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It was an oversight, but quite a large one. Carol kept saying, “I’m so sorry. It totally slipped my mind.”

Therese hadn’t been moved into Carol’s condo for even a week when Carol remembered that, oh, right, Rindy was supposed to stay with her. Normally, a non-issue. Except this time, Therese lived with her and it was summer— specifically one of the few weeks of summer that Therese actually had off-off. No grading final exams and papers, no planning for summer school, no teaching summer school, no beginning-of-year prep. In total, it was the equivalent of about three weeks, one of which was being used for vacation the following week, and one of which was now being partially overtaken by the presence of Carol’s niece.

Maybe it wasn’t fair, her frustration. Therese liked Rindy, she really did. But she hadn’t yet been tasked with entertaining her sans-Carol.

“She’s fifteen. She doesn’t need entertainment. She’ll just spend eight hours on her phone in the guest room until I come home.”

“Why is your sister going to her office in Rochester again? Wasn’t she just meeting clients there, like, five weeks ago?”

Carol laughed and shook her head, apparently gearing Therese up for an explanation. “This isn’t a work thing.”

Folding her arms, Therese tried to be serious, but Carol was giggling and it was difficult to remain stoic. “What is it, Carol?”

“Every year, Harper goes up north and rents a cabin with friends and does psychedelics. She calls it ‘Drug Cabin.’”

“You’re telling me that we’re looking after a fifteen-year-old so that your sister can go and do drugs and not invite us?”

They could go next year, apparently, because Rindy would be sixteen by then and Harper really only worried about leaving her alone because she couldn’t drive somewhere if need be. But until then, Therese could look forward to a couple days scooting around Rindy, the two of them dodging one another until Carol returned home from work and could act as a buffer.

———————————-

Around 11 a.m., Rindy woke up, ready to stride right into her aunt’s kitchen to drink the stale remnants of hours-old coffee her aunt had inevitably left behind in her coffee pot, but she stopped at the threshold of the guest room door when she heard Therese’s voice, talking to someone on the phone. Rindy had sort of forgotten Therese would be there. She wasn’t used to being alone in her aunt’s home with somebody else. But then again, she supposed the case might have been the same for Therese. Both of them alone with someone else in what still felt like just Aunt Carol's place. Two sides of the same awkward coin.

Rindy tiptoed, wanting to make as little noise as possible, because if Therese didn’t hear her, then she could take her coffee directly back to bed and they could both go on ignoring one another.

Though she did her best not to listen in, not to eavesdrop, Therese had left Aunt Carol’s bedroom (well, it was Therese’s bedroom now, too) door open, and her interest piqued considerably when she heard Therese say, “it’s not that far, but now I’m, like, downtown… yes, it’s safe, mom.”

Mom.

Therese was talking to her mother. Rindy knew a bit about the less-than-stellar relationship Therese shared with her family. Mostly from her own mother. They’d been in the car, driving to Rindy’s grandparents’ house “for Easter,” (really, it was just an excuse to get everyone together on a Sunday) when Rindy asked, “is Aunt Carol bringing Therese?” She was, her mother said, but it apparently had taken some convincing.

“Why?”

“I guess Therese is really adamant about not going to anything that’s going to be ‘super Jesus-y.’”

“But grandma and grandpa aren’t, like, those religious people. They’re normal. What does she think we’ll even be doing? It’s brunch. Grandma is going to make too much food, give me a chocolate bunny, and give you guys flowers. End of Easter.”

Her mom sighed. “I know that. And I know you know that. But listen, Therese’s family— ”

“Are they nuts? They’re like ‘born-again’ or something?”

“So, no. That’s not what— I mean, well, maybe? I don’t know all of the semantics. They’re extremely religious. But the point is, Therese doesn’t see them or talk to them all that much. They don’t get along.”

That part was new information. Rindy knew Therese’s family was “crazy religious,” because Therese had described them as such, but she didn’t know that they were on such not-great terms. “Because she’s a lesbian?”

“Yeah, because of that. Maybe other reasons, but I know that’s one of them. Which is…extremely sad. I know it’s upsetting for Therese, so she’s just a little skeptical of fringier religious gatherings.”

Meaning, all others besides Christmas. “That makes sense.”

Minutes passed, all in silence, and then Rindy’s mom said, “you know Rindy, everyone in our family is extremely accepting— ”

Rindy rolled down the window, needing the air. “Oh my god. Jesus, mom, I’m not gay! But noted, thank you.”

“I’m just saying, if you were…”

“Yep! Got it!”

Therese talking to her mom was a rarity, and though Rindy knew it was wrong, her feet felt stuck to her spot. And somehow, she’d magically inched closer to the bedroom doorway, hovering just on the other side. There was a mirror on the wall opposite the door, and Rindy could see Therese’s reflection as she sat on the edge of her bed. Hair still wet and freshly showered, she sat in shorts and bralette and inspected her fingernails as she spoke.

“Yeah, my lease was up… It has. It flew by… Sure. I can send you pictures. But you can look it up, actually. The building, at least. The address is on dad’s phone, too… Well, yeah. No, it’s condos… Of course I can’t, not with my salary… Well…” Therese took a deep breath, and Rindy held her own, sensing what might’ve been coming. “I’ve been seeing someone. It’s pretty… I moved in with her. It’s her place.” And then Therese started talking fast. Rindy knew the feeling. She related it to being in trouble, though, when she’d drop some sort of bomb on her mom or dad and have to rapid-fire more details, knowing her time to get a word in was very limited. Rindy wondered if Therese constantly felt like she was telling her parents something she needed to explain, or offset with other news, if she felt like she was always disappointing them. “It’s incredible, honestly. It’s right downtown, so it’s really convenient. It’s not that much farther from work. And you guys would love the view. It has a balcony, which I know dad would just— Why? Oh, I didn’t realize you were so close to Eureka Springs already. Okay, well, have fun… Love you, too… Bye.”

What Rindy expected to hear next was some type of crying. Something to which she did not want to bear witness. In an attempt to turn around on her heel, ready to retreat back to the guest room, Rindy forgot there was an end table beside her, and stubbed her toe, hard.

“Ow, fuck!”

“Rindy?” And there was Therese, standing with furrowed brows and crossed arms, a look of confusion and maybe amusement. “What are you doing? Were you listening to my conversation?”

An ‘are you okay?’ would’ve been appreciated. But Rindy supposed they both knew she’d make a swift and full recovery. “I was there for, like, maybe ten seconds.”

“Mhmm.” Therese didn’t buy it. “How much did you hear?”

Still holding her foot, Rindy replied, “I don’t know. Not much. Just enough to know that you were talking to your parents about moving.” About moving in with Aunt Carol.

Therese shrugged. “That was about it.”

When Therese ducked back into her bedroom, Rindy heard the sounds of rummaging through the closet. She didn’t really know what to say. Obviously she wasn’t supposed to hear Therese’s call with her parents, but she had, and Therese knew she had, so was Rindy supposed to apologize? Sorry for eavesdropping? Sorry your parents suck? Was Therese even sad about it? Because it didn’t seem like she was.

“So… are you upset, or…?”

When Therese emerged, now in a white spaghetti strap tank top that would’ve gotten Rindy dress-coded, tying her hair in topknot, she gazed into the mirror Rindy had earlier used to spy and said, “they always upset me, but I’m not especially upset. It was kind of funny. They called me after I told them my new address. And they have to know I’m dating someone. One of my cousins is very aware and everyone else has made it clear they understand what I’m talking about any time I allude to my relationship. And yet, they didn’t possibly think they wouldn’t love the reason I’d moved into a new place? It’s just so silly.”

Silly was one way of putting it. Devastating was another. How Therese was able to be upset by something without being overwhelmed, Rindy had no idea. Every time Rindy was upset— or even slightly inconvenienced— she shut down. Retreated into herself and refused to relent for anybody. Did it come with age? Practiced disconnection? Or was it just a facet of Therese’s personality? Maybe all three.

Rindy continued to watch as Therese went to the kitchen counter. She put a mug in the dishwasher and dumped the rest of the leftover coffee into the sink before Rindy had the chance to stop her. “Wait— I was going to drink that.”

“Ew. Why?” She rinsed out the pot and threw out the grounds. She was just...going about her day.

“Do you hate them?” Rindy asked.

“Who? My parents?”

All Rindy could do was nod, knowing she was likely overstepping.

“Of course not. I love my parents. I don’t particularly like them. Not right now, anyway. But they’d probably say the same thing about me. Well, I'll take that back. They wouldn’t admit to not liking me. They’d say they don’t like my choices.”

“Do you think they’ll ever understand? Or, like, come around?”

Finally, Therese stopped busying herself with tidying the already clean enough kitchen. With a sigh, suddenly an air of seriousness washing over her, she placed her hands on the island counter, and seemed to actually think about Rindy’s question. “I think before they understand, they have to want to understand. I’m not sure they’re there yet. But I hope they’ll get there. Someday. Maybe.”

Rindy wanted to ask Therese what it had been like, coming out to her parents. How she’d even managed to do it. It was all driven by curiosity, because Therese had clearly grown up in what sounded like a totally different reality from Rindy’s own. Even far different from what she knew about Aunt Carol’s experience. But in the spirit of moving on, Rindy just said, “You know, everyone in our family is really happy you’re kind of part of it now, too. We all think Aunt Carol is really lucky. I know my mom and Alex and my grandparents talk about it all the time.”

It was the only time in their discussion that Rindy thought Therese might cry. But she didn’t. She smiled and looked down. “Thanks, Rindy.”

When Therese told Rindy she was leaving to get coffee— it was 84 degrees and sunny, so she insisted on iced coffee— she asked if Rindy wanted her to bring her back anything, and Rindy shocked herself when she asked, “can I come with you?”

Therese looked surprised, too, and she stuttered before offering an almost-convincing shrug. “Sure.”

They walked somewhere down the street, past the place where Aunt Carol usually went— Therese said she thought their coffee tasted burnt— and Rindy momentarily panicked when she realized she’d left her wallet back at the condo. Out of habit, of course, because her aunt always paid for everything, not out of presumption, but Therese wouldn’t necessarily know that. She stood behind as Therese ordered and debated whether or not claiming to have just come along for the walk would be believable, but then Therese turned and said, “Rindy.”

“Hm?”

“Order. What do you want?”

She had her credit card out, clearly waiting for Rindy before handing it to the barista.

The silence on the walk back hung awkwardly, begging to be filled, but Rindy thought that might not have been a shared sentiment, so instead of yet again bombarding Therese with questions, she sucked down her iced vanilla latte in record time, and chewed on her straw to keep occupied once it was gone. Therese was texting, expression unreadable behind her dark sunglasses. When Rindy dared to glance over, Therese barely seemed to notice she was there, until she asked, “want to practice driving?”

Sure she did. But, “you don’t have to, like, hang out with me. I won’t be mad if you want to do your own thing. I feel bad—”

“I have nothing to do today. I wouldn’t offer if I thought it was a chore. You’re free to say ‘no,’ but it could be fun…”

The ‘fun’ at the end of Therese’s sentence was clipped, and maybe she was going to say ‘funny,’ because really, that would be a more apt description. Rindy had been behind the wheel about three times: twice with her dad and once with her mom. Her dad was an okay teacher, but he got, like…weirdly emotional; her mom was simply a horrendous passenger in any situation.

—————————————-

There were few things that made Therese feel less utterly hopeless growing up than learning how to drive.

The small town in which she grew up was suffocating. Her parents were suffocating. Even her friends, sometimes, felt suffocating, themselves blind to how much the rural, closed-off culture of Southern Illinois had conditioned them.

Learning to drive and getting her license made Therese feel like she could go anywhere. Literally, anywhere. It wasn’t a far-fetched notion, she supposed. If she had the money, she could get in the car, hopefully make it to the St. Louis airport before her parents reported the car stolen, and fly halfway across the world. Anywhere besides Illinois.

Of course, she never did that. But knowing that she could was freeing. When her best friend in high school, Meredith, got her license, she’d drive them to some of the state parks in the area and they’d go “hiking.” “Hiking” really did mean hiking, but it also meant hotboxing Meredith’s 1999 Pontiac Bonneville that already reeked of stale cigarette smoke from the previous owners. It was in that car that Therese got high for the first time, and she and Meredith trekked around Garden of the Gods Wilderness and, afterward, stopped for gas in a town named Equality. It sent Therese into an endless fit of giggles that Meredith didn’t understand.

She’d had a crush on Meredith. She knew that at the time but, obviously, couldn’t tell anybody else. She cried when Meredith started dating her first boyfriend (and now-husband), Aaron. She was inconsolable, really. After locking herself in her bedroom for over an hour, her mother picked the lock and sat next to her on her bed. Too upset to come up with an excuse, Therese told her mom that she’d liked Aaron.

“There are plenty of other Aarons out there sweetie, trust me.”

In time, Therese’s crush faded, as they all always did, and hanging out with Meredith went back to normal, even if it came with Aaron’s increased presence. When Therese started driving, her grandparents gave her an older car of theirs to drive. It was in better condition than Meredith's Bonneville and Therese would drive her and Meredith and Aaron to one of the few college towns located less than an hour away on some weekends. They weren’t big cities by any stretch of the imagination, but they had buildings higher than a couple stories, and Therese would think, “I need to move to a fucking city,” after every visit.

Sometimes, against their parents' wishes, behind their backs, they'd go to St. Louis, for concerts, for a change of scenery, and Therese would see actual gay people. Not just ideas of them. Not just the one out gay guy at their high school, the one two grades below Therese who was picked on so relentlessly that it was a miracle he still went to their school, a miracle that, frankly, he was still alive.

(Therese had wanted to be his friend, but she didn’t really know him, so she didn’t know how to be his friend.

She still thought about him from time to time. He’d moved the first chance he got, too. That much she knew.)

On the drives home from St. Louis, from the small-but-bigger-than-home college towns, Therese would grow increasingly and quickly despondent, and just think: “what if I just kept driving? What if I just didn’t have to go home?”

But that never happened. She returned home, every time.

There were a number of colleges Therese’s parents were willing to help her pay to attend. All Christian, of course. She and her parents had taken a few car trips to visit her options, and the suffocating feeling from her hometown would crawl into the car with them. It would creep out when they stopped and follow Therese through campus tours and information sessions. The only time it waned was when, by accident, Therese actually listened to the selling points being regurgitated by the pimply sophomore. In between “Thursday night worship services” and “Sunday brunches,” she’d heard him say, “only an hour train ride to Chicago.”

“Wait, this is only an hour from Chicago?” Therese interrupted.

“Well, by train. By car, it’s less, but students who live on campus aren’t allowed to have cars here.”

Her parents laughed. They joked that Therese had always wanted to be “a city girl.”

Sure.

Therese wondered if they knew what they were saying. She wondered what her teacher, Mrs. Kleiner, was implying when, one day, she sat down next to Therese as she worked on homework by herself, a handful of her more popular peers sitting in a group on the other side of the classroom, chatting away, and said, “you know, this is probably the peak of some of their lives,” nodding toward the group, “but this— high school— it’s probably not even going to chart for you, Therese.”

She was right. And rude? It made Therese smile at the time and laugh now, looking back. She didn’t think she’d ever be bold enough to say something like that to a student. Maybe one who seemed like they really needed it. Maybe Therese had seemed like she really needed it. Maybe Mrs. Kleiner knew. Like, knew-knew.

“Alright, so pretend the spaces have cars. Drive to that stop sign way over there, use all the signals you would if you were on the road.” Back to the real world, the present, to Rindy, whose eagerness to drive was hopefully not fueled by fear and survivalist instinct. Surely she had dreams of making it beyond the parking lot of the dead mall in the suburbs where they’d wound up, but for now, the parking lot would have to suffice.

Rindy white-knuckled the wheel, like all new drivers, and feverishly scanned her surroundings. She was doing just fine, just displaying symptoms of not having been properly taught. (For all of the jokes that were made about those who couldn’t do teaching, not enough was said about those who could do but were worthless teachers.)

“Where’s the first place you want to drive once you get your license?” Therese only asked as a means to ease Rindy’s nerves. Rindy needed a distraction, as paradoxical as it sounded.

“Um…” Rindy fumbled with the blinker, first putting the right one on, then the windshield wipers, and then, finally, the left one. “I’m going to drive to Liam Hastings’ house and be like ‘hey Liam, it’s me. I can drive now too. I’m just about to go to my boyfriend Harry Styles house.’”

Therese laughed. “Oh, okay, so the first place will be Liam’s house, and the second place will be all the way to Los Angeles?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“I admire the ambition. Anyway, you might want to stop at this—”

Rindy slammed on the breaks and then apologized profusely.

“It’s fine. This is the point of learning. Half the battle is being comfortable. You’ll get there. Drive to the next stop sign up there, do the same thing and weave through the lanes, though.”

After several cautious turns and a bout of holding her breath, Rindy seemed to notice that silence was, at times, unhelpful to the process at hand. She asked, “how did you decide to come out to your parents?” And that was when Therese forgot to breathe, blindsided to a very pointed question. But Rindy continued. “Relax, I’m not having some internal crisis. I’m just curious. Like, because you knew your parents would be shitty about it and all?”

What was interesting about Rindy’s question was the “how” part. Most people asked “when,” which prompted an easy answer (“right after college”) but how she’d decided to tell her parents was different. It almost felt like she hadn’t. She hadn’t really made a decision as much as she’d felt backed into a corner, her options grim regardless. “When you grow up gay— or, queer in any way, really— you always feel uncomfortable. Either you’re uncomfortable and you know why— and you’re just waiting to do something about it or hoping it will go away— or you’re uncomfortable and you don’t know why, and one day it will click.”

“Did you know why? Or— ”

“Oh, yes. I knew why. I just thought, ‘well, I definitely only like girls, but maybe I just need to meet one guy that I like. There has to be one.’ But, that isn’t how it works. So, I had a choice: I could make myself extremely uncomfortable— have to come out to my family, my friends, learn how to really be myself, all of that— but there would eventually be relief, or I could live my life as I was— constantly and silently uncomfortable because the life I was living wasn’t my own.”

“When you put it that way, I guess that’s an easy choice.”

“Hindsight is key. It’s an easy choice in retrospect, but at the time, not at all. When you don’t know what’s going to be waiting for you after you make the super tough decision, it’s not that simple. But, I mean, now my life is super awesome and I have a girlfriend that will, quite literally, do anything I ask of her, so… ”

Therese hoped she came across as confident as her words implied. Truthfully, she still hurt a lot. She’d brushed off the phone call from her parents earlier because what else was there to do? But she’d been thinking about it all day, unable to shake the abrupt ending, her parents catapulting themselves out of the conversation in order to avoid confronting reality for just one fucking minute. She wouldn’t lie to Rindy. She wasn’t lying when she said her life was “super awesome” now, but she was leaving out the enormous sacrifices she had to make in order to live it.

She must’ve been a good salesperson, because Rindy just laughed and said something about how great it was to be in a position where Carol would do “pretty much anything for you. Like, probably commit a crime.”

—————————————————

All day, Carol had worried about leaving Therese and Rindy together. She knew nothing bad would happen, they liked one another enough, but she was afraid of them finding the entire situation awkward. After not having heard a word from either of them all day, Carol was curious, and even more so when she opened the front door to her unit and heard laughing coming from her kitchen, accompanied by the smell of cooking. She didn’t say anything, just crept into the kitchen and watched as Therese giggled and said, “okay, you sort of got it,” while Rindy groaned and stirred something in a large pan with a wooden spoon.

They were just… cooking together.

“What’s happening here?”

Therese startled but then beamed. “Hey! I didn’t hear you come in. We’re making dinner.”

Whatever was happening in her home, Therese making dinner for her with her niece, never had Carol once dreamt of anything remotely similar happening in her life. She wasn’t all that interested in anything overtly domestic. Nothing strict, at least. She liked routine, she liked cleanliness, she liked having a home, but those all felt like being basic human necessities, not idyllic, white-picket-fence cosplay— coming home to dinner, to a checked-off to-do list, to her house cleaner than she left it. But, if Therese was offering…

“Don’t get used to this.” Therese raised an eyebrow, catching Carol’s growing grin as she scanned the room.

One day of pretend was fine, too.

If anything, she was pleased that Therese and Rindy not only didn’t completely tiptoe around one another all day, but they actually hung out. Intentionally. All day. (Well, all afternoon, which was predictably the waking portion of Rindy’s day.)

Long after dinner, Carol clicked the lock to her bedroom door as she closed it behind her. She took a moment to admire Therese sitting on their bed, back against the headboard and knees up to help balance a book, wine glass leaning precariously against the fold. “So…thanks for hosting Camp Therese today. I think Rindy is dangerously close to having the world’s most uncool friend: a teacher at her high school.”

Not bothering to look up, Therese said, “oh yeah, she had all the personal questions.”

“Wait, really?” Carol was a bit scandalized. Rindy generally treaded lightly with people she didn’t know well. Carol always assumed that she just didn’t care very much, possessing a sort of self-centered view of the world not atypical of other kids her age.

“Mhm. She asked me how old I was when I first had sex. She— ”

What? “No! Oh my god. I am so— ”

“It’s fine. It somehow wasn’t entirely inappropriate. She also asked me all kinds of questions about coming out to my parents and my relationship with them...because they called me this morning.”

Before leaving for work in the morning, Carol watched as Therese almost made it out the door to go to the gym, and then stopped, saying, “oh shit. I have to tell my parents my new address.”

Well, she didn’t have to, she supposed, but it was good for them to know. Probably. “Right?” she asked.

Carol rarely found herself at a loss, but this was one issue she didn’t know exactly how to navigate. When they first started dating, Carol thought she understood Therese’s fragile familial situation— Carol, too, hadn’t just come out to one big joyous celebration— but Therese might’ve downplayed it, or (more likely) Carol hadn’t properly listened, she’d filled in blanks on her own, not grasping the dynamics until she noticed Therese’s hands visibly shaking as she held her phone sitting on Carol’s sofa on Christmas day, contemplating what to say once she called home.

Everything was relative, but all things considered, Carol got lucky. She’d never had her support system shrink so quickly and completely. Her parents weren’t immediately perfect when she told them that, actually, the person she was dating wasn’t a he, but they wanted to meet her. When Carol still felt like they seemed rigid, not fully comfortable, Harper yelled— actually yelled— at them, rendering their mother a blubbery, apologetic mess. When Carol had her darkest days, her life in pieces after leaving Abby, her entire family worked overtime making sure she kept putting one foot in front of the other. She had a wheelchair and crutches and a team of physical therapists.

Therese had some bandaids and a cane 300 miles away. She had to pick herself up all the time, maneuver her own feet in front of one another, and so often, her family was the reason she was on the ground to begin with. Carol never wanted her to feel like that again, ever.

So, that morning, all she could think to say was, “you should only tell them now if you feel up to it. I don’t think the timing will make a difference.”

Therese agreed. She decided to text them— her dad, her mom, her brother— all identical texts: Hey. I moved! Just into a new place, still in Minneapolis, of course. Love you! and sent the address along with it.

Anytime Carol moved, her family knew well in advance, because they helped her. Whether it was physically helping her move her things, helping her look for a new apartment, her dad helping her figure out mortgage lenders, her sister helping her unpack, they were always there. It was virtually impossible for them to be so out-of-the-loop that they needed Carol to text them her new address.

The book was still open against her legs, but Therese had stopped reading. Her eyes weren’t following the words but instead her gaze drifted around the edge of her wine glass as she dragged her finger along the rim. She was upset, probably with good reason.

“They called? And said what?”

“First they just wanted to know how things were. They were driving to our family friends’ lake house in Arkansas.”

“Gross.”

“It’s actually really fun. But anyway, I couldn’t really avoid telling them I’d moved in with you, because we started talking about the building and everything, but then they just, like, ended the conversation as soon as I told them.” Therese shrugged and looked away and Carol’s heart broke into a million little pieces.

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. And I’m so sorry Rindy kept bringing it up. She just truly doesn’t understand how it—”

Therese wiped at a stray tear and smiled. “I’m glad. I’m glad that she doesn’t understand. I wish the concept was unfathomable to everyone. I certainly don’t want our kids to think it’s normal for people to feel ostracized by their parents. That should be difficult to understand.”

There wasn’t a worse time to break into a grin, to veer off-track, and Therese must’ve known that, Carol thought. She had to know what she’d done. Carol wanted more than anything to not take the bait. She couldn’t turn the conversation inward, not now. But was it inward? Therese had been the one to say it.

They’d talked about it, of course. Not ad nauseum or anything, but enough. It would’ve been reckless to take their relationship as far as they had. Therese moved in and transferred every utility bill to her name. She put plants in corners that had, for years, sat bare, and she was finally going to make Carol buy an actual bookshelf. They had two vacations planned and Carol was scheming up a third, set on dragging Therese to as many places in Europe as next year’s ten-day spring break would allow. So, yeah, she’d had the foresight to ask about kids before deciding to completely let her life become entangled by all things Therese.

Although, she wasn’t quite that graceful. Sometime around New Years Eve, either days before or days after, they’d gotten decently drunk and, on the freezing, snowy walk back to Carol’s building, the streets near-dead at 1 or 2 a.m., Carol decided it was the perfect time to blurt out, “do you ever want to have kids, or…? Because you’d make a great mom.”

Therese’s cheeks had already been pink from the bitter cold, but they somehow turned an even deeper shade, and she smiled. “I guess, yeah. It’s not a make-or-break for me, but I think it’d be nice if it works out.”

Realizing the presumption of asking so much so early, Carol didn’t elaborate, and just said, “yeah, same.” Almost a lie. She’d wanted kids desperately when she was about ten years younger, about Therese’s age, but the feeling was fleeting, and she’d never thought Abby had any maternal instinct. Then the feeling flared up again with Therese, though she’d rather have Therese than have kids, if it came down to it.

It had been Therese who more seriously broached the subject months later, just after Rindy had spent the weekend with them together for the first time last spring. “You want kids more than say, don’t you?”

Caught. Carol just shrugged. Just because she wanted something didn’t mean she had to have it. “I do. But I won’t die if I don’t.”

“Well, I do.”

But she was still young. Really young. And Carol reminded her of it over and over. It was more a reminder of all the time she had— they had, presumably.

“I can see you smiling.” Therese set her wine glass on the side table and closed her book with a dramatic thud. She was grinning too, through watery, frustrated eyes, maybe relieved to have a distraction from thinking nonstop about her family, the prospect of building her own on the horizon. Still hypothetical, but better than the rearview.

“I’m not smiling. I’m just— I definitely don’t mind you saying things like that, even if it is many, many years away.”

“Okay, well, if we wait too long I’m going to be taking care of a baby and you.”

Carol laughed. “Maybe not that long. I don’t want to be mistaken for a grandparent at our child’s graduation.”

“Well, you're making me feel like if it's too soon, we'll have MTV knocking on our door asking to put me on Teen Mom.”

Before Carol could get the last word in, Rindy called from the living room. Her voice and the blare from the television both muffled, but clear. “I can hear you guys arguing. Stop arguing!”

Something to which Rindy was particularly sensitive, Carol assumed, considering the sour memories of her parents’ divorce.

In unison, Carol and Therese both shouted, “we aren’t arguing!”

Falling back onto her bed, Carol let herself sink into the cool cotton of the duvet she’d just bought— a surprise, one that Therese had mentioned liking but hadn’t expected Carol to actually go back and buy— the breeze from the ceiling fan fighting the hot air blowing in from the open window, and let Therese braid her hair, still grumbling at Carol in feigned exasperation.