The first thing you think upon seeing your mom's text is "oh shit."

The second thing you think is "Did I really forget tomorrow is Christmas Eve?" You did. You've known for literal months that your mother would be flying out to see you the morning of the 24th, but between your dates with Kanaya, your crisis with Kanaya, and your fears that your town may have a vampire stalking its streets, you've been more than a little distracted. What a pity that the pagan celebrations those ancient Catholics stole didn't line up better with your modern schedule.

You send your mom the obligatory see you then as you stand and begrudgingly begin to put on your coat. You're hoping she'll be chill now that the two of you aren't stuck together all the time, but there's no way you can get away with the mess that is currently strewn across the floor of your dorm. Vampire crisis or not, you refuse to spend a day being lectured about improper laundry care. Even if you do clean, you're sure you'll get a lecture about ironing.

You don't think your mother realizes the kind of looks a teen with an iron would get in an airport. You have no desire to be cavity searched.

Later that night, as you're sweeping the ocean of salt and sand from around your shoes, your mind begins to wander. Your laundry is done and folded, your bed is relatively made, and your floor is about to be clean; panic mode is over, and you're free to start thinking again. As expected, there are two things occupying the entirety of your thoughts: Kanaya and the possible vampire.

The mystery of the every-ten-months incidents has been buzzing at the back of your head all night, and you're still not over it. What the fuck is going on? You sure don't know. You can no longer tell whether or not it'd be crazy to suggest that Nosferatu is slinking up and down the streets of an Iowa college town, which is fucking wild. Part of you wants quite badly for the vampire to be real, if only to ensure that you aren't going crazy right now, but the other part of you cannot accept that it's even a possibility. You're supposed to be Rose Lalonde, pinnacle of rationality.

And then, of course, there's the issue of Kanaya. She still hasn't messaged you, and you sure haven't built up the nerve to message her, so it's been strict radio silence. You think it might be driving you crazy. You see her when you close your eyes, her clever eyes watching you from across the coffee shop. You even see her when you think about the vampire, dressed up and intimidating in that long black coat of hers, blood pooled at the corners of her flawless black lipstick. You know so little about her, part of you can almost believe that she's the answer to everything.

Honestly, what the fuck was up with her vagueness about where/how long she's lived? That was some secret vampire question dodging.

You sigh and reach for your dustpan. You're definitely going crazy.

You're losing it and your mom is about to be here to watch you hit your wacko zenith.

"Hi Rosie," she'll say, "how are you? Have you proved me wrong and thrived living on your own after all?"

"No mom," you'll say, "I'm crazy and miserable, and I think I believe in vampires now."

As if.

You need, more than anything else, to take all your emotions and supernatural fears and put them all in a tightly sealed box at the back of your psyche. Not for long, just for as long as your mom is around. Just a little bit of repression can't be too damaging, right?

Right?

You begin to plot as you shake your pile of grit into the garbage. How are you going to convince your mom you're sane? The vampire thing should be easy enough to sidestep, but what about Kanaya? You know she's going to ask about your relationship status at least five times, and you're also pretty sure she took your coming out back in high school as some sort of insincere rebellion.

"Hi mom, you know when I joked about being bi as a fifteen year old? Turns out that was the real deal, and I made out with a woman in the library. Don't worry though, she ran off on me immediately after like she was in some crazy movie scene, so your daughter is still nice and pure and chaste."

Just the conversation that every Christmas reunion needs.

You have your work cut out for you.

The following morning is a tense one, its landmarks determined by a sporadic text series from your mother.

Just got to the airport! comes at 7:00 (you're honestly flattered she got up so early for you), followed by About to take off, see you after the flight! at 8:00. You spend a tense couple of hours eating breakfast pizza rolls, listening to Lore , and finishing your last bit of tidying. The first episode of that podcast has always been comfort food to you, but now it's starting to make your skin crawl. Something about the concept of IRL vampire lore no longer sits right with you, even if it is the rational/historical version of the story.

Just after 10:30, your phone buzzes with the dreaded Just landed! Be there in an hour or so , and you give a silent thanks to the lack of an airport in your city proper. It gives you mental prep time.

You take a shower, regrettably brief, and get dressed. As a peace offering, you even put on the schoolgirlesque pleated shirt your mother got you. Green plaid has never been your style (or any plaid for that matter), but you think you pull it off with a black sweater. You pointedly do not think about how good Kanaya would look in this shade of green. Not at all.

By 11:20, you're waiting one of your floor's communal couches,, ready to rush downstairs at a moment's notice. You have no idea where your mom is. You know the sensible thing to do would be to call her and ask where she is, make sure the rental car wasn't delayed, but you have never been sensible about family. You are determined not to make first contact in this..

Finally, at around 11:35, your phone lights up. I think I'm here , she says, and you do not wait for a followup message. Your floor is small, centered above the building's main staircase, and it takes you no time at all to shoot down the steps and out the front door. You tell yourself you're just anxious to not be criticized for lateness. You're almost right.

You scan the cars quickly when you get outside, rushing down the front walk to the parking lot proper. You don't see your mother at first, but when you round the corner to the larger parking lot, there she is. She's a black car, squinting out at the parking lot around her in confusion. She catches sight of you after a moment and waves. You're surprised how happy you are to see her.

"Hey mom," you say as she opens the window.

"Hiya," she says.

You stand there for a moment, stuck in a standoff of friendly politeness through the passenger window, and then she breaks the tension.

"You want a hug?"

"Sure," you shrug. You're surprised she caved first.

You mom slips out of the car and opens her arms from across the hood. She's wearing some kind of ridiculous white jumpsuit under her winter coat, something that definitely isn't meant for snow. Her scarf flutters in the wind.

Despite your teenage instincts telling you not to, telling you to lock eyes and wait for her to come to you, you cross around the car and give her a hug. She smells like lavender, bubblegum, and tobacco.

She quit drinking while you were in high school, but she swapped it for lots of secret trips outside for cigarettes. Now she's relaxed down to vapes, which you suppose is progress.

"How are you?" she asks as you pull apart.

"I'm well," you say. You are trying to be well. "You?"

"I'm great hon. You know I love travel."

"Right."

You stand in front of her in silence, grinding some snow under your shoe. To your surprise, she caves first again. She must really be trying.

"So,I still have to check into my hotel room downtown. How about we drive over there and park, then do something together once I'm settled."

"Sure. I can take you shopping."

You hope your voice doesn't sound as uncertain as you feel.

Your mother beams at you before turning back to the car door.

You slide into the passenger seat, taking a moment to soak in that distinctive rental car smell. It's a guilty pleasure of yours. From the driver's seat, your mother begins asking for directions out of the maze of parking lot you're now stuck in, and you give them. You gaze out the window as you do, searching for any road signs or instructions you might not have noticed before. Pedestrian as you are, you've only over driven here with Kanaya before.

The sky has been cloudy all morning, and as you watch, a few small snowflakes begin to fall. Your mother starts asking you about your fall classes, which you're more than willing to talk about. It's almost easy.

In the distance, down a sidewalk that you're turning away from, a figure catches your eye. They're heading toward you from the river, face and body obscured by a lacy black parasol and a striking red winter coat. Kanaya has a similar one.

Your throat catches for a moment, but you refuse to believe that it's her. You are going to go hang out with your mother and try to enjoy yourself, goddammit. You are not letting your gay angst (gayngst?) spoil things.

With a final glance back toward the red figure, you direct your mother to turn and take the longer, technically more legal route around the dorm blocks. You ask her about work as you do, diving headfirst into the hopeful land of distraction.

You can't believe how happy you are to be talking to your mom.