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Weekends

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It didn’t take much for a rumor to spread like wildfire at Lincoln High School. It was probably the same at every high school, Rindy figured, but she only could speak to her own.

Someone had heard Mrs. Hadley talking to Mrs. Dresden. She was saying, “you’d think she’d want to be the advisor for the Equality Club, you know, considering. But she passed. She’s going to head up the Photography Club instead.” The school’s newest teacher, Ms. Belivet, was the advisor to the Photography Club. The assumption of why she’d want to head the Equality Club instead, because of, “you know, considering,” was not lost on whichever student had overheard the conversation.

Within two hours, most of the ninth grade and half of the tenth had heard some version of the story. Nothing interesting ever happened at their school, so this was about as good as it might get. At least for a week or two.

At lunch, Brayden said, “Well she doesn’t look like a lesbian.”

Madison rolled her eyes and shook her head. “That’s stupid. What does that even mean? It doesn’t make sense.”

“All I’m saying is I’d be surprised. Ms. Belivet is… I don’t know, too hot. C’mon. She’s the hottest teacher in school now. No debate.”

“You’re so dumb. Rindy’s aunt is a lesbian and she’s hot.”

That was true, Rindy supposed. The part about her aunt Carol being a lesbian was definitely true, and Rindy guessed she’d be considered “hot,” too. All of Rindy’s guy friends thought she was. It helped that, whenever she picked up Rindy from school, she peeled into the parking lot in her black Mercedes with music blaring, ignoring directions from the parking lot attendant that the pick-up loop had a line.

Aunt Carol was cool. She’d been a haven for Rindy starting around age six, when Rindy’s parents were getting divorced. To save Rindy from witnessing too much fighting, limiting her exposure to the bickering and bitterness, her mom would drop her off to spend a weekend or so every month at Aunt Carol’s place. Only then, it was Aunt Carol and her girlfriend Abby’s place. They’d do face masks, dance around the house, make cookies, and stay up late. Aunt Carol was easily the most fun person in the world. And she made Rindy feel like her parents’ divorce wasn’t a big deal at all.

When Rindy was about ten, though, things changed. Aunt Carol moved out of the house in Summit Hill and into a condo in downtown Minneapolis. Rindy didn’t see Abby again.

Just a few months ago, when Rindy and her mom were driving toward downtown St. Paul to get dinner with her mom’s new boyfriend, Alex, they passed through Summit Hill and Rindy asked, “what actually happened between Aunt Carol and Abby?”

It had been four years. At ten, she was curious, but confused, and didn’t bother asking. Now that she was a teenager, Rindy figured her mom wouldn’t mind telling her.

“Well, they’d been together for— what?— six years? And then Carol found out Abby had been cheating on her for three of those years.” Her mom glanced out the window and turned her blinker on, exiting the freeway. Rindy could tell she was still angry. “I think Carol cried every day for six months straight.”

Even so much time later, she really wasn’t the same.

But going to Aunt Carol’s was still among Rindy’s favorite ways to spend time. She stayed with her about once a month, give or take, because Rindy’s mom had to travel for work fairly often and her dad’s job had moved him to Chicago— not exactly commuting distance to Rindy’s school. And she and Aunt Carol still sang too loudly in the car, Rindy still talked to her about boys, watched movies that came with a promise of “you can’t tell your mom I let you watch this,” and she even let Madison sleepover sometimes when Rindy would have to spend the night on a Friday.

But there was just something missing. Aunt Carol used to have a lightness about her that just…went away.

“Brayden, I dare you to ask Ms. Belivet.” Cole sneered from over his can of soda. “I dare you. If you do, I’ll make that TikTok about Karolina you keep telling me to make. I’m serious.”

Rindy didn’t quite understand, but the offer was apparently enticing, because Brayden said, “you’re on.”

And Rindy would’ve given just about anything to not be in Ms. Belivet’s class with Brayden and Cole. She taught a few English classes, but Rindy had her for speech. A dreaded requirement made better by Ms. Belivet. She was fun, well-liked. In the four weeks since the beginning of the year, she’d established herself as a clear fan-favorite. Being new helped. Her style of teaching helped, too. Doing speaking exercises in small groups, electronic music playing and a timer dialing up the stakes with everyone out of breath and laughing when a buzzer went off at the end sure as hell beat Dr. Harrison’s speech class— word had it they were on their eighth powerpoint of the year already. Ms. Belivet let them use practice topics like “the influence of K-Pop,” and helped them understand the importance of knowing their audience by asking the class to collectively— and effectively— explain to her, “an old person,” just exactly what YouTubers did.

If she wasn’t so quickly beloved, Brayden and Cole probably wouldn’t have felt so comfortable being nosy.

“Do you really think he’s going to do it?” Madison asked as she slunk into her desk chair.

Rindy took the spot next to her. “I fucking hope not. Like honestly I’m going to need you to kill me if he does.”

But five minutes later, as Ms. Belivet was writing on the whiteboard, Rindy heard Cole clear his throat and snicker.

“Uh, so, Ms. Belivet,” Brayden started. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

She just glanced over her shoulder, eyebrows furrowed, almost looked ready to laugh at the question, but then just continued writing.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

She really stopped that time. She turned around and said, “what do you need, Brayden?”

“I mean, like, are you gay?” At least Brayden was bright red as he asked.

Cole buried his head in arms on his desk and laughed. “Dude, what is wrong with you?”

Ms. Belivet crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “Anything involving my personal life is absolutely none of your business and shouldn’t be of the slightest concern to you. Considering I imagine there are no ill-intentions behind your questions, I’m going to let them slide.”

After that though, Rindy was fairly sure that the rumor was true: Ms. Belivet was probably gay.

———————————-

It took another couple weeks for the lightbulb to go off, but when it did, Rindy went racing through the halls to find Madison.

She found her at her locker and nearly tackled her to the ground.

“Mad, we should set up Ms. Belivet with my aunt.”

She’d gotten the idea when she checked her texts in the library during her study period. Her aunt had messaged her:

What time am I coming today?

Rindy had Yearbook Club after school, so she responded, idk 5ish i guess.

After hitting send, she looked up. Ms. Belivet was walking past. Rindy stared for a second and Ms. Belivet looked over, said, “hey Rindy,” and kept walking.

”Oh. My. God.” she whispered.

How had she not thought of it sooner?

Madison agreed, it was a great idea. But how?

At first, Rindy tried to bring up Ms. Belivet around her aunt. Gushing that she was the coolest teacher, so much fun, “and she’s just so pretty, too. Everyone thinks so.”

It earned an eyebrow raise, but not much more.

So the next time Rindy saw Aunt Carol, a night when she came over to her and her mom’s house for dinner, Rindy added, “I’m pretty sure my Speech teacher is a lesbian.”

Her mom laughed. “That’s interesting, Rind.”

“I’ve mentioned her before. She’s the one that’s really funny and nice and cute.”

Aunt Carol’s mouth turned into a thin, menacing smile. “Sounds like you have a crush on your teacher.”

“Well, I definitely would if I wasn’t straight, that’s for sure.” She smiled and looked at both her mother and then Aunt Carol.

It only managed to garner an eye roll, but at least the heavy-handed hint had been noted.

———————————-

“I hate to say it, but I think you’re going to have to get in trouble.” Madison suggested.

They’d been brainstorming again. At this point, getting her aunt to take the bait was a challenge. Rindy didn’t want to lose. She wouldn’t quit.

“What will that do?”

Madison sighed. “Last week, Josh threw a ruler at Cole and Ms. Belivet wrote him up and he had to stay after school until his dad picked him up. He was so pissed. He won’t even let Josh go to the football game on Friday. But anyway, if you get Ms. Belivet to write you up the next time you’re staying with Carol, she’ll have to come pick you up…”

Rindy hated the idea of getting written up, especially by Ms. Belivet.

But it would be worth it.

Ten days, one manufactured argument with Madison, and one far too loud “you’re a fucking bitch!” later, Rindy was sitting slouched behind a desk in Ms. Belivet’s class at 4:30 p.m., waiting for Carol to come retrieve her.

Ms. Belivet was baffled, Rindy could tell. She hoped the disappointment wouldn’t last. They’d sat in silence most of the hour and a half, Rindy counting down the minutes while her teacher graded papers. When Ms. Belivet had pulled out Rindy’s contact sheet earlier, ready to dial her mother’s number, Rindy tried her best not to smile as she said, “my mom is in Rochester for work. You’ll have to call my aunt. She should be the secondary contact.”

A familiar click, click, click echoed in the hallway outside, a threatening pace and a sound that Rindy knew was produced by the low heel of black leather Chelsea boots— the ones that had a metal toe and silver side-zipper. Aunt Carol rotated between those and a pair of black Manolo Blahnik pumps. But the Manolo Blahnik’s were usually reserved for court, and Rindy knew better than to disrupt her aunt’s day when she was busy with something like that.

Finally, she appeared in the doorway. Very angry. “Really? Seriously, Rindy? Madison is your best friend.”

Rindy hadn’t gotten this far in her head. She had nothing to say. There was no actual fight with Madison, she just didn’t want to call anyone else a bitch, so Madison agreed to play pretend.

“Ms. Aird, I’m—”

“Please call me Carol. And I’m so sorry. She usually isn’t like this. Not to my knowledge anyway, unless you—”

Ms. Belivet shook her head. “No, she isn’t. Definitely not in my class. There’s never been an issue up until today. I’m just as surprised as you are.”

They were both looking at Rindy now, Aunt Carol beckoning for some sort of explanation. Rindy sucked her lips into her teeth, stifled a grin, and dropped her head onto the desk as she stared at her aunt.

The gears were turning.

“Rindy, go wait in the hall.”

The look in her eyes was terrifying, and Rindy obeyed. “Shut the door,” Aunt Carol called out, and Rindy did. She sat on the ground and desperately tried to catch anything being said in the room behind her. When she turned her head to peek through the window, her aunt noticed and glared, and motioned for her to turn around. Two, three, four minutes passed, and then, finally, the door opened.

“Let’s go,” her aunt demanded, and strode ahead of Rindy through the halls and out to the parking lot, not saying a single word. Rindy slid into the black leather passenger seat of the Mercedes, silent as her aunt swung her purse into the backseat and turned on the car. She opened the sunroof and shifted the car into reverse.

Rindy was scared, but she had to know. “Did you get her number?”

Aunt Carol took her sunglasses off of her head and slid them over her eyes. She didn’t look at Rindy, she just pulled out of the parking space and sped through the lot.

“Yes.”

——————————-

Unbelievable.

In her however many years of intermittently looking after Rindy, never once had Rindy gotten in trouble at school. She was positive her sister Harper hadn’t dealt with this kind of behavior, either. Carol would’ve heard all about it.

She figured she’d go Rindy’s entire high school career without ever knowing where the principal’s office was located. But, there she was, checking in with the security guard, and guided to an office down the hall and to her left. The secretary told her Rindy was sitting in her teacher’s classroom, waiting, an unofficial detention of sorts. She’d gotten into a spat with her friend and used, what the woman called, “inappropriate and offensive language,” directed toward Madison, heard by the entire class.

Unbelievable. Carol sighed and made her way to classroom 134B.

The door was open, and Rindy sat looking bored, gazing absentmindedly into the hall, probably anticipating Carol’s arrival.

“Really? Seriously, Rindy? Madison is your best friend.”

When Rindy said nothing, Carol was almost more angry. She at least deserved a half-assed excuse for why her workday was interrupted.

“Ms. Aird, I’m—”

The teacher was no doubt the one Rindy talked about incessantly. The one she not-so-subtly wanted Carol to meet. Rindy hadn’t been lying— her teacher was beautiful. She looked nice, too, ready to pacify the situation despite likely being just as (if not more) irritated herself. The idea that Rindy chose that particular teacher’s class to disrupt was even more perplexing: Rindy actually liked her. Why fall out of her good graces?

After a quick round of apologies, a back and forth with Ms. Belivet, it didn’t take long for Carol to recognize the scheming smile barely hidden as Rindy tried and failed to bury her face into the desk.

“Rindy, go wait in the hall.” Carol was livid.

When the door shut, she closed her eyes, taking a moment to come up with the least humiliating way to explain the situation.

“Listen, Ms. Belivet—”

“Therese.”

A beautiful name, too. “Therese. I think that Rindy wanted…” She trailed off, paused again. “God, I don’t know how— what I’m about to say is very embarrassing, mostly for me, but you will also not be left unscathed. I apologize in advance.” She caught Rindy staring through the window from the hall outside and seethed, “turn around,” with a quick spin of her finger.

Therese was waiting so patiently, leaning on her own desk as Carol sat back against one meant for a student. “You see, Rindy is under the impression that you are gay— which may or may not be the case— but regardless, I have the feeling that she is not, in fact, fighting with Madison, but instead used that as a ploy to get me to come pick her up.”

Left out was the ‘why,’ an explanation as to how the two things related. Therese remained confused. “I don’t…”

“She wanted me to meet you. Because she wants me to meet you.”

The time that passed felt like hours before Therese remarked, “Oh,” and giggled, cheeks turning an infectious shade of pink. “That’s quite the elaborate plot.”

“Yes, it is.” Without clear direction, Carol didn’t know where to go from there. She just sort of stared at Therese and Therese stared back, still grinning, head nodding slowly as she took it all in.

Carol tried, “I guess I’d really hate to lend any credence to Rindy’s little plan…” there was a disappointment in Therese’s eyes that lasted only a sliver of a second, but Carol caught it, and was satisfied enough to continue and say, “but I’d hate even more to have driven down here early for no reason.”

Therese’s smile grew. “I’d really hate that, too. I wouldn’t want you to have wasted your time. I’m sure you’re very busy.”

“You know, I am. But I’m usually free on weekends.”

What a coincidence, Therese added, because so was she. Especially free, too, because she’d just recently moved to Minneapolis and, well, her teacher-friends were only good for so much excitement.

Carol offered to help her with that, handed her phone over, and let Therese add her number.

Chapter Text

A bit shell shocked, Therese stood, unmoving, gripping her desk too hard with her right hand while she listened to the click, click, click, of shoes making their way down the hall. Unlike their arrival, they were now accompanied by the petulant shuffle of sneakers in tow.

When Carol had appeared in her classroom doorway, unceremoniously and void of pleasantries, Therese’s mouth fell agape. In retrospect, Rindy had tried to prepare her in her own misguided way. She’d said, “my aunt is going to be so pissed she has to leave work early to come get me.”

After five years of teaching, Therese was used to the tactic, as if she could be scared into cutting a detention short by the looming (and usually empty) threat of an angry parent. Sure, sometimes parents were angry with her, like they felt bothered by having to come and actually parent their own children. But often, they understood Therese was just as annoyed as they were.

“Well, maybe you should’ve thought about that earlier, Rindy.” Therese didn’t bother to look up from her computer.

Rindy sighed and moved to a desk slightly closer to Therese’s. Therese could feel her staring, but chose not to entertain. Detention was supposed to be boring.

Finally, Rindy decided she didn’t need engagement to continue. “She’s this really badass attor—”

“Rindy, you are here for swearing in my classroom. Normally ‘badass’ in that context would not bother me at all, but considering the current circumstances—”

She corrected herself, but not without an exaggerated eye roll that Therese let slide, remembering she, too, was once fourteen. “Sorry. I mean, she’s this really accomplished attorney. She likes to give off vibes that she doesn’t have time for anyone else, but she’s actually really fun, even though she looks intimidating.”

Yes, Rindy had tried to prepare her, but there was really no adequate way of doing so. Her aunt was breathtaking and commanding, even when just speaking to Rindy. She wore a black dress that clung to her frame, one with a price tag that Therese assumed bore a similar number to her monthly car payment. That, among so many other reasons, was why Therese was so astonished when their little meeting took a completely different turn.

Before leaving, Carol smiled. It was small and hesitant and, if Therese didn’t know any better, she’d even say it was shy. (But that was impossible, wasn’t it?) She said, “I will…call you very soon,” turned on her heel, and left.

Therese wondered how just how soon “soon” would be.

Sure enough, around 8 p.m. that same evening, she got a call from an unsaved 612 number. She let it ring once, wondering (hoping) if it was Carol, before answering.

It was Carol.

She first apologized if she’d put Therese on the spot earlier, not wanting her to feel cornered into, well, a date.

A date. Therese’s heart pounded. Of course she didn’t feel cornered. She said as much, and listened to Carol laugh, a relieved kind, and fire off a line of questions. Was Therese free Friday? For dinner? Was she vegetarian? Vegan? Did she hate food? Did she drink? Carol hoped she did, but wouldn’t mind if she didn’t.

It was sweet, and if Therese hadn’t already been made aware, she probably could’ve guessed Carol was a lawyer.

(Specifically, an intellectual property lawyer, Carol told Therese after she asked. Therese muttered, “oh, wow,” and Carol replied, “I’m glad you asked now so I don’t have to talk about it when I see you. It makes me sound more boring than I’d like to believe I am.”)

After providing Carol with all of the information she deemed necessary, Carol relaxed, and said, “Well, great. Now I have a few ideas. So, Friday? What time works for you?”

“I’ll be free anytime after 5, I guess. I mean, give me until at least 6ish, though. I want to actually, you know, get ready…”

“How about I give you until 7?”

“Even better.”

And thank god Carol gave her until 7 o’clock, because Therese changed her outfit enough to fill the time. She’d about made it through her entire wardrobe once finally settling on something: jeans and a shirt. Uncreative, but the top was sheer enough to qualify as sexy, leaving little room to imagine just what exactly Therese’s bra looked like, giving her the excuse to pull out neglected black lingerie that had been long abandoned at the back of her underwear drawer.

Therese accepted Carol’s offer to pick her up. The restaurant was on Therese’s side of town, so it just made sense.

Any anxieties Therese had about the night, about going on a date with somebody she really didn’t know at all, somebody who— judging by her car and her job— lived in a world that only intersected with Therese’s by complete chance, were quelled as soon as she buckled her seatbelt. Carol furrowed her eyebrows and smiled when she said, “thanks for doing this.”

Therese understood what she meant. It felt unusual to go to dinner with someone that wasn’t the product of a very specific yet ill-formulated algorithm courtesy of one of a handful of dating apps. And even then, “dinner” was a stretch. Therese wanted to ask if Carol secretly did this often, considering how easily she’d made it happen, but she was nervous about the answer, not wanting to find out ahead of time if she was just one in a line of people. For all Therese knew, this could’ve been her Friday night hobby. So she just replied, “I mean, thank you, as well.”

If it was a hobby, though, it would’ve been a rather expensive one. And time consuming. Carol took her to a restaurant that Therese had passed by a few times— it wasn’t far from her apartment— but never gone inside. It was always crowded, and did seem like the kind of place that was meant for dates. And if it was a hobby, did Carol always have as good of a time with everyone else? Sure, Therese might’ve been projecting, but projection in this instance felt warranted.

Therese couldn't have been projecting, though, because at some point in the evening, their server came by and asked if they needed anything else, and Carol looked at her watch, stunned. “Oh my god, it’s been almost two hours.”

Two hours that had flown right by.

Therese had even talked about her family, which was a rarity, to say the absolute least. Her crazy, evangelical family, long left behind in a part of Southern Illinois that had closer ties to the Bible Belt than it did to its Midwestern neighbors. In Therese’s defense, Carol had asked.

“They aren’t exactly ‘supportive,’” Therese offered, and Carol gave a single, understanding nod.

“I see. My parents were not great at first either, but mostly because they ‘didn’t want me to have a hard life.’ I think they figured out that they were major contributors in making it more difficult and finally came around.”

“Mine similarly evolved.” It was a joke. Therese’s parents had evolved, but they certainly hadn’t ‘come around.’ At first, they wouldn’t speak to Therese at all. Eventually, they started reaching out, but all of the conversations revolved around how sad they were that she “wouldn’t be joining them in heaven,” (a quote that earned a hearty, morbid laugh from Carol, and Therese felt a moment of pride). Now, they just didn’t want to hear one bit about Therese’s personal life— even her friends were off-limits, because they were assumed to be similarly depraved. “They never forget to ask if I’ve been going to church, though.”

Carol raised an eyebrow. “And?”

“I ‘just haven’t found the right one.’” Therese punctuated it with a wink and grinned over her glass of wine while Carol laughed again.

With their server’s gentle and coded reminder of the time— professional speak for please get the fuck up— Therese did her best to hide her disappointment, not wanting the night to end.

But luckily, it didn’t have to. Carol proposed getting another drink, but, if Therese didn’t mind, somewhere closer to her place downtown, because she was driving and had already had a few glasses of wine. Alternatively, “I do have plenty to drink at home.”

Carol kept her tour brief. “Through that door is the guest room, over there is my bedroom. A bathroom is through the door across from it. And that’s just a coat closet.” The main draw were her windows, they were large, nearly taking over the entire wall, crawling up to the height of the high ceilings.

“There is a pretty nice balcony,” she added, and opened the door for Therese. “You can’t see the river, unfortunately. All of the buildings are in the way. But thankfully I get a prime view of that parking garage that’s been under construction for over a year.”

Therese scanned the skyline— because that was really what Carol meant when she said the buildings were in the way— and wondered what Carol thought of Therese’s shitty, unremarkable apartment. For Therese, it was fine. Better than where she’d lived in Madison, that was for sure. But Carol’s place checked all of the boxes needed to fulfill the “quintessential cosmopolitan lifestyle.” A place Therese could barely even dream of living. So completely unattainable.

Next to her, Carol was leaning on the railing, staring out like it was something she’d done a thousand times, because she undoubtedly had, looking unimpressed. Therese swallowed heavily, wondering if she was falling for a well-practiced plan. Feeling unusually bold, she asked, “so is this what you do with all the girls? Take them back here to gaze out at your 'beautiful' and 'romantic' city views?”

Slow and predatory, Carol smiled, and Therese braced herself for confirmation, except—

“I actually haven’t been on a date in over a year. And even then, I don’t think we came back here.”

As Carol’s sly expression softened, Therese blushed, and hoped the poor lighting kept it from being too obvious. “Why haven’t you been on a date in a year?”

Carol shrugged. She claimed, “I’m too busy. And I'm really not lying about that parking garage. It's heinous,” and then held the door open for Therese to lead the way back inside. The next tour, she said, would be of her beverage choices, which were exhaustive.

Therese liked that Carol made time for her, despite her busy schedule, and despite that, at the beginning of the evening, Therese was a stranger, though she certainly didn't feel like a stranger anymore. She also liked that Carol actually did offer her a drink and not just a map to her bedroom.

It wasn’t too long, though, before Therese was in Carol’s bed, Carol on top of her with legs on either side of Therese’s hips, Therese’s fingers buried deep inside of her while Carol panted into her neck, “please don’t stop,” over and over and over. As if— no matter how sore Therese’s wrist was from the angle— she’d ever dream of stopping.

Even on the weekends, Therese was a naturally early riser. Rarely did she sleep too long past 6 a.m., which is why she was so surprised to learn it was almost 9 when she woke up.

“Do you need to be anywhere?” Carol asked. Her hand brushing through Therese’s hair, eyes following. Therese couldn’t remember a time when she’d felt so admired.

“Not at all.”

Carol grinned. She offered options. They could have sex and get brunch. Or get brunch and have sex. Or just coffee, if Therese wasn’t hungry. Or just sex, if Therese didn’t want to leave— Carol had a coffee maker. Carol could also make breakfast, if that was more appealing. She also offered to just drive Therese home if she wanted to get on with her day. “I won’t be offended.”

That was clearly the worst idea of the bunch. Therese picked option number one.

The restaurant Carol chose was nice, maybe nicer than where they’d gone for dinner, and only a ten minute walk from Carol’s building. Therese had the feeling she would have no chance to pay, yet again, because Carol pressed her to “please get whatever you want. Get a drink. Get five. I don’t care.”

When they were getting ready to leave, she said, “this place has a really fantastic dinner menu, too.”

The implication was not lost on Therese. “You’ll have to take me sometime.”

—————————-

It had been over a year since Carol had been on a date. Over a year (oh god) since she’d had sex. And at least two since another person had actually made her come. And even then, it definitely wasn’t on a first date. Probably not even a second or a third. There was a guard constantly kept up that prevented Carol from actually enjoying herself. She was rigid— she faked it well, sure— and too closed off to let herself really be with another person so openly. It had been easy to lie to Therese and tell her she was "too busy" to date. Only partly true. But more importantly, she was too picky. Plus, Carol felt like she knew everyone in Minneapolis because everyone knew Abby, and the last thing she ever wanted was to put herself right back in that small circle again. So Carol chose to be picky, to not really care to look for anyone.

But there was something about Therese that felt different. Like Therese knew things about her without having to ask, without Carol having to explain.

She was sensitive and earnest without sacrificing a quick and rather dry sense of humor. Carol wanted more of it, all the time. From what Carol could tell, Therese was also a sincerely good person; she became a teacher because she wanted to help kids succeed and grow and learn about themselves. Carol, on the other hand, wasn’t sure the same could be said of herself; she spent most of her days hoisting up the pillars of capitalism one copyright suit at a time.

(Not that she was proud of it. Every case she vowed would be her last before switching her area of practice.)

Therese’s sweetness was contagious, though, and it made dropping her off at her apartment on Saturday morning so incredibly difficult. Carol had never been one to turn a date into a multi-day sleepover— a horrendous thought, she liked her personal space far too much— but she could’ve made an exception for Therese. She wouldn’t have minded spending at least the rest of the day with her, and maybe the night too (because how could she not?), and then all the rest of Sunday.

But she didn’t ask. She just watched Therese walk up the pathway to her building— wearing her sweatshirt (an accidental excuse) that she’d need to get back soon— and kept staring until Therese reached her door, turned back to Carol, and gave a delicate wave before disappearing into her apartment.

Luckily, Therese didn’t wait long to call. Just about 24 hours. And Carol was able to convince her to let her take her out to dinner again on Tuesday.

“It’s a school night. I don’t think you understand— I get up at 5 a.m. on weekdays.”

Carol smiled into her phone. “What if I promised to get you home before curfew?”

Therese laughed. “That might work for me.”

————————-

Rindy’s weekend did not start off as intended. She’d taken the bus home, Madison came over, and they smoked weed in Rindy’s treehouse in the backyard. All good. But when Madison mentioned her biology class, Rindy said, “oh, shit,” realizing she’d left every bit of her science homework— textbook, binder, worksheets— in her locker.

She’d have to go back to school. Madison agreed to accompany her on the journey, which made the two-mile walk through the thick, fresh December snow at least mildly more bearable. After jay-walking across Lincoln Avenue, too lazy to bother using the crosswalk, they trudged through the mostly-empty parking lot and headed to the school’s front door.

Madison stopped and grabbed Rindy’s wrist. “Isn’t that Carol’s car?”

About 50 feet away sat a suspiciously familiar black Mercedes.

Rindy had been annoyed with her aunt. Over four weeks had gone by since Rindy’s brilliant game of matchmaker. Four weeks, and she’d barely heard from Aunt Carol. She’d come over a couple of times, but never stayed long, and there hadn’t been one mention of whether or not she was seeing Ms. Belivet. Rindy didn’t even know if she had called her. Her mother was useless, too. Just as tight-lipped, either claiming not to know much, or telling Rindy she should just talk to her aunt.

And, of course, Ms. Belivet was no help. She treated Rindy exactly the same as she had before.

Rindy approached the car. It was almost definitely her aunt’s. She had very specific rims on her tires. A quick peek inside the car confirmed it: the pack of gum sitting in one cup holder, a recognizable red thermos in the other, and a pink iPhone charging cable snaking out across the passenger seat. Though it was way, way, way cleaner than usual.

“Should we spy?” Madison’s lips curled up like a Cheshire cat.

“Of course we should.”

After stopping by Rindy’s locker, they made their way toward 134B, doing their best to keep quiet as they closed in on the classroom. Even from a distance, Rindy could tell the door was propped wide open. If they attempted to look inside, they’d surely be caught, so they settled on listening from the hall outside.

Madison mouthed, “Oh my god!” upon hearing Ms. Belivet giggle and say, “I'm being serious, you need to leave. The whole point of getting work done here is for you to not distract me, because you are not also supposed to be here.”

“Okay, okay, I’m going. Just call me when you’re on your way and we can decide what to do for dinner. Like, what? Two hours?”

“Hopefully less.”

Barely caught was Aunt Carol saying, “bye, sweetheart,” which normally would’ve made Rindy die from the cuteness of it all, but her and Madison were busy trying to book it down the hallway as fast as humanly possible. They wouldn’t make it out of sight in time, so they ducked into the doorway of another classroom to hide.

The jingle of car keys and sound of footsteps passed. The coast was clear. Or so Rindy thought, until she heard fingers snap and, “let’s go, ladies.”

In Aunt Carol’s car, they were mostly silent. She didn’t seem mad, but Rindy couldn’t totally tell.

“Madison, are you going home with Rindy or should I drop you off at your house?”

“I should probably get home.”

Rindy rested her head on the window as they drove, imagining the earful she’d get without Madison in the car.

But it wasn’t too bad.

“Why are you so interested in my dating life?” Aunt Carol asked, her tone not one of irritation, but rather genuine curiosity.

Triumphant, Rindy smiled. “So you are dating!”

“Obviously.”

Rindy bit her lip and sank further down in her seat. There wasn’t really an answer she could give her aunt. Or not one that would satisfy her, Rindy imagined. Being nosy for the sake of it wasn’t her intention, she just wanted to know if she’d actually done something good. Often, Aunt Carol felt more like Rindy’s friend than anything, even though that of course was not the case: Rindy remained "the kid.” The sharing of personal details, thoughts and feelings, was one-sided, with Rindy divulging everything and then left to translate her aunt's quietness.

With a shrug, one that probably came off as childish as Aunt Carol considered her to be, Rindy said, “I don’t know, I guess I just never know if you’re happy.”

Nothing more was said until Aunt Carol pulled into the driveway and put the car in park. She leaned back in her seat, against the door, and stared at Rindy. Finally, she almost, kind of smiled. “You don’t have to worry about that.”

A frustratingly predictable response. Rindy deflated more and looked back out the window. “I know it isn’t my business, because you’re just—”

But Aunt Carol cut her off.

“No, I’m saying you don’t have to worry about it, because I am…”

Rindy had to bite her cheek to keep herself from grinning, from ruining the seriousness of the moment. “Happy?”

A nod.

“Because she makes you happy?”

Another nod.

That was all Rindy wanted, both to hear and for her aunt. She took the small victory and saved any further pushing for another day (and there would absolutely be another day).

“So…where are you guys going to dinner tonight?”

Aunt Carol popped a piece of gum in her mouth and offered the pack to Rindy. She narrowed her eyes, thinking. “I don’t know, I was thinking about that place in Linden Hills, but Therese might want to stay in, so we might just order something.”

“Therese.”

Aunt Carol rolled her eyes and said, “all right, out of my car,” and told Rindy to change her clothes before her mother got home, maybe even shower, because she reeked of weed.

Chapter Text

It was an inane practice, having parent-teacher conferences days before winter break. They were meant to serve as some sort of last-ditch effort for parents to get caught up with their kids’ standings before the semester ended in mid-January. Harper didn’t have a clue as to the logic behind it— how much could be salvaged over the course of four weeks?— but she always felt pressured to go, to not seem like a mother that didn’t care. Why Rindy had a C in biology was of interest to her, too.

And, of course, conferences were presenting her with the opportunity to finally meet Carol’s girlfriend.

Outside Ms. Belivet’s classroom, a handful of other parents sat on chairs that lined the hallway lockers. Harper chose to stand. She was nervous. There wasn’t any reason to be, she told herself. After all, she was there on Official Parental Business. She glanced at her reflection in some nearby office windows.

She and Carol looked alike. They’d been asked if they were twins all through their twenties, despite Harper being 3 years older. Harper was an inch or two shorter, though, and ten or fifteen pounds heavier. Apparently something needed to brand her as distinctly “mom.” It wasn’t something she minded at all. She did have way better boobs than Carol, something for which she could thank Rindy.

The door behind her opened and Harper spun around.

“Ms. Aird?”

Ms. Belivet’s classroom was simple, if not typical of that of an English teacher. She had a well stocked “take a book, leave a book” shelf, a few book posters, an oversized calendar, and a running list of students’ favorite books “not written by white men.” Harper hoped Rindy would have her next year for English if Ms. Belivet kept that curriculum alive. But they were there to talk about how Rindy was performing in speech class.

Well, sort of.

“You can just call me Therese, by the way,” Ms. Beliv— Therese— started, and pulled up Rindy’s grades. “Rindy is doing very well, which is why I was a little surprised to see your name on the list for conference sign-ups. Usually it’s either parents whose children are failing, or close to failing, or parents of students that have an A-minus when they’d prefer them to have an A. But Rindy has a 97 percent.”

Brushing her hands together, Harper said, “well then, I suppose this Carol thing worked as planned.”

“You’re very lucky Rindy has me as her speech teacher and not Cy Harrison. I doubt if Carol would’ve been as open to helping had that been the case.”

Therese grinned, and Harper was thankful for her sense of humor for a number of reasons. Mainly, she was glad that Carol finally decided to date someone who wasn’t so serious, so stuffy. Abby had been no exception. Even when she was having fun, it still had to be planned and regimented and of a particular brand. If Abby wasn’t in control, she wanted no part of it. It had been exhausting, and as devastating and fucked-up the end of her and Carol’s relationship had been, Harper was beyond glad when it was finally over.

Back to business, Therese told Harper that, barring any major hiccups— if Rindy bombed her final presentation for whatever reason— she was on track to maintain an A for the semester.

With seven minutes still left in her allotted time, Harper considered leaving, letting Therese use the time to jump ahead of schedule, but Therese didn’t seem eager to do so, possibly similarly curious about the life Carol had, so far, successfully kept separate. “You’re a lawyer too, right?”

Harper was also a lawyer. And so was her and Carol’s father. And their aunt. And two of their cousins. Their grandfather had worked for the General Mills plant, so law wasn’t exactly a long-standing family industry just yet. By chance, no one in the family had the same area of practice. Carol had decidedly the most prestigious position of anyone, something with which Harper took no issue. “I work in family law. Divorce, mostly,” Harper pulled out her business card and handed it to Therese. “Here. I’m at Rose, Bloomfield, and Glickman in St. Paul. So if you overhear any of these rich parents arguing tonight, send them my way.”

Therese smiled. She wouldn’t mind overhearing some parent drama, she said, as long as it wasn’t about her class. At least it would add some excitement to the night.

“My fingers are crossed on your behalf. And mine. I can’t be the record-holder for World’s Messiest Breakup forever. Then again, I guess Carol sort of took that honor.”

There was a glint in Therese’s eye, her interest sparked. She asked, “what was her ex like?”

Harper dug in her purse and pulled out a pack of gum. She popped a piece in her mouth and leaned back in her chair. “How much time do you have?”

Well, about 60 seconds, really. Harper’s conference time was ending. She didn’t want to screw up Therese’s schedule, but she didn’t want to leave her with nothing, either. As she got up, she lowered her voice, and told her, “a piece of fucking work. I’ve only just met you, but I can tell that you’re a thousand times better in just about every category. I’m not just saying that so you’ll give Rindy an A, either. Like, you’re on different planets, trust me.”

Before she opened the door to leave, she added that if Therese wanted more information, she could ask just about any woman she came across in either of the Twin Cities, because the likelihood that Abby fucked them was very high.

——————————-

It was after Carol took her to dinner the second time that Therese thought things could really be different.

As promised, Carol drove Therese home at a reasonable hour. They’d just gotten dinner, a place close to Therese, and stayed as late as Therese’s internal clock would allow. When Carol dropped her off, she put her car in park, waiting so they could finish their conversation. But one conversation turned into another, and in the end, Carol spent the better portion of an hour parked outside of Therese’s building.

Finally, when Therese realized it was well after 9, she muttered, “I really should get inside,” with so much hesitance she hardly believed the words herself. Carol continued to look at her, always seemingly amused. Amused, curious, and delighted. A combination Therese would do just about anything to get more of.

Carol just said, “okay,” and waited.

Therese leaned over the center console and kissed the grin off of her lips— stole it, really— and whispered, “I so wish you could come in with me.” She didn’t give Carol a chance to respond, just kissed her more and more and more and then asked, “when can I see you again?”

Carol smiled, but her eyes looked dark and intense. “Whenever you want.” Her fingers padded along the side of Therese’s neck.

‘Whenever she wanted’ was not entirely true, because when Therese wanted was the next day… and the next day, and the next. But the following Saturday was good enough, Therese supposed.

—————————-

Holidays were always hard. Christmas, especially. Before Carol, Therese could never imagine much solace, unless the entirety of her family suddenly changed their minds regarding Therese’s unofficial shunning.

It had been five years since deciding that maybe it was best if Therese didn’t come home to visit regularly— a mutual decision, of sorts— but Therese still looked forward to her parents’ calling on Christmas. It was the only thing that helped her feel tethered to someone, anyone. She had friends, but never ones so close they felt like family. There were times if she wondered whether or not it was worth it, if it would be less painful to choose a life of either celibacy or secrecy in exchange for a renewed relationship with her parents.

Five years had gone by since she ended things with Richard, the boyfriend she’d kept through most of college, and she’d told her mother why. In those five years, Therese had only dated two women, and neither very seriously. Was it worth spending every Christmas alone, eating dinner by herself? Watching a movie, and waiting for her mother to call and pass the phone around to her dad, her brother, her aunt and uncle? That was her new Christmas Eve tradition.

Without knowing, Carol suggested, “would you want to hang out on Christmas Eve? Or Christmas Day? I could leave my parents’ house early and we could do something, maybe make dinner.” It was downplayed with a shrug, and Carol added that she just hadn’t heard Therese mention anything about what kind of plans she had for the holidays— the 25th was only two weeks away, after all.

Therese just about melted into her spot on Carol’s sofa.

“I don’t have any plans…for either day, really. So, whenever you’re free…” she trailed off. She didn’t want to sound too desperate, or pathetic. But Carol would never think like that, she knew.

Carol only saw her family on Christmas Eve, she said, and welcomed an excuse to cut it a couple hours short. “And as much as I’d love for you to join us,” she added, it was probably too much, too soon. “I think you’d much rather meet my family any other day.”

————————-

There had been one time in five years that Therese had reluctantly gone home to visit. It had been a mostly spontaneous trip encouraged by her brother as a ‘nice gesture’ for her mother’s birthday. To ‘have the whole family together again.’ Her mother was turning 55 and whether or not Therese’s presence at their large family party was even a welcome one was questionable. She certainly didn’t feel like a gift.

Her family had a nice (though modest) house, in a small town in Illinois that was just 30 miles west of Kentucky. There were plenty of churches, an absurd ratio to the meager population, but to Therese’s parents, only one of them mattered. It was the big, auditorium-type, one that lured in followers by disguising their proselytizing with contemporary music and casual clothing. At a young age, Therese was averse simply because the event took up half of her already too short weekends. Once she got older, she hated almost everything about it: the sermons were tedious, the pastor was condescending, and the youth group— the one in which she’d been forced to participate— was a waste of time.

With half of her entire family— her grandparents, three aunts and uncles, and eleven cousins, all just from her mother’s side— packed into the living room and kitchen, Therese did her best to hide among the 55 balloon strings dangling from the ceiling. She hadn’t managed too many conversations that made it beyond “hello, how are you? How’s everything been?” There had been an elephant in the room, and it was Therese herself. At the time, it had been over two years since she’d broken up with Richard, and the reason as to why had absolutely made it to every crevice of her family: Therese “decided” she was no longer looking for a boyfriend.

The funny part of it all was that, unbeknownst to her parents, she’d only met Richard when, after their “Christian Thought” class, he chased her down in the hallway, and told her he thought what their professor said about Christianity and nativism was “fucking stupid, too.” Richard just saying the word “fuck” had caught Therese’s attention; swearing often felt like a rarity among students. She also wondered why he thought she’d disagreed with their professor.

Suddenly sheepish, maybe doubting his memory, he stuttered, and said, “well, I don’t know, I thought because you rolled your eyes…”

Therese had, she just thought she’d been more discreet.

A coffee date for the next day was set up under the pretense of studying, and when Richard asked if Therese wanted to come back to his apartment, she’d agreed. His apartment was still on-campus, though kept under a less watchful eye than the freshman and sophomore dorms. They made out on his uncomfortable couch in his gross living room and he told her, “just to let you know, I’m not a virgin.”

Therese wasn’t sure if it was to impress her or warn her, but either way, she just said, “neither am I.”

It was the truth. She’d had sex once, when she was home for the summer after her freshman year with some guy she'd gone to high school with at a party. It was horrible, but she’d just wanted to rip off the bandaid.

Richard had been shocked, but not in a bad way. If anything, he was relieved; he’d picked one of the few girls on campus actually willing to fuck.

Sex with Richard was also spectacularly awful, and it didn’t take Therese very long to realize why. (Sure, he was 20-years-old and selfishly bad in bed, but any attempts at getting better would’ve still proved futile with Therese.) She kept the truth to herself until after graduation, though.

Therese bet that even if her parents knew all of that, they’d still prefer for her to be with Richard anyway. The invented hierarchy of sins was crystal clear.

Knowing nobody at the party would miss her, Therese slipped into her dad’s study. She scanned the bookcase, the one her mother referred to as the “home library.” Really, it was a perversion of the term, mostly serving as a shrine to Billy Graham and a sprinkling of some other religious doctrines.

It wasn’t that her parents weren’t well-read or uncultured. Far from it, in fact. They’d studied a vast assortment of literature, just enough to be able to dissect all the parts that were morally corrupt.

Therese was only able to enjoy a few minutes alone before being discovered by her 16-year-old cousin, Alicia.

“Are you hiding?” Without giving Therese the opportunity to respond, Alicia added, “I don’t blame you. I’m surprised you even came, honestly.”

Unsure of where the conversation was headed, Therese just turned back to the bookcase without saying anything, feigning interest in the titles she’d seen thousands of times.

Being ignored was apparently not a deterrence for Alicia. “They’re wrong, you know, about you not going to heaven because you’re gay. I’ve read the Bible eleven times— more than any of them, I bet— so I know what I’m talking about.”

Alicia had always been equal parts wise and naive, but in that moment, Therese wanted none of it. She was still part of the family that had persuaded Therese to fly down from Madison— offering a fake olive branch, making her put her life on hold for a stupid party— and then made her feel as though she’d shown up uninvited.

She’d been hurt too many times by them— by her parents, her brother, Alicia’s parents, and so on— and Therese was unable to stop herself from passing it onto the next easy target. “There’s no such thing as heaven, Alicia. God isn’t real. Read a different book.”

Without another word, she’d left Alicia standing alone in the study, walked upstairs to her old bedroom, and went to bed.

In the years following, Therese had often thought about that night. She wondered why some people were allowed to be so blissfully happy in their beliefs (even if ignorantly so, as Therese thought), and others, like herself, were doomed to cynicism, wired in such a way that made finding solace in blind faith impossible.

But sitting in Carol’s living room, on Christmas morning, watching blankets of snow fall while Carol paced around, talking on the phone with Rindy and drinking coffee, Therese reconsidered what she’d told Alicia. She might’ve been wrong. In fact, she was sure she’d been wrong.

Not about God, necessarily, but about heaven, because Therese was already there. She felt like texting Alicia, telling her just that, but she’d probably sound high as hell without providing any context— she hadn’t talked to Alicia since last Christmas, after all. She’d wait for her mother’s call, for the phone to be passed around, for it to eventually make its way to Alicia, and then maybe she’d tell her.

When her mom did call that afternoon, Therese slipped into Carol’s bedroom and laid flat on her back on the bed. She was nervous. She’d decided she would very casually hint to her parents that she was seeing someone. It would, of course, probably not go over well, but even a ton of bricks was no match for the height at which Therese currently floated.

Therese had gotten her parents’ Christmas card a couple days before. The front sported the picture of a snow-covered chapel, the words A Christmas Prayer For You... with the message inside delivering as promised. She thanked her mother, asked the standard round of questions, until finally, her mother asked, “so are you just doing your usual thing? Having a good day?”

“Um, I’m actually at my friend’s place. We’re— they’re—” Therese swallowed heavily, paused, taking a moment to decide how to proceed, not realizing how difficult getting the words out would be. “Her family doesn’t do too much on Christmas Day— they’re more Christmas Eve people— so we’re going to have dinner and go see a movie, I think.”

For what felt like hours, Therese sat in limbo, waiting to hear anything besides indistinct background chatter.

“Well, I’ll hand you off to your dad.”

Therese said, “okay,” but her mother was already gone.

Carol appeared in the doorway, looking crestfallen on Therese’s behalf, obviously having listened in as much as possible from the other room. Therese tried not to cry as she suffered through six more rounds of the same small talk. She decided to leave her last piece of news out, knowing it was likely already traveling down the dinner table anyway. Eventually, she heard Alicia’s distinctive, high pitched, “hey Therese,” said the exact same way, every single time.

There were a series of usual, older-cousin questions through which Therese cycled: what did she get for Christmas? How were her friends? Last year, it was “how’s senior year going?” now replaced by, “how’s college? Are you liking Hillsdale?” Alicia wasn’t, apparently, and said she’d wished she’d just chosen to go where Therese had gone.

“You’d probably like it even less, Alicia. Don’t worry too much. You’ll…get used to it.”

Suddenly, the noise of surrounding voices quieted— Alicia sounded like she went into a different room— and then, in an almost whisper, asked, “so, you’re doing well…in Minneapolis? You’re having a good Christmas with your friend?”

The urge to cry swept over Therese once again, but for a different reason. She looked at Carol— still standing against the wall, waiting, protective and perfect— and smiled, granting her some relief. “I am, thanks. I don’t think I could be much happier, honestly.”

Relieved, too, was Alicia. She exhaled and said, “I’m very glad to hear that.”

Therese could hear the sounds of Alicia being called back to the table, and Alicia said, “okay, I have to go. Merry Christmas. Love you!” and hung up.

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Therese tried to stop what was coming, but couldn’t, and she started crying. Endless, cathartic tears, tinted black from her mascara, crawled over her wrists as she used her hands to cover her face. Carol laid down next to her and kissed her chest and let her cry.

The first chance she got, when it felt like she could say words without choking, Therese apologized. “I’m so sorry. I’m sure this is not what you had in mind for Christmas.”

But Carol said, “the only thing I had in mind was being with you.”

Her family’s rejection was inevitable. Unsurprising. And while Therese cried pretty much every year on Christmas, this year was different. She didn’t care about their support. She didn’t need their approval, she didn’t even need their love. And realizing that was overwhelming and bittersweet and liberating. They didn’t deserve to watch Therese fall nauseatingly in-love, to hear about her happiness. They didn’t deserve witnessing something they were too ignorant to understand.

When her tears turned to laughter, Carol laughed too— but just a little, seemingly unable to commit in case of another dip on the emotional rollercoaster. But Therese’s laughter ended with a sigh. She sniffled and wiped her eyes. “Should we check movie times?”

Carol blinked, still staring, the amused, curious, and delighted stare. And again, Therese had never felt so admired.

—————————-

Not much could get Carol to leave work early. If she could avoid it, she would. Working from home was just… not her jam when it wasn’t pre-planned, so when she told Jerry, “hey, I think I’m going to finish up this reviewing the rest of this at home and email you some notes later,” he looked scared.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

“Nothing,” Carol said, but she was sure the tiny, choked coughs stuck at the back of her throat gave her away. “I just don’t feel great.”

Jerry shooed her out of his office and said, “get out. Leave— now. Goodbye.”

Of all the days to be sick, Carol would’ve preferred any other weekend. Therese’s semester was ending and there was no school on Monday. Carol had planned a vacation day so they could spend the long weekend together. She was determined not to ruin it.

But when Therese called later that evening— probably as she danced her way through the school parking lot to her car— she said, “whoa, you sound like shit. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Carol cleared her throat, doing her best to put some energy back into her voice. “It’s just a cold. I’m sure I’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

Therese arrived at her apartment not long after, pity immediately painting her face when she found Carol curled on her couch in a giant sweatshirt and leggings, struggling to read the work she’d brought home.

The back of Therese’s hand rested gently on Carol’s neck, and then her forehead, before carding through her hair at the scalp. “This is not a cold. This is the flu.”

“It’s not the flu.” It probably (absolutely) was, but Carol was in denial. Aside from not wanting to spoil their weekend plans, she also just didn’t want Therese to freak out and leave.

“You’re burning up, honey.”

Carol hated the sound of her voice when she whined. But she did. She groaned and pouted as she listened to Therese rifling through her medicine cabinet, no doubt not finding anything she was looking for. It couldn’t be the flu, Carol said, because they were supposed to get dinner and go to the museum tomorrow and then meet some of Therese’s friends— Dannie and Ruby, the ones Carol had met once before at a New Years Eve party— for drinks Sunday night, and—

“We can reschedule!” She answered from the bathroom, still searching, “why don’t you have anything besides a 1,000 tablet bottle of ibuprofen in here?”

Because Carol didn’t get sick. She just got hungover sometimes.

“Okay,” Therese reappeared and picked up the purse she’d tossed onto Carol’s kitchen island, “I am going to run out and get you supplies, and then—”

“And then you’re going home?”

“What? No. Why would I go home? Unless you want me to, in which case—”

No. No. Of course Carol didn’t want her to leave. She just figured Therese didn’t want to get sick, too. It made Therese laugh. She called Carol ‘so cute.’ Therese wasn’t worried about Carol getting her sick because, unlike Carol, obviously, she’d gotten a flu shot, as she did every year. “Because I work with teenagers who have some sort of aversion to covering their mouths when they cough.”

The last time Carol could remember being so sick was years ago. Back when she was still with Abby. Abby was… not a great nurse, to say the absolute least. She wasn’t a monster; she did her best. But when Carol’s coughing didn’t let up after a couple days, Abby slept in their guest bedroom. Not because she didn’t want to catch whatever Carol had, but because Carol’s coughing was “kind of annoying.” She’d said it with a forced laugh that was meant to hide the comment in self-deprecation, as if she realized her annoyance was unreasonable, but Carol knew better.

That week, Carol had stayed home from work, tried to get as much done as she could, and Abby worked late. Really late.

Looking back, Carol wondered if Abby really was working late.

That was Carol's biggest issue with Abby’s cheating. Losing Abby was difficult, but she could get over it— she did get over it, long ago. The betrayal stung, of course, but hurt less over time. And really, had Abby cheated once, or twice, or even just a small handful of times over the six years they were together, it wouldn’t have been quite as damaging. In fact, Carol might’ve been able to see past it.

But it hadn’t been just a few times, and that was the worst part. It had been years of lies and secrets and deceit that tainted every single memory of that time period. Carol couldn’t even think about having the flu without wondering if she’d missed something, if Abby’s “working late” that time had so obviously been something else. Or maybe it hadn’t, maybe she’d told the truth that week.

When they’d gone to Iceland for their four year anniversary, had Abby really been calling her mom every day, or was she calling Genevieve? Or maybe Elizabeth? Or someone else? Because there were several others.

More than that, Carol felt like an idiot. She was a lawyer, for chrissake, yet somehow allowed Abby’s infidelity to slide right past her for three years. Reminding herself that it was hard to find something she hadn’t been looking for did help, but it didn’t stop her from spiraling into a black hole of what-ifs.

Namely, what if Abby hadn’t yelled at her assistant? Would Carol have ever found out?

Abby didn’t often get angry. At least, she didn’t have much of a temper. Carol always felt a bit more explosive in comparison. But Abby did get angry over odd and unexpected things, like when her assistant, Tessie, booked her a room at the wrong hotel for her upcoming business trip. A simple fix, but it must’ve just gotten to Abby for some reason, and she berated the poor girl.

Before quitting at the end of the day (knowing she’d obviously be so fucking fired anyway), Tessie walked back to her desk, called to change Abby’s reservations, and then sent an email to Carol.

It was simple, and there were no explicit accusations, but Tessie told Carol that, for the past year she’d worked for Abby, all of Abby’s business trips lasted at least one day beyond what the schedule required— if Abby’s last meeting was Wednesday, she had Tessie book the hotel room until Friday, and Abby worked from her company’s office in whichever city she was in regardless of needing to be there. Abby frequently had Tessie make dinner reservations for two on nights when work dinners weren’t scheduled. Tessie wrote that when she’d first started working for Abby, she noticed Abby would throw away keycards that sported the logos of hotels in Minneapolis. The list went on, and Tessie included that she was quitting at the end of the day, but she just couldn’t leave “without saying something.”

That was the last time Carol remembered leaving work early.

At first, she’d scanned the email, her vision blurry as she tried to make it make sense. She was going to delete it. Tessie was obviously disgruntled and acting out. Immature and not realizing how bad it was to burn bridges, especially in such an inflammatory way.

Her finger hovered over the button on her mouse, ready to send Tessie’s final words into the virtual abyss…but then she stood up. Carol closed her laptop, hurriedly gathered her things into her bag, and said, “I have to go,” to Fred as she passed his desk, leaving him confused and worried.

It was stupid, she’d told herself the entire drive home. So impossible. Crazy. But it was only 2:45, and if there wasn’t any traffic, she’d make it home by 3.

She tore the house apart.

Not knowing where to begin, Carol had just started hunting through drawers (too obvious), logged on to Abby’s personal email on their desktop computer (too reckless), and figured she’d finally lost her goddamn mind when she was sitting on the floor, looking at strips of paper that had gone through the paper shredder (pointless).

Abby texted her saying So my assistant just quit?? Anyway, I’m going to be home a little later than usual. When do you think you’ll be home?

It would give Carol time to put the house back together. She hadn’t decided whether or not she was going to mention it to Abby.

Sorting through the mail, Carol’s eyes settled on a bank statement. It was for Abby’s checking account, the one linked to her debit card. She knew she shouldn’t open it. It was none of her business, and, obviously, she’d fallen for a vindictive prank of some sort.

But she tore it open anyway— a last bout of what she knew was just paranoia— and scanned.

Every two or three days, withdrawals. $60 here, another $80 there. Deposits, and then withdrawal, withdrawal, withdrawal. And it was weird, because Abby didn’t carry cash. Whenever they needed it, she’d turn to Carol expectantly. If she took out so much cash, where was she spending it if not with Carol? And why not just use her debit card?

It didn’t necessarily mean anything at all though, Carol told herself. But then she looked up from the piece of mail, and glanced around her home: scattered papers, open drawers, and dirty laundry in piles on the ground.

Abby was cheating on her.

Carol didn’t bother to tidy anything. She sat, nearly motionless on the sofa, the only occasional movement made to drink from the enormous glass of bourbon she’d poured herself, and waited for Abby.

When Abby had finally arrived home, she was confused, at least for a minute, and asked, “what’s going on?” in response to Carol sitting and doing nothing, dejected and despondent and surrounded by a mess.

“How long have you been sleeping with other women?”

It was a bit irritating that Abby was so stunned into silence— she’d been so arrogant in her cheating that she hadn’t bothered to think of what to say if Carol found out. Because it was probably always an “if” for her and not a “when.” She thought she could get away with it for how long? Forever?

She squirmed, and managed a “what are you talking about?” with zero conviction.

The most Carol had gotten out of Abby that night was, “I don’t know, Carol, but why will knowing how long make you feel better?”

Over the course of the next few weeks, as Fred and Jack helped her move all of her stuff out of her and Abby’s place and into a sublet, she’d squeezed a little more from Abby. It had been at least three years, but Carol couldn’t rule out longer, and with at least six people, but Carol suspected that number was far, far higher.

So, no, Carol didn’t miss Abby; she missed not questioning her own judgement. Not second guessing herself. And for the longest time, she wasn’t sure if figuring out how to be in a relationship again was even worth it. Her life lended itself pretty well to the occasional hookup. Maybe a two or three week fling, when she was feeling particularly ambitious.

Therese, though...she’d stopped Carol in her tracks. With every intention of making Therese another quick and casual escape, it became wildly clear within just a few minutes of their first date that wouldn’t be the case. Therese was addicting, simply put. Quite literally so. Her doe eyes, her soft but confident voice, her clever grin punctuated by those devastating dimples— how could Carol ever get enough?

It’s how she found herself, nearly three months later, lulling in and out of sleep on her sofa, waiting impatiently for Therese to return, likely with far more medication than a silly little cold (flu) required. Carol felt delirious when Therese appeared above her, sliding to sit next to where Carol laid. Maybe it was the fever— the one she insisted she didn’t have— but Therese looked angelic, a light in the otherwise dark surroundings.

As Therese opened a package of NyQuil, Carol extended her hand, wanting to brush her fingers through Therese’s hair, but she was just barely out of reach.

“I love you, Therese.”

Carol was thinking it— she’d been thinking it and saying it in her head every time she was graced with Therese’s presence, every time Therese was on her mind— and hadn’t intended on saying the words out loud. But there they were, hanging in the air.

Therese stopped fiddling with the box in her hands. She stopped moving altogether, and Carol wondered if she’d ruined everything, if she’d send Therese running like a spooked deer. After several seconds that lasted an eternity, Therese looked over and into Carol’s eyes. She leaned down, her face so close to Carol’s that it was the only thing Carol could see, and then she whispered—

“Say it again.”

—————————-

Through the foyer window, Rindy watched Aunt Carol’s black Mercedes pull into the driveway. But she still waited for her aunt’s “here” text, not wanting to get caught. Her phone chimed and Rindy shouted, “mom, I’m leaving! It’s going to be super weird! Wish me luck!”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” her mother’s disembodied voice answered from another part of the hosue. “It won’t be weird. See you next week!”

Her mom and her mom’s boyfriend, Alex, were going to Cabo for a week to celebrate their anniversary (gross), leaving Rindy, of course, with her aunt. But the week before, Aunt Carol had called her and asked— with great hesitance— if Rindy would be opposed to ‘Therese’ also being there, “just for the weekend, maybe even just Friday night. Her apartment is getting torn up because they’re installing new air conditioning. If you’re even the slightest bit not okay with the idea, I really won’t mind. She can find somewhere else to stay.”

Truthfully, Rindy would’ve preferred literally anything else. She was happy that her aunt’s relationship was going so well— Rindy was the catalyst, after all, how could she have been anything besides elated? But actually having to spend time with Ms. Belivet outside of school was a stipulation she’d gravely overlooked. As cool as she was, she was still a teacher at her fucking high school.

In her most convincing tone, Rindy had muttered, “uh, no. Yeah. No, that’s fine. I don’t mind.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, completely sure.”

Madison made her promise to not spare any details. And in real time, when possible.

5:13pm: carol is picking me up now. gonna kms.

Rindy opened the front door and did her best to hoist the oversized suitcase her mother insisted she pack out the door with her. Aunt Carol’s window was down and she scoffed, “I’m sorry, are you moving in?”

“Ask your sister. She basically made me bring everything I own.”

After loading her suitcase and closing the trunk, Rindy sighed, not sure if she was mentally prepared. But there was no backing out now. She slid into the backseat, and Ms. Belivet turned around and smiled. “Hey, Rindy.”

“Hey, Ms. Belivet.”

Carol laughed so hard that she stopped herself from putting the car in reverse. Ms. Belivet groaned and turned back to Rindy again. “Please call me Therese. Otherwise I won’t hear the end of it.”

“Will do.”

Technically, Ms. Belivet wasn’t even her teacher anymore. It had been a couple months since the semester ended in January, and the most she saw of her was the occasional pass in the hall.

But Rindy knew she should get used to seeing her like this: as Therese, with her aunt, in her aunt’s car. Wearing her aunt’s sweatshirt, Rindy noticed. It was a sweatshirt Rindy wanted— her Iowa Hawkeyes one from law school— but her requests to steal it were always denied. Once, when Aunt Carol had asked why she didn’t just want her to buy her a new one, Rindy said, “because yours is vintage,” which was not a good answer, and further solidified that Rindy would not be gifted Aunt Carol’s circa-2006 sweatshirt.

She didn’t have a chance to feel even a twinge of annoyance, though, because even if Therese was wearing the sweatshirt Rindy so wanted, she was doing so while sliding her hand behind Aunt Carol’s neck, her aunt smiling the second she looked over to Therese. They giggled about something Rindy didn’t quite understand— clearly some sort of inside joke— and Rindy couldn’t remember a time when she’d been genuinely nervous that her aunt might get into a car accident because she was laughing too hard.

No, it was really difficult to be annoyed with Ms. Belivet. With Therese.

At her aunt’s apartment, everything was normal, except cleaner. When Therese answered a call and stepped onto the balcony, Rindy pointed it out. “It’s very clean in here.”

She’d stayed with her aunt just over a month before, and it certainly hadn’t looked like this.

“Therese is very tidy. She’s been here the past couple of days. You can thank her for that.”

So Therese had already been there, at her aunt’s apartment, for days. A wild thought. Just Aunt Carol being with somebody again after so much time was not the easiest concept to grasp.

There was a restaurant Rindy liked to go to when she stayed with Aunt Carol. It was always crowded on the weekends and they’d kill time at the record store next door while they waited for a table. Rindy suggested it and Therese shrugged, saying, “anything is fine with me.”

Rindy didn’t have a record player, but she wanted one. She was pretty sure her aunt was going to get her one for her one for her fifteenth birthday, because she’d started buying Rindy records and when Rindy grumbled that she had nothing on which to play them, her aunt would said, “maybe you will one day.”

If she was feeling really bratty, she probably could’ve convinced Aunt Carol to just buy her one for no reason, but even for Rindy, that felt like too much. For Christmas, her aunt had gifted her concert tickets, three eye shadow palettes, a really expensive pair of shoes, and the promise to help Rindy learn to drive, “just not in my car.”

In the car, Rindy synced her phone to the bluetooth and tried choosing the music. Aunt Carol locked eyes with her in the rearview mirror. “No way. It’s my turn.”

Rindy groaned. She liked her aunt’s taste in music sometimes. But other times, it was just like…no. She was happy to hear a similar noise of irritation come from Therese in the passenger seat. Finally, a tie-breaker.

Not that Aunt Carol would back down easily, of course. “Excuse me, but out of the three distinct music eras being represented in this car, I’m not kowtowing to the two generations that have openly embraced a depressed preteen mumbling over some piano chords.”

Billie Eilish. She was talking about Billie Eilish. Rindy just scoffed, but Therese seemed prepared. “That’s cute coming from you, the person who, just last week, openly admitted to enjoying Weezer at a point in your life, so your credibility on this issue is completely shot. Also, let’s check the usage of ‘kowtow’ in that sentence, because I get where you’re going, and it isn't necessarily wrong, but I think we can find a stronger, more suitable word.”

Aunt Carol’s mouth just hung open— and so did Rindy’s— not used to getting back what she gave. Rindy was very much enjoying the turned tables. “Um, I can’t believe I just witnessed a murder. I’m probably going to have PTSD from that. Jesus.”

Eventually, Rindy’s aunt managed to muster up a mumbled, “I hate both of you,” and still stubbornly— with even more determination than before— picked the music.

In a quick text to Madison, Rindy wrote: ok so i think we love ms belivet

At the record store, Rindy watched her aunt slide a stack of records out of Therese’s hands, kiss her on the cheek, and buy every single one of them for her. And that’s how Rindy learned Therese had a record player.

Which was…okay, pretty cool, she could admit it.

Over dinner, she learned that Therese didn’t talk to her family much— she called them zealots— and that she had to go to a Christian college, per her parents’ request. She wasn’t homeschooled though, “oh god, no.” She drank some cocktail with whiskey, and then switched to white wine. She wanted a dog, but her building didn’t allow pets. She’d never been to California, and thought Rindy should make her dad take her there the next time he had to go for work. She called being forced to teach The Great Gatsby “cruel and unusual punishment.” Her favorite book recently was An American Marriage, her favorite book always was “the Bible. No, I’m totally kidding. Middlemarch.” Her favorite movie was Kill Bill, and her favorite person was Carol.

Therese didn’t actually say the last part, but Rindy could just tell, because she looked at her aunt like she’d hung the fucking moon, and Rindy had the feeling that Therese would be around more and more often, and for a very long time. Forever-long. It was a feeling that Rindy liked.

——————————-

The only part of the end of the school year Therese wasn’t looking forward to was packing up her classroom. She always started with enough time, and then lost track of schedule, saving the majority of the room to be cleaned out with just days left. Having Carol there made it easier, though. Sort of.

Her company was always appreciated, whether her contributions could be accurately described as “helpful” was certainly up for debate.

Initially, she’d taken on the task of sorting through Therese’s dry-erase markers. When Therese looked back over, she was just drawing on the whiteboard. She was about to say something to get her back on track, but she wrote, “I love you,” so Therese kept her mouth shut.

Ever self-aware, Carol sighed and said, “I’m sorry I’m not doing much. I have a lot of work to do over the weekend and I just can’t focus on much else.”

“Go home, baby. I’m almost done for the day, anyway.”

“Are you sure?” Carol tossed the marker into the trash can, claiming it was almost out anyway. Plus, she was going to buy Therese a truckload of new supplies and wouldn’t be taking ‘no’ for an answer.

With a little more urging, Therese convinced Carol to leave, promising she’d meet her at her place in a bit. She just needed to put a few more boxes into her car and then swing by the student advisors’ office.

To her luck, Ruby was still perched at her computer when Therese poked her head into the room. Ruby had a chipper, high voice and permanent smile. When she saw Therese, she stopped typing and waved her inside.

Along with Dannie, she’d been one of Therese’s closest friends from work. Ruby had been there to show her around when Therese had first started back in August. The principal and vice principal had been welcoming, but apparently too busy to help Therese get settled, and for whatever reason, Ruby was assigned the task. Which seemed strange, considering she was just the academic advisor for students whose last names started with A through D, but Therese was glad it had worked out that way.

On her tour, Ruby introduced her to one of the other English teachers, Dannie, and found herself being told, “hey, you should come with us to get drinks tomorrow! It’s just going to be us and the only other two people that work here who actually like having fun.”

Therese sat on the other chair in Ruby’s office and Ruby asked, “so are you done? You’re taking off?”

“I’ll have to come back tomorrow, but I’m leaving for the day right now, yeah.” Therese leaned over Ruby’s desk and drummed her fingers, smiling and excited to tell her just why she’d dropped in. “So, before I forget...”

Ruby narrowed her eyes. “Yes…?”

“I do need you to make sure there’s a block put on Rindy Aird’s class selection so that she can’t have me as a teacher— unfortunately for her— because I’m moving in with Carol in July and it would probably be—”

“—very inappropriate. Shut up! You’re moving in with Carol? To her place, obviously, right?”

Ruby’s grin widened as Therese nodded.

It wasn’t a very exciting story. The decision didn’t come with some big, dramatic question. Carol didn’t really even ask her. She just…told her, in a way. Therese had commented on how she wished she could own a place, a house, a condo, anything, but felt doomed to rent forever, hampered with student loans and the pressure to get her master’s degree. Carol said something along the lines of, “good luck with that teacher’s salary,” and laughed when Therese pouted.

“Oh please,” Carol rolled her eyes, “don’t act like my generational wealth won’t feel pretty nice once your lease ends this summer and you never have to deal with a landlord again.”

Therese had hoped. She spent so much time at Carol’s place already, and when she wasn’t there, she spent her time wishing that she was. She’d hoped— that Carol felt the same and that she’d ask Therese to move in.

“So what do you think?” Carol added, with far less attitude and far more shyness.

Therese was blushing, she could feel it and didn’t try to hide it. “Of course I want to live with you.”

Great, Carol said, she’d hire movers so Therese didn’t have to worry about too much while she was teaching summer school. The only packing she wanted Therese to worry about was for the trip to Napa they were taking before the end of summer break.

Ruby clutched her chest when Therese told her that part, and said, “god, I am so jealous. Carol’s condo is insane. You’re so lucky. If you ever need a house-sitter...”

Maybe Therese was lucky. But her life had been a series of decision that had often left her feeling just the opposite. Lucky was Rindy being in her class that first semester. But everything else— moving the Minneapolis, a city where she knew nobody, moving to Madison before that, breaking up with Richard, tell her parents she was gay, going to college to get the hell away— those were all choices Therese made, risky ones, hoping that one of them would come with a reward, anything that would signal to her that it would all be worth it in the end.

And it took so long. But not too long, because waiting for Therese when she left school, after she got into her car and drove past the exit for her soon-to-be old neighborhood and headed downtown to her soon-to-be home, was Carol.