Lou paused in making up the bed to look out of the window. The summer sunshine was warm like honey, low in the sky already. It was late, but it had been a long drive. There was still part of her that didn't believe she was really here.
She heard a knock at the door and jerked her head around, instinctively tucking Victor under the blankets even though she knew she didn't need to. It was a hard habit to break.
It was Carol who came in, smiling warmly as she offered Lou a towel and set the other one at the end of the other bed.
"How are you settling in? You know, you can push the beds together again, if you'd like?"
"I think we might some nights, but some nights it's okay sleeping like this too. It's kinda hot at the moment. And Debbie kicks like a mule when she's stressed."
"I can see that."
Lou nodded with feeling.
"It's been getting better mostly since the grades came out. I had kind of hoped it would get better when Finals were done but obviously it's not that simple because those were just the first obstacle, and that was the part that was still in our control to some degree. Don't get me wrong I'm happy to..." she paused, trying to explain. "I want to be there for her. If I can. If it helps. But I think it helps with the going to sleep more than it helps with the staying asleep and it doesn't necessarily help me with the staying asleep either if she's having a rough night. So I like to be close, but I'm okay with us being able to mix it up. And who knows, maybe I'll have to get up early for work sometimes. Or maybe she will. And being down here on my own for a couple of days before she can get down here too... I'm better off not having the extra space."
Carol nodded and offered her a hug, which Lou gladly accepted. She was still surprised these days to find she was of a height with both of them. It was more than a little disconcerting, truth be told, but the quality of the hugs was still the best.
"Thanks for coming up to get me."
"Well there's no good route by train and although you can drive now-" there was a brief flash in her eyes and Lou had the grace to flush a little, "It's a long long drive for one person. We were happy to fetch you."
"Danny's dropping Debbie off right?"
"Yes, that was what we agreed. I must say he took it rather well when we both reached out to him."
"He doesn't tend to ask too many questions, and despite everything he still thinks we're good judges of character. Well he thinks I am. I think he knows Debbie a little too well, and while he respects her and he's not a dick about anything, I think she'll always be his little sister first. Which has been helpful the past couple of years but I think if we tried staying there any longer it was going to get ugly."
"Sibling relationships can often go that way," Carol agreed, "I often think the only reason Florence and Jonathan are so close is because they've always lived in separate houses."
Lou opened her mouth, about to point out that they weren't actually related, and then thought better of it. She'd seen enough of the two of them to take Carol's point.
Carol squeezed her shoulder with a warm smile.
"Anyway, I'll let you finish getting unpacked and settled in. We'll have dinner waiting downstairs when you're ready then I'm sure you're tired."
"Yeah. And... well, thanks again for... letting us both come here."
Carol's smile softened a little, a slight ache in it.
"We want the best for both of you, and we very much want you both to go to college if that is a good fit. You both have the potential. But we also don't want you to rush into it. You've been through a lot and there's a lot of pressure. So there's nothing wrong with taking a little time to pause and think, to work and build up some money to carry you through it too and lessen the load during the semester. So you don't need to make any decisions now. We do expect you to have a plan, and we want to be kept in the loop on what that plan is. But it's your life, and it's your plan. We just want to support you."
Lou could feel the lump in her throat, and even as she tried to swallow it was annoyingly persistent, so she settled for nodding in lieu of words she couldn't quite find.
"Thanks," she managed eventually, "It... means a lot. That you have faith in us, I mean."
"We've always had faith in you," Carol replied, head tilted as she smiled with a slight tinge of sadness to it. "And we always will. Now, get settled in and come down when you're ready. I think I can smell cookies."
"Maman always did know how to welcome a guest," Lou grinned, and Carol laughed.
"It's a tradition, certainly. You have your whole life stretching out ahead of you, but that doesn't need to be a scary thing. We'll be here to catch you."
"...Thanks mom. Love you."
"We love you too darling, don't be long now," Carol called as she headed off downstairs.
Lou turned to her small case and started lifting out the stacked clothes.
"Don't worry, I won't be."