Spring, the following year.
I move in. Yelena and Veronika help me relocate my meagre possessions from my apartment to their family home. The day is hot, the sky clear, and as I make my way up the wooden steps to the front door I’m greeted with a chorus of bees and suburban birdsong.
The world seems somehow lighter in this big house with the rain-stained windows and brightly coloured walls. Art decorates every surface- tiny sculptures, blotchy paintings, dainty photographs- and everything in the kitchen is mismatched. Yelena shows me her espresso machine, and we laugh about how the bright red matches Veronika’s lipstick. It is the kind of moment that belongs in polaroid photographs, stuck to a wall with aging blue-tac and a scribbled note: ‘Lena and Mary, coffee in the spring.’ perhaps.
Vero watches with a quiet smile, but then her beeper trills and she excuses herself. I catch a glimpse of hard muscles beneath soft skin as she collects her purse and bag, rushing out the door with an air of urgency.
Yelena laces her hands around my belly. She stands behind me as I watch Vero’s car pull out of the driveway, bathed in fallen wisteria blossoms. “She works for the army, medicine things, very complicated and boring ljubov.”
Her voice makes me giddy and I can’t help but laugh. Confusion crosses her face as I twist on the ball of my foot to encircle her in my arms. Her eyes glitter and her kiss tastes sweet. Her lips are painted with honey. I want to lay her on the floorboards and claim her, but now is not the time. Heat flushes her cheeks, she leans against me for just a little longer than necessary; Suddenly overwhelmed with love I find myself grinning.
“You are so beautiful.”
The smile I’ve come to adore creeps across her face and she laughs with me. Disentangling herself from my embrace she grasps my hand. Her cold and crooked fingers tug me away from the window. I notice the strange outward curve of her nails as they brush my skin. “Come!”
Down hallways, padding across musical wooden floors, we navigate the rooms. Yelena introduces me to each one as if it is a person in itself- “This is Nika’s room, very neat, see? It rattles in the night, I think it sings to her.”- and her hands brush the doors lovingly, grasping the overly high doorhandles with the same gentleness she treated me to when I first met her. Each door is pale pine, each room a cohesive world behind it, a story of the things it contains.
Our room is warm, modern, with multicoloured curtains and fairylights above the bed. It smells like sandalwood and amber. The pillows smell like her.
I move to kiss her but she skips away, laughing, reminding me I haven’t seen the rest of the house yet. She takes my hand again, and the tour continues.