written and illustrated by Kohakuiro Kameyo
When Lulu woke on the third day of the seventh month of her fifth year of being kept by the House, she stared at the white ceiling of her room, rolled over, and went back to sleep.
Some half hour later, she was dragged from her dreams by the soft but insistent knocking of the hall’s attendant, who she snarled at before swinging her feet over the edge of her bed and donning the gauzy robe she favored whenever she wasn’t on official business. She had a showing later, but she’d be damned if she was going to strap herself into latex one instant sooner than she had to. The display screen on the wall opposite came softly to life in response to her movements; words scrolled up it, listing her tasks for the day, the weather (not that it made a great deal of difference), the names of her opponents. She gave it only a cursory glance before settling in with her breakfast and her book.
Two hours into it, the attendant returned and fetched her out of her reverie and into the cold, white present.
“The hell I do,” Lulu snapped, stalking down the hallway beside her. “It’s not for an hour.”
“You know the procedure.”
She swept into the bathing room, threw her robe aside, and dropped herself into the bath with the intent of soaking anyone who came near her. It worked.
Once the water on the floor had been cleaned up, two attendants came with a tray, which she knocked from their hands. Crystal liquid intended to loosen her limbs spilled across the freshly-mopped floor. She rose from the bath as regally as a queen and dripped soap across the tiles between the attendants without giving them a second glance.
The garb for showings was ineffectual as real armor, but she was long accustomed to that and strapped herself into it anyways. In the next chamber over, she could see Stephanie doing the same. She gave a little wave through the glass and Lulu lifted her middle finger. Stephanie laughed soundlessly and returned to fastening on her boots.
The wings of the showing room were dark. Just beyond the doors, Lulu could hear the murmurs of the crowd and the occasional boom of an announcement blaring through the speakers. She gathered her thoughts, exhaling them out and leaving only stillness behind in her head.
The doors swung open, admitting a blinding burst of light punctuated by the flare of cameras from the small army of fashion photographers crowded together on one side of the showing room. She stepped into the light’s embrace, ignoring the spots swimming before her eyes. The murmurs rose to a din, commentary and speculation that was impossible to dissect but irrelevant even if she could. Her sandals sounded quietly on the spotless white floor as she walked in a carefully choreographed arc in front of the photographers and style reporters. Her compatriots followed, equally adorned in vinyl and horn and metal.
On the other side of the room, more richly appointed, sat the guests of the House. Some lounged in chairs, others perched on tables; most had drinks in their hands and practiced expressions of polite interest. They were largely unremarkable compared to every other such group Lulu had ever laid eyes on, though her eyes caught on one – perhaps the only one worth noting – a woman, tall, dressed all in black save for a plain gold mask hiding her face. Her hair was wheat-blonde, giving the impression of her head’s being crafted entirely of gold.
Lulu’s gaze swept over her, then away to the platform where her circuit would end.
Stephanie followed close behind her as the small cadre of women and men selected by the House for this day’s session lined up facing the wall, waiting for the signal to begin – it came, moments after the last sandaled foot stepped up onto the platform, a pulse that heralded the start of a thumping beat that echoed through the floor and their bodies like a living thing. Lulu took a breath underneath the wave of sound, then dropped the fur from her shoulders and took a blade down from the hooks on the wall.
Though it might seem otherwise from the ferocity of some of the competitors, the fights that opened each showing were highly ritualized; the House traded in blood and beauty, and its denizens were valuable commodities. Serious injuries were rare – it had happened but twice in the time Lulu had been in residence. She still bore the scar, faint but present, on her left thigh.
Neatly dodging the swing Stephanie aimed at her, Lulu threw herself into the dance of combat.
Her favored weapon was a sword, mid-length and light, with a blade that curved slightly and shone bright from countless polishings. She was fast, if short – the sword made up for what reach her arm lacked, even if the point was not to draw blood. Dominic caught her eye and she nodded slightly, stepping past a pair already dueling to cross blades with him.
Though it lasted perhaps sixty seconds, the fray scattered all of them across the room in complex patterns that seethed and shifted with the music pounding through the air. As she whirled past the guests of the House, Lulu’s gaze snagged again on the woman with the gold mask, who seemed to be watching her in particular. Through the cloud of black hair that whipped across her peripheral vision and the crystals that dangled from her headpiece, Lulu caught a glimpse of the woman leaning forward and resting her elbows on her knees, watching. She dragged her gaze away in time to catch a strike from Dominic against the flat of her blade. Sloppy. She tipped her headpiece down further over her forehead and concentrated as she moved into the next set.
The rest of the showing was a blur, punctuated only by spare sharp moments when she managed to catch a glimpse of the mask woman looking at her with interest in her dark, half-hidden eyes. Chest heaving and clothing sticking to her as the final note echoed through the room, Lulu cast one last glance around, then turned on her heel and vanished into the depths of the back rooms. Applause and the flash of cameras followed her out.
It was perhaps three days before she encountered the gold mask woman again. This time she was in one of the House’s parlors, sipping a drink from a tall white glass. Lulu only spotted her because the door to the hall was open.
Lulu paused outside the door. The mask woman was alone.
She hovered in the doorway, not quite crossing the threshold, and watched the woman as much as the other was watching her. The drink in her hand fizzed softly.
“I saw you at the showing,” Lulu said, breaking the silence as neatly as if the other woman had dropped her glass.
The mask woman regarded her from behind her veil of gold. “So you did,” she agreed.
Lulu was silent for a moment. She’d opened her mouth to speak when the woman interrupted her. “Would you care to join me?” Her voice was softly accented, catching the hard vowels.
Lulu studied her in silence for a long moment, recalling the interest that had been in her eyes at the showing and was making another appearance now. “No,” she said finally, and left.
The third time they spoke was outside the changing rooms for the pools near the guest wing.
“My name is Helen,” the blonde woman said. “Helen Kunitskaia .”
“It was my grandmother’s.” Helen chuckled softly, as if this were some private joke.
“I quite like it,” Helen said. She had long fingers, Lulu noted, with nails cut close to the quick. She realized she was staring at the woman’s hands and dragged her gaze upward from where they were absently toying with the strap of a bag that held, judging by the way they were spilling out, towels and a swimming suit. Helen’s close-cropped hair was damp from the pool. She still wore her mask. “Might I ask its origin?”
Lulu shrugged. “I picked it.”
Helen’s eyebrows rose, just visible through the eyeholes of the by-now familiar veil of her mask. “No familial association?”
“My family’s dead,” Lulu said curtly. She turned and stalked off.
Lulu’s bedroom was little more than a box; she shared showers with all of the other denizens of the floor, which irritated her faintly but not enough for her to do much more than scowl at them from time to time. She stormed into it, tearing off stiffened lace and kicking the sandals from her feet. If she’d had a bed large enough, she’d have flopped across it; as it was, she threw herself into her reading chair and fumed.
The next unsubtle attendant to suggest she should court the favor of the masked guest in a more intimate setting was going to get her foot so far up their ass they’d be able to taste her boring white nail polish.
Before she’d had a chance to let her rage build up to a really good blaze of fury, a knock sounded at her door. She glared at it, prepared to deliver a blistering tirade when she opened it – but when she did, she found only Stephanie with an armful of alcohol, food, and books. Her anger expired, like a match blown out.
“Lulu.” Stephanie nodded greeting and invited herself in. She arranged her burdens on the counter and opened up the cupboard for glasses. Lulu flopped back into her chair. Stephanie handed her a drink and opened a case that revealed soft cheese, crackers, and almonds. The second case she popped open held some sort of cake.
“You must be psychic,” Lulu said, burying herself in the greenish drink. Every time she said it, Stephanie denied it, but she was certain it was true.
“No, I just use my brain.” Stephanie took the second-nicest chair, as was her custom, and arranged the offerings of food and booze around herself. She’d left the books on the counter, a gift to quell Lulu’s near-certain later anger. Lulu’s films were still in Stephanie’s care, evidence of a similar, though reversed, exchange a couple of weeks ago. “They’ve been hassling you.” It wasn’t a question.
“Fuckers.” A hint of the fire flared up in her chest again. “I’ve been here five years, I can pick which goddamn guests to entertain.”
“It was your anniversary, wasn’t it?” Stephanie turned her glass in her hands and offered the almonds. Lulu took them automatically. “Long time.”
“Yeah.” Lulu sighed and took another sip. The alcohol was a pleasant burn down her throat. “Two more to go.”
Stephanie studied her and nodded, apparently satisfied. “What’re you going to do?”
Lulu blinked. “After? I hadn’t really thought about it. Maybe I should become a famous singer.” She laughed.
Stephanie smiled. The last time she’d caught Lulu singing in the showers, she suggested she take up a career in music. Lulu laughed then as well, saying that she was no great fan of paparazzi, but the fashion at least would be familiar.
Both of them fell silent, taking turns at the cheese and sipping their respective drinks. Finally, Lulu sighed. “What do you think I should do?”
Stephanie told her.
That night as she lay naked in bed in the near dark, Lulu let her hands wander over her breasts. She toyed absently with her nipple, staring up at the unremarkable ceiling.
“Fucking hell,” she breathed. Her hands slid downward.
“Why do you stay?” Helen asked, tipping her head slightly in accent to her query. Lulu didn’t answer.
“It must be an interesting life,” she went on when it became clear that Lulu wasn’t going to say anything. “Here.”
“That’s one word for it.”
“I have lived in the north most of mine.” Helen turned her glass in her hand. “Though I have traveled far abroad. There are a great many sights I have yet to behold. I thirst for them.”
Lulu shrugged. “Guess I’ve never had much interest in travel.”
Helen set the glass down on the table beside her. Her fingertips brushed over Lulu’s knuckles, perhaps an idle gesture. It caught Lulu by surprise, and she barely kept herself from jumping out of her chair. “I must recommend it,” she said. “It broadens the mind.”
“Books do the same thing.”
“No page can describe what it is like to step outside into a Russian winter.” Helen chuckled, low and rich. “Or a Saharan summer.”
“Well, fuck,” Lulu said, “Why would I want to burn to a crisp just for walking around?”
“For the experience.”
“Sounds like a pretty shitty experience to me.”
“But without the, ah.” Helen’s mouth rolled around the words, as if they didn’t quite fit. Perhaps, in truth, they didn’t. “Shitty experiences, the sweet ones would not hold their savor.”
“I live in the east wing,” Lulu said abruptly. “Number forty-three C.”
“I see.” Helen nodded, folding her hands in her lap. Lulu lifted her eyes from them – again – and looked away.
A knock sounded at her door, three taps in swift succession.
Lulu flicked her eyes up to the door in time to see it open, then returned her gaze to her book and shifted slightly in her chair in irritation. Helen stepped through and closed the door behind her. Lulu did not look up.
“So the room number was real,” Helen said without preamble. “I’m a little surprised.”
“I’m not a liar,” Lulu said to her book. “Only a bitch.”
“Mm.” Helen tucked her hands into her pockets and looked around the spartan chamber with some interest. Bed, counter, cabinets, softly lit screen, clothing tossed on the floor, closed washroom door, drawers, shelves holding the few possessions that were truly Lulu’s and a handful of hardcopy volumes, poetry and prose alike. It was hardly the most fascinating domicile to be had, even within the House’s walls. The guest suites were miniature masterworks of interior design. “You have your own books?”
“There’s a library.” Lulu read the sentence her eyes were on for a third time without registering its meaning.
“Ah.” Uninvited, Helen took a seat in the only other chair in the room, the second-best one that Stephanie favored when she came visiting. Unlike Stephanie, Helen’s presence was like a beacon to Lulu’s attention, inescapable. “I’d like to see it sometime.”
“The guides will show you anything you want to see.”
“I don’t care for tours.”
Silence fell as Lulu tried very hard to read the rest of the page and Helen studied the white on white of the furnishings against the walls. There was a sparse splash of color in the form of one piece of artwork, carefully framed (in white, of course) and hung across from the bed. Some minutes passed before Lulu set the tablet down.
“Your room has to be more comfortable than this,” she said, attempting to bore a hole into Helen’s forehead with her stare.
“To be sure,” the other woman agreed. “But it lacks company.”
Lulu, if possible, stared harder. “I don’t even like you.”
“I’m aware,” Helen said amiably. “Will you show me the library?”
The showers were deserted at this time of night – the lights were dimmed, except for the ones that blossomed to brilliance as she passed by and faded as she moved beyond their range of motion detection. She left her nightclothes on a bench and strolled bare through the banks of lockers to the showers proper. A mirrored wall reflected her walking beside herself, prominent nose, olive skin and all. Her hand moved automatically to press the buttons for soft light before she stepped onto the gently sloping tile and slid the glass door shut behind her.
The water hissed from the showerhead hot and welcome, and she bent her head into the stream. Thoughts bled from her mind and washed away like so much soap scum. The drops pattering across her shoulders and the smooth tile almost masked the sound of metal rasping against metal behind her.
A footstep alerted her to the presence of another body half a second before hands slid up her stiffening back. She didn’t turn.
“It’s late,” Helen murmured, barely audible over the rush of water and the blood beating in her ears. “I’m surprised you’re not asleep.”
“Insomnia,” Lulu said with what she hoped was cool indifference despite the fingers wandering around her naked hips. “It’s genetic.”
The butterflies in Lulu’s stomach started dancing complicated waltzes as Helen’s hands crept toward the thatch of hair that she refused to shave off despite the urging of the House’s salon mistresses. Her breath caught, quivering, in her throat for a second more as Helen’s fingertips twisted in the curls. “Why are you up?” she murmured weakly.
“Insomnia,” Helen said into the back of her neck. “It’s genetic.” Her fingers slipped down.
Lulu’s breath hitched again as Helen’s fingers explored, parting flesh and hair to seek out her clit, and further back – god, she was soaked already, and not just from the water. A little moan escaped her lips and she tipped her head back, closing her eyes as Helen’s fingertips stroked right beside her clit. Lulu parted her knees a little more, standing with her feet splayed and certain she looked ridiculous but far from caring about it.
“I love how you sound,” Helen murmured in her softly accented voice. She slid her fingers back and slicked them again, lifting her other hand to tweak Lulu’s bared nipple. Lulu arched against her hand, inviting her to keep it there. Helen’s fingers worked against her, high and low, and she panted as heat pooled low in her belly, winding her tight as a spool of thread. Lulu squirmed, shoving back against Helen’s bare skin and trying to get as much contact from her fingers as possible, a maddening combination of motions that helped as much as it hindered.
Her legs shook as orgasm washed over her; she was dimly aware of Helen supporting her lest her knees go out from under her. She threw out an arm and braced herself against the wall of the shower, riding out the last of it clenched around Helen’s hand.
Long moments passed like that. When she turned her head, she had a glimpse of Helen’s smile before the other woman rinsed off her hands in the spray and sauntered away, out the sliding glass door into the dimly-lit locker room, taking the opportunity for a full look at her face with her. Lulu stared after her, but did not follow.
The library held a vast collection of digital books, all available for borrowing either on one’s own tablet or one of the ones provided for temporary use by the House. It also held a small – more restricted but also more prized – selection of hard copy books. Lulu had access to both, and made ruthless use of it.
“Reference volumes are here,” she said in hushed tones to Helen. “And fiction, here.”
“I cannot remember the last time I saw such a collection,” Helen answered. “I’m quite impressed.”
A little swell of pride rose in Lulu’s heart. She smiled. “Good.” She paced down the aisle between the tall shelves, pointing out volumes and sections here and there to Helen, who followed close at her heels. She found a ladder and rolled it down the length of the shelves in the next row, then climbed and fetched down a handful of books, some from this shelf, some from that. “You should look at these,” she said, pushing them into Helen’s hands. Helen’s mask glinted in the glow of the soft, artfully arranged lights.
“I will read them,” she promised. “Thank you.”
“They speak for themselves.” Lulu shrugged. “This next row starts the nonfiction.”
They wandered together between the shelves as Lulu spoke quietly and Helen answered. As luck would have it, the library was largely deserted, so no one interrupted them. The lounge area, appointed with couches, chairs, and low tables all in pristine white, was equally empty. There were lamps, also, which could be manually adjusted to enhance the illumination provided by the ambient light. Lulu switched two on, deposited her selections on one of the tables, and dragged the table closer to her favorite couch. Helen joined her with an armload of books, some chosen by her, some by Lulu. They fell into silence, each with their respective reading.
“Why do you wear so much white?” Helen asked, some minutes – or perhaps hours – later.
“It’s dictated by the standards of the House,” Lulu replied. “I don’t choose it.”
Helen fell quiet, seemingly lost in her book. After a few minutes more, she broke the silence to ask, “What is your favorite color?”
“Red,” Lulu answered, and returned to her reading.
“Take this off,” Lulu said, ghosting her fingers over Helen’s mask. “It’s stupid to wear it all the time.”
“Perhaps,” Helen murmured, catching Lulu’s hand and holding it. She pressed her lips to Lulu’s fingertips, barely a kiss. When she spoke, her mouth moved against Lulu’s skin. “But I favor it.”
Lulu took a shaky breath. “I favor being able to see your damn face.”
“Then come with me,” Helen said. She let Lulu’s hand drop, though it brushed against Helen’s breast before she quite let it go. Almost without input from her conscious thoughts, Lulu lifted it again and tipped the mask up, over Helen’s forehead.
Helen stared at her for long moments, curiously exposed without the barrier of gold separating her from the world. She was not classically beautiful, but Lulu found her totally arresting; after what could have been an eternity or the blink of an eye, Helen tugged the mask back down, hiding her sharp nose and angular cheekbones.
Wordlessly she held out her hand, and Lulu took it.
The room Helen was staying in was opulently large; it was sparsely furnished, though, which drew the eye unavoidably toward the great dark bulk of the bed centered along one wall.
Helen’s borrowed bed was stripped of covers (they were piled, Lulu noted distantly, on the furry rug beside the nightstand; the cleaners would have a fit) aside from pristine white sheets. Helen herself lounged in the midst of them, shirt open nearly to the middle of her breastbone and trousers creaking softly as she shifted and sat up with her legs spread wide. Her mask was carefully nestled atop a cushion on the nightstand. She settled her feet on the floor and leaned back on her hands.
“I wasn’t sure you were going to come out,” she said blandly as Lulu emerged from the washroom. (It was several times larger than her own, with a deep bathtub that she could have fit five of herself into.) Lulu rolled her eyes and tossed her coat onto the floor. She crossed the room in several strides, climbed up onto Helen’s lap, and kissed her without bothering to reply.
Helen kissed her back, leaning forward and letting her hands rise to Lulu’s hips. She gripped them, slipped her fingers beneath the band of her scant skirt, grasped her rear and squeezed. Lulu pushed her ass against Helen’s hands in approval. She sucked Helen’s tongue into her mouth, toyed with it, bit at her lips.
Helen’s pupils were blown wide when Lulu, panting, drew back enough to look at them. “Fuck,” she swore. “I want your fingers in me right the fuck now.”
The fingers in question shook as they unfastened Lulu’s bra, freeing her breasts. Helen tossed the garment aside and dipped her mouth to lap at said breasts while Lulu fisted a hand in Helen’s hair to encourage her. “Fuuuck,” she sighed as Helen took a nipple in her mouth and sucked it to hardness. Helen’s teeth grazed the sensitive flesh, making her gasp.
“Take this off,” she hissed. Her fingers plucked at Helen’s shirt. Helen obliged, shrugging it off her shoulders and pulling her hands and mouth from Lulu’s flesh long enough to undo the last few buttons and toss the shirt away. Her skin was pale, though a light dusting of freckles graced her shoulders. Lulu unfastened the other woman’s bra with practiced ease and cupped her small, high breasts.
“You’re really fucking gorgeous, you know that?” Lulu said, catching Helen’s eye.
“I would say that of you,” Helen breathed. Her gaze strayed down to Lulu’s bared nipples, then further. Lulu hadn’t bothered wearing underwear on her lower half.
“I want to touch you,” Lulu said, voice rough with wanting. “Let me touch you.”
“Only if I may do the same.”
“I figured that was a given.”
Lulu unfastened Helen’s pants with a kind of sure determination reserved for people searching for lost lovers. Her hand stilled when her fingers met a strangely smooth, velvety surface, and she pulled her mouth from Helen’s long enough to investigate with her eyes what her fingers had already found.
Helen wore a deep violet dildo strapped to her hips beneath her leather trousers – its color was a shocking splash against the whiteness of the House’s furnishings and the stark black of the clothes Helen herself favored. Lulu’s brows rose beneath the curled fringe of her hair.
“Do you object?” Helen murmured. Instead of answering, Lulu kissed her again, harder.
“There’s lube in the drawer,” she said, finally, when she could bring herself to drag her mouth from Helen’s. “Little white bottle.”
Helen leaned back and stretched her arm out to rummage through the nightstand drawer in question, discarding a few things before coming back with the right one. She popped the cap and squirted out a liberal amount – perhaps too much, some dripped off – on her fingers, and from there onto the violet dildo. The bottle went the way of her clothing, off the side of the bed. Lulu stroked herself, watching Helen do this, and she spread herself wide with her other hand so that Helen could watch her in turn.
“That’s very distracting,” Helen murmured.
“No shit,” Lulu said agreeably. “Now fuck me.”
“Ride it,” Helen said, holding the toy in place for her. Lulu scooted forward on Helen’s lap, bracing herself on Helen’s shoulder. She rose up on her knees, settled the head of the dildo – there, yes, perfect – and sank down, letting the toy push inside her.
“How’s this?” she panted, rolling her hips to settle it inside.
Helen’s hands rose to Lulu’s hips again, gripping them as Lulu rocked. “Feels nice,” she said. Helen slid her fingers down and stroked Lulu’s clit, making Lulu gasp and her hips buck harder. “Shit.”
Helen took hold of Lulu, who held onto Helen’s shoulders with her hands and Helen’s waist with her legs, and rolled them both over until she was kneeling bent over Lulu and Lulu was on her back amidst the rumpled sheets.
“Yeah,” Lulu panted. “Like that, don’t you? You like – ah – fucking me like that–”
Helen set both hands on Lulu’s hips and dragged her in, hiking her ass up onto her thighs and pushing the dildo deeper into her.
“Ah, fuck,” Lulu swore. She tipped her head back, laying her throat bare.
“Touch yourself,” Helen murmured. Her voice lay low in her throat. “Rub it for me.”
Lulu grinned and slid her hands shamelessly across her breasts and down. “Fuck yes I will. You can – mm – watch me.” She dipped her fingertips down between wet folds of flesh, found her clit, and rubbed right along the side where she liked it best. Helen’s eyes darkened, and she rolled her hips harder. Lulu ground herself against Helen, shoving them as close together as she could.
Lulu’s constant stream of dirty monologue fell into a largely repetitious reiteration of “Fuck me, god,” as she rubbed her clit and Helen obligingly fucked her into the mattress.
“Fuck,” Lulu said. “Helen.” She said her name like a curse, or perhaps a prayer.
“Yes,” Helen breathed.
Lulu squeezed Helen’s hips between her thighs, rocking her hips and rubbing herself faster. Her head tipped back and she gasped, her whole body shuddering as she came. Helen’s hips rocked gently as Lulu sagged, shuddering, body loosening and legs releasing their grip.
Lulu blew out a long breath, feeling a ridiculous smile come to her face but unable to stop it. When she lifted her head, she noted Helen gazing down on her with a curious expression, which at once kindled her pride and ire.
“Get up here,” Lulu snarled, “And get on my face.”
Helen disentangled herself from the knots of Lulu’s limbs and obliged her, crawling up and settling herself at the head of the bed with one knee planted on either side of Lulu’s head. Lulu curled her hands around Helen’s strong thighs and buried her face immediately in the hot, wet center of her.
Helen’s breath hitched, and Lulu’s fingertips dug into her flesh. She sought out Helen’s clit amidst her sparse, curly hair and the splayed straps of the harness and set to it with her lips and tongue, lapping at its tip. Her breath gusted hot, reflected back against her face. Helen’s hips started to rock, following the motion of Lulu’s tongue, and the dildo she still wore rubbed against the top of Lulu’s head. Some of her hair caught on it, but she ignored the tug in favor of devoting her attention to Helen’s clit. The other woman tasted fucking fantastic.
The little moans she drew from Helen’s throat were music to her ears; as she wormed her hand underneath Helen’s rear and pressed two fingers inside her, that music rose to a symphony. She could really get used to that, she thought. Helen’s hips rocked as Lulu pressed her tongue against her, lapping and sucking as if she couldn’t quite get enough.
When Helen came, it was not with an ostentatious scream, just a tensing of her whole body and a tiny, breathless sound, forced out from airless lungs. She shook, catching herself against the headboard, and panted as she lifted her hips from Lulu’s face to allow her more air.
“Come here,” Lulu demanded, slapping at Helen’s legs. The other woman obliged her, climbing off and flopping down at her side, where Lulu offered her a slow kiss. Helen accepted, licking the taste of herself from Lulu’s lips. They lay like that, kissing wordlessly, for a long time.
“Come with me,” Helen said, stretching out long and lacing her fingers with Lulu’s over Lulu’s belly. Her bare skin was flushed still, and sticky where they touched. “When I go.”
“I still have two years of service to the House to pay,” Lulu said.
“Whatever debt you owe them, I’ll pay it.”
“It’s a lot.”
“I have the money.”
Lulu was silent for long moments, staring at the ceiling. It was blank, featureless white.
“You can wear red,” Helen murmured, “If you want.”
With color in her eyes, Lulu nodded assent.