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Mom, I met this girl.

Luisa stands in front of a woman who has grown increasingly unresponsive as time has gone on.  The woman’s hair is cut short, just around her chin, and it’s flat – far flatter than it ever was before she was interned here.  They tell her – they have often told her – that being here is better for her mother than being out in the rest of the world might be, but Luisa isn’t sure that’s the case.  Her few memories of her mother show a woman who was alive and excited and happy, and this woman is none of those things.

Sometimes, on her dark days, Luisa thinks her mother would be better off dead than like this.  She regrets the thought almost immediately.

Usually.

Her fingers twitch in little motions, followed by some full arm movements – she signs for her mother because the last her mother talked with her was in sign.  It isn’t that her mother can’t speak; as far as she knows, there is nothing in her medications to indicate that they should rob her of her voice, not that she had ever been given the chance to look over them.  Her mother had simply chosen not to speak.

No.

It isn’t that simple.

Nothing with her mom ever is.

I met this girl, Luisa continues, and she tries to focus on her mother’s face, tries to read something – anything – in her expression, even though there isn’t much to be seen.  Her mother’s eyes watch her hands, and she doesn’t blink.  That’s the best Luisa can hope for.  Sometimes she tries to sign, and her mother’s gaze doesn’t even remain on her, instead focuses on the window, on the birds flying by or the leaves battering against the window panes.  But today, at least, her mother is paying attention to her, to what she is trying to say.

Luisa tries to think about how to describe Rose, and she smiles, and it’s not the brightest smile she’s ever worn, but it’s the brightest one she’s had around her mother in what feels like years.  Certainly the most genuine one.  It’s hard to really be happy while she’s here.  I think you would have—

She freezes.  Even signing, she makes the same blunders that she does speaking, doesn’t think through what she’s saying before she says it.  She winces and looks at her mother and her mother’s face hasn’t changed and the slip doesn’t really matter if her mother doesn’t care.

I think you would like her.

Then she realizes that she doesn’t have to describe Rose at all.  She bites her lower lip and she looks to the door and then she bends down next to her mom.  I know you aren’t big on cell phones, she signs, but I have a picture of her here, and I’d like you to see her.  Is that okay?

Luisa raises her eyebrows and stares at her mom and hopes for a response – even if it’s just a shake of her head that no, it isn’t okay – but there’s nothing.  Well, she could be disappointed and that could hurt, but she’ll just chalk up her mother’s lack of a response to genuine interest in seeing this girl that her daughter is so enamored with.  She brushes a strand of hair back behind one ear and reaches into her back pocket, pulling out her flip phone.  It makes her already large ass look larger there, draws attention to her natural assets, and she isn’t thinking about any of that as she swipes through the pictures, trying to find one that she really likes, and then there.  There it is.  Probably not her favorite of the pictures – it’s hard to pick just one because Rose really is one of the most photogenic people she has ever had the pleasure of meeting, so really she doesn’t even have a favorite, she has favorites – but this is perhaps the first one that she kept and looked at over and over and maybe was the one she was looking at when she realized that she didn’t just have a crush on Rose but—

This, Luisa says, pointing to the screen of her phone, is her.

It’s not a great or phenomenal picture by any means.  It’s a flip phone picture, so it’s a little hazy – and it would be a little hazy because there was such a bright sun in the background that had caused a bit of glare – but it was a good hazy, a good glare that made Rose look almost…angelic.  There was light around her hair, and her face was cast into shadow, but the light hit her eyes just right so there was that glint of blue behind her glasses.  Her red hair was pulled back into a ponytail, the end of which was lying just across her shoulder, and her left hand was playing with it, fingers trailing through its tips.  Her backpack was slung over one shoulder, and she was looking…away.  Not really focused on anything.

If Luisa scrolls to the next picture, there is a much clearer Rose immediately thereafter, just staring at her, head tilted ever so slightly to one side, her glasses resting on the edge of her nose, and if she scrolls even further to the next next picture, then Rose would be much fuzzier, running at her.  They’d fought over the phone, then, but Luisa had saved the pictures and maybe said she wouldn’t show them to anyone, but this was her mom, so Rose would forgive her.

And they are good pictures.  Her favorites.  The best.

As much as any of them could be.

Luisa looks at her mom and hopes for a response.  She bites her lower lip and stares at her.  It’s…easier to tell her mom things like this – she’d first come out to her mother, back when Mia had still occasionally signed to her, although that was one of the days where she didn’t, first told her that she didn’t think she really liked boys, but girls, Mom, she loved girls – and it was all because…sometimes her mom didn’t respond.  She had to worry about her dad’s reaction, but her mom took everything in stride.

That wasn’t always a good thing.

Luisa holds out the phone to her mom and watches for a reaction, and Mia smiles, just the slightest bit.  Mia’s hand lifts.

Pretty.

That’s more than enough for her heart to contain.


“Where were you today?” Rose asks, holding her mug of coffee in both hands.  It’s still steaming – the little clouds raise and fade just before they would tickle her chin.

Luisa shrugs.  “Out.”  It’s been months now since the first of the zombie movies – there have been others, not because Rose wants to teach Luisa anything about horror but because Luisa has tried to ease into seeing them with her.  It hasn’t worked very well.  Eventually, they made their way to the Twilight movies – which Luisa, admittedly, actually loved, no matter how much Rose mocked them or brought up how vampires were different in other versions.  It was more romance than horror, and she could sit through that.  Rose had then used that as a starting point and found a zombie movie she could actually watch – or said she could.  They haven’t gotten that far yet.

Rose still lives in the apartment across from her, but Luisa has found herself spending more and more time with the redhead instead of the other people in their complex.  The Jane and Michael situation has resolved itself, and Joey and Maria – a lot of J and M names in this complex, come to think of it – and she – well, much to her regret, she hasn’t taken the time to meet everyone else and get to know them as well as she once did.  Maybe this complex is the opposite of whatever a curse was – maybe it is the place to go to get paired up with someone else.

No.  Can’t be.  Rose doesn’t really seem all that interested in her.

“That’s specific.”  Rose blows the steam from her mug before taking a sip.  “You don’t want to talk about it?”

She does.  She does want to talk about it.  She just doesn’t know if their tentative friendship would survive something more solemn than breaking down each other’s doors and forcing each other to watch movies and deal with holidays (or avoid them outright – since Valentine’s Day, Rose tried to distract her from St. Patty’s Day, and that only succeeded in Luisa dragging Rose out to a bar with her.  It was the first time she’d been to a bar in a long time where she didn’t leave stone cold drunk, where she didn’t wake up the next morning with a warm and unfamiliar body next to her in bed and wonder precisely how she had gotten there).

When she doesn’t say anything, Rose passes her a mug.  The entire kitchen smells like coffee, so when she takes a sip from the cup (tentative, because she knows Rose drinks her coffee black and she can’t stand black coffee), she is surprised to find that it isn’t coffee at all.  Her brows raise as she looks up at her.  “You made hot chocolate?”

“Figured it’d be good to drink the last of it before it got too hot to be really enjoyable,” Rose says with a half-hearted shrug, her lips lifting.

“Like eating those rocket popsicles in December.”

“Sort of.”  Rose offers her another smile and then seems to hesitate before she asks, “Sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

Luisa looks up at her and gives a slight nod before staring into her hot chocolate.  She leans back against the kitchen counter.  “I was just visiting my mom.”  She takes a deep breath.  “She’s in one of the mental institutions up state – Belle Reve, you probably haven’t heard of it – and she’s…usually non-responsive.  She used to be better, but then she stopped talking until we both learned sign, and now she doesn’t even really sign anymore at all.”  Her lips slip into a sad smile.  “She did say something to me today, but I don’t think that means she’s getting any better.”  She glances back up to see how Rose will respond.

Rose just nods to herself once, a slow, solemn thing, as she takes another, slower sip of her coffee.  “How long has she been in there?”

“Since I was five years old,” Luisa murmurs.  “She used to have really bad hallucinations.  We took her out around my sixth birthday because we thought she was doing better, but then she almost jumped off of a bridge.”  She brushes a hand behind her ear nervously, as though she’s pushing back hair that isn’t down to be pushed back.  “We haven’t taken her out since then.  I guess her hallucinations have gotten better, because she never mentions them anymore.  But she…doesn’t mention anything anymore, so I guess we wouldn’t really know either way.”

Rose nods again, that same slower, sort of acceptance.  “Do you know what she has?”

Luisa shakes her head.  “I was a kid when Dad put her in there, and I’m sure they told him, but he never really explained it to me.  I don’t think he thought it was really all that important.”  She takes another sip of her hot chocolate.  “That’s why I’ve been going into psychology – I want to be able to help people, to find a better way to help Mom, and to make sure….”  She swallows harshly and forces herself to say it.  “To make sure I don’t become like her.”

“I can’t imagine you ever going non-verbal or not wanting to talk to anyone,” Rose says with a smile, says immediately, without any pause at all, as she scoots a little closer to her.  “I don’t think you have anything to worry about there.”

“I don’t know.”  Luisa’s words are hesitant.  Her fingers drum against her mug.  “Mom wasn’t the most introverted person in the world before she stopped talking.  At least…from what I remember.”

More like what she has been told – her grandmother, Allegria, used to tell her all sorts of stories of what her mom was like when she was Luisa’s age, about how alike they were, how much Luisa reminded her of her own little Mia.  Luisa doesn’t like to think about it that way, though.  She does remember her mom – obviously, she remembers her mom; she literally just saw her this morning – but she also remembers her mom before she was sent to Belle Reve, too.  Little pieces and flashes.  She’d been a good mom.  She’d been fierce.  But she hadn’t been as rambling and talkative as Luisa herself was – is.

The mug of hot chocolate feels warm between her hands.  It’s nice to focus on that.

“Why don’t you ask to look at her records, then?”

“Huh?”  Luisa’s head pops up, and she stares at Rose.  “What do you mean, look at her records?”

Rose shrugs.  “You’re family.  If she’s nonverbal and nonresponsive, then you have a right to look at her records and make decisions for her.”  Her lips press together, and her eyes narrow, but Luisa doesn’t know why.  “Even if she’s not nonverbal or nonresponsive."

“My dad would have that,” Luisa says with a shake of her head.  “I don’t have any right to anything.  Dad would.”  Her teeth grit together – there’s a flash of an argument in her memory that she shoves out of her head – and she shakes her head again.  “Dad still has the rights to Mom’s….  To everything.”

“Well, then, explain to the nurses that you’re her daughter and that you’ve been working on your own psych degree and you’d like to see what’s going on with your mom.  It shouldn’t be too hard.”  Rose presses her lips to the edge of her mug of coffee, and she looks off into the distance, past Luisa into the living room and the couch they’d shared when they first met, before saying, finally, her voice a little softer, a little harsher, “Maybe keep out the bit about being a psych student.  They might not like that.”

Luisa sighs.  “And what do I do if they say no?”

Rose’s gaze meets hers again, and a horrible, horrible grin breaks across her face.  “Next time you visit your mom, take me with you, and I’ll take care of everything.”

If Luisa didn’t know any better, she would be scared of that expression.  Truth be told, she still is.  But she just nods once.  This is her mom, after all.  She’ll take all the help she can get.


It isn’t a quick thing.

When she started college, a few years back, Luisa had been determined to visit her mother once or twice a week.  She had two days picked out – Tuesdays and Thursdays – and a specific timeslot for it because she didn’t have as full of a school day as she did on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Sometimes, if she wasn’t able to go during the week, she tried to go in on Saturdays or Sundays – there were more visitor things to do on the weekends, but that was when her dad was more likely to go visit and she’d wanted to have special days to visit her mom where it was just the two of them.  For some reason, she had thought that if she visited her mom alone, just her, then maybe Mia would be more likely to talk with her, that maybe they’d end up with their own winks and signs and…well, everything.

It hadn’t happened.  She’d stopped visiting twice a week within a month, and by the end of the semester, she’d only been visiting once a month at best.  She told herself over and over that she would get back into it and that she would be better about visiting her mom, but….  It hadn’t happened.

It still hasn’t happened.  She’s good if she even makes it once a month anymore.

And she feels guilty about it – she does! – because she still wants to visit her mom – she absolutely does! – but school is…school.  It’s busy and it’s a lot and it would be worse if she’d kept with the surgeon program she’d originally been eyeing (and which she knows her father would still rather she was doing than the psychiatrist route) and it’s…well, it’s a lot more than she’d thought it would be when she was a bushy-tailed, bright-eyed freshman who thought she could take on the world.

Sometimes she still thinks she can take on the world.  But seeing her mom….

So it’s another month before Luisa gets around to visiting her mom again.  This time, it’s harder because there’s additional complications – not that she thinks about bringing Rose with her as an additional complication because she loves Rose and she does want Rose to meet her mom but she’d wanted it to be in better circumstances (namely if she and Rose ever got together, but she’s not thinking about that because it isn’t very likely at all and she doesn’t want to give herself false hopes but it is impossible to not think about it every now and again especially since she has been spending so much of her free time with Rose instead of in bars or picking up other girls and she’s been between girlfriends for so many months and she isn’t thinking about it)—

Rose is an additional complication because she has to make sure their schedules are synced up and that Rose can come and she doesn’t know what Rose is going to do to get her mom’s information but she’s pretty sure it has something to do with the lawyer degree that she knows Rose has been going for and its uses in this circumstance are probably more than her psych degree and—

Even now, she is rambling.


Luisa smiles to the nurse as she enters the front room to Belle Reve, and she indicates the redhead behind her.  “This,” she says, her voice as firm as she can make it, “is Rose.  She’s a good friend of mine, and I wanted to bring her with me to meet my mom.”

Rose bows forward the slightest bit, lowering her head so that the edge of her ponytail slips and falls past her face.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Rose, you don’t have to—”

“No, no, it’s very nice of her.”  The nurse reaches out, and Rose takes her hand as she stands up straight once more.  The smile on her face is the smoothest – and least real – thing that Luisa has ever seen her wear.  Of course, the nurse offers her a smile back.  “I hope to see you more often.”

“Well, we’ll see about that.”  Rose drops the nurse’s hand as the second, interior door opens for them.

Luisa feels her heart clinch and drop just the slightest bit.  She hopes that Rose will come more often, too, but she knows that isn’t likely to happen.  Rose is just here to help out a friend.

A friend.

At least now she can say that they’re friends.  It should be a warm feeling – and it is!  It is.  And yet, the longing for more than that makes the word friend feel like a tombstone.

“My mother’s room is this way,” Luisa says, and she gestures with one hand for Rose to follow her.

Rose is slow as she follows her, seeming to make note of where everything is as they walk.  There’s a common area just in the front door, where a girl Luisa has never seen before (who looks surprisingly like Rose, if she was a little scamp and thinner and angular and crueler) lounges on one end of the couch, her arms splayed across the couch and her head hanging over the back so that she can watch the hallway towards the rooms.  To one side of the common room is the television room, where most of the nonverbal and nonresponsive patients are taken so that they can still enjoy something instead of being locked up in their rooms all day.  Luisa knows that often her mother is taken there as well, but that her mother has previously told them – long ago, back when she was still signing more frequently – that she didn’t want to be taken there at all, that she preferred the privacy of her room.  Some of the nurses listen.  Some of them don’t.  But her mother doesn’t tell her who takes her into the television room when she finds her there, so she can’t chew anyone out for not reading her records.

Now.  Normally, Luisa does not encourage chewing out nurses or doctors or anyone in that job field because she does honestly believe they are doing her best.  But it has happened enough.  It has happened enough and she has said it enough and she feels like no one is listening.  Not even Brooks, the head nurse, who said that she would make sure to let the other nurses know – although that had helped it be less frequent for a time.

But Luisa always goes to her mother’s room before she investigates the television room.  She always expects that her mother is where she is supposed to be and not somewhere she doesn’t want to be.

The hallway leads back from the common room, and Luisa can feel the girl on the couch’s eyes on her and Rose as they walk down it.  When she was younger, she would run her hand along the tiles up the first half of the walls, letting her fingers catch in the grout between each tile.  Now that she’s older, she doesn’t do that anymore.  But she remembers.

Her mom is the third door on the left.

Luisa raps her knuckles on the outside of the door before pushing it open.  “Mom?”

There’s no sound.  Well, of course there’s no sound.  Her mom doesn’t respond – no speech, no sign – and even though Luisa knows better than to hope, a small part of her – the same small part that hoped the last time she was here, one that has only grown larger since her mother signed to her then, even in that small bit of time – continues to hope and is only disappointed by her apparent lack of response.  Still, even though there is nothing now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be something while she is here.

Luisa kneels down next to where her mother is sitting, just in front of the barred window on the opposite end of the room.  “Hey, Mom.  I brought a friend with me this time.”  She glances over to Rose, who stands just inside of the doorway, her arms crossed together.  “Her name is Rose.”

Mia’s gaze moves from the window to the doorway, and when her eyes alight on Rose, she doesn’t seem to react.  Not at first anyway.  After a few seconds, though, her fingers move, signing, Pretty.

Luisa grins, and she signs back, Yes, Mom.  She’s very pretty.

“What is she saying?” Rose asks.

“That it’s nice to meet you.”

“That’s a lot to sign in one word.”

“Well, that’s what she said.”  Luisa shoots Rose a look.  Then she gestures her over.  “Do you want to come say hi?”

Rose shakes her head.  “No.  I have something else to do.  I’ll be right back.”  She opens the door, and perhaps Luisa isn’t meant to see it, but out of the corner of her eye, she can see Rose giving Mia the same nod she’d offered the nurse, but with a different smile – one that she knows, one that seems much more real, much more fond.  Then she is gone.

Luisa turns back to her mother, only to find that Mia’s gaze has already returned to the window.  She sighs and takes her mom’s hand in one of her own, but there’s no response.  “Sorry about that, Mom,” she says, watching her mom’s face for any sign of recognition or reaction.  “Rose is trying to help me find out what they’re doing to you.  Not that I think it’s bad, I’m sure they’re doing their absolute best, but I just—”  She swallows once and shakes her head.  “I’ve been taking a lot of psychology classes – I’m hoping to be a psychiatrist, like that lady you meet every week – and I was hoping that I could look over your records because I’ll be able to understand or learn something or—”  She takes a deep breath and places her other hand on her forehead.  “I’m sure that sounds stupid.  Like I’m trying to find them doing wrong or something.  But I just want to know what they’ve been giving you and everything.  Just—”

Mia’s hand turns in hers ever so slightly and gives it a gentle squeeze.

Luisa looks back up, and her mom isn’t smiling at her or even really looking at her much, but her gaze has drifted from the window almost back to her.  She follows her gaze.  Her mom is looking at the door.  “She’ll be back soon, Mom.  Don’t worry.”  She grins, sheepish, and chuckles a little bit.  “You remember her from my picture, right?  I….  We’ve been spending a lot of time together.  She’s…really nice.  I know it doesn’t seem like it from her coming in and leaving, but she’s here to help and she’ll spend some time with us later and—”

The door opens and then slams shut behind Rose, who isn’t breathing heavily the way Luisa thought she might after that slam.  There is a folder in one of her hands.  She tosses it over to Luisa but doesn’t move from the doorway.  “Here,” she says.  “I got your mother’s file.  You should look at it.”

Luisa grabs the folder, hesitates, looks over at her mother, and then opens it.  Her eyes grow wide, and she looks up, staring at Rose.  “Can we get copies of this?”


Rose sits on her customary corner of her couch and watches Luisa curiously.  The loud-mouthed, overly energetic girl has said absolutely nothing since they left Belle Reve, instead devouring the copies of her mother’s records that Rose had made.  It hadn’t been easy to make copies, but she’d been able to do it.

And now here they are, sitting in her apartment.  She sits curled up with her blanket pulled over her knees, a cup of coffee in her hands, and continues to watch Luisa.  The brunette still has her mother’s records spread out in front of her, and the more she reads, the darker her face grows.  Her lips press together in a thin, thin line, and her eyes narrow.

“What is it?” Rose asks finally, not because she’s unable to leave the silence alone but because it feels uncomfortable for Luisa to go so long without speaking without being asleep (or feigning it).  “What’s wrong with your mother?”

“They’re drugging her into oblivion,” Luisa says, her teeth gritted together in a way quite uncharacteristic of her.  Her lips press together again into that same thin, thin line, and she stares at the records in front of her.  Her head gives a little shake.  She points to the pages in front of her – particularly the one covered with the list of medications her mother is on.  “The reason she doesn’t talk anymore is because they have drugged her so much that she can’t speak.”  She looks up, shakes her head.  “She can speak, but it’s…it’s like its effects all combine together.  Her mind is probably so cloudy that she can’t…that she doesn’t care anymore.”  She turns to Rose.  “I have to get her out of there, Rose.”

Rose looks at her and nods once.  Something in her bubbles up, loud and angry and claws out, but she pushes it back down, forces herself to look at everything logically.  “Okay.  Let’s say you get her out of there – let’s say you convince your dad to let you get her out—”

“I’ll convince him.  I’ll hire someone to watch her here while I’m at school, and I’ll make sure her medication isn’t this bad, and I’ll make him go get a second opinion with one of the top psychiatrists, and they’ll confirm what I’m saying—”

“Luisa, you can’t keep your mother here,” Rose interrupts, staring at her, hating herself for bringing up the complication, hating the complication for even existing.

Luisa stares right back.  “Why not?  Why can’t I keep her here?”

“First of all, you know the landlord is shitty with heating and cooling.  It’s not good for anyone who isn’t used to it.  It’s not good for us.  That’s why you used to come over here all of the time.  That’s why we met – you were just so desperate to get warm—”

“—and you didn’t kick me out.”

“I thought about it,” Rose said, taking a sip of her coffee and then placing it on her coffee table, just next to the pages Luisa had spread out across it.  “More than you’re thinking about this now.”

“I can’t think about it that much, Rose.  I just know I have to get her out!”  Luisa’s hands clench into fists, and she turns to Rose, her eyes wide.  “My mom – she doesn’t need all of this shit!  They’re just…making her easier to deal with.  They’re not actually helping her.”  She shakes her head.  “I can’t leave her in there, living like that.  I can’t imagine—”

“She’s been in there for a while now—”

“Years!  It has been years, Rose!”  Luisa’s voice is loud – far louder than it has ever had any reason to be in this apartment, in Rose’s apartment.

“—so staying there for a little while longer while you get everything figured out won’t hurt her too much.”  Rose meets Luisa’s eyes and tries to hold her gaze.  “Make sure that you are going to be able to take care of her before you get her out, or your father is likely to throw her back in there when he realizes that you can’t take care of her.”  She hates herself for saying it, hates herself for being logical, but someone has to be in this situation.  “That would be even worse.  You know it just as much as I do.”

Luisa nods once, and she takes a deep, shaking breath.

Rose reaches over and brushes the tear pooling at the corner of Luisa’s eyes.  “I’ll help,” she says, her voice soft.  “Okay?  I will help you get this all figured out.  As much as I can.  Whatever you need.”

“No,” Luisa says, and she shakes her head, gathering up her mother’s records and standing.  “I think you’ve helped enough.  I…I need to figure this out myself.”  And before Rose can say another word, Luisa turns to her, gives her a smile, and says, “Don’t worry.  I’ll see you soon.”  Then she starts to leave.

But before she can, Rose grabs her wrist and stops her.  “No,” she says, her voice soft but firm, and she bites her lower lip.  “There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you about.”  Her head tilts to one side, and she forces a smile on her lips.  This isn’t how she’s planned on having this conversation – in fact, she hasn’t been sure she wanted to have it at all – but there isn’t anyone else she wants to ask.  She’s not really close enough to anyone to ask.  And now…she can’t imagine not asking her now.

She expects Luisa to ask her if this is really the right time, but Luisa just takes a deep breath to still herself and stays where she is.  “What’s up?” she asks, her brows raising.  “Are you going to ask me out on a date?  Because you know what, Rose, you’re super cute, and if you ask, I’ll probably say yes.”  She grins.  “In fact, after all of your help, I will 100% say yes.  I would love to.  Let’s go on a date.”

“I haven’t even asked you yet!” Rose says, and then she blushes a bright red, her gaze growing harsh.  “And that wasn’t what I was going to ask at all!  Why are you like this?”

Luisa shrugs.  “I didn’t have a mom to teach me not to.”  Her smile fades, but it still stays in place.  “So,” she leans forward, her eyes twinkling.  “What did you want to ask me?”

Rose gestures with one hand, and Luisa follows her into the bedroom.  It isn’t as though she’s never been here before; in fact, she had spent a lot of time here during the winter because Rose was much more comforting to sleep with when it got cold than the boys upstairs, who she avoided as much as possible.  And Rose allowed her to stay…most of the time.  Not all of the time, and of course there were nights where she had gone drinking and brought a girl back with her to her own apartment, so she hadn’t stayed here – but the point is that she is very well familiar with Rose’s bedroom.

But Luisa hasn’t been brought in here during the day, just to sit and chat and whatever it is that Rose is planning.  As she follows her, she purrs, “Are you sure you weren’t going to ask me on a date?  Or are you just leading me to where the date would inevitably end?”

Shut up.

“I don’t know,” Luisa says, tapping her chin with one finger.  “I think sex in the daytime is great and everything, but if we’re going to start doing that, I’d rather the cover of darkness for our first time.  And little sprinkling lights.  Do you have little sprinkling lights?  Oh, no, of course not, those are Christmas—”

“Luisa, if we go on a date, and if I bring you back for sex – both of which are very big ifs right now, since you won’t stop talking about it – then I will certainly break up with you as soon as you start complaining about the aesthetic of my room during sex.  And then you will have no sex.  Absolutely none.”

“A date and no sex?  How rude.

Rose doesn’t say anything, just sits on the edge of her bed and pulls out her computer, patting the spot next to her.  She’s kept the website up because as good as the internet that Elena pays for is sometimes, it’s occasionally spotty and shuts out.  Keeping the site up at least lets her scroll around on it even when the internet cuts out.  She takes her glasses from her bedside table and puts them back on before giving Luisa a harsh glare.  “If you say anything about how hot I look while wearing my librarian glasses, this entire conversation is off, okay?”

I don’t even know what the conversation is, Rose!” Luisa exclaims, pouting.  Her gaze returns to the open door, and she sighs.  “I want to start planning how to take care of my mother, and you’re keeping me here for whatever—”

“I was looking for a new place to live,” Rose says, interrupting her all at once, “and I think I found a place.”  She points to the screen and then passes the laptop over to Luisa.  “Look.”

“I don’t see what this has to do with helping my mom or why it was so important that you tell me about that now,” and although Luisa is saying it now, it doesn’t have the weight to it that Rose might have expected from anyone else – there’s no shame, no guilt in what Luisa is saying, only a gentle jesting.  Luisa knows that this is important – and it’s only in the tongue that she sticks out at her and the grin she still wears that points to her still continued seriousness in this matter.  If Luisa was really upset with her, she wouldn’t still be making a joke of it.

Rose watches as Luisa finally begins to look at the page – at the little rental house she has found – and it is little, built as closely to her specifications as she can find, and with a fairly small monthly rent – and she becomes only a little bit unsettled when Luisa’s eyes widen.

Luisa turns to her.  “And what are you going to do with three bedrooms?  I mean – one for your bedroom and one for an office and I guess one for a guest room, which sucks, because that means when I go visit you you’re going to expect me to be in a guest room instead of with you – and how am I going to make it through next winter without you here to let me barge into your apartment to keep warm and—”

“I was thinking you could move in with me.”

Rose pulls one of her legs up beneath her and tightens her grip on her ankle.  She takes a deep breath and looks at Luisa because it’s easier to have this conversation looking at her than to try and look anywhere else.  “It’s not very expensive, but it’s cheaper than our current rent.  I’ll pay for internet, and then we’d have to split bills – and the bills would probably make it as much as it is here, but it’s a house and we could control our own heating and our own air conditioning, which honestly would be the best part.  It’s closer to your university and still within biking distance of my internship.”

“You’ve really thought this through,” Luisa says, and her face seems to be frozen, the grin having dropped entirely.  “Could we plant sunflowers in the garden?” she asks, staring at Rose.  “Only I’ve wanted to have a garden and if…if there’s a backyard, maybe we could have a dog, and—”

“I don’t think we should get a dog,” Rose answers.  “I thought I would have one bedroom, and you could have the other bedroom.  At first, I was planning on the third bedroom being an office, but I think,” and here she takes a deep breath before continuing, “your mom could stay there.”  It’s impromptu and not at all what she has been planning on, but it feels right all the same.  “It’s almost summer.  She could move in then.  You could watch her while I’m at my internship, and as long as you taught me everything I needed to know, I could watch her while you’re at work or school.  You could show me what I need to learn over the summer.  Then, when you start your classes again—”

“You want me and my mom to move in with you.”

“I’m giving you an option.”  Rose keeps her hands in her lap and watches as Luisa puts the laptop over to the side.  “It’s a better option than not knowing what you’re going to do, and it saves you money because you aren’t hiring a house keeper.  It lets you be there the entire time.  You’ll have someone you trust, who you have personally trained, with you.”  She shrugs.  “It’s a good option.”

Luisa nods.  “It’s a….  It’s a very good option.”  She presses her lips together and finally looks up to meet Rose’s eyes.  “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure that you can’t move your mom in here.  You’ll have to move somewhere else.”  Rose tilts her head to one side.  “Why not have that somewhere else be with me?”

Luisa takes a deep breath and nods.  “That is…that is a very good idea,” she says, shutting the laptop and turning to face Rose fully, at which point Rose knows that she has already made her decision because otherwise Luisa would be avoiding her eyes and looking at everything else that isn’t her.  “But how am I going to live with someone who won’t decorate for Christmas?”  She frowns and crosses her arms.  “Christmas is very important to my family, and if you won’t let me decorate—”

Rose shakes her head and lets out a huff.  “You can decorate.  I’ve lived with people who decorated before.  Just don’t expect me to like it.”

“I won’t.”  Luisa leans forward and presses a kiss to Rose’s cheek.  It’s the first time she’s done anything like that since they met, and Rose’s cheek flushes a bright scarlet again.  But Luisa just as quickly looks elsewhere, refusing to focus on her.  “Sorry.  You don’t like that.”

“I don’t mind it,” Rose hears herself saying.  “Just don’t do it again.”

“Of course not.”  Luisa stands, holding her mother’s records close to her chest.  “So we’re…we’re doing this?  We’re moving in together?”

“I guess so.”

You didn’t even ask me out, and already we’re moving in together, what will my mother think?

Rose reaches over and slaps Luisa’s arm.  “Don’t say it like that!  We’re just living together!  We’re not—”

Living together, what will my mother think?

And Luisa scoots just out of Rose’s reach as she scampers out of the apartment, a bright grin on her face, apparently excited and happy and probably not overwhelmed because Rose is certain she couldn’t do anything to make Luisa Alver feel overwhelmed.  Certainly not as overwhelmed as she feels now.

Rose takes a deep breath.  Well.  She hasn’t been sure how good of an idea this is, but it seems to be falling together now.

At least Luisa hadn’t harped on the yet.