The first time he saw her, she might as well have been a stranger.
He was tired that night. It was the same feeling of exhaustion that had weighed on him since the beginning of his memory, the same knowledge that it was only inertia that kept him moving. The amount of human contact he’d had in the last six years was minimal, and because of that he dismissed her as an isolation-induced hallucination without a second thought.
She just stood there, next to the bench he slept on. Her mouth slightly open, her eyes glassy. A mess of whitish-blonde hair. Pale, too pale to be healthy.
He didn’t look away. It was as if he couldn’t. He was practically paralyzed, although his brain continued to run as rapidly as it usually did. That was the one thing he had, after all: his own thoughts. Even if they were more apathetic than anything else.
The girl slowly reached her hand out. She leaned forward, strands of hair falling across her face, eyes focused intently on him.
He remained silent. There was something chewing at the back of his mind; an odd sense of familiarity struck him before he had time to think about it. A sharp pain coursed through his head, right between his eyebrows, causing him to squeeze his eyes shut.
But it was over as soon as it had started and trying to hold onto it was like carrying water in his hands. The memory slipped through his fingers, and then it was gone.
It was gone, but she wasn’t. He opened his eyes again to see hers right in front of him, a pale pink color that was almost bright in a sea of grey and black. Even in the frigid air, a strange kind of warmth radiated from her, almost like…
It took him a second to realize that he had nothing to compare it to. He’d lived with it for six years, true, but retrograde amnesia was horribly confusing whenever he remembered it existed.
The girl stayed still. The only movement from her direction was the occasional blink - she didn’t even breathe. He resolved to ignore her, turning over onto his side and facing the iron wall.
She was still behind him. He could feel it.
He closed his eyes again, curling up into the fetal position and letting the slight warmth soak into his back. It was like a blanket, almost, and he found himself drifting off far more quickly than usual. Within ten minutes, whatever he had felt was gone.
He didn’t know how long he had slept. He never did, since the room lacked windows and the lighting was always the same. There was an ache in his neck when he woke up; this, too, was not unusual. He turned his head to try and crack it.
The only thing he saw behind him was empty air.
Years later, there was a second time. His memory and some semblance of a life had returned to him at that point, although in some ways they had stayed largely the same.
He still had difficulty sleeping. He still drew nasty looks everywhere he went, to the point that he risked being jumped every time he left home by himself. He still reacted poorly to the cold, unable to break the habit of curling up into a ball to avoid freezing to death. He still had trouble dropping his guard, no matter what circumstances he was in or who he was around. But despite all of this and much more, the new, strange sense of freedom and independence was undoubtedly a mitigating factor.
The apartment he’d found was far from spacious, but there was very little that he had to fit in it anyway. It had taken him a long while to invite anyone over for the first time, and even in that case, it was more like she had invited herself over. It still took far longer than it should have for him to remember that he was a person now, and not just a string of letters and numbers that existed to help others, and he had hardly understood the look on her face when she saw for herself how empty his place was.
That incident was two weeks before he saw the girl again. It could have been the catalyst, or it might not have been. The distinction didn’t really matter.
He was staring at the ceiling. That was the first detail that he remembered. There wasn’t anything particularly interesting about it, but sleep eluded him as it so often did, and that was what was nearest.
The warmth was what clued him in on the fact that she was there. He could feel it on whatever skin was exposed - a soft, tingly sort of warmth that brought with it that same familiarity of years before. He turned his head to the left, and there she was.
She looked exactly the same as she had years prior. Not the waxy, doll-like corpse he had seen only months ago, caked in old, dried blood and grass stains, but how he remembered her. Pale, but full of life. Bright. Like a star packed into a tiny, fragile body.
She smiled. There was something so genuine about it.
He didn’t realize that he was speaking until she let out a soft, silent giggle in response. There was a beautiful, otherworldly sort of light radiating off of her. A benevolent goddess, maybe. An angel.
“Rose, why are...why are you here?”
Rosalia didn’t answer, stepping towards his mattress instead, leaning down. She reached for him like she had years ago, her hand dissolving into his. There was a different expression on her face now. She was still smiling, but there was something far more somber about it. Understanding, maybe.
It didn’t seem as though she was going to talk, so he decided to remain silent too. It suited him just fine either way.
They just stayed like that for a while. It could have been two hours, or it could have been two minutes. Linear time was irrelevant. It was when Rosalia drew back, a small, hot tear sliding down her face and into her hair, that time started up again. She stepped away from him, hands clasped at her chest.
“Night, Erhard.” Her voice was as thin as a thread, barely audible despite the lack of ambient noise in the room. There was something broken about it.
He tried to get up, to follow her, but he found himself unable to move. Like before, he was paralyzed, incapable of doing anything except watching. Watching her slowly walk backwards, then turn around and disappear into the night air.
The third time was not one he wanted to remember.
Unlike before, only one thing had changed in the interim this time - and he wasn’t even sure if it counted as a change. He’d gotten closer to a few people he worked with, but one in particular had seemingly found a niche in his life that she could assert herself in.
She was absolutely nothing like him, and that was why he liked her so much. There was a strong sense of energy and passion and clutter everywhere she went. While those things might have brought along their fair share of problems, they contrasted the blank and empty and sterile sort of world he was used to.
She was a friend, certainly; all of them were, but there was something special about her that he couldn’t quite put a name to. He didn’t have to, though, to be content with what he’d gained.
In fact, he’d been feeling quite happy on the third night that Rosalia appeared. That was a feeling that had become more and more common as time went on, even as difficult as life continued to be. An inexpensive cell phone, bought on the recommendation of multiple colleagues of his, lay on the small table next to his bed with its messages open, the screen focused on one particular text received around ten minutes ago.
-lmaoo you fuckin suckkk
-but srsly thanks for yesterday, it was so much fun dude
-ur an idiot but ur pretty cool sometimes too lol
Which was then followed by multiple emotes.
It was late, too late to be using an electronic device, but he felt an odd kind of compulsion that was too difficult to ignore. It was strange, but he couldn’t stop looking at the message, even after he’d already replied, and the periodic conversation had largely moved on.
-I’m glad you enjoyed yesterday. I don’t know if I can honestly take credit for it, though, considering that it was your idea for the most part.
She always said his way of typing was like he was “writing a speech or something”. He supposed that he had never known another way to write, and honestly, her remarks and suggestions fascinated him.
It was the sound of something metallic clanging to the floor that brought him back to reality. For a second, he thought she had knocked something over, before he remembered that she had gone home hours ago. He sat up from the mattress, shifting over to face the doorway. There was nothing there.
It was probably just his imagination, but there was something that refused to stop churning in the pit of his stomach. Uncharacteristic, certainly, but there was a sudden feeling of sharp, icy bitterness that washed over him, and he found himself unnerved.
The voice was a groaning whisper, like the wind forcing its way through an old set of shutters. It was less of a question than it was a single, long breath.
The words ran together, but he understood them just fine. He swallowed, getting to his feet and treading carefully across the room, then shut the door gently behind him.
His living room was pitch-black, and as expected, completely empty. There didn’t even seem to be any kind of clutter or mess made, despite the sound he’d heard earlier. For a short moment, he wondered whether or not he’d somehow contracted a straggling case of the virus, before remembering the numerous negative tests that his exposure had warranted taking, making that possibility extremely slim.
The voice was right in his ear, this time. He had moved back before he registered what was happening, turning on his heel to face whatever had been behind him with a good three feet of distance between them.
Rosalia stood there - perhaps “standing” wasn’t the right term. She hovered off the floor, high enough that she was much taller than him, even with her lithe, thirteen-year-old form. Her shoulders were slumped over, her eyes pitch-black and gaping. He just stared for a moment, unable to fully process what he was seeing.
His mouth slightly open, he tried to form words, but none would come. The wire between his mouth and his brain had seemingly been severed, and the numerous baffled and confused and honestly kind of afraid thoughts swirling around went completely voiceless.
“Wh-what…?” Somehow, one word forced its way out of his mouth.
It was as though fifty voices were inside his head all at once, each one echoing against all the others until his thoughts were filled with a jumble of sounds and wordless noises.
He stepped backwards, feeling his legs shake. Suddenly, he was eight again, a timid, bruised little boy who shut down whenever he was confronted because there was nothing and no one he could trust - or maybe he was fourteen, so focused on what interested him that he stayed hidden, needing reminders to eat, or sleep, or go outside, or do anything that wasn’t some form of work to benefit other people. He was both, and yet he was also twenty-four, a grown adult who was looked up to despite struggling every time he had to do something that wasn’t either his job or surviving.
Rosalia opened her mouth, crouching down and, with a sudden, loud retch, vomited tar-like, black blood all over the floor. It splattered across the hardwood, drops of it splashing onto his face and hands as though drawn by a magnet.
“you’re a bad brother bbad brothEr ,baDD bbroottH;;Heer,,r ;ba,,a;;d b,,brroothhe,R”
She lurched towards him, her whole body now covered with blood, face flickering to the point that it looked like it was about to disappear.
“wy,, ddiD, yyou;; gg,tre too be happ y,y andd ii didnn''v?? ,whhy,,y ddiid yyoou suurv,,viye,,e a,annd i,,i dd,idn'tt?”
The blood pooled on his hands, expanding by the second.
“yyoo ,u.a;;baan,,dO;;de me. i ddieed..d bce;;a U..se eof yyoou...thhi;;shahhppEnneddb eccausEOFFF YOUU”
Every single person who looked at him with disgust in their faces, even after he’d been found innocent. Every time someone shifted away from him after recognizing who he was. Every time he forgot his own name or how to dress because every day for eight years he wasn’t an individual and it was impossible to forget that. Everything surrounded him.
More blood. He couldn’t breathe. There were someone’s hands around his neck. No, a knife. Bruises dotted his skin, inflicted both by the virus and angry, tight, shouting fists. He was covered by a layer of such intense hate and vitriol, burning everything it touched. His chest was heaving. Someone was slamming him to the ground, and he was drowning, and no matter what he did everyone around him hated him. Hyperventilating.
It took him several minutes to realize that he had never left his bed. The world materialized around him not long after that, the same darkened bedroom that he had grown used to. No one else around. He looked down at his arms, seeing them completely free of any bruises or injuries. There was only that old scar right next to his carotid, but it was as painless as it usually was.
His heart still took a long time to calm down. He kept telling himself that it was just an especially painful nightmare, but that didn’t seem to have stopped him from sweating through his sheets to an extent that he never did during surgery.
The next morning, Tomoe would ask him if he was alright. He seemed far more skittish than normal, after all, and it was natural for her to show concern for someone she cared about.
He didn’t have an answer for her.
Perhaps Rosalia knew what she had said to him in that dream, because it was another year and a half before she appeared at the foot of his bed again.
It was an entirely new bed, in an entirely new part of town - a place that he’d been offered by the person who mattered to him more than anything else. It took him a while to get used to the fact that he didn’t live alone anymore, but with that change came...a lot of good things.
So, it wasn’t strictly his bed that Rosalia found her way towards. But regardless, he was alone in it that night. He’d gotten a good chunk of sleep due to coming home early after an all-nighter, so he was wide awake despite the fact that it was nearly two in the morning. His isolation up to that point did have a few benefits; namely, that he was never bored with lack of activity. More than anything, he felt peaceful, listening to the crickets chirping outside the window and securely wrapped up in the sheets.
This time, he just knew she was there. There wasn’t any sort of clear reason why, unlike the previous noises or strange sensations. There was only a pang in his gut that signalled her arrival, and he sat up against the head of the bed almost immediately.
Rosalia took shape, right there in front of him. She stared at the floor, her eyes downcast and her hands folded. She looked like she was about to start crying, which was an expression that was all too familiar.
As seconds passed without a word, he realized that he needed to be the one to say something. She had clearly appeared for a reason, and even though he didn’t know what that reason was, it had to be important.
In practice, however, initiating a conversation with a dead person turned out to be rather awkward. It was like he was speaking into empty air, even as Rosalia’s image glowed clearly in front of him.
There was a very long pause, during which both of them just looked at one another. The crickets continued to sing, providing a sort of ambient chorus. Perhaps they were aware of her presence, too, or perhaps he was merely dreaming again. Either way, it wouldn’t hurt to try and reach out.
Rosalia glided over to the edge of the bed, then before he could say or do anything else, she sat down at the foot, hands in her lap.
“Hi.” Her voice, ethereal and echoing, was rather croaky. It sounded as though she had been crying for a very long time. “Long time, no see.”
“I could say the same.” His response was immediate, as though it had been sitting in his mind, primed for use, for over a decade now.
“Yeah,” she murmured, looking up at the ceiling. “You really can, can’t you? How...how old are you now?”
“I turned twenty-six two months ago.”
“Ten years.” Rosalia let out a shaky, shuddering breath. “So that’s how long it was.”
The room grew silent once more. Brother and sister, on opposite ends of the bed, sat with an invisible divider between them. He noticed it, clear as day; she didn’t breathe, she hardly blinked, she was talking to him, but was otherwise completely dead. His heart still pounded under his skin. He knew that she wasn’t back, not really, and that was why he didn’t feel any kind of excitement or even joy. Just a sense of somber tranquility.
“Rose. I miss you.”
“Me too.” She bit her lip, a tiny, sad smile working its way onto her face. “I loved you, Erhard. I still do.”
“You’ll see me again. Eventually.” He hadn’t meant anything by it, but there was a dark look in Rosalia’s face, and when she spoke again it was nearly silent.
“I know what you wanted to do, you know. Years ago. You still think about it sometimes.”
It took him several seconds to realize what she was talking about. He averted his gaze too, unable to look directly at her after how hard that last statement had hit him.
“I saw everything. I had to watch everything that happened after I died. Both the pandemic, and...you. You wanted to...be with me.” Her voice broke on the last word. “...I am so, so happy that you didn’t...you didn’t really end up…”
“I know.” He remembered too, the things he had felt painfully clear inside his head. It wasn’t the desire to die, so much as it was the desire to stop living, and even though he was well aware of that at the time, the distinction was wire-thin. “I never had the opportunity. And that’s something to be grateful for.”
“Awful,” Rosalia whispered. “It’s just awful.”
He lay back down, unsure of what to say in response. Suddenly, he felt incredibly tired, a heavy sort of exhaustion pressing down on his whole body. It was strange, considering how much he had slept in the last several hours, but even forming complex thoughts became a bit more difficult.
“It was.” That was all he could manage, since his consciousness seemed to be fading by the second. Rosalia looked back at him, eyebrows furrowed in concern, and nodded once - the last thing that he saw that night, before his mind ground to a halt.
“How are you doing?”
He opened his eyes to see her, perched on the edge of the bed as she usually was. The same flowing white dress. The same pretty tangle of hair. Her sheer consistency was a double-edged sword; she was familiar, safe, and predictable, but every time he saw her he was reminded of the fact that she would always be the same.
“Fine.” He lifted his head against the pillow behind him, moving some of the comforter aside to make the conversation a little less awkward. They were remarkably casual at this point - just a pair of siblings talking as they usually did. Like a long-distance phone call. “I saw Dr. Kimishima recently. She’s made it to forty.”
“Wow.” Rosalia smiled. “Little Alyssa’s...seventeen, then. I guess she isn’t really little anymore, though.” Then her grin took on a much more cheeky look. “You know that’s all because of you, right?”
“Yes. I’ve been told that...a lot.”
“I know, but you need to hear it!”
“I heard it eighteen times during the celebration. Her husband, the agent, ah, wound up drinking quite a bit. He wouldn’t stop following me until she told him not to.”
Rosalia burst into a fit of laughter, tears beading at the corners of her eyes. He looked over at the other side of the bed briefly, hoping that she wasn’t being too loud. No one else knew about their meetings at night, and even though the other person in the room would be more likely than most to understand, there was still a sense of secrecy that he rather enjoyed.
“Oh!” Rosalia seemed to have noticed, as she forced herself to stop. “Sorry. I don’t wanna wake her up. Big sis needs her sleep.”
At first, the fact that Rosalia called Maria “big sis” felt rather awkward, considering the sort of developments that had occurred between her and Rosalia’s actual brother, but years later, it hardly mattered. Especially considering the fact that she had become Rosalia’s sister, in a way.
“It’s fine, just...calm down a little bit. I don’t actually know if anyone else can hear you.”
“Okay.” She let out a small, contented breath. “I’m calm now.”
“That was too fast to be believable.”
Rosalia stuck her tongue out in response.
“You’re too fast to be believable.”
“That response doesn’t even make sense.”
“You don’t even make sense!”
“So we’re just going to go in a loop like this?”
He shrugged, attempting to pull the blanket that wasn’t firmly in Maria’s grasp up to his chest. “I suppose it’s better than nothing.”
“Oh, actually.” Rosalia looked off to the wall, her expression suddenly downcast. “I don’t think I can do that right now. You’re busy, right? Tomorrow.”
Yes, he was, and being with Rosalia almost made him forget. Cardiac surgery tomorrow. Early in the morning.
“Yeah, I thought so.” She canted her head to the side. “Guess I need to go back, huh?”
“You don’t need to, but...yes. You probably should.” He was mentally smacking himself now, for his focus on a dead person over a living one. “I’ll see you later.”
“See ya. Stay safe, okay?”
He nodded, and without any further comment, she disappeared into the air. He sighed audibly, then set himself back down on the pillow. Propping himself up like that for extended periods of time wasn’t good for his neck, and he definitely felt that as he turned over.
It was peculiar, how much he’d gotten used to talking to her. She’d been dead now for over a decade, but every time he saw her, she looked as pristine as always. Even though it was clear that she wasn’t alive, she certainly still felt like it.
“Rosalia.” He closed his eyes, mumbling it to himself. Almost like a prayer of some kind. He hadn’t expected a response, but the area of the mattress to his right stirred, and a half-asleep voice drifted up from it.
“She’s in her room. Go to sleep, man.”
The door creaked open tentatively, and he looked up from the book he was reading just in time to see Rose hop up on the bed. Her eyes were red and puffy, cheeks stained with tears. Before he could ask her what was wrong, she crawled over to him, burying her face in his chest - and when her hair shifted over to reveal her ears, he realized why she hadn’t said anything.
Clearly, talking wasn’t the best solution. He set the book down on the bedside table, then reached over to run his fingers through the girl’s long, silky black hair. Her breath came out in short, quiet gasps, her chest heaving against his, and it hurt him to watch.
Some time passed. He didn’t know how much, and it didn’t really matter either way. He held her close to him, her breath growing quieter. She pressed face-first into his stomach at this point, and the way her back gently rose and fell told him that she had fallen asleep. It was obvious now that he couldn’t move her, so he instead resolved to lie back and let her sleep on him. Perhaps this was more comfortable for her, anyway.
Maria was gone, off on another night shift, and Erin, Rose’s junior by three years, was likely napping peacefully in the other room. The two of them were the only people who occupied the world, in that moment. It was an ability that both girls had, to capture his focus and make him forget about every other thing that was going on. He was fully aware of it, but it still worked like a charm somehow.
The room had darkened significantly when she arrived. Strips of pale moonlight ran parallel across the bed, the only ambient noise being the occasional passing of a car or two. This was her favorite sort of time to show up, when the world was so still and silent that she grabbed more attention than anything else possibly could. She had always liked quiet summer nights when she was alive.
“Hi…” Rosalia had a small, sheepish smile on her face. “I’m...I’m not interrupting anything, right?”
“No.” He shook his head. “You can sit down if you want.”
She did so, the same shy grin staying put as her eyes flickered down to the bed’s other occupant. “She’s beautiful, you know. How old is she, again?”
“Six.” There was no hesitation in his voice. “She and Erin are...they’re wonderful. They made me realize how selfish I’ve been before, and, well...I think I understand Sartre a little more now, too.”
“Dad tried his best. And I bet you are too.”
“I hope I am, at least.” He looked over at the wall as though it were the most interesting thing in the world. “Although...I sincerely doubt I’m ever going to frame either of them for my mistakes.”
“I guess he still hasn’t come to see you,” Rosalia sighed. “I wonder if he wants to. Or if...if you want to see him.”
He honestly didn’t know the answer to the last question. Most of what he’d grown to feel for his second father was more terse than anything else. He’d looked up to the man when he was ten, but over three decades had passed since then. It wasn’t quite resentment, but a good deal of the unconditional love and admiration he used to feel had been replaced.
“You really are forgiving.” He stroked his daughter’s hair absentmindedly. “I’ve always liked that about you, Rosalia.”
“Which one are you talking to?” Rosalia giggled.
“You.” A quick glance downwards, before looking back up at the ghost Rosalia. “We call her ‘Rose’, usually. I know I used to call you that, but it was a little, um, confusing.”
“I still can’t believe you named her after me.” She floated over towards his end of the bed, hands dissolving into the little girl’s skin.
“It wasn’t just my decision.”
“I know. You and her.” Rosalia looked up with tears in her eyes. “You guys really are keeping me alive, huh?”
Seeing them side by side, it dawned on him how different the two Rosalias were. The willowy, pale teenager, floating right next to the olive-skinned, raven-haired, short-for-her-age little girl. The two looked absolutely nothing alike, but in that moment, Rosalia looked just like Rose had earlier, when she had come into the bedroom.
“I suppose we are.”
“I mean…” She reached up to wipe some of the tears off her face. “I guess the fact that I’m here right now means that you’re keeping me alive. I’m a figment of your subconscious, but still...to you, I’m here. I’m seeing everything I never got to. I’m getting to see you grow older, and your family grow, just like a sister should.” Then she let out another great, gasping sob, and more tears sprang up to replace the ones that had been dried. “Erhard, I...I wasn’t even twenty when I died. I was thirteen when I saw you for the last time, and I never...I never knew! I never knew what happened until after I was already dead! If I hadn’t died, I...I would have…”
She would have been well into her thirties. His stomach dropped. So much could have happened in the interim. She could have found a career that was fulfilling, or a group of friends that she got together with every weekend to laugh and forget her worries, or someone who loved her for her. She would have grown older, and learned more, and experienced more, but all of that had been robbed from her in the span of ten minutes that took place decades ago.
Rosalia would never get older, unlike the rest of them. She would remain stagnant, never getting to see her brother freed, or the cure for her virus, or the odd kind of attachment that two of the most important people in her life had found for one another. She’d always be that little girl in photographs and pictures, a peaceful smile on her face, completely, sickeningly oblivious.
He stared at her, and all he could see was a lost opportunity.
“I know why I’m here. It’s because you want me to be.”
When he’d first heard the news of her death, his breath had caught in his chest, icy-cold. When he’d seen her body, however, something broke inside of him. That thing had remained broken, scattered into pieces that he tried to hide as everything else changed for the better. He was fine. It was fine. Everything was okay.
“You like talking to me. You always liked talking to me. I’m so glad that I can make you happy. Even if I’m not really...me.”
It took him a second to realize that there were tears in his eyes, too. There was nothing he had to say, but it was clear that that was okay. He didn’t need to say anything, because his subconscious was doing it for him.
“I love you. I’m sure the real me would say that, too. And I’m sure that she’s still around, too. Somewhere.”
He took a very long, shuddering breath, before words left his mouth of their own volition. “I wish...I wish I could have told her that in person. That I really...I love her too.”
“She knows.” Rosalia glanced downwards, then a wide, cheerful smile spread across her face. “That’s something I can be certain about.”
He was half-asleep when he felt Rose stir against him. He forced himself awake, sitting up slowly so as not to startle her, and looked over to see how she was feeling.
She had been looking straight at him, and for a second their eyes met before hers flickered downwards guiltily. The room was dark, but the moon shining through the windows provided enough light for him to see her slowly raise her hands.
Are you mad at me? Her hands shook as she signed.
He exhaled, before shaking his head and extracting his own from under the blankets. Why would I be?
I threw them again. Rose gazed at her lap. I got really mad. I know they’re the third pair.
Rose, why did you throw them?
I hate them. She looked like she was about to start crying again. They can’t fix me. Kids at school keep saying that I’m weird because of them.
You’re not broken. You don’t need to be fixed. You just need help, and that’s why you have them. It’s okay to get help.
Mom keeps saying that too.
That’s because Aunt Tomoe and I had to keep reminding her, Rose.
Thankfully, Rose giggled at this. Her voice was a little bit hoarse, probably from lack of use, but it was clear that she was starting to feel a little bit better.
Do you want to keep signing? Or would you rather talk to me?
There was a long pause while Rose weighed the options. She finally looked back up at her father, shrugging.
Signing is annoying.
Got it. Where did you put them?
My room. I think they’re probably still on the floor somewhere. Rose looked ashamed of herself again, her face slightly flushed. He put his hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze, then slid out of bed.
I’ll be back in a second.
But he didn’t have to, because the door opened immediately afterwards. Both of them looked up to see Erin standing on the other side of it, Maria directly behind her with a cheeky kind of smile on her face.
Hey, Rosie. I think your sister’s got something for you. Maria signed the words a little lazily, gesturing towards Erin, who held out a small, chubby hand. The shiny, black hearing aids rested in her palm, glinting in the low light of the room.
Rose brushed her hair out of the way, letting her father take them and put them in for her. She adjusted them slowly when he was done, letting the outside world come back to her gradually.
“I didn’t forget to turn ‘em off this time,” she croaked, smiling awkwardly, only to burst into tears a second later.
He leaned over, scooping her into his arms as Erin crawled up to join them. Maria just grinned at the three of them, clearly exhausted, then sat down on the edge of the bed.
“Dad’s really warm,” Rose mumbled to no one in particular, as he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.
“Hehe. Warm.” Erin stuck her tongue out, gripping her father’s arm. “Me too, Daddy, look.”
“It’s true. You have a very good body temperature.”
Maria snorted, elbowing him. “Shut up. Now they’re gonna start sayin’ weird stuff like that when they’re at school.”
“I’m gonna say it tomorrow,” Rose declared, a familiar impish look on her face. “Just ‘cause you said I would.”
“Now who’s influencing them more?” He looked over at Maria.
“I wonder when we’re going to get a phone call after Rose says that.”
“Can you shut the f - heck up for two seconds? God.”
“You guys are weird,” Rose said. Maria snickered again, brushing through her hair with the tips of her fingers.
“Yeah. I know.”
From somewhere else, somewhere far away, there was the start of a gentle, warm breeze. It blew through the air, rustling leaves and loose papers, carrying with it the scent of spring. The scent of new beginnings.
Rosalia Muller looked nothing like Rosalia Rossellini. They were undoubtedly very different people, with very different ideas and personalities and dreams. But for the second time that night, they had the same shine in their eyes - the same look that couldn’t be placed but was also impossible to mistake for anything else.
She really was keeping her alive. Or perhaps, they all were.