the guest room, Alex catches her around the waist, and she startles at the touch. Her hair is wet, fresh from the shower, and she smells like strawberries, clouding Maggie’s senses even more.
“You never let me repay the favour last night,” she flirts, her breath hot on Maggie’s ear.
Hands remaining limp at her sides, Maggie deliberates on whether to shrug Alex off or pull them closer together.
“Alex…” she starts.
“Didn’t wanna risk it, hmmm?”
Alex nuzzles her neck, nipping at her earlobe, and Maggie shudders with want. A touch presses over the waistband of her pyjamas, questioning.
But she knows.
She knows and Alex doesn’t.
Alex, don’t put your hand down my pants, your mother’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Before she has properly weighed the scales, she is tugged into the guest room and pressed back against the wall. Alex’s expression dances with glee in the morning sun.
“You’re being coy with me, Maggie Sawyer.”
She shouldn’t lean into this, not when she’s hiding this awful truth, but when their lips meet, Maggie’s brain goes blissfully blank. Alex’s hands are working that lazy kind of magic she has in the morning— where she’s seeking skin and isn’t being too delicate about it.
The way a fat drop of rain slides down the curve of a leaf, arousal drops into her stomach, lush and blooming. No longer limp, her hands reach for Alex’s wrists, gripping once to encourage, then climbing up to grip shoulders and the nape of Alex’s neck.
“Alex,” she pants, barely more than a breath against her wife’s jaw.
“I know,” Alex says. Even in the meagre light, eyes shine with lust and with want and a brightness that is uniquely hers.
They fall together in a kiss, and Maggie relents, letting Alex have her— have this.
No, more than that. She guides Alex's hand into her pyjamas, her underwear, a gasp against her temple betraying her wife's approval at the reaction.
She savors it, the feel of her. The deft touches, learned touches, ones which leave no choice but to bow to the pleasure as Alex’s fingers move exactly as she likes it. She hitches her knee against the muscle of Alex’s thigh.
“Quiet,” Alex teases.
It isn’t long before she’s mouthing aimlessly into the tendons of her wife’s neck, lost between the frigid wall and her lover, swept away into the ecstasy of flushed cheeks, trembling thighs, hands clenching in Alex’s cotton shirt.
And after, as she gasps against the wall, she is afforded just a few seconds of bliss before the guilt arrives like a cold snap.
“Didn’t take you long to melt into that,” Alex murmurs, leaning in to kiss her again, “usually you put up a little more resistance.”
But Maggie’s lips are numb, unmoving against Alex’s, whose playful mood turns to concern.
"Hey, you okay?" Alex asks, nudging their noses together. She moves away to the safer spot of Maggie's hip.
"Yeah, just…" Maggie wiggles out from between the wall and Alex, moving for fresh clothes.
Maggie catches her chin, kissing her slowly. Alex doesn’t look convinced, but she leaves her to shower.
She cranks the temperature as hot as she can handle and when the spray doesn’t drown out her sobs, presses her fist against her lips. She could stay there all day, surrounded by the steam, and maybe she’d never have to face the future. Never have to face the afternoon when Alex will learn she will lose her mother memory by memory.
But Maggie needs to be strong. So she straightens and faces the hot spray, then turns the knob of the shower to a cooler temperature. Pulling herself together, she prepares to face what will be a day seared into her mind.
She leaves the bathroom and dresses methodically, pulling on her jeans and shrugging on her leather jacket. She hears the cheerful banter filtering from the next room, the guilt resurging for a second.
"Ew!” Kara . “Get away from me I know what you just did."
There’s some scuffling and a muffled shriek, springs protesting the weight of two grown women.
"Don't be jealous just because you've been single for a while."
And Alex. Her Alex. Likely grinning as she tries to engage her sister in a pillow fight.
“Mature, Alex. Real mature.”
Midvale is a safe haven for the Danvers sisters. A time capsule. A place that affords them the opportunity to let go of their solemn duty to National City and its citizens— where they can just be Alex and Kara, not Director Danvers and Supergirl, if only for a few days.
But this time, they don’t have a few days.
In just a few hours, everything will change.
The air is still crisp with the rainfall from the day before.
With an excuse and Alex’s car keys, she pulls out of the driveway and sets a course along the coast. She snakes between ocean and forestry until she arrives at where Alex first took her when they were still new. They had spent a long weekend at a bed and breakfast in the nearby town, their hours occupied with stories of Alex’s surfing days mingled in between lovemaking. Finally, they had opened the window and let the salty sea air kiss at their cheeks, still flush from passion and orgasm.
A year later, they’d worn their engagement rings and come to decompress after the Daxamite invasion, kicking off their boots and rolling up their jeans, feet sinking into the warm white sand as they trekked to a cove hidden from view.
By the time lunch rolls around, she still hasn’t heard from Alex, her phone uncharacteristically silent. She goes to the local grocery store and buys herself a sandwich and a bottled tea. She sits on the hood of the car and unwraps her sub, watching as locals and tourists mingle on the narrow streets.
This place had been Alex’s solace after her father died and she had wanted to make new memories there— positive memories with the woman she loved.
Maggie closes her eyes. Her lunch is reduced to a wrapper and an empty bottle.
It’s time to go back.
When she returns, the mood in the Danvers household is somber. She feels it as soon as she steps over the threshold.
All three have red eyes, all avoid her gaze.
Alex stands by the fireplace, looking at the photographs on the mantle. Her jaw is tight, mind racing. This is how she stews: more and more until emotion bubbles over the edge and she explodes.
Kara normally serves as a beacon of light, tempering her sister’s darkness, but today that is absent. She’s frenetic, unfocused, socked feet nearly a blur as she circles the room. She hadn’t been around when Alex’s grandmother passed away— hadn’t been present to witness her decline— and Maggie wonders if they had this disease on Krypton.
“You’re a scientist.” Kara turns to Eliza. Her hands are pulled into the sleeve of her sweater and suddenly she looks so young. “So is Alex. There should be a fix. You have to be able to fix this. On Krypton—”
“I wanna get some air,” Alex interjects, voice cutting through.
Maggie follows Alex to the kitchen and watches as her wife fiddles with the tap of the sink. Her knuckles are white, wrapped tight around the glass that is near full to the brim.
Her tone is hard— accusatory— and Maggie will not feed her lies.
Her nose wrinkles, first in confusion, then disgust. She paces the linoleum, water sloshing over the side of her glass onto the speckled tiles. “You knew, this morning, when we, when I-”
“Alex, I’m sorry.”
She drains the glass, likely wishing it were filled with something stronger.
Maggie approaches her slowly, taking the glass and setting it down on the counter. Her fingers brush the wool of Alex’s sweater, but she jerks back from Maggie’s hand, wrapping her arms around herself.
Shielding herself from any more pain. Any more betrayal of trust.
Her eyes are piercing and Maggie longs to reach out, to pull her close. To run her fingers through her hair the way Alex loves and to say I’m sorry and I wanted to tell you, but I couldn’t.
Instead she pleads, “Alex.”
Alex dismisses her with a wave of her hand, storming out to the patio, and Maggie is left alone. She moves to follow, but is stopped by a soft voice.
“I’ll talk to her,” Eliza says.
Maggie hadn’t realized she and Kara had been watching.
Out on the patio, Eliza puts an arm around Alex’s shoulders and all of the tension she’d been holding evaporates as she collapses against her mother and sobs. Maggie imagines those painful sounds wrenched from Alex’s throat, that raw, unfiltered emotion. Grief and agony pouring from within, spilling over onto her mother’s shirt, just like that glass of water now empty on the counter.
But all she can hear is the clicking of the fridge and the rustle of Kara’s jean jacket as she fidgets by the stove.
Kara takes her glasses off and rubs the bridge of her nose. She holds the frames in trembling hands. “I don’t understand this.”
Maggie is thankful when Kara doesn’t try to continue the conversation. She wouldn’t be able to explain the thoughts that must be warring inside Alex’s mind.
The clock on the kitchen wall ticks forward, the Earth continues to spin even as their lives have come to an abrupt halt.
“I’m gonna go be Supergirl,” Kara says, frowning, “I don’t know how to be Kara right now.”
She sets the thick black frames on a kitchen shelf, squaring her shoulders as she adopts the gait of her alter-ego. But even without the thin disguise, Maggie isn’t sure the costume can hide how human she looks.
Maggie nods and watches out of the corner of her eye as Eliza and Alex start off towards the beach, Alex still leaning into her mother’s side.
“Yeah. I’ll stay here.”
With Kara gone, all that is left is the clicking of the fridge.
Maggie was five when her grandfather died.
She doesn’t remember much of the funeral. Doesn’t remember what Bible verses her uncles read over his casket or what her grandmother wore to cover her tear stained face.
She does remember the sorrow.
She remembers the call one March afternoon. The way her mother slumped to the floor, face pale and stricken. She remembers her father sitting her down that night in the living room, the first time she’d heard the words terminal cancer.
Her mother had withdrawn in the months leading up to his death and her father had been lost. He was a stoic man, never Maggie’s first choice to bandage and kiss a skinned knee, but Maggie remembers how he’d held her close that night and made her promise to be kind to her mother. He couldn’t cure cancer, but he could make his wife’s life easier. He made Maggie’s lunches for school, cooked and washed the dishes.
Left alone in the Danvers’s kitchen, Maggie sets herself to the same task. Alex will struggle with her mother’s diagnosis, forget to eat properly, too stressed to take care of herself.
It may not be a cure, but a home cooked meal she could do.
It’s hours before she hears the sliding door again. Both Alex and Eliza speak in hushed tones and it’s clear that a dam has broken. Years of tension eased after hours of painful conversation. Eliza sits down at the kitchen table as footsteps ascend the stairs.
Maggie sets a bowl of stew down in front of Eliza, before hesitating with a second bowl, eyes darting towards the staircase. Eliza smiles and nods, and Maggie almost feels guilty for the amount of relief that floods through her body at the silent permission to leave.
She doesn’t know how to be a daughter-in-law right now, but she does know how to be a wife.
She finds Alex on the roof, a lone figure against the painted backdrop of the setting sun. Maggie climbs out and sits next to her wordlessly, wrapping an arm around her shoulders when she leans into her side. She looks lighter— exhausted and broken down— but lighter.
They sit like that for a while, Alex watching the sun dip below the horizon as she hugs a stuffed otter to her chest. Doctor Pickles had been a young Alex’s best friend, a confidant and a companion after her father had died. He may spend most of his days in a place of honor on the bookshelf in her childhood bedroom, but he’s still a source of comfort.
The stew goes cold, abandoned in the bedroom, and the roof tiles are still damp from yesterday’s rain. But they sit together, Alex watching the horizon, Maggie watching Alex.
When the first stars dot the darkening sky, Alex finally speaks up.
“I lost my dad so suddenly,” she rasps, “and it was the worst thing in the world. Suddenly, I had no dad. It was over.”
She rubs the soft velvet of the otter’s ears as she continues, “But now…now this is worse. I’m gonna lose my mom so slowly, bit by bit every day.”
Maggie rubs her shoulder with her thumb, just listening.
“I don’t wanna lose my mom like this, Maggie. Not yet.”
Maggie is familiar with grief— the way it has weighed her down, left her feeling like she had been punched in the gut. She had been acquainted with grief at a young age.
Grief never gets easier, but as an adult, it is accompanied by added responsibilities that no one tells you about. Decisions that must be made.
There will be new kinds of strains, both psychological and financial. Paying for carers maybe, adapting to this illness on top of their already hectic lives. How much longer will Eliza be able to work? Surely she can’t remain alone in Midvale. She’ll need someone there to help her cook and clean. To make sure that she’s fed and that she isn’t lonely.
Alex is the eldest. Would the task fall to her? Should they alter their house hunt to include an extra bedroom for Eliza?
But none of that matters yet.
When Alex’s eyes meet Maggie’s, they’re glassy. “It’s in me, Maggie. I have this inside too. This…"
She falters then, sniffling as tears spill out onto her cheeks— like she can’t face saying it. “Alzheimer’s. It runs through the women. And… and one day…”
“One day you’re going to get it, too.”
Alex deflates as Maggie has the strength to finish what she can’t.
“If Dad were here I...I don’t know if it would be better or worse,” she says, “One day, Maggie, the choices I’m gonna have to make for my mom, you’re gonna have to make for me. The hard choices.”
“Do you?” She gazes out into the fading dusk, rubbing at her running nose. “You didn’t ask for this. I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, listen to me, don’t even start with that.” Maggie shuffles on the roof, twisting to face her wife. “I did ask for this. I asked for this when I said yes to marrying you.”
Alex scoffs but Maggie won’t let her wind into a self-deprecating hole. Two years ago, she had stood under a chuppah with Alex and promised to love her. No matter what.
“When I said in sickness and in health, I meant that, Alex. That means if you get almost killed at work, or if you got cancer, or MS, or maybe you even lost a limb. I’d be there for you, with you, every step of the way.”
Alex chokes on a batch of fresh tears, cropped up after Maggie’s heartfelt promise. “My mom is so young. It’s not that much time.”
“When I said I love you forever, I meant that.” She gently frames Alex’s face with her hands, diverting the rivers on her cheeks with her thumbs. “Not just as long as we were young, fit and healthy.”
When Maggie had made those vows, she hadn’t been aware of the ticking time bomb hidden within Alex’s genes, but it doesn’t matter.
“If one day, you get that diagnosis, I’ll cross that bridge with you.” She lowers her voice, taking Alex’s hand. Her wedding ring sparkles on her ring finger. A symbol of their love— the bond they share. “And you know what else I’ll do?”
Alex wipes at her cheeks with her sleeve. “You’re gonna tell me something cheesy like, you’ll remind me every day that you’re my wife.”
“No, I can’t remind you. You won’t remember, so what’s the point?” She leans closer to Alex, these words meant for her alone. “I’m gonna tell you the story of how we met, of how we fell in love, and I’m gonna watch you enjoy it like it’s new every single day.”
“Yeah. I’m gonna get to repeat my favourite details over and over, and you won’t get tired of it.”
Alex shakes her head, solemn. “I don’t think that’s how it works, Maggie.”
“Who says?” Maggie presses her forehead to Alex’s, just as she did on their wedding day.
Under the starry sky, on the roof of Alex’s childhood home, she makes that promise again, sealing it with a kiss.
When Alex pulls back, she looks sheepish.
Maggie tilts her head to the side. “Everything alright?”
“Yes, I just…” Alex’s hand dips into her back pocket. The item she retrieves is just enough to fit in her closed fist. “This seems stupid now....”
A key rests on her palm.
“It’s for the one you want, or it will be when it’s cut,” she explains, “The realtor’s doing up the papers. I wanted to surprise you.”
Maggie takes the key, decorated with tiny German Shepherds. Tiny Gertrudes. “Alex...you made our offer?”
“Yeah, they accepted it.”
Talking about money had been Alex’s least favourite part of searching for their new home. They had discussed an offer for the Mid-Century Modern after they toured it, but Alex had ducked and weaved away from actually committing. Maggie had been annoyed at the time, but now...
“I don’t know what to say.”
Alex shrugs, her smile sheepish. “I know, it’s dumb.”
“No, it’s not.” Maggie is already picturing crossing the threshold, her wife in her arms. “This is gonna be the key to our home.”
That finally brings a smile to Alex’s flushed face. She tucks herself back into Maggie’s side. They can’t predict what will happen in the future, whether they’ll one day have to sell the house in Midvale, or whether Alex will someday have the same diagnosis; but whatever happens, they’ll face it together.
Kara returns not long after sunset, floating down in the dark to join them. Kara and Alex exchange sad smiles and entwine hands, the three of them just savouring this moment on the rooftop.
“We aren’t going for the Cape Cod, by the way,” Alex says, poking her sister in the side with her elbow.
Kara pouts. “But it would have been so cosy.”
Maggie can’t help ribbing her a bit. “Well, suck it up, you’re just going to have to chase Gertrude around the garden of the Modern.”
Kara huffs, drawing up her knees to her chest. Eventually she concedes, “That street had a great taco place.”
Alex laughs, shaking her head at her sister. “Of course it did.”
The sky is clear, the vast expanse of the universe stretching out above their heads. The last vestiges of the storm have retreated, leaving only the petrichor and a cool breeze rustling the leaves in the garden below.
With the setting of the sun, the temperature has dropped, and soon, they will need to seek refuge inside the house. They will check on Eliza, reheat the stew, and enjoy the company of family. Maybe they will even settle in front of the fireplace with steaming mugs of cocoa and discuss future plans for interior design. And eventually, they’ll have those hard conversations. They’ll make plans for the future.
The trio share a smile, basking in the illusion that just for now, they could pause time’s forward march, and hold tight to this memory.