luisa pauses where she stands, flute of not-champagne between her fingertips, as her eyes rest on the woman before her. the bride. she’d thought rose beautiful before, walking down the aisle in the gorgeous white dress, all lace and white flowers stitched together, almost transparent if not for the intricate workings of netting, head lowered, demure, the single white flower on a carpet of blood red, hair stark against the white fabric rose petals of her dress, but she is even more so now, unaware of being seen, in this moment leaning up against the boat’s golden railing, head tilted to one side and hair cascading in waves down her shoulder, unpinned from the intricate styling of before. she can make out a couple of the silver pins tucked between rose’s long, slender fingers, edges sharp against the ruby red of her painted nails.
rose turns at the sound of her gasp, and luisa turns as well, eyes facing away and arms crossed, instead looking out onto the waves of the ocean instead of the waves of white against the freckles dotting the other’s skin. “i didn’t mean to interrupt.” the apology rises unbidden to her lips, releases with more bitterness than she intended. her hand strokes the bare skin of her arm; there’d been no bridesmaids, no groomsmen, no father to walk her down the aisle and no one stepping up to distract from the picture of her alone. it’d been a small ceremony. there’d been no one worth inviting, and the emptiness of the cathedral, the hollow words of the priest echoing against its walls and stained glass, still ring in her head. the party on the boat is far larger, full of hotel guests who don’t know what they’re celebrating, know only that there is free food and drink, and if there is one woman walking by in a white wedding-like gown, she probably isn’t the first they’ve seen and they haven’t noticed.
she hadn’t known what to wear. something to stand out, formal, to match the solemnity of the occasion; something stark and black to hide any accentuations of her shape, as though this were nothing more than a funeral; something average, short skirt and bright, loud patterns to fit and escape into the unknown boat crowd. not white. she’d known not white.
“you aren’t interrupting anything.”
rose turns back, hunching over the railing, fiddling with one of the hair pins between her fingers. the ring her father has gotten her is small – they always are – and for what seems like the first time in a long time there are no other gaudy rings marking her other fingers. she seems small as her eyes trace the waves, and it scares her. luisa wasn’t there when her mother jumped over the bridge, but she wonders if she cut the same figure standing at its railing, staring into its open waters.
“this party is so large,” luisa begins, crossing to stand next to her, “you’d think he was compensating for something.”
“ew, rose, he’s my father. i didn’t need to know—“
but rose looks at her with that twinkle in her eye and a hint of a smile on her lips and her breath catches in her throat. her eyes focus on the bubbles, the white spread as the boat cuts through the water.
“you’re not drinking, are you?”
her eyes meet rose’s face, note the shock of something that looks like fear and the focus on her drink, and luisa laughs. “i wish. they know better than to serve me anything stronger than sparkling grape juice.” she lifts the glass. “i feel like i’m five years old. i can’t even take part in the toast.”
“we didn’t have a toast.”
“of course not.”
luisa knows, if she had been drinking, that she would have taken it on herself to steal a microphone from the dj, to make some loud remark about how rose deserved better, that heart-on-her-sleeve pining out in front for everyone to see it. they’d think she was crazy; she’s not crazy. a lot of other things, maybe. achingly sober. but not crazy.
“luisa.” rose repeats her name, placing the hand with one of the pins stuck between her fingers on the one holding her glass. one of the pins pricks her skin.
“you know, i don’t know how you do it.” luisa faces her and sees something like pain and keeps going, hoping that something in her fumbling words will fix that. “your hair. you just got married, it should be sticky or hard with hairspray, but you take it down and it just—“ she holds out a hand to gesture at the perfect waves down her back. “—does that.” it probably doesn’t even feel as soft as she remembers it, and without thinking she brushes her fingertips through. somehow it’s softer.
“practice,” rose says, brows lifting.
“hundreds of years of women getting married to millions of men and you found the secret to this.” she wants to make an extravagant gesture, but that would require moving her fingers out of rose’s hair and she doesn’t want to do that. not yet. “it’s not fair.”
“nothing’s fair, luisa. it just is.” rose heaves a sigh. “if there’s anything I learned being a lawyer, it’s that.”
she wants to scream, but she knows better than to scream at a bride on her wedding day. at least, she knows better sober. she’d know better drunk, too, but she wouldn’t be able to keep herself from flirting with her in front of everyone. rafael would take her to one side and whisper something and ask her if she’s been drinking, and she’d deny it, all the while her eyes would flick across, back to rose’s, trying to meet hers, and she’d see something wounded instead of the anger she’d want to see and she’d hate her and she’d hate herself. it’s the same feeling as being sober, just much less private.
“things should be fair,” she says instead. her arms should hang over the railing, the flute of sparkling grape juice hovering over the ocean waves. she should not be keeping one hand curved in the soft curls of her now stepmother’s hair. in all fairness, she shouldn’t be in love with rose, and if everything were fair, she wouldn’t be. or rose wouldn’t be in love with her father. or—
that’s the only part of this she doesn’t understand. rose, being in love with her father. with the other wives, it was for money, but rose doesn’t need money. she’s an accomplished lawyer. she’ll make her own money. and it can’t be lifestyle because luisa could offer her that herself. she doesn’t need her father for that. any of them would do. luisa would give her that, if she asked. if it was only about either of those, luisa could….
rose would choose her.
but she hadn’t. she didn’t. she won’t.
she loves her father.
she tells herself this, but her fingers are still moving to cup rose’s cheek. even caked in all that makeup, her skin is so soft. today she smells more of lavender than strawberries. she’s thinner – she hasn’t been eating, maybe, so that she can fit in her dress.
her eyes had followed the slope of her back and remained there throughout the ceremony. she wonders if rose could feel them burning holes in her skin, and if she does, is the burn the same as sunburn or is it rougher?
rose crosses the distance between them and presses a kiss to her cheek and whispers, “don’t.” when she pulls back, their eyes meet, and there’s a mixture of emotion in rose’s gaze that luisa thinks she understands but doesn’t quite. she sees fear. she doesn’t know why.
her brows furrow and her father shows up, arms spread – “darling, i’ve been looking all over for you!” – and luisa steps back, holding up her glass of not-champagne in a feigned toast. “i know when i’m not wanted.”
the look in rose’s eyes becomes a mixture of anger and things unsaid and her jaw tightens, but luisa doesn’t look.
she doesn’t want to look.
rose stands in her bedroom in the dress and luisa is certain that she has seen too many reruns of friends for this to be anything other than a hallucination. but her stepmother’s fingers rest atop her soft peach blanket – not velvet soft, but woven soft, as though someone made it for her out of love when really she bought it from a shop somewhere in madrid. she pretends sometimes. it was made with love. for her. by someone somewhere who cared. even if she doesn’t know their name. sometimes she makes one up.
sometimes she makes herself stop.
“what are you doing here?” she is indignant. frustrated. upset. there is anger in her voice instead of the soothing tones of confusion that she believes her stepmother expects. her eyes glance down and there is no ring on her left hand and now she is confused. her eyes return to the other woman’s face, searching, probing for something, some answer.
rose turns and her hands clasp together and she looks vulnerable with her head lowered like that, her hair swept across her shoulder and falling down her chest. “i wanted to see you.” there’s barely a break, a pause, room for the slightest breath before she continues, “i wanted to be with you.” her gaze lifts, blue eyes normally so bright now deep and dark in the unknown of her room.
light filters through the window blinds. she hasn’t turned the overhead on yet.
“you wanted to be with my father,” luisa corrects as she moves to her bedside table, removing one of many golden bracelets she’d chosen to wear earlier. they jingle-jangle as she walks. she likes the sound of them. “you can’t have both.”
the red waves bob beside her. “then run away with me.”
she freezes over her bedside table, fingers barely touching the golden hoops as though trying to convince herself this is real. it’s real; it’s real; it’s real. “no.”
“no.” her lips press together so tight that she feels like she’s biting on and through them. she can almost taste the copper blood on her tongue. but she turns and runs her hand through rose’s red hair again and it’s just as soft, if not softer, than it had been on the boat and she wonders how she ended up here, in her wedding dress, without her wedding ring on instead of remaining on the boat or ending up on a plane with her father headed to whatever honeymoon destination he’d chosen this time (or maybe, for once, he’d let his wife choose).
her fingers brush against rose’s cheek, and her skin is soft, too, and rose leans forward, brushing her nose against luisa’s.
she can’t help herself.
she leans forward to kiss her, and her fingers tangle with her hair as she slowly moves her back onto the bed, and rose sits there with hands tightening in luisa’s hair as she straddles her.
it’s as she presses rose back against the mattress, one hand cupping the swell of her breast beneath the white floral gown that she wakes up in her bed, breathing heavy, covered in sweat. she shivers, pulling her blanket tighter around her, and curls on one side, fetal, forcing her breathing to slow as she squeezed her eyes tight shut.
just a dream.
luisa blinks and she blinks and she blinks again.
it’s been years since she saw that dress, since she dreamed of the woman before her coming to meet her in the dark and cool of her room, since she woke up in a fevered sweat and rocked herself until she was no longer conscious enough to rock.
“you kept it?” she whispers, feet bare on the wooden floor of their cayman paradise. the fan overhead creaks once, long, loud, and then is silent again. her hand reaches out, brushing across the fabric that is nowhere near as silky soft as she imagined it to be, one finger catching on the netting between the white roses covering her skin. “you brought it here?”
“i keep all of my clothes. they’re in a warehouse; they’re—“ rose shakes her head and her smile is as soft as her skin as she looks up through dark lashes at the woman standing before her. “i thought you might like to see it. again.”
luisa can’t help but laugh – not bright or bubbly but something deeper, more joyful – and she leans forward, forehead tapping against her partner’s. “i don’t know why you would think that. i wanted to rip it off of you. it was horrible.”
rose reaches up, fingers cupping her cheek, and her hand is soft where her ring is hot from the tropical sun. “you could rip it off now.”
she shakes her head, and for once her hair is the one full of dark waves, even though in the dress rose has chosen to mimic the waves she’d worn for her wedding instead of the tight, frizzy curls the humidity forces her hair to be. “you’re too beautiful. the sistine chapel. why would i want to destroy that?”
“some things are more beautiful after they’ve been destroyed,” she says, brushing her thumb along the slope of luisa’s cheek.
she shivers. it isn’t cold, but she shivers.
“i’m choosing you, luisa.”
rose doesn’t say it, but she can hear it, whispered from one pair of lips to the other as she parts hers to receive her.
she is always so soft, and she is always softer than she remembers.