Justice walks up the sidewalk, the familiar span of concrete between the bus stop and the house, stepping carefully over the uneven rise where tree roots have slowly knocked the concrete askew. She stops at the end of the sidewalk and sighs to herself. She opens the mailbox and takes out the small bundle of mail inside, then slowly heads to the house. She doesn't feel like hurrying. It's been three months since there was anyone else in the house, and the weather's good today. Not too hot, not damp yet. The sun feels good.

She sits on the stoop and lets the sun shine on her face. It's been too long since there was a day this nice, she thinks. She kicks at the edge of the lawn a little. It's getting weedy. She should call the landscaper and have him mow it again, trim it up, before the homeowner's association gets angry again, but it's hard for her to really care about the lawn. Lying in the grass makes her skin prickle, and she really doesn't care how it looks.

She finally gets bored just sitting, and she scoops up the mail and brings it inside. She dumps the catalogs, all the thin-paged adverisements in the bin by the door. She should take the bin out to the container by the back fence, but she has a a hard time getting up the energy to do that. There's a lot of things she should do around the house so Joanna doesn't have to do so much when she comes by, Monday and Thursday. She feels bad every time, but she just can't get it together to do more.

She dumps the couple remaining envelopes in the basket to deal with later. Joanna will probably help her deal with those, too. She flops on the couch.

She finds the remote in the pocket by the couch and turns on the stereo. Maybe music will lift her out of this mood. She flips through the albums, playing a little of the albums she stops on, then jumping right to another. It's a good thing Lib's not here. That always drove her crazy. She'd make this exasperated noise and go out in the back yard until Justice picked something.

She finally settled on The Proclaimers. They usually made a bad day better. There weren't very many things that dancing couldn't help with at least for a little bit.

The pounding beat hits Justice in the gut like a punch. It wasn't the right song for today of all days. "I Would Walk 500 Miles", every note shatters her heart and she starts sobbing into the couch. Some days the loneliness is just an ache, inseparable from the heartache of work every day. Days like this she thought she should just quit, that it's too much, too much to witness. She thought back to the feeling when she first got the job, doing stenography as a court reporter on family cases. It seemed so perfect. She had a gift for the work. But every day, eight, ten, twelve new heartbreaks, it was too much. She sighed. Maybe it's just her own heartbreak. Lib's gone.

She shuts off the stereo and turns on the TV. She doesn't care what's on. She never cares what's on, but having another voice in the house makes her feel a little less alone.

She sets to fixing herself dinner. Soup again. It's easy. No complicated preparation. No knifework. She's eaten soup every night for two weeks. Pick a can at random from the shelf. Open it, dump it in the pan. Heat it up until she hears the sizzle against the edge of the pan. Stir. Wait for it to boil a little again. Dump it in the bowl and swish some water through the pan. She doesn't even really have to clean up.

She shouldn't be this despondent, should she? Lib was only around three months. But it felt like forever. It felt like it was going to work.

The soup is a disaster. She's not really sure what kind it is, but it tastes like paste with vegetables in it. She pours it down the drain and swirls water through her bowl. Maybe she'll try again later.

Fuck Lib's family anyway. All they ever did was hurt her. All they ever did was tie her down, every last bit of freedom sapped away caring for her brothers and sisters while her parents do what?

No, she has to stop thinking this way. It's complicated. Lib's family is complicated and it's hard and ... And she needs them. She'd be dead in a month without their health insurance. The meds are expensive. Fuck everything.

She cries into the couch more. Even the TV can't make the house seem anything but painfully empty tonight.

She wakes, disoriented. The TV's still on, some late night infomercial. She gropes for the remote and turns it off.

It's too much work to go to her room and get in bed, so she just pulls her jacket over her and tries to fall back asleep. She starts to nod off when she hears a key fumbled around the lock at the front door. She sits bolt upright, heart pounding and her face flushed. Nobody has a key but Lib, and she's not coming back.

The person at the door fumbles with something and bumps against the door, and drops keys on the ground. She hears them picked up again and this time the key goes into the lock.

There's the smooth sound of the tumblers turning and the clunk.

The door creaks open, and Justice can feel the cool night air blow past her hot skin.

Another clunk as a suitcase is lifted into the house over the threshold.

There's a yelp in a familiar voice from the doorway and the keys hit the ground again.

"You're up! I'm home!" Liberty's voice calls from the doorway. "You scared me! I was going to surprise you in the morning!"

"How are you here? Oh my gosh ohmygosh! Your family let you go?" Justice is almost stammering. She runs to Liberty and jumps. Lib catches her. Just like three months ago. Just like it was yesterday. She bumps her nose against Liberty's, feels the familiar shape to her face with her free hand, every curve, every tiny bump exactly where it should be. She is grinning and ectatic.

"We can get married. I'm free. We're free. We finally get to be you and me."