“someone will remember us
even in another time”
However this ends,
I want you to know, that right now,
I love you forever”
-Andrea Gibson, “How It Ends”
Vi took a deep breath as she stepped into the kitchen, adjusting her grip on the cardboard box as she entered. It was, as with all parts of Caitlyn’s home, a lovely, cluttered disaster of a room: each cupboard door sat slightly ajar, unable to be fully closed due to the sheer number of mugs, plates, glasses, and bowls crammed onto each shelf; the counters were lined with recipe books, ancient tomes tucked alongside glossy new books emblazoned with celebrity faces. There were more cookie jars than Vi had thought existed in the entire world; there were enough sets of silverware to feed an entire army; there were simply more things than any person could ever hope to use in a lifetime, Vi thought, finding some amusement in the irony of the notion.
Caitlyn hummed along with the music playing from her phone (some Seraphine song, Caitlyn’s recent obsession), her back turned towards the door. Vi knew her entrance had not gone unnoticed, but Caitlyn continued with her cleaning, wiping the counter down methodically. They had reached a point of comfortable independence; Caitlyn had given Vi her own key to the house, to come by whenever she wanted, to go where she pleased and make herself at home. It was a much-appreciated invitation, as Vi’s shitty apartment was one of her least favorite places to be (she made a point to not spend any time beyond what was strictly necessary there), but it hadn’t quite been the invitation, the one that would give her the freedom to finally say goodbye to her shoebox-sized place and tell the landlord where to shove his noise complaints.
Yet that final invitation didn’t feel too far away, despite how relatively short a time they’d known one another. Call it “meant to be,” call it “U-Haul lesbian bullshit,” call it whatever loaded term felt fitting. But the fact of the matter was, Vi felt comfortable in a way she never had before; after a lifetime of cutting and running whenever things turned serious, she wanted to stay; hell, she needed to stay. But what she had found… if it meant what she believed it meant… crazy though it might seem, it had to be addressed.
“Hey cupcake, you, uh, got a second to talk?” Vi asked, her nerves skyrocketing as Caitlyn turned.
“Of course, Vi,” Caitlyn said, smiling as she paused the music and crossed to the kitchen table. Vi set the box on the table and lowered herself into a chair (her chair, as she had come to think of it, though she’d not yet felt so bold as to claim it out loud). She tapped her fingers on the tabletop as Caitlyn sat, her smile fading slightly as she looked Vi over.
“Is everything alright, or should I be worried?” Caitlyn asked, a hint of concern preemptively slipping into her tone.
“No, it’s nothing bad… well, I don’t think it’s bad, but…” Vi fumbled for the right words; were there even any right words for a situation like this? There certainly wasn’t any advice online for how to approach such a topic (she had checked, feeling foolish as she typed the words into her phone). She continued quickly, trying to outrace her rising embarrassment at the asinine subject she was about to bring up. “I went into your study, just to look around, since you’d said there were some neat books in there that I might like, and when I was going through some boxes I… I kinda came across some things. Some really old things.”
Caitlyn closed her eyes for a brief moment; not in shame or frustration, so far as Vi could tell, but more as if she was preparing to begin a presentation. It was that pause, more than the abundance of photographs, letters, documents, and antiques she had stumbled across, that convinced Vi that what she found hadn’t been a joke or a misunderstanding. She felt a shiver run down her spine as Caitlyn opened her eyes again and began.
“I… I first have to admit that I wanted you to find those things. I thought this might be something that’s easier to discover on your own than to have it told to you outright,” Caitlyn said, clenching her hands tightly together. “I imagine you have questions, or things you simply want to say, so I’ll let you begin, if you’d prefer.”
“Well, I mean, I’m not really sure what to say,” Vi said, her fingers tapping faster. “It’s kinda hard to wrap my mind around it. Hell, we’ve gone and watched the sunset so many times, so I never thought… I guess, I need to know what the rules are, before anything else.”
“Rules? What do you mean?” Caitlyn asked, her expression a mixture of confusion and worry.
“Y’know, the rules, how it all works; like, is it turning into bats and can’t eat garlic, or is it sparkly skin and playing baseball really fast?” Vi asked.
“Baseball? What are you… oh!” Caitlyn said, shaking her head, the smile returning to her face. “No, I assure you, Vi, I’m very much alive, not a vampire. Apologies if that crushes any fantasies you had built up.” Vi felt her face flush; admittedly, there were a handful of filthy thoughts she’d had in mind.
“Ok, but if you’re not a vampire, what the hell is all of this, then?” Vi said, gesturing to the box she had brought down from the study. She reached in and grabbed an item at random; it was an old photograph, faded with age. The date on the back, written in barely visible blue ink, claimed it had been taken in July of 1948, a fact which conflicted with the subject of the photo: Caitlyn, looking exactly as she did now, wearing a sundress and smiling for the camera.
“It’s… pieces of my past, Vi. Snapshots and memories of… a very long life,” Caitlyn sighed, taking the photograph gently and looking at it. “My memory is far from foolproof, so I like to keep as many mementos as I can. Letters, paintings, recordings, anything and everything; it all helps me keep a hold of the past. This box, these things… they’re some of the memories I want to keep especially close.”
“So you’re… what, a hundred years old? Two hundred? Older?” Vi asked.
“I’m not really certain exactly how old I am; I tried keeping track for a while, but eventually it felt a bit senseless, especially since I never actually aged. Plus after a few calendar reforms, it all got a bit muddled up anyway,” Caitlyn said, shrugging. She set the photograph down and peered into the box. “At a certain point, I stopped thinking about it in decades, centuries, or millennia, and just started thinking of myself as, well, really old.”
Millennia. The word hit Vi like a haymaker. It was impossible; it was a dumb joke, it had to be; how could Caitlyn be thousands of years old? She opened her mouth for a second, then closed it; there were no words to encompass the complex mixture of feelings churning within her: the logical inability to process how any of it could be possible… combined with the certainty in her heart that it was all true. Caitlyn reached into the box and pulled out a yellowed piece of paper, brushing her fingertips over the page; Vi could see the faint outlines of a sketch through the thin, aged sheet.
“The… the other woman…” Vi said, gesturing towards the box. “I saw so many different dates and places on them, but the drawings and photos, they all…”
“Look like you?” Caitlyn finished, setting the paper on the table; even looking at it upside-down, it was impossible for Vi to not see the resemblance: the nose, the eyes, even the same stupid lip scar. Even if the chin was a little shorter, the cheekbones a little lower, it was doubtlessly Vi.
“Yeah,” Vi said simply. She had been a jagged tangle of anxiety since she’d decided to broach the matter with Caitlyn, but suddenly she felt… calm, almost serene. It all felt familiar in a way she couldn’t explain, comforting in a manner that made absolutely no sense. She should’ve been freaked out, perhaps even horrified, but instead, she felt relaxed; she felt safe.
“I guess maybe you could call it fate, or perhaps a pattern of sorts,” Caitlyn said, “but no matter where I go, eventually… I find you again. Or sometimes you find me first. And then… well, like anything, life happens as it will.”
”So then this… us… this isn’t the first time we’ve done this?” Vi asked.
”Far from it,” Caitlyn replied. There was such a depth of love in her eyes, as though she was looking not just at Vi, but at… well, all of her former selves. It was strange to think of it as such, but it felt right; it felt true.
“Then… what about this time? If you don’t mind talking about it?” Vi asked, nodding towards the drawing. Caitlyn smiled, looking down at the sketch fondly.
“I think it was something like 1923? Maybe 1924; I can’t quite recall the year. It was Ireland, though, that much I remember. I had decided to try and learn how to draw…”
“…but I’m not very good yet, so don’t laugh,” Caitlín said, carefully adding a bit of shading to one cheek. The proportions were close, but there was something just slightly off that she couldn’t place. She erased a strand of hair, trying to capture the natural way it fell into her face.
“Stop fretting about it, Cait, I’m sure it’s fine. And if I’m wrong, I promise I’ll only tease you a little bit about it,” Aisling said, sitting naked on the couch and staring out the window as instructed.
(“Wait, Aisling? I thought this story was about me?” Vi asked.
“Vi, it is you. Your name wasn’t Violet every single time we met; there were times and places where that wouldn’t even have been a feasible name, after all,” Caitlyn said.
“Huh,” Vi said, shaking her head, “that’s kinda hard to wrap my mind around.”)
“Ah, how very magnanimous of you, Ash, I feel so supported,” Caitlín said, laughing to herself.
“I aim to please,” she replied, brushing the stray strand of pink hair out of her face.
“No, don’t move! I was trying to get that… oh, never mind, it’s too late now,” Caitlín said, sighing as she erased the strand once again.
“Oh, fuck, sorry about that. Need me to put it back for you?” Ash offered, pushing her short hair forward and covering half of her face. “How’s that?”
“Stop being such a dork,” Caitlín said, laughing.
(“Did people really say ‘dork’ back then? Doesn’t sound very much like 20’s slang,” Vi said.
“I told you, I don’t remember every little thing and when it exactly happened, especially in terms of languages; it’s hard enough keeping track of current slang, let alone from 100 years ago across multiple languages. This is just as best I can recall it,” Caitlyn said.
“So wait, can you speak French and Spanish and other shit?” Vi asked.
“Yes, I know a lot of languages to varying degrees. But would you rather talk about that, or hear the story?” Caitlyn replied, raising an eyebrow.
“No, no, sorry, go ahead,” Vi said.)
“Come on, I’m dying here, can’t we go do something? A walk, a picture at the Lyceum, literally anything, I’m begging you,” Ash whined, flopping dramatically onto the couch.
“I suppose a change of scenery might be nice,” Caitlín said, setting the sketch pad down on the table and stretching. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“Thank the fucking lord, another minute and I might’ve gone mental,” Ash said, jumping up and rushing to her dresser; Caitlín watched as a flurry of clothes flew across the room and onto the bed as she searched for something to wear. Caitlín smiled, looking around the apartment; it was her first time visiting Ash at her own place, rather than meeting up in public or spending the day in her room at the Shelbourne (she had been heartbroken upon her return to Dublin to discover that the Gresham, a hotel she loved and had secretly helped to fund decades prior, had recently been nearly destroyed). It would be unfair to say the one room tenement was awful, as it would be an insult to awful living spaces: it was cramped, drafty, and dilapidated; the building stank, the neighbors were loud, and the owner charged far too much for such a dreadful space. It was hard to watch Aisling barely scrape by to pay for such horrible lodging, but Caitlín feared to say too much to quickly. But the fear of waiting too long was stronger; a flash came to mind of Rose, decades ago, tears running down her face as she turned to leave the room. If she waited too long again…
“I was thinking of looking for more permanent lodging soon,” Caitlín said, watching Ash’s body language carefully. “Perhaps here in the city, or maybe out in the countryside.”
“Really? A Brit, moving to the Pale? Already thought you were a bit thick for coming here at all, but this is something else,” Ash said, turning and crossing her arms. She was half-dressed, and Caitlín fought the urge to stare. “Honestly, I thought you’d be moving on soon enough.”
“I… just feel like there might be reason for me to settle down here. Someone worth staying for,” Caitlín said. Ash stared, her mouth agape in shock.
“Caitlín, you’re… you’re fucking with me, aren’t you?” Ash said. “We’re taking enough of a risk as it is, one wrong word gets to the wrong person and it would be hell for both of us. Christ, Cait, you could lose everything, we could be arrested. You really want to tempt all of that for… for me?” Ash asked, the disbelief in her voice breaking Caitlín’s heart.
“I know it seems rushed, I know it seems mad, and I don’t know how to explain things in a way that won’t make it sound worse, but… I love you, Aisling,” Caitlín said. “So yes, I’m willing to risk everything for you.”
“You… you’re… Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and all his little carpenter friends,” Ash said, blinking and shaking her head. “I wasn’t expecting this when I woke up this morning, that’s for fucking sure. But… yeah, I love you too, Cait. I have for a while now. So… yeah, fuck it, let’s do it.”
Caitlín rose, crossing the small room and pulling Aisling into her arms, kissing her deeply, letting her fears slip away as she embraced the woman she loved, the woman she would always love.
Caitlyn sighed as she set the sketch down. There was a moment of silence, a pause as Vi reconciled what she had heard, what it meant. At first, she had felt no connection to this woman, this Aisling; she had no memory of that past life, not even an inkling of emotional resonance; the story, supposedly one detailing her and Caitlyn’s love, felt like little more than a random anecdote. But as Caitlyn spoke, it was as though something was being unlocked deep in Vi’s heart; there were still no memories, no tangible links to the past, but the feelings were there nonetheless: echoes of the love she’d held for a woman named Caitlín, so many years ago.
“Shit, that’s really messing with my head,” Vi said finally. “So what, we just… lived happily ever after, or some shit?”
“Well, not in the sense that we never fought or had hardships, but yes, it was a happy ending for us for… a long time,” Caitlyn said, her hesitation both glossing over and highlighting the uncomfortable truth neither of them seemed ready to address. “We moved out into the countryside, built up a little estate for ourselves. We could perhaps visit one day, if you’re interested.”
“Wait, you don’t still own some random mansion in Ireland, do you?” Vi asked, her jaw dropping in astonishment. It seemed ridiculous, but then again, what about the situation wasn’t?
“No, no, I sold it in the late 80’s before I started traveling again. One thing I’ve learned is that keeping a record trail can lead to… uncomfortable inquiries. It’s better to keep moving around, minimize any traceable assets. I kept most of the furniture and decorations this time, though; I couldn’t bear to part with everything yet again,” Caitlyn said.
“Huh, explains why there’s so much random shit everywhere,” Vi teased, looking around the exceptionally cluttered kitchen.
“This is only part of it; you should see all the storage units,” Caitlyn said. “But I’ve had to watch my possessions be sold away to others far too many times. I figured that I had the money, so why not keep it all for once?”
“How the hell do you afford all this? Buying houses and paying for storage and moving across the world all the time? I mean, I knew you weren’t exactly hurting for money, but I didn’t realize you were that loaded,” Vi said.
“I’ve had ups and downs throughout the years,” Caitlyn said, shrugging. “Sometimes everything would line up and I’d find myself richer than I could imagine, and then other times I’d lose everything and have to start all over again. I have a lot of different investments nowadays, though, so I should be stable for the foreseeable future, if my luck holds out.”
“What did you do when you needed money, then? Can’t imagine you being some medieval servant,” Vi said, peering into the box and rummaging around.
“I actually was one, several times,” Caitlyn said. “Opportunities for women were… limited, especially as I had no interest in being married off to some man, so I had to take whatever work I could find. It was rarely glamorous, but I made ends meet. Of course, there were a few notable exceptions; I was a physician in France for a time, before the Revolution.”
“Wait, like an actual doctor? How the hell did that even work? Didn’t think they’d let women be doctors back then,” Vi said, pulling out a golden locket on a chain. She carefully opened it; while she was unsurprised to see an all-too-familiar visage staring out at her, the fine clothing and jewelry adorning the figure were extremely unexpected.
“There were… methods, even back then,” Caitlyn said, holding out her hand; Vi reached out…
…and handed over the locket, giving a slight smile as her fingers brushed against the gloved hand. “A token of my appreciation, Monsieur Wakeley, for the care you have administered to me and my family over the years,” Violette said, turning away and looking over the balcony. Night had long since fallen, and stars twinkled in the sky above, yet still the soirée sounded to be going strong, and would likely continue until well past midnight. “Forgive my boldness, but… I can’t help but think of you as a true friend, Charles. You’ve always been there for me, and I… I greatly appreciate it.”
“Think nothing of it, mademoiselle. Though perhaps we should be getting back, it… might spark troublesome rumors for you if we are both missed for much longer,” Charles said, adjusting his cravat nervously.
“And why should I be so nervous of such rumors? Must I live my life only by the demands of my family, to be some pawn to marry off for political advantage?” Violette asked, shaking her head. “Perhaps I might have my own ambitions and dreams for my future? Far from Montpellier and my family’s machinations?”
“That… is a bold and commendable outlook to hold, Mademoiselle d’Amboise,” Charles replied.
“Charles, if you call me ‘mademoiselle’ one more time, I am likely to scream. Please, call me Violette,” she said, turning around and taking his hand.
“This… this is perhaps not a wise decision,” Charles said, swallowing and brushing his long blue hair out from his face.
“If you hold no such feelings for me, then say so now. If you speak truly, I shall consider the matter dead and buried,” Violette said, stepping closer. “But I have grown weary of pretending to not hold a great fondness for you.”
“Violette, your family, they wouldn’t approve—”
“Fuck their approval,” Violette said, stepping onto her tiptoes and pulling Charles towards her, kissing him softly under the stars. For a moment, all thoughts of the foolishness of the venture left his mind; the only thing that mattered was Violette, the only thing that had ever mattered. But sensibility took hold once more, and he pulled away.
“You are correct, I cannot claim to not hold feelings for you, Violette. But they are feelings that I fear we cannot give in to,” he said, shaking his head. “I… cannot be what you expect of me… what your family would need me to be.”
“I need nothing from you but yourself,” Violette said. “My love for you has nothing to do with your money, or your status… or the composition of your body.”
“My… Violette, what are you—”
“You need not keep pretenses up with me, I’ve known for years now,” Violette said, smiling. “You’re quite convincing, but I’ve gazed upon your body for far too long to have not noticed certain… qualities you’ve attempted to hide,” she added, her eyes darting down towards Charles’ chest.
“I… I don’t know what to say, this… you certainly must understand then, why we cannot—” he began.
“As I said, I will not let my family, nor the church, nor any power in this land dictate how I live my life, especially if it should keep me from you,” Violette said. “And whether you choose to live such as you are now or not, I will love you all the same.”
“This is… I don’t think… oh, to hell with it,” he said, pulling Violette in and kissing her deeply, heart pounding in surprise and joy. It had taken all the strength of will to finally surrender the notion that they perhaps were not destined to be in this life; that to watch from afar was the most that could be hoped for. To have those buried hopes be given life, for them to come to sudden fruition, it was too much to bear, to hell with the consequences.
“I am curious, though,” Violette said as she finally pulled away, “is this the real you? Or is ‘Charles Wakeley’ a persona born of necessity? How would you have me think of you in my heart?”
“I… I would prefer Catherine, when we are alone, if I am to be honest,” the doctor said, breathing a sigh of relief as she allowed the walls around her life to come down for the first time in years, a weight she hadn’t realized had grown so heavy upon her shoulders.
“Well, in that case, dearest Catherine, how would you like to accompany me inside for a… physical examination?” Violette asked, raising an eyebrow and extending her hand.
“And what of the soirée, my darling?” Catherine said, smiling. “Should we not be missed if we are away for much longer?”
“Then we are missed, and let them choke on their gossip,” Violette said, grinning. “So… would you wish to accompany me, ma chérie?”
“It would be my pleasure,” Catherine said, taking Violette’s hand in her own.
“I believe it will be both of our pleasures,” Violette said as she led them towards her bedroom.
“I kept up appearances as ‘Charles’ for a few more years, but eventually we used my savings in conjunction with your inheritance and moved from Montpellier to Paris; after that, I dropped the façade and lived openly as Catherine. There were lots of rumors about us, of course, but with your money and family connections to shield us, nothing ever came of it,” Caitlyn said.
“Huh, weird to think of me as French nobility…” Vi said, imagining a life spent in corsets and ball gowns, engaging with high society and worrying over matters of decorum and etiquette; it sounded utterly miserable… aside from the wealth, of course. “At least my name was close to right this time.”
“Oh? And what qualifies as ‘right’?” Caitlyn asked, smiling. “You know, you’ve only been ‘Violet’ twice, but you’ve been ‘Mary’ four times before, so perhaps that would actually be the right name?”
“Mary? Cupcake, I love you and all, but how dare you? ” Vi said, picking up a cookie from the plate sitting between them and throwing it at Caitlyn. “Do you really remember how many times I’ve been called different names, though?”
“I do. I’ve forgotten so many things over the years, but I still remember every name you’ve ever had. And I’ll never forget them,” Caitlyn said, picking the cookie up from the table and taking a bite.
“Alright, so you find me, we get together, live our lives, then… well, things repeat over and over?” Vi asked. She felt a bit silly, asking so many questions; they’d already been talking for hours, and Vi was certain she’d already asked more questions in one conversation than she had in the entire rest of her life (“Not if you include all your past lives,” she thought). “And it’s like that every time? Same story, different names sort of thing?”
“It’s… not always like that,” Caitlyn said slowly, taking out another photograph and setting it down on the table with a sigh. “After all, your life is your own; it doesn’t pause when I’m not around, and I never trick or force you into doing anything you wouldn’t want to do.”
Vi took the photograph and stared at it, her brow furrowed. “Uh, who’s this dude and what in the cinnamon toast fuck does he think he’s doing?” She said, confused and outraged at the sight of it; her dress, the pose, the man’s hand on top of her’s, it looked far too much like…
“…your marriage daguerreotypes are finally ready, Mrs. MacKenzie,” Kathleen said, wiping her hands as she entered the room. “I apologize profusely for the delay, I shall waive my fee, of course—”
“Kate, stop it, you don’t need to stand on ceremony all of a sudden,” Rose said, smiling. “And if you even think of suggesting that we not pay you again, I’ll pay you triple in punishment.”
“Perhaps the oddest threat I’ve ever received, but very well,” Kathleen said, forcing a smile in return. “How do things fare for you and your… husband?” She said, having to force the last word out; it stuck in her throat, cutting its way out like a razor.
“Dylan’s quite fine, thank you for your concern,” Rose answered, her smile fading. “I had hoped to see more of you at the wedding, I admit. It was unfortunate that you had to leave so early.”
“I’m sorry, I was… not feeling terribly well that day,” Kathleen said, remembering the day vividly: the stilted ceremony, the awkward displays, the pained and defeated look on Rose’s face that somehow nobody but Kathleen seemed to notice. It had been torture, and she had been unable to remain.
“Kate, I… I know this isn’t easy for you. It’s far from easy for myself as well,” Rose said, crossing her arms.
“We knew it was bound to happen eventually,” Kathleen said. “But like we discussed, it doesn’t have to mean the end. We’ll just have to be more cautious, that’s all.”
“Kate, about that… I came to tell you… we’re moving to Glasgow at the end of the year,” Rose said, her voice little more than a whisper.
“Glasgow? Rose, you said he… I thought his job was…” Kathleen stammered, feeling as though the wind had been knocked out of her.
“Things changed, Kate; some uncle of his died and the estate transferred into his name. He plans to leave business affairs to his brother for the time being while we establish ourselves there. He believes the countryside will be better for Clara as well, less stimulation to upset her,” Rose said.
“Why wouldn’t he just sell the estate? His family is from Wales, right? There’s plenty of countryside out there, too,” Kathleen said, rubbing her forehead, too distraught to care that her hands were filthy. “Have you tried talking him out of it? Or finding somewhere else in England that—”
“Kate, please, just stop,” Rose said, shutting her eyes.
“Alright, well, if the move has to happen, I can always come to visit. I might be able to make arrangements, move outside of Glasgow next year and—”
“Bloody hell, he knows, Kate!” Rose blurted out. If the news of the impending move had winded Kathleen, this new revelation was a knockout punch. It had been the risk since the beginning, of course, but she’d thought the man too foolish and distant to ever figure it out; of all the men who had stood in her way in the past, Dylan MacKenzie had registered as little more than a petty nuisance. And yet now his very act of existing threatened to tear Rose away from her.
Rose took a deep breath and continued. “Part of his reason for the move is to separate us before rumours spread more than they already have,” she said. “We’re the worst-kept secret in London at this point, and… he doesn’t want to risk his business and his legacy with a scandal.”
“Let’s… let’s just go, then, just the two of us. Leave London and everything behind,” Kathleen said, desperately trying to cling to the fading vision of their future. “Just like we used to talk about, let’s actually do it.”
“Kate, I can’t leave Clara, not in her state. Not to mention my father; do you really think Dylan will continue to support him if I abandon him to run away with…” Rose said, shaking her head, seeming unable to even entertain the thought. “I don’t have a choice in the matter, and I didn’t come here to debate it with you. I’ve just come to collect the daguerreotypes and… say farewell.”
A thousand arguments and heartfelt pleas raced through Kathleen’s mind, but she knew the die had long since been cast; it had already been too late when she’d first met Rose, newly engaged to a man she could never love, sacrificing her freedom and happiness for the well-being of her family.
“I… I will respect your wishes on the matter, Rose,” Kathleen said, picking up the wrapped package and holding it out.
“You know damned well these aren’t my wishes, but… it’s the way of the world, Kate,” Rose said, taking the package. “It just… wasn’t meant to be.”
“Perhaps in another life,” Kathleen said softly, almost to herself.
“Kate, don’t, please… just do me a favour, for your sake and mine, and… forget about me,” Rose said. She turned and rushed out of the studio, not quite quickly enough to hide the tears falling down her cheeks. Kathleen crumpled to the floor, weeping as she strained to listen to the fading sound of Rose’s footsteps, hoping they would grow louder again, that Rose would change her mind and return. But, of course, the footsteps merely faded into silence; the die, after all, had already been cast.
Vi wiped the tears from her face, taking a deep breath to compose herself. It was utterly unthinkable, the notion of leaving Caitlyn behind, choosing a life without her… but at the same time, if there had been any hope of preventing Powder’s arrest and conviction… if Vi had been given the opportunity to save her sister, would she truly have spurned it for Caitlyn? Vi saw her own boldness reflected in Violette, her no-shits-to-give demeanor in Aisling, but it was with Rose that Vi most strongly felt a connection, for better or worse.
“Don’t suppose this one has some twist happy ending, does it?” Vi asked, holding little hope.
“We… never saw each other again,” Caitlyn said, closing her eyes. “Less than a decade later, I received word of… a supposed accident. It was nearly 70 years until we met again in Dublin.”
“What happened with Clara?” Vi said, surprised at her sudden worry for a sister she’d never known.
“I took care of both her and your father, supporting them anonymously through several different representatives,” Caitlyn replied. "They both were happy and well for the remainder of their lives, or at least as happy as could be expected."
“Wait, you took care of them? What happened to that Dylan asshole, I thought he was supposed to do that?” Vi asked.
“I… I took care of him as well,” Caitlyn said, opening her eyes; they were cold, sharp, and told Vi everything she needed to know.
“Well, good riddance to that shitbag, then,” Vi said, standing up. “Ok, I know it’s kind of a downer note to pause on, but I’m fucking starving. How about we go get dinner and leave this for now?”
“I’d like that, talking about it all is a lot more draining than I’d expected,” Caitlyn said. “Wait! One last thing though, don't go anywhere,” she added, rushing out of the kitchen. Vi peered into the box one last time; there was still so much they hadn’t even touched, so many lives they’d lived together. Even for the few stories they’d discussed, they had barely scratched the surfaces. It was all so hard to believe that such a wealth of memories existed between the two of them, and yet Vi didn’t question it in the slightest; in the face of such evidence, coupled with the certainty of her heart, how could there be any room for doubt?
“Hey!” Caitlyn said from the doorway. There was a bright flash, leaving Vi blinking and shaking her head. Caitlyn carefully removed the photo as it ejected from the camera, looking down at it as it developed.
“Don’t you dare put that in the box if I look stupid in it, cupcake,” Vi said.
“Oh come on, maybe it turned out well?” Caitlyn said. They stared down at the photo as it finished developing; it had, inarguably, not turned out well at all.
“Ah, well... I’m gonna put it in anyway,” Caitlyn said, smiling as Vi grumbled under her breath.
“So… you’ve told me all of this before, then?” Rae asked, setting down the photograph. It was still surreal, looking at an old photo from nearly a century before and seeing a nearly identical version of herself, squinting and looking rather goofy (she definitely empathized with Vi’s reluctance to include the photo).
“Once before, yes,” Caitlyn said. “Admittedly, there would always be a point each time where it became obvious there was something unusual at work; after enough decades without any sign of aging, it’s a bit hard to play things off as lucky genetics. We’d never really talk about it, though. I’m not exactly sure why; maybe we just both knew it didn’t change anything, so we never pushed the issue. But this last time, I just… I was tired of hiding it, I suppose. Not to mention it’s getting harder and harder to keep it a secret anyhow; the ‘I’m just a niece with a remarkable family resemblance’ excuse doesn’t hold up very well anymore. So… I took a chance and trusted you.”
“And I take it things worked out?” Rae asked.
“It worked out better than I could’ve hoped,” Caitlyn said, smiling down at the photograph, running her finger across the pink-haired woman’s likeness. “Perhaps I could’ve told you about it before that time, maybe I was worried over nothing and didn’t give you enough credit; but regardless, I’m glad I finally told you then. Just like I’m glad I told you now.”
“Well, thanks for trusting me. I promise I won’t sell you out to the government… unless I really need the money,” Rae joked.
“Traitor,” Caitlyn said, laughing as she stood up and walked to the window, staring out over the city skyline. Rae couldn’t imagine what it must be like for Caitlyn: to have seen the world change so much; to have lived for so long that she couldn't even remember how old she was; to love so deeply that, decade after decade, century after century, she would seek out Rae again and again and again.
“So wait, what ended up happening? Don’t you dare leave me on some stupid cliffhanger, cupcake,” Rae said, stepping alongside Caitlyn, adopting the nickname Vi had given her; it felt right in a way that was hard to describe. Caitlyn nodded, taking a deep breath; she reached out…
… grasping Vi’s hand as they walked down the sidewalk, heading nowhere in particular. The sun was slowly setting, the trees lining the street casting long shadows over them. It was a rather nondescript neighborhood in a decidedly boring suburb, especially compared to the many places she’d lived throughout the years, the countless cities and towns and villages throughout the world. Caitlyn doubted there would be much about this place that she’d remember in a hundred year’s time, beyond its association with Vi.
“So, should we talk about the elephant in the room, or just ignore it until I’m a hunched-over old lady?” Vi said, her lighthearted tone not quite masking the existential dread beneath it.
“You mean what happens at the end? I… suppose that’s your choice, really; it’s never really come up before like this, but it makes sense for you to be the one to decide. I’ll be there for you, though, if you want me to be,” Caitlyn said, looking down at the ground, staring at the cracks in the sidewalk.
“Is it hard, being there for… well, that? ” Vi asked.
“It is. It’s the hardest part of all of this, to be honest,” Caitlyn replied. “Not to make it about me, though,” she added quickly.
“That’s such a mindfuck, though… having to go through that over and over. I don’t know how you can handle it,” Vi said.
“Because no matter how hard it is to let go, the thought of living without you is too much to bear,” Caitlyn said. “It also helps to know that it isn’t goodbye, at least not forever; as long as the Earth still spins, I know we’ll find each other again.”
“Promise?” Vi asked softly.
“Promise,” Caitlyn replied.
"The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again."
-Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby