Christmas came and passed.
So did New Years.
Luisa continued to visit Rose. Sometimes she would bring Christmas movies in an attempt to convince the redhead that the holiday actually had something worthwhile about it, but it didn’t work. Nothing she did could change her mind. But she didn’t give up. She gave her one of the Charlie Brown Christmas trees – all puny and bent over with its one singular red bulb – because everyone should have a Christmas tree somewhere at the holidays. Rose didn’t set it up, but she didn’t throw it away either. Luisa saw the box hiding in the back of one of the closets.
The most unfortunate thing was buying Rose a Christmas present and having nothing given to her in return. Of course, then she had tried to invite Rose over for Christmas dinner, which was a disaster because – while she could cook, she wasn’t great at cooking everything, and given that she didn’t eat meat much as a general rule, the cooking of the Christmas ham did not go over well. Rose returned her attempts with a much better dinner of her own, and Luisa counted that as her little Christmas miracle.
Well, that and the redhead even letting her continue to come around at all. Rose didn’t seem interested in getting to know anyone, so it was a miracle that she was fine with getting to know her. Of course, Luisa didn’t technically count that one as a miracle. She chalked it up to her own natural charisma. She hadn’t met anyone yet who was able to resist her.
New Years was full of Luisa getting Rose to watch While You Were Sleeping, which was simultaneously the best Christmas movie and the best New Years movie ever. At least in Luisa’s opinion. Rose seemed to enjoy it a little bit more than she had the other Christmas movies Luisa had brought over, which meant that she would probably like Die Hard if Luisa had tried that one (she hadn’t. She was not a fan of those kinds of movies).
So perhaps Luisa shouldn’t have been too surprised when Rose returned the favor come Valentine’s Day.
Luisa almost missed the knocking on her door. It was soft – too soft to really be heard over her typical friends, if they had been over (they weren’t because it was Valentine’s Day and they had dates and actually she had a date, which was with someone who had kind of been a longshot, but hey, she’d agreed, so she was taking up her on it). But Luisa had been in the kitchen just off the front hallway, all dressed up and ready to leave for said date, so she’d heard the knock, almost as though whoever was on the other end didn’t want to be heard at all.
Oh well. She heard them. Better answer the door and reward them for even trying.
Rose stood on the other side, one arm wrapped around herself. Her hair was pulled up into its typical ponytail, and her glasses were gone. In fact, Rose rarely wore her glasses whenever Luisa was around. Probably the sexy librarian vibe comment. Well, if that’s the way she wanted to be, that was fine. Luisa still enjoyed her company.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Luisa said, stepping back so that Rose could come inside. “Don’t you have a date? Someone like you, you should have a date. You’re super cute.”
Rose scowled. “Everyone has a date on Valentine’s Day. It’s pointless. You shouldn’t keep all of your romantic feelings bottled up for one day of the year where you let loose. Just like Christmas. You want to buy someone a present, you should be able to do it on any day of the year. You want to spend time with your family, you should be able to do it on any day of the year. You shouldn’t buy in to the corporate businesses who want to profit off of your warm and bubbly feelings and have holidays focused on those things just so they can hike up prices and make a bunch of money—”
“And this is why you don’t have a date.” Luisa grinned. “But you’re here?”
Rose shrugged. “I figured you could celebrate avoiding being a corporate sellout with me, since you forced me to celebrate Christmas with you.”
Luisa’s brows rose. “I didn’t force you to do anything with me. You didn’t even put up the tree I bought you.”
“I can’t believe you actually expected me to put that up at all.” Rose lounged on Luisa’s couch, her arms spread out across its back, and she nodded to her. “Are you going to come sit with me or not?”
Well. That was the problem. Luisa knew full well that if she sat down right now, she might not get up. Especially if Rose roped her into a movie. She didn’t want to be roped into a movie. She wanted to go on her date. It had taken a long time and a lot of pestering and asking and – well, it had taken a lot to get Allison to agree to go on a date with her at all, and the fact that she had agreed to a Valentine’s Day date meant that all of her effort was starting to finally pay off. (Or that Allison didn’t have anything better to do, but it was Valentine’s Day. If she didn’t have anything better to do than go on a date with Luisa today, then that was totally in her favor.)
But if she called the date off or stood Allison up, all that effort would be lost – specifically because it was Valentine’s Day. You didn’t stand up a date on Valentine’s Day with the girl you’d been trying to get to go on a date with you for months unless you wanted it to come back to bite you. There weren’t really a lot of excuses she could come up with to cover it.
Maybe her brother getting sick.
Yeah, she could lie about her brother getting sick.
Luisa could see the VHS box in Rose’s hand, and that made the decision for her before she even sat down. “You brought a movie?” she asked, pressing her lips together, trying to convince herself to stay where she was while knowing she was fighting a losing battle. “An old movie? How did you know I would even have something that could play that?”
“I snooped around on Christmas,” Rose said, her lips curving into a smug smile. “Come on. You know you want to see what I brought.”
Luisa’s eyes narrowed. She thought – briefly – about it, and then sighed. “It’s not Evil Bong 2, is it?” she asked, collapsing onto the sofa next to Rose. “I mean, I loved the first one, and I’m sure I’ll love this one, but it’s not Valentine’s Day material, Rose.” She pulled out her phone and sent Allison a quick text, explaining the situation – namely that someone had hit her brother with a car and that she was going to be unable to meet her, but could she take a raincheck? She knew better than to believe that Allison would believe that – and, well, it wasn’t true – but it was…well, she hoped it was enough to get her the raincheck.
“No, it’s not Evil Bong 2. I didn’t even pick that movie – you did.” Rose stared at her. “I’m not even sure that one’s on video tape.”
Luisa’s eyes widened. “You’re right. I did pick that movie.” She turned to Rose, suddenly shocked. “I don’t think you’ve ever chosen one of our movies, have you? Is there a reason that you’re doing that now?” Then she gasped. “Is this a date? Are you here on Valentine’s because you want to go on a date with me?” Her hands flew to her face. “I’m so shocked, Rose, I didn’t think you liked me, I thought you just thought I was a loveable nuisance, which I guess means I’m definitely loveable, but I didn’t think you’d want to date a nuisance—”
“This isn’t a date.” Rose crossed her arms and glared at Luisa, her voice so thick and angry and frustrated that if she were speaking to anyone else, they might have been hurt or offended or even afraid.
Luisa could see how someone could be afraid of Rose, and she could see just how easily that would turn into something useful and helpful once the redhead became a lawyer. But she wasn’t afraid of Rose. She’d been around often enough at this point to know that just because the redhead was using her threatening and unhappy voice didn’t mean she’d necessarily follow up on it with more than a swipe at her. If anything, that just meant that the next time Luisa wanted to hang out, Rose would say no and hold it against her, but soon enough, she’d let her back in. That was just the way they were.
Sometimes, Luisa thought that Rose was just lonely.
She was also absolutely certain that Rose would never admit to that sort of thing.
“Okay, not a date,” Luisa said with a grin, “but if it’s not a date, then what is it?”
“I figured that you’d want to spend this holiday with me just like you spent the last two major holidays with me.” Rose met Luisa’s eyes, and her head tilted ever so slightly to one side. “Or was I wrong? Do you have a date?”
This was it. This was the moment. She may have already sent a text to Allison to try and cover her tracks – poorly as it might have been, but she did try – but she could take this moment to get out. To go on her date. The date she actually really did want to go on with the girl she kept running into right before her yoga classes (and right after whatever it was Allison did at the gym – something that always left her hot and sweaty and really, really gorgeous attractive wow Luisa definitely had a type). It would be easy. All she had to do was tell Rose the truth – that yes, she absolutely did have a date and she should definitely be getting ready for it and going on it instead of seeing whatever movie Rose had brought over (despite her insatiable curiosity to find out just what movie Rose thought was worth it on Valentine’s Day)—
“No. No date.” Luisa let out an unhappy sigh and pouted, staring at her. “I’m a cute girl – the absolute cutest – and I don’t have a date. On Valentine’s Day! It’s absurd. Don’t you think I’m cute?” She batted her eyelashes at Rose, resting her chin on the back of her hands.
Rose stared at her for a little too long before saying anything. “No,” she said finally. “I don’t think you’re cute. Absolutely not. Not at all.”
“No.” And this time, there was no hesitation. It was out quickly, not in the same firm and threatening voice as before, but still definite. “I didn’t hesitate. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t, you know,” she waved her hand in the air, “going off on another one of your rambling tangents. I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“But you interrupt me all the time.”
“Not immediately,” Rose said, and Luisa wasn’t sure if that tone in her voice was true shock or feigned. “I always let you ramble on for at least a little bit before interrupting.”
Rose sighed. “Not always. But most of the time.”
Luisa stared at her, still smiling. “Do you think my rambling is cute? Is that why you don’t interrupt very much?”
“I think this is another tangent, and if we want to get started on the movie, we should start soon, because if I know you – and I think I know you very well at this point – when we’ve finished this one, you’ll want to see the next one or others like it, so—”
“You do think my rambling is cute!” Luisa said with a gasp – and she wasn’t sure if her own reaction was feigned or if it was genuine. She guessed she would know based on Rose’s response, and maybe that would be enough. “That’s why you let me ramble! You think it’s cute!”
“I don’t think—”
“You do, and that’s why you keep avoiding the question!” Luisa grinned and leaned closer to her, so much so that Rose backed away. “You think something about me is cute!”
“I did not say that.”
“But it’s true, isn’t it?”
“Anyway.” Rose held the video tape out in front of her. “I brought a movie, and you’re going to watch it, and you’re going to enjoy it a lot more than I enjoyed those Christmas movies you made me watch.” She stared at Luisa, still adamantly avoiding the question. “Now do you want to put it in, or should I?”
Luisa couldn’t help but feel smug at the fact that Rose was still avoiding the question. Fine. Let her avoid it. She didn’t want a straight answer out of her anyway. She bit her lower lip and then settled into the couch. “You do it,” she said, brows raising, her arms crossed. “You want it to be a surprise, you get it started. Then I’ll just find out when it starts.”
Later, Luisa wished that she had been the one to put the movie in. Then maybe she could have stopped everything before it began. But, thinking on it, maybe she wouldn’t have stopped any of it at all.
There were no commercials, which was weird, but then Luisa realized that Rose’s copy might have been one of those bootlegged ones. That made the whole thing seem more surreal. She turned over to Rose. “You picked a zombie movie for your Valentine’s Day date?”
“It’s not a date. I’m gleefully avoiding any and all corporate attempts at forcing me to spend money on this holiday.” Rose sat down on the couch next to Luisa again. “Horror movies are my one true love in this world. What better way to celebrate?” She turned to her. “Besides, it’s not just any zombie movie; it’s the first real zombie movie. You know – the living dead who eat people? This is the first movie that did that. And if you pay attention, you’ll notice that they don’t even call them zombies. They call them ghouls.”
Luisa nodded once, even though she felt herself already wishing that she had taken the out and gone on her actual date with her actual date instead of staying here with Rose. She was.... Well. Luisa couldn’t put into words how she felt about horror movies because it would just come out as one long streaming sound of unhappiness and terror. She avoided horror movies like the plague. She didn’t enjoy them. And she certainly didn’t want to deal with the flesh-eating zombies that she knew would be in her dreams – no, make that nightmares – once they were done.
She took a deep breath and settled in for the long haul.
The long haul was not as long as Luisa thought it was going to be.
And by thought it was going to be we really mean Luisa planned to try and make it through the entire movie.
Instead of making it through the entire movie, though, Luisa made it maybe twenty minutes in, and then she turned to Rose and burrowed her face in her chest. Which, admittedly, she knew Rose wouldn’t like. She knew Rose wouldn’t like it because this wasn’t actually a date and there was a difference between sleeping together because it was warmer and what she was doing now – and not only was there a difference with that, she knew that Rose didn’t even really like Luisa curling up against her while she was cold and instead tried to keep as much distance as she could, which meant that this – what Luisa was doing now – was a gross breach of the boundaries they had carefully set up – Rose had carefully set up.
She could have been on a date with a hot attractive lesbian woman athlete and instead she was here with someone who didn’t even really like her being scared out of her skin by a zombie move that predated the zombie movies we currently have. Rose could deal with having her hide against her chest.
Rose’s chest was really soft.
But Luisa wasn’t thinking about that right now, she was thinking about the easiest way to 1) stop looking at the television and 2) get the most comfort she could out of the situation.
And, unlike what Luisa expected, Rose didn’t shove her away. Of course, she didn’t move much, and after a few minutes, Luisa tentatively glanced up to see what Rose was doing.
It looked like Rose wasn’t doing anything. Her eyes were still focused completely on the movie playing out on the screen in front of them. And yet, Luisa knew that she wasn’t unaffected. The muscle at her jaw was clenched tight, leaping out from beneath her skin.
If this were actually a date, Luisa would reach out and run her fingers along Rose’s jaw line in an attempt to soothe whatever she’d bothered by hiding against her. But the thing was that it wasn’t a date. She and Rose weren’t at all meant to be…like that. At all.
Despite the fact that Rose had very definitely and very clearly brought over a movie for them to watch together on Valentine’s Day.
“I’m sorry,” Luisa whispered, curling up closer against Rose and resting her chin on her shoulder. “I’m not…I’m not very good with horror movies. I don’t mean anything by this. Really. I just wanted to hide.”
Rose didn’t say anything. That was the worst of all, maybe, that whatever she was doing was so bad that Rose didn’t know what to say.
Luisa took a deep breath and nodded to herself. “I’ll, um. I’ll leave you to your movie.” She stepped up, careful to keep from looking at the television screen, and walked back to her bedroom.
Her bed was a lot bigger than Rose’s was – the benefit of having a lot of money for that sort of thing – and it was easy to collapse into the middle of it and cover her head with blankets and pretend that there wasn’t an actual beautiful woman who was not her date and did not want to be her date watching a movie that she knew terrified her and wasn’t turning off and wasn’t coming to see her or comfort her or anything a normal person might do when they realized that their friend was scared. If they were even friends.
They were definitely friends, of a sort. But….
Luisa didn’t know how much time had passed before she felt a weight pressing onto the bed next to her. It had been quiet enough in her bedroom that she hadn’t heard the movie ending – if it had even ended at all – and she hadn’t even thought to expect that Rose might come to find her. But there was no one else this could be. It had to be Rose.
The other woman’s fingers began to shift through Luisa’s hair, and Luisa stilled. Froze, even. She felt like she should say something – do something – but she also didn’t want say or do anything, too afraid that this would make Rose stop whatever she was doing. She felt calm and anxious at the same time.
“Why didn’t you tell me you didn’t like horror movies?” Rose asked, her voice soft.
Luisa felt the thrill of anxiety like a sharp stab to her heart. It reminded her of how her stepmother – if the woman could even have been called that – used to speak when she was mad at her: all soft and gentle and quiet, but there was always something sharp and venomous underneath it. She couldn’t feel anything sharp in Rose’s voice, none of the firmness that usually belied her frustrations, but she couldn’t help it – she was afraid all the same.
“I…I thought that was the point,” Luisa said, still not looking up, still hiding against the pillow and under the blankets as much as she could without moving away from Rose. “You didn’t like Christmas movies, and I was trying to get you to like those. I don’t like horror movies, and you were trying to—”
“It isn’t the same thing, Luisa. I think you know that.”
Luisa nodded against her pillow. “It’s not fair of me to expect you to—”
“Still not the same thing. If you didn’t like being scared, you should have told me. I wouldn’t have made you sit there and watch it.”
“You were excited to share it with me. I wanted to watch it with you.”
Now Luisa was quiet. She bit her lower lip to keep herself from saying anything else; she knew Rose couldn’t see that. “That’s the same as…as watching the Christmas movies. I just wanted to watch it with you. But I’m not good at horror movies. I’ve never been good at horror movies.” She slowly moved out from under the blankets and sat up just enough to see Rose, even though she was still refusing to look at her. The worst part about sitting up was that Rose’s fingers were no longer moving soothingly through her hair, and that made it harder for her to speak now. “I see zombies eating people and I don’t see the bad CGI or special effects or people making stupid mistakes like they always do in horror movies – I see zombies eating people. I see little Molly Sue staring at her mother and seeing a blood-covered thing missing its ear and thinking even with everything that this is her mother and she couldn’t possibly be one of them, couldn’t possibly be trying to eat her, she has to be safe and also knowing that she isn’t but Molly Sue can’t pull the trigger because that’s still her mom – and it’s even worse when it’s a mom looking at her three-year-old daughter because how can you kill your little girl? And that’s not even getting into thinking about what it would be like to chomp down on someone’s bone and feel it cracking between your teeth – feeling your bones cracking between someone else’s teeth and knowing that if they don’t eat you whole now then you will just turn into one of them in a few hours—”
Luisa waited for Rose to interrupt her. She wanted Rose to interrupt her because it would mean she wasn’t still rambling on about all of the things in horror movies that made her scared, things that she knew other people could turn a blind eye to and ignore but she couldn’t. There wasn’t anything funny in seeing people fed into a wood chipper. It churned her heart. She could feel it. And maybe there were some psychologists who could use horror movies as a way to analyze what people thought or felt or wanted to think or feel, but it just hurt her. Especially when it tried to turn mental institutions into horror settings, mentally ill people into horror tropes. It was just so wrong.
And still there was more. There was always more. And she didn’t stop. She couldn’t. No matter how much she tried to stop herself, she couldn’t. It just kept coming and kept coming.
And Rose didn’t interrupt her.
Luisa still hadn’t looked up at her because she was afraid of what she would see if she did, but as the words finally slowed and stilled and came to an end, she glanced up. Rose reached over and brushed a thumb under her eyes, and Luisa realized that she had been crying. She hadn’t known that. Her eyes met Rose’s and then quickly glanced away as she took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”
“Why didn’t you go on your date, Luisa?”
Now Lusia did freeze, her eyes growing wide. “I didn’t have a date,” she lied. “I was just here, and you showed up, and I didn’t have a date—”
“Don’t lie to me.” Rose placed her hands in her lap, and Luisa looked at them. It was easier to look at her hands than to look at her face and see how disappointed she was certain she looked now. “You are dressed way too nicely to not have been planning on going on a date before I showed up.”
“I wanted to watch the movie with you,” Luisa said, her voice still soft. She didn’t know how else to say it.
“We could have watched that movie at any point in time.” Then Rose smiled – Luisa knew she did, she could hear the smile in her voice. “Or not at any point in time, because if you had been honest with me, we wouldn’t have watched it at all.” Rose reached over and brushed her thumb along Luisa’s cheek this time, and when Luisa looked at her, the smile had almost faded – almost, but not quite. “You didn’t have to miss your date.”
“I wanted to watch the movie with you,” Luisa repeated, meeting Rose’s eyes, her voice still soft. Her eyes moved to Rose’s lips, and her head tilted to one side. “I wanted—”
Rose didn’t interrupt her, per say, but she did wrap an arm around her shoulders, pulling her into the same position she had been in before, when she’d been afraid of the movie. Luisa bit her lower lip and burrowed her face into Rose’s chest, letting out a shaking breath. She didn’t say anything else, instead relaxing against the redhead as Rose softly scratched her back, the same way her mother had when she was very, very young.
After a few moments, Rose spoke. “Next time,” she started, “don’t lie to me. Okay?”
“Okay.” Luisa could feel Rose’s voice more than she could hear it, and that soothed her more than anything. She still didn’t want to look up. She couldn’t say why.
“Now, come on. Let’s go watch something else and get those images out of your head.”
Luisa couldn’t tell her that it wouldn’t do any good. The images would be stuck anyway. But as she finally looked up and met Rose’s eyes with a nod, she realized that maybe – maybe – something else would be in her dreams anyway.