Before | Rose
Once upon a time, Rose had a Cinderella complex—hopes that some- day, somehow, someone would come sweep her away from the hell that was the only home she’d ever known.
(Now she knows better.)
No one is coming to save her, and they never will; she uses her own broken pieces as armor and drags herself through the fire.
(She’s used to the flames now, the burn that once scalded her a defense against the very ones who’d caged her.)
She’d run away without looking back, but she’s not naive enough to think that means she’s truly escaped.
She’s on guard, now and always, hypervigilant in the nearly deserted hospital wing. The lights are dim; it’s the middle of the night, after all.
(An unfamiliar hospital, in a still unfamiliar state, full of unfamiliar people.)
(It’s a blessing and a curse, knowing that she’s escaped what she’s running from whilst forever looking over her shoulder.)
Her wavy dark hair started out in a bun but has now effectively become a knot, a stark contrast to the light of her hazel eyes.
Rose is exhausted, and every part of her body hurts, but she won’t be sleeping any time soon.
Her daughter’s in her arms—hours old, defenseless and vulnerable. (Her eyes can’t close until she knows they’re safe.)
She reaches to stroke a tiny rosy cheek with her thumb. Her daughter is an innocent, so new to the world but already so perfect.
It’s...Rose knows it’ll be hell. They’re alone in the world and on the run, and...God, if she could give Scarlett the entire universe, she would do it. (Scar is already the best thing in the world, the most important person that’s ever lived.)
“You and me against the world, lovebug,” she says in a soft whisper. “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
(It’s a promise she’ll do anything to keep.)
The crying wakes Rose less than an hour after her head hits the pillow.
She shouldn't be surprised; she and the universe have never been on particularly good terms, and sleep is especially scarce with a newborn, but she'd finished her homework before 3 a.m. for the first time in weeks and had really been hoping for more than four hours of sleep.
The fumes she’s been running on aren’t strong enough to keep her going like this forever.
Slowly getting to her feet, she approaches the secondhand crib in the corner of the apartment and gently lifts her daughter, lips twitching toward a smile at the familiar sight of the wisps of black hair she’d passed on.
Scarlett’s sobs quiet but don’t stop, and after checking to make sure she isn't hungry and doesn’t need to be changed, Rose sets her down just long enough to slip a hoodie over her head and wrap a soft blanket around Scarlett’s tiny two-month-old body.
It’s going to be one of those nights—the ones where nothing will calm Scar but walking, Rose’s voice soothing her with stories, for at least an hour. She might as well do the meandering outside.
Slipping her phone and pepper spray into her hoodie pocket, Rose locks the apartment door behind her, hazel eyes looking around the building warily. They'd finally been able to move to a better part of town when her lease ended at their former apartment building, where her inability to sleep hadn't been helped by constant fear for her and Scar’s safety, and while all of her research indicated that their new residence was a much less worrisome place to live, she can’t help but feel on edge.
(Unsurprising. She hasn't been safe since her father died ten years prior.)
She stills for a moment, wondering whether or not stepping outside at night would be a terrible idea, but as soon as her move- ment pauses, Scarlett lets out a screech, and Rose rushes downstairs for fear of pissing off the neighbors on their first night in the build- ing. Locks of dark hair escape her bun and brush up against the sides of her face as she moves.
Despite being from a bit farther north, she’s been in Florida long enough now that the forty-degree weather she steps into makes her shiver; it’s especially chilly for August, the humidity seeping through her skin. The street is by no means quiet, and she begins to meander along the dimly lit sidewalk while whispering tales to her baby of Peter Pan, of Mulan, of Nefertiti and Odysseus, weaving history and legend alongside the magic she’s always loved.
She worries about Scar being in the cold, but hopefully, they won’t be out for too long, and Rose has her well bundled. Taxis pull up to the curb as noisy passengers stagger from their seats loudly, perhaps belatedly celebrating the new school year, the semester only a few weeks in. Maybe merely celebrating their very existence.
(Maybe drinking away the darkness.)
Her new apartment building houses mainly college students like herself, which makes sense given its proximity to USF. She catches wind of many drunken mumblings about dreading having to go to class hungover the coming morning. Having a shift at the diner in merely three hours, she can sympathize with their exhaustion.
Had things worked out a bit differently, she would likely be in their shoes.
Less than half an hour later, Scar is sound asleep, and Rose’s eyes revolt, attempting to flutter closed even as her feet carry her along the sidewalk. She goes back inside, pushing the elevator call button with more force than necessary at the thought of her bed all the way on the third floor.
Just after she steps inside the elevator, she hears rapid footsteps approaching as the doors begin to slide closed. "Wait, hold it, please!"
Her heart speeds up at the deep male voice, but the last thing she wants is an enemy in the building, so she hits the button to keep the doors open. At the sight of the broad-shouldered young man who'd called after her, however, fear spikes within her. She regrets the attempt to be neighborly now that she’s trapped in a metal box with a man who could clearly overpower her in a heartbeat.
He's dressed all in black, a worn leather jacket thrown over a tight v-neck and black pants. His buzzcut hair is pitch, too, paired with dark brown skin pulled taut over a prominent jawline, a bright contrast to the bright hazel eyes that keep jumping around like his line of sight can't stay still.
Gorgeous, but she knows too well to be wary. The muscles visible through his shirt that are making her pupils dilate are exactly the reason she doesn’t want to be alone with him.
"Thanks," he mumbles, pressing the button for the fourth floor himself. "I know it wouldn't have been much longer to wait or to just take the stairs, but I have an eight a.m. class, and I just got off work. Just thinking about losing those few extra minutes of sleep hurts."
She remains tense, hoping not responding will encourage him to leave her alone, but feels his gaze shift on to her.
"I don't think I've seen you around. I'm Josh Brooks. 427." He starts to reach a hand out but stops himself, a hint of a blush spreading across his cheeks. "Your hands are obviously full. Sorry."
His easy tone relaxes her somewhat; nonetheless, she doesn’t
want to speak, but the risk of not replying when he’s clearly waiting for a response is even more anxiety-provoking, so she caves. "Nice to meet you. I'm Rose; you probably haven’t seen me around because we just moved in today." She's pretty sure he notices that she doesn't give him her own apartment number, but by the light smile he responds with, he doesn't seem to mind.
"And who's this little one?"
"This is Scarlett." Rose’s heart jumps, voice quiet.
"Like Black Widow?"
She nods, lips twitching upward. “I hadn’t intended it to be, but
yeah. Although her middle name is Bronte, so most people assume it’s literary too, after The Scarlet Letter. Not sure what that makes them think about me as a mother.”
Josh opens his mouth like a thought has struck him but shakes his head as though dismissing it. “Wherever it’s from, it’s pretty. And Scar is a badass nickname, so she has options depending on the vibes she wants to give off.”
“Thanks. I hope she thinks so too when she’s older. I mean, I didn’t name her Gertrude, so she can’t be too mad, I hope.”
A deep laugh sounds from Josh’s chest. “This is true, although the bar is low.”
The elevator light blinks just before the doors open, and as nice as Josh seems, she's relieved to be on her floor—safety, space, and sleep all just a few yards away. For less than three hours, her brain reminds her, but she shakes away the negativity. "This is me."
And she’s mentally berating herself because now he knows where she lives, knows where her daughter lives, and what has she done—
Stop being irrational. He’s just a normal guy.
Josh waves as she steps into the hallway. "It was nice to meet you, Rose. If you or Scarlett need anything, feel free to come by. Two friends and I all room together and someone's normally around if you need a hand."
"Thanks, Josh. Have a good night." The word 'night' is clipped by the elevator doors sliding shut, and she takes her first deep breath since getting on the elevator, the hand not on Scar sliding within her pocket from its instinctive place on her pepper spray to her keys. Her heart is pounding strongly enough that she can physically see her chest stuttering back and forth.
She double and triple checks the locks before carefully laying Scar back in the crib, silently begging her daughter not to wake back up as she climbs into the twin bed in the corner of the apartment.
The conversation with Josh has rattled her for no reason of his own doing; he seems genuine, and it's promising to have an acquain- tance in the building so soon. She won't go to his apartment, of course, but maybe the next time she sees Isa, the only friend she's made since running full speed from North Carolina almost a year ago, Rose can ask if she's ever seen him around campus.
The easygoing boy with the bright, tired eyes is the last thing running through her overworked mind before she falls right back into REM, her body too desperate for the two and a half hours she might still squeeze in to worry about tomorrow.