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Room For One More?

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Then…

 

“I’m sorry I can’t get the holograms to work tonight.”

“It’s OK,” Maria says. It’s not. It’s really not. But it’s not Carol’s fault. “At least we can still hear each other.”

“Yeah.”

They’ve been talking on a holographic communicator for about eight months, usually once a week. When Carol left (after she returned), she hadn’t left anyone other than Fury a way to contact her. But a few days later, a box with a note appeared on Maria’s porch. “So we can talk. — C,” it said. Carol had signed it, as if there needed to be clarification as to who had left a piece of alien tech on the front porch. Maria had only been out for a short while before she came home to find it. She felt quite certain Carol had watched and waited until she wasn’t home to put it there, but she never asked.

“It must be the storm here,” Carol says.

“It’s storming here too.”

The first few months had been awkward. Carol called every other week, but the calls got shorter and shorter, at least the parts when she spoke with Maria. After about three or four calls, Carol had asked, with a hint of both annoyance and hurt, “Do you not want to talk to me or something?”

“What?”

“You never call me.”

“I didn’t think you’d want me to call you.”

“That’s why I gave it to you!”

“I don’t want to bother you while you’re… punching an alien or something.” Maria had often picked up the communicator, but it never felt like the right moment, and what would she have to say that was more pressing than whatever Carol was doing? It’d be best to just let Carol call when she could, she had decided.

“I won’t answer if I’m busy. It’d just…” Her voice had lowered. “It’d be nice to know you called.”

And after that, they spoke weekly, with each taking turns calling the other. Maria always called when Monica was home, but when Carol called, it was sometimes just the two of them.

They never talked about when Carol might come back to visit. They also didn’t really talk about the past. Maria let Carol bring up any memories she had, but those were few and far between. She wasn’t about to ask her what she remembered, or what those six years were like. She knew Carol felt bad enough. Had been through enough. None of that was the kind of conversation you had via hologram anyway.

Mostly, Carol would share updates on the search for a home for the Skrulls (still looking), her quest for the high score on the pinball machine (not going well) and the latest planets she had seen (all beautiful and weird in their own way). Maria would update on her job offer from SHIELD (still thinking), Fury’s eye (not healing) and the Tesseract (still in Goose). There was often not much time for much else. Especially when Monica was home and awake as Maria usually ceded most of the call to her.

About four months into their calls, Maria had had a bad few days, and Carol had listened while she vented, insulted the people Maria was mad at, offered some ideas on how to find a solution for the problem. That had really felt like old times, Maria thought.

Then after about five months, Carol seemed a little… different.

“You seeing anyone?” Carol had asked one night after Monica had gone to sleep.

“Nah.” Maria had thought she saw Carol smile? “I did get asked out the other day, though.” If Carol had smiled, it was gone now.

“You say yes?”

Maria shook her head.

“Why not?”

“Not my type. What about you?”

Carol had laughed and shook her head. “Not a lot of interest in a half-human, half-Kree amnesiac who can shoot fire from her fists.”

“I’m sure that’s not true,” Maria had replied. “And you’re all human.”

It had felt like something, a moment maybe? But then Carol had to go.

Another call, a few weeks later. “Tell me about the last movie you saw that you loved,” Carol had said.

“Oh, you should ask Monica that.” Carol’s so busy, why would she even care what movies she saw, Maria wondered.

“I know Monica’s answer. I also know her all-time top five movies and her current top five movies. None of those are the same, by the way. I want to know about you.”

Maria had wanted to ask about “I want to know about you,” but couldn’t bring herself to form the words.

Another night, Carol had called really late and Maria had been half asleep when she answered.

“I’ll stay with you until you fall back asleep.”

“Thanks,” Maria said, not entirely sure if this was a dream or really happening.

When Maria woke up in the morning, the hologram was still active, but Carol wasn’t there anymore. Instead, a note stuck to a wall that read: “Maria, I had to go. (Everything’s fine.) Hope you had sweet dreams. Talk soon. Love, Carol.”

Maria wished she could’ve saved that note.

But the last two calls since then had been back to more mundane topics, with Carol unable to talk very long. This evening’s technical issues were the most excitement they’d had in awhile.

“You just missed Monica,” Maria says. “My parents invited her to sleep over. They wanted to take her to the fair first thing in the morning.”

“That’s nice,” Carol says. “What about you? You got plans? Did I call at a bad time?”

“Big Friday night plans. Leftovers and beer. Washing the dishes now.”

“Big plans, indeed.”

“It’s been a long week.”

“You want to talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“You want me to beat someone up?”

“I’ll think about it. Tell me about where you are.”

“It’s beautiful. Really beautiful.”

Maria pauses the dishes and takes a long sip of her beer. Maybe she doesn’t want to hear about how beautiful it is out there.

“Maria, I can say for certain it’s the most beautiful view in the universe.”

There’s a quiet knock on the glass door behind her. It’s not loud enough to really startle Maria, but she spins, alert.

It’s Carol.

Carol’s standing outside in the rain, looking at her.

“What are you…?”

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“Can I come in?” They’re still talking on the communicator, even though Carol’s right outside. “I’m hanging this up now.” She clicks a button on her wrist.

Maria’s stunned, but she somehow opens the door.

“I’m going to get water all over your floor.”

“It’s fine.” Maria steps aside, letting Carol enter, and then shuts the door behind her.

“At least the suit is water repellant. My hair, not so much.”

“Let me get you a towel.”

“Wait,” Carol says, grabbing Maria’s shoulder and pulling her into a long, tight hug. “Surprised?” Carol asks when she finally pulls away.

“Very,” Maria says, then, “towels.” She quickly leaves the room.

Carol takes off her suit jacket and hangs it on the door handle, then steps out of her boots.

They may be water repellant, but she’s still dripping rain everywhere.

Maria returns, drying some water off of herself, and hands Carol a towel.

“Sorry,” Carol says, a little sheepishly, as she dries her hair.

“It’s all right. You don’t have to apologize. It’s just water.”

“OK.”

“What are you doing here? Is everything all right?” Why were they talking on the communicator if Carol was right outside? And what about what Carol had said just before she knocked on the window? Maria had so many questions.

“Yeah, yeah, everything’s fine,” Carol says, quickly. “This isn’t really going like I planned.”

“Like you planned?”

“I just… came to visit… if I can?”

“You’re always welcome here. Can you stick around until tomorrow, when Monica’s back?”

“I can stay a week.” Carol pauses, looks down. “If that’s OK?”

“Are you sure everything’s fine? You seem kind of nervous.”

“I’ve never been so nervous in my life.”

Maria pauses. “You … you mean in the last six years?”

“No,” Carol shakes her head, her eyes still on the floor. “I mean in my whole life.”

“What are you saying?”

“I think I have most of my memories back.” She looks up, right at Maria. “I know I love you.”

“Carol.”

“At first when I started to feel it … I wasn’t sure if I was remembering the past, or falling for you in the present. … It was both. … Can I kiss you?”

“Oh God, Carol.” Maria kisses her. “I’ve been wanting to do that since you turned up here last summer.”

Carol kisses Maria. “Six and a half years.” Another kiss.

“When did you remember?”

“I don’t even really know.”

“When you asked if I was dating anyone?”

Carol ducks her head a bit, looking down. “Yeah, I remembered a lot by then. I didn’t want to come back here and bust up your life.”

“Since when?” Maria says, nudging Carol’s chin up until their eyes meet. They both laugh, but they’re also crying. “You have been busting up my life since they day I met you. In a good way.” Just so there’s no confusion on Carol’s part, Maria kisses her again.

They stand there like that for quite awhile, kissing and crying and clinging to each other as tightly as possible. Finally, Carol rests her forehead against Maria’s. “It’s kind of like, if you dumped out the junk drawer? That’s what my memories feel like.”

“They’re not junk.”

“No, I mean, that you’d have important stuff like the keys you were looking for, next to paper clips you’ll never use? Everything was on top of me at once. So I’d remember something like one of Monica’s Saturday morning cartoons, at the same time as remembering getting kicked out by my parents. Or the song from the ice cream truck and our first kiss. There was no ice cream truck around when we first kissed, right?”

“No, there wasn’t.”

“Yeah. It was the day your aunt visited. You were supposed to be off, but your flight test got rescheduled, so I called out sick to pick her up at the airport. You kissed me in the living room after she and Monica went to bed.”

“You do remember.”

“I do,” Carol says, wiping Maria’s tears from her cheek.

“But you’re leaving out the best part.”

Carol raises an eyebrow.

“You took her, this woman you didn’t know at all, to the beach after the airport.”

Carol shrugs. “She’d always wanted to see the Pacific Ocean.”

“It was a two hour drive each way.”

“She was like the only one in your family who wasn’t surprised that Thanksgiving when everyone found out we were together.” Carol laughs softly, but then turns serious again. “So, yeah, it was so messy in my mind for so many weeks.”

“I wish you’d told me.”

“Talking about it on the holograms didn’t seem right.”

“You shouldn’t have had to go through that all alone.”

“You never said anything—”

“Carol, I—” Maria starts, but then stops, unsure of what to say.

“No, I get it. I do. And I’m glad you let me remember on my own.” Carol hesitates. “But I have to ask, do you want this? Do you want me?”

“Yes. More than anything.”

“Even though it’s been so long? After everything that’s happened to me?”

“We’ve been talking for eight months. I know who you are.” Maria puts her hand over Carol’s heart. “If anyone should be asking that, it’s me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want you to feel like you have to be here, just because you remembered we used to be together. If that’s not what you want, or you’ve moved on, that’s OK.”

“I very much want you, in the present. I flew halfway across the universe because, for months, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about doing this.” She kisses Maria, deep and a little rough. “I would sit there during our calls and I’d get distracted because I had a huge crush on you. Remembering that you used to kiss me back, knowing that you might want to kiss me back now…. was honestly such a relief.”

They kiss again, but then Maria pulls back. “Wait, you know we did more than kiss, right?”

“Did we?” Carol smirks. “Maybe you can remind me?” Maria takes Carol’s hand and turns to go upstairs, but Carol stops her. “Later though, please? I have the whole evening planned, if you want?”

“Confident I would say yes, huh?”

“Very hopeful, and prepared if you did. Do you remember our first,” Carol makes air quotes, “official date?”

“We had a whole big evening out planned, but the sitter canceled at the last minute.”

“So we put Monica to bed super early, ordered pizza and watched that terrible movie.”

“We only watched part of that movie.” Maria kisses Carol again.

“Yeah.” More kissing, but the doorbell interrupts them. “Pizza!” Carol rushes to the front door.

“How did you….?”

“Can I borrow some money?”

“Seriously, Danvers?”

Carol pats her pants, shrugs. “No pockets.”

Maria pulls two $20 bills from her purse, and hands them to Carol, who hands them both to the delivery guy. She takes the pizza and closes the door, not noticing the teenager’s stunned face.

“You just gave him like, an enormous tip, you know that, right?”

Carol winks. “I’ll pay you back.” She walks back into the kitchen.

“How did you order the pizza?” Maria asks, following her. “Wait…. and Monica? Are my parents in on this with you?”

Carol puts the box down. “Sort of. I called them and they helped. But I didn’t really tell them anything, I swear. I just said I was coming back to visit and wanted to hang out with you. I had hardly even gotten the words out before your mom was jumping in to help. But I didn’t tell her I remembered, or that I love you, or anything like that, really. Is that OK, that I talked to them?”

“Yeah. They’re kind of your family, too, you know.”

“Yeah, I think I do.” Carol nods, then laughs quietly. “So… I dream about a lot of things. Mostly you and Monica. But pizza is definitely in the top five. Pizza and cheeseburgers.” She opens the box and takes in the scent. “Your parents are bringing Monica back tomorrow afternoon. I thought we could all have lunch together?”

“I’d like that.”

“Does Monica remember … about us? I know she knew before … but she was so little, so I don’t really know if she remembers.”

“She knows. We’ve talked about it and she remembers a little, too.”

“Oh good,” Carol says, relieved. “That makes tomorrow easier.”

They put the pizza on plates, grab a few beers, and head into the living room. Maria sits on the couch. “What’s the movie?”

“Well, I really want to watch Star Wars—but I know it’s not your thing, and I have all week.”

“Thank you.”

“I’ll never get you not liking it. It’s amazing. But for the sake of our romantic evening, I’ll move on.”

Maria laughs.

“Your dad was going to leave a few movies to choose from under the coffee table. Ones I wouldn’t have seen.” She gets down onto on the floor and pulls out movies, one at a time, tossing them to Maria. “Let’s see… let me know if any of these are good. Forrest Gump?”

“It won best picture at the Oscars.”

“She’s kinda hot.” Uma Thurman on the cover of Pulp Fiction.

“Pass.”

“On her or the movie?”

“Both. How many movies are down there?”

“Oh my God.”

“What is it?”

Carol sits up, holding a copy of The Fugitive. “Harrison Ford!”

“I can never escape Han Solo, can I?”

Carol pulls the tape to her chest. “Please, please, please.”

“I haven’t seen it yet, and it’s supposed to be good. Let’s do it.”

“Yes!” Carol puts the movie in the VCR and settles onto the couch, putting her arm around Maria and kissing her. She takes a long sip of her beer. “This beer was our favorite, right?”

Maria nods. “You’re really here.”

“I’m really here.”

Carol and Maria had perhaps hoped they would stop watching the movie halfway through, like their first “official” date, but they’re both riveted until the end. And there’s something really nice about sitting curled up together on the couch, doing something as simple as watching a movie, no holograms needed. A new first date for their new start.

 

 

Maria walks into her bedroom the next morning, shortly after 11, finished with her shower and wearing a towel.

Carol’s just waking up. “Why did you get out of bed?” She asks, barely picking her head off the pillow.

Maria sits down on the edge of the bed and traces a hand down Carol’s back. “I don’t know what time my parents and Monica are coming over. I need to get lunch ready.”

“I’ve got it all taken care of. Your parents are going to make lunch here.” She leans up to kiss Maria. “You should’ve at least woken me up. I would’ve joined you.”

“I wanted to, but you looked like you needed a good sleep.”

“I think…..” Carol pulls away and sits up, her back against the headboard. “I know… I felt safe.” She looks down. “It’s been a long time.”

“Oh baby.” Maria sits next to Carol, wrapping her arms around her and holding her as tight as she possibly can. “You’re safe now, here, with me.”

“I know.” Carol takes a deep breath. “Maria, being with you again, last night, was really nice.”

Maria raises an eyebrow.

“Better than nice,” Carol says, blushing a little. “It was amazing.”

“That’s right.” Maria kisses her.

“But I know I surprised you yesterday. I want to make sure this is still what you want? We still have a lot to talk about.”

“We have all the time in the world to talk. And we will. But I’m in no rush. And, yes, Carol, of course. This is still what I want. You’re still what I want. I love you. That will never change. You don’t need to ask ever again.”

“Understood,” Carol smiles. “Thanks.”

“The feeling’s mutual I hope?”

“The feeling is very mutual.”

“Good, that’s settled.” She kisses Carol’s shoulder. “What time are my parents getting here?”

“12:30, but they’re going to call before they leave. Your mom was really insistent that she would call first even though I kept telling her she didn’t have to. She said she didn’t want to surprise us. I don’t really know—” Maria’s laughing. “What’s so funny?”

Maria’s still laughing.

“What’s so…. Oh God. Oh no.” Carol slouches down on the bed, and pulls a pillow over her face.

“You remember now?” Maria stands up and starts getting dressed.

“I do,” is Carol’s muffled reply after a long silence. “It was one time.”

“I know.”

She pulls the pillow away. “And it was just the top half. And we weren’t even—!”

“I know.”

“I was hot. It was a hot day.”

“It was.” Maria’s laughing hard.

“This is so funny to you, isn’t it?” Carol pulls Maria back onto the bed. They’re both laughing and they kiss a bit more. “You’re not the one who has to face your mom in an hour having just remembered this horribly embarrassing moment.”

“I’m sure you’ll handle it with the same grace and aplomb you did the day it happened.” Maria kisses her one last time and stands up again. “I left some fresh towels in the bathroom for you.” She points to the dresser. “The shirts and jeans you wore the last time are in the bottom drawer, but you can wear anything you like.”

“Thanks.”

“Just make sure you put on some clothes before my parents get here.”

Maria dodges out of the way of the thrown pillow just in time.

 

 

 

When Carol finally joins Maria downstairs, it’s just a few minutes before everyone arrives. Amusingly, Carol is wearing not one, but two of Maria’s shirts—a red t-shirt with a long sleeve blue shirt underneath it. Maria can see she’s nervous, so she doesn’t tease her.

“Monica loves you so much. What you plan to say to her is perfect. It’s going to go great.”

Carol nods, but continues pacing until the doorbell rings. “Can I?” She asks.

“Go on.”

Maria stands a few feet back, finding a good spot to watch her daughter’s reaction.

“Auntie Carol!” Monica yells, predictably launching herself into Carol’s arms. “Are you back for good?”

“On vacation for a week. Got in last night.”

“Last night and no one told me?” Monica’s looks accusingly at every adult, except Carol.

“Lieutenant, that’s on me. I wanted to surprise you today.”

“Hi Carol,” Evelyn says, cautiously. Maria watches as Carol looks up at her parents and, something shifts in her face. It’s small, almost imperceptible, but Maria sees it and she realizes—Carol was so prepared, so ready to talk to Maria and Monica. But she hadn’t really thought about seeing anyone else she knows, and she knows Maria’s parents well. They hadn’t seen each other eight months ago when they came over to watch Monica. Maria had saved the Carol revelations for a few weeks later.

Monica notices the shift in Carol’s face, too. “You remember,” she says quietly at first, and then louder as Carol shares a warm, long hug with each of her grandparents. “That’s why you’re here! You remember!”

Carol laughs, caught. “I had a whole speech prepared.”

“You remember! Are you and Mom…?” She looks back and forth between Maria and Carol, bouncing up and down.

“Let’s go sit on the porch.”

“Are you?”

“Let’s go sit outside, please?”

It takes some wrangling, but Carol eventually gets Monica outside for their talk.

George quickly heads for the backyard, not making eye contact with anyone. “Carol insisted on cheeseburgers and bacon. I’ll go get the grill ready. Let me know if anyone has any special requests.”

“Is he OK?” Maria asks, then noticing her mom crying. “Are you OK?”

“It’s just a lot, for both of us, seeing her again.”

“I know, Ma.” Maria hugs her mother. “I know.”

“You look happy,” Evelyn says after a long moment as she wipes away her tears.

“I’m very happy.” Maria heads for the kitchen and her mother follows. “Want to help me make a salad? I knew when Carol said she was handling lunch it would have nothing healthy in it.”

Evelyn laughs and they get to work making the salad. “So…. are you two are back together?

“Yes, but…. back together isn’t really correct. We’re together. We’re still figuring out how it’s going to work, but we want to try.”

“That’s wonderful.”

“Listen,” Maria says after a minute. “Carol remembers a lot, but it’s still a little messy. So let’s not turn today into an episode of This Is Your Life, please? Let her bring things up, if she wants to.”

Evelyn puts her hands up. “I wouldn’t.”

“You know you would.”

“Fine, I would. But I won’t.”

“Thank you.”

A bit later, Carol and Monica come back inside from the front porch and join them in the kitchen.

“Hey you two,” Maria says. Then, seeing that Carol is casually carrying in Monica with her left arm, “Aren’t you a little too old for that?”

“No,” is the reply from both of them.

“Too old for fun? I think,” Carol says, turning to Monica, “that your mom is just jealous.” And before Maria can even register what’s happening, Carol has picked her up with her right arm. Evelyn gasps.

“You’ll get used to it,” Monica says to her grandmother.

“Put me down,” Maria says, but she’s laughing.

“Not until you pay the toll.”

Maria kisses Carol on the forehead, but that’s not going to be enough. “Insufficient fare.”

They’re all laughing now. “You’re a huge pain in the ass.”

“So I’ve been told. A lot.”

Maria tries to kiss her quickly on the lips, but Carol deepens it. It’s a little embarrassing to do this in front of her mother and daughter, Maria thinks, but it’s only a quick thought because she’s kissing Carol.

“You guys have a good talk?” Maria asks, once Carol has put them both down.

“Yeah, you want to tell them Lieutenant Trouble?”

“First,” Monica says. “It’s just going to be Carol now, no more Auntie.” She and Carol are both smiling. “And second…. after careful negotiation,” she says, in a very official voice, “Carol will be staying until next Monday. Since I have school during the week, and I’ve already missed almost a full day of her being back, it’s only fair she stay another weekend, so we can hang out.”

“As long as no emergencies happen,” Carol reminds her.

“Right, as long as no emergencies happen, Carol will be here until next Monday, she’ll leave after I go to school, and we will get an extra weekend together.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Maria says, happy for the extra days and happy that they both look so pleased as well.

“And, Monica and I would like to go camping in the backyard tonight. If that’s good with you?” Carol looks at Maria, who nods. “A payment on a promise I made a very long time ago.”

“There’s a meteor shower tonight!” Monica is bouncing up and down again.

This is news to Maria. Carol didn’t mention it last night or this morning. Monica had certainly never talked about how she and Carol had been supposed to go camping in the backyard six years ago. And then she realizes that Carol probably timed this entire trip so she could camp under a meteor shower with Monica. She squeezes Carol’s hand.

Carol meets her eyes and smiles. “You could join us if you want?”

“No way.”

“You know, you’re Air Force. You could be a little tougher.”

“I’m plenty tough. I’m also smart. Why be on the ground outside when I could be inside in my nice comfy bed?”

“Don’t even bother,” Evelyn interjects. “Never could get her to go camping, or in the ocean. Put her in a plane, she’s fine, but anything else…”

“Right?? Or zip-lining or skydiving or bungee jumping! God help me the day I suggested we do those.”

“Wait, no. Those aren’t safe,” Evelyn says, but Carol just shrugs.

“Come on, Mom,” Monica says.

“I’m not going to get eaten by mosquitoes or coyotes.”

“But yet you’d let your daughter,” Carol says, “and the love of your life get eaten by them?”

“If you two want to be fools, who am I to stop you?”

Monica looks slightly panicked. “Coyotes?”

“Mom’s just kidding. And besides,” Carol says as she heats up her fist a little, earning another gasp from Evelyn, “even if there were, nothing’s going to mess with us tonight.” Monica smiles, calmed down. “I promised your grandpa I’d help with the grilling, so I’m going out back now. Will you help me set the table outside, Lieutenant?”

Monica salutes and they both head to the backyard.

Lunch with everyone is a lot of fun. It does turn into a little bit of a game show when they all realize that since Carol’s memories are fresher, she can help settle years-long arguments. Carol is more than happy to act as judge and jury.

“I told you, Evelyn!” George exclaims, triumphantly, when Carol rules that he’s right about whether they’d gotten some knick-knack in California or Texas. (It was California, on a trip to visit Maria.)

After lunch, Carol and Evelyn announce they are going to the store to get sleeping bags and other camping supplies. They’re gone before Maria can even think to give Carol money, but her mom waves her off when she tries to pay her back as she walks her parents to their car. “I owe her a lot of Christmas and birthday presents,” she says. “She’s still crazy about you, sweetheart.”

Maria smiles. “The feeling is very mutual. Thanks, Ma, for everything.”

Monica’s gone upstairs to get ready for camping, so it’s just Maria and Carol in the living room for a few minutes after George and Evelyn leave.

“You feeling OK?” Maria asks after they sit down on the couch. She puts her arm around Carol. “I know today was probably a lot.”

“It was. But, it was good. It was nice.” She points upstairs. “She’s really something.”

“She is.”

“And I liked seeing your parents again.” She starts to laugh. “Your dad gave me another ‘What are your intentions with my daughter?’ speech. I tried to tell him I remembered the first one, but he was on a mission.”

Maria laughs and buries her face in Carol’s shoulder. “Oh God, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s good. I’m fine. Only a little terrified.” She pauses. “Your daughter gave me one, too.”

Maria picks her head up.

“That one was a little less scary.”

“What did she say?”

“She wanted to make sure that I love you, and that was a very easy test to pass.”

“What about my mom?”

“By the time we went to the store, I knew what was coming, so I just gave her a speech of my own before she could say anything.”

 

 

 

Maria’s gone out the front door, and walked around the house, to try to surprise Monica and Carol in the backyard. They’re already sitting in their sleeping bags looking up at the sky, s’mores in their hands and a small campfire a safe distance away. Carol’s gesturing wildly with both arms pointed to the sky as Monica laughs. She takes a moment to watch them. No Carol, she thinks, this is the most beautiful view in the universe.

“One day,” she hears Carol say. “Maybe when you’re a little older. We’d have to talk about it with your mom.” Maria doesn’t have to hear the beginning of that to know it’s about Monica going to space.

“Look!” Monica yells, pointing as a meteor shoots by.

“How many are we up to?”

“Fifteen!”

“Room for one more?” Maria asks, and both their faces light up as they turn to look at her.

“Mom!”

“I brought some hot chocolate,” Maria says, gesturing to the three Thermoses in her hands. They both thank her as she hands one to each of them.

Carol opens the zipper on her sleeping bag. “You can squeeze in here with me.” It’s really not a sleeping bag made for two people, and Maria has to basically sit on Carol’s lap, but they make it work, and neither are going to complain about being a little extra close. “This is nice,” Carol whispers, nuzzling the back of Maria’s neck.

“Sixteen,” Monica says, but she’s the only one who sees it.

“You came at just the right time. It should start really picking up any minute now,” Carol says. “What made you change your mind?”

“Couldn’t let my daughter and the love of my life be out here unprotected. … Seventeen!”

A few minutes later, just like Carol said, it starts picking up, and they quickly lose count of how many. After awhile, Monica’s desperately fighting to stay awake, sleepily calling out random numbers, even though the meteor shower has died down quite a bit.

“Throw in the towel, Lieutenant Trouble. Get some sleep,” Carol whispers.

“No…. awake …. I’m ….” Then silence.

Carol and Maria bite their lips to keep from laughing. “She’s so freaking cute,” Carol says.

Maria turns in the sleeping bag so she’s facing Carol. “You’re both so freaking cute.”

Carol smirks. “Love of your life, huh?”

Maria shrugs and kisses her.

“I’m glad you came out here with us.”

“Me too.”