When Carmilla had started high school she’d never expected to become a cheerleader but in the end, it simply hadn’t been worth fighting her mother on the matter. What the school principal wanted, she got. Carmilla glared at the bright yellow uniform poking out of her backpack before shoving it under her lunch, swinging the bag over her shoulder, and heading out the door just in time to slide into her seat exactly as the second bell rang.
“Do you even try to get to class on time?” a mutter drifted over her shoulder.
Carmilla turned around, ignoring the teacher taking attendance to give Laura Hollis a sly smile, “Technically, I’m right on time. No need to show up ten minutes early like some people. I’m just efficient.”
Laura Hollis. One of the resident nerds of the classroom with three different coloured pens sitting on her notebook. Carmilla knew that each one had a different purpose due to Laura’s ten minute long lecture on the benefits of colour coordinating her notes the last time Carmilla had asked to borrow a pen.
“But if one thing goes wrong, you’re definitely going to be late.” Laura said, “That’s not a great plan.”
“Well, I’m not much of a planner, cutie.” Carmilla said as Laura turned a pretty shade of pink at the nickname even if she stubbornly set her chin and glared at Carmilla, “Just a mindless cheerleader, remember? All short skirts and high pony tails.”
“Nice try,” while most people either ignored or feared Carmilla, there was something wonderful about the way Laura always rose to the challenge, “But I know you’re smart when you actually do the work. You got an A in last year’s history class; I heard Mr Luce congratulate you.”
Carmilla squinted at her, “Keeping an eye on me? Can’t blame you, Hollis. I’m pretty hot. I’d keep an eye on me too.”
The blush got worse but Laura forged past it, “Don’t distract me. You’re smart underneath all that eyeliner. And maybe even a nice person.”
“I’m really not.” Carmilla said.
Laura threw her hands in the air, voice getting loud enough that few students actually looked over, “Why do you always do this? Why do you refuse to take literally anything seriously? Not class or your grades or anyone else in this whole entire school. You just mope around and act all broody and mysterious when you’re really just miserable and alone. Well, maybe you wouldn’t be if you’d stop snarking around and actually cared about something for once.”
Carmilla spine went straight. Her voice stiff as something trembled in her throat that she decided to call anger because the alternative was something she refused to face. “Got me all figured out, eh?” Carmilla said, “Tell you what, why don’t you mind your business instead of spending all day analyzing me. You tell me to stop ‘moping’ but I see you hiding behind your textbooks so that nobody looks twice at you and burrowing yourself in journalism club so that you don’t have to come out to the football field or the pep rally or anything else. I don’t think you even like journalism. You act like you’re caring Hollis but all I see is you avoiding the world. At least I’m honest with what I am. You’re not.”
Laura was frozen. Stuck still like Carmilla had hit her and something in Carmilla almost wanted to apologize as Laura’s mouth opened then closed. Then opened again. Instead, she just turned around and faced the front of the room.
Until, there was breath on her neck and a hiss in her ear, “Fine. I’ll do what I care about if you do too.”
Carmilla didn’t even turn around, “There’s nothing that I care about, Hollis. But fine. Sure. Whatever.”
It wasn’t until the end of class that Laura spoke again, getting right in Carmilla’s face with her backpack on her shoulder. “You’re right. I should just do the things that I care about. Everyone deserves that. Me. And even you.”
Then she was gone, leaving Carmilla blinking.
The third cheerleading practice aligned with football tryouts and Carmilla strongly suspected that Sarah Jane, head of the squad and the cliche girlfriend of the quarterback, had planned it that way. They spent more of their time watching the boys make their way out to the field than practice any cheers.
Even if Carmilla wasn’t interested in ogling the ridiculous beefcakes on the field, she could appreciate anything that meant she wasn’t obligated to fake a smile and chant some inane rhyme about school spirit.
Sarah Jane hadn’t even noticed yet that Carmilla was reading instead of cheering, completely ignoring everything around her.
Until, “Is that Laura Hollis?” Betty gasped.
Carmilla’s head snapped up without her permission. On the football field, lined up between all the hulking guys trying out of the team was tiny 5 foot 4 Laura Hollis in practice gear with a helmet under her arm; a look of raw determination on her face as she pointedly ignored the whispers all around her.
“What is she even doing out there?” One of the girls asked.
“Going to get herself crushed,” another replied.
Carmilla ignored them, keeping her eyes on Laura. The first portion of the tryout was mostly fitness based and Laura was keeping up as the coach had them runs laps then sprints and some weird thing with ladders that Carmilla wasn’t sure was actually a drill.
But Laura kept up, her cheeks were red and she was huffing for air but Carmilla watched as she scrunched her nose and kept right on going. Uncessing and unstopping.
“What are you doing, cupcake?” Carmilla mumbled.
When the coach called for a break, he sent nearly a quarter of the people trying out home for not making the first cut. Laura’s name wasn’t on the list.
A small smile curling on her lips that Carmilla found herself imitating.
The remaining members of the tryouts made their way to get water, conveniently placed right near where the cheerleaders were practicing. For moment, most of the team was too busy showing off for their favourite girl but after a moment, the inevitable question came up.
“What does Hollis think she’s doing? She does know this is football right?” One of the guys snickered.
Another guy punched him in the shoulder, “Just a pity pass that she got past the first. Don’t worry about it.”
“Think she even knows how to hold the ball?” Came from another.
Carmilla tensed, fingers tight on her book as she noticed Laura’s hands shake as she accepted a water bottle from one of her ginger friends who had apparently come out to cheer her on. She was a few meters from the group. But still very much in earshot.
“What do you think she even wants to play?”
“I heard she wants Quarterback.”
“You’re kidding. No way.”
“Coach’ll kick her off soon enough,” A big guy butted in, “Girls can’t even play in this league.”
Carmilla’s eye were on the page but she wasn’t reading a word as she snapped, “I know it’s hard but try not to be a complete imbecile, Harrison. Girls have been allowed to try out and play in boy’s leagues for more than six years now. Besides, everyone noticed how Hollis beat you by solid 30 seconds on that last sprint run. She’s more than qualified.”
From the corner of her eye, she could see Harrison go flush with anger. It hardly mattered when, on her other side, she could see Laura’s eyes shining at her.
Before anyone could say anything else, the coach was calling the players back and Laura was the first on the grass. She practically jogged across the field to grab a football, long hair streaming behind her. Then she turned, a look in her eye that had Carmilla’s stomach flipping.
“Hey, Harrison!” she shouted.
Then Laura pulled her arm back and let the ball fly. With a solid half a field between them, the football flew in a perfect spiral. It shot across the field like a rocket before slamming right into Harrison’s arms.
He caught it reflexively, an ‘oomph’ erupting at the contact.
The field was silent. The only sound Harrison’s lingering pain as everyone stared at Laura. Her chin was up, that defiant action Carmilla had seen her do a hundred times when Carmilla teased her. Carmilla smiled.
“Little nerd!” the silence was shattered by Kirsch, the biggest of the beefcakes and resident quarterback as he put his arms up, farther away than Harrison was, “Throw it to me!”
Laura paused then set her chin and grabbed another football. Again, it shot off like a rocket and Kirsch plucked it right out of the air with the biggest grin on his face. He practically galloped over to Laura, “Little nerd, that was so awesome. We’ve got to get you on the team!”
Carmilla’s eyes went wide as Laura gaped at him.
Kirsch was unperturbed. “Coach,” he called, “we’ve got to get Hollis on the team.”
“Kirsch,” Laura said, “I’m trying out for quarterback. That’s your position.”
“Well, yeah,” Kirsch shrugged, “No offence little nerd but you’re really tiny. You’d be squished playing anything else. You have to be QB.” That seemed a fair statement. “I’ll be back-up QB and switch to fullback for normal games. That’s what I used to play when I was a kid.” He grinned at Laura, ignoring the team gaping at him as he gave Laura a salute, “I’ll watch your back. Then everyone gets to play and we get the best team possible. Maybe get a shot at State!” He looked at the coach, “Don’t you wanna go to State coach?”
Kirsch could not possibly be real.
“State’s got all the best parties.” Kirsch continued.
There it was.
“Let’s finish tryouts first,” the coach said, laying a hand on Kirsch’s back.
“But you’ll consider it?” Laura asked, the hope in her voice would have knocked Carmilla off her feet.
“I’ll consider it.”
“Well look at you, cutie.” Carmilla slammed the door to one of the library study rooms closed and dropped into one of the closest seats, “Did they have to get a children’s size just to avoid swamping your tiny frame in fabric?”
Laura had jumped but settled when she saw Carmilla. Around her shoulders was a brand new Silas Anglerfish letterman jacket with a tiny QB stitched into the chest. Laura pulled self-consciously on the jacket but couldn’t stop the small smile on the corners of her mouth.
“Very funny, Carmilla. Nice to know you haven’t changed.” The way Laura said it made Carmilla think the words were genuine.
So Carmilla scoffed, “I’m not about to fall over myself just because my favourite homeroom nerd has decided to become a big bad quarterback. I’ve seen you write Harry Potter fanfiction instead of paying attention in class, you’re not that scary.”
Laura’s eyes lit up. Her smile turning to a smirk. “Your favourite homeroom nerd?”
Crap. Cover it up. Now.
“Well, the ginger twins and the computer nerd don’t respond nearly as well to teasing whereas you go that delightful shade of red and get all high and mighty on me.” Carmilla said.
“I do not!” Laura said, going that very shade of red.
“Sure, cupcake,” Carmilla winked, “the same way you’re not hiding out in here from your horde of adoring fans. I think I saw some of them camped out by your locker. You seem to have the pick of boys and girls. You’re lucky no-one else knows that even quarterback nerds hide in the library instead of enjoying their fame.”
Laura groaned and her head sank into her hands, “Kirsch is sweet and I’m thankful but he went a little overboard.”
The boy had done nothing but promote Laura’s awesomeness to anyone who would listen. Even the local news station, when they interviewed him about his ‘fall from quarterback position’, had spent the entire time talking about how Laura was going to take them to State and how it was more important to be there for all his bros then get the coveted QB title.
With Kirsch’s endorsement, Laura had quickly become the town’s hottest gossip.
“Signed many newspapers?” Carmilla asked.
“My Dad taped one to the fridge,” Laura mumbled from her arms.
Carmilla actually had one herself, “Female Quarterback Reignites Silas’s State Dreams’ with a big picture of Kirsch and Laura practicing on the cover.
“Well, you know how these hicks get about football. We haven’t had a State title in decades. It’ll all blow over eventually.” Carmilla said.
“Yeah,” Laura’s sarcasm made it through her arms, “After I bomb tonight’s game and everyone starts to hate me. Then I’ll be all set.”
“Eh,” Carmilla shrugged and pulled out a textbook, “So what? Then you just go back to being a full time nerd instead of a nerd who plays football. They’ll get over it and you get a great story to tell the grandkids when you’re an old and wrinkled nerd.”
“Gee.” Laura said, “Thanks. That made me feel better.”
“You're talking to the wrong girl for sympathy,” Carmilla reminded her, “Big scheme of things, it hardly matters. The world is big and empty and everything we do is meaningless.”
Laura’s head rolled to the side, staring at her, “Well. You’re right. You’re definitely not the girl for peptalks.”
“The point is,” Carmilla talked over her, refusing to meet Laura’s eyes, “is that if everything is meaningless then the only thing that matters is what we make of the world. What we do with it. At least, you’re doing something cupcake. You’re taking this football dream, strange and ridiculous as it is, and running with it. That’s something. Not hiding behind journalism anymore. 100% authentic Laura Hollis from the cleats to the multi-coloured pens.”
There was silence in the library and Carmilla could feel Laura stare at her, chin propped on her arms as she lightly gnawed on her lip.
“You know,” Laura said at last, “I think that’s the second nice thing you’ve done for me.”
“I don’t do nice things.” Carmilla said, “Comes with the cheerleading uniform and the black eyeliner. Double dose of apathetic and nasty.”
“Please,” Laura scooted closer and Carmilla pretended not to notice that she smelled like brownies, “First you talk back to Harrison at football tryouts and now you just tried to give me a peptalk. A weird, Carmilla-esque, peptalk. But you tried. That’s nice.”
Using her past moments of weakness against her. Low blow Hollis.
Carmilla rolled her eyes and leaned back, getting herself out of Laura’s space but finally looking at her. All soft eyes and nervous fingers, “Well, if something bad happens to you then I’ll have to find some other nerd to establish a snarky rapport with and that just sounds like far too much work.”
“Of course,” Laura had a smile twitching at her lips and Carmilla tried not to like it, “Far too much work.”
“So it’s not nice,” Carmilla reaffirmed, “it’s just self preservation. Maximum laziness.”
“Sure.” Laura said. Her smile broke through in full and Carmilla found herself wanting to smile back. Before she could fall to that ridiculous impulse, the bell rang to announce the end of lunch period.
Laura was already on her feet, backpack thrown over her shoulder. She paused, “Are you coming to the game tonight?”
Carmilla raised her eyebrow, “I’m a cheerleader, cupcake. Unfortunately, football games are mandatory. You’re stuck with me.”
Laura smiled. Nodded. Fidgeted where she stood.
Then, moving as quickly as she had on the field, she grabbed Carmilla’s shoulder, thumb soft where it snuck past the collar of Carmilla’s shirt to touch her skin, “Thanks, Carm.”
Carmilla shook her head to cover her blush, “Better hurry Hollis. You’ll be late and a nerd like you can’t have that on their record.”
As Laura left, she threw out a, “But I’m your favourite nerd!” Then disappeared before Carmilla had the chance to say something snarky back.
The yellow of her uniform was possibly the most abrasive colour that Carmilla had the displeasure of continually wearing. She growled at her reflection and threw her hair into the mandatory high ponytail before slinking out of the changing room to join the other cheerleaders. There were more than a few eyes watching her walk by.
If nothing else, she looked really good in the short skirt and tight shirt.
She just had to find a way to accidentally dye them black. Or at least a dark navy. That was Silas’s other colour. There was no reason she couldn’t have a blue uniform.
Halfheartedly participating in the pre-game cheers while glaring at the monstrosity of a pom pom in her hands, Carmilla could not have been more thankful for the break before the game started when the players came onto the field. Peace until halftime.
She even gave a clap when the Anglerfish ran onto the field, eyes firmly on the tiniest player at the front of the line as Kirsch stood staunchly at her back.
If the crowd exploded in cheers at their new quarterback, she definitely didn’t feel pride. Nope. Not a an ounce.
As the team warmed up, it quickly became quite clear that Laura wasn’t feeling as confident as the crowd. Her throws back and forth with Kirsch were fine but there was a shake to her fingers when they were pulled off the field and Laura could only watch as the defensive line set up.
Laura sat on the players bench and dropped her helmet beside her, running her fingers through her hair as she stared at the field and mumbled to herself. Then she shook her head and began to gather her hair into a ponytail.
Or, more accurately, tried to gather her hair into a ponytail.
The bulk of the padding on her shoulders kept her from quite being able to gather everything up.
With every twist, Laura’s movements grew slightly more frantic and the shaking in her fingers grew. Carmilla could practically see Laura trying to keep herself calm, breaths too steady, but also conflating this failure with her potential upcoming failure as a quarterback. When one of her teammates looked over, she set her jaw and let the hair fall over her shoulders. He got a thumbs up and patented Laura Hollis confident look.
Carmilla knew better.
Didn’t mean she was going to do anything about it.
“Hollis!” Her mouth betrayed her but Laura didn’t look over.
Well. She’d tried. Good enough.
“Laura!” There her mouth went again.
Still nothing. Laura’s knee bouncing as she watched the first kick of the game.
Carmilla grit her teeth, stood, walked to the edge of the stands, and resigned herself to getting stared at, “CUPCAKE!”
Laura spun around, nearly falling off the bench. When she spotted Carmilla, her eyes first narrowed in confusion then dropped to what Carmilla knew was a once-over. A blush rose in Laura’s cheeks.
Carmilla let herself a moment to feel good about the short skirt and then gestured for Laura to come over. With a quick look back at the field, Laura trotted over to her. She stopped at the edge of the stand, looking up at Carmilla, “A little busy right now.”
“I can see that,” Carmilla said, “You’re clearly very busy sitting. Now turn around.”
“I know that I’m a much better view and I can clearly see how much you like the outfit,” Laura’s eyes snapped up at her words, “Which,” Carmilla continued, “Is very stereotypical quarterback of you but I’m going to need you to turn around so that I don’t have to put up with you struggling to turn your hair into some semblance of a ponytail. It’s like watching a kitten try and drink milk only to get it up it’s nose. Now turn.”
Reaching down over the barrier, Carmilla gathered Laura’s hair up into her fingers. It was soft against her skin, the brown waves gathering neatly together as her nails scratched gently against Laura’s neck and scalp to gather it all up. Holding it in one hand, Carmilla used her teeth to take her spare elastic off her wrist and then gently tied Laura’s hair into a ponytail that would fit underneath her helmet.
She indulged one caress through the strands then let go. “Not too tight, is it cupcake? Can’t get blamed by the Hollis fans for giving our QB a headache.”
Carmilla was not prepared to be hit with a Laura Hollis with actual water brimming in her eyes when she turned around, “It’s perfect.”
Then she saw it. Laura’s face had set, it hardened. Determination written across it in every line despite the water which was quickly drying. There was the same girl who’d knocked the wind out of Harrison all the way across a football field.
“Hollis!” the coach’s yell interrupted them, “Thirty seconds! Get your good luck kiss from your girlfriend and get over here!”
Laura just grinned, tears gone, “Kirsch always refuses to go on the field without a kiss from Sarah Jane. I think the tradition stuck.”
“I can’t decide if that’s sweet or just gross,” Carmilla said.
Laura shrugged, “Football players. We’re a superstitious bunch.” Then, with only a drop of hesitation, she grabbed Carmilla’s hand and pressed a kiss to the back.
It definitely wasn’t charming.
“Can’t risk ruining tradition.” was the only explanation Laura gave before she jogged back to the team, strapping on her helmet and heading onto the field.
Her hand tingled in the best way.
It was still tingling when halftime hit and the teams were tied at 10 points a piece. Laura had practically danced across the end zone when she’d gotten the team her first touchdown. As she approached the bench, chugging a bottle of water and nearly getting knocked over her teammates slapped her encouragingly on the back, she pulled her helmet off.
The ponytail, while still in place, had a number of flyaway pieces that had escaped.
Carmilla didn’t get to see much more than that, hustled onto the field for the cheerleader halftime performance. She did notice Laura get slaps from nearly the entire team who were thrilled to simply still be tied at halftime. As much as she hated being small enough to be forced to the top of the pyramid, the view had it’s perks.
When Carmilla finally made it off the field, Laura was waiting for her. Grinning. Shaking imaginary pompoms.
“Not a word, Hollis.”
Laura didn’t stop grinning but mimed zipping her lip and pointing to her ponytail.
Carmilla over-exaggerated her sigh and stepped behind her as Laura sat on the bench, “You’re lucky that touchdown dance was so nerdy that you deserve a pity ponytail.”
Laura apparently took this as permission to speak, “I got a touchdown, Carm! An actual touchdown.”
She definitely didn’t kind of like ‘carm’ falling off Laura’s lips.
“Congratulations,” Carmilla said, carefully gathering up Laura’s hair, “You did sports good, cupcake.”
Apparently nothing could stop Laura’s good mood, “I did do sports good!” she repeated. “Although,” she added, “it’d be nice to actually win.”
Carmilla’s throat went dry, words stuck in her chest, so she said nothing. Moving slowly as she kept gathering Laura’s hair over and over. Laura not commenting in how long it took. Then she scratched Laura’s head a little and Laura practically leaned into the touch.
“You know,” she tried to keep her voice calm, “I have a theory about that.”
She could hear Laura’s surprise, “You know something about football tactics? No offence Carm but you don’t seem the type. Unless you’ve also been secretly playing for years in the nearby town?”
“I’ll admit that I don’t know the first thing about football. But,” Carmilla carefully snapped the hair elastic in place, “I do know about football players.”
With a deep breath, her hand slid from Laura’s hair to cup her jaw and pull Laura’s face towards her as Carmilla leaned down. She paused with their lips only a breath apart. The world narrowed to Laura’s brown eyes and the smell of brownies and gatorade. Laura’s skin hot under her hand as the roar of the crowd faded. “And football players are a very superstitious bunch. And you didn’t fully fill the superstition, cupcake.”
Laura kissed her. Her hand finding Carmilla’s shoulder to pull her just a little bit closer as she leaned up into Carmilla. The kiss was soft and tentative and ended too soon because it just became Laura smiling against her face.
Carmilla couldn’t exactly complain when she was doing the same.
The grin stayed on Laura’s face as she slipped on her helmet, mixing with that determination for a whole new expression as they took the field.
The Anglerfish won. 24 to 10. The grin still there when tiny Laura Hollis was lifted onto the shoulders of all her teammates.
It was still there when Laura slapped a newspaper onto Carmilla’s desk in homeroom the next day.
“Hollis Takes the Win and The Cheerleader’ with a huge photo of them kissing on the cover.
Carmilla swore and got sent to the principal's office.
Laura just laughed.