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Close Quarters

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Close Quarters
Vacancy

Mulan threw herself on the grey couch in the living room. It was worn out and frayed, but she was well acquainted with it. Sure, it came from an aunt’s cousin’s childhood friend’s mom’s house, but it was still considered a family heirloom. In fact, a lot of the furniture in the house were hand-me-downs from the Fa family and it’s friends-like-family. The house itself actually belonged to Mulan’s grandparents, who allowed her to live in it for a small rental fee.

But today, there was an emptiness. After living for the last two years with Ariel and her fiancé Eric, the house was strangely quiet. Now it was just Mulan and Aurora with a rent that was too high for a Royal Ambulance EMT and a part-time waitress/volunteer/student. Mulan worked varying hours, but enjoyed a 4 day on, 3 day off schedule. It gave her plenty of time to take care of the house and of their Shitzu, Mushu. Aurora was on her third bachelor’s degree, this time focusing on global ecology and women’s studies, while volunteering at the Children’s Hospital, Perry’s Orphan Sanctuary and Whole Foods.

It wasn’t that Mulan was complaining. For the size of the 3 bedroom house in the Oakland Hills, rent was fair and they were able to include utilities. Her grandparents allowed her to bring Mushu, which was a big plus. The house itself was laid out to promote good energy and capitalize on the essential Feng Shui of the home. The house originally had 2 bedrooms, but a third one was added later by adding a divider and sliding glass door to the loft upstairs.

Mulan covered her eyes with her arm. They needed to find a roommate or two and quickly. She heard the door open and the soft tapping of Aurora’s sneakers on the floor as her girlfriend let herself into the house.

“Mulan, you have to get up. We have people coming over to interview for the rental spaces. You can’t just lie here on the couch.” Aurora lectured. Mulan lifted her arm and opened her eyes to see her blonde girlfriend standing in front of her in dark jeans and a hand-me-down t-shirt for some sort of long forgotten charity marathon in Alameda, dated sometime in 1984.

“Where have you been?”

Aurora sighed, “Don’t you remember? I told you I had two volunteer shifts today. One at the Sanctuary and three hours at the Farmer’s Market. It’s Friday.”

After grumbling, Mulan sat up and looked at Aurora with a curious glance. “Well, where’s the good from the market, woman? You always bring something home on Fridays.”

“I donated it. We’ve got plenty of food anyways.” Aurora argued as she moved past Mulan towards their bedroom.

“But I wanted the fresh vegetables!!” Mulan whined. She looked at her watch. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and her second day off. She wanted to do something productive, but felt like she wasted the entire day cleaning up what was left of Ariel and Eric’s room. It was clean when they moved out, but Mulan’s upbringing had instilled some level of mysophobia in her that caused her to clean a clean room. She and Aurora had agreed that getting two roommates might help their finances, so Mulan also rearranged the upstairs loft room so it looked more like a bedroom than another living room.

At promptly 4:00, the doorbell rang. Mushu barked from the laundry room where they had locked him up for the duration of the interviews. Their first guest was a young woman named Ashley. As they asked her questions about herself, Mulan and Aurora each made little notes on pink and purple notepads.

After the interviewers would leave, they exchanged notebooks and discussed their potential as a roommate until the next one arrived. Their conditions were simple: clean, drug-free, working, female and LGBT supportive. Eric had been an exception, since Ariel had already been living in the house when she started seeing him. Also, he could talk football with Mulan, which she appreciated.
Several more girls arrived, each going through the same interview process. The pink and purple notebooks kept moving back and forth between Mulan and Aurora as they shared their opinions on each girl. They looked over each notebook, making faces or giggling at the notes they left each other.

Aurora shook her head as she read through Mulan's notes. They were somewhat superficial, but not necessarily incorrect.
**Tiana** - if she moves in, she better be able to make creole food. I want dirty rice!
**Ashley** - part-time worker, has a baby, minimum wage, not yet 21, where is the BD?
**Merida** - GINGER; ok that was kinda rude. Um, she actually seems kinda fun. For a Ginger.
**Jasmine** - can definitely pay the rent. Going to UCB on Dr. Daddy’s money.

Mulan held up Aurora's notebook and leaned back on the couch, giggling at Aurora's facial response to her notes. She glanced at the page and saw very short but well thought out tidbits of information.
Tiana - cute accent, but not okay with the pet frog.
Ashley - very sweet, likes to clean, has a really cute baby, but promotes formula feeding.
Merida - foreign exchange student. No work visa. lots of hair.
Jasmine - likes cats. Not a good match for Mushu.

“Damn it!” Aurora hissed as she tossed the notebook on the table.

“What’s wrong? We’ve only seen four girls today. You don’t have to get frustrated.” Mulan replied as she leaned back into the couch.

“It’s not that. I double booked the next two! They’re both coming here at 6. Ugh, we can’t interview them at the same time. Let's do it as individual tours. I'll interview and tour with one and you do the other." Aurora suggested.

“But I thought you didn’t want anyone seeing the house until they’re the ones going to move in?” Mulan argued.

“It’s fine, it’s fine. I have a good feeling about this.”

The doorbell rang again and exactly 6:00. Mulan answered the door to find a slightly older woman with short dark hair standing on the porch in Louboutin heels and a black Chanel dress. “Is this the home that’s available for rent?” she asked curtly.

“Um… yes?” Mulan replied nervously.

“Are you telling me or asking me? I am the one inquiring.”

“Oh, sorry, telling you. Come on in. Um… I’m Mulan Fa.” the girl held her hand out to the older woman who took it delicately.

“Regina Mills,” she answered as she stepped into the foyer. She quickly took notice of the shoes by the front door and slipped out of hers easily. The door closed behind her as Mulan led her into the living room where Aurora was waiting for the next interview.

"Oh, good evening. I'm Aurora," the young girl stood up from the couch and held her hand out to Regina's. The woman took it and nodded to her in greeting. "Why don't I take you on a tour of the house?"

"Thank you. I understand that you have two rooms available?" Regina asked as Aurora guided her towards the kitchen.

Mulan watched as they left the room. She peeked outside and took note of the Tesla parked on the street. She whistled to herself, clearly impressed by the car. Two yellowed headlights came sputtering down the street with the sound of a tired exhaust accompanying the bouncing lights; a tell tale sign of poor suspension on the car. Mulan stood on the porch, enjoying the cool air as she watched the peculiar bug.

A yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked itself across the street and Mulan watched as a blonde woman in a red leather jacket stumbled out of the mustard colored vehicle. Mulan tilted her head curiously as she watched the young woman look around the neighborhood. She squinted her eyes at the house and then suddenly marched towards Mulan with determined focus.

"Can I... help you?" Mulan asked cautiously as the strange blonde woman approached her.

"Are you Aurora?" she asked as she thrust her hand forward. "Emma Swan, Alameda County Sheriff. We spoke on the phone."
Mulan's heart started racing. Why is the sheriff here? Did they find out that my grandparents had buried a dog in the backyard 8 years ago? Oh, god... did something happen to them? Is Uncle Yao caught at the card house again?? Wait.. she asked for Aurora...

"Um, no. I'm Mulan."

Emma grinned. "You must be the girlfriend. I'm here about the space for rent."

"Oh! Right, sorry. Come in. Um.. Aurora's showing someone else around, so... I guess I can take you upstairs first." Mulan said as she moved out of the way. "Oh, please leave your shoes by the door."

"Great!" Emma stepped inside. She sat down and removed her boots, then stepped happily onto the soft carpet in a pair of socks with donuts all over it. "Whew.. this place is huge. I mean, for Oakland Hills, that is."

"It's my grandparents' house, but they have another place so we rent it out." Mulan explained. "So.. you're a sheriff?"

"Yeah, Alameda county. " Emma explained as they walked upstairs. "You look kinda familiar."

"Oh, I'm an EMT. Royal Ambulance." Mulan led her up the stairs and waved her hand to the loft bedroom. It wasn't completely closed off as it was more a space that should have been open and a sliding glass door had been added to it. It was long more than it was wide, with just enough space for a bed, dresser, desk and perhaps an armchair. If you were creative with the space. The intention was for it to be a quiet, well lit reading nook. There had been two bookshelves at one time, clearly indicated by the discoloration of the floor against the wall. The room itself sat in a corner of the house where the ceiling began to slant, making the room feel smaller.

The slant of the roof had three skylights, perfect for bringing in morning light and since it was at an angle that never got the full onslaught of the sun throughout the day, it was blazing hot in the summer and always warm enough in the winter. But the best part that Emma found was the glass door that led to the balcony outside. She turned around on her heels and grabbed Mulan's hands. "I'll take it!"

"Huh? But... rent is $800."

Emma shook her head with vigor, "Yeah, yeah. I got it. Alameda County sheriff, remember? If you're worried about a criminal background," she said as she pointed to herself, "Alameda County Sheriff. Also, go Niners."

Mulan gasped. "You... you're not East Bay loyal... Shh! We can only say that in the confines of these walls. Beyond here...you have to play the Raiders facade."

"Personally, I follow the Niners, but I'm not an idiot. I know how the game is played here in the Bay."

It was as if they immediately clicked. Whether is was a respect for football or just a natural sense, Mulan just knew that Emma was the right fit for this house.

"So... rent is due on the 5th, it includes utilities and internet. We use U-Verse. Their contract has a better range in this area. We all share the DVR, but don't delete anything yet. Aurora's got eight episodes of Love It or List It and I'm way behind in Adventure Time."

"Seriously? You watch Adventure Time, too?" Emma asked excitedly. She was liking this house more and more.

"Uh, duh!" Mulan answered. "Come on, let me show you the rest of the house."


 

"I'm working on an organic garden outside," Aurora explained as she and Regina moved away from the back door.

"It's a beautiful space, Aurora. I can help you with that, if you like. Gardening is a small hobby of mine. Is the driveway available or garage for parking?"

Aurora shook her head, "The driveway is available when Mulan's Fit isn't in the way. I don't drive. It's not economical. Do you?"

"I have a Tesla." Regina answered.

"Oh... well that changes things then. I mean, it's a Tesla. I'll make sure Mulan leaves you a parking space." They walked along a hallway and the high pitched yip-yip of Mushu behind a closed door made Regina jump back slightly. Aurora hurried to block the door. "I'm so sorry, I forgot to mention that we have a dog."

Aurora worried that Regina would change her mind. So far, she liked her and she hoped that the woman would decide to stay. But the brunette's eyes lit up as she looked towards the door. "You have a dog? What kind?"

"A Shitzu. He's Mulan's, but since we moved in here, he's kind of the baby."

Regina smiled, "I love dogs. Can I see him?" Aurora smiled and nodded. Mushu's yip-yip became excited as they squeezed into the small laundry room where he had been hiding. Once inside, Regina sank to her knees and allowed the small dog to climb up her lap and nuzzle her face. Aurora grinned at the sudden change of aura she sensed from the older woman. She knew immediately from Mushu's reaction that Regina Mills would fit right in.


 

"This house is awesome." Emma said happily as she stood out on the balcony with Mulan. The night air was cool and the view from the balcony was nothing short of incredible. Emma took in the skyline of Oakland and the San Francisco bay, inhaling slightly as the faint but familiar salty air tickled her senses.

"You're gonna love it. We barbecue in the summer and I actually like doing dinner parties when Aurora lets us have company. But wait, I have to ask you... Giants or A's?" Mulan asked, giving Emma a sideways glance. The true test of friendship was dependent on Bay Area sports loyalty.

"Giants, duh. Although I get free A's tickets once in awhile."

"Everyone gets free A's tickets. They're kinda just happy you show up."

Emma nodded. "True. You? A's or Giants?"

"I'm SF all the way," Mulan said proudly. "Giants, Niners, Bi-Rite Ice Cream, the Castro and Ike's Sandwiches. I fly my city flag emblazoned with the Golden Gate... but I like it here in Oakland, too.. cause Fenton's. Duh."

"I'll be honest, not really into baseball. I mean, I can watch a game. Who could say no to a beer and a hot dog? But, football... that's something I love watching."

"Dude, me too! Football's my favorite, but the Giant's stadium is super close, so it's just easy and fun to go. We should go to a game one time."

A grin spread across the blonde's face, "Definitely."

"I've got another important question for you. Xbox or Playstation?"

"Both. I've got an Xbox One and I'm loaded up on zombie games."

Mulan's eyebrows came together, "I can.. kinda play those games. They freak me out a little. But I'll play."

"They scare me too, but it's still fun."

"I've got a Playstation 3.... and Assassin's Creed."

"Awesome." Emma replied, looking back out onto the skyline. Her heart was soaring. She would finally get to move out of her parents' house and be out on her own. She prayed that her mom wouldn't be a baby about it.


 

Aurora sighed. "I'm so glad you like Mushu. It's such a relief. I mean, Ariel and Eric were super cool with him, but some of the other people we've interviewed didn't like having a dog in the house or were cat lesbians."

"Cat... lesbians?" Regina echoed.

"Yeah, you know.. the kind of lesbian who loves cats and has awkward cat sweaters and stuff?"

Regina squeezed out of the laundry room, trying her best to keep Mushu on the opposite side of the door. "Wouldn't they just be crazy cat ladies?"

"I guess, but they haven't hit that level of crazy yet." Aurora agreed, squeezing out behind Regina. "Sorry about having to keep the door closed like this. Mushu likes to jump, so we keep him in here when there's company. Also, he tends to chew on shoes."

"Hmph, we'll see about that. He's adorable, but he's not getting his teeth near my shoes," the brunette said defiantly.

Aurora stopped at the end of the hallway and turned towards her visitor. "Oh, just so you know, rent is $800, due on the 5th of the month, utilities and internet included. Garbage day is on Tuesday, we have compost, recycling and a smaller trash bin. We try not to use it so much and I try to compost what I can in the garden."

Regina tilted her head slightly, "Do you mind if I see the rooms, then? I take it that was an invitation to move in? I suppose I can arrange for the movers in a week."

"Oh, of course! I mean, you have no idea how difficult it's been to replace Ariel and Eric. They were the last couple that was here. But Ariel ended up getting a job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, so they got a place in Seaside."

"Sounds luxurious," Regina said, chiming in to the conversation. They stopped as they came face to face with Emma and Mulan in the living room. "Oh, did we perhaps speak too soon?"

Aurora and Mulan looked up at each other.

"Aurora, I'm.."

"Mulan, I..."

Mulan laughed. "Sorry, go ahead." Emma and Regina looked at each other curiously, then shrugged as if on cue.

"This is Regina Mills. I know we wanted to agree on who would live here, but I already offered one of the spaces to her, Mulan. I think she'll fit right in."

Mulan blushed. "Actually... I kinda did the same thing. This is Emma Swan... we kinda bonded over football."

"And the Giants." Emma added.

"And zombie games." Mulan chimed in again.

"I'd still like to see the rooms upstairs." Regina announced. Something rubbed her the wrong way about Emma Swan. Whether it was the goofy, overconfident grin on her face, her perfectly curled princess blonde hair or the way she rocked on her heels, there was something that Regina couldn't put her finger on. It made her feel hostile, but not so much in a way that she wanted to be outwardly mean. She could do mean. That was easy. But this feeling of borderline mean and teasing? She wasn't quite so sure what to do with it.

"Oh, of course!" Aurora quickly led her upstairs, and the sound of their chattering died out.

"I call the loft!" Emma shouted from the bottom of the stairs.

"Enjoy your hovel, peasant!" Regina shouted back from the top of the stairs. "I'll be taking the large, luxurious room down the hallway!"

Emma turned around to grin happily at Mulan. "I don't know about her, but this is gonna be awesome."

Mulan shrugged. "Aurora's got good taste.Oh, something important I need to bring up before we sign anything. Are you LGBT friendly?"

Emma rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't have answered the ad if I wasn't."

"You'd be suprised." Mulan replied.

"You think that Regina lady is an ally? I mean, she looks pretty straight." Emma added, tilting her head towards the stairs.

"No way," Mulan laughed. "Wait, you think? Maybe she's just an ally... but she's for sure a top. I mean, come on. With that swagger?"

"She looks like the type to always wear heels. Are those her Louboutins at the door? Imagine what those do for your calves! I say she's straight, but seriously would buy."

"Ahem!" Mulan and Emma jumped at the voice behind them. They turned to see a glaring Regina. Aurora was behind her, scowling at Mulan. "Thank you kindly for your opinion, ladies. I'll take that as a compliment. Aurora, it's been a pleasure and I look forward to becoming one of your housemates."

"You mean, you're not offended by these two?" Aurora asked incredulously.

"Normally I'd be appalled at anyone talking about me when I'm not around, but I said I'd be taking their comments as a compliment." Regina said as she slipped on her Louboutins. Emma whistled quietly, impressed at the type of shoes Regina wore. The older woman stood up rigidly and glared at the blonde sheriff. "Next time you find it necessary to whistle, I'd appreciate it if it wasn't while I was bent over. What was your name again?"

Emma gulped hard, "Um.. Swan... Emma Swan. Alameda County Sheriff."

"Well, Sheriff Swan," Regina spat out Emma's title as if it were poison in her mouth. "You'd best keep your attitude and your libido in check. Especially if we're to be cohabiting in this house. Besides, aren't you a little too young to be a Sheriff?"

The blonde shuffled on her feet, "Well... Assistant Sheriff. I'm aspiring upwards... sorry, I guess it wasn't fair to say that I was sheriff."
Mulan grinned, "I'd have voted for you. Hell, I will when it's time for elections and you're ready. You've got my vote, Swan!"

Regina rolled her eyes, "Well, Assistant Sheriff, it will be interesting to see if you've got any other little secrets. I don't intent to stick around to find out your life story, so don't count on being best buddies. This is temporary for me."

"Temporary?" Mulan repeated. She looked outside at the black Tesla. "Hey... is that your Tesla? Why are you renting if you have a Tesla?"

Regina tilted her head. "Not that it's any of your business, but it's because I have a Tesla."

"She's got a point..." Aurora smirked. "So, just give us a call when you're ready to move in, Regina!"

The woman waved as she approached her car. After she had put her purse in the vehicle, she stood up and looked up over the roof directly at Emma. "And for the record, Sheriff Swan, I'm not for sale. You can take your eBay reviews and 'would buy' to someone else!" With that, she got into her car and they watched with wide eyes as she drove away.

"Wow, foot in mouth syndrome, Emma?" Mulan laughed. She received a scowl from her new housemate. "So, uh... see you in a few days to move in?"

"Definitely. Besides, I'm not worried about Regina. She'll come around. No one can really resist the charms of a Swan." Emma replied with a cheesy grin.

Aurora and Mulan stood at the door, watching Emma leave in her sputtering Volkswagen. They grinned at each other, quietly sharing their excitement. The house wouldn't be quiet for much longer.