Tate liked to watch them both when neither of them was aware.

He watched Rosa, the mother, when she first woke up and began the day. He liked the way her eyes dimmed when the wonder of her dreams was replaced by the monotony of her reality. Every morning she had the same routine: Wake up, slowly set feet to the cold wood, cry.

She cried for herself and what her life had become after her husband had divorced her and taken their two younger children with him. Rosa couldn’t have fought him in court; she had always had a crippling fear of her ex-husband and easy way he could manipulate her into giving her life to him.

Mostly, though, she cried for Stephanie. Her oldest daughter was brave enough not to allow her father to bully her into choosing his side. She had stayed with her mother, and it pained Rosa to see how their decision to move into this God forsaken house was affecting her baby girl. There was no denying the pain and the evil that had dried within the paint of these old walls, but the only way she saw to help her daughter was to ignore it.

Rosa would then shower, dress for her nursing job and cook Steffie breakfast. The two females would eat breakfast and make small talk. Steffie would pretend that she couldn’t see how red Rosa’s eyes were from crying, and Rosa would pretend she didn’t see the burns and razor scars on her daughter’s wrists—it just gave her one more thing to cry about the next morning.

Tate would smile at the harsh beauty of their interactions.

He watched Steffie at night, after the sun went down. For the first few weeks, all he did was watch. He was enraptured by the way she could completely block out the rest of the world in a way he never could. She played records through the night. While swaying to the music in her underwear, Steffie sat at her computer and typed page after page of this amazing story that lived in her thoughts.

Tate stood behind her for a whole month, reading over her shoulder before he got the courage to speak.

“I think it’s beautiful the way you don’t shield your characters from the pain of their world,” he said softly, right next to her ear.

Without turning around Steffie chuckled. “I was wondering when one of you ghoulies were going to come out and play.”

The End

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