“Does papi still sleep like the dead?” Rosa asks Liz as they wash the dishes in Max’s sink. “Pun absolutely intended.”
Liz takes a deep breath to steady herself at her sister’s casual use of the d word. The last few weeks have been a strange, surreal dream, living in a world with Rosa in it once more. A cipher of the past come back to life, gallows humor her newest form of armor.
“You know papi ,” she replies when she’s found her voice. “Nothing can wake him except his own snoring.”
He’s slept through two break-ins at the Crashdown since Liz returned to Roswell, blissfully unaware of her confrontations with Isobel and Michael, then later Noah. There’s a phantom stitch in her side where Noah sliced her with the knife, the injury healed when she’d united with Max the next day. His handprint healed her even though they were using it for something else, but the vanished wound tugs at her, reminding her of what else she has lost.
Rosa is full of questions about life as it has gone on without her, and they have quickly turned to the man who raised her. She’s not allowed to see him, and she’s not merely following an edict Liz has set down when it comes to that: Rosa seems to understand the danger her renewed existence puts her in. She’s verbally acknowledged that she wants to make it to twenty—and beyond—this time around.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t yearn.
“You would think for all the trouble I caused, he’d have been more alert,” Rosa comments. “ She always knew when I was trying to sneak out, but I didn’t even need to sneak around when it was just papi there.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Liz replies dryly. “ I was the good girl.”
“ Was ,” Rosa says. “I know you’ve had Kyle in your bedroom since you got back to town.”
“What? How? ”
“I teased him about you both being my siblings and he got all flustered. Like you are now.”
“Oh god.” Liz covers her face with her hands. She’s never felt bashful about sex, but somehow having Rosa back has made her regress into the little girl who once looked up to her big sister. Rosa always did know how to push her buttons.
“Chill. Your face!” Rosa laughs, and it’s a soothing balm to Liz’s soul. All those years without that sound, and she doesn’t know how she existed without it. Her anger had banished even its echo from her memory.
It feels greedy to ask for more, even as she pushes herself to find a solution to Max’s…problem. Liz is still adjusting to inhabiting this space, especially without Max himself being here. Sometimes it feels like she’s swapped one ghost for another.
“I have to go to the lab tonight,” she reminds Rosa as she gives the glasses one final rinse. She only has access after hours, and needs to monitor her samples through the night. “Are you going to be okay on your own? I can ask Maria to come over and hang with you.”
“I’m fine, Liz. I don’t need a babysitter. I’m about ready for some time on my own.”
“If you’re sure—”
“I’m sure. And you get less twitchy about me smoking a bowl when you’re not around.”
“I’m kidding, I’m kidding! No smoking in the Deputy’s house. Go save the world, Liz. Do me proud.”
Rosa meant it when she told Liz that she was ready for some time by herself. The only chance she’s had to process all that’s happened so far has been in the quiet of the night, when Liz lets her brain stop whirring at a million miles an hour and sleeps. Rosa doesn’t sleep, not nearly as long. Ten years sounds long enough to her, even if it felt like one night. One strange night that thrust her into a bewildering new world with the dawn.
She has no intention of staying in Max’s house. It’s peaceful, but Rosa has never been very good at sitting around and doing nothing. She can think while she walks.
She’s not an idiot. She knows the dangers: retrieves Max’s pistol from his holster, and stashes it in her jacket pocket, safety on. A hood covers her hair, a loose scarf can be pulled up to cover her face. From a distance people will probably assume she’s Liz, but she takes no chances, hoping the pending sunset will shroud her enough when she reaches town.
And so she walks. It’s a risk. But risks can be mitigated.
There’s injustice fizzing in her veins, injustice she is impotent to do anything about. Liz can’t bear this anger with everything she has one her plate, and Guerin slinks away before Rosa can open that vein. And Isobel…Rosa can’t stop being afraid of her long enough to be angry.
When she isn’t simmering in her thwarted anger, she’s got a weird grief she can’t get a handle on. Valenti is dead, and Kyle knows what she is to him. Her family has grown and shrunk at once. Her mother is still absent, and Rosa wants the comfort of the only parent who was ever worth a damn, but she can’t see him without setting in motion something she’s not sure she can control. She’s homesick, living looking over the town she’s lived her entire life in and longed to leave, but now forbidden to enter.
She wants to express herself the only way she has ever known that matters. It’s why Liz has bought new canisters of paint and large canvases for Rosa to spill her guts onto, but Liz will admit she’s not an artist. She doesn’t understand that canvas is no good for Rosa. Her art belongs elsewhere.
The sun spills itself over the desert in fire and gold, sinking beyond the horizon to leave the soft cloak of night lying over them instead. She has a flashlight in her rucksack, but she’s reached the first patchy glow of streetlights and doesn’t need it to make her way through the streets.
There are changes in town, mostly small, mostly decay in fast-forward, paint peeling from buildings freshly coated a few months ago as far as she’s concerned. Empty storefronts of businesses which thrived days earlier—the shuttered Blockbuster and the darkened one-hour photo place. The new neighborhood that’s mushroomed out of the desert to the south of the town is a surprise. She guesses the Bushes sold their ranch to a developer.
It’s like playing immersive spot the difference, an assault on her vision as every glance brings something new. Everything except the first glance of home.
It’s not exactly the same. Papi must have maintained it some or it would look like shit by now, but as she crosses the street, ducking between shadows, it feels like she hasn’t missed ten years in one delirious night’s sleep.
She goes round the back. The diner is closed but there’s still the occasional car drifting by. It’s no problem when the spare key is still set in the wall, hidden behind a broken brick. Some things never change.
She turns to fumble and let herself in, but a remnant of her own past confronts her on the wall beside the door.
We are all alone.
It’s faded, like so many things, washed away by time Rosa hasn’t lived. But papi has never painted over it.
A passing car prompts her inside, where it is still and dark. Sure enough, the only sound beneath the electronic hum of appliances is the louder hum of papi snoring upstairs, a chainsaw drone that feels like it should rattle the windows. No wonder she’s having trouble sleeping at Max’s house. It’s too quiet.
Past the stairs, through the kitchen, ignoring her own memorial, she slips into the diner itself.
She only worked a shift here last week. Wiped the tables down, swept the floor, collected the ketchup bottles together. Stormed out on Liz because the stupid car had been vandalized. She could put the uniform on and serve like nothing had changed. Instead, she is barred from her home, left to drift through it silently, like the ghost she has become.
She will not cry.
If she cries, she will be tempted to run to her father, to the man who always patched up her skinned knees and made things better. If she cries, she may not be able to resist that temptation.
Instead she explores the space, running fingers over the table tops and backs of chairs like she feels every minute of the decade she’s lost. She passes by the jukebox, smiling at the way papi hasn’t updated it, only to lose the smile when she realizes why. Her footsteps falter as she realizes how long he has spent in this building alone, with nobody to tease him about his snoring, or nag him into painting over the terrible mural on the back wall. Liz has been a fleeting guest, almost as much a ghost as Rosa.
If she cannot come home, then she can leave a piece of her soul here to keep him company.
“You haven’t slept,” papi says as Liz yawns into her palm.
“I’ve slept,” she assures him, though she’s sure the concealer she’s liberally applied hasn’t actually covered up the dark circles she’s acquired from a long night in the lab.
“You haven’t slept enough .”
“I’m fine. I’m only helping during the breakfast rush, I’ll catch a nap after.”
“Liz, you know I like this boy, but not if he starts affecting your health.”
Liz suppresses the grimace that threatens to escape when her father mentions Max so casually. He thinks she’s spending all her time at Max’s house with Max. Everybody does, because they cannot know the truth. “I was writing a grant proposal,” she lies, and she should feel bad for it, but she doesn’t have the energy to spare.
She sees it when she takes out the trash. On her way inside she gives a yelp, one which brings papi running, but he only smiles when he sees what she’s looking at.
“You’ve seen our new friend,” papi says. He means the change to Rosa’s old stencil on the wall.
“Did you do this?” she asks, knowing the answer already. Papi is as artistic as she is. The wall’s been unchanged since Rosa first painted it in freshman year.
“No. He arrived overnight. I know you only believe in science, mija , but when I saw him this morning, I knew she’d found a way to let us know she’s okay. Look at him! He has to have been sent by Rosa.”
A new alien has taken residence. Characteristically red but with different words emblazoned over the old ones, and a chain of bright orange marigolds circling him like a halo.
“He does look like one of hers,” she agrees, though she knows the fresh paint was added by an earthly hand.
She’ll have to speak to Rosa about this. She’s been here, to the Crashdown, despite all the reasons she shouldn’t have come, and left her mark. Liz should be angry, but the way papi is this morning—smiling, whistling, happy in a way she hasn’t seen in years—anger is hard to come by. Liz already feels guilty enough for abandoning her father to take care of Rosa. If he doesn’t question this further, who is Liz to complain? The words are for his benefit, after all.
You are not alone.