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How To Love Someone Who Is Broken

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Gently, lay your hands on their soul like a whisper and find the places in which they are broken. Then love them until these fractured places become crevices, and the crevices become thin, white scars that they only just barely remember. — Nikita Gill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 11, 2001 — Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 

Jillian tried to sit up but found a pressure on her shoulder that had her pinned to the floor. Her blood pressure spiked in panic and she yelped out of distress, then out of pain when the nerves in her arms activated.

 

“Shhh, Jillian, shhh, Jillian, don’t move.”

 

She forced opened an eye and saw a damn near halo around her professor’s head through the haze of smoke that was still lingering in the room. “Sh, sh, sh, don’t move, don’t move. The ambulance is on the way.” A sob worked it’s way from her lips, which she desperately wanted to keep in. The last thing she wanted was to feel weak in front of legendary engineer Rebecca Gorin. It was miracle enough she’d been let into the woman’s famed lab as a mere freshman on campus, let alone that the elder doctor knew her by name. “It’s okay to cry, Jillian,” The woman assured her and she suddenly felt a rush of liquid over her arm, making her scream out louder. “I’m sure it hurts, let it out.”

 

Realizing there was someone else — several someones, hovering over her person, she squeezed her eyes shut and screeched again when the supposedly soothing water hit her hip. She tried to focus on something, anything but her vision was speckled with black and white dots and she could feel her eyes rolling back in her head.

 

“No, no, stay with me, stay with me,” Rebecca muttered. Her glasses were gone and her hair appeared dusty. Her face was covered in soot and — was that blood? No — Jillian had tried to keep her from getting hurt —

 

Rebecca didn’t move, merely whispered shushing sounds and kept her torso in place. Soon, however, time was lost as Jillian slipped in and out of consciousness.

 

When she did finally come to, it was with the soundtrack of beeping machines, soft voices murmuring a prognosis, and a groan that came from the back of her own throat. The first thing she saw, once again, was a curly mop of brown curls, though they were now relatively clean, and wide rectangular glasses. Rebecca shuffled from across the hospital room and to the student’s bed in a flurry, the doctor appearing at her other side. Jillian let out a dry, “I’m sorry,” Through chapped lips and one of the most brilliant scientists in the world merely blinked down at her.

 

“Sorry? Whatever for?” The woman was awkwardly bent over her and Jillian wished that she’d leave. She admired Dr. Gorin too much to be seen as a useless screw-up. Though it was probably already too late for that. “Jillian, you…probably spared my life.”

 

Feeling that she was about to cry again, Jillian turned to face the doctor, who was prepared to ask a series of questions to the seventeen-year-old. She offered her a foam cup with a straw, prompting the teenager to take a drink before speaking again.

 

“Your driver’s ID says that you are seventeen, but didn’t have anyone listed as parental or guardian contacts on your school forms,” The woman asked with a gentle smile. “The address was to an ice cream place — they said you used to work for them. Who can we call for you?”

 

Quiet for a moment, Jillian felt the hazy effects of whatever painkillers the EMTs had pumped into her. Finally, she muttered, “My case worker is on maternity leave until Thanksgiving. I don’t know who the sub is.”

 

“Case worker?” The doctor questioned. “For what, Jillian?”

 

“Social services,” She blinked, having a feeling she knew what was coming next. “Foster care.” Rebecca suddenly took a seat with a heavy breath that was let out of her nostrils as if the world abruptly made sense. “You can call agency. But — my birthday is next week, I-I’ll be eighteen.”

 

Frowning, Rebecca firmly stated, “Consider her under my care until the agency sorts something out, doctor. I’ll call the university and speak with her hall director.”

 

“They worked with the agency to get me placed there,” Jillian said in a small voice, feeling no pain as whatever was coursing through her was doing more than its job. She felt like she might fall asleep again. “Everything was done legally, promise.”

 

“Alright, then,” Rebecca nodded, stepping out of the room as the physician did a nerve responsiveness test and explained that Jillian would likely be in the hospital for a few days to ensure that her wounds stayed clean to prevent infection to the second degree burns which took up a considerable space on her left forearm and hip. She also wouldn’t have the ‘cool morphine drip’ when she left, so the doctor felt a few nights in the hospital would do her a little good.

 

“You’re about ten pounds under weight, Jillian,” The doctor warned her, “So we’re going to be sending a nutritionist up when you’ve been placed into a regular room.”

 

With her head back on the pillows, Jillian stared at the bandages on her arm and groaned when she tried to move it. “I’ve been under weight my whole life,” She said in a mumble. “I’ve grew up in a trailer with my mostly unemployed alcoholic mother, got free ‘lunch’ at public school, and have a high metabolism ‘cause I don’t know how to sit down for more than ten minutes.”

 

“Still, at your height and age, you should weigh more than one hundred three pounds. And two of those factors are no long at play.”

 

Pouting, she nodded when the doctor excused herself and handed her the television remote. Jillian could hardly watch television when she was doing it willingly, let alone trapped to a hospital bed against her will.

 

It was nearly an hour and a half before Dr. Gorin returned. Jillian took in the sight of her abnormally tall engineering professor, dressed in a snazzy pair of tan pants with a coral button up tucked in and a matching jacket over it all. She pulled a seat up beside her student and perched an eyebrow. “Why did you feel the need to put yourself between me and the explosion?”

 

Swallowing thickly, Jillian’s blue eyes bore into chocolate brown ones and she felt a ping of guilt creeping in. Playing with the edge of the sheet that was pulled over her legs, she shrugged, cropped blonde locks falling around her chin as she found anything to look at but the woman she idolized. She’d been invited to the lab to watch a graduate student’s demonstration. Throughout the presentation, the young woman had sensed something was wrong in the schematics, but didn’t want to say so to embarrass someone with much more education than herself. She’d zoned in on Dr. Gorin during the professor’s up-and-close review of the product to tell her the reasoning behind the flaw, when the entire thing blew and Holtz shoved the brilliant mind of nuclear engineering out of the way, catching her left side in the process.

 

“I’m sure you’ve got a reason. Unless your protective instinct is just that good.”

 

Jillian turned over a little, hissing as it stretched at the burn on her side. “I was coming up to tell you that the thermal readings in John’s case were flawed and that the explosion was inevitable. I saw it go off and I just wanted to push you out of danger. The world needs you,” Jillian finally responded after a long stretch of silence.

 

“I’m fifty-two, Jillian,” The woman said, her voice a little less sharp. “You’re seventeen. Tell me who’s got more time in the world?”

 

“Statistically or theoretically?” The younger scientist wondered.

 

Rebecca licked her lips before starting to speak again. “I’ve looked through your files — before today. Saw that you were the department pick for the full ride scholarship we offer. You have an IQ of one sixty-three. That’s off the charts intelligence. Eighteen points higher than my own.”

 

Flushing, Jillian dipped her hair forward a little to cover more of her face. She’d never been good at receiving compliments and she hardly saw herself as worthy of anything. The entire last six months had felt like a fog, like she was watching someone else’s life play out through her own body.

 

“You have so much potential, so much in you to share with the world. It needs you, too, Jillian.”

 

Feeling her heart stuttering in her chest, Jillian wiped a tear as it fell. A sudden weight rested on her lap and she found Dr. Gorin’s hand on her, giving a little squeeze. “Let me help you find your potential. Let me help you learn about operating in a lab and existing in life. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’ve had thirty-five more years on this planet to learn the rules. I’d like to help teach them to you, if you’ll let me?”

 

X

 

January 2017

 

“Erin!” Holtzmann shouted as the physicist stepped into their shared lab space on their blustery first work day of the new year. She looked up to find her friend wearing a horrified expression, “Don’t move any closer!”

 

Blinking in surprise, Erin froze in the doorway and realized the bouncy blonde was in a terrible yellow outfit that even included a hood. She hadn’t seen Holtzmann since their Christmas party, as she’d been in Massachusetts visiting her mentor. “What are you —“

 

“Radiation suit is downstairs, grab one before you get any further in!”

 

Retreating slowly, Erin shuffled down the steps with an eye roll, spotting Patty and Abby walking into the firehouse at the same time, boisterous and laughing.

 

“Morning!” The taller of them greeted as she brushed snowflakes off her hair and hung up her jacket. “What’s the look for?”

 

“You know what Holtzmann’s up to?” She questioned, mostly to Abby as she noticed the little sign that Holtz had drawn, warning them not to head upstairs unprotected, along with a stack of awful yellow rubber clothes. “She said not to come up without one of these on.”

 

“Remember, the containment unit prototype is going live? Dr. Gorin’s here to help make sure she doesn’t blow the entire block.”

 

Feeling her heart skip a beat at the name of Holtzmann’s mentor, she swallowed and nodded. “Probably just best to stay down here today, then, huh?”

 

“You kidding? Pass up the opportunity to work with the Rebecca Gorin?” Abby sauntered to the awful yellow and started suiting up immediately.

 

“I don’t know,” Erin said, a little self-consciously, her shoulders shifting as her gaze dropped to the floor to examine Patty’s jazzy golden sneakers she was changing into after toeing off her wet winter boots. “I was under the impression that she didn’t like us very much the last time she was here.”

 

“Eh,” Abby shrugged. “I think that’s just the way she is. I think the only person she really likes in the whole world is Holtz, actually, she’s practically been her mother for like, what, fifteen years?” 

 

Biting her lip, the taller of them nodded. “Yeah, okay, maybe I’ll be up in a little bit then.” She watched as even Patty got ready to head upstairs to work with the extremely unstable radioactive isotopes, but Erin just wasn’t sure.

 

After what Holtzmann had later chucked up to ‘joking,’ about dating Erin in front of Dr. Gorin, Erin had been hunted down by the professor before she’d left. She simply asked if Erin had any interest in Holtzmann in that way, and Erin had tried to deny it, but knew the look on her face was easily deciphered. It was clear that Rebecca was extremely protective of her all time favorite student. Though she was curious to know more of their history that would lead to such strong feelings, Erin didn’t push. She merely nodded when the woman asked her to ‘be careful with her feelings.’ She felt, several months later, that she had; been careful with Holtz’s feelings that is. What she wasn’t so sure about by the new year, were her own towards the ever-spunky engineer.

 

Putsing around the main level for a few minutes, Erin shook her head of the thoughts. She started the coffee pot, booted up a computer, then set to work with a set of notes and a steaming mug of hazelnut brew. Having promised a journal article to a company for their February issue, she set to typing, losing herself for the morning to consolidating her thoughts to the keyboard.

 

Interrupted several hours later by thundering footsteps that could only belong to Holtzmann, followed by several lighter ones, she realized it was already passed noon and she was likely a thousand words over her limit. They started chatting with Patty about lunch plans and before she knew it, Erin was greeting Dr. Gorin with a shy hello before being swept out of the firehouse and down the street to a bistro they often frequented for lunch.

 

She was surprised when Holtzmann slid in next to her, disrupting their usual seating arrangement. To make matters more awkward, Dr. Gorin sat directly across from her in the booth, while Abby was at her side and Patty at Holtzmann’s. The whole balance was off and Erin knew her face was red and easy to read.

 

Though she noticed, Holtz ignored the cue that her crush was overwhelmed and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Sorry the first interaction we’ve had in two weeks was me screaming at you this morning. I’m happy to see you.”

 

Finding a little grin, Erin leaned a little into the touch before offering a flicker of her eyes to the side. “Happy new year, Holtz.”

 

“Dr. Gilbert, Abigail told me that you’re working on sending your article on the alteration of Zalta’s Abstract Object Theory to Physics Monthly?”

 

“Oh,” She nodded and Holtz finally removed her hand, though Erin could admit to herself that she missed the pressure. “Yeah. They got in touch with me.”

 

Dr. Gorin offered, “I have a friend at the Physics Review who would probably also enjoy publishing an article of yours.”

 

“The-The Review?” Erin stuttered, managing to meet Rebecca’s intense gaze. “That- would be amazing!”

 

“I’ll send Thomas a line when I’m back in Massachusetts. Quite frankly, I’d enjoy reading it as well, but I don’t subscribe to Monthly. Jillian gave me a copy of your book for Christmas and I was vastly impressed.”

 

“Oh, my goodness, thank you,” Erin flushed and received a little slug from Holtz’s elbow and a bright, toothy smile from the woman.

 

They fell into a discussion about said Abstract Object Theory while waiting for their food to arrive. All the while, Holtzmann staring between them like someone had just wrangled up the moon and brought it down for her. With her two favorite women in the world having an intelligent, science based talk, she was internally squealing the entire time. She chimed in occasionally, but mostly just wanted Erin to get to know Rebecca a little more so she wasn’t so intimidated by her presence at their place of work.  It turned out one of Erin’s favorite professors at Princeton had worked with Rebecca for years, and after that, there was laughter and easy conversation between them.

 

After eating and returning to the firehouse, Erin willingly joined the crew upstairs. The afternoon was spent in nervous winces followed by roaring cheers as they managed to bring the containment unit to life.

 

When five o’clock rolled around and Kevin told them he was headed out, Patty suggested dinner to celebrate. Bravely, Erin offered her apartment so they wouldn’t have to go out again. All in agreement, she was grateful when Patty offered to head over there with her to assist in cooking while Abby helped the dynamic engineering duo get cleaned up.

 

They grilled chicken strips, peppers and onions to make fajitas while Patty’s phone blasted music that Erin didn’t really know but could certainly groove to, making the taller woman cackle every few minutes as she tossed spices into the pan. Erin mashed an avocado with cilantro and diced tomatoes, preparing a guacamole side dish. She seasoned rice before letting it boil and they were prepared for an excellent, home-cooked meal. They were putting food on the table just as the other three arrived to Erin’s cozy apartment which was quite sizable compared to the rest of the ladies places, save Patty’s, but she had roommates to support the space.

 

Holtzmann bounced into the kitchen holding a fifth of tequila like Rafiki in the Lion King, her glasses perched on the edge of her nose dramatically. Erin laughed and nodded to the top cupboard where the glasses were stored, and their favorite mad scientist got to work when Abby brought in the lime mixer. When everyone was seated, Holtzmann was standing with a nervous, but happy smile. “Erin, thank you so much for opening your lovely home to us this first evening together in 2017. Dr. Gorin, thank you for supervising me today and helping ensure my ladies were all kept safe — and happy new year, Ghostbusters!” They all let out a little whoop, and Erin noted that Holtz’s speech was held together much better than the last one she gave. Touching between her shoulders sweetly, they went to work on eating, Holtz slightly lower then the rest of them as she sat in Erin’s spinning desk chair since the table was built for four.

 

Dinner was loud, especially when Patty got to her third drink and Abby was on her second and everything was funny. Erin merely enjoyed the laughter in her apartment. A place of her own, filled with friends having a good time was more than she’d ever imagined.

 

After eating and doing a hasty clean up in the kitchen, the Ghostbusters and honorary member were gathered in Erin’s living room. Patty, Abby and Holtzmann were playing one of Erin’s few games; Holtz having lost her glasses, blazer, chunky watch, and large belt buckle along the way, leaving her in a pair of striped pants and a Back to the Future shirt. She was getting comfortable and cozy against Dr. Gorin’s legs as she played while Erin and her mentor were deep in theory-based conversation once again.

 

Out of cards to play in the game, Holtz eventually migrated so she was sitting on the sofa next to Rebecca. Within an hour or so of trying to participate in the conversation that she couldn’t quite focus on, Holtz had her head in the older professor’s lap while Rebecca continued talking, her fingers working through the blonde curls on the left side of her head like it was a normal occurrence. It was around eleven o’clock when Abby and Patty finished the game and headed out, that Erin noted — Holtz was sound asleep in Dr. Gorin’s lap.

 

She was curled up at the edge of the sofa, her legs in a ball and mouth slightly parted, her breathing heavy. Rebecca continued to play with her hair or rub her back as she snoozed, shifting the conversation with Erin to explain the behavior. “She’s been with me for two weeks. I’ve always had rules for her, and being in a routine that involves regular sleeping and eating habits is primary among them.”

 

Curious, but not wanting to be nosy, Erin tried to think of phrasing to her burning question. “When did you two meet?”

 

Rebecca sighed, and paused when Holtz shifted, fearing she might be awake, but she just let out a snore and turned so she was curled more into Dr. Gorin’s side. “She started school at seventeen, still in the foster care system. After an incident in the lab where she saved my life but injured herself, she needed someone to help her recover for a few weeks. She stayed with me, in the faculty townhouses that were apart of the campus. She wanted to move back to the residence halls after that, but I wouldn’t allow it. It became very clear to me that her reckless move in the lab was just the icing on the cake for her inability to care for herself. It wasn’t her fault — no one taught her how. But…”

 

Rebecca paused with a heavy, breath, staring fondly at her all-time favorite student. “She’s incredibly smart, but so, so dangerously stupid at times, it drives me mad. But — like most people she’s ever let close enough, I quickly came to love Jillian and wouldn’t trade my time with her for the world. Every time she comes to visit I wish she could stay. She’s such a positive force of light in the world, for everyone who’s lucky enough to know her.”

 

Erin bit her lip and nodded. She couldn’t deny her ever-growing attraction to the blonde, and she was fairly sure it wasn’t simply their budding friendship. “You know — she’s so…so…” Not finding words, she tried an alternative route. “She comes across as a very loud personality, but when you get to know her — she’s actually very quite. And private.”

 

Dr. Gorin elaborated more. “She wasn’t always like that. When I first met Jillian, she was like a feral kitten. Desperate for affection, but no idea how to get it without being destructive. I’d get calls at all hours of the day and night for the first few months after her recovery, until one day we really had it out. I’ve yelled at plenty of students over the years, but I’d never seen anyone react like Jillian. It was like watching a rose wither up before my eyes — the light was stolen right out of her. She was still, stoic…I didn’t know what to do. I ignored her the rest of that day and that night found her just sitting in the tub, water had gone freezing cold — just sitting, staring at nothing. I got her up and dried off and dressed and brought her to bed with me and held her while she cried, the entire night. She told me she’d leave first thing in the morning and it absolutely broke my heart that she’d think our relationship was over because I’d been frustrated with her.

 

“Underneath it all — the loud come-off or the quiet truth; she’s extremely sensitive, passionate, sweet. She’s been hurt by so many people in her life. It makes me very pleased to know, she’s finally found a little niche here with the three of you.”

 

Erin didn’t know what to say in response to the sudden onslaught of information about Holtzmann. She simply watched as Dr. Gorin carefully lifted herself up and Erin slid a pillow in her lap’s place. Holtz rolled to her other side and a little sigh escaped her. “Do you mind if she stays the night? Once her circadian rhythm is disturbed, she’s a lost cause.”

 

“Not at all,” Erin quietly agreed. She went to her bedroom, finding a spare blanket in the linen closet and carefully spread it over Holtz’s body.

 

Dr. Gorin tugged on her jacket and put a gentle hand on Erin’s shoulder after fishing Holtz’s keys out of her pocket. “I’ll see you two in the morning, then.”

 

Waving her goodbye, Erin triple locked the door and set the security code before shuffling about, finishing the dishes and turning out all the lights except for the hallway. Scribbling a quick note for Holtzmann should she wake up in the middle of the night confused, Erin got herself ready for bed, brushing her teeth and tugging on a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt, not wanting to get fun poked at her for a matching set of pajamas in the morning. After responding to Abby and Patty’s messages that they’d gotten home safely (as was their normal), Erin plugged in her phone and turned on the string of star-shaped lights under the lip of her dresser.

 

It was a few hours later when a gentle hand on her shoulder made her startle at the thought of an intruder.

 

“Shit, sorry, Er,” Holtz mumbled quietly, her voice gravely. Blinking an eye open at the time and noting it was one o’clock, Erin moaned. “Sorry, sorry, um, what’s your security code?”

 

“Holtz, it’s one in the morning, you’re not leaving now.”

 

“But I —“

 

“No,” Erin responded, taking her pillow and rolling her whole body over on the mattress, switching it out for the other one, patting the then-empty space and closing her eyes again. “You can sleep here if the couch isn’t comfy but you’re not leaving this late.”

 

There was a distinct hesitation and Erin remembered the conversation with Dr. Gorin earlier. Taking a second to gather her thoughts, she sat up a little bit and stared at Holtzmann, illuminated in the light twinkling of her fairy lights. “Sorry, that sounded harsh.” She rubbed at an eye and explained, “I know you’re perfectly capable of getting home by yourself, but I’m not comfortable sending you out there alone this late. And if you go now, you’re going to be completely awake by the time you get back home and not able to fall back asleep, then be all off tomorrow. Do you want some comfy pants to sleep in?”

 

She could tell the other woman’s cheeks were heating up but the nod prompted her to stand and head to the dresser, despite her drowsy state. She handed Holtz a pair of red and black checkered flannel and the blonde thanked her before heading to the bathroom attached to Erin’s room and changing.

 

Erin was almost asleep again when Holtz came out of the bathroom, her hair out of it’s bun but pulled up high on top of her head so she wouldn’t be sleeping on bobby pins. She stood hesitantly on the side of the bed. “You’re sure? I can go back to the cou—“

 

Reaching over and tugging her arm, Holtz found herself spread across Erin’s mattress, blushing badly.

 

“It’s okay, Holtz,” Erin whispered, reaching a hand out to offer Holtz’s a squeeze. She pulled the blankets up over her and scooted a little closer. “Good night.”

 

Holtzmann blinked, her eyes tired once more. “Good night, Erin. Thank you.” Resisting the unexplainable urge to pull Holtz closer and kiss her, Erin merely let sleep take over once again.

 

She woke up to her alarm at six, trying not to snort a laugh when she pulled herself up and found Holtzmann on her stomach. She was sprawled out on half the bed, the sheet covering the backs of her calves, but pants having been shed to the floor, revealing a pair of green underwear with little turtles printed all over. Unable to hold back a snicker, Erin tugged up the sheet to her waist to save her embarrassment, then gave a gentle shake to her arm.

 

Holtz pressed her lips together then shook her head, letting out a loud snore. Erin giggled again, tickling the back of the woman’s neck. “Wakey, wakey,” She teased and Holtz whined but opened her eyes, then immediately flushed scarlet upon realizing she was in Erin’s bed. “Were you a little warm?”

 

“‘M always hot at night,” She grumbled, rubbing her face on the plain white pillowcase. “Thanks f’r lettin’ me sleep over.”

 

Erin touched the hair at the back of her neck that had fallen fro the messy bun, making Holtz squirm again. In the back of her mind, she wanted to pull Holtzmann close and kiss her cheek and fall back asleep with the woman. Stuffing the thought, she said, “You can have a few more minutes if you want, I’m going to jump in the shower.”

 

Holtz didn’t respond and with one final chuckle, Erin pulled herself out of bed and into the bathroom. Shedding her pajamas, she found it a little weird to close the door in her home she usually was alone in. Tracing a tattoo on her ribs, she started the water, waiting for it to warm. She smiled again to herself as she considered the reaction Holtzmann might have to finding the large script on her side, then starting an epic journey to find the other four upon learning of them.

 

By the time Erin stepped into her room with a robe tucked around her and hair wrapped up in a towel, Holtz was awake on the mattress, stretching her body out, the pants back on. “I swear I don’t usually sleep this much,” She said, sheepishly. “Only when ‘Becca puts me on a schedule.”

 

“It’s good for you,” Erin said with a reassuring tone. “Do you want to take a shower?”

 

“I- Don’t…have my stuff — ?”

 

Rolling her eyes, Erin pulled a clean towel from the closet and said, “Use whatever you need.”

 

Holtzmann was a little overwhelmed again but nodded and made her way into the bathroom. By the time she stepped out, Erin was dressed in jeans and a navy crewneck sweater, finishing running a comb through her dry hair.

 

“Want to wear your stuff from yesterday or borrow from me?”

 

“Borrow,” Holtz answered quietly, following Erin into the closet, where she gestured to several selections.

 

“Sweatshirts — button-downs — tiny bow ties. Dress pants here — yoga pants and jeans are in the dresser. Wear what you want, I know how to track you down.”

 

She hummed to herself as she prepared coffee and started hot water for oatmeal. Opening the fridge, she found her container of berries and poured a cup into two bowls. Making Holtz’s coffee the way the engineer liked it from experience in the lab, she fixed together quick oats. Holtzmann appeared some fifteen minutes after Erin had started, sporting one of the auburn haired woman’s crispy white shirts with said tiny bow tie tucked into a pair of maroon hued flared denim that Erin did not recall the last time she wore.

 

She tugged on the accessories she’d stripped at the coffee table the night before and eased into the stool next to Erin, looking mortified again as she accepted a spoon for breakfast. “Thanks, Erin,” She mumbled, completely overwhelmed at being taken care of by anyone other than Dr. Gorin.

 

Caught up in what the older scientist had told her the day before, Erin wanted nothing more than to call in sick and spend the day convincing Holtz to snuggle with her on the sofa and tell her more about herself. “Any time,” She assured her, eating up her oats.

 

She managed to draw Holtzmann into an easy conversation about Dr. Gorin’s current lab projects and what they’d worked on together when she was further north for the holiday. It was obvious that she adored the time spent with the professor and was going to miss her after the following day.

 

“I love living with her,” She said softly, building some sort of mountain range with the clumps of hot cereal remaining in her bowl. “I know that at thirty-three, I should have this figured out but — she makes it easier to…do — life?”

 

“To take care of yourself,” Erin filled in for her and Holtzmann nodded.

 

“It’s not lonely when she’s there,” She replied and then flushed upon realizing what she was admitting to feel a majority of the time in that case. “I mean —“

 

“I get it,” Erin assured her, munching a raspberry as piercing blue eyes searched her face. “It’s nice living with someone else. I haven’t in years since I’m so neurotic and haven’t holed in on a reliable roommate, but —“

 

“You’re not neurotic,” Holtz said firmly, leaning over and resting her head against Erin’s shoulder lovingly. Had she not been massively crushing on her, she likely would have kissed the limb as she regularly did to Patty and Abby. “You’re very sweet and anyone would be lucky to be your roommate.” Erin took her turn to blush and nuzzled a little bravely into Holtz, making her squeak and smile doubly wide.

 

X

 

Jillian stepped hesitantly into Dr. Gorin’s house, already feeling like she was imposing and they hadn’t even gone to her dorm to gather her few possessions she’d have to intrude on the space. She took in the entryway, which led upstairs, the walls coated in floral wallpaper — a dark blue background with pink and red flowers popping against it. To the right was the living room, with one bright red wall and the rest a muted tan, pictures from Rebecca’s life and several of her awards decorating the oddly colored space. When Jillian stepped forward and noted a photo of Dr. Gorin, looking not much older than herself in a dazzling white gown, she blurted, “You’re married?!”

 

“Was,” The older woman answered stiffly. “He passed, Eddie, nasty case of the flu a few years ago. Refused to take care of himself and wound up hospitalized and dying within a week.”

 

Feeling incredibly awkward, Jillian scratched at her scalp with her non-wrapped limb and let out a grunt. “I’m, so sorry — I —“

 

“We’d been divorced almost ten years,” She clarified, taking a seat on the sofa, drawing her knee-length lilac sweater to the side first.

 

Jillian fiddled with her short hair, ruffling it and wincing. “Dr. Gorin, I don’t — maybe I…should…”

 

Rebecca cleared her throat and tugged her new protege down to her side, very directly explaining to her, “Doctor’s orders were for four weeks of care. I’m not one to defy a medical professional.”

 

The younger woman swallowed hard, fighting tears. “But I don’t want to…disrupt…be a burden…”

 

“I understand, Jillian, truly, I do. This is going to be new for you — living with someone who has your best interests in mind.”

 

Frowning as her mood instantly shifted at conversation about her mother, Holtz crossed her arms a little defensively. “My mother loved me.”

 

Pushing a strand of thick, greasy hair back behind her ear so she could see her face, the caretaker assured her, “I don’t doubt that. She loved you more than she could express, if I had to guess, what mother wouldn’t love a daughter as gifted and sweet as you?” Jillian’s cheeks lit up and Rebecca continued. “No, I’m sure your mother loved you dearly. But — I don’t think she knew very well how to take care of someone. Based on the files I’ve been able to read, it doesn't sound like she knew how to take very good care of her self, let alone someone else. Do you agree?” Shrugging, the blonde didn’t indicate otherwise. “I know you can be very successful here. In school — in the field. But you’ve got to be successful at caring for yourself in order to make all that happen.”

 

“Dr. Gorin,” Jillian’s breath caught in her throat between a lump and a frown before she let out a tear. “I don’t like myself very much.”

 

“Well, that’s unfortunate, Jillian, because I happen to like you very much.” A beat of quiet passed between them and the doctor slid an arm around her student. “You’re going to be just fine. Trust me?”

 

“With my life,” Jillian said in a whisper before leaning into the open arm and sighing. “Dr. Gorin—“

 

“If you’re going to live here, I’m going to insist on you using my first name.”

 

“R-Rebecca?”

 

“That’s it. Don’t let it sound like a curse word, now. Let’s take a tour of the rest of the house, shall we?”

 

She took Jillian’s upper arm and led her around the cozy home, her posture perfect, arms sweeping like Dr. Gorin had been a ballerina in a former life. She showed the eccentric mouse that would be living with her to the kitchen what was decorated in personalized, handcrafted cuckoo clocks. Holtz was flushed with wonder as she stared at the homemade devices and asked if she could take one apart to figure out how it was made some time.

 

They toured the second floor, which was three bedrooms. The smallest was a small office space, which had a new desk in a box waiting to be assembled. “I don't like having papers on my kitchen table and there’s no television until work is finished, so you’ll do your homework here.” The perimeter of the room was surrounded in thick textbooks and boxes of papers and journals, all organized by subject, then year. There were some of Rebecca’s small prototypes on display as well, Jillian eagerly taking them in. She asked a dozen questions about each, the older woman had plenty of patience to answer them and encourage her when she grew brain children of her own stemming from Rebecca’s original concepts.

 

It was nearly an hour of gushing over the brilliant inventions of her mentor before the other woman asked, “Would you like to see your room?”

 

Biting her lip, Jillian nodded and followed after tucking her hair behind her ears nervously again.

 

At the end of the hall, two doors stood opposite one another, both closed. Rebecca opened her own first, a master suite with a mirrored door closet. Jillian felt the room reflected the woman the least, but aside to recharge at night, she supposed there likely wasn’t much time that she spent there.

 

Such was her own. Jillian entered her bedroom and was surprised to find her items from the dorm had already been moved in. A full size bed was pushed up against a wall, a light green and blue quilt tucked up across it. The nightstand had her alarm clock and the one picture she had in a frame; herself and her beautiful, equally blue-eyed mother, taken on a first grade field trip to an apple orchard. They were sitting on pumpkins in the patch, Jillian looking like the ragamuffin she was in the first year of the nineties decade, wearing overalls and a black and white striped shirt underneath, hair unbrushed, nestled against her mother’s chest.

 

She smiled, touching the photo before noting her clothes were all neatly stored in the small dresser near the closet, her stack of X-Files VHS tapes neatly displayed next to a few science trophies and ribbons she collected. “Thanks, Dr. — er, Rebecca,” Jillian finally spoke and stood sheepishly and moved towards her mentor’s side.

 

That evening after catching up on some of the work she’d missed in her courses during her stay in the hospital, having a mouth-watering dinner that Dr. Gorin cooked up and taking her first real shower in a few days, despite the awkward position of her saran wrapped bandage. She was sitting with damp hair in the living room, a blanket around her legs as she sped through a few chapters of the literature assignment she was past-due on.

 

Rebecca joined her a few minutes later, carrying a cup of tea along with her antibiotic she’d been given to ward off infection in the wound. “Nine-thirty is tea-time,” She said simply, lifting her own mug and book as she, too, began reading.

 

“Every night?” Jillian blinked, not too fond of the substance in the cup.

 

“You’ll learn to like it. It’s good for you. And yours has lavender in it — to help you sleep better.”

 

She choked down the tea, and sure enough, but quarter after ten o’clock, Jillian was feeling fuzzy and ready for bed. She wiped at an eye as Dr. Gorin washed their teacups and sent her upstairs while she double checked the locks on the house and turned off the downstairs lights.

 

Jillian was a little mystified as she brushed her teeth in the spare bathroom upstairs, which she supposed was now hers, then prepared to climb into bed. Rebecca stood in her doorway, ushering her in. “If you need anything,” She stated calmly, “Just wake me. And I mean it, anything.”

 

Nodding, Jillian moved to her new room, shimmying out of her pajama pants after getting under the blankets and turning off the nightstand lamp. She sighed and pulled her hands over her chest, somehow willing the world to swallow her whole as she struggled to understand all that had happened with Rebecca those last twenty-four hours.

 

Laying awake for some forty-odd minutes, she was surprised when hinges of her slightly cracked door squeaked and she was able to make out a mass of fur in the dim light casting between the slits in the blinds. A cat lunged onto the bed and paced back and forth before curling into itself with the few extra feet of space Jillian wasn’t using. She giggled and pet the presumably brown fur before hearing the door swing open even more and an orange tabby strolled through like he owned the place (though certainly did more than Jillian, for all she knew, she was invading their own personal room).

 

A sleepy-faced Rebecca joined the party a minute or so later and Jillian let out a little gasp at the sight of her hair down, long curly brown and speckled grey tendrils framing her face. “I see you’ve met Mr. Beatty and Lise.” Lise moved to the professor’s lap, curling her brown tail around herself. “I figured they might not take well to their personal space being invaded.”

 

“I like cats,” Jillian answered quickly, squishing Mr. Beatty’s fur down. “So much fluff.”

 

“They’re typically friendly,” The doctor assured her. “If they bother you, just close your door.”

 

“’S okay,” She grinned in response. “Dr. Gorin —“

 

“Rebecca.”

 

“—can I hug you goodnight?”

 

There was silence for a moment that earned Holtzmann’s near shameful blush, but before she knew it, a cat was thrust back to the mattress and she was drawn into her new caretaker’s arms.  The embrace was reassuring, warm, and made her feel safe. “You don’t need to ask,” Rebecca assured her.

 

X

 

Erin walked by the third floor lounge, stutter-stepping outside the door when she heard the sound of Holtz’s heart breaking inside. “Do you really have to go?”

 

“You know I do. The new semester starts Monday, Jillian.”

 

There was a lull and some shuffling before Erin gathered that Holtzmann, who laughed at injuries and safety procedures gone wrong, was actually crying.

 

“It’s just been really nice with you,” She stated, her voice cracking.

 

“I agree. Having you back in my home and being here with you has made me very happy. Three weeks makes it easy to fall back into some sort of routine. You could keep it up for yourself, you know.”

 

Erin casually and bravely pushed through the swinging doors, finding Holtz on the sofa with her head in Gorin’s lap, the older woman’s arm strewn over her shoulder in comfort. Offering an sympathetic expression, she made her way to the refrigerator. Taking out a vanilla pudding cup and then a package of animal crackers from the cupboard, Erin handed both to Holtz and forced a smile out of her as she sat up, peeling back the lid of the pudding and dipping the animals in face first. “Thanks, Erin.”

 

“Three o’clock snack break,” She winked, taking a clementine out of the refrigerator for herself and offering one for Dr. Gorin who politely refused. Sliding into the open space next to Holtzmann now that she was vertical, Erin peeled the cutie, forcing a slice into Holtz’s palm, earning a gasp as she stole one of her vanilla-coated crackers.

 

“How dare you give me something nutritious?”

 

Rebecca scoffed and brought Holtz’s wrist with the fruit in her hand up to her mouth, making her fake cry as she ate it. “I think I’m putting Dr. Gilbert personally in charge of your nutrition, Jillian. Erin — is this a challenge you can take?”

 

“Oh, absolutely,” She said with a conniving smirk as Holtz protested with a long whine. “I’ll even report back when she’s been bad.”

 

“Traitor,” Holtz mumbled, swallowing the citrus and returning to plunging crackers into their sticky doom.

 

“If I have to force feed you dinner every night, I’ll do it,” Erin teased, lining up the slices of her clementine perfectly along the ridges of the paper towel in her lap before eating them.

 

“Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you,” Holtz said with a glare and Erin pretended to be shocked at the expression.

 

Dr. Gorin stood, sensing the intense flirting in the room and wanting to leave them to it. “I’m going to check the readings on your wireless CU meter. Come join me when you’re ready?”

 

Nodding, Holtz watched her back and suddenly felt very small as she sniffed loudly to hold back her tears. Erin gave her back a gentle pat before stating, “Look up MIT’s spring break, maybe you can visit then?”

 

“She’ll be in Baltimore, big conference,” Holtz mumbled miserably — she’d already thought that through. “I usually spend some of Christmas with her, but this is the longest in a few years. I didn’t know how much I’d missed her until she was almost gone again.”

 

Her eyes were glassy and Erin wanted to offer anything she could to keep her from crying; she wasn’t sure she could stand the sight.

 

“Hey, but she’s right, you know? You just need to put yourself into more of a routine — quit staying here until midnight or over night. I know there will be days you inevitably get caught up in it, I do it to, but I’ve got my routine at night, and ghost-pending, I like sticking to it.”

 

“What would I do with myself?” She refuted, finishing the last cracker before dipping her tongue into the plastic cup and licking the rest of the pudding out, ignoring Erin’s grimace.

 

“Well — when I leave here, I usually make something for dinner or pick it up, depending on the night, then I take care of any housekeeping like dishes or laundry. I do some reading or writing, then I have a show almost every night on at nine o’clock on some channel, or I’ll watch something on Netflix. I just relax, with a big comfy blanket and tea.”

 

Holtz pouted, wondering, “How do you turn your brain off?”

 

Tilting her head to the side, Erin thought she’d just explained that but she tried another approach. “I guess I got something out of years of therapy,” She started in a light tone as she finished the last of her fruit then threw the paper towel away, washing her hands and returning to sit, closer and facing Holtz. “Learning to detach from what’s bothering you.”

 

Holtz blinked a few times, touching her collar bone which was sticking out slightly as the top two buttons of her paisley print shirt were undone. “Inventing things doesn’t bother me though.”

 

“To an extent it does,” Erin argued, “If you can’t get it off your mind.”

 

Frowning again, Holtzmann slouched as she pondered the wise words. Drawing her feet to the cushion, she started chewing on the empty plastic cup before Erin eventually could take no more and without malice, tossed it in the trash before lingering near the door. “I know tonight’s your last night with Dr. Gorin. Go make the most of it. Tomorrow’s Friday — let’s do something fun, me and you?”

 

Rubbing her earlobe as her cheeks flushed, Holtz nodded. “What do you want to do?”

 

Erin rubbed her palms together, surprised at her own boldness. She wasn’t sure if Holtzmann was going to interpret her desires as a date, but certainly wasn’t minding either way. “Depends, do you want to go out or stay in?”

 

“Mm — honestly?” She winced, feeling lame but ready to be snuggled up if that’s what they were in for. “Stay in.”

 

Chuckling, Erin nodded and bit her lip in a smile before wondering, “Want to come over again?”

 

“Um, yeah!” Holtz stood up, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she stuffed her hands in her pocket and tried to ward off another blush. “I can bring a backpack full of treats if you want.”

 

“What kind of treats?”

 

“Fun stuff,” Holtz winked as she got a little braver at the notion of spending time alone with Erin. “Stuff you’ll like. Promise.”

 

“Good,” Erin pushed the door open. “See, you already have something to look forward to.”

 

Holtz was red in the face as she followed Erin out, wondering how much she should let on that excitement didn’t even begin to cover her feelings toward the upcoming evening.

 

X

 

Holtzmann had her arms hooked around Dr. Gorin so tightly at the train station, Erin supposed it was a wonder the older woman was breathing. “Jillian,” She choked and the little blonde ball of energy let her go with a loud sniff. “None of this,” The auburn haired woman heard, then observed as Rebecca’s hands came up to wipe Holtz’s cheeks. “I’ll see you in a few months.”

 

“I love you,” Holtz managed sadly and Erin merely crossed her arms as she waited for the goodbyes to end.

 

“I love you very much, Jillian. Take care of yourself,” She flickered her gaze up to Erin, her smile stretching a little more. “And let your friends help you with that, too.”

 

Holtz covered her eyes with the heels of her hands as Dr. Gorin boarded her train and in a few minutes, it was off. Hooking an arm around Holtz’s shoulders, Erin pulled her sweetly to her side, wishing she could press a kiss to the top of her head or some other gesture which would make her feel better.

 

Pulling herself together, Holtzmann wiped her face with her shirt sleeve. Erin ignored the act as she popped her yellow-lensed, thick-framed glasses from their perch on the top of her head to her eyes. “Ready?”

 

“Yeah,” She sighed, sniffing one more time for measure and sheepishly adding, “Thank you for coming with me. It’s tough saying goodbye.”

 

Erin tugged her mittens on as they prepared to leave the station, glancing at Holtz who only had on a black leather jacket. “Don’t you have something to put on your hands? Or a warmer jacket?”

 

“Probably — somewhere. I don’t know.” Again  — Dr. Gorin’s words would ring true; she did need help taking care of herself.

 

They caught a bus back to the firehouse, where as soon as they’d settled in to work for the afternoon, the alarm sounded, blaring at an uncomfortable octave that drove them all into motion. Erin’s blood pressure immediately went up as she mentally psyched herself for what could possibly be heading their way. The government managed without them for their Christmas holiday, using the technology Holtzmann had invented for police officers when they weren’t available. She was excited to get back into action.

 

Greenwich Village was only a twenty minute drive through the January chill. Holtzmann was fiddling with the radio as she drove, Erin watching her nervously from the back, where she’d pressed herself into Patty’s side, trying to get warm. “Yo, DJ Holtzy, how ‘bout pickin’ a song and cranking the heat up back here.”

 

“Holtzy-Heatmiser at your service!” She said in a gobbled-sounding voice. Erin felt the little blast from the vent near her knees at the middle of the hearse and the one above. “Toasty Pattycakes, comin’ right up.”

 

Holtz hummed along with the 80s power ballad while Patty fidgeted with the tablet in her hands, spewing out information about the abandoned library-turned-studio which was supposedly being haunted.

 

“It’s a small place,” She stated, “It shouldn’t take us too long.”

 

Oh, two hours later, how Erin wished she hadn’t said that.

 

They’d been stalking a single human-based apparition for an hour, but upon trapping it, activated a series of seemingly never-ending specters looking for revenge. They were running out of traps and Erin hadn’t seen Patty or Abby in almost thirty minutes.

 

“Holtz!” She screeched suddenly as Holtz was thrown flat onto her belly, groaning and trying to regulate her air intake as the movement knocked the wind out of her. Her glasses flew off her face and landed on the other side of the room.

 

Meanwhile, full of a sudden blast of rage at the sight of her injured friend, Erin wrangled the disgruntled spirit that was trying to cause havoc on the new owners of the art studio. She did her best to avoid extensive damage by trying to mainly use her proton wand instead of the fancy side-arms which tended to cause more destruction.

 

“Holtz, activate the trap!” She called out, and though she was still gasping and struggling to breathe, Holtz slammed the button on her arm and the trap thankfully moved to her left side. She shouted, “Open!” And the blonde complied. Erin made a strangled sound as she wrestled a non-human appearing form of a ionized creature with wings and a single, beady eye into the container. It snapped shut automatically and despite being out of breath herself, Erin rushed to Holtz’s side. Moving the trap into the holder, she peeled the straps of Holtz’s pack off and rubbed her back soothingly for a moment. She encouraged her breathing as Holtz had her hands on her knees, eyes still somewhat unfocused.

 

Once she seemed to be in a little better shape, Erin left her to retrieve her glasses, letting out a sobering, “Oh, no,” at the state of the mangled steel sides and cracked yellow lens.

 

Holtz forced herself to stand and pouted at the sight. Shaking her head, she tucked them into her breast pocket and lifted a shoulder. “Thanks, Erin.”

 

The physicist was caught up in checking the PKE now meter in her hand as she examined the basement room they were in for any additional metaphysical energy readings. “I think we’re clear down here. Do you think you’re ready to take the stairs?”

 

Nodding, she hoisted her coveted, patented technology and followed her friend up, wincing at the harsh fluorescent light of the main floor. Abby and Patty were speaking with a police officer and one of the studio owners, and Erin hoped that meant they were finished.

 

“We were just coming to find you!” Patty called out, “You guys okay? Holtz, baby where’s your specs?”

 

“Broke,” She said monotonously, fishing into a side pocket and unclipping the red carabiner clip from the hook she’d sewed on the inside. “Can you drive?”

 

“Sure, sweet pea — don’t worry, you’ll have ‘em fixed up in no time.”

 

Erin noted her disappointed face and nodded to the hearse outside while Abby finished up her conversation. Following the social cue, Holtz trailed behind her, a hand jammed in her pocket as she observed Erin shivering before they even hit the icy evening air.

 

“You need to get something to wear under your jumpsuit in the winter,” She commented after opening the second row door for the woman before sliding in herself.

 

Shooting a look at her rolled sleeves, Erin visibly shook and questioned, “How can you not be cold?”

 

“‘Cause I’m so hot,” She managed to tease before sitting down and remembering the broken frames in her pocket. Taking them out to examine, she let out a sigh, then glanced at the time on her watch. “Would you mind if I brought one of my mini-soldering irons over?”

 

“Sure,” Erin grinned through clattering teeth, remembering what was coming next.

 

They paused only briefly to unload and lock up the fire house for the weekend while Holtz ensured she had what tiny tools she needed in a mini kit stuffed into her bag. She joined Erin at the stairwell, sneaking out together after shouting out their good-byes instead of getting dragged into explaining what they’d be doing.

 

After picking up takeout and heading to Erin’s apartment, Erin was finally warm again as they shifted into comfy clothes. She dove into a pair of old sweats and a Michigan sweatshirt that was threadbare and cozy with a pair of slipper boots, while Holtzmann was in a paint-speckled pair of gray stretch pants and a Star Wars hoodie, bare feet happy in Erin’s plush rug. Spreading out a variety of dinner choices from a Chinese restaurant, the two began to take what they wanted on the square, plain white plates in Erin’s ceramic collection. Holtz put in a movie she’d brought with her, promising Erin she’d enjoy the sci-fi flick. She set up shop on the older woman’s coffee table, doing her best to save the frames, knowing she’d have to have the lens repaired professionally. Crawling back up to the couch to finish the film as she did all she could, Holtz dared place herself right next to the lady of her affections.

 

When the space journey ended and a twenty minute long conversation about the theoretical possibility of manned deep space travel wrapped, Holtz slid a game of Dead Man’s Draw from her duffle bag. Teaching Erin to play was predictably easy; her reaction to the game was anything but typical.

 

She lost the first few hands as she adjusted to the rules and cards, then started to maliciously insist on winning. They battled it out for nearly two hours before Holtz started to doze off during their hand.

 

“C’mon, bed time,” Erin insisted, tugging Holtz’s arm as the younger woman tried to protest. She found herself back on the floor when Holtzmann’s gravity brought her down, giggling. The sleepy scientist starved off a yawn.

 

“I gotta get back in the game. It’s only eleven o’clock and this is ridiculous.”

 

“Want to know a secret?” Erin whispered and Holtz popped up with renewed energy.

 

Laughing again, Erin scooted over to mumble in her ear, “On Mondays there’s nothing to watch and I go to bed at nine.”

 

Holtz chuckled and blinked rapidly in exhaustion. “Rebecca got me in bed at ten last night ‘cause I was all weepy. Said I could cry into my pillow. But — you’re right — I should probably go.”

 

Erin reached an arm over her friend to draw her into an awkward-angled hug that made her let out a meowing sound. “Holtzmann, I want you to stay.”

 

Holtz rested her forehead near Erin’s collarbone, making her glasses press uncomfortably close to her face, but she allowed it as she accepted the snuggle. “Why, Erin?”

 

“Because I care about you and I want you to be okay and you’re sad and a sad Holtzy just isn’t right.”

 

Sitting up and squaring herself so she was sitting on her feet, Holtzmann mindlessly traced the maize hued M on Erin’s sweatshirt. A minute of quiet passed and she awkwardly blurted, “You do know that I like you, right?”

 

Erin caught her hand, just before it could get to the I and held it between her own. “I know,” She said assuredly, sitting up and offering a slightly bashful smile. “And maybe — the first time you sort of sprang it on me, I was a little…beside myself — you know, we talked about that.” Holtz’s neck turned scarlet and she fixed her gaze on anything but Erin, going so far as to try and wiggle her hands out of the woman’s grasp. Erin let it go, not wanting her to be uncomfortable, but knowing at the point they were, she had to start exhibiting true honesty. “But it’s been a few months, I know you better. I know myself better, really and…I just — want to keep getting to know you. Not Holtzmann, not the silly scientist, badass ghost fighter. I want to know the Jillian that Dr. Gorin knows, and I think Abby knows part of her, too. I want to know who you are.”

 

Holtz let out a long breath that Erin thought should have sounded a little more relieved than it did. “Er, I don’t know if you’re going to like Jillian very much.”

 

Winking boldly, Erin suggested, “How about you let me get to know her and I’ll decide?”

 

She watched Holtzmann go through a whole series of awkward body movements — tugging her earlobe, scratching her neck, ruffling her own hair. Then, Holtzmann squeezed her eyes shut and blurted out, “Do you even like girls, Erin?”

 

Though she was surely the one who aught to have felt anything close to awkward given the circumstances, Erin realized just how uncomfortable she’d made Holtzmann and felt more of an obligation to give her straight, true answers — how unlike herself — and take the burden off. “I haven’t had a lot of luck with romantic relationships in the past,” She started honestly. “Mostly with men. I…” Wincing at her own history, she shrugged. “I’ve been with a few girls, Holtz. But — quietly. I wasn’t…am not…really out.”

 

Holtz’s breath caught in her throat and she blinked a quick look in her friend’s direction. “So are you…how…how do you label yourself?”

 

Erin bit her lip and rolled her fingertips against her palms. “I…don’t…I tried to convince myself…I…” Shaking her head once, she shrugged and admitted, “When I’ve had to think about it, I  chucked it up to being bisexual, I guess, if I’ve had to label it emotionally for myself — though I know there’s a whole bunch of terms for different orientations and attractions now.”

 

“There are,” Holtz nodded.

 

“Well, maybe we’ll have to do some research then,” She said with a lopsided grin.

 

Holtzmann let out an approving hum and asked, “So — you do like girls. And…want to get to know me better…what are you proposing?”

 

Wishing she had the answer, Erin merely lifted her shoulders once more. “The more I get to know you, the more time I spend with you…I find you funnier, sweeter, more sincere. You seem to really care about me. I guess — I want to date you? Maybe we make an effort to spend Friday nights together?”

 

Wondering if she’d already fallen asleep and was experiencing a torturous dream, Holtz pinched herself on the top of her wrist, hissing at the half-broken skin. Raising a brow, Erin stared. “You don’t have to answer now. How about — take tonight, sleep on it?” Erin shifted so she was on her feet, then pulled Holtzmann slowly to her own, hoping the awkwardness she was feeling wasn’t too evident on her face. “And if you really want to go, I won’t pressure you to stay,” Her voice was soft and there was sincerity in her eyes and smile that Holtzmann could read in a quick look at her.

 

She was quiet and they were close. In a slow movement, she gave a firm nod. “I’d like to stay.”

 

Erin’s grin grew and she threaded their fingers together before giving a little tug to Holtzmann’s. “The toothbrush you used Thursday is still in the holder. I’m going to set the security system. Code is 09-10-93, so you know.”

 

Holtzmann snorted, “X-Files premiere date, you nerd.”

 

“It was a very important day in the life of Abby and I,” Erin teased, giving Holtz a gentle push before she wandered down the hall to the master bathroom. With a relieved breath out, she armed the apartment before making her usual walk around to ensure all the lights were out and dishes cleared away.

 

Erin joined her friend in the bathroom, washing her face before bushing her teeth. Holtzmann was working on the task of taking her hair down only to pull it all back up with just the ponytail. Just before she gathered it up, Erin got a real grasp for how long it was. And the indisputable desire to tug on it. Shaking her head she rinsed the toothpaste from her mouth and commented, “I’m sure you think it’s a pain, but your hair is really beautiful.”

 

Taking the second-to-last pin out, Holtz felt her cheeks glow again. Ruffling the locks, she offered a mutter of a thanks before pulling it all up in a single elastic at the top of her head. Leaving for the master bedroom, she stepped out of her sweatpants, she revealed a pair of small, cotton athletic shorts underneath, knowing she was going to get warm. Erin finished her routine and joined her, turning on the fairy lights.

 

“I like your nightlight,” Holtzmann said in a non-teasing tone.

 

“Thanks,” Erin took her turn to blush. “Ever since…I was haunted — I haven’t been able to sleep in the dark. Abby and I had a really fun lava lamp in college…though now that I think about it, I wonder if someone has been secretly harvesting ghost slime for years to fill them with.”

 

Holtz gave a little gasp at the concept. “I’m doing it. I’m making you a ghost slime lava lamp.”

 

She grinned and walked around to crawl into the side of the bed she usually slept on, then questioned, “Was that enough blankets for you last time? I’ve got extra.”

 

Holtz hoisted herself into the bed and offered a sheepish look. “I don’t even need this much. I get really hot at night.”

 

Sliding down and getting comfortable under her own mass of comfort, Erin rolled to her side and Holtz followed her.

 

There was a long beat and they simply stared at one another before Holtz swallowed thickly and questioned, “Can I give you a hug goodnight?”

 

Erin didn’t respond with words, merely pulled Holtz over herself so they were both chuckling in the deep snuggle.

 

“Rebecca gave me those glasses,” Holtz admitted quietly after a few minutes of the long cuddle. “For Christmas, when I first met her. She noticed me struggling in the bright lights of the lab and wearing the orange kind that dentists do. I loved them so much I never wanted to take them off. When I did, I realized how sensitive I was to all different kinds of lighting. I’ve had a lot of pairs, but…those round ones are my favorite.”

 

Erin understood, keeping Holtz pulled half-way over her chest as she spoke. “Anytime someone who’s special to me gives me something, I treasure it — probably too much. And…when it’s gone, I feel like part of my relationship with them is gone. So — that’s why I was so sad about the glasses.”

 

Rubbing Holtz’s arm assuredly, Erin said, “Thank you for sharing that with me. I get it — I still have a whole box of stuff from high school that Abby and I did together or that she got me over the years. And I take this really great Swiss Army Knife with me everywhere that some really awesome chick got for me.”

 

Holtz popped up, her face split in a smile. “Really?”

 

While she was hovering over her slightly, Erin wanted inexplicably to wrap her arms around the smaller woman and pull her into a kiss. Knowing that was not the safest or wisest course of action, she settled on hooking them around Holtz’s shoulders to tug her back down to her chest, continuing the embrace that never ended. “Good night, Holtz.”