Have you ever had that sinking feeling that you’re about to be doing something you really shouldn’t be doing? And sometimes you do it anyway – maybe even most of the time you do it anyway – but occasionally that gnawing feeling at the pit of your stomach doesn’t go away, no matter how much you try to ignore it by continuing to do what you are doing, and the more that feeling sits there and grinds at you, the more you become convinced to change your mind and, eventually, you step back and glance around and think to yourself look, I can’t do this anymore and finally, finally step away? It isn’t even always a bad thing or a bad idea, and it doesn’t always end with horrible consequences for the other people involved – if there even are other people involved – but you feel better for having stepped away.
Luisa Alver knew that feeling. She knew it intimately. In fact, that feeling maintained a great portion of her waking hours. Most of her time was spent trying to avoid or suppress that feeling. It didn’t always work. And since she’d gone to rehab, her usual practice of using alcohol to ignore the feeling had only made the feeling worse because she knew she wasn’t supposed to be drinking, that for her drinking was bad, and that was all very true. But it had taken away her easy route to make that sinking gnawing feeling go away.
And, of course, she had that feeling now, sitting in bed with her covers barely pulled up over her knees, staring at her computer screen and the email she knew – she knew, she knew – came from Rose. Sleeping with Rose’s ex hadn’t actually helped. Worse, she had to come to the realization that just because Rose slept with someone didn’t make them an amazing lover. She had hoped – there wasn’t really much comparing of sleeping with Rose with sleeping with anyone else because there was a push and a pull and a spark between them that wasn’t there with anyone else, even her own ex-wife Allison – but she had thought that someone else could have at least kept up.
The gnawing feeling should have come from sleeping with Heidi in the first place – with knowing that she would take so much time that the redheaded yodeler would be late to her show – but that bad decision she could throw on the redhead. Sex, in her opinion, was a good decision, a good relaxation, and a good refresher to get rid of the gnawing feeling that had been sitting in the pit of her stomach ever since she’d started seriously considering her kidnapping while with Michael and Susanna.
They had kidnapped her to hurt Rose.
They had kidnapped her to hurt Rose.
And that sinking unsettling feeling started with no real way to shut it off.
It only increased as she stared at the email, at the request to join the very same chatroom that Rose had shared with the men who had kidnapped her, until it felt like all she could feel was that unsettling, unhappy, gnawing gnawing gnawing – like there was a snake who swallowed any fruit of happiness her body might provide or a monkey who would snatch it out of the sky and run off with it before she could even touch it.
A part of her was nothing but happy for Rose to contact her. Most of her knew she shouldn’t answer. That was the wrong decision. And the two parts warred within her – she almost convinced herself to just keep the email and save it for another time when she might feel stronger and be able to delete it and listen to the smart part that said we don’t want to be in contact with the evil crime lord who killed our father and spent the last five years lying to us.
But Rose, at her best, had always been able to rid her of that feeling. At her best, Rose made her feel like that feeling would never come back at all. (Of course, it always had, after that first time, after she knew that Rose was dating – engaged to – married to – her father – because there was always an unsettling sinking feeling about the potential of being found out, of the fact that she was sleeping with her stepmother – and she’d been good about not drinking to get rid of it again, but….)
Luisa clicked the button and popped into the chat room and stared at the blank screen trying to figure out what to say and if she should say anything and not even really paying attention to whether or not Rose was actually on because who knows when she sent that email (Luisa could check but she wasn’t thinking that far ahead right now) and she might have sent it hours ago and not been on right now and even more to the point what if she wasn’t on but the site sent her a ding! or something like that whenever someone else entered the chat or whenever they sent a message and maybe, maybe, maybe she just needed to get the strength up to send the message and what would she say to Rose if she could right now and her face flushed a bright scarlet.
We don’t have to talk about that, she could almost imagine Rose saying, and her teeth gritted together because of course Rose would dismiss her feelings and her worries and her unease about the whole situation because Rose couldn’t think about that. It was easier to not talk about it.
Well, here she was, staring at a blank screen, her stomach still filled with a rat who seemed to think that her intestines were a great supply of food, and with no knowing whether Rose was there or not, and she thought—
No, she didn’t think. She just sat with her hands hovering over the keyboard and then finally, finally, finally her fingers began to move, typing out her first message.
Rose? Are you there?
Luisa didn’t even reread it before hitting send, but as soon as she hit send, she wished she could take it back. Her lips pressed together and she shut her computer. No. She wasn’t talking to Rose. She wasn’t really doing that. She didn’t want to know if Rose was there. Not really. Not at all.
She had other things to do.
The idea was that if she left it alone long enough she would forget. That was the idea.
It didn’t really work that way, though. In fact, the longer Luisa was away from her laptop, the more she thought about it – the message, thrown into the chat, and her immediate departure. Well, less her immediate departure and whether or not Rose had responded. And the more she thought about it, the more her stomach twisted into knots.
Truth be told, Luisa was surprised that she hadn’t ended up with ulcers. Actually, that wasn’t true. Most of the time she wasn’t so anxious as she was…talkative. She dealt with her worries in other ways than thinking about them and meditating on them – and meditating was one of those ways that she dealt with it. Talking with other people was another way of dealing with it, but she couldn’t really tell her brother that she’d been in contact with Rose – they were on sketchy enough footing as it was. She’d considered getting in contact with the cute blonde policewoman who had interrogated her with Jane’s Michael, but right now…right now she would just end up bringing up the chat room with Rose and that didn’t seem like a good idea either.
Luisa didn’t even get back on the laptop before she went to sleep, which was kind of a big deal because she liked to turn on background white noise – mostly waves breaking on the surf, which she could see from her window but couldn’t really hear while in the Marbella, or a waterfall or a bubbling brook. Sometimes she would even put on one of those aquarium videos so that she could fall asleep watching the fish.
But this time she didn’t. She didn’t even want to touch her laptop. Not at all. It could just stay over there. On the floor. Not quite kicked under her bed but close enough.
The next morning, Luisa pulled her laptop out by habit, her eyes groggy, and when she opened it up, there was the chat, still open, staring at her face with a response:
I will always be here, Lu.
Luisa glared at the screen and started typing without even thinking about it, still with her mind not fully alert.
Liar. If you were always going to be here, you would be here now. But you’re not. You killed my dad and then you left and you left me in a mental institute and I was trying to get out and warn you and it was you the whole time and if you really wanted me to run away with you you would have come gotten me out of the mental institute but you didn’t. You just left me there. To rot. That’s not being here, Rose. That’s running away.
She gritted her teeth together and pressed her lips together and continued to glare at the screen and dared Rose to respond.
It only took a few seconds, but there were the ellipses – the little bubble with the … that indicated that someone on the other end was typing.
Rose was typing.
Rose was typing to her.
Luisa stared at the screen, at the ellipses that seemed to be going and then stopping and then going again. She took a deep breath.
There’s nothing you can say that is going to make this better, Rose, she wanted to type, but as she moved to make the message, her fingers froze above the keys. Writing that felt final. She wasn’t sure she wanted final. That was why she’d agreed to join the chat, wasn’t it? She bit her lower lip and stared at the screen, watching the ellipses until they stopped and there was nothing.
Rose had been typing something and then nothing.
She let herself begin to type.
I knew you wouldn’t have anything to say. There isn’t anything to say. Thanks for the invite, Rose.
She started to shut the laptop again, but there was a ping immediately after she sent the message.
So why don’t we talk about something else?
Luisa stared at the screen, at the message, and shut the laptop the rest of the way. She needed to get a new laptop. Or close out of the chat. She should really shut out of the chat because there was no way that talking to Rose would make anything better. And yet, somehow, that unbearable gnawing at the center of her stomach seemed to go away while she was staring at the screen, while she was waiting on Rose to try and attempt to explain something that couldn’t be explained in the slightest.
Besides, she had the money. She could afford a new laptop. She could definitely afford a new laptop.
Now that her dad was dead.
The gnawing came back and she tried to replace it with anger and found that she couldn’t. As mad as she might have been at Rose, she was still just as uncomfortable with herself.
What would we talk about?
Luisa sat on her bed, cross-legged, staring at the blank screen. She had been staring at it for hours, trying to convince herself to close it out, trying to convince herself to leave Rose just like she had been left, just like she had said no to her offer to run away, just as firm as Rose had been when she had refused to run away with her. Okay, not as firm as Rose had been because Rose had thrown her into a mental institute, but as firm as she could hope to be on the phone with Rose.
She was afraid of what she would have done if Rose had come and found her in person.
(She was certain that if Rose had come to the mental institute and checked her out at what she would pretend were her father’s wishes and had explained in the car that she had finally decided to run away with her, then she would have gone and she would have accepted and that would have been it. She wasn’t sure if Rose would ever have told her that she killed her father – certainly she would have learned that her father was dead, and certainly she would have understood why she shouldn’t be keeping in contact with her family because certainly they would have all been mad at her but—)
Luisa stared at the screen and took a deep breath and typed, finally: I miss you.
But she didn’t send it.
She stared at the screen and she stared at the words and she made to erase them all before she sent it and then didn’t and let them just sit there for a few minutes.
Rose probably wasn’t scaring at the screen the same way that she was, so she wouldn’t have that same annoying feeling of waiting and staring at those ellipses coming and going and coming and going while she decided whether she was going to send the message or not, which struck her as extremely unfair since she had had to go through all of that and Rose hadn’t ever finished her message and hadn’t ever sent what she was thinking about sending and she’d interrupted her and it hadn’t mattered.
It had mattered, but it had felt like Rose wasn’t ever going to say anything. Not anything that would mean anything or make her feel better or—
Why was she still in this chat?
She went to close out of it and then noticed that those ellipses had appeared over Rose’s side of the screen. Someone – Rose – was typing again, with no indication – okay, there were probably ellipses for her own attempted typing that had quickly gone away once she’d left the message sitting there with no indication that she was going to send it other than her unwitting desire to not just erase the whole thing – but Rose had to have gotten on and checked in on the chat without Luisa sending something first, and for some reason, that made her heart grow warm. Just like being kidnapped by her captors had. It was kind of romantic, wasn’t it?
I understand if you don’t want to talk to me.
Rose’s message – short, sweet, and to the point – and yet the ellipses were still there, hovering on the other side of her screen.
Luisa settled in to wait, leaning back against the pillows she’d propped against her headboard, the laptop sitting light in her lap. She crossed her legs and crossed her arms and bit her lower lip and pressed her lips together and really what did it matter what her position was when Rose wasn’t able to see how much she didn’t want to see what she was saying in the first place? (Except she did want to see what Rose would write next. She just didn’t want to think that she did.)
I wanted to see how you were doing.
Then, quickly, as though Rose didn’t think about these words before sending them: How much did they hurt you?
Luisa’s eyes widened. She’d already started typing a message about how she was absolutely doing just fine, Rose, absolutely fine, it wasn’t like her father hadn’t just been murdered by a crime lord who had been infiltrating her brother’s hotel and married to her father and who she had thought was in love with her up until she threw her into a mental institution and maybe there were a lot of things she could and would forgive but maybe the killing her father and running away wasn’t one of them—
But she could feel her heart melting a little bit at the next question. Up until she considered Rose going on a roaring rampage of revenge against her captors. Which, admittedly, she wouldn’t have hated because they had hurt her, but—
It wasn’t that bad, Luisa typed back, pressing her lips together. I thought you’d done it, actually, because they were so careful about not hurting me. Even when I almost got out they just tied me back up. No one really hurt me.
I mean, other than that thing they sent you, and then they released me shortly after that and no one would give me even the slightest bit of oxy which was probably good because you know me and I don’t want to be addicted to oxy, Rose, I have enough problems without that but no one gave me any pain pills which is kind of absolute shit because when you get hurt by kidnappers you should get pain pills, that should be part of the rescue operation!
Not…that there had been a rescue operation.
No one even seemed to notice I was gone, she sent before she even realized she’d sent it.
She stared at the message for a few minutes and then her eyes widened.
I mean, they’re busy, they have their own problems they’re dealing with, Raf and Petra were trying to buy the plot for another hotel, and Lachlan screwed them over, and I was supposed to tell them what I noticed before I got taken, and Raf didn’t even believe me about being kidnapped, and there is a hot new lady detective working with Michael, but I don’t think you’d like her because she’s blonde and I just don’t think she’s your type.
Her eyes widened again.
I didn’t send that. You don’t know anything about Michael or his new partner or anything about that. At all. I’m not going to talk to you about that, so don’t ask me to talk to you about it. I won’t!
I won’t. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.
Well, you’re in luck. I’m doing just fine.
It doesn’t sound like you’re doing just fine, Lu.
Luisa stared at the screen.
How would you know? You killed my father and then left.
It took a little while before Rose’s message came through, but it was there all the same, staring at her. Luisa wanted to tell her that saying she was sorry wasn’t enough, that she deserved so much more than that, but she couldn’t get herself to do it. Rose had at least apologized. And she gotten her out of the hands of those thugs who had kidnapped her. And she had believed that she was kidnapped. And she cared enough to see how she was doing and to risk Luisa rejecting her again and ignoring her chat request and—
Rose actually seemed to care.
Luisa nodded to herself and then sent, finally, the message she’d been trying to not send since before the conversation had even started.
I miss you.
I miss you, too.
Luisa nodded again and swallowed once and shut the screen before she could say anything else. She wasn’t sure she could do anymore right now. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.
No, she knew what she wanted, but she didn’t trust herself. No one would be happy about this, finding out she’d talked to Rose. So she would just have to keep it to herself. And keep it from happening again. And—
She was back on her laptop, in the chatroom, as soon as she woke up.
Look, it wasn’t like she was drinking. She was just talking to someone. To Rose. Who had spent the last five years lying to her and then thrown her in a mental hospital and then killed her father – Rose’s husband, at the time – so that the last memory she had of her father was his face as he had her thrown into a mental hospital against his will.
Okay, that sobered her up. Enough that she almost shut the laptop again, the same way she had every time she had opened it so far – still without closing out of the chat room because she had found that no matter how she tried to convince herself that talking to Rose was a bad idea, she still wasn’t able to pull out of it and cut herself off completely.
There was probably a good reason for that. She couldn’t think of what it was, though.
The gnawing in her stomach had almost subsided completely at this point. It was still there, if she took the time to think about it and acknowledge it, but it seemed like she had grown almost accustomed to sitting and staring at the chat and sometimes – occasionally – sending Rose a message.
And that was the real problem of it, wasn’t it? No matter how much she tried to convince herself that Rose was evil and bad and no good – and no matter how easy it might be for Rafael to believe that – and no matter how much she still didn’t know if Petra believed it or not (or if Petra even really cared, which was odd, considering, but you know, she wasn’t going to push on that front) – no matter these things, she couldn’t help that it…that it was Rose.
Rose, who she had met on July Fourth in the most gorgeous dress that had left practically nothing to the imagination.
Rose, who she had sex with she hadn’t even counted how many times at their first meeting.
Rose, who she had a spark with and who made fireworks go off when they first kissed (they would have gone off even if it wasn’t the Fourth of July, you couldn’t convince her otherwise).
Rose, who she had still been in love with even despite the fact that Rose was with someone else.
Rose, who she had wanted to choose her and who hadn’t because she’d been afraid of coming out.
Rose, who was a crime lord and just using her dad so that not wanting to come out bit was probably a lie.
Rose, who was a crime lord and still had an affair with her even though if her father had caught them it would have jeopardized her whole operation.
—whatever that operation had been.
She knew it had something to do with criminals and assassins and etc. getting their faces changed – because she’d been around Jane and she’d heard how afraid Jane was that Rose could be anyone and they wouldn’t know because she could have gotten her surgeon to change her face and—
Rose, you haven’t had your face changed, have you?
The message was out and across the screen before Luisa had a second chance to think about it, and now that she was having that second chance to think about it, she could feel her face flushing a bright red.
I mean, I know you won’t tell me, but I don’t want to think you changed your face. You have such a nice face.
And she didn’t stop because Rose wasn’t answering and even though she could think a little bit while she was writing and could stop herself before sending the message so it wasn’t quite the same as her normal rambling (not that it mattered because Rose had told her on multiple occasions that she liked the rambling – although she was fairly certain Rose wouldn’t have liked it if she had somehow started rambling about their affair – which she never really had. In the same way that she had never rambled about her mental illness or her times in the mental institutions or Carla or her mother’s suicide. Some things hurt too much to ramble about them)—
And it’s comforting to think that you might still be here with me. Somewhere. Even if I don’t know it’s you. Like a bodyguard! Or like in one of those movies where the woman has to pretend to be a man even though she isn’t. Its kind of romantic, you know?
Her eyes widened. Shit shit shit shit shit.
Then her lips pressed together, and she shook her head.
Only it isn’t comforting, Rose, because you shouldn’t be here anymore and I don’t really want you around at all and it’s not romantic to kill people’s family and I know we’re not talking about it and I know we should talk about something else but it still hurts and I just wish we could go back to the way things were before so that I didn’t have to think about all of that.
Luisa took a deep breath and stared at the screen and waited to see if Rose would respond or not. But there was nothing. Nothing at all. No quick response, no ellipses on the other screen, no indication that Rose was there right now at all.
Well, she couldn’t expect Rose to be on all day every day. Criminal empires probably didn’t run themselves. Although she supposed Rose’s didn’t need her direct input all of the time – how else could Rose have been here and doing all of that without ever being caught? She must have had a good second in command. Good underlings.
Rose was probably a better businesswoman than any of them ever gave her credit for.
Speaking of which—
Was any of it really real? I mean, I know you said it was real – with me, that it was real – but I mean…. Were you actually a lawyer? When I asked you for help with the whole Jane thing, were you actually giving me sound legal advice? Or was that just you trying to give advice? Do you actually know all of that legal jargon or were you just making it up as you went?
A second thought, and then—
You know what, I don’t want to know. Don’t tell me. I don’t want to think my life was ruined because I took legal advice from someone who didn’t actually have any experience with anything legal. That would make me feel worse than I already do.
The best criminal minds know the law backward and forward. How else do you think we prepare to make our way out from under it?
The response came all at once, at the same time as Luisa sent her last message, only a few seconds behind. She stared, blinking, at Rose’s response before she noticed that the ellipses had come back again, that Rose was typing another message, but that didn’t matter.
I told you I didn’t want to know!
The ellipses disappeared, and it looked like Rose was silent.
Luisa took a deep breath. She felt disappointed. She didn’t know why she felt disappointed – she shouldn’t be happy that Rose was keeping in contact with her, she shouldn’t be keeping in contact with Rose! – but she did all the same.
Everything I told you was as true as I could be. I didn’t want to lie to you. I didn’t have a choice.
We always have a choice, Rose. You didn’t have to do any of that. You didn’t have to throw me in a mental institute. You could have told me what was going on. I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but you could have told me. It’s not like I would have told anyone. And then no one would have had to die.
Someone always has to die, Luisa.
He didn’t deserve to die.
You don’t know him as well as I did. You don’t know what all he was involved in. He didn’t want you to know. He didn’t want me to know, but I have my ways of finding things out. Your father is not as innocent as you want him to be. No one is innocent.
But let’s not talk about that. I just want to know how you are. I want to make sure that you are doing well. Have you been drinking?
Luisa stared at the words in front of her and didn’t know how to respond, which was a first for her. She was sure there were a lot of things about her dad that she didn’t know – a lot of things that she didn’t want to know – just that there were still things about Rose she didn’t know and didn’t want to know and yet was still finding out even when she didn’t want to know. (Only she did want to know, and she hated that she still did.)
That last question, at least, she could answer.
It was easy to tell the truth when it came to her drinking. No one else asked anymore. Luisa was sure that they still cared, but it probably hurt them to think of her drinking. So she hadn’t been. She didn’t want them to worry. She didn’t want to hurt anyone when they had so many other things hurting them right now.
She could hear it in Rose’s voice, hear Rose reassuring her, almost feel Rose’s hand on her shoulder. It was nice for someone to be checking in on her. It was nice for someone to be making sure that she was okay while she still tried to flounder her way through everything that was going on: she still didn’t have a job. Rafael had refused to let her have much sway in the Marbella since her kidnapping – she still had her shares, of course, so when it came to company votes, she had to be in on everything, to decide between Petra and Rafael, but he didn’t want her involved in the day-to-day work of the hotel. Petra probably didn’t, either, but she wasn’t as vocally open about that as Rafael was. And, truth be told, Rafael was right. She hadn’t gotten a business degree (neither had Petra, but that was beside the point), and running a hotel.... Even the few days she’d tried to help them, she’d felt bored. A fish out of water.
Without a girlfriend, without her wife, without a job – Luisa felt the need to wander again. No one really wanted her here anymore.
There was the pretty blonde detective, who, admittedly, did not seem to really want her around either, but it was something. And as much as she was sure her family would be perfectly fine if she took off and never came back, Michael and Susanna kept having questions to ask her – about Rose, about her kidnapping – and as long as they were hunting Rose, she…she wanted to stick around.
Because what if they found her?
She didn’t care if they found her.
Rose was right here on the screen in front of her. She still had contact with her. Wouldn’t they want to know that?
And Luisa found, in spite of herself, that she didn’t want them to know that. Not because it would look bad on her – it probably would, and more so the longer she went on with this before telling them, if she told them, probably before they found out because this felt like just as big of a secret as her affair with Rose had always been – they were good at that, keeping secrets from everyone else, but the truth of it was that maybe no one had ever asked—
Luisa didn’t want them to find out because she had this small tentative line to Rose, and as much as she hated that she was taking it, she wanted to keep it.
She couldn’t stop loving Rose just because she was a crime lord any more than she could stop loving her just because she had her thrown in a mental institute. That was just who Rose was. And whoever she was, Luisa still loved her.
Whoever she was.
I wish you weren’t a crime lord, so that when you asked me to run away with you, I could have said yes.
I wanted to run away with you.
Luisa stared at the admittance for a few seconds, blinking, before another message came through.
Maybe in another world, I wasn’t like this. Maybe we were happy.
Luisa frowned. You aren’t happy?
There was a long silence, then, and Luisa thought – no, she was downright certain – that Rose wasn’t going to respond. Then, finally, she did.
I’m a sociopath, Luisa. Happiness is an emotion. I don’t feel those very often. Only with you.
Luisa knew even as she was reading it that it wasn’t exactly true – she knew Rose felt angry and frustrated and upset – but it still….
It was romantic, wasn’t it?
She pressed her lips together and she nodded to herself and she sent her next message without even thinking about it because she knew in the pit of her stomach that it was true no matter how much she wished it wasn’t.
Well, I’m with you now. For as long as you want me.
I will always want you.
Luisa could almost see Rose smile as her response came: Every variation of me that could exist will always want any variation of you that exists. We’re soulmates, Luisa. The greatest love story ever told. In whatever form that is. Sometimes it’s tragic. But right now, with you with me, I know we will reach our happy ending. I’m sure of it.