Elise Barker was looking at clothes in an expensive store she was a regular customer. She didn’t know what young people liked nowadays, but the clerk was trying to help her the most she could.
Elise was a middle-aged woman, with curly black hair at her shoulder height, although, strands of it were becoming white. She wasn’t as active as when she was young, so she was a little overweight now. She wore glasses and expensive clothing. At this moment, though, she wasn’t looking for clothes for herself, but to her daughter, Lucille, who was living alone in another city because of college.
Lucille was missed every single day in her mother’s house. Elise used to pamper her daughter and the first few days when she moved out were painful. They kept contact regularly by phone, but it wasn’t the same. She missed seeing her daughter’s cheerful smile that always gave her strength even on bad times.
“What about this one?” The clerk said, showing the woman a mini-skirt. “Younger girls love these nowadays.”
Elise twisted her mouth, showing clear discontent.
“My daughter wouldn’t use such a vulgar piece of clothing,” she sighed and put her wallet inside her purse. “Forget it. I’ll look for another store.”
Saying that Elise turned her back to the clerk and walked away. She took her cell phone and looked at the screen. The photo she was using as wallpaper was several years old. Lucille was just twelve years in it and she had a big smile while holding a kitty plushie.
She remembered the exact moment the photo was taken. Elise had just bought a new cell phone and wanted her daughter’s photo as a wallpaper. So she asked for Elise to make a pose to her, with the biggest smile she could make.
How should I smile?
Just think of something that makes you happy, dear.
I’ll think about you, mom. ‘Cause I love you!
Lucille would never let go of that plushie. Elise felt bad because she couldn’t have a real cat since she was allergic.
I hope she found an apartment where she can raise a cat now.
As Elise was absorbed in her own thoughts, she heard a voice calling her back to the real world.
“Elise, dear, what a coincidence,” said a woman, at the same age as her, with a bob cut and hair dyed black to hide her white hair. She was also wearing glasses and her face had more wrinkles than Elise. “Are you shopping?”
“Oh, Selma,” Elise said, with an indifferent tone. “Yes. For Christmas.”
“Oh, right, Christmas,” the two women started to walk beside each other. “Spending it with the family?”
“Just John. I wanna visit Lucille again, but he insists on spending a week with me in this hotel he booked. Lucille also said I should go.”
“Oh, Lucille, right?” Selma’s face became serious for a moment, but soon she gave a smile. “So you’re shopping for a Christmas present?”
“Yes. For Lucille, actually.”
“Proud mama, huh?”
“I never left my baby without a present. I wanna give her the best,” Elise fell in a thoughtful silence. “I just don’t know what girls like her like nowadays.”
“I can understand. I just send money to my boys, but it’s different for girls. You two used to be pretty close. She loved you a lot.”
“She’s my treasure and the most important thing in the world for me. I really wanna see her again this Christmas. I guess I can visit her after, but still. I wish John wasn’t so keen on this travel.”
Selma became silent. She had a serious face and seemed to hesitate in talking. Finally, when Elise was looking at a store’s window, she said.
“Huh, Elise. I didn’t wanna say it, but…”
Elise looked at her friend.
“Well, I don’t know if I should say it or not…”
“Stop babbling,” Elise said with a harsh voice. “If you didn’t wanna talk, you would keep your mouth shut. Just say it already.”
“Well,” Selma said, trying not to look directly at her friend. “It’s about Lucille, actually…”
“Lucille? Did you hear something about my girl?”
“Yeah, well, there are some rumors. I don’t know if they’re true. But I guess no one has the courage to tell you about them. You know how these things travel and…”
“Spit it out, Selma. I don’t have time to play your games.”
“Well, apparently, the rumors are that Lucille got a lover. She’s dating someone. Did you hear anything about that?”
Elise made a surprised face.
“No. Are you sure? That must be a lie because she didn’t tell me anything. I asked her already if she had a boyfriend and she said no. There’s no reason for her to lie about that.”
“Yes, about that. The rumor is that she’s dating another girl.”
Elise stopped. She threw a glare at her friend.
“I’m just telling what I heard, dear, I swear. I also heard they’re not even hiding it and they’re are dating at the college. They’re in the same classes, it seems. So I was wondering if you knew about it. Of course, you didn’t know, right? You would never support this.”
Pulling her cell phone, Elise looked at the screen. The photo with her daughter giving a bright smile at her. She felt a tight knot in her heart.
“Are you sure?” She asked. “Where did you hear that?”
“Donna told me. You know her son studies in the same college as your daughter.”
“And she goes telling everyone instead of me?”
“Oh, dear, you get it. It’s a sensitive subject. They were afraid to approach you with it. We’re old time friends, so it’s easier for me.”
“She didn’t have the courage to tell me, but she can’t keep her damn mouth shut,” Elise put her cell phone inside her bag. “Thanks anyway, Selma. I think I’ll go home, now.”
“What about the Christmas’ present?”
Elise stood in silence for some minutes, her lips tight shut. Then she turned to her friend before leaving.
“I have new plans.”
“You didn’t lose the keys again, right?” Kat asked, passing her finger through her brown and wavy hair.
“I didn’t!” Said Lucille, scavenging through her purse. Her black and straight hair shining in the light with the movements of her head. “Oh, I still have my old apartment keys. I need to turn it back.”
“Luu, I’m getting cold.”
“Calm down, Bubby. Oh, here it is,” she took the keys off her purse and showed it to her girlfriend with a smile.
“Ok, stop grinning and open the door.”
When Lucille opened the door, a sound of a meowing was heard from inside. Before she stepped inside, a white cat was there looking at her.
“Bubby!” She said and took the cat in her lap. “Did you miss mom?”
Katherine closed the door behind her. The temperature inside was warm and cozy. She took off the jacket she was wearing.
“Bubby, can you get Bubby’s food for me? She looks hungry.”
“Hey,” Katherine said, walking to the cabinet where the food was stored. “Can you just stop calling us two Bubby?”
“Why?” Lucille said, looking at the cat. “You both are my kitties.”
“Yeah, fine, but that’s confusing,” Kat passed the cat food to Lucille. “Sometimes I don’t know who you’re talking to.”
“You’re a person, she’s a cat. It’s easy to know when I’m talking to you, right? Well, I guess some situations would be the same,” she said, putting the food on the cat’s plate on the floor. “Like: ‘enough, Bubby, stop licking me’.”
“Hey!” Kat said and a faint blush became visible on her face.
“Or, ‘don’t bite me there. I’m ticklish’.”
Kat pulled Lucille by the arm and kissed her. Lucille let her body rest on Kat’s arms.
“Sometimes I need to shut your mouth,” Kat said. Lucille just smiled and scratched her own cheek.
“By the way,” Kat said, looking at the cat. “Why spending money. You can let her drink a little of milk.”
“No! Cats aren’t supposed to drink milk!”
“Oh, Is that so? I mean, wait a minute! Didn’t you give me milk that day?”
“Oh, that,” Lucille gave an embarrassed smile and scratched her cheek again. “I, kind of, didn’t know.”
“Really? What if I had died?”
“It’s fine for kitties! I think… I heard that most cats develop lactose intolerance when they have grown up. But it won’t kill them. It can make them sick, though. Well, sorry…”
Kat smiled and patted Lucille’s head.
“Well, that’s fine. I wouldn’t like cat food, anyway,” Lucille smiled, but Kat added: “But seriously, stopping calling her Bubby.”
“What? Come on! It’s common for a daughter to get her mother’s name.”
“The cat is my child now?!”
“Wait,” Lucille said and put a finger on her cheek. “You don’t want me stopping calling you Bubby instead?”
“W-Well,” Kat turned her back to Lucille. She passed her fingers on her hair. “I-I don’t mind. If you want to stop…”
“Oohhh,” Lucille jumped and hugged Kat’s back. “You don’t need to worry. You’re forever my little kitten.”
Kat sighed. Lucille let her face bury between Kat’s soft hair.
“You know,” she said. “Your hair’s smell reminds me of when you were a cat.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“You smelled nice then. Of course, you smell nice now, too. I can’t wait to spend Christmas with you.”
“Oh yeah,” Kat turned around to face her girlfriend. “Mom and dad said they miss you. They really like you.”
“It’s like a dream. Never thought I would spend Christmas in family with a girlfriend,” Lucille said with a sad smile.
“Are you still afraid to tell your family?”
“Yeah,” Lucille pulled a chair and sat on it. “It’s not that I don’t want them knowing about you. And I feel like I could explain it to dad. But I’m afraid of mom,” Lucille had a fragile expression as she added: “I don’t want mom to hate me.”
Kat held Lucille’s hand and squeezed it.
“You love your mother a lot, right?”
Lucille nodded. Her smile looked painful.
“And yet, I left home because of her. Because I loved her, I couldn’t stand hearing her saying bad things about people like me. Thinking about how she would think of me like that someday. I said I wanna study here, but I actually ran away from her.”
Kat caressed Lucille’s face and kissed her on the lips.
“Well, at least that made me meet you.”
“That’s the one thing I’m happy for,” Lucille said with a genuine smile.
“Well, then. Let me make you a little happier this night,” Kat said while pulling her girlfriend to her room.
Elise arrived home and left her purse on the couch. She looked at her husband who barely raised his eyes from the magazine he was reading to greet her.
“Cancel that hotel reservation, John,” she said with a harsh tone.
“What?” He raised his eyes, looking at his wife with a confused face. “Why now?”
“We’re going to spend Christmas with Lucille, after all. There’s something I need to confirm.”
Lucille and Kat were walking home after a night date on a Sunday. The time was cold, so both girls were wearing jackets. Kat was wearing jeans while Lucille was wearing a long skirt and long leggings. Lucille’s steps were slower and she was a little behind, but still holding her girlfriend’s hand.
“Buubby, I’m tired. I’m too old for this.”
“You’re younger than me,” Kat said but lowered her step.
Lucille still remained behind her and squeezed her hand. Around them, all stores were full of Christmas decorations and the party mood was intoxicating. Some stores even had Christmas songs.
“Why are you in such a hurry? Let’s enjoy the night,” Lucille said.
Kat stopped and turned to her girlfriend, who had a big smile on her face. They were in front of a big store full of red ornaments and Santa Claus’ face everywhere. There were few people walking around them since it was late.
“It’s cold. It’s dark. I want to get into the blankets with you.”
“Well, that’s nice too,” Lucille said, holding both of Kat’s hands. “But the night is beautiful. I want to spend some time outside with you, too.”
Saying that Lucille inclined forward and closed her eyes. Kat turned her face in the last moment, making her girlfriend miss her lips.
“Come on,” Lucille said, making a pout.
“N-Not here, ok?”
“Why? It’s not a secret that we’re dating. Actually, why are you so bold at home and so shy outside?”
“I don’t like to be seen.”
“To be seen what? With a girl?” Lucille asked, but her smile showed that she was just mocking her girlfriend.
“K-Kissing…” Kat said with a low voice and lowering her head.
Lucille threw her arms around Kat suddenly and pulled her in a hug. Kat flinched startled.
“W-What?” Kat asked.
“You’re way too cute. I can’t hold myself!”
Lucille kissed Kat on the lips. Both girls closed their eyes and lose themselves in a kiss that lasted several seconds. When Lucille opened her eyes to look at her girlfriend again, Kat’s face was completely red.
Kat didn’t say anything, looking around them, instead. It looked like they were alone, for her relief.
“Your lips are cold,” Lucille said.
“Oh, yeah? Why do you think that is?”
Letting out a sigh, Kat pulled her girlfriend’s hand and both girls started walking again. Lucille was giggling.
Parking her car outside the restaurant she had seen her daughter entering accompanied, Elise waited patiently. She didn’t tell Lucille that she was in the city. Instead, she and her husband booked a room in a hotel. While her husband took care of things, Elise started looking for her daughter. She had followed her since she left home, being careful about not being seen.
She wasn’t proud of that and knew how creepy it looked, but she wanted proof of Selma’s accusations. She watched as her daughter met another girl, close to her height with wavy brown hair. Both of them were well dressed, but Elise knew they could just be having a girls night out. So she followed them as they went to the theater and the restaurant after that. All without being found out.
Now she waited until her daughter came out. Her husband had called at least twice on her phone. She was so stressed out by the situation that she couldn’t do anything except to look outside aimless. The moment she saw her daughter, she felt her heart tight and resisted the urge to jump outside the car and give her a hug.
She waited as she finally saw her daughter walking outside the restaurant with the other girl. They were holding hands. That made her apprehensive. The other girl looked nervous and eager to go home, but Lucille was carefree as ever.
For coincidence, they stopped in front of a store that was right across the street from where Elise parked her car. The car was new and Lucille wouldn’t recognize it. The windows were dark, so they couldn’t even see well inside. But Elise could see her daughter perfectly fine.
The way Lucille held the other girl’s hands looked way to intimate. Elise didn’t like that. She didn’t know how girls at Lucille’s age would act with friends, though. She remembered reading that younger girls were way more close to female friends than in her time. Sorority, they called it, she remembered.
Maybe it was a misunderstanding. They could be just close friends and people started talking. She thought.
When Lucille inclined with her eyes closed, Elise felt her heart jump. She felt a little of relief as the other girl turned her face.
She wished she could hear them. Lucille looked so happy that she wanted to feel happy for her daughter. If it was a different situation, she would.
Her heart skipped again when Lucille hugged the other girl. And this time she didn’t have enough time to think until the girls had their lips together. They were kissing, she could see it clearly. And worse, Lucille was the one initiating it, so she couldn’t even blame the other girl.
She felt a stab in her heart. Holding her hand against her chest, she looked at Lucille with the other girl in her arms, sharing a kiss. When the kiss was over, she had a smile so beautiful on her face that Elise had mixed feelings about the situation. But there was her little girl, she had no doubt. She also had no doubt that the other girl was her daughter’s girlfriend.
Elise followed the girls with her eyes until they walked away. She stood there for at least ten minutes, trying to sort her thoughts.
Elise didn’t see her husband when she arrived at the hotel room. She sat on the bed and took her cell phone out again. Lucille’s face smiling through it. She browsed the folder where she had photos of Lucille from different ages. She could remind the day she took each one of it.
Six years old Lucille, dressed in a pink dress.
“I’m the princess and mom is the queen,” she could almost hear her daughter’s voice saying.
Fifteen years old Lucille, wearing a white dress for her birthday.
“On my marriage, I want mom to be there. I don’t need anything else.”
Why she had said that Elise couldn’t remember. But the words left a strong impression on her now.
On her marriage…
Sixteen years old Lucille on a class trip. She wasn’t the one who took that photo, of course, but Lucille’s smile as she played with her classmates was so pretty.
Lucille’s smile. The smile she saw just moments before flashed on her mind. That smile brought her too many conflicted thoughts. She was happy that her daughter was happy. But the reason for that happiness she couldn’t accept. Would trying to separate them make Lucille cry?
“Those freaks want the right to marry now,” she remembered saying that on dinner table once. How old was Lucille then? Sixteen, if she remembered right.
“I saw them kissing the other day. Why can’t they do it at home?”
“I don't mind. They can do whatever they want, as long as they leave me and my family alone.”
“She was such a pretty woman. Why did she choose that kind of life?”
She tried to remember how many times she had said that kind of things in front of Lucille. What face Lucille had made then. She couldn’t remember. She was too angry at them to think about her own daughter on those occasions. Her daughter, who she thought she should protect from that twisted world.
Those freaks...Lucille… She thought.
Elise turned the cell phone’s screen off and threw her body on the bed. She was an old woman but felt like crying. She held it inside, fearing that her husband could come any time soon. She just closed her eyes tight and tried to think.
She knew she had to be strong and make a decision.