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Like at any other high school, Valentine’s Day at Lincoln High School was a big deal. The mixture of the holiday’s commercial nature; the opportunity to flaunt on social media; and excitement of what were, for many, first relationships, made it especially appealing to teenagers. Therese would watch as girls were presented with hastily wrapped gifts and cellophane-covered, single stem roses that they’d tote from classroom to classroom. Students who were single would do their best to ignore, the more cynical ones making snide comments that accompanied exaggerated eye-rolls, and, every year— without fail— Therese would encounter at least one scorned teen crying in the hallway. While the more joyous parts of the day were sweet to witness, Therese mostly appreciated the reminder of how nice it was to no longer be at an age where Valentine’s Day held any significance.

...or so she thought.

Unless her students were taking a test or doing presentations, Therese made it a point to keep her door open. She didn’t mind the occasional distracting noise coming from the hallway, and preferred kids to be able to move in-and-out as needed without interrupting her to ask permission. Her third hour Advanced English 9 class on February 14th was no exception.

She was standing at the whiteboard— a minimalist drawing of a turtle and a road behind her (it was The Grapes of Wrath month, and too many students were failing to understand just why they had to read an entire chapter detailing the journey of a turtle’s trek across a sun-soaked highway)— waiting for a volunteer to come up and write one thing the turtle might have in common with the Joad family, when she heard Ruby’s chipper voice echo through the empty hall. It caught her attention because Ruby was her close friend, and because she was rarely wandering the school at any time of day: she was an academic advisor and usually busy...advising. She was talking to someone— it sounded like the front office secretary, Farrah— and Therese could hear a poorly hushed, “I just want to see her face.”

Ruby’s head poked into the doorway and she peered in, like she was hiding something. When she’d successfully gotten Therese to stop what she was doing and look her way, she asked, “hey, are you busy?” a beaming smile accompanying the question.

“Me? Oh, no. We were all just hanging out. That’s how we spend our time here.” The class snickered and Therese said to them: “Maybe Mrs. Robichek can help you out since it seems she plans on joining us today.”

Ruby stuck out her tongue and scoffed. “We won’t be long. And we come bearing gifts, so be nice.”

Farrah was, in fact, with Ruby, but when she waltzed through the door, she was hardly visible behind the bouquet of flowers held out in front of her. “These came for you.”

“Oh…my god.” Therese swallowed hard. She knew she was blushing like crazy, and the collective, sing-songy, “oooooh,” coming from her students was not helping the case. They ogled and whispered as Therese scanned the flowers, searching for a card despite not needing a clue as to their sender.

“Gorgeous, right? These are from, like, the absolute best florist in either of the Twin Cities, too.” Farrah said.

And Ruby added, “they must have cost a fortune,” but Therese was barely listening, having found and opened the card— small and wordless, with just a red heart against a white background on the front— and read: Love you. —Carol.

Therese had never, not once, received flowers. Not even from Richard in the three years they’d dated. The two girls she had sort-of seen when she lived in Wisconsin hadn’t been serious enough to warrant any lavish gifts or romantic gestures; Therese could hardly even say that she “dated” either of them, so flowers were certainly not part of any equation. Never from friends, never from family. Just never. But she didn't think of herself as a person who desired that sort of thing. While public displays of adoration were cute, Therese never felt strongly about being the recipient.

...or so she thought.

But there she stood, 28 sets of watchful, too-interested eyes staring her down as she tried her best to hold it the fuck together, because, goddammit, she could not get all teary in front of her class. Farrah and Ruby had already giggled their way right out of the room, seemingly satisfied with the response they’d come to witness, and left Therese flustered all on her own. She grinned— she tried so hard not to but she couldn’t stop— and shook her head, an attempt to knock herself back into teaching mode. Later, she told herself— she could melt into a puddle later.

Kylie, a nosey and talkative freshman whom Therese tried hard to like (she was an excellent student, bright and attentive, always in the front row, but also rather annoying) pestered, “who are those from, Miss Belivet?”

It ushered in a chorus of “yeah, who?”, and Therese wondered if Carol did it on purpose: sent her flowers knowing that their arrival would trigger just this reaction, knowing Therese would become shy and fidgety and potentially derail her entire third period.

“They’re from Rindy’s aunt, right?” Leave it to Madison, rocked back in her chair in the back row (Therese enjoyed having Madison in her class for a second semester, but right now, she sort of wished she’d tilt back just a bit too far in her seat and land flat on her back), to get to the bottom of it. She knew, of course, because she was Rindy’s best friend. Therese was certain most of their little friend-group was extremely aware, and maybe a good portion of the ninth grade, for that matter. But Therese offered her students next-to-nothing about her personal life. They knew she was 27-years-old, maybe that she was from Illinois, and, by their own inappropriate probing, a lesbian. Otherwise, that was about it, and Therese was content on keeping it that way.

“Sorry, Madison, did you say you wanted to come up and write one of our connecting themes on the whiteboard? Here— ” she held out a blue dry erase marker and Madison glared back, but she stood up, grumbling but compliant, and shuffled to the front.

She scribbled, “persistence,” underneath the doodle of the turtle (well, she scribbled persistance, but Therese wasn’t as worried about spelling— spellcheck and autocomplete had diminished the value of the skill, anyway) and was about to hand the marker back into Therese’s waiting hand, but she pulled it back. “Wait. So, are they from Rindy’s aunt, or what?”

Therese sighed. She should’ve known better than to present Madison with a challenge. She was a smartass, which wasn’t always the worst thing: though she was the type to answer questions without raising her hand, she also never minded being put on the spot, usually having an answer locked and loaded. But right now, she’d successfully turned the tables. Therese shifted her jaw and stared back, failing once again to keep the corners of her mouth from tugging up into a smile. “Yes. They are from Rindy’s aunt.”

The class erupted, a mixture of oohs and ahhs, laughter, and cheers (directed toward Madison, of course, who appeared overly satisfied as she strode back to her desk). Successfully derailed, indeed. Nobody would be paying any more attention to the turtle, probably still stuck on its back after having been abandoned mid-chapter in favor of moving on to the real story. It was a Friday, and a silly, stupid, sappy holiday, and Therese no longer felt like paying the turtle any attention, either.

———————————-

“— but nevertheless I persisted, bitch! And Miss. Belivet was like, ‘yes, they’re from Rindy’s aunt.’ Like, she probably hates me now but, god, it felt so good. We didn’t have to do anything the rest of the hour.”

Rindy was going through her locker, half-listening to Madison tell her about her triumphant though unproductive English class. She did want to see the flowers, though, because they sounded really beautiful. But what was she going to do? Stop by Miss Belivet’s classroom and be like, “hi, I just wanted to—” No. Ew. No way in hell. She’d make Aunt Carol send her a picture or something.

Technically, it was Rindy and Madison’s lunch period. It was only 10:55 in the morning, though, so obviously they would not be eating lunch. Sometimes, they’d tip-toe out of one of the school’s side entrances and run to hide in the trees next to the tennis courts, a relatively safe place to hit Rindy’s vape a few times before dragging themselves back inside for another four hours. But lately, they were afraid Mr. Jenson’s chemistry class could see them, plus, it was just too cold to justify setting foot outside unless absolutely necessary. Instead, their winter activity became sitting on the staircase that connected the atrium with the cafeteria.

A major reason Rindy had picked that particular stairwell on which to kill 40 minutes was because, every day, around 11:10, Liam Hastings would walk by after his study period, and every day, he’d lean on the railing and say, “hey Rindy, hey Mads,” and chat for a couple of minutes. He was a sophomore, tall and hot and on the varsity basketball team, and he’d just gotten a black VW Golf for his 16th birthday. He made it a point to come by and talk to them every day without fail, so he must’ve wanted something.

Both lucky and unlucky for Rindy, Madison already had a boyfriend, so she wasn’t available. But Rindy was.

While Madison texted away with said boyfriend, Rindy glanced around, waiting. It was Valentine’s Day, so if Liam was going to ask her out, what better time?

She checked her own phone, scrolled Insta, opened a few Snapchats, and noticed a Venmo notification that she hadn’t been expecting. Of course, it was from her aunt. $150 and a message that just read: HVD with a pink heart emoji. So unnecessary. Not that Rindy wasn’t absolutely taking the money, but still…unnecessary.

Aunt Carol must’ve been in a great mood because she— like everyone else in the world— had someone to be with on Valentine’s Day. Aunt Carol had Miss. Belivet, her mother had Alex, Madison had Dennis, and Rindy had her Persian cat, Toby (sometimes Tubby). Last year, her aunt had taken her shopping after school and they went back to her condo and ordered pizza and had a slumber party. This year, Rindy had the feeling she’d watch TikToks with Toby and, if she was really lucky, he wouldn’t puke on the rug in her bathroom.

11:20 and still no sign of Liam. Rindy had spent 45 minutes doing her hair that morning and for what? For nothing. She had to call Aunt Carol, though, to thank her. It would at least take her mind off of things for a second.

“Hey, hun. What’s up?” She answered like she didn’t just send Rindy a bunch of money.

“Oh, hi. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. I figured since we weren’t going shopping this year. Just do me a favor and don’t spend it on anything cannabis-related, okay? Your mother will blame me if you do.”

Rindy sighed. She didn’t want to make her aunt feel bad, but she wasn’t about to ask her what she was doing with her night, either. Surely she had some extravagant, romantic thing in store for Miss Belivet. Rindy could be spared the details.

“I won’t. Well, I guess I’ll be spending my night shopping online, so thanks for helping me solidify those plans…”

“You aren’t hanging out with Madison?”

No, she wasn’t hanging out with Madison, because Madison had a boyfriend, didn’t Aunt Carol remember? They’d talked about it around Christmas. Her aunt remembered. She just said, “huh, I just figured that would’ve run its course by now.”

Well, it hadn’t. And Rindy was feeling resentful and sorry for herself. All of her friends had boyfriends or girlfriends and were doing cute, fun things later that night and Rindy would be alone.

“Fun things? Like what? Drinking virgin mojitos and tipping a waiter 10 percent? Trust me, you aren’t missing out.”

“It feels like I am.”

“You aren’t. When I was a senior in high school, my first boyfriend, Kyle, put a balloon filled with paper heart confetti in my locker on Valentine’s Day, so when I opened my locker, the balloon popped. In theory: fine. But this was, like, a year after Columbine so the noise freaked everyone out and I spent 20 minutes cleaning confetti off the floor. Afterward he took me on a date to his parents’ house while they were out.”

Rindy laughed. Her aunt did know how to make her feel a little less like shit. “Did you break up with him?”

“Um, nope. Instead, I let him finger me on the ugly sofa in their basement. Which— while a very eye-opening experience— apparently not eye-opening enough for me to avoid having, not one, but two, boyfriends that succeeded him.”

It wasn’t often that Rindy’s aunt was so brazen with her, and Rindy’s mouth just hung open in shock as she searched for words with which to respond. “That is…kind of gross.”

“Very gross. Anyway, that story is your other Valentine’s Day gift. Do not repeat that to your mother.”

Her aunt had to go, she had to get back to work, and Rindy was sucked back into the reality of school when the call ended. Madison was still glued to her phone, batting her eyelashes at it as if Dennis could see her through the screen. It was 11:28, and Rindy had to start heading to her next class. For what seemed like the first time in weeks, Liam didn’t bother walking by.

————————————-

After five consecutive years, Carol realized she had accidentally made Valentine’s Day with Rindy a tradition. The first time, Abby had been out of town, and left Carol with a pair of expensive earrings and an empty house. Harper wanted to go out with some guy she’d been seeing, so Carol volunteered her babysitting services. Rindy was nine, and Carol far from minded. They went ice skating, ordered Chinese food, and fell asleep in Carol’s bed watching Star Wars.

The following year, Carol was a little more of a mess. A total wreck, really, but she got her shit together for Rindy. She was pretty sure Harper didn’t really have a date, but needed an excuse to pawn Rindy off onto Carol, to stop her from another night of taking too much Adderall and driving home drunk from the bar. The next year was better, and even better was the year after that. And the older Rindy got, the more fun it was. Carol actually enjoyed the real, almost-grown-up person Rindy had become, and she liked their little tradition. Even though it was unspoken— it had never been a solid plan— she felt guilty leaving Rindy hanging.

But, Harper reassured her, Rindy would survive. She was a big girl. She’d understand.

“I still Venmo’d her a little money, though.” Carol poured Therese champagne and watched as she gazed down at the glass and grinned. “Sorry I’m talking about this. I just feel bad. I think she likes some boy but isn’t telling me.”

Therese’s eyes lit up. She took a sip, muttered, “oh my god, that’s delicious,” and then continued on. “She does.”

“Excuse me? How do you know this and I don’t?”

“Babe, I spend all day with these kids. They tell me all kinds of things I have no interest in knowing. Too much. I feel like I’m hosting TMZ sometimes.”

Carol wasn’t jealous of Therese’s security clearance, though she was interested in matters regarding her niece. She tried and pried to get Therese to give her something, any type of clue, but to no avail. Therese stayed tight-lipped, unwilling to violate her students’ trusts. Well, specifically Rindy’s trust, though she didn’t mind telling Carol all sorts of gossip about Rindy’s friends. “Anyway, these kids put so much pressure on themselves and each other for something as arbitrary as Valentine’s Day. They’re setting themselves up for disaster.”

Pushing a bowl of olives toward Therese, Carol looked through her mail holder, searching for the menu of the Greek restaurant they'd planned to order food from— electricity bill, flyer for the new sushi place down the street, friend’s wedding invitation— and mumbled, “yeah, the last time I was with someone on Valentine’s day, it was Abby, and she was on one of her ‘business trips.’ So at least I wasn’t aware of how disastrous it was for me until much later.” Carol rolled her eyes, always feeling stupid when she thought of what should’ve been red flags. But a hand slid underneath her chin, coaxing her to look up, at the here and now, at Therese, so perfectly perched on her kitchen countertop, sitting next to the bouquet she’d insisted on schlepping with her to Carol’s place for the weekend because she ‘wanted to look at them.’ Offering a weak smile, Carol continued, “I suppose the $500 pair of earrings she got me was a consolation prize.”

Therese tsked. Started, “well…” like she was going to say something defiant, or find a way to make Carol laugh like she could do so easily, but then trailed off. She dropped her hand away from Carol’s face and her own head lowered with it. She said, “I wish I could get you $500 earrings.”

Abandoning her search, Carol moved to lean between where Therese’s legs dangled off the side of the island and snaked her arms around her waist. “That was, in retrospect, one of the worst and most humiliating days of my life; this, on the other hand, is shaping up to be one of the absolute best so far— you do the math.”

Leaning forward, Therese hugged Carol’s entire head, burying it into her sweater, and kissed her hair.

It was true. Carol could buy herself most of what she wanted. She could buy herself a pair of $500 earrings every year on Valentine’s Day if she felt so inclined. What she couldn’t just get with the flash of her Platinum Amex card was the feeling in her chest when she watched Therese emerge from the front door of her apartment building and practically skip to Carol’s waiting car, dressed in leggings, an oversized sweater, and a big, puffy winter coat; the feeling that spread from her chest to everywhere else when Therese closed the car door— her cheeks bright red from the cold but still sporting the biggest smile— and leaned over to kiss Carol all while balancing the vase full of flowers on her lap. No amount of jewelry could make her as dizzy and excited as the person nearly suffocating her right there in her kitchen.

Though Carol had been in love before, it was a different experience. Falling in love with Abby had been easy, but also deliberate. She met her, liked her, and wanted to fall in love with her. It didn’t diminish her feelings, it didn’t make things less real, but Carol remembered taking the time to get to know Abby enough so that she’d be ready to love her. There was no instant infatuation, and that was perfectly okay. She learned to love Abby. Slow and calculated, but love nonetheless.

With Therese, it was entirely the opposite. She had no intention of getting caught up in anything, but every little comment— endearing joke, small aside— made Carol swoon. She felt completely taken, unable to spend a few hours without the urge to send her a text, or stalk her Instagram, always trying to think of what to say next. Therese invaded all of her senses, and she couldn’t stop it if she tried.

Chapter Text

Rindy’s mother was begging. And Rindy was letting it go on longer than necessary, appreciating the rarely turned tables. Plus, she wanted to figure out what she could get in return. Gauge the situation. Feel it out.

What her mom was attempting to rope her into wasn’t exactly terrible— she was just asking Rindy to go with her to a wedding in May. Her mother’s boyfriend wouldn’t be able to make it and she hated going to weddings alone. Especially because she wasn’t sure if she’d know many other people. Well, aside from the bride’s parents and brother. And…Abby. Abby Gerhard. As in, “Carol’s old Abby.”

“I’m sorry, how do you know this person?” Rindy watched a bag of popcorn spin around the microwave as she asked.

“You know her, too. You’ve met before. She was mine and Carol’s best friend in elementary and middle school.”

That wasn’t really Rindy’s question though. “Right, but how does she know Abby?”

“College. And then later she introduced Carol and Abby.”

The whole thing sounded pretty fucking yikes.

“Is Aunt Carol going?” Rindy let the steam from the bag of popcorn fog over her face as her mother squirmed, waiting for an answer.

“I think so. She just needs to ask Therese.”

If Aunt Carol was going, that meant Rindy would have to stay with her grandparents for the weekend if she made her mom go alone. So… “fine, I’ll go.”

————————-

Initially when Rindy’s mom told her the wedding would be in Tennessee, she’d just assumed Nashville, because she also said her friend lived in Nashville, and Rindy thought it wouldn’t be that bad.

At the airport, she looked at her boarding pass. “Wait. Why does this say Knoxville?”

“Because we’re flying into the Knoxville airport,” her mother said, maybe genuinely confused, but Rindy suspected she was just playing dumb, having knowingly misled Rindy.

“Jesus Christ…”

Rindy spent the next five hours gazing out the window of the airport gate, then the window of the plane, and finally the window of the rental car that was driving them up to god-knows-where in the mountains. She texted her aunt: nobody told me this thing was going to be in the boonies.

She received a quick reply of Babes, this is basically a 5-star resort. Just wait.

Okay, so it wasn’t the boonies. Maybe it was in the boonies, but it was definitely a 5-star resort. Some hot farm guy with a southern accent carried Rindy’s bag to their room for Rindy and said there would be “a whiskey tasting in the pavilion” in about an hour.

Rindy smiled, until her mom said, “she’s fifteen, spread the word,” and handed him five dollars as he left.

She connected to the wifi and messaged Aunt Carol to ask what room she was in, because she was sick of her mom and already bored.

Her aunt’s room was in a different building, though easy to find. There wasn’t one huge hotel, but rather several big farm houses scattered around a sprawling property. She went in, found the door to the room, and knocked.

Aunt Carol opened it, but only enough for Rindy to see her face. “What?”

“I’m bored. Mom is about to take a nap. Can I please hang out?” She wasn’t sure why, but her aunt hesitated, like she might actually turn Rindy away. “It’s not like I don’t know Therese is there…unless she’s not. Are you hiding something from me?”

With a roll of her eyes and a sigh, Aunt Carol opened the door completely and let Rindy inside. Her room was bigger. It had the typical bed-desk-television setup, but also a settee and coffee table by the window— that’s where Therese was sitting, feet up, flipping through what looked like the hotel’s brochure. She wasn’t sure why her aunt was acting so strange. But then she took a closer look at Therese: her hair was messy and barely held together in a bun at the crown of her head. And then there was their bed, which looked as though it had been made by a blind person, and all of the decorative pillows were resting on the bench at the bed’s foot.

When Therese looked up and said, “hey, Rindy,” her face was bright red.

Rindy spared her, said, “hi, Therese,” and then when Therese looked back down at the brochure, Rindy mouthed, “I’m going to throw up,” to her aunt.

“When I asked you to give me ten, I meant minutes, not seconds,” she hissed.

Well, none of that sounded familiar. Checking her texts again, Rindy only then read a follow-up to Aunt Carol’s response providing her room number, one that did in fact say, give me ten though. Whoops.

Therese remained unaware, thank god, and asked Rindy what her dress for the wedding looked like.

“She’s not wearing a dress. Rindy won’t wear dresses or skirts.” Aunt Carol chimed in before Rindy had a chance, “she— quote, ‘hates her ankles.’”

Therese’s eyes traveled directly back into her skull and she made a snoring noise. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Ignoring her, Rindy said, “I’m wearing a jumpsuit. It’s pink.”

“It’s actually really cute and I will probably borrow it sometime soon.” Aunt Carol looked in the mirror and fixed her hair, scooping it into a fast, low ponytail. She asked Therese, “okay, are you coming with us? Rindy and I are going to walk around. Look at the animals.”

There were animals, which was another fun aspect. It certainly wasn’t a working farm in any sense of the word, though maybe the horses were tasked with the occasional wedding entrance or guest ride. Rindy thought she saw some goats wandering around on their drive in, as well.

Therese said she’d join them in 30 minutes. Despite taking a vacation day, she still had to get on a conference call with her department and the principal. She looked less than pleased and Rindy decided Therese must’ve hated the principal, and now, so did Rindy.

“So is it going to be really awkward?” Rindy asked once her and her aunt made it out of the building.

Without having to clarify, Aunt Carol knew what Rindy was talking about. “I’ve seen Abby since we split up. A few times. We have a couple of mutual friends. But, still, I never know what to expect. I haven’t thought a lot about it, though. On one hand, I can’t stand her, but on the other hand, I have to be civil. What am I going to do, punch her in the face?”

“I wouldn’t mind seeing that.”

The anticipation didn’t have to last much longer, because as soon as they rounded the corner— the pavilion in sight (Aunt Carol conveniently wanted to “swing by” on their way to the barn)— there was Abby, standing with a drink in one hand, the other waving around as she talked.

She looked the same as Rindy remembered. Very, very attractive, but her coolness was replaced with a smugness that made Rindy’s lips curl.

Before Abby saw them, Aunt Carol groaned and whispered, “oh, fabulous. Of course.”

But it would be noticeable if they turned around, so they stayed on course, Aunt Carol walking toward the bar and toward Abby. She was talking to a couple that her aunt didn’t seem to recognize when she tapped Abby on the shoulder. Rindy just stood a couple feet behind to wait it out. And watch.

“Oh my god, hi!” Abby’s eyes widened and she said, “put a pin in that,” to the two men and hugged Carol— a little awkward, a lot forced. “I was wondering if you’d be here! How are you?”

“I’m fine. I’m good,” Aunt Carol smiled, and then glanced at Rindy, “remember Rindy? She was maybe a foot shorter last time?”

Abby gasped. “Shut the fuck up. Hey, Rindy.” She looked back at Carol and said, “wow. It has been...a long time. Harper is here then, right?”

The question was directed at the two of them. Rindy appreciated being pulled into the conversation, but it gave her less of a chance to give Aunt Carol an excuse to dip out. Rindy nodded, and added, “yeah, she’s sleeping right now.”

Naturally, within a few more questions came, “so, are you seeing anyone?”

“I am, actually.” Aunt Carol’s face lit up. And it wasn’t the kind of pride that came with throwing something into her ex’s face, it was the same glow her aunt sported every time she had the chance to mention Therese to anybody willing to listen (or unwilling to listen, for that matter). “She’s here. She’s just back in our—”

Nope. She was miraculously and perfectly walking up to them.

Therese practically floated, an air of confidence Rindy rarely saw outside of her authoritative (but always warm) classroom demeanor. Of course, Rindy had only seen her a couple of times outside of school, so maybe it was more common than she knew. Therese grinned, but seemed to know just exactly what she was interrupting.

“—she’s right here,” Carol finished.

“My call was way shorter than expected.” She smiled, and turned to Carol, waiting.

“Abby, this is my girlfriend Therese. Therese, Abby.”

Abby shook Therese's hand and said, “we used to date.”

And then Therese responded, “I know,” with hard, vicious eyes and a thin, fake grin. It was awesome. If Carol wouldn’t punch Abby, Rindy thought Therese just might.

Sensing the tension, Abby chose to act like a normal person and occupy herself elsewhere. She still smiled, and ended with, “well, I’m going to go back to Jeff and Eric. Enjoy the whiskey, it’s, like, super expensive. Except you, Rindy. You might be older now but I’m pretty sure you aren’t 21 yet.”

Abby told them goodbye and turned, walking away, and Carol mumbled, “she’s just not interested in continuing this conversation because you’re too young for her to try and fuck, Rindy.”

Rindy swore she saw Abby pause, like she heard Carol, even though she seemed too far away. Luckily, she didn’t turn back, and Rindy’s momentary heart attack subsided.

The next day, Rindy passed on her aunt’s invitation to go hiking. It sounded lovely, but she was all, “we’re leaving at 7 a.m.,” so that became an “absolutely not.” Her mother went, though, and once Rindy woke up— nice and late— she spent the majority of her morning sitting on a bench swing in front of the building, switching between watching TikToks and watching the bellhop guy, Waylon, serve his duty as lawn-mowing guy, as well.

He barely looked at her, of course, spooked after Rindy’s mom told him Rindy was fifteen.

As they got ready for the wedding that afternoon, Rindy and her mom nudged each other over the bathroom sink, fighting for more space in the mirror. They had three full bathrooms at home and were not used to the close quarters. Once it became clear neither was willing to compromise, and too pressed for time to take turns, Rindy announced she was going to Aunt Carol’s room to do her makeup; hers was nicer and the bathroom had two sinks.

Again, her aunt just cracked the door. Nothing salacious was happening, though, thank god. Aunt Carol looked ready to go, but still narrowed her eyes and said, “what do you want?”

She was much more sympathetic, remembering how terrible sharing a bathroom with Harper had been growing up— especially on vacations. “You will, however, have to share with Therese.” Aunt Carol asked Therese before letting Rindy in, too, and Rindy understood why when she looked into the open bathroom door where Therese stood in sweatpants and bra, getting ready to blow dry her hair.

Therese was cool. It was something Rindy had already decided. She’d told a small group of her friends, too. Therese let Rindy listen to Olivia Rodrigo while they got ready and winked at Rindy when Aunt Carol groaned from the other room, stretched out on the settee, looking like a model as the slit in her dress caused it to drape effortlessly over one crossed leg. Therese told Aunt Carol to “stop being old.”

She let Rindy borrow her mascara in exchange for use of an eyeshadow palette. When Therese dusted highlighter over her cheekbones, she leaned in slightly to the mirror, and Rindy stared. Did Therese always have perfect skin? Rindy felt like she always had six pimples at all times, no matter what. One would go away and another would pop up. It wasn’t terrible, but it was annoying. Therese’s skin almost looked fake.

“You know everyone thinks you’re the hot teacher, right?” Rindy asked.

Moving on to bronzer, Therese didn’t stop what she was doing and just answered, “it’s only because I’m 27. Every young teacher is the hot one.”

“That’s not true. Mrs. Kowalski is younger than you and nobody thinks she’s hot.”

It earned Rindy a small (and very quick) smirk, one that wasn’t even delivered with eye contact before going away, back to neutrality.

“You don’t like Mrs. Kowalski, do you?” Rindy tried.

“Of course I do. I just don’t know her very well.” Therese was lying. She was being diplomatic, Rindy could tell. But she didn’t push.

Therese was cool, but she was still kind of old herself, and Rindy’s (sort of) teacher, and too “professional” to give Rindy any gossip. Gossip to which Rindy was certain Aunt Carol was privy. But Rindy knew she had to be content enough to just roll her eyes in secret and move on.

————————-

One thing Rindy didn’t totally hate about wedding ceremonies was the makeshift fashion show. She was open-minded, but judgemental. So many ill-fitting, baggy suits, always worn by men who could’ve given themselves a couple more inches in the waist and a couple less in the inseam. They were the guys that decided to say they were 6 feet, because 5’10” was almost the same thing (not that it mattered, but it certainly did to a tailor). A bunch of women wore tacky, too-brightly-colored, shimmery, body-con dresses. Always with pumps. Fine if the wedding were taking place on a yacht in Miami, but weird for Tennessee. Unfortunately, Abby looked great.

She wore burnt orange, silky, wide-legged pants and a matching jacket, one that had to be buttoned because, otherwise, she was definitely naked underneath.

“Jesus, Abby looks phenom.” Rindy’s mom muttered. She’d been fussing with her dress since she’d met Rindy at the idyllic little field where the ceremony was set to take place.

“Stop adjusting your dress. You look nice. Stop.” It was true. Her mom looked good. She rarely missed the mark, mostly because she wore exactly nothing that was remotely risky. Tried and true, every time. There was… a lot of boobage for Rindy’s liking, though. “Just sit down.”

When Aunt Carol and Therese sat down in the spots in front of them, Aunt Carol quickly turned back to Rindy’s mom and asked, “scale of one to 10, how hammered will Kristina get tonight?”

“If she remembers cutting the cake, I’ll be shocked.”

Therese rolled her eyes and winked at Rindy. At least she was someone else who didn’t really know anybody at the wedding.

The ceremony started, and as Kristina passed, Rindy’s gaze fell on Aunt Carol and Therese sitting in front of her. Her aunt was looking in the direction of the aisle, but she wasn’t really looking at Kristina— she was staring at Therese, in some kind of trance. Therese didn’t notice, her own eyes focused on the main event.

Rindy nudged her mom and nodded toward her aunt. Her mom gave her a knowing look, and whispered, “she’s so in love.”

It made Rindy ridiculously happy, and she wondered what exactly Aunt Carol was thinking while sitting at a wedding and watching Therese, completely dazed. She could imagine: she wanted to marry Therese. It also made her nervous. Abby was sitting just on the opposite side of the aisle, a couple rows back. Rindy was too young to remember if Aunt Carol had ever looked at Abby the way she was looking at Therese. If that was the case, at what point could everything just go so wrong?

———————--

Cocktail hour sucked. For Rindy, anyway. For adults, sure, it was probably the best part until all of the speeches during the reception were over and they could drink more. But Rindy just found herself floating around, her mother occupied with someone she may or may not have known from childhood. (Rindy had been instructed to please save her should that situation occur— especially if it was a man— but Rindy decided if she had to suffer through the reception’s preamble with some sort of virgin daiquiri, making her mother endure an awkward conversation was fair game.)

She sat on a chair and eavesdropped on nearby conversations, interest piqued when she heard two familiar voices: her Aunt Carol and Abby. She craned her head around, they were about fifteen feet behind her, Therese and some woman Rindy didn’t know standing with them.

“She totally stole that idea for the song from us, right?” Abby asked.

Her aunt replied, “of course she did. No straight person thinks of using an Ani Difranco song as their processional. No way in hell.”

Well, at least they weren’t arguing. Rindy turned back around though— she sort of hated it, and she definitely hated Abby— and decided to scan the guests for anyone her age instead.

When it seemed like the actual reception should’ve already started but hadn’t, Rindy left the bar with a Coke instead of another sickly-sweet mocktail. She didn’t find anyone younger than Therese on her walk back (well, there were two kid-kids, which wouldn’t do), but she did find Therese herself. She was standing alone, gazing out at the grassy, lush field and the mountains beyond.

“Where’s Carol?” Rindy asked.

Therese smiled. It was forced. “She’s, um, getting another drink. I’m surprised you didn’t see her.”

“The line is really long,” Rindy said, and Therese just nodded and went back to pretending that the farmland was fascinating. So Rindy continued, “Don’t be jealous—”

“It’s hard. Not to be. Not to be jealous of Abby. It’s hard.” Therese drank the rest of her wine and Rindy hoped her aunt had the foresight to not come back without a drink for Therese, too.

“When Carol looks at Abby, it’s like she’s looking at a wall. You know? I mean, what do I know? But, like, it’s also so obvious that she’s totally obsessed with you. That’s what my mom says anyway. So...”

Rindy felt dumb for trying to say anything at all, until Therese turned to her, slowly, but smiling, and asked, “yeah?”

“Oh, definitely. Also, that was a terrible wedding song.”

Therese laughed hard and agreed, because it was pretty, but kind of depressing, right? Rindy found an excuse to leave her alone again, in reality not wanting her aunt to find them and get suspicious about what they’d been talking about. Her mom looked grateful for her sudden appearance when she came up next to her, and used her as an excuse to exit the little circle in which she’d been caught.

————————-

When Carol had asked Therese to go to her friend Kristina’s wedding, she did it with so much hesitancy that Therese thought she might actually not want her to come. Stressing the “you really don’t have to if it sounds like a hassle, I was on the fence about going anyway,” was slightly confusing. “Plus, it’s in Tennessee, so…”

“Where in Tennessee?” Therese asked.

“In the mountains somewhere.”

It had been a while since Therese went anywhere for pleasure. Sure, going to the wedding for a couple she didn’t know wasn’t necessarily an actual vacation, either, but it beat the absolutely-nowhere she’d been in the past three or so years.

“So we could go hiking?”

Carol looked a bit more excited. She nodded. “Yes, of course. We could do anything you’d like.”

The only thing Therese had to worry about was finding a dress, Carol said. And even then, Carol would happily buy her something if Therese preferred. She was ‘doing Carol a favor,’ after all, by coming as her date. A totally out-of-the-question offer, because Carol already insisted on paying for the plane tickets and the hotel, the rental car and any other expense that might pop up. When Therese tried to protest, Carol shut her down, saying she hadn’t been quite so excited about anything similar in a fairly long time.

Within minutes, Carol pulled her laptop out of her work bag and set it on Therese’s coffee table to search for flights to Knoxville.

It wasn’t often they spent time at Therese’s apartment— Carol’s place was obviously far nicer— but Therese felt like something great always happened when they did.

The first time Carol had come over, it was after their fifth date. Therese had texted Carol on a Wednesday afternoon. She was nervous. They’d just seen each other the Monday before— met up for a drink after work, something that had been pre-planned on Saturday, and one drink turned into a few, and then they made out while Therese waited for her Lyft— and she didn’t want to bother Carol. But the desire to see her prevailed, and thankfully so. She asked what time Carol would be leaving her office, if she’d want to, once again, get ‘a drink’ after— Carol was the one who suggested getting dinner, too.

When she went to drop Therese off at her apartment, Therese asked if she wanted to come inside. Carol’s eyes lit up, clearly having not expected the invitation— it was a weekday, after all, and Therese went to bed early and woke up early. It didn’t take her more than a second to say yes, though.

There wasn’t much to show, and the tour, if it could even be called such, was short. But when Therese stood beside her open bedroom door, inside darkened without the lights on, the sun long gone, she didn’t move after saying, “that’s my bedroom,” and neither did Carol. They stood, and stared, and Therese’s face cracked and she grinned when Carol added, “that’s interesting. What’s that all about?”

“Oh, in here?” Therese flipped the light switch, revealing her understated but pleasant design choices. She thought it was nice, anyway. Working without much of a budget, none of Therese’s furniture was extravagant or luxurious, but nothing was gross or tattered, either. Mostly simple, clean— there was a lot of white and light grey, Therese liked the minimalism.

Carol pointed to a rather large, striking canvas above Therese’s bed. “Now that is cool.”

Therese knew Carol’s shock by the painting wasn’t rooted in disapproval of the rest of her decor; it was likely because, when Therese turned on the lights, Carol hadn’t expected to actually do any real assessment of her bedroom. The painting was hard to ignore. It was one of Therese’s prize possessions. Abstract, colorful, one of those my-kid-could-paint-that/yeah-but-they-didn’t type pieces. “I bought this at a vintage store. Back in Madison. The guy who owned the store is pretty sure this kind of well-known artist painted it, but he couldn’t get confirmation, so I got a great deal on it.”

Cocking her head to the side, Carol assessed the painting as if it were hanging in a museum and not Therese’s apartment. In fact, she’d navigated all of the space, since they’d first entered the front door, as if she was surrounded by artifacts, not daring to touch or walk too quickly or step too heavily, lest she accidentally destroy something invaluable. It was only when Carol turned, having had enough of the artwork, that Therese noticed that, while Carol may have been practicing restraint, it was not without effort. She stared at Therese, and not like she had before, before as they stood in the hallway: quiet and a little timid. This was intense. Almost predatory. And Therese thought that if she’d asked Carol to hold her hands in front of her, palms up, she’d find little half-moon marks on the balls of her thumbs, where her nails had dug in as she so impatiently waited. Waited for Therese.

Getting out words was proving impossible. Therese tried to be cute, to be flirtatious and sexy, and said, “my bed is really comfortable, too,” but the end of the sentence sort of evaporated, fell into a whisper as she looked from the ground to the bed and then, somehow, to Carol, whose facade crumbled as she grinned.

Later, Therese hastily got dressed again, plucking her shirt from somewhere beside her bed and helping Carol locate her own. She’d put it on inside-out, but it didn’t matter.

“Well, thanks for hanging out tonight. I know it was really last minute…” Like Madison, Minneapolis got cold well before winter officially started. Even at the end of November, it was already beginning to dip below freezing every day. Therese held out Carol’s long, tan, wool coat, one that was belted at the waist and, unsurprisingly, designer. (Therese had glanced at the tag when she’d taken it from Carol hours earlier and hung it carefully on a hook in her entryway.)

Carol took her coat from Therese and put it on as Therese led them out into the hallway of her building, signalling she’d walk Carol down the flight of stairs to the building’s front door. Carol stopped and turned around to face Therese before she could reach to open it. She folded her arms, and looked at her in pseudo-seriousness, a small smile gracing her lips. “Obviously, I really, really like you, Therese. So if you ever think that it’s too ‘last minute’ to see if I’m free, ask me anyway.”

She kissed Therese quickly and gently before sliding outside and walking to her car, leaving Therese stuck to her spot, her eyes drifting from where they’d strained to watch Carol disappear into the darkness of the parking lot, to her own feet, seemingly nailed to their spots on drab, water-damaged floor boards.

That was the time Therese was left dumbfounded and enchanted by the idea that Carol looked forward to her company, that she wasn’t just a nice distraction from work every now and then, endless possibilities that should’ve felt inconceivable peppered her every thought. And she floated, right there in her apartment building, up the unsightly pepto-bismol pink carpet covering the stairs, past the flat panel light fixture that sometimes flickered when it rained, and back into her living room, where the tingling in her chest kept her from doing anything beyond lying flat on her back on the sofa, staring at the ceiling, letting her imagination run riot.

It was on that sofa, too, where, about a month later, Carol had suggested they get massages the next day.

“There’s this great place. It’s not super nice, but they’ll essentially beat you up if you ask them. They aren’t kidding around.”

Therese had been going to a rock climbing gym ever since inches upon inches of snow foiled her usual morning running routine, and being stretched out and beaten up by a professional sounded, frankly, like heaven. Carol leaned back into the arm of the couch and stretched her feet toward Therese as she talked on her phone to a receptionist. Having scheduled her own appointment, she said that, no, she wasn’t finished, she actually needed to book another one. “Yeah, it’s going to be for my girlfriend, Therese. That’s T as in table…”

She didn’t have the heart to be a smartass, to correct Carol and tell her that, technically, “T” corresponded to “tango” in the phonetic alphabet, because unlike “table,” “tango” was extremely difficult to mishear. Therese didn’t have the heart because, in that moment, hers was attempting to beat itself out of her chest, because Carol said Therese was her girlfriend. She said it in such a way that it rolled off of her tongue as if she’d said it before, in secret, away from Therese, like someone hopeful but still slightly unsure.

When she hung up, Carol realized exactly what she’d done. Her gaze shifted from one side to the other, eyes narrowing as they finally fixed on Therese, an attempt to gauge her reaction. Therese just smiled and asked, “so, you’re at 1:45 tomorrow and I’m at 2:00?”

Later that night, as they laid in her bed, Therese admitted, “I’ve never had a girlfriend before.” She was embarrassed. She was 27-years-old and hadn’t been in a proper relationship. There was Richard, of course, but that didn’t count, not to Therese, and she was pretty sure Carol understood. She’d tried, in Madison, but her job had been at a Catholic school, and while it didn’t seem like the most oppressive environment when it came to the private lives of their faculty, it didn’t give Therese many chances at meeting anyone.

Not sure what to expect from Carol, whether she was inclined to laugh, or become startled by assigning words to Therese’s inexperience, to the reality of which she was already mostly aware, Therese braced herself a bit. But then, Carol bit her lip and blushed. She sighed as she tucked a stray piece of hair behind Therese’s ear and muttered, “well, I’d better set a good example then, huh? How am I doing so far?”

Usually, Therese could find a million ways to tease Carol, she’d say something like, “always room for improvement,” but in that moment, any sarcasm died somewhere in her throat, and all she could think was the truth. “You’re the best.”

“You’re pretty incredible yourself.”

Therese was certain she’d never been so happy in her life. Not even close. And she just wanted to rave about it to anyone who would listen. There was Dannie and Ruby, both enthusiastic listeners, and she had a close friend back in Wisconsin— a good cheerleader who was, at times, hard to get ahold of— but every so often, she wished she could call her mom.

When she’d started dating Richard, her mom wanted to know every detail (or so she thought, because Therese obviously omitted the parts where, “we fucked in my bedroom while my roommate tried to study on the other side of the wall,” fell somewhere in between, “he kissed me goodnight,” “and then he drove home”). Before her parents met Richard, her mom insisted Therese describe him in vivid detail, and then wanted pictures, of him, of them. “Oh, he sounds smart,” (he wasn’t), “he must be an athlete— is he an athlete?” (he wasn’t), and, “he looks like a nice, Godly young man,” (whatever that meant… but also, he wasn’t).

Even if it was fake for Therese, it was fun having her mom— and by extension, some aunts, cousins, grandparents— so giddy over her life as an adult. But the truth was that, sadly, her family wasn’t particularly interested in her real life. Her mother would never pry for details about Carol, she’d never rant about how impressive and interesting Carol’s career was, how beautiful she must be— requesting pictures, and she wouldn’t even care about how wonderful Carol treated Therese, about all dates she planned, the compliments with which she showered Therese, her endless patience.

But the instances of Therese wanting her mom’s or dad’s or aunt’s or cousin’s attention grew more and more fleeting, and were always entirely squashed when she’d, yet again, be swept away by something Carol did or said. They were little things that Therese thought might’ve bordered on insignificant to Carol, but they were all-consuming to Therese. It was the feeling Therese got as Carol poked around her laptop, perched on Therese’s sofa, only to slide it her way and say, “okay, this is the place we’re going for the wedding— and this is the room I booked. Looks good?”

—————————————————-

For the first time in a long time, Carol felt nothing.

She used to dread seeing Abby at events. When Rindy asked her if it would be weird, Carol wasn’t sure of how to respond, because for the first time in a long time, there was no dread. There were no feelings of anger, no sickening humiliation, no lingering heartbreak. When Carol thought about seeing Abby, she simply felt...nothing.

Certainly it would be awkward. That part was unavoidable, and nobody looked forward to discomfort. But otherwise: nothing.

Well, nothing, and slight annoyance at her omnipresence at this fucking wedding. She just kept…popping up.

She was just trying to get another drink when Abby hopped next to her in the line for the bar. Civility was necessary, and easier than anything else, so Carol just said, “hey,” and waited to hear whatever it was Abby could possibly want.

“I heard this thing cost over 250 thousand dollars.”

“Christ. I mean, I believe it. They’re literally pouring Veuve and serving strip loin.”

Abby laughed as they inched their way forward. “I can imagine how quickly you checked that box when you got your invite.”

“Actually…” Carol sighed. She could’ve just shrugged and let Abby force her side of the conversation knowing it would die once they could get their drinks and part ways, but she didn’t. “I just started this thing where I’m not eating meat every other week and this weekend falls on one of those, so…”

Choking on air, Abby’s eyes went wild. “Excuse me? I’ve seen you take down a 16 ounce ribeye by yourself. You used to not get sides because they were ‘a waste of calories.’”

Obviously, things had changed.

“I imagine this is a change brought about by that little girlfriend of yours, hm?”

Something that hadn’t changed was how condescending Abby could be if she tried. ‘Little girlfriend,’ and of course not little as in stature, or age, but significance. But Carol just… didn’t bother to take the bait.

“Therese actually cares about things. Like her health, the planet, other people… it’s extremely refreshing to be around somebody like her.”

Carol liked herself when she was with Therese. She liked herself more than she ever had. And, sure, it helped that Therese was quite a bit younger, too, and Therese sort-of-jokingly, sort-of-seriously pressed Carol to take better care of herself, because Therese was already on track to outlive her by quite a number of years, ‘anything you can do to extend your life would be greatly pleasing to me.’

“What does she do?”

A lot of things. Therese did a lot of things. But Carol knew that Abby was asking what Therese did to make money.

And, as always, Carol beamed as she answered. She just couldn’t help it. “She’s a high school teacher.”

Not an answer that ever satisfied Abby’s elitism. She’d always admitted that teaching was never something she herself could do, but at the same time, wondered just why anybody else bothered doing it. Carol, on the other hand, had always found it astonishing, because in her mind, it practically took a martyr. And, on top of that, someone who did it, liked doing it, and did it well? For-fucking-get it. But Therese loved her job. (Well, she loved her students. The administration and the hierarchy, not so much.) And Carol knew Therese was a good teacher, because she’d heard all about it from Rindy before they’d even met.

Abby just said, “cute.” They’d finally reached the bar. Carol ordered her drink, grabbed another glass of wine for Therese, and left Abby to entertain herself.

—————————————--

To keep Rindy entertained (because, in all honesty, she was being so fucking cool— hanging out with her mom, no complaints thus far despite no other teenagers to speak of) Carol fed her insider info on cast of characters making speeches.

There was Kristina’s husband’s best man: “That’s David’s brother. Kristina told me he caused a pretty major chlamydia outbreak in college.”

… one of Kristina’s bridesmaids, Brittany McCrystal: “We went to middle school with her. In high school, at a football game, your mom sold her a bag of crushed aspirin for $100 and told her it was cocaine.”

Kristina’s maid-of-honor: “Her cousin Amy. She’s…such a sweetheart. She steals stuff, though.”

Her attention turned to Therese when Kristina’s parents were called upon to gush over their daughter. And they absolutely did gush over her. The word ‘proud’ was tossed around so liberally that it began to lose meaning, but Carol’s heart sank when she saw Therese’s gaze drift from Kristina’s dad— a burly, grey-haired man, standing at 6’4” and on the cusp of bawling— to her lap. She played with the clasp on her bracelet and Carol could imagine what was on her mind.

Shuffling her seat as close as possible, scooting just slightly behind Therese, Carol leaned forward, her lips right against Therese’s ear, and whispered, “hey, are you my girl?”

That got her attention. She stopped fidgeting and fought back a smile, her cheeks immediately bright red, nodded, and let Carol rest her chin on her shoulder until the mic made its way through friends and family and back to its rightful owner.

—————————

To Carol’s relief, one of the guys Abby had been talking to the day before asked Therese to dance. Carol would’ve, but their earlier hike had taken a surprising toll on her feet— Harper agreed, Carol wasn’t being a baby— so she was happy to pass off the responsibility onto someone else. Abby and Kristina’s super handsome gay friend would work.

He was actually bisexual, he clarified in a sales pitch to Therese, promising ample experience dancing with past girlfriends that would ensure he didn’t embarrass them. Regardless, Carol waved them away.

When they were well out of earshot, Harper said, “wow, she’s never going to marry you and give you the kids and the house and the dog you want if you’re always this boring at weddings, Carol.”

Carol groaned.

The teasing from Harper had its roots in an incident that took place about a year prior— almost to the day, Carol imagined— when she was at her parents’ house for Mother’s Day with Harper and the rest of their family and she had an Absolute Fucking Meltdown. It seemed as though everyone she knew— all of her friends, her coworkers, her sister (obviously), the only cousin she liked— they all had their own lives. Their own families, some of them had kids, they had houses and pets and traditions of their own, and Carol was all alone. Her life was composed of pieces of everyone else’s, still very much relying on her parents and sister for a sense of family, and she wondered if it would ever change. Would she ever get married? She didn’t even care much about that, but the option would be nice. Kids? Of her own? She loved Rindy to death, but she wasn’t Rindy’s mom.

And that’s what she asked as she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, completely inconsolable on her parents’ kitchen floor, Harper and their mother looking down at her in shock, overwhelmed with misery and too shaken to know what to do (Carol and Harper’s father had already made his way outside, no doubt standing awkwardly with Harper’s then-new boyfriend on the back deck, having already tried his best by kneeling down next to Carol and saying, “hey now, c’mon sweetie”).

It was when Rindy wandered into the house, struck motionless in the kitchen doorway, and asked, “why’s Aunt Carol crying?” that Carol got it together. She abruptly stopped her tears, said, “I’m not,” far too harshly, practically seething at a 13-year-old, walked to her car, and drove herself home.

Beyond very careful and calculated asks of, “how are you…?” in the days after the event, nobody in their family had dared to bring up Carol’s outburst ever again.

Until now.

“I’m serious!” Harper continued. “Do you think this is the ‘wife and the kids and the house in the suburbs’ situation?”

“Let’s get one thing crystal clear: I’m never moving to the fucking suburbs.”

“Fine. The ‘house in Saint Paul’ situation?”

“What did I just say?”

“Saint Paul is not the fucking sub— ”

As if sensing a sibling-tiff about to arise, a drunk Kristina attempted to crouch next to their table before falling forward onto her knees. “I’m so glad you guys made it!” Saved by the bell. But then, “Carol! Therese is so hot. You guys should get married.”

She was shouting the way a drunk person did regardless of proximity.

“I’d like that, but it’s been six months, so I think we’ll wait a little— ”

“I got engaged to David after 10 months.” That was true, but then they were engaged for over four years. “He’s hot, too. They have that in common. Oh my god! You guys! We should do shots. Let’s do shots.”

There was no way that was happening, but Kristina wandered away, ostensibly in search of alcohol, though the likelihood of her remembering to return was slim. Harper looked pleased. “You said, ‘I’d like that.’”

It was true. Carol thought about it too often than she was willing to admit. It was probably all clouded judgement from the newness of Therese. Another six months could change everything. It might. But Carol peered across the room, watched as Abby’s friend and Therese’s new dance partner spun her around as she broke into a fit of giggles, and couldn’t help but doubt that six months— or six years, or six decades, should she be so lucky— would change her feelings one little bit.

Chapter Text

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.