Luisa’s cheeks are flushed a bright red when she comes home. She has a bag in her hand – a bright blue one, covered with little pink flowers with yellow sunshiny centers, the sort of bag that people hide presents in before handing them over for birthdays or something random but not Christmas, because Christmas packaging is all green and red and covered in Santas or other presents or Christmas trees or ornaments or Disney characters, and yes, some of them can be blue, but those are often covered with snowmen and they aren’t the same bright blue that this one is. She stumbles into the living room and slumps down on the couch next to Rose, who is watching her curiously. “Next time, you come with me,” she says, her eyes a little too bloodshot for comfort, her breath reeking of liquor.
Rose nods once, placing her book and her glasses on the side table so as not to give off the sexy librarian vibe while Luisa is so obviously drunk, and scoots a little further away from her. “If you make it through this without getting sick, then yes, I might join you next time.” She looks at the bag, one brow raising. “What’s your present?”
“Wouldn’t you love to know,” Luisa slurs, and she giggles as she holds the bag closer to her. “Not for you.”
“Alright. Not for me.” Rose rolls her eyes. “But don’t you want me to see it?”
Luisa’s eyes widen all at once, and she grins so bright that it would light up the room if she weren’t drunk and Rose wasn’t afraid of her getting sick again. “Do you want to see it?”
Rose blinks a couple of times, and if this were a tv show, she would be staring straight into the camera before turning back to Luisa. “I asked what it was. That usually means I want to see it. I certainly didn’t stay up waiting for you to get back to not see whatever it was you got.” Her eyes narrow. “Better question – who gave that to you?”
“OH, this one was from Jane.” Luisa giggles again, opening up the bag just enough to stare into it, and then snapping it shut again. “And I got one for Petra, and,” here her eyes narrow as she stares off into empty space, “it’s the first time anyone’s been able to get either of them anything because the last four times we’ve done this they’ve been dating or wanting to date or wanting to be all over each other so they traded around to get each other’s names and finally they decided not to do that this year because really they can buy this stuff for each other whenever they want and this is meant to be fun for everyone and as much as I love Susanna, sometimes we get tired of buying each other stuff when we’re not together—” She grins again, but this one has a little more malice. “Not that we didn’t try – and we did try, and she was amazing – not as good as me, obviously.” She gestures with one hand to her body before continuing, “But there’s only so many times you buy stuff for your ex before you get a little tired, which is why you have to come with me next time—”
Then Luisa stops, all at once, and stares at Rose. “You look unhappy.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Well, I know just how to cheer you up!” Luisa leans over as though to give her a sloppy kiss on her cheek, but Rose leans back before she has any opportunity to do it. Then Luisa pouts. “I wasn’t going to do that. I just had an idea! I’m stealing you this weekend. You’re free! I know you’re free! Just one evening! You have to give me one of them!”
Rose wants to say no. She wants to use Mia as an excuse – but in the past few months, Luisa’s mother has gotten better at being more fully aware of herself and her surroundings. She’s been signing more – which means Rose has actually gotten better at signing and understanding what Mia is saying – and she’s actually been getting up and doing things. She would definitely be able to take care of herself for a few hours – longer, if they are gone longer – especially in the evenings, considering how early Mia closes herself up in her room. So there’s no reason to say no with her as an excuse.
The bigger reason Rose knows better than to say no is that she knows Luisa like this. She’ll argue, she’ll pout, she’ll whine, and in the end, Rose will say yes to make her stop only for Luisa to not remember any of the conversation when she wakes up. Better to cut all of that off now before it can even start.
“Okay,” Rose says, hesitant, pulling on the edge of one of her sleeves. “If you want me for an evening, you can have me.” She doesn’t flush because this isn’t a date – Luisa hasn’t asked her on one yet, and she hasn’t asked the other on one either. There really hasn’t been time. Not with Mia around. She complicates things.
But this isn’t a date. Not even remotely. Luisa wouldn’t ask her out on one while she was drunk – she certainly hadn’t yet – and she would forget about it when she wakes up. She would. Just like she forgot everything else when she was this drunk.
It’s nice, though, to see the way Luisa’s face brightens so easily when Rose agrees without a fight, so nice that Rose almost feels her lips lift in a gentle smile as well. She brushes a hand through Luisa’s hair, and for a moment, it seems like Luisa will lean up against her, the way she used to when she would visit her apartment, when they would watch movies together.
Then Luisa’s eyes widen, and she gives a harsh coughing sound, and she runs to the bathroom, dropping the bag on the floor as she does.
Rose sighs, takes a deep breath, and follows her, if only to keep her hair out of her face as she gets sick.
The absolute first thing Rose does when she gets back to the house is drop everything in her room, gather her robe, and head to the bathroom for a nice soak. Her internship has been the week straight from hell. She can – and did – survive it as unscathed as she survives everything these days, but if she doesn’t let herself sit in a hot bathtub for an hour or so and let the frustrations seep out into the water, they’ll end up on the tip of her tongue, barbed and poised to hit Luisa, who certainly doesn’t deserve it.
Mostly doesn’t deserve it.
The day would likely have gone a little more smoothly if Rose hadn’t been operating on not quite enough hours of rest, since she’d stayed awake holding Luisa’s hair back while the other woman got sick and making sure she had aspirin and a bottle of water resting on her bedside table for when she woke up with her inevitable hangover. Honestly, she could do with a nap instead of bath, but she doesn’t want her body to get used to these kinds of hours. Better to stay awake for a little while longer and then just crash.
She barely makes it into the bathroom, locking the door behind her, before there is a pounding on the door. There is, of course, only one person living in their apartment who would try to bother her in the bathroom, and it certainly isn’t the older woman with the history of mental illness problems.
“Rose?” Luisa’s voice is a little more chipper than she’d thought it would be, considering the last time she’d seen her, but somehow, it doesn’t surprise her. “Can we talk for a few minutes?”
“Can’t talk, getting in the bath. Try again tomorrow.” Rose makes sure to actually slip into the bath as she says this so that it isn’t technically a lie. Not that she particularly cares about lying to Luisa – she doesn’t; she’s a lawyer; lies are part of what she does (that isn’t true, that is a stereotype, she doesn’t lie, she obfuscates, she veils, she dances a little shimmy around and plays a show for the people watching – but she doesn’t strictly speaking lie) – but with Luisa it is always better to be literal with stuff like this, otherwise the other woman is likely to try and barge in regardless. Even if the door is locked.
Luisa leans against the door and falls to the floor – Rose can hear it, and she imagines that her friend’s lips are pursed into an unhappy pout. “But you promised I would get one of your evenings this weekend, and I wanted to talk about that.”
Fuck. She remembered.
“Look, Lu,” Rose settles into the bathtub and lets out a relaxing sigh. “Can I take a raincheck? This week has been absolute hell, and I just want—”
“—to pamper yourself! Yeah! I get that! But,” and here Rose knew that Luisa had a bright, mischievous grin plastered on her face, “this is a form of pampering. You need to get out and relax!”
It is a little easier to resist Luisa when she’s not actually staring at her. Rose takes a deep breath. “I don’t want to get out and get drunk, Luisa. Vomit is not a form of relaxation. Neither is a hangover.”
“I don’t have a hangover!”
“The rest still stands.” Rose rubs her forehead. Unlike when Luisa’s drunk, she’ll remember this conversation, and she’ll hold it against her in the future. If she doesn’t go with her this weekend, Luisa will keep bringing it up until she does go. She doesn’t even know what this thing is. But knowing Luisa, it isn’t going to be relaxing in the slightest. All of its relaxation would end up getting turned into anxious energy or frustration or—
“Fine,” Rose says, and she looks sadly at the steam still rising from her bath. “After my bath. Just…give me a few hours of silence, okay?”
I don’t want to rip your throat out when you’re just trying to help.
The thought makes her teeth grind together – the best way to help is sometimes to just leave things alone. She knows that better than most. Her eyes move to the long, thin scars on each of her arms, and she takes a deep breath, sinking beneath the water until it comes up to the bridge of her nose.
But Luisa’s voice is still bright and chipper and excited, and that sits warm in the center of her chest more than the steaming water warms the rest of her. “We won’t go drinking – I’ve had enough for a while, and I don’t want to make you drive everywhere—”
Rose would still be driving everywhere regardless of whether Luisa drank or not. Luisa is not a great driver. She’s an okay one. Rose, on the other hand, is a great driver. She’ll get them through this as quickly as possible and then get them right back so that she can keep the rest of her weekend to herself.
“Luisa,” she says, finally, as she breaks the surface of the tub. “Silence, please?”
“Oh, yeah, right.” Luisa is grinning again; she can hear it in the tone of her voice – that sheepish one, with the little blush across her cheeks, and her fingers fumbling together. “I’ll leave you alone. For now!” Then, just as quickly, “Do you want me to get you something to eat? I’ll get you something to eat when you get out.”
Rose doesn’t say anything. She lets out a long breath, listening as Luisa’s rambling fades away into silence, and then closes her eyes. She could nap here. That wouldn’t be too bad, would it? Just sit in the warm bath and rest her eyes for a few minutes….
(When she wakes with a start a half hour later, the water has grown clammy, her fingers and toes are all wrinkled, and she doesn’t feel any more awake than she did before – if anything, she feels even more tired. But as she drags herself out of the bathtub, she can smell something simultaneously sweet and spicy cooking. She wraps her bathrobe around herself and smiles. The food will help her feel better than whatever else Luisa has planned, she’s certain of it, but at least….
Sometimes someone thinking about you doesn’t have to be a dangerous thing.)
“We’re here!” Luisa proudly exclaims as she pulls Rose out of the car.
Rose glances around. Here is not what she expected – and she expected a lot of things from Luisa, and maybe this is not the bottom rung of what she expected, but it was certainly one of the lower tiers. Okay, maybe more middle tier now that she was thinking about it. “Luisa, why are we at an adult shop?” She looks around them, and her lips press together so tight that she speaks through gritted teeth. “Luisa, why are we at a strip mall of adult shops?”
“A strip mall of strip tease!” Luisa says and then giggles, her hand tightening on Rose’s. “Look, whenever my friends and I were about to have a really bad time at school – so usually right before finals or in the middle of finals or when we needed to make ourselves better after finals – basically this was a finals thing, you get that right?”
Rose takes a deep breath and kneads her forehead. “I get that it’s a finals thing. I still don’t get what it is.”
“Oh! Right.” Luisa grins sheepishly. “We used to buy each other lingerie. Or. That’s what we do now. We used to just general underwear from really cheap places like Walmart.” She shivers all at once. “We upgraded to lingerie when Susanna and I decided to set Petra and Jane up. More like we switched to lingerie and made sure that Petra got Jane’s name and information and watched her slowly come into the bisexual wonder she is now.”
“I take it that was your idea.”
Luisa shrugs. “Hey, sometimes you have to help your friends realize that it’s totally okay to be attracted to the hot lawyer lady.” She taps Rose’s nose. “Not that I would ever do that with you, of course.”
“Of course.” Rose gives a firm nod. “So, what, you want me to buy you lingerie, and that’s supposed to make me feel better?”
“Yep!” Luisa chirped. “And I buy you lingerie. It’s a lot of fun!”
It does not sound like fun to Rose. It does not sound like fun at all. In fact, not only does it not sound like fun, it actually actively sounds like a really bad idea primarily because she very much does not want to think about Luisa like that at all. (She does. Well. She doesn’t, but sometimes her mind wanders. She tries very hard not to think about it.) Worse, she isn’t sure she wants Luisa to think about her that way. (It doesn’t matter whether she wants that or not. Luisa’s brought it up in passing enough times – even as a joke – that Rose is pretty sure the other has thought about it. She has probably been thinking about this sort of thing for a very long time – how to rope Rose into this so that she can give her something she’s already bought. Oh, this is a horrible idea.)
Luisa’s lips contort into a frown as Rose doesn’t say anything, and she grabs onto her arm, holding on tight to it. “We don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. But it honestly is fun. Honest. Susanna and I end up with each other a lot, and we’re not together and we haven’t wanted to actually be together in a really long time. And I got Petra’s yesterday and got some from Jane, and they’re definitely still together – Rose, it’s really just a friendly fun friendly thing to do.” Her lips smooth into a smile. “You want your girls to look good when they want to look good, and who’s going to be better to help them with that than their besties?”
Rose’s eyes narrow. “They’re boyfriends. Or girlfriends. Or whoever they are with.”
Luisa sticks her tongue out. “They can do that any time. This is more fun! Trust me.” She pulls a piece of paper out of her back pocket and hands it over to Rose. “This is my information – all the sizes you’re going to need. And here’s one for you to fill out.” She hands Rose a blank piece of paper and a pen. “All the sizes I’ll need and if you have any preferences or any sort of lingerie you will absolutely not wear.” She gives Rose a onceover. “And maybe tell me if I’m looking for something that looks attractive to a guy or to a girl or to something else. I’d like some direction on that one.”
“I’m sure you would,” Rose says. She stares at the blank piece of paper and sighs. Time to jump off the deep end. It takes a few seconds to scribble out everything Luisa needs, and as she does, that isn’t any cue to the other to stay silent.
Luisa just nods once, leaning forward. “I absolutely would. I mean, I’ve never seen you with anyone, and I’ve never heard you with anyone, and it’s been, what, a year? Almost a year?” Her head tilts to the side. “Okay, not quite a year, it’ll be a year at Christmas. Do you just not date?”
“Does it look like I have time to date?” Rose asks as she hands over the slip of paper. “Between my internships and helping you take care of your mother and now this impromptu whatever it is, I’m not sure I really have time for that sort of thing.”
“Not even a one night stand?” Luisa takes the slip, folds it in half, and then shoves it in her back pocket. “That sounds horrible.”
“Coming from the girl who hasn’t been with anyone since we moved in together.”
Luisa pouts. “I can’t take a girl back to my place when my mom lives there. That’s weird, Rose.”
“Oh, definitely. She might be listening.”
“Ew.” Luisa steps backward, waving her hands in the air. “That’s gross.” She shoves Rose towards one of the boutiques. “You go find me something nice, and I’ll find you something nice, and whatever you find me better be nice enough to make up for me having to think about my mom listening to me have sex ew Rose why would you even—”
Rose cuts Luisa off by walking into the nearest boutique.
It is only then that she realizes that Luisa hasn’t listed any preferences at all on her little slip of paper – only Buy me whatever you think would look best on me! I look forward to seeing what you get. ;)
Fuck fuck fuck, Luisa why the fuck—
She turns around to go get a straight answer out of the brunette, to give her some direction about what to get, only to find that Luisa has completely disappeared from the parking lot. Rose groans and rubs her head with her hands again.
This was a bad idea. This was a horrible idea. She should never have agreed to this. Never.
Rose takes a deep breath and turns back, only to find one of the workers right behind her. The woman has cropped, bright pink hair and purple eyes – contacts, probably, because people didn’t actually have purple eyes in real life, and it doesn’t surprise her that someone who works in an adult store (boutique, whatever) would wear eye color changing contacts – and she lifts her lips in an easygoing smile, one hand shoved into her pocket. “You new around here?”
“No,” Rose lies immediately. She’s been in adult stores before. She knows her way around.
The worker nods once. “You sure? Because you’ve got that deer in headlights look.” Her lips purse together, and she taps one finger against her chin. Then her face falls. “Wait, is Luisa doing one of those let’s get a group together and buy random lingerie things again? Because I was certain I heard her—”
“Yes.” Rose takes the worker’s hand in her own and then just as quickly drops it because that’s a little too familiar for her. “They were in here yesterday, right?” She takes a deep breath. “Can you give me some idea of what Luisa likes? Because she left this thing blank as all sin, and I have no idea what to get her.”
“Oh, sweetie,” the worker says, her muted lips pulling up in a grin, “that’s the entire point.”
Rose’s teeth grit together, and her jaw works against itself. “What do you mean?”
The worker takes a deep breath, her eyes lifting to the ceiling as though asking for celestial help, and then looks back down. “She’ll try anything once, and she doesn’t like what you might get cut off by what she’s used to. How does she say it?” She taps her chin with her finger again. “How do I know what I like until I like it? Something like that.”
Rose scowls. That certainly sounds like Luisa. Which is the worst thing of all because she certainly doesn’t want to get something Luisa already knows she doesn’t like just because Luisa wants to try it. Her lips press together. “So you won’t help me.”
The girl’s shoulders lift in a simple shrug, and she leans back against the counter. “And get Luisa’s wrath for it later? Absolutely not.” She sighs. “Did you at least make her set a price limit? She won’t do that unless someone else forces her to.”
“A price limit?” Rose groans. “No. I figured that was a given.”
Another lie. She’d honestly forgot to ask. She hasn’t done this sort of thing before – at least, not since middle school and those stupid Secret Santa groups where there was always a limit (usually five or ten bucks because it was middle school and they were definitely that cheap). In fact, she has been actively avoiding these sorts of things for a while now. Her roommates in college were very adamant about them, especially around Christmas, and whenever they’d asked her to join, she’d said no. It took way too much big brain thinking.
And even then, those would have been far preferable to this because those usually gave her a month or so to collect information and estimate what the other person would actually like, whereas this is impromptu and immediate and she doesn’t have time to wait and see what Luisa drops hints about or anything like that, she just has to pick something.
Rose doesn’t feel anxious – she doesn’t get anxious – but she can’t help but feel like this is just a snide way for Luisa to see what she wanted her to wear. That just makes her uncomfortable. It makes her mad.
This was supposed to help her relax, and if she had been even remotely a normal person, this wouldn’t help her relax in the slightest. What the hell, Luisa?
“See, that’s a problem,” the worker said with a grimace. “If there’s no price limit, Luisa’s just gonna spend. You can expect a couple of different options. Something super out there that you didn’t specify not liking and then something that she thinks will fit better with what she knows of you.”
Rose groans again, kneading her forehead. “So you’re saying I have to get her two things, too.”
“Not at all.” The worker smiles. She’s shorter than Rose is, but just by a hair or so, and she leans forward in that way Luisa does when she wants to make a point. “You want some advice?”
Rose’s eyes narrow again. “Yes. I think I made it very clear earlier that I was desperate for advice.”
The pink-haired girl smiles, and her purple eyes seem to grow just the slightest bit dark. “Get her something you want to get her. Don’t worry about what she wants. She’ll like that better.” She snaps her fingers. “And take a risk. That’ll make up for not wanting to spend a whole heck of a bunch.”
“What if I spend as much as she does?”
“You another one of her lawyer friends?”
Rose gives a slight nod. “Intern. I don’t get paid for it, though.”
“Then you’re not going to spend as much as she does.” The worker reaches forward as though to tap Rose’s nose and then seems to think better of it, clapping her hand against Rose’s shoulder instead. “She won’t hold it against you.”
“I’ll hold it against me,” Rose says through gritted teeth under her breath as she turns away.
In what world is this sort of thing fun? Luisa’s world, obviously, but that doesn’t make it okay for her to rope and drag other people in a veiled attempt to make them feel better just to judge them for what they might or might not get her. In all honesty, that’s why Rose has always hated these sorts of things. No matter how good she thinks she is at buying presents – at guessing correctly what someone might want – she always feels like the other person is a little bit disappointed with her. Like she’s off the mark somehow.
Usually she doesn’t care about that sort of thing, but she finds that right now she actually cares a lot.
Well, determination is a little better than sitting and wallowing in her frustrations. (She can do that later – frustration with work compiled with frustration with Luisa for making her do this sort of thing in the first place.)
But as she moves through the lingerie aisles (noting some outfits for later – she’ll go through the other stores, too, to see what each of them have and then decide from there – and, of course, some of the things she considers don’t come in Luisa’s size, which is inevitable, she thinks), Rose lets her mind empty, and as she focuses more on the task at hand and lets her frustrations dissipate, she realizes something.
Then she stops flat.
There’s rarely a moment when you’re looking at clothes that you see something and think that – that’s it – and most of the time when you do, it’s something that’s extraordinarily out of your price range or you try it on and it just doesn’t hang on you the way you think it should or they’re out of your size and maybe they can order it in but you don’t think it’s worth that much effort. Those moments are perhaps even more rare when you’re shopping for someone else, and there’s a lot more second-guessing when they do – will they like it? will it even fit? And because they aren’t around to try it on, that seed of doubt sits in the pit of your stomach and, regardless of whether it’s in your price range or not, you can much more easily talk yourself out of it. Of course, they won’t like it. They’re going to look at it and think you’re crazy for even getting it for them. And then there’s the question of what will they think of me for seeing it and thinking of them? Especially when it’s clothes and styles – like that feeling you get when your mother buys you an outfit that she thinks is just wonderful for you and then you feel obligated to wear it once or twice or pull it out every now and again because you don’t want her to feel like you hate it (and by extension her) by not wearing it but you don’t like it and now it’s this weight forced on your shoulders and disguised as a gift that someone honestly thought would make you happy—
Rose’s scars itch as she draws closer to the outfit in front of her. The anxiety, the doubt isn’t there, but she knows what it is to have a weight placed on you out of a sheer desire to make you feel better, to give you something good. Her fingers run across the fabric – it’s soft, so soft.
“You want it, don’t you?” The pink-haired worker from before sidles up to her and stares at it. “That’s really nice, and I can tell you we definitely have it in her size.”
“I haven’t even decided to get it yet,” Rose murmurs, lying from her heart. “I have other stores to go to and look at and—”
Then the worker says the magic words: “I’ll give you a discount.”
It’s cheap enough then that Rose can’t talk herself out of it. She almost does – wondering, briefly, if Luisa will even like it – but if the point is just to see what Rose would get her, then she will like it, even if she never wears it. Besides, the price leaves enough room for her to get the other woman something else, too, if she wants.
(And she is going through other stores. She will definitely want. But if nothing feels as right as this does, she may hold off. She hasn’t decided yet.)
Rose doesn’t pass Luisa as she looks through the other shops.
She isn’t sure if this bodes well or bodes poorly. Of course, Luisa had been here just yesterday, so she must have already known what each of the shops had. If she was smart, she would have kept in mind the different outfits.
But, then, if that is the case, then Rose has to consider that Luisa looked at some of those outfits with her in mind already. She isn’t sure how to feel about that. A part of her likes it. (Another part of her, realizing that no matter which shop she enters Luisa isn’t there, wonders if her friend knows about some other, secret shop. A worse part of her wonders if she’s at the nearby bar, drinking. But she pushes that out of her mind.)
As she shops, Rose realizes that not only did they not give each other a price limit, they haven’t given each other a time limit either. This is probably more for her benefit than Luisa’s, as it allows her to shop freely, but once she’s gone through all the shops, once she’s made her final purchases, and still hasn’t seen hind nor hair of Luisa, she gives her a call.
Luisa picks up immediately.
“Hey, I’m done,” Rose says, resting the phone against her shoulder. “Where are you?”
“I’ll be right there! I’m just talking over a few last minute things with Ara.”
Rose can imagine Luisa’s bright grin on the other side of the phone, and that relaxes her more than any of this shopping has. Why did that happen? She doesn’t want to think about that, either.
“Here!” Luisa shoves the black bag across to Luisa, a big smile on her face. “Open it!”
When they had returned, they found that all of the lights in the house were off and that Mia had already gone to sleep. Rose had been unable to smell even the slightest bit of liquor on Luisa’s breath on the drive back. Everything seemed as though it would be okay. In her books, that usually meant that something really horrible was about to happen.
But this isn’t a book, this is life, and besides, Rose doesn’t much play around with false omens like that.
Rose takes the black bag in her hands. It’s not the same plastic sort of packaging that Luisa’s last one was in – this is a much higher quality bag with a slight sheen to it. And it doesn’t feel horrible, either. Rose is pretty sure she could reuse this bag for other stuff if she wanted to – other presents, should she ever get them for someone else. But this is the first time she’s gotten anyone anything in a very long time, and she isn’t sure that she will repeat it again in the near future.
Her fingers tap on the black bag, and then she passes another one over to Luisa. “Open yours first,” she says, her voice soft. This bag is a little less adult, a little less formal; it’s a soft violet in color with black paisley around its edges. It’s still beautiful, she thinks, even it isn’t the same high quality as the one Luisa got her.
Luisa lets her fingers brush across the bag – it has a nice, velvet texture to it that Rose had immediately liked when she got it – and she takes it in hand, rubbing her cheek against the bag. “It’s soft.”
“Of course, it’s soft. You think I wasn’t going to get you a nice bag?”
“I don’t know. You’ve never gotten me anything before.” Luisa sticks her tongue out at Rose. “That’s why you have to open yours first. Besides,” she continues before Rose has a change to interrupt, “I said it first, so you have to open it first. That’s the rules.” She lifts one finger. “And don’t try to lawyer your way around the rules! We’re not really worried about that sort of strict legality here. Just open your present!”
Rose’s thumb slips between the piece of tape holding the bag closed, and as she works at it, she asks, “What’s wrong?”
Luisa tilts her head to one side. “What do you mean what’s wrong? We’re opening presents. Nothing’s wrong!”
“No, it’s just—” Rose stops as the piece of tape breaks away and takes a deep breath. “You’ve done this twice in two days. You do this when you’re feeling horrible. That worker at the boutique—”
“Ara.” Rose nods, filing the name away somewhere. “She said you usually organize these sorts of things. I know I’ve been in a bad mood lately, but….” She hesitates. She doesn’t know why she does. “Something’s up with you, too, isn’t it?” Her brows lift, and she finds herself signing without thinking about it, even though Mia isn’t in the room, even though she’s been asleep since before they got back. “What’s bothering you?”
Luisa bites her lower lip and looks away. Her tongue sweeps across her lips. “My dad,” she says finally. “I told him Mom’s been doing better, that she’s been talking, that she can even take care of herself now, that he should come and see her. She’d love to see him, you know?” She crosses her legs underneath her, and her fingers begin to fiddle with the purple and black handle on her present. “But he doesn’t want to come see her. He’s still avoiding her. I think he’s scared. Maybe. But he shouldn’t ignore her forever. She’s his wife.”
“I thought you said they got divorced?”
“She’s his wife,” Luisa repeats, even more adamant this time, regardless of whether it’s true or not. “He only got that divorce because she was sick and unresponsive, and she’s better now so they should be better now, and he doesn’t have a wife or a girlfriend or any of those other women right now, so he should come see her.”
“It’s not that simple—”
“I know it’s not that simple!” Luisa exclaims, and then she covers her mouth with her hands, looking around as though she’s afraid that her mother will hear her, wake up, and come interrupt them. But she hasn’t been loud enough for that. Still, the action seems to calm her, and when her hands return to her bag, her gaze does, too. “He should at least want to see her. He should try.”
“Some scars run deeper than that,” Rose says, running one hand up her arm. Her scars itch. “Some scars can take a while to heal.”
“I know.” Luisa’s voice softens. Then she looks up with a little grin and reaches across, pushing the bag in Rose’s hands. “Open your present,” she says. “It’s really nice.” Her grin turns smug. “Probably better than whatever you got me.”
But Rose smiles, and her head tilts to one side, and when Luisa finally meets her eyes, she gives her a little wink. “It’ll be okay,” she says. “He’ll come visit eventually. I’m sure of it.”
“Open your present,” Luisa insists.
“Fine, fine, we don’t have to talk about it anymore, I got it.” Rose pulls the bag open, finding whatever is inside wrapped in black crepe paper. She pulls the first package out – there are two; Ara hadn’t been wrong about that, which makes Rose feel a little better about what she has gotten Luisa – and flicks her thumb under the tape holding the paper together in the same motion she’d used to break it from the top of the bag. “We’re opening presents, so we have to be focused on happy things, and—” Her eyes widen as she pulls the first present out from its black crepe paper, and then she shakes her head. “Really, Luisa?” she asks, her brows raising. “Really?”
The first garment is more black straps than anything. A lot of black straps. There’s one around her neck, a couple that seem to crisscross under and above her breasts, and more that attach to the cups to hold them in place – in fact the entire thing is attaching black straps because there are more attaching from those to leg garters, more around the edges of what appears to be an open crotch area, there is so much open here that Rose feels like Luisa just wants her to be all exposed skin with those black lines showing up against her pale, pale skin – except. except. for the cups of the breasts and a little curve from the right hipbone to just above her pubic hair line--
Matte red roses bloom on each of the cups and along that curve, with leaves sprouting from the edges of them that connect to the black strips of fabric – one large rose for each cup with a smaller one just underneath and away, two bigger ones on that curve near her pubic line with smaller ones between them and leaves on each edge.
“I had to!” Luisa says, her eyes bright, and her grin beaming. “I would have gotten it for you for your birthday or Christmas, but Christmas is too far away, and Mom will be here when we open presents, and I don’t think she would enjoy that, and I don’t know when your birthday is, so I was looking for an excuse—”
“So you set this up just to give me a rope bunny halter set with roses on it,” Rose says, one brow raising.
“No.” Luisa sticks her tongue out at her. “It was just a good excuse.” She reaches over and taps Rose’s arm, where the long sleeves still cover her scars. “And you don’t have to wear it if it makes you uncomfortable. You don’t have to wear it at all ever, if you don’t want to. I just thought it was fun.”
“It is fun,” Rose says, even as she knows that she probably won’t ever wear it. She might have, once, if she didn’t want to keep her scars to herself. But this will expose them far more than she would like, even for a fun romp with someone else. She prefers the lights off for that sort of thing, so that no one can see her. She doesn’t like being seen, and this? This is made for being seen. “Thank you.”
Luisa grins. “You’re welcome.” She pats the bag. “Now open the other one!”
Rose looks at it, slowly lifts the second package wrapped in black crepe paper out of the bag, and carefully turns it over in her hands. It certainly feels a little heftier than the other one did – which isn’t hard, given that the other one is mostly black straps, and not very many of those. She wants to open it, to flick her thumb under the tape holding the packaging together as easily as she had the other, but stops herself. “Open one of yours first,” she counters, meeting Luisa’s eyes. “I’ll still open this one before you finish yours, but that way we’re opening things together.” She smiles, a soft thing, and her eyes focus on the package in her hands. “Like on Christmas,” she continues, her voice soft. “You don’t open all of your presents at once. You open one or two and then let your parents open one or your brother so that you aren’t all just sitting there anxiously waiting to open something – or to see how your family reacts when they open what you’ve given them.”
“Are you anxious?” Luisa asks, slowly opening her bag. “Are you worried I won’t like what you got me?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Rose watches as Luisa picks the first package out of her bag. It’s small, just like Rose’s first package was, although this one is quite a bit smaller. Luisa lifts her eyebrows, and her gaze meets Rose’s just briefly, questioning. Then she rips through the sunshine yellow crepe paper holding her package together, revealing a pair of cerulean blue lace garter belts and a pair of even softer blue stockings to match.
“I’m not sure this counts,” Luisa says, lips pursing to one side. “Garter belts aren’t much of lingerie.”
Rose shrugs. “I’m sure if you had a girlfriend, she would absolutely love to see you with nothing but those on. That makes them better than lingerie, in my opinion.”
“Would you want to see me with nothing but these on?” Luisa asks.
Yes, Rose thinks, but she doesn’t say it. “They go with the other package,” she says instead with a slight nod.
“Well, now I can’t wait to see what the rest of it is!” Luisa exclaims. Then her eyes narrow. “But you’re not getting me to open it before you finish yours.” She flicks forward with one hand, almost a shooing motion. “Go, go.”
At the shooing motion, Rose lets her thumb flick beneath the tape holding the black crepe paper together. She slowly unravels it from the fabric. She can feel it before she can see it – a soft, soft silk that isn’t nearly as thick as she might have guessed just from the hefty weight of the package itself. When the crepe paper is gone, she slowly unfolds the fabric to reveal a floor-length deep teal silk robe with ebony lace around the collar and fur of the same color around the edges of the sleeves and the bottom of the robe.
Rose doesn’t say anything – she doesn’t know what to say – just turns the robe over and over through her fingers, touching each part of it – the soft of the silk, the even softer of the fur, tracing the designs etched into the lace. She doesn’t even look up for a very long time, just staring at it. “It’s beautiful,” she finally says, looking up and meeting Luisa’s eyes. “I love it.”
“I hoped you would.” Luisa smiles, and it’s a soft thing, softer than the fur on the robe. “I didn’t know if you’d wear the other one, but I thought this…. Well, it has the long sleeves you like, and even if you don’t invite anyone over for fun times, you can wear it around the house whenever you want. It suits you.” Her smile fades into a smug grin. “Besides, that blue will pull out the darker blue of your eyes and look really good with your red hair, so when you finally do get yourself a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a significant other or a partner, be sure to thank me for making you look good.”
As Luisa speaks, though, her gaze drops away, and she begins to rip into the yellow crape paper of her second package. Rose isn’t sure if she’s anxious or desperate to see what she’s gotten or if she just doesn’t want to sit with the smug feeling of picking a good present for too long. Still—
The crepe paper falls away to the floor where the other one Luisa ripped through has been discarded. Her second present is silk as well, of the softer ice blue color that matched the stockings. But where Luisa gave Rose a robe, Rose has given Luisa a chemise with a slit to her hipbone. The bottom edge is trimmed with a lace that fades from cotton candy pink to sunshine yellow and then back again, and the same lace cups the breasts, fading into a pearly white at its edges. Matching panties with the same yellow, pink, white lace at its top and lining the crotch rest just underneath.
“Wow,” Luisa murmurs, staring at the entire package. “It’s so bright.”
Rose nods, watching her, trying to gauge her reaction. “Not as bright as you are.” She reaches over and gently tucks Luisa’s dark hair back behind one ear. Luisa glances up, eyes watery, and Rose brushes a thumb under her eyes to collect her tears. “You’re crying.”
“No, I’m not.” Luisa rubs a hand under her eyes and then looks back up, smiling. “It’s just…normally people get me dark stuff, you know, because they like the way it looks against my skin, and this is…this is gorgeous.”
“I’m glad you like it.” Rose yawns, then, and covers her mouth with one hand. “I should probably get some sleep. It’s been a long day – a long week.”
Luisa nods, looking back down at her presents, refusing to look back up at Rose. “Yeah. Yeah. You should do that.”
Rose stands, gathering her things in her arms, and then bends down just long enough to brush a kiss against Luisa’s cheek. “Thank you,” she says, as Luisa looks up to meet her eyes. “We should do this again sometime.”
Then, before she can let herself do anything else, Rose returns to her room and collapses on her bed, overwhelmed. She takes a deep breath.
That…that went better than she thought it would.